22 July 2010

farewell A200

My first dSLR sold and was shipped away yesterday. I could have posted to an auction site and probably made more, but the hassle factor was too much - so someone got a very good deal! So now it's K-7 for 'everything', though my Casio P505 is my small and able backup. My wife's Canon A720 also does great work, especially now that Eneloop batteries keep it running forever (it hated alkaline, like so many cameras do today). We're all geared up, looking for a vacation to throw itself at us.

19 July 2010

new tools.. er toys.. no really, tools!!

Since picking up the K-7 and a few lenses, I have been buying some accessories as well. Here's the story so far...

* second battery, generic
It charged up just fine, and the camera still functions and shows battery-life readout. I've been using it for several days with no incident. Let's face it though: both Pentax and generic have been charged only once, so this will need updating in a year or two! Since their disclaimer inferred that the camera might not display the battery's status, I thought I'd state that in my case, it does.

* nested set of step-up rings
These come as a massive set, sent by mail from Hong Kong. I didn't need them all so a surplus sale is coming soon. These allow me to step from 52mm to 58 so my current cPL can be attached to my Rikenon 50/2 using two rings (52-55+55-58). The bonus here is a cheap and short hood for the lens! I will also keep the 62-67 step just in case, since I have a 67mm cPL as well.

* Seculine Twin1R3-UT remote, wireless and wired capabilities
This sounded good, and hey it is good! I can use it as a wired remote and it uses no battery power, or it can become a wireless transmitter if that's important. Supposedly has a great range, and oh yeah it can be a flashing white light for .. well, some reason can be found for that I'm sure. I tested it with the wire and with battery out: works! I then pulled the wire and added the battery: works too! Yes, so does the flasher.. whoopee.

* Paint Shop Pro X2 Ultimate
The $20 price was too good to refuse.. but I haven't loaded it yet. I have Elements 6 and it met all my needs for Sony's A200, plus I've learned its features pretty well - so it should do my K-7 just as well. I think I will let this go unopened, and accept a few less dollars as the price of jumping on irresistible sales.

* 58 and 67mm polarizing filters
The 58mm purchase was a complete auction fluke, I looked for one and found a lightly-used Hoya right before this auction closed. It was an excellent price and looks/feels great, better than the 67mm Ritz mid-range model I bought in town. Both should do fine.

* 52mm UV
Just in case a UV filter can reduce veiling glare on my Rikenon 50. Well, let it be known that it doesn't - it may help a bit, but not enough to warrant more rigorous testing. Here's the before/after:

pushing buttons

Today I tried something that I've never succeeded at doing right: multiple exposures! It was not something I tried often with film, and for good reason: my cameras never made it easy to do. With the K-7 it was two or three buttons and done. I then cropped it in-camera as well, which I'd never done on a dSLR but had managed with my Casio P505. The result was easy, and quite nice. My wife had been doing some math problems earlier, so I shot her book then her in the kitchen; a quick crop boiled it down to essentials.

Once again, I'm impressed with this camera's abilities.

18 July 2010

DAL55-300 and the moon

I must say, this turned out nicely. This is a well-cropped jpg image, with highlights tweaked and sharpness bumped up in Picasa. I was leaning against the car, so well-supported but hand-braced. That's all right for 300mm f/7.1 by my standards. When I click on it here & bring it up to full size, it's easy to see the 'crazing' pattern that Picasa's sharpening created though.
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16 July 2010

My PK manual-focus lenses (mid-July edition :^)

With 16-45 and 55-300 in hand, I'm satisfied that I have excellent glass that can manage the K-7 resolution. I'd like to have less of a gap, but most of the ways to do that would be incompatible with my style - I really like lightweight optics, so for example going for f/2.8 for telephoto isn't worth its weight in gold or glass. On the other hand, going with manual-focus glass has been fun so far; here's what I have in the bag today!

