Things to Consider When Moving to a New Camera System
Changing camera systems is much more involved than it appears on the surface. If you read my previous article about upgrading from a Canon 5D Mark II to a Pentax K1, you might think all I considered were the technical specifications. In this post, I’ll cover some of my other considerations such as lenses, accessories, flash and, even, software.
Lenses – The Soul of a Camera
All things being equal, a good camera with a mediocre lens will never be as good as a mediocre camera with an outstanding lens. Canon has many outstanding lenses. Pentax has fewer but just as outstanding lenses. If you’re a professional photographer who needs to cover a wide range of of focal lengths, Canon is your best bet. However, advanced amateurs usually only need 6-10 lenses at most. Over the last few years, my “go-to” Canon lens has been the 24-105/4L. The Pentax 24-70/2.8D FA nicely fills that range. In addition, a $15.95 adapter lets me mount two excellent 50 year old manual focus lenses, a Pentax Super Takumar 55/1.8 and a Tele-Lentar 135/3.5. That pretty much covers my lens needs for the Pentax at this time.
Flash – Third Parties Rule
If you use flash a lot, things can get a bit messy but the Speedlite gods were looking out for me. Flash is not Pentax’s strong suit and, as far as I can tell, there aren’t many 3rd party flash systems for Pentax. Canon, on the other hand, has a powerful and sophisticated Speedlite system with many 3rd party products.
A few years ago, I decided to go with a Chinese Yongnuo (YN) knock-off Canon systems. Today, I have just one Canon flash left in my stable, everything else is YN685. Of course, YN doesn’t make Pentax flashes as the market is too small. But, it turns out YN makes a manual flash controller for their Canon compatible flashes. So, a YN560-TX controller on my Pentax gives me full manual wireless control over my YN685 flashes. The controller manages all the YN flashes while the Pentax only issues a trigger. Of course, there’s no Pentax P-TTL mode but that’s not a problem for me since I never use TTL. In other words, I set the flash power via the controller and, when the shutter is released, the Pentax tells the system to fire, easy peasy. If all this sounds confusing, drop a comment and I’ll explain further.
Filters – Bigger is OK, Smaller is a PITA
The only filters I use are Circular Polarizer (CP,) InfraRed (IR) and Graduated Neutral Density (GradND.) The biggest front element on my current lenses is 77mm. Unfortunately, the Pentax 24-70/D FA has an 82mm front element so I need bigger filters. I can put bigger filters on smaller lenses but not the other way. Good filters (B+W, Hoya) from B&H cost about $125 each so add another $375. This stuff adds up in a hurry.
Thanks for the Memories!
I have a stack of Compact Flash (CF) cards for my Canon system. The Pentax uses SD cards. In fact, the K1 has two card slots. I don’t have to put in two cards but files can be written to both slots at the same time for redundancy so I want two cards. Granted memory cards aren’t all that expensive these days but four cards at $20 each is another $80.
Juice, aka Batteries
The Pentax K1 D-Li109 battery seems to have good battery life but per Murphy’s Law, batteries always die at the most inopportune moment. No photographer ventures into the field without spare batteries. At $50 each, that’s another $100 or so.
Software Can Cause Hard Problems
There are the usual update issues such as Adobe Camera RAW lag for new camera support but the usual workaround is using the manufacturer’s software. Bigger issues with cameras like the Pentax K1 involve new features that Adobe hasn’t yet fully implemented. Pixel Shift Resolution (PSR) falls into this category. Adobe Lightroom doesn’t really know what to do with PSR files. LR6 recognizes and can process PSR files but many report it’s not a great implementation. I haven’t yet used PSR to any degree so I can’t really say but if that’s the case, my workflow will suffer until Adobe catches up.
A lesser problem is Tethered Capture which requires a Pentax (Ricoh) plug-in for LR. It doesn’t offer the full range of controls but it’s a serviceable workaround. I use tethered shooting for studio work.
Upgrade Path to the Future
For me, this is a biggie. My next upgrade will be to Medium Format (MF.) With Hasselblad’s management woes adding to the company’s uncertainties and potential instabilities, I want a known, (somewhat) stable upgrade path. From a Pentax K1, the MF path is the Pentax 645Z, an outstanding 50MP MF with large, beautiful 5.3 micron pixels. Also, many K1 accessories will work with the 645Z.
