21 December 2012

the gear list, part XVII, give or take X

As 2013 approaches (and the Mayan calendar panic recedes!) the gear list has earned another entry in the 'blog.  Much gear has been sacrificed for Limited primes and the K-01 bargain, but what remains is truly good stuff.  I can look back and miss a few items that have left the list, but overall regrets are few. For example, the K-01 and its focus peaking would have rendered the 50mm f/1.4 Sears lens much more usable - but the DA40 Limited that has taken its range is far too good for any regrets!

  • K-5, still amazing after a year in my bag.  No real complaints, especially now that I have the next item with its focus peaking ability (yes more versatile video too, and some day I'll learn how to use it!).
  • K-01 (white), great fun since early November.  It's definitely a different way to achieve similar goals, some better and some worse.  I find I can manage a few things I didn't think I'd ever be willing to try, which is seldom a bad thing.
Lenses, in approximate FL order:
  • Sigma 15/2.8 fisheye: yes the DA15 would be smaller, but this has so many good things going for it that I have no complaints.  It's not all that large in any case, and it's faster, focuses closer and works with full-frame (film) cameras. Oh yes, often a bit cheaper too on the used market!  Great fun and very talented, and really not all that fishy for landscapes on an 16×24mm sensor.
  • Pentax 18-55WR: when the weather outside is frightful, this will do nicely.  Yes the 18-135 has its place and I enjoyed some time with a good copy - but the price difference was enough for this lens and a DA40 Limited (oops, that came up out of order).
  • SMC-A 24/2.8: I had once owned a Vivitar 24/2.0 but it was larger heavier and for some reason didn't resonate with me.  This one does just great, and colors are more correct than the Rikenon 28mm that I've enjoyed so much.  The 24mm also focuses closer and images are equally sharp by my my casual inspection.
  • Pentax DA40/2.8 Limited - yes it's true what others say: absurdly small, absurdly talented and worth owning.  For many it's the first Limited because of its price; I got such a good deal that I cannot repeat it, and it's a real keeper even had I paid $100 more like most other owners.  Sharp in focus and smooth elsewhere, thanks to great optics and nine-blade aperture, and too small to justify leaving behind.
  • Pentax DA 55-300: the perennial favorite telephoto lens for Pentaxians on a budget, whether financially or by weight.  Most owners and testers say it outperforms the many 70-300 zooms on the market, and other than some vignetting and not being f/2.8 it's hard to find much fault.  For 420 grams I'll take the speed penalty, especially with the sweet-16Mpxl sensors that I have in the K-5 and K-01.  When I need telephoto it's hard to need more than this.
  • Pentax DA70/2.4 Limited - ditto at least, except that this one was not to be found cheaply.  It's still worth the price.  Something about this feels illegal, to be a bit telephoto yet tiny and fast - and let's not forget the nine aperture blades to make the images really snap.  Live and learn: Limiteds are worth having.
  • Rikenon XR 70-150/4: when I put down my bid at auction I barely knew this lens existed.  It's been with me quite a while, relatively speaking, and other than its old-school lens coating it's a real marvel.  I don't recall seeing many 2-ring internal-zoom lenses in my 1980s film days but clearly a few were out there, and this one is smooth and sharp.  It's a bit dense and at 440 grams it's heavier than all but the 400mm - but fixed f/4 through the range, 52mm filter threads and a built-in shade are nice to have.  Optically it's of prime caliber and can sorta do close focusing in its 'macro' mode.  O What Fun!
  • Promaster 100mm f/3.5 macro (AF): I had tried two other macros, and felt like Goldilocks.  The Tamron 90 was excellent but too bulky, the Sigma 50 excellent but I had to get sooo close for real macro images.  The Promaster only goes 1:2 on its own - but I have the original 'matched' multiplier to achieve 1:1 shots (which works fine with the Limiteds by the way), and it's well under half the size and weight of the Tamron.  This does very well for my mid-tele and macro work, and is another small wonder.  I've made it pretty clear that I like that in lenses!
  • Hanimar 400/6.3: and then there's this thing.  A preset T-mount lens (with 16 aperture blades!) it's a curiosity that was handed to me by my father-in-law; for the price of a K-mount adapter any 400mm lens is hard to beat.  I need to use it more but it's done quite well on my few test outings.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

A few additional items have not yet left the building.
The Rikenon-P 28/2.8 has been a real gem, and I've enjoyed its time on the camera.  While the 24mm has crowded it a bit I still find occasional use for it; perhaps one day it will leave me, which I did not think I'd ever say aloud.  That's saying something about the SMC-A 24!  The SMC-M 50mm f/2 is very good but the DA40 takes its spot for nearly everything, and the Vivitar (Kobori) 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 is a fun one-touch zoom that the 24-40-70-100 primes have supplanted.

Compared to earlier times, that's not many lenses - but it's more than I can use at any one event that's certain.  Most events can go with perhaps two primes and a zoom, and seldom would more than four go anywhere with me.  A very comfortable kit.

Micro four-thirds:
On the non-Pentax side, we own two Lumix G1 cameras, two 14-42 OIS kit lenses and a 45-200 OIS zoom to share.  My wife really wants to learn about imaging, and having identically-spec'd cameras was how she wanted to learn.  These are decently talented micro/43 cameras with electronic viewfinders and flip screens, so very versatile.  I also have a basic adapter to allow the K-mount lenses with aperture rings to work as well, though no stabilization in that case.  I must try the 400mm Hanimar on the G1 soon!!

 I now own Elements 10 and Premiere 10, having upgraded from 9.  Not usually worth taking a single step up, but I didn't have Premiere before this, and the package price was very good - and since I now have the K-01 I might do some video work.  Some day.
Plugins for the above include NeatImage for noise reduction, SmartCurve for lighting adjustments and ReDynamix for gentle redistribution of dynamic lighting without all the HDR effort. I also use Picasa software for the easy changes and quick text additions.  That'll do for now.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 
Update March '13
Add a Pentax Q to the list with its standard 02 zoom, and yet another SMC-A 50mm f/1.7 - I had one just a few months ago, but that was before the K-01 made faster lenses practical thanks to focus peaking.  This one cost about half the other's price too - bargains get to me like that!  It will get used when light is really scarce, otherwise the DA40/70 team will crowd it.  
The Q does not have a PK adapter... yet... so expect another update when I break down at last.

April update - subtract a G-1, add a DA 50-200WR to the mix.

01 December 2012

Duncan with K-01 and DA70

This was processed from DNG in Elements 9.  ISO6400, 1/6s at f/3.5, manually focused until whiskers glowed with focus peaking.  The camera was set to -0.7EV so I boosted the light a bit, but not too much!  Also removed color noise but luminance NR is set to zero; also removed a slight magenta color cast.  Given 1/6 second exposure this is mighty good, and the small amount of processing at iso6400 speaks volumes about the sensor & internal circuitry in the K-01.  The lens cannot help but impress too; wish I'd gone to f/2.8 for this.

Oh yeah: I'm happy with this!

17 November 2012

a week with the white brick

The K-01 has received sporadic use as I recover slowly from a virus, and take care of my unwell spouse.  What it has revealed is both amazing and frustrating, and it will teach me what is valuable in my style and what is just old habits.  That's a good thing.

The first obvious item is the view.  I really like viewfinders, love the K-5 real-life view and tolerate the G1's 1st-generation electronic VF.  And now the K-01, which is live view or nothing.  I can manage any of them, though my varifocal reading glasses do make the K-01 positioning quite important.  Virtual views have their place, as they show exposure and white balance that optical finders cannot match.  In any case, while I prefer the K-5 on this I can manage (for a week at least!) with the alternatives.