- Rikenon-P 50mm f/2
This is my gap-filler between the two Pentax zooms. It's small and light, even more than the 50/2 Pentax-A. I believe it to be sharper in focus than the Pentax (which I owned briefly), but the Rikenon shows poorer bokeh in shots thus far. It needs more examination and practice to learn its ups and downs. It takes 52mm filters rather than 49mm like most lenses of this type. It is a gap-filler in more ways than one, as I hope to replace it with a f/1.7 or 1.4 copy some day.

- Rikenon-P 28-100 f/4
Another of the P series from Ricoh, their auto-aperture equivalent to Pentax-A. NOT TRUE - Rikenons must be left off P mode and used in stop-down metered manual with Pentax (or always shot wide open)! This lens had issues that were resolved with a few dabs of super glue, as noted in a previous posting. While it admirably fills the gap between 16-45 and 55-300 lenses, it's quite a burden: at 605g it violates my lightweight-lens policy. Given its range and manual focus design, it will be a specialty lens with trips of its own. Besides its decent equivalent of 43-155mm range, it can focus to about 2" off the front element, a handy feature now and then. I prefer the DA 16-45's close focus at all focal lengths to the Rikenon, which can only do so at 28mm. Flare is devastating to image contrast on this lens, and pretty much all lenses not made in the past 5-10 years; my Minolta lenses from the mid-80s had the same issue. One of the reasons I chose this lens is its 67mm filter size, which matches the 16-45; the DA's hood will not fit on this, but at least it's one less cPL filter to purchase.

- Rikenon XR 135 f/2.8
The third of my Ricoh trifecta, purchased at goodwill online ($11 plus shipping). Many companies have 135mm lenses ranging from f/2.5 to 3.5; when I saw this was available, I decided to split the difference. It's a nice lens but has no P setting(IRRELEVANT, see red note above), so it's all manual all the time. Images are very nice, both sharpness in focus and bokeh are excellent.

- auto-Chinon 28mm f/2.8
This lens has been in my garage for some time, attached to an old Chinon film camera that was supposed to be for astronomy. I pulled it out as soon as I began using Pentax dSLRs again; it works quite well and has a nice minimum focus for sligtly-distorted closeups.

- generic 2x teleconverter
The seller of my Rikenon 50mm threw in a 2x TC, which was a nice surprise; I had considered purchasing a 1.4x for future work, but the price is right on this so for now it'll do. I haven't tried it with the 28-100 or 135 yet, that should prove interesting!

Wish list - every photographer has one, whether it's admitted or not!
I bought the DA16-45 to satisfy my wide-angle tastes, so I do not expect a 10-xx or 12-xx zoom to sweep me away. It's possible that a small prime in the 14-16mm range could do so however, perhaps even a fisheye. On the other end, a long tele could get some use, and I like the compactness of catadioptric mirror designs; maybe some day I'll let a 500mm cheapie into the lineup, though I'd prefer a mythical 400mm version. Neither an extreme wide or telephoto prime would get much use though, so not a priority now that the 16-300 range is covered.

more DAL55-300 shots

Bokeh effect, zoom range for DAL 55-300
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15 July 2010

Testing the DAL55-300.. and the K-7

taken at 300mm across the Willamette River to downtown Portland.

I took the 55-300 out on the town today. It's a nice lens with some great features: relatively small and light, f/4.5 to 200mm (though instantly f/5.6 soon after), fairly quick to focus (though whiny, and no override like the DA version or my 16-45) and sharp to my eyes at all focal lengths. Its bokeh is less amazing in some cases though, but I was not working hard to learn about it; most likely some settings will look better than others. The 55-300 range is very nice, with short tele and extra length all in one package; I find that much more valuable than 1:2 'macro' of the 3rd-party 70-300 types. I do wish I had looked harder at the want ads though, for a few dollars more I could have picked up a used DA model. They've sold now, though more will likely follow - so I need to make a decision. If I send this back I have nothing beyond 135mm in my collection, which is a bit limiting (though with gorgeous bokeh and f/2.8 when needed).