There are rumors that Canon will introduce MF after the 5DS/R but that’s just a rumor. The Pentax 645Z is a proven winner and will be that much better by the time Canon releases a MF. Bottom line, I want a known path, not a “potential” rumor. The only downside to a 645Z, at this time, is the $7000 price tag. I’m betting the price will drop in the future.
Why I Upgraded to Pentax K1 over Canon 5DS R
After nearly 20 years shooting Canon, I recently ordered a Pentax K1 from B&H. It was a tough decision considering what I have invested in Canon, not only in terms of lenses and gear, but also time and effort mastering the Canon system. Originally, I had assumed I would upgrade to a 50 megapixel Canon 5DS or 5DS R but, the more I studied my choices, the more the Pentax K1 appealed to me. I don’t intend to stop using my Canon gear but the Pentax K1 could become my “go to” kit until Canon either catches up or I dive fully into the Pentax ecosystem. Something old Pentax shooters will appreciate is that Pentax still builds cameras like the old days, resembling Cold War era Soviet tanks. In other words, this ain’t no dainty foo-foo camera for dilettantes.
After selling my last APS-C body (Canon 7D) I wanted a replacement for my aging Canon 5D Mark II for high resolution fine art reproduction as well as an all around, general purpose camera. The Canon 5DS/R with 50.6 megapixels seemed a logical choice. It produces nearly 2.4 times more pixels (50.6 vs 21.1) than the 5D Mark II while the Pentax K1 has 1.73 times as many (36.4.) However, pixel pitch (photosite size) is actually smaller, 4.14 microns vs 4.88 microns. Pixel pitch is important because it determines the number of photons (light particles) each photosite (4 photosites produce one pixel) can capture. This, in turn, affects the quality of the image in terms of noise. If you want to print larger photos, like the large art reproductions I print, you need bigger, better and more pixels. The Pentax K1’s 4.88 micron photosites are nearly 20% larger than the Canon 5DS/R although still smaller than my old 21.1 megapixel 5D MkII. (For brevity sake, this has been VERY simplified.)
The second most important feature for me was PSR technology (pixel shift resolution,) enabled by Sensor Shift in the K1. Remember I said earlier 4 photosites make up 1 pixel? That’s because each photosite captures one color, red, blue or 2 greens. With PSR, Pentax has designed a system for shifting the sensor to capture each photosite 4 times then combining them in camera to produce one super clean pixel. In simplistic terms, this can be equated to a 145 megapixel sensor (36.4×4.) (Again, super simplified.)
If super clean, high resolution (low noise, sharp) images were all it did, Sensor Shift would still be worth it but the technology has several additional advantages. With a Canon 5DS/R, I had to make a choice between the 5DS with an anti-aliasing (AA) filter, aka LPF (low pass filter) or the 5DS R without an LPF. Once the decision is made, there’s no going back other than to buy another $3K camera body. The K1 sensor doesn’t have an LPF (for maximum sharpness) but can use Sensor Shift technology to simulate an LPF. When I want an LPF such as while photographing fine art on canvas where the weave might cause moiré patterns, I can turn on LPF, for the rest of the time, I turn off LPF for maximum sharpness.
Sensor Shift technology also lends itself to in-body-image-stabilization (IBIS.) Most IS (image stabilization) systems including Canon are in-lens. That means only IS lenses are stabilized. With IBIS, I can use any of my old Pentax manual lenses from the 60s and 70s and still gain the advantages of image stabilization.
Sensor Shift also allows Astrotracer mode which, in conjunction with an integrated GPS, automatically shifts the sensor to keep up with celestial body movement for astrophotography. This isn’t important to me but can be very useful for amateur astronomers and star gazers.
Finally, Sensor Shift can automatically adjust slanted horizons up to 2 degrees. That may not sound like much but tilt one of your landscape images by 2 degrees and you’ll see that it’s significant. Sure, you can adjust it in post but, if the camera will take care of it in-camera, that’s one less thing to futz with. So, all told, Sensor Shift offers five useful advantages.
Now, add in the fact that the K1 has an integrated GPS, wifi, intervalometer, a very cool articulating LCD and built-in “flashlights” to quickly find controls in the dark for $1847, approximately 50% less than a Canon 5DS/R and the choice was a no-brainer.
Here are some links to articles and reviews that I used to make my decision:
Official Ricoh Imaging Pentax K1 specs.
Lloyd Chambers is an admitted fanboy but his article is a good place to start your research.