As to focus, and full-time contrast AF?  Again amazing and frustrating - focus is more leisurely than I like, but it locked precisely on a shot in very low light that I'd avoid with the K-5.  I don't calculate EV numbers but a shot of my bookshelf was 1/13, f/3.2, iso5000.  Motion blur was erased by SR and iso did the rest, and the image looks like all lights were on in the room.  Amazing.  Add to this the focus-peaking ability, which dramatically speeds my manual-focus times - and once again I can only say the K-01 system is not bad, just different. *NOTE* the v1.02 firmware has made a big difference in focus speed and accuracy.  Still different, and now better... but the K-05 has also been updated to v1.14 and presumably its CDAF is faster too.

And the images look just great, maybe a bit punchier at first glance than my K-5.  I've adjusted my custom-image settings on that camera though, so no comparison is fair at this point.  Many have commented that their K-01 images look 'better' than K-5 images, which can be attributed to more precise focusing, a year-newer 16Mpix sensor, the Prime-M support chip, or firmware tweaks to the processing.  Maybe even the low-pass 'AA' filter, which seems to be weak and thereby allow more detail.  In any case jpeg images are definitely not a step down.

OK let's talk about the K-01 ergonomics.  I haven't played enough in a week, and I haven't read much of the manual, so I'm at the grumpy part of the learning curve.  I am used to using ±EV by holding the button and turning the dial, and my hands cannot do this on the K-01 - but then I learned to press ± release and then dial compensation... and that works fine, once again "just different".  My grip is awkward but pretty secure on the body, but a few fingers have not found their happy place yet.  I see that many users shoot with their thumb on the shutter, which I have not tried yet.  I also have not decided which assignments will serve best for the red and green buttons, so as I learn the camera will begin to fit me better.

I really like the white with black knobs, whether 'stormtrooper' or 'panda' nickname is used.. some are even going with 'pandatrooper' FCOL!  It's a cute white brick to me, maybe CWB will serve.  I'd like a snow themed nickname, and thinking snow brought me to the abominable snowman. Given the harsh reviews this camera has received, the abominable Pentax came to me.  Maybe that will stick, maybe not... 'ghost cam' fits just as well, and its talent was invisible to most reviewer/art critics.

And least but not last, video.  I hear it's great, and I expect to make use of it - but I haven't yet, so no comments on SR, jello in motion or other features/failings.  More to come on that.  That fact that the K-01 can do normal video with compression, 50/60 fps for slo-mo and interval-timed movies has my attention, but I have to see it in action to see if it has a place in my way of doing things.

Changing to 1:1, 16:9 and other ratios is something I often do in playback mode on the K-5, and it's nice to have those settings in advance for framing.  Image quality is great, as noted above, and nearly all the K-5 options are available (at least the ones that I've used on that body).  The K-01 sits closer to me due to lack of a viewfinder cup and the strap-attachment setup; with a small prime it's an easy under-coat camera.  Focus peaking is quite excellent and will be used with AF lenses not just MF, and really it renders AF speed irrelevant in most instances!  I really like the Li-90 battery compatibility!  More likes will come as I try more, e.g. I expect to make good use of the interval-timer movie mode at some point.

Not So Hot
AF speed is still a challenge, and looking at the big screen all the time is not my preferred option.  AF sound seems louder, no surprise with the hollow space in the camera.  As noted above though, peaking lets me focus quickly and get the exact spot I want in focus, so this is more a whine than a real complaint.  I can see how some with less patience would go mad over the rubber-door attachment but it hasn't gotten to me yet.  I do wish the rubber wrap had extended to a spot for my thumb, but it isn't a large annoyance.  Um, really that's it as of now.  More likes and dislikes will come, I'm sure.

11 November 2012

simply irresistible / ghosts of the A700

Long ago in my dSLR infancy, I chose Sony over Pentax and picked up an A200.  Within about two months the Great Best-Buy Selloff hit: the chain dumped all their A700 bodies for just over my A200 price!  That was an amazing jump in camera and image quality at an absurd price - but too late for me, right?  Well yes, but I admit I drove to several stores in a last-minute frenzy of remorse.  That hurt - but hey the A200 served me well for a while.

A year or two later, no A700 replacement and no sensible A200 upgrade path.  The A500/550 came along at last, with entirely different ergonomics that didn't really fit me well.  Knowing that I'd need to relearn my shooting routine to move up I went diagonally instead, to Pentax.  Their cameras fit right again, and I found the nearly-ideal camera in the K-5.  I juggled my lens lineup too many times to count (and I kinda tried!) but I didn't feel that any upcoming features would be missed in the near future.  Yes focus peaking looked cool and video features sounded fun - but not enough to cause me concern.

Then the K-01 came out, which addressed a few things but went its own way in others.  No weather seals, no viewfinder, and a curious shape - and the price was pretty high.  No thanks.  The K-30 had more cool features and was closer to the K-5 in many ways, but again my gut had been right: no reason to regret a K-5 here.  I wasn't seeking a full-frame option, yet I saw just how many lenses I owned that would smoothly cross that line.  What relief then, when Pentax announced no 2012 FF option!

Then recently the K-01 came crashing down in price.  $550± for that camera was intriguing, and I could see its values in a new and cheaper light.  That was still too much to pay though, and I managed to look the other way.

Well then it dropped another $200 - and the A700 endgame was playing out again.  Could I look away from a $350 camera body with all those features, an incredible sensor, and with full PK-mount (and K-5 battery) compatibility?  Well yes I could.. for a week or so, when forums announced that batch was gone.  Would more appear?  Probably, and that price might stick around.
But I thought the A700 would do that too - and I was very wrong.

So after another cut of about $20 on a few sites, my willpower failed, and a white K-01 has entered the building.  For days when video is important and weather sealing less so, it will be great fun, a few grams lighter, and catch a few eyes.  Thankfully most of my old gear has sold (and I let the Lumix GF2 / 17mm Olympus micro43 pair go as well), so this was a net zero in the bank accounts while clearing some shelf space!  Now to grow the funds, and my willpower, back to their former levels!

26 October 2012

Letting go... ?

As noted in the recent past, it's time to call the buy/sell struggle a draw.  I have several great lenses, and messing further with the lineup will bring change but not improvement.  Several of the second-tier lenses are really cool and fun to use but let's face it: old coatings will not perform like the new stuff and autofocus with quick-shift override beats manual efforts on most of my shots.  The Rikenon 28mm is going nowhere (for now) but several 'old favorites' must become someone else's favorites now.

A fine example is the Rikenon XR 70-150.  I've really liked this lens since I first won the bid, and it has several features I really like such as internal zoom, fixed f/4, 52mm filters and the built-in hood.  Honestly though, the DA55-300 beats it everywhere that matters, with much more range less weight and modern coatings.  While not as compact as the SMC-M 135/3.5 and 200/4, they really are duplicates that I won't use enough to justify their coolness.

Another that I hate to see go is the excellent Sigma 50/2.8 macro.  The 100mm Promaster can do 1:1 with its adapter and for the few times I want more range I can just pack the 55-300 and be done.

We'll see how the deals go down - but it's time to move on!

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

And yet, on the very next day, I ordered an SMC-A 24mm lens. 
This was in the KEH 'ugly' bin so the price was nice, and I've yet to learn of anyone dissatisfied with an UG -grade lens from them.  Since folks (including me!) can send it back and no harm done how can one be unhappy?  If this lens is typical optically I won't worry about Ugly -but the well-liked Rikenon 28 will be at risk and fully-manual shooting will become entirely optional.  But let's wait and see - I remember reading once that "it's time to move on!".  The Sigma 50 has sold already; so it begins.

Update  - I still have the two Rikenons (28 and 70-150) but most other sale items have sold - so the clutter has lessened.  The SMC-A24 is a real gem.  The next post explains why the Lumix GF2 has also sold!

21 October 2012


OK I've dated myself - even post-dated perhaps? 
"Uncle" was a term that meant "I've had enough, stop now" in bygone days.  Ah well...

Time to pull the plug on lens changes ASAP.  I let the 18-135 go, as the recent hike made it clear that in good weather I'd prefer primes.  I picked up yet another 18-55WR for foul-weather shooting; this not only good enough for me but nicer on the lens fund and much more compatible with my 52mm filter set!