A note about K-7 white balance: it did not perform well under bright blue skies. That might be because I ordered it shipped to western Oregon, so blue-sky balance isn't common :^) but my Alpha A200 did better. I need to check a few other settings too, I tried a few custom menu items that might have shifted more than I expected. So many options on the K-7, and thus far so little time to learn!
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14 July 2010

lens surgery

“Successful surgery” can mean many things: complete restoration, something replaced with improved components.. or as in this case, removing a few bad parts to return something to a state close to its original condition. Although the lens isn’t exactly Fixed, I still deem my efforts a success!


I picked up a tired copy of a Rikenon-P 28-100 f/4 lens recently. I tightened a few handy screws around the edges, but the front element was shifting forward and back in the zoom assembly, leading to random focus. Given the price I paid and its near-useless condition, I decided to go into the lens and find the problem, and hopefully solve it. Four screws allowed the front portion to come off - one was stuck then stripped, so gentle application of my drill "solved" that problem. Once removed I found that the front portion of the lens was not the problem: the zoom mechanism that it attached to was the source of the troublesome wobble. I tried several ways to reach the heads of several loose screws which I could see through the assembly from the backside, but had no luck - the "access panel" was held by tiny flathead screws (I've misplaced that screwdriver), and they were securely glued in any case. After a few other attempts to break in, I went to plan 'B': a drop of super glue on the backside of each screw. Once set, that trick cured the wobble for good.

Reassembly was another adventure: two small metal inserts needed to be reattached, one to keep the lens from focusing beyond infinity and the other to prevent unscrewing the front element beyond minimum focus. I was successful at first (another drop of glue would need to replace the drilled-out screw), but something was not aligned right - focus and/or zoom were grinding near infinity and 100mm. One of the inserts was not behaving, so off came the front piece again. I decided that focus past infinity was not a real problem as it could only go so far (though I need to check that elements are not making contact!), so I left out that insert. Once the minimum-focus support was screwed down the lens worked again – better than ever since the wobble was gone. Whoopee!

This was quite demanding work! It took several attempts to get the front end to match properly with the rest of the lens, necessary to get focus where the markings indicated. The screws I could not undo also locked the focus ring in place, so I couldn’t ‘fake’ this. It was spooky dealing with the tiny screws, and I had to do it several times - but I had done it back in the ‘80s with a useless lens, and given enough patience the results were worthwhile. Other than its 605g weight this is a fun and flexible manual-focus lens, and its P setting allows Pentax cameras to perform auto-aperture exposure functions NOT TRUE - must be used off P setting in stop-down manual mode w/Pentax!. Its 'macro' setting reaches just inside 1:4, and the 67mm filter is already in my bag with the 16-45 DA. Flare will wreck the contrast with this lens, and I do not have a hood - so a spare hand or other light-block is critical for shooting toward the sun. Maybe a screw-on flexible hood attached beyond the cPL is in order - that could also be used on the 16-45, although its own hood is far more suitable. We shall see. I still have the spare screw and focus-stop, so if need be I can go back in - hope that isn't needed though!
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10 July 2010

gear switch: comparing my Pentax gear to Sony

I've switched over to the Pentax K-7 as my primary camera, and picked up a few good lenses (and some perhaps less so) along the way. Here is my quick evaluation of where I now stand compared to four months ago.

K-7 vs. A200
- no surprise it's a major change, almost entirely for the good. Much of what I found important enough to buy the A200 in 2008 is still here: onboard image stabilization, dynamic-range boost, and the image qualities that only big sensors can deliver. Their sizes are nearly identical, which ironically is why I switched: Sony's A700 features were quite similar to the K-7 but it's too large for my comfort. Sony's recent trend has been small camera = limited features, so given that I'd need to re-learn a new Sony interface it might just as well be a Pentax interface. For the same size (and a price difference <$200, two years later) I have all the features I seek: durability (e.g. weather seals & long-life shutter), versatility (more exposure options, 1/8k second shutter speed) and features I didn't have before (mirror lockup, metering follows AF point). I also have live view and a movie mode; these two features DID NOT factor into my decision, Sony - sorry to break it to you. I've tried LV twice with mixed success, and haven't shot a movie yet in a month. Nice that they are there for my future learning, but not needed at present.