Lloyd Chambers has a list of other Pentax K1 articles on his site.
Pentax Forums has a 26 page review covering the K1.
A good summary of what Pentax Forums considers the 10 Unique Features of the K1.
DPReview’s 10 page review of the K1.
DxO calls the K1 sensor a “Full Frame Marvel”
Here is DxO’s complete test results (dry, boring, techie stuff.)
For more reviews, check Luminous Landscape, Imaging Resource and PetaPixel. These are my top sites for relatively unbiased reviews free of “fanboy gushtafications” (unsupported gushing to curry favor of manufacturers.)
On the Road – Christmas 2016
After some last minute delays, we finally got on the road on Sunday, December 25, Christmas Day. It was actually a good move because the traffic was calm and weather was pretty sketchy until Saturday. We made it to Benson, AZ where we laid over at a RV campground right off I-10. The next morning, we backtracked a mile and headed to Bisbee via AZ Highway 90 and 92 through Sierra Vista. It’s a a few miles longer but an easier route for a motorhome towing a Jeep.
I decided not to take my photography too seriously so all my photos were simple touristy snapshots. I also tested the new Canon EF 135/2.0L USM lens on a few opportunities.
These first 6 were made with a Canon EOS-M with the EF-M 22mm STM lens, my favorite walking around kit. The Great Dane in the first photo is Sunday. He weighs as much as me and he travels with his staff in a truck camper. He’s apparently a pretty mellow traveler and sleeps most of the time. The next 3 were along a dirt road back to a wildlife preserve. There wasn’t anything out there except cattle, a purple outhouse and a pony ride. There was actually money in the bucket so I threw in some change. The last is Mary with Reed, the owner of Killer Bee Honey. He’s a character and his mesquite honey is great.
The next 10 were with a Canon 5D Mk II with the new Canon EF 135/2.0L USM. The first two were made at Oh-Dark-Thirty with the temperature around 30F. In other words, it was way too cold for me to spend a lot of time composing and checking focus. The mid-range and background are sharply in focus but DoF wasn’t deep enough to get the near objects in focus. It’s impossible to evaluate lens sharpness in small web-size images that have been sharpened but, trust me, the 135/2.0 is sharp. The rest are basic funky, weird art (?) found all over Bisbee. The bumper sticker really captures the Bisbee “vibe.” As you can see, I call Bisbee “an island of blue surrounded by a sea of Arizona red.” The whole town is filled with “long-haired, hippie-type, commie, junkie, pink-o sympathizing liberals” and I really like it. I’d move there except it’s in the middle of nowhere.
This last shot was made at Whitewater Draw to show the low water level. Normally, this whole area is filled with water with the exception of the tiny island in the foreground with green growth. There should be ducks, avocets and other shallow water birds within 10-20 feet.
New Laptop for Travel
For this trip, in the spirit of not taking my photography too seriously, I ditched my humongous HP laptop with a gazillion gigabytes of RAM and many terabytes of HDD space for an HP Stream 11 laptop. The Stream is just above “toy” level but works great for checking e-mail and light photo editing. It has an 11.6″ screen, 4GB of RAM, a 32GB SSD (solid state drive) and runs Windows 10. Weighing just 2.6 lbs, it runs about 10 hours on a single charge. Best of all, it only cost $199. I deleted the included subscription for MS Office 365 in favor of MS Office 2007 because I didn’t want the whole suite hogging the limited disk space. With MSO 2007, I just loaded the products I use most.
For photo editing, I loaded Canon Digital Photo Pro (DPP) because Adobe Photoshop Elements (PSE) has grown into a humongous porker that took up 1.9GB whereas DPP requires less than 120MB. I also added IrfanView, a cool little photo viewer/editor that takes another 2.5MB. For longer trips, I intend to haul along my fat laptop but only for specific requirements while on the road. The HP Stream 11 will meet 98% of my computing needs on the road.
Wishing Everyone a Great 2017
Time, Effort and Practice Pay Off
The following hummingbird photos were sent by Butch, a former student. As you can imagine, out of every 100 students, probably no more than 1 or 2 stays with photography or advances beyond basic snapshots. Butch has far exceeded what most students ever attain. After about 5 years, out of the clear blue, Butch sent me these photos and added I was the first to advise him to use a flash and HSS to “freeze” hummingbirds in flight. He’s learned well and I applaud his persistence. I particularly like that he used a slow enough shutter speed to leave some blur in the wings.