I also bit the bullet and picked up a used DA70 Limited to keep the DA40 company.  So much for that lens fund, and hence the cry of "uncle"!  This pair squeezes out the 50mm Sigma macro and puts the 100mm Promaster in charge of extreme closeups, and light tele duties too for that matter.  Two of Pentax' famous Limited pancake primes, a fully-manual but very talented 28mm and a flyweight 'plastic fantastic' 100mm macro, with a fisheye for just the right moments and two venerable SMC-M small telephotos when the DA55-300 seems inappropriate.  Hmmm, well that could happen I suppose... ?

A few others can go now too, though for the price of postage it might not be worth the effort - but we'll see.  A couple of other 50mm lenses should go besides the macro - though perhaps the 50mm/1.7 'A' or f/2 'M' lens should stick around for times when f/2.8 won't do.  Given the hi-ISO talents of the K-5 though, those times are impressively rare!

So today's roster, sorted by filter size:
49mm* - DA40, SMC-A 50/1.7, DA70, SMC-M 135mm
52mm* - Rikenon 28mm + 70-150, SMC-M 200mm (all fully manual), DA18-55WR
58mm - DA55-300
nosuch - Sigma 15mm fisheye

* I have a 49-52mm step ring so I can pretend these are equivalent.  Somewhere I have a 52-58 step as well, if I really feel like leaving filters at home!

13 October 2012

a month's trials and a fine hike

I took a pretty walk early in October, trying out several lenses in turn.  The bag carried the DA18-135 for simplicity, plus a Sigma 15 fisheye, Rikenon 28 and the DA40.  The Sigma 50 stayed in the car, victimized yet again by the DA40.  Sadly the Promaster 100 macro stayed at home; it would have been a fine complement to the other primes.  Also sadly, the 49-52mm step ring did not come, so the DA40 had no polarizer like the 28 and 18-135.  While I'm filled with regrets, the Rikenon 70-150 f/4 really should have been there too!

At first the 18-135 got all the shots and I found it satisfactory - especially since it was my only 'telephoto' option! - but weather conditions were perfect at the time, so its weather sealing was of no value here.  No need for silent focus either, as I was essentially alone and 6500 feet up!  So after taking a shot at  around 40mm I popped on the Limited prime and enjoyed it for a while.  The smaller camera/lens combo was most pleasant!  It alternated with the all-manual Rikenon at times, which with the cPL filter took several powerful images.  I must say that overall I preferred the primes as my way to shoot.  Having fairly large FL gaps is not big to me, and 15-28-40 felt just fine; I would like to add the DA70 some day to fill the space to the 100, but I also have a Rikenon 70-150 zoom that would have served very well - sadly it also stayed home. 

At the turnaround point on my hike I broke out the 15mm fisheye, and it was great fun.  Starpoints made the sun into an artistic light source, and the larch and huckleberry shrubs were great color features.  I'm always impressed that the sun can be in an image yet exposure doesn't overcompensate with a black foreground!  Soon the 15mm went back in the pack, and the DA40 was back on.  The 40 and 28 got plenty of use on the way back.

So what did I learn?  (And will it stick?)
I think the 18-55WR is enough WR range for my purposes, and the $300 saved can go back in the fund for a DA70.  I will need to try that 70-150 f/4 with the other two primes first however - as the Rikenon 28 makes the DA21 less vital to my plans, the 70-150 may restrain my 'need' for the DA70.  I'm still on the fence for a macro, with two fine choices: the Sigma 50/2.8 EX DG has been sidelined by the DA40 and the Promaster 100/3.5 lost its chance to shine this trip.  So a few more tests to winnow the set are needed.

More shots from this trip on Picasa!

02 September 2012


This is what happens to supposedly-stable lens collections: a period of stability and satisfaction ends with a deal that's just too good to pass up.  Whether or not it really was too good the transaction happens - and one deals with the aftershocks.  If it wasn't all that good after all it moves on; if it's really good though, other lenses are re-evaluated for either quality (not as good?) or focal length (this lens FL of x makes an adjacent-FL lens or two expendable) or some other quality (why do I now own so many macro primes?).

The Sigma 50mm f/2.8 macro seemed my ideal 'last lens' that fit perfectly into the slot between 28 and the 70-150 zoom.  It has AF, it's reasonably fast (both focus and aperture) and 1:1 macro.  But then came the 100mm f/3.5 macro, which is pretty nearly as good at all those things in a longer yet lighter form.  Yes it's just 1:2 without the adapter element, but I seem to be OK with that 90% of the time*.   If it's so good at 100mm I won't carry the 70-150 - but then I have 28 50 and 100 - two of which are macros?  Might as well lighten the load with a manual 50 to go with the all-manual 28!  Yes that makes sense, and here's a 50/1.7 SMC-A for aperture control on the camera, how nice.  A few chats and clicks and it's on its way.

Then shock #2 hits in the form of a bargain used DA40 Limited pancake lens.  One has to see this lens to understand what 'pancake' means in the lens business - and it seems one must try a Limited lens to know what that means!  This will be my first, and seldom does one stop at just one.  The 50/1.7 has not arrived yet but it seems that its place has been stolen away: here is a tiny, sharp and fast-AF gem .. and 'tis said that the DA40 works with film or a future full-frame digital Pentax, so both my 50s are matched even there!

Now far too many dominoes are near to falling - time for 'damage' control, meaning a few choice lenses must go to feed the new beasts.

In any case, the journey continues for "my ideal kit".
I'm fully aware that it's a myth yet I cannot help but seek it...

* hey, that 49mm macro adapter fits on Limited primes!

19 August 2012

trying out another macro

Well, here's just one comparison between the 'new' Promaster 100mm f//3.5 and my Sigma 50mm f/2.8.  Both are shot around 1:2 closeup, which is the 100mm native max (but comes with a matched closeup lens for 1:1).  Both look quite nice and sharp here at f/4.5; the Sigma is a touch bluer and lower key but other shots did not show this.  Another shot was more of a bokeh torture test and showed the Sigma looks a bit better in that regard - but at double the focal length so many parameters change!  So often in testing a single shot will show things that will not prove repeatable, so one must learn a little then learn to let go of what one wants to believe is "always true".

This Promaster was surprising, as it looks identical to the somewhat-revered Cosina known as the "plastic fantastic".  That lens has reviews in many places, and once again shows that what is "always true" isn't.  The Cosina feels fragile, sounds like a meat grinder when focusing, and cannot be used in manual focus because of the grip/slip nature of turning the ring by hand.

I will let stand the plastic part, as it does feel like a less-durable plastic than most lenses - but like every screw-drive lens I own the AF is a short buzz and MF has less resistance than I'd like.  I posted at pentaxforums and found another owner with the same result.. so something has changed since those Cosina reviews were released, apparently.  I paid more than the average Cosina price too, but given how it exceeds the reviews I'm OK with that.

In any case, a 205-gram 100mm lens that can do 1:2 closeups with no effort sounds good to me!  It could shake up the kit again around 50mm if this knocks the Sigma off its macro perch.  I expect the Sigma is better overall - but one thing that is "always true" is that no macro lens is a bad lens.  That can't always be true can it? :^)  The Tamron 90 is an excellent lens but at 400+ grams it stayed home too often; at about half the weight for similar results, the Promaster can stick around a while.

Posted by Picasa

15 August 2012

OK maybe just one more.

I need to step away from the computer for a while and take some photos.  I just perused the auction site in search of a 100mm± prime lens at a budget price.  That would mean manual focus and exposure, at best an f/4 macro type but not likely.  Hmmm, the notorious 'plastic fantastic' 100mm f/3.5 macro is up for a slight surcharge.  Manufactured by Cosina but sold under many labels, it's known as a cheap-feeling loud-focusing lens that is optically incredible.  Loud focusing but auto not manual - if it's too loud just go into MF mode!  It also has electronic aperture (the 'A' setting in Pentax-speak), an unexpected touch.  So it's on its way, and I really must stop now.