AF lenses - the DA 16-45 was a surprising choice on the surface, as it was replacing my Sigma 17-70. I really liked the range on the latter, but had always wanted an affordable 16mm lens, whether fixed or zoom. I had hoped to catch an A700/16105 kit but had no luck, and the camera was too big in any case - but now I was sacrificing a lot of reach for that 16mm spot. Since the samsung sensor is actually a tiny bit smaller than Sony's, the 16 v 17 is even less vital - but I liked the price and the features so there it is. And the results are amazing, as sharp as the 17-70 but with higher sensor resolution to make it work. Losing f/2.8-3.5 isn't a big deal, less important to me than losing 100g off the lens weight. If the K-7 weighs more, at least its lenses can make up for it. I've owned some impressively sharp lenses in my Sony time, most notably the Minoltas 35-105 Macro and 100-200 f/4.5; the DA 16-45 fits in the same class of glass to my mind. That might be the four extra megapixels talking - but in any case it's very very good, and holds up well on a 14M-pixel camera.

For telephoto, my DAL 55-300 arrives next week; it is highly regarded in reviews by both owners and websites. The DA would be better still, but a few less grams (and dollars) persuaded me to forget its lack of quick-shift focus and non-metal mount. It could be a short-term lens for me if Pentax announces a weather-sealed version of this lens, but the DA and DAL are optically identical and are both under 450g, quite light for such a range. It's similar to the Tamron 70-300 that I attached to the A200 and which has closer 'macro' ability. We'll chat later about how the two compare in use. I used the Sigma 55-200 for a month with the Pentax, which outperformed Sony's well-liked zoom of identical range (both good for sharpness, but the SAL55200 had far more pincushion distortions at the longer end).

With three lenses (16-45, a 50 prime and 55-300) I will have a very versatile kit (though no weather-sealed lenses) that should do me for a while!

MF lenses - for now I'm scrimping a bit on the 50mm prime, having picked up a bargain Rikenon-P f/2.0 lens at auction. I had a Pentax-A 50 for a bit, but a shrewd bargainer took it from me along with the 55-200. The Ricoh lens is a touch sharper in focus but has spikier bokeh, so the images as a whole were slightly better with the Pentax. I also have a Chinon 28mm and a Rikenon XR 135, both f/2.8 lenses that work very well (though it's hard to prove they are sharply focused on the default focus screen, the AF confirmation does give guidance). These lenses have served me well but are not auto-aperture, so M-mode only for these (the 50mm P is the same as Pentax-A lenses so other modes are available). NOT TRUE - P mode only shoots wide open, must use stop-down manual metering w/Pentax!
Last but not least - well, maybe least - I have another Ricoh P lens, the Rikenon 28-100 f/4.0 Macro. It's a fun but heavy lens (605g), and it's lived a full life i.e. the front elements can shift a bit and fall out of focus. It's fun to play with but can be a little frustrating if you aim up or down. And like all of the MF lenses from long ago, flare is quite debilitating so I must carefully keep light from hitting the front glass. As long as that's done images are quite good.

That's it for now, thanks for listening!

05 July 2010

A great team: K-7 and DA16-45


This is a default jpg with nice contrasts. I had hoped to get the deep red foliage and spiky spruce, but the detail in the spruce branch was a surprise. Now I know the difference between 10 and 14 megapixels: my previous camera would not have hit me like this, and it had some excellent Minolta glass on it. I'm really impressed at how this turned out!
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