Canon EF 135/2.0L USM
I recently bought this lens, one of Canon’s sharpest. I’d always wanted one but didn’t have a need for it. Now that I’m mainly shooting studio nudes, I can put it to good use. When I saw it on Canon’s Refurb shop for $799.99, I jumped since it retails for $999. But wait, it gets better. While waiting for the lens to arrive, I noticed Canon had further reduced the price to $679.99. Calling Canon, I was pleasantly surprised when the rep cheerfully adjusted my price and refunded the extra $120. In the end, I got a great lens for 32% ($320) off retail.
As I get older, I’m suppressing my measurbater tendencies. I considered doing a test shoot using various targets to measure and quantify its sharpness compared to other lenses in my bag but the idea was quickly dismissed. I’ll take some test shots and post them over the next few weeks. If you’re a measurbater at heart, read what Roger Cicala, Founder & CEO of LensRentals.com says about the EF 135/2.0.
Canon Refurbs are returns or overstocks. A defective or damaged lens goes through Canon’s repair facility where a Canon trained tech goes through each lens. Parts aren’t repaired but replaced and the product is tested. At the factory hundreds of lenses come off the line and each is given a cursory inspection but at the repair center, lenses are tested individually. In my experience, every refurb has always arrived in pristine condition and the only difference is that it may not come in an original retail box. This lens only came with a lens pouch, front & rear caps and paperwork.
In the case of overstocks, a dealer or distributor may have overestimated how many units they could sell or the company may have gone out of business or the product might have been superseded by a newer model or technology. In such cases, Canon sells them as Refurb in the original box, just like you find at a store.
Wishing Everyone a Merry, Merry & a Happy, Happy!
Keep It In Focus
There are many different levels and interests in photography but, sometimes, I’m a bit surprised by what passes for “good” photography, especially when photos are out of focus (OOF) and basics of depth of field (DoF) are overlooked.
Here are some photos that illustrate good focus vs soft focus. The first is the minimum of what I consider “in focus.” Both models are ever so slightly OOF. The actual focus point is about where the shoulder strap attaches to the dress of the brunette on the right. I know this because at 100% I can make out details on her gold chain in that area. It may be difficult to see in small web images so the next two photos are 100% crops.
The front of Vikki’s (left model) pompadour is OOF and her eyes are OOF. Eyes MUST be in focus. The eyes of the model on the right (camera left,) are barely in focus while the front of her bumper bangs are focused. The photo was made with my 5D MkII using a Canon 50/1.4 set to f/3.5 at a distance of ~5 feet. That gave me about 4 inches acceptable DoF. Since the image is focused on the brunette’s shoulder strap, we split ~4 inches (2″ in front and 2″ behind) and both models’ eyes are just beyond the 2″ back margin. The difference is more noticeable if you compare the models’ lips and teeth. The reason I selected f/3.5 and such a narrow DoF is simple, I screwed up. When you’re “running & gunning,” you’re prone to making mistakes, slow down, take a deep breath and make better photos.
All this may sound nit-picky but, if you’re into photography, it’s important to check focus before uploading photos to a public forum. Everyone screws up from time to time but it’s not necessary to show those to the world. More importantly, if you print OOF images, the softness will quickly become evident as the image is enlarged.
These last three show what good focus looks like. The eyes are clear, crisp and detailed. You can almost count the eyelashes. If your monitor is sharp enough, you should be able to see the fine “peach fuzz” around their mouths and skin pores will be quite evident. All these photos were made with a Canon 5D MkII and Canon 24-104/4L IS USM, my “go to” rig. All three photos were at 4-6 feet. Chandra (1st) and Jackie (2nd) were at f/4.5, 84mm with about 3.25″ DoF. Arya (3rd) was at f/4.5, 58mm resulting in ~7″ DoF.
A good online resource for learning and understanding DoF is www.dofmaster.com. If you’re confused by depth of field, search my site for “depth of field” for a dozen or more articles. Keep in mind that DoF is controlled by aperture, focal length and distance to subject.
If You Need/Want a Website
My friend, Susan Gregory, is a website designer and SEO maven. Anyone looking for a new website or simply wanting to “freshen” their existing site would do well to ask Susan for an evaluation and quote. My long time readers know I hardly ever push my friends’ products or services so you can believe I trust her.