One of many reviews are at the Minolta/dyxum site - and here's one from photozone; scroll right to the bottom and see mechanical / optical / value ratings.  Ugly to look at, a joy to look through.  Enough said!

But hey, didn't I sell off a 90mm Tamron macro a few months ago in favor of the 50mm Sigma? 
While on the surface (and maybe even deeper?) that makes little sense I think it's reasonable; the Tamron was dense and large, and at over 400g was the sort of bulk I often choose to leave behind.  The Cosina (this one's a Promaster actually) may use ugly plastic but at 210g it's absurdly light - so light that I could take the SMC-M 50mm f/2 and this lens for less mass than the Sigma alone.  We'll see in a while if another kit-busting move is in the making; I don't think so just yet, but I seldom see it in advance!

03 August 2012

trying again

About a year and a half ago, I wrote this about the Pentax DA18-135WR lens, which was supposed to be my best answer to the kit-lens replacement conundrum.  I had tried replacing the kit with several different lenses (DA16-45 and Sigmas 17-70 18-200 and 18-50 f/2.8-4.5) but this one had the best feature set of them all.

The DA18-135 was pretty new at the time, and I got mine via a swap.. which meant that I had no receipt on which to rely if the lens had issues.  It did: I could not bear to look at the results beyond about 70mm.  I let it go to another owner instead of making Pentax aware of it, and let my frustration be known; nearly every reply told me that lens was a bad copy that should have been sent off for inspection.  A couple of reviews online were not favorable, with flaws similar to what I found - but most reports are that it beats the 18-55 in its range plus does well at longer FLs as well.  I have felt bad ever since about not getting it repaired, since it was too new to be beyond any sort of warranty.  Too late.

Even with my bad experience, the features remain tantalizing.  If you need WR you are best served by not switching lenses, even from one WR to another.  And the silent focusing of the DC motor pairs well with the K-7 and K-5 with their soft shutter sound.  So once again, the 18-135 sounds like an ideal lens!

So I'm trying again, having won a bid on a copy removed from someone's new K30 kit.  (Guess the seller has the coveted 16-50 and 50-135 DA*, or something else to make this surplus to his/her needs.)  I sure hope this one meets my standards, but if not I will send it in to be inspected regardless of any proof of purchase.  I would love to wander with this lens and either the DA55-300 or the SMC-M 200/4 for longer work, and my two Sigmas (15mm fisheye and 50mm macro) available off the bench.

Update - this is undoubtedly a better copy of the 18-135.  Sharpness is decent, but more important is the lesser degree of color fringing at telephoto focal lengths.  Yes I can make it look bad if I try and if I look hard, but that's nothing compared to the old copy.  This of course shakes up the kit again - off with the 18-55WR and whatever else can bring in spare funds.

01 August 2012

camping at last

 After nearly three years without any practice, my first trailer-camp required backing up between two thick trees and up a 20-degree slope.. and oh yes it was pitch dark, not counting the many nice relatives who illuminated our site and called out warnings or encouragement as I struggled to regain old habits. 

We hung out in the bug-free woods for three days.  I brought two cameras to play with: the K-5 and a fine red Lumix GF2.  While its primary purpose is its AF video more than raw-image stills, it wandered the camps with me nearly as often as the K-5.  In fact the K-5 sulked a bit - not exactly that, but it showed signs of a K-5 battery trait that is fairly well documented.  The mirror mechanism fired twice for several shots when using a freshly-charged battery, and as the battery is used the issue 'always' resolves - and my camera ran true to form.  The GF2 had just its 14-42 kit (28-84 equivalent) while the K-5 used 15 (fisheye), 28 and 50mm (macro) lenses (22, 42 and 75mm equivalent).  All had their uses, and for the family photo I went old-school with the 28mm Rikenon.  This old manual lens is a sharp one, and I captured the bunch of us very well.  Sadly my wife was ill through all of Saturday, so the trip had rather strong ups and downs.  But despite the health problems we did it!
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23 July 2012

equal time for equal lunacy

This time it's the USPS delivery service hopscotching from Washington to central California to deliver a package to Portland. How is this a sensible thing to do??

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20 July 2012

macro lenses are nice.. but!

This image is in fact from my Rikenon 28mm lens near its min focus of 11 inches and shot at f/5.6.

Yes it's heavily cropped - but I cannot find any great fault with that as I'm not about to print a poster of this.  Remember when you hear complaints about how 50mm and 35mm macro lenses make you frighten away bugs: cropping can be a good friend.  I went inside and grabbed my Sigma 50 macro, but really could not get much closer in any case.  I could crop it a bit less to get slightly better results, but the great shot with the 28mm is a better story to share. Macro-like images from a $35 lens and no screw-on 'macro filter' works for me!

12 July 2012

camera kit: more fine tuning

As I noted in a recent post, the lens set that I have is quite excellent and satisfactory. I still place low bids now and then, and to my surprise I won a 100-300 Quantaray. It is a clone of an earlier Sigma that I had, and it rivals the Pentax DA55-300 but with lower contrast and f/6.7 above 220mm; it's full-frame friendly and has an aperture ring, so it has uses with film bodies and great potential if Pentax takes the hint and releases a FF 36x24-sensor camera. Until such moments arise it really has no great use to me, but it is a bit more compact and focuses faster than the 55-300. I guess lower bids are in order though! One can make a nice pairing of the 28-105 and 100-300, but neither of those lenses are kept in immediate reach very often - I guess "top-shelf" optics means that I put them further out of reach, so it's not the compliment that the label suggests. Another addition is on its way, and again it's an old favorite: the SMC-M 200mm f/4. Since the 70-150 was my highest focal length in manual-focus gear, this was a nice (re)addition; I can now use 28, 70-150 and 200 manual-focus lenses to make a nice primal set. To round it out, AF primes at 15 and 50mm and the SMC-M 135/3.5 (also on the top shelf) can be added.

kidding, right?

After waiting and watching for several days, my last-ever cell phone (probably) reached Troutdale, about 10 miles from my house.  I came home from work expecting to see it on the porch - instead it had traveled 150 miles to a processing facility.

I swear you can't make stuff like this up.  If it went by road it may have passed within 1/4 mile of my home on its way out of state.  And my protest note received a simple form letter, stating that all is on schedule.  Nobody at fedex can actually look at a map and see how stupid and wasteful this process has become?  Corporate knows best.  Idiots.
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06 July 2012

getting one's perspective

I had always wanted to see a backpacking map and my home town set to the same scale.

Like this:

It's amazing what a bit of elevation, topography and solitude (not to mention the pack weight!) can do to make distance scales change.  The Sierra sample is the neighborhood that we backpacked in 2009, so I can envision a few of our camps and remember the effort.  The rewards for that effort were spectacular.  I've walked home from downtown before, and it's charming in its own way to see the homes and yards - and the (paved) routes too numerous to count.  Similar yet incomparable.

And now I know.
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24 June 2012

processing inside the K-5

A few weeks back the sun broke out, creating a nice spotlight effect on downtown Portland. I took this picture despite being forced to shoot through the office window, which was originally tinted but now also has a film coating as well; this effective destroys color balance and sharpness and makes most images curious throwaways. At least I managed not to get reflections of the interior lights, which look like UFOs in many other shots!

I decided to process the shot within the K-5, to see just what I could come up with.

Step 1 was cropping to 16x9, to remove the lower clutter that wasn't sharp enough to provide any value. I then shifted the color a bit and tried the lowest-setting HDR effect. I think I left the 'retro' filter on too, but I tried & discarded several filters before finally saving the image.

The result is dark portions that are too dark, but it's a far better image than the original. 
The damage from that awful window-glass is almost gone!

So the K-5 is not a complete darkroom by any means, but it's not bad at all.
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05 June 2012

two weeks later, another spot on the sun!

This time it's Venus masquerading (quite poorly) as a sunspot.  
Of course the moon did an even poorer job of it!

I watched Mercury do this ten years and more ago, so it's nice to complete the group.  Now all the major items that pass in front of the sun have been seen: Moon, Merc and Venus - other than the occasional rogue micro-planet or comet that's it.  I won't be holding my breath for any of those, but who knows what future sights are in store for us?

22 May 2012

that was fun!

All that driving for a dumb picture?

Well not exactly.

The weekend of May 20th had several things going for it.  On a personal level it was the seventh anniversary of my first date with my future wife.  Yes the Republic fell and the Empire was established, and Darth Vader was encased in black plastic.. pretty sad overall, but we consider it a nice evening anyway.  We chose to travel on the 20th to commemorate that date and our 5th wedding anniversary; that happened in January but we were forced to delay our party.  To make it worth heading south there was the annular solar eclipse cruising past Oregon on its way to Texas.  These are not the stunners that total eclipses are, with the prominences and huge corona blazing in a starry sky, but they are worth seeing anyway (if you have filters to protect your vision!).

So off we went.  This event also came close to cancellation, as we intended to go Saturday for a far more leisurely ramble toward totality - but instead we dashed down Sunday, arriving at a suitable site with about 10 minutes to spare.  I brought three cameras - the Lumix G1 and 45-200mm lens got the tripod, the K-5 and various lenses was in hand for versatility, and a film camera was used for the occasional shot, the first film I've exposed in about a decade.  Overkill most likely, but if you own them why not use them?

We made a cheap pinhole camera to use when cameras had the filters attached, then popped the filters on the binocs for the big views - or just held the filters to our eyes and saw the action unfold in natural scale. Several groups of clouds threatened to intervene but they passed above the sun instead, so we had very little atmospheric interference with the show. The sky faded toward twilight yet visibility remained great; impressive how less than 10 percent of the sun can still provide that much light! The wind faded to nothing during the eclipse, where it had been brisk and gusty in the afternoon heat. Shadows looked decidedly weird, a feature I remember from 1979's total eclipse that a few of us viewed from near Mt. Hood. And then the moon caught the far edge of the sun, and the event was essentially over. We packed up slowly and drove back into thick mid-level clouds, which brought the solar show to an ignominious end.

It should be noted that my film experience was not great, and makes digital imaging feel so much more 'right' now.  I bought batteries for three film bodies, only to find that the 'best' of them (Pentax ME 'SE') had drained them overnight; apparently it was not set to Lock and that's bad.  The second ME body was not closing convincingly, so the film could fog at a very bad time - so I stole its batteries and put them in the SE body.  Since that had drained the other batteries I wasn't sure of that - so this left the Ricoh XR-10 as my safest bet.  That camera came through but it was an awkward fit since I did not get to read any instructions first!  The film took almost $10 to process and the drug store failed to print most of the eclipse shots.. guess the computer figured they were blank and decided not to print!  I will try that SE in the near future.. maybe it can catch the Venus transit?  p.s. it sure is weird not seeing the captured image on the back of old film cameras.. :^)
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19 May 2012

the updated kit - today's version :^)

A week after speculating on missing gear I have a 15mm. A month after seeking and finding a 35-70 lens for my manual-focus kit I have my favorite 28-105 again. When does it end? Obviously about two weeks after I'm dead, since I could go suddenly after placing a bid.

 So am I happy? Well, I'm a naturally happy guy so that doesn't quite fit - but I am satisfied, which is the equivalent in gear-lust terms.  The lenses in my possession only lacks a super-zoom and for now that's OK; the K-5 is a camera that still leaves too little missing to cause me any concern.

  •  Today's AF kit: Sigma EX15, Pentax DA18-55, EX/DG50 macro, DA55-300
  • The MF lightweight kit: Rikenon 28P, 35-70P, 70-150XR. 
  • The MF 2-lens (or video) kit: Vivitar(Kobori) 28-105 and 70-150XR. 
  • The alternate kit: Lumix G1, 14-42 and 45-200 OIS zooms.
  • The full-frame-sensor kit? 15, 28, 50 primes, 28-105 and 70-150 zooms!
Good stuff all, and plenty of time to learn it all (assuming  I do not go suddenly!).  And now the film bodies, which now consists of two Pentax MEs and two Ricohs (XR-10 and KR5 super).  The Vivitar 28-105 came with a leather-wrapped ME 'SE', a special edition with diagonal split-image focusing screen.  Pretty cool, and now my lead body for the rare use of film.  I really want to learn more about the XR-10 that came with the 35-70 Rikenon though, it shows some interesting features from the early days of electronic cameras.  I need to download a manual so I can brush up, and to figure out what the button near the lens-mount does!

more coming soon ..

13 May 2012

careful what you wish for..

Having recently decided a 15mm lens was in my future, I set about seeing what that future would cost me.. in order to decide how far in the future I'd need to shop. LBA forces a lot of such circular logic in order to justify more lenses, and it worked its dark magic again. Sitting on the auction site was the Sigma 15mm fisheye, gently used, for .. make offer?
I made offer. And now it's mine.
Regrets are pleasantly few. Yes I would have preferred the DA15 which is smaller and lighter, and has quick-shift focus override. On the other hand I will enjoy f/2.8 abilities and be full-frame capable if Pentax chooses to make a camera with a 36x24 sensor. Even if that's announced tomorrow I am not up for such a thing, as I really like the K-5 size and would not choose to carry a more massive camera. Still, others would definitely go for such a camera, and some of them will have DA15s - and they will covet my Sigma! And even if they don't, this is an excellent lens regardless of peers. In the 24x18-sensor world the fishiness is lessened but still there for entertaining shots. Outdoors, just keep the horizon near the center and trees away from the edge, and its fisheye characteristics are much minimized.

This should be fun!

11 May 2012

collecting bodies & camera-store memories

It seems that more people are letting their film bodies go when selling other gear, just to be rid of them. I recently picked up the SMC-M 40mm pancake with a Pentax ME attached, then a Rikenon 35-70 zoom with a KR-10 attached. Now another ME is coming to me, with a flash, M50mm f/2 and Vivitar 28-105 along for the ride.. well vice versa, as I was seeking the Vivitar. I was forced to sell a copy of this lens last year during a budget crunch, and this one could net out as a freebie depending on the condition of the other items. I picked up some LR-44 batteries to bring these bodies back to life, and found some print film at Walgreens to try out. Gosh, film is getting rare - only iso400 was available.

For the first time in forever Lloyd Center mall has no camera store; yes, Sears and Radio Shack are in there with a few items, but no true dedicated photo stop. Kodak at Sandy's was there from the beginning of Lloyd Center, and I worked at the Picture Mill in a corner of Newberrys (another mall store) in 1979-80. Several years later Sandy's camera store sold out and mutated into a Ritz - but even then a Kits Camera store was in another part of the mall. I bought my Casio P505 on closeout at the Kits store right before they merged with Ritz. And so the Kits was gone -- now Ritz has left the building as well. That particular Ritz is where I bought my Alpha A200 in 2008. Strange days, and many memories.

06 May 2012

daring to dream - camera gear 'needs'

The budget is tight around most of the globe, and our household is included. I have carefully assembled my gear, having backtracked and reworked it several times as our finances flexed. I have been indulging very few other hobbies, so I am content with what I have.
But if? If more funds dropped into my lap for photography, where would it go? Let me count the ways..

First off: inventory.
On the AF front I am covered from 18mm to 300mm with very good Pentax zooms.  For manual-focus fun I have things covered at 28mm and from 35-150mm with a prime and two zooms (all from what I'll call Ricoh's bronze age - hopefully the golden age begins soon!).  I have a macro lens, several decent filters, a good-enough tripod and bags to carry the gear.  Memory aplenty and two batteries.  Check.

Inventory problems?
I have to say my limitations are few, and thoroughly self-imposed.  I have no "fast glass", and I am very happy about that!  To spend twice as much cash to carry thrice the weight, so that I can shoot at f/2.8 instead of f/4.5?  With a K-5 that can shoot iso6400 or better with careful attention?   As Bilbo Baggins will soon be saying on screen, No thank you!
As to range, I feel only slightly cramped and only at the wide end.  I should like to pass beyond 18mm - though something like 10mm would more likely distract my concentration - why compose when you can take a picture with everything in it?  That's an awful thing to say but I can hear it even now; the lazy imager in me will not be silenced and my guard must stay up. To keep lenses small and scale under some semblance of control, I'd like a prime or two for going ultrawide.

My Mental Shopping List
If money frees up for a large purchase my most likely next lens will be 15mm, most likely the DA15.  Let's face it though, I also fancy Sigma's 15mm fisheye, which yields a bit more speed at the price of bent lines.  One of those would likely be followed by the DA21.  I really like the 28 that I have and it would probably have a comfortable place on my shelf if the 21 came about.  The Sigma EX DG 50mac that I own now is too good to waste my dreams on the Limiteds from 40 to 70mm, which is a great relief even to my dreams. I do not doubt I would really enjoy the DA 12-24 and hear nothing but good about it, but apparently in my dreams it's prime time.
On the tele end: nothing really.  The DA55-300 was made with me in mind - if I need more I shall crop, and if I stay below 250mm I shall be rewarded.
The only other item of some interest is a catch-all that is as good or better than the Sigma 18-200 that I have enjoyed more than once in my imaging career.  I hated to let that go last time but the budget makes demands that must be obeyed.  However, Pentax has mapped out a similar lens in their near future which has my interest.  Other than "DA High-Magnification Zoom" and a fuzzy blur that looks like ~18-200mm we know nothing of substance in May 2012.  Will it have quick-shift, weather seals, faster aperture settings?  Will it be an XS model for the K-01?  Will it be available in fuschia?  No strike that, not a priority :^) - but its final configuration will go a long way to determining if it lands in my bag.

Fun times ahead - as always, budget permitting.

Further ruminations on the 15mm selection
We Pentax users have two very good candidates with distinctive features: the DA15 Limited and Sigma's fisheye. It's hard to argue against two lenses with great reputations, but the differences are clear; each of us will put a 'price' on those differences and choose the right lens. Both have 7 aperture blades and neither are weather sealed. Superlatives abound on the internet for both.
  • On the DA side of things we have less field curvature, quick-shift, filter threads and those features that make Limiteds so beloved. It's a bit smaller and 100g lighter.
  • On the Sigma side we have full-frame coverage, f/2.8 and an aperture ring. It can get close enough for 1:4 life size closeups. The fisheye effect on aps-c is muted but still evident.
When the time comes it will be an interesting decision. Perhaps a used lens will appear just as funds can be found. We'll see!

and a week later, we did see - here's the update.

01 May 2012

checking the obvious

As long as I was sitting in front of a 3D topo map with my DA 18-55, I figured I would see its 'best' supercloseup shot. In this case 'best' is still hand-held and focused manually, so not exactly a fair test - but the same rules applied to the Sigma 50 Macro that I put on after that. No surprise, no contest, and especially at the edges. The 18-55 is a versatile lens, and going to 0.3x is very convenient, but so is this small Sigma. Whatever lens I expect to be shooting, this mini macro lens is going to come along on my travels - a lot.

25 April 2012

couldn't resist

After walking past a fine slab of marble, I slowed down and came back to it.

From such things are new forum icons created!
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Comparing macros: conclusion?

Wait a minute - plenty of testing remains to be done, and some retesting as well!  


The whole time I was doing these tests the Tamron was sitting on a few forum sites seeking a buyer.  If it did not sell I would finish all sorts of additional tests, and if it did my budget would be in much better shape.  It sold today, so the testing has reached an unimpressive conclusion.

This is quite unfair to both lenses, but perhaps mostly to the SP 90mm.  Now that I have pinpointed the true center-AF point on my K-5 I should check if that was the reason for the more frequent focus hunting that I experienced with that lens.  That was really the closest thing to a complaint that I had, and it probably accounts for many of the Sigma's missed-focus events as well.

So it's really not possible to say either lens is a winner here - I am the overall winner, for several reasons:
  • I had two nice lenses to choose from, so no losing for that
  • I now have a 50mm lens that I find satisfactory
  • I improved the bank balance going from the 90mm to the 50mm
  • I have more space in my bag with the smaller, lighter Sigma - and
  • I still have a 1:1 macro lens that gives me excellent results!

So farewell to an excellent lens, and greetings to another!

21 April 2012

comparing macros: part two½

Part three intended to swap back to the Sigma right after the Tamron, so I could verify what I thought was different about the two lenses.  Alas, my health failed me so I only took a few images with the 50mm.  So much for plans and some degree of rigor.. but the points that I have hit so far were not refuted.  Focus hunted less with the Sigma and missed a time or two.  A squirrel photo-op with the 50mm came along just like with the 90, but I was at f/3.2 and the focus missed.  To be fair to the Sigma, I believe I have learned that the center focus point on my K-5 is almost precisely at the lower-right corner of the square that displays in the viewfinder.  The Sigma's hit rate shows more success with that in mind (I found this out after the squirrel scene, sadly).  I need to verify this with the Tamron and other lenses, since that is something that should not drift from lens to lens!

After further review - yes the Tamron also prefers the lower-right area of the center-focus square.  And a new item pops up that I had never tested when using the aperture ring on an A-enabled lens.  I had presumed that if I were in Av mode and using the aperture ring in non-A mode, the camera would still know what aperture was set.  It does not - on playback all shots show the max aperture of f/2.8.  Not a big deal, just leave A-enabled lenses on the A setting - but a good thing to know!  I probably knew this back in 1995 with my Program Plus.. but my favorite lens back then was an SMC-M 24-50 so maybe not.

18 April 2012

macros compared: part two

A day with the Sigma
Carrying the 50mm macro was nice, a good match to the k-5.  Focus locked in pretty quickly. Let me rephase: the lens was quick to lock down on a point of focus, but a few times the subject I intended was not in focus. I kept the camera in center AF mode.. so this is odd. When it's off it is always back focused, and refocusing did not change the lens' opinion about the point of focus (AF confirms with no lens movement). At other times it locked perfectly though, so microadjusting the lens to a new focus would not solve this. It was easy to see when it happened in the viewfinder so I could shift back an inch or less and get a sharp image - so for me tne workaround was not a major pain. It should not be necessary though!

Exposure and color were nice, and overall I liked working/playing with the Sigma. I did not put on the hood so shading on extreme closeups was less of an issue.. plus it allowed me to use the lens cap (yes, still annoyed by that).

A day with the Tamron
A similar walk with the 90mm came the next day. Right off the bat (a bit before 7am.. both lenses were used at sunrise and noonish) I would say the Tamron hunts more but nails focus more consistently.  If this persists it will make a more interesting choice between these two copies.  Which would I prefer: to rock back for the occasional closeup shot at 50mm, or hum along with the occasional AF whine at 90?  More study needed!

I find the Tamron a bit bulky, but I know that I'm more sensitive than most about size & weight. In fact the Rikenon 70-150 weighs 40g more but is quite skinny, which suggests that bulk is as big a factor to me as weight.   This is an interesting discovery (to me, probably less so to you!).

My lunchtime stroll showed more of the same: great images and a few focus hunts along the way. I did not use the focus limiter with either lens so time to focus was as bad it it gets. Still, it is broad daylight though overcast, so it's too bad an f/2.8 lens is working so hard. A patient squirrel posed for a few shots; the extra reach of the Tamron helped here but I still have a lot of cropping space.

macros compared: part one!

Tamron 90 shot with Sigma 50, and vice versa

So both lenses are now in hand and been given a few simple tests. 
What have I learned in 40 minutes of play?

Well, nothing magical or decisive (not a surprise to me).  Both lenses show very nice color and contrast, decent blur to either side of focus, and similar enough focus speed and noise for me not to comment after changing lenses.  Weight is almost exactly 100g different on our kitchen scale, 300g and maybe 405g with front caps on.

Having used the Tamron for a few months it has the upper hand here, as surprises with that lens were revealed in my distant past. The Sigma surprised me with its screw-on hood: with the hood screwed on, the lens cap cannot attach!  Some would find that a thing worth doing, but Sigma chose not to make it so. Bummer. I suppose the hood protects the lens nearly as much as a cap, but still..

I was using auto WB for these tests so color variation may appear with more detailed testing - but I liked the colors captured by both of them. We had two Easter baskets on the table so it was easy to capture color!  We will wait a while for specifics on bokeh as well, but both easily fall into my "more than good enough" rating.

A few test shots outside with the Sigma were good, but not all.  I shot a twilight-silhouette tree at f/4 to check for fringing; it was evident (green) on a strongly front-focused image, but when the tree was in focus only a smidge of red-cyan was evident.  My torture-test image of power lines showed no big issues.  On a few plant shots I seemed to see some evidence of back focusing, so that will need to be explored and adjusted (thank you K-5!) before honest answers can be had.  Later indoor shots did not show the back focusing, so I will need to pick my adjustments carefully.  A tripod certainly will be helpful too!

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14 April 2012

comparing macros: Sigma 50 and Tamron 90 (part zero)

Part zero?!?
Well, this is the part that can be done without touching or using either lens. Just the basic listing of specs to see how they compare.  Note that I chose not to call it Sigma 50 vs. Tamron 90, as they are not intended to compete with each other - Sigma makes other macro lenses closer to the 90mm focal length.  I just want to own one macro lens, so this comparison is intended to help me (and maybe you - no guarantees though!) to pick the most suitable of the two.

For several months now I have owned the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 macro. It is model 172E and not the most recent Di model 272E, but the only difference is in the coatings - Tamron itself says so. Tamron has made 90mm macro lenses for quite some time, and has been very good at it - so making major optical changes isn't likely!

I have enjoyed taking much closer close-up images with this lens, and it has delivered great results.  Let's be clear about that!  However, I decided that 90mm didn't quite fit my 'needs'. (BTW never ask a photographer what their 'needs' are, the answer won't really make sense to anyone else!)  When I want to use AF zooms I have that covered well enough, and in primes I have a 28mm and either a 40 or 50 - several of these in fact, none of which quite meets my 'needs'. I also have a great 70-150 f/4 zoom with prime-like image quality, and that lens usurps the Tamron fairly often. Given these two concerns, I found a Sigma 50/2.8 macro that could prove to be a great fit. I bought it after two people contacted me about the 90 when I put it up for sale, so figuring it was as good as gone I made the purchase. My loss is the web's gain, as I shall have both for at least a few days to compare them!

So on to specs: check the table below for highlights. Both are f/2.8-32, both have aperture rings with the auto 'A' setting in Pentax mount, and both take 55mm filters. Both also have focus-limiting switches to speed AF for general-purpose use. Add to this the various reviews online, where for each "my lens has a lot of chromatic aberration" at least three others have very little - that goes for both lenses, as does the comment that "there are no bad macro primes".

ModelTamron SP 90 #172ESigma EX DG 50
Lenses Construction10El/9Groups10El/9Groups
Angle of View27°46.8º
Diaphragm Blades97
Min Aperture(F)3232(PK)
Min Focus in.(m)11.4(0.29)7.4(0.19)
Max Mag. Ratio1:11:1
Filter Diameter5555
Diameter x Length2.9x3.8"2.8x2.5"

To no one's surprise the 50mm is smaller and lighter. It also has no manual-focus switch, that's done on the camera body. The Tamron requires the body switch plus a second push-pull cam to achieve manual focus; Canon/Nikon users need only use the cam but Sony/Pentax folks are forced to take two steps. These come across as slight wins for the Sigma 50, but nothing major. My copy is the EX DG model, which means that unlike my Tamron it does have 'for-digital' coatings; we shall see if that has meaning in my shots! They have a different number of aperture blades, which could make a difference - again consulting the web, many people swear that blades affect bokeh far less than optics so let's not get excited over this quite yet.

Many debates go on about which is the better 'portrait' lens. For those who stick to convention the 90 wins here - but on aps-c cameras it takes 135mm-scale images, which is a bit above the traditional length. The 50 is more like 75mm which is on the low end of tradition. But let's be honest: my 70-150 and 55-300 zooms are fine portrait lenses, and at f/4 in the traditional range I'll probably have the entire face in focus, not just eyes. So I have enough portrait options not to worry, and both would do well enough - so to me this debate has no clear winner and is not a factor.

One other point does have merit. To achieve 1:1 macro imaging the 90mm uses a minimum focus that is further from the subject. The 50mm crowds the subject to reach 1:1, which can cause lighting problems and will spook away many creatures with wings or fast legs. Caterpillars may not care, and flowers definitely do not - but in some cases this will matter. People affected by this are probably seeking 150-180mm macros anyway, but it's worth a paragraph and favors the Tamron 90.

So how shall I test two such disparate lenses that do the same things?  It's fair to shoot a few general images from the same spot, to check both fields on their own merit as well as to see the difference generally.  After that, a torture test or two for chromatic issues, then in for close shots of the same items to the same scale at a couple of apertures.  This always proves to be a challenge to me, as at some point I will fail to keep the playing field level for "rigorous" tests.  ISO or white balance will slip to Auto, and when I learn of it I'll be too pooped to replay the games.  Oh well, I'll do my usual best & complain about it later (maybe by part 3).

Speaking for myself (and it is my blog!), my use of macro will not be a full-time passion. It will be far more common to shoot plants than bugs, and I like one less step to go from AF to MF. And as noted before, I have a 'need' for 50mm in my kit more than 90mm, whether to fit in with the 55-300 or 70-150. So it sounds like I have biased feelings here - which leads to another problem, 'new-lens syndrome'. The most common reason for buying a new lens is because something isn't quite right about the other ones. (That's not always true, I admit/confess!) In any case the newest lens always gets strong press and the benefit of the doubt... for a while at least. Despite this I will resist the temptation to declare a winner in part zero!

One more item about me is worth mentioning: I am not a big-lens fan.  I have found that anything over 500 grams gets left home too often to bother with.  The Tamron is only 410 grams, more or less; the Rikenon 70-150 is 40g more and I'm happy to carry that lens.  The macro is quite a bit thicker though, so on some level it feels larger than it is - and that could be a subconscious factor against it for me.  I'll try not to let it be so.

Finally - never ever forget that I am comparing one copy of the Tamron to one copy of the Sigma! One or the other may front focus a smidge, or have elements not precisely centered.  They may both be absolutely perfect; if so I'm one lucky guy!

So - focus speed and noise, sharpness, bokeh and the like await part one of this series, when the Sigma 50mm is in my hand and on my K-5.  For now I can say that the Tamron is reasonably quick to focus, a bit noisy getting there, seldom hunts, and I find it's a pain to take 2 steps to go from AF to MF.  Image quality is excellent, with truly minimal chromatic issues in my cruel tests designed to reveal such issues.

And that's as much as I will say for part zero!

08 April 2012

so which one's real?

Sure you know the answer - these are just pictures!
But which depicts reality 'best'?  Ah, that trigger word, as though every possible variable can be solved and one answer proclaimed as The Answer.  Art doesn't work that way, and as precise as imagers want their shot to be it's still an artistic rendering of reality.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

The shot on the left is 'real' in that the camera took it as is - but then processed it according to the rules I set (or the settings that I forgot to change!), compressed it to fit on my memory card 'better', and that was that.

On the right, our ReDynamix offering.  ReDynamix software isn't true HDR but it sure can look that way if you want it to.  I don't want it to, but sliding a few sliders can take you from the left-side image to wild and crazy HDR effects in a hurry.  This software plugin can do some cool things - it brought out some detail in the flower petals as well as the leaves, and boosted the background but not in a distracting way.  It's a fun product that I enjoy using, and recommend the next time you have about $20 - or just try the free sample, that's what I did.

But while it's fun and revealing of detail, let's face it: I messed up the wonderful color of the bloom. The K-5 did a great job with white balance here!
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11 March 2012

I blew it.

I took an interesting photo with the K-5 recently.. but I blew the highlights.  I also used jpeg and so blew the opportunity to make it better with some easy processing.  It wasn't too badly blown though, so I decided to pull it into Elements 9 to see what could be done.

Once I had it in I did a quick crop and a bit of rotation, to eliminate a lot of boring background.  At that point I could use my SmartCcurve plugin and adjust colors to get things looking a bit better.  In this case I decided to use my new ReDynamix plugin, which can do many of those things and offers the opportunity to add some HDR-type effects as well.

I've mentioned in the past that HDR is not my cup of tea, at least not the typical "HDR!!" that I often see online.  That sort makes great images for fantasy-epic novel covers, but for capturing something that I experience on planet Earth I just don't get it.  I found ReDynamix online for cheap (and a free trial) and found that it could be restrained to my less ambitious style, so it now has a bit of space on my hard drive for images like this and days like today to play with them.

In the RyDynamix module I knocked down the gamma to allow for some reduction of the overexposure, then played with the sliders.  I generally turn down saturation and vivid-color choices, then tone down the dynamic-light strength to about half what it chooses as its default.  From there I move things around a bit, and then moved over to curves and color-enhancement modules.  I found the tree beginning to look like a series of peeling brass pipes, and I liked it - so I nailed down the HDR portion, added a pinch of sharpening and came up with the lower image.

I like the result here, as it brought back much of the blown-out areas. It also saturated the colors and adjusted the balance without proclaiming itself an "HDR!!" masterwork. And it took less than ten minutes of processing on a jpeg image. I still prefer the raw option, but it's good to know I can improve on a non-raw image without breaking it. This image was taken with my 'new' SMC-M 40mm pancake lens - I owned this once many years ago, sold it in 2008 when I bought into Sony's system. I missed this lens when I returned to Pentax, and this copy looks like a good one. Gosh it's thin!

p.s. if you don't recognize the tree, I assure you it's not sick and dying - it's a madrone/madrona tree, Arbutus menziesii, and its peeling bark is a giveaway. It should be more red, but when the brassiness came over it in processing I enjoyed it.. so much for realism in my imaging, I suppose!
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08 March 2012

back to the G1

The F550 suffered a fatal incident.  After taking a few photos I went to put it inside my jacket pocket, but before getting there it escaped both hand and pocket, and hit the concrete. Hard. It never responded properly again.  Oh well, glad I paid about half-price for it.

So what about a replacement? I looked at F505s and newer models, but decided that for now my small camera should be the one I already have - so once more the G1 sees the photons of day. Easier on the budget, and though a bit dated on features it's still a great camera. I really like the flip screen, it's great for odd-angle and flower shots.

Here it is on a fun scene, a brightly-painted house with daphne and bamboo out front.  I tweaked the raw image a bit, but not much.  This is a pretty 'honest' rendering of what I saw, and the camera and its sub-kit 14-42 lens did just fine.  The G1 kit lens was the 14-45 but I let it go to save $100.  This one will do.

Here's a collage of two more close-ups from my sunny-day walk home from work.

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28 February 2012

the fragrant season begins

  The daphne are beginning to open up - the most telling fragrance of spring to me, as it is among the earliest to catch the nose. We had one all my life in our front yard, and that fragrance was always a wonder in the waning of winter. We're actually hitting a very cool stretch here this year, with 'white rain' (wet snowflakes) falling - but it cannot stop time, nor stop the aroma.

Curiously enough, I believe the daphne in my folks' yard died out in the past year or so; the last I looked no sign could be seen of it. After fifty years and more, I suppose a plant can do that!

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20 February 2012

Why I like the DA 55300.. and the Rikenon 70-150

This image was taken with the DA 55-300mm lens (150mm f/5 -1/250s, iso3200). It was also shot with the Rikenon-XR 70-150 (150mm, f/4 -1/125s, iso1600). They are shown below - though not necessarily in that order.

  •  The Rikenon was focused through the VF, so no precise live-view focusing aid. It was also taken in Av mode so exposure was set with the wide-open lens. SR was set at 150mm. 
  •  The DA lens focused itself and found f/5 to be its wide-open choice. It also was in Av mode.  

These were not shot as controlled images and I could have done much better for making them both sharper and closer to identical (e.g. fixed ISO and a tripod). They are also substantially cropped to show the area of most-critical detail; crops were in the same portion of the image field, I didn't cheat and put one on the frame's edge!  So they are not intended to be rigorous, simply what-if one-off hand-held shots to see how they compared. Aren't hyphens fun?  Let's face it: I do not spend my life going around taking test shots; I will grab the camera and get the shot on the fly, and that's what I want to test.  Both used center-weight metering so that matched well - though at f/5 vs f/4 I expected the DA image to be a bit darker.

Given all that, I can only say they compare quite well. In both cases, great isolation on the lonely seed-case, nice background blur, and decent branch detail. A slight color shift, no surprise even with flat grey lighting, as 20 years has seen great changes in lens coatings. Hard to pretend you cannot see which image is which; ISO3200 is great with the K-5 but it isn't an invisible process.
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17 February 2012

I was not expecting this.

I decided that it would be fun to have an image of the K-5 off kilter, so that I could extract a diagonal image of the Pentax and K-5 logos on a narrow strip image. I took a few shots and brought them onto my computer screen.

  This is what I got. Wait a moment - the camera is perfectly level, I am what's tilted.. and the walls, doorframe, the rest of the universe! The  K-5 orientation sensor is really, really good! For amusement I used Picasa to filter it as a B&W image then used their newer 'neon' filter to add some (yes, very subtle) Pentax-red highlights. Strangely enough, I have to leave Picasa to reverse the mirror-image photo.. I thought all graphics software made since 1980 had the flip routines.

Like so much with the K-5, I expect I can control this - and some day I'll see how.  Since software can rotate a degree at a time it isn't important enough to spend an afternoon on it.

05 February 2012

K-5 and pseudo-IR

The K-5 has so many features to grow with that it could take a year's full efforts to try them all. Multiple exposures, pre-focus "catch-in" images, time-lapse shots.. and plenty of filtering options. Convert to monochrome and you can choose tone, color-filter effects, hi/low key, and the one shown here that mimics an Infrared (IR) filter. It's a curious effect, and quite strong so that images that look rather ordinary through the viewfinder take on a new drama. This wasn't anything in particular, just cirrus in front of fir trees after all - but I really like the effect!
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02 February 2012

F550 ups & downs

  While I have generally been quite happy with the little Fuji, it has caught me twice by battery stoppages. I keep a spare in my vest pocket, yet every now and then I take the camera but leave the vest at home. Twice now that has happened, and it's very frustrating. I took a long walk with the camera yesterday, and had a fine time taking pictures of the city and this fine set of pansies - but today I missed a great sunrise when the camera failed to wake up. Drat.

This image is directly from raw; the jpeg blew out the far-right blue bloom. Other than resize this has not been processed.
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28 January 2012

Sadie with the Tamron 90

  Sadie is having hi-thyroid troubles, and the medication is only now starting to work. This makes her a very easy target for imaging! This was manually focused with the Tamron SP 90/2.8 Macro at f/3.2, cropped only. A very nice lens, and not merely for counting lenses in a bug's eye.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

This was one of our last shots of Sadie - after recovering from the thyroid issue the underlying cancer was revealed.  Rest peacefully, Sadie.
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