25 November 2014

Samsung team photo #1

So here is the NX team for now, and presumably for some time to come.  The non-OIS 20-50 and 30/2 and the 50-200 OIS cover plenty of range and the 30mm can 'do' low light.  This photo includes the K-to-NX and SMC 55mm f/1.8 lens, and a few other Pentax primes could have been included in the shot; I decided to add just one for general scale.  That 30mm f/2 is small.. but really so is the 20-50.  The 50-200 is similar in size to the Pentax DA and I believe it's a bit heavier, thanks to OIS I suppose.  Note that the Samsung lenses are all made for APS-c sensors, and the Pentax primes can do fine with 24x36 film.

NX300 in silver/brown, 50-200 III OIS , 20-50 II and 30mm f/2 - plus NX>K adapter and 55mm f/1.8 Pentax lens.

Recent Samsung cameras do not come with external chargers - not even the NX1!  People are giving Samsung some well-deserved grief for this decision, since charging this way means the camera cannot be used for several hours.  Anyone wiling to spend $1500 on an NX-1 body will likely have a second battery charging or in their pocket, so refusing to include a $10 accessory seems very stingy or insensitive.  No matter, the charger and 2nd battery cost me about $15 elsewhere - so Samsung did not get any extra cash from me for their negligence.

I must say that the NX300 body-only deal I received online feels quite similar.  That company implies with this sale that it only gets bodies detached from the Samsung peripherals - yet it sells the flash for $60 separately.  They could get $120 for the Lightroom CD + license easily enough, another $20 for the battery... suddenly the $500 kit sold elsewhere yields them as much or more parted out.  Curious.  Samsung told me the NX300 only comes from them with LR4 disc battery and flash so I needed to speak with AsTech, who would rather refund my cash than supply me with any 'missing' parts.  I really do just want the body, since I got such a fine deal on the 20-50mm ultra-compact kit lens - but it's unsettling to get such a reduced kit which the manufacturer says nobody should have.

Really though I have most everything I need (though LR4 would be very nice) and I cannot afford to pick up those missing parts right now; perhaps Samsung will be asking around and make things complicated for dealers that are not doing what's expected of them.  I suppose this is a grey-market body as well - but it does the job nicely.  So while it feels wrong it works better for me with a tight budget to buy a little at a time; maybe I'll even pay for the full LR4 license that I did not receive... though it won't be soon.

If I'm not entirely happy, I am quite satisfied - and for now, that will do.

24 November 2014

may I, can I - will I Stop?

As vaguely noted in the previous post, a new-to-me SMC 55mm f/1.8 lens is coming my way.  It incubated for several months as I dared to look at 'the K club' posts at pentaxforums, where images from this lens looked mighty good and owners posted a 9.2/10 rating.

pentaxforums.com image
My reasoning is weak: a lens sitting between 30 and 85 should be closer to 55mm than 50.. and oh ys, the SMC-A 50mm f/2 gets poor reviews while the K55 is among the best!  And this was a mere $35 shipped, unreasonably good for this lens.   And how exciting I've just learned a new excu-er reason: 52mm filters, of which I have many more than mere 49s!

Have I not rationalized well? 

All right already, buy the silly thing.  But promise you will stop now!  You say it to yourself, you say it to the dedicated reader of this blog and to any who arrive here by mistake.  Say less, act more - and act in line with what you say.  Please?

In more relaxing news, the Tamron 90mm has sold and all sale threads are closed. The M85 is free of competition from the 1:2 macro.  At some point I shall re-post the KatzEye screen and the 28mm lens whose place is now filled by the nx30/2, so a few more funds may trickle in before the books are closed on the Great Purge of November 2014 :-)

23 November 2014

one foot in two systems

I am now in the curious position of owning equal shares in two good camera systems: Pentax and Samsung.  As the NX setup can use adapted Pentax lenses I have kept my best ones  - SMC 17 f/4 fisheye, a new-to-me SMC 55/1.8 and the M-series 85/2 and 135/3.5 primes.  The M series especially was designed to be compact, so on a mirrorless camera they are excellent for both optical and practical reasons.  I have two NX zooms and cannot imaging needing more: though the 16-50 with OIS and power zoom has a few possible advantages over the 20-50 I now have, price will not be one of them!

I have no Pentax body now, and I'm ok with that.  the K-3 tempts, the K-01 and K200d beckon from happy earlier days, but too much fresh tech is about to emerge.  Pentax now knows how to make a WR tilt screen (645z) and Sony makes on-sensor AF and better video possible. These items are here now on the NX300 but I expect Pentax engineers to do surprising things with the new technology.  However they may not make the most of video updates, as they have stated they will focus most of their attention on the still image; I applaud them for it, yet I wonder if they will allow too many simple video features to be found elsewhere.  The NX300's full-time autofocus and decent video results are not easily overlooked.

On the other -foot, Samsung is doing weather sealing now along with their ultra-hi-tech NX1.  The Samsung sensors are now very good in areas they struggled with before, and they too could make more surprises visible soon.  They even have nice pancake primes, in focal lengths that Pentax has not worked hard to keep in place (e.g. 24-30mm).  So the only hard part for me will be deciding which system to buy in a year or two, when Pentax and Samsung are showing others the perils of resting on laurels or proceeding cautiously!

20 November 2014

Don't go there.

Wow: competition for camera gear is scarce right now.  I picked up both 30 and 45mm Samsung primes, and no one even offered a competing bid on the 30mm f2 pancake!   Bids on Pentax gear generally come high and fast* until the auction is closed, so this one-bid deal was unexpected.  Is it lack of Samsung dealing, or perhaps our nearness to the holiday hard-sell weekend holding back buyers? *

Quick tests of the NX 45mm show it to be a very nice lens - yet it needs to go back.  For one thing I'm seeing the same old pattern on a new platform, grabbing items without enough thought.  For another, my wife needs medical tests that cannot be paid for in camera gear - so it has to stop.  I tested the SMC 50/2 on a PK adapter on the same scenes and re-learned that it is also a very nice lens, and one that cost about 1/5 the price of the NX45 (even including the adapter!).

So the list looks like this today:
(K for Pentax, NX for Samsung)
  • K17 fisheye, NX30, K50/85/135 primes
  •  NX 20-50 and 50-200/OIS zooms
  • 100-300 K zoom 
  • plus a few other K lenses: Hanimar 400mm, JCPenney 80-200, possibly a K28-70 f/2.8-4
And that will be all for the nx system for the year 2014 and hopefully beyond.

*On the Pentax side things also went quiet.  I received one low offer for the smcM85 f/2, and after some thought I have now removed it from the listing.   Selling the 85mm should have brought me more money than the Tamron 90/2.5 macro and hence more satisfaction that I was breaking old habits - but selling it for a large loss proves nothing. Owning the 30 50 and 85 (all f/2) makes sense for both speed and compactness; even with K-NX adapter the latter two are pretty small and quite bright, and focus peaking helps them to do their best work.

18 November 2014

making the most of it

A few more K-mount lenses have left the building, so I bought some cheap treats for the NX300.  An M42:nx adapter will arrive soon for the 80-200mm f/3.5, and a leather wrist strap will look good with the auburn faux leather of the camera body.  The OIS 50-200 f/4-5.6 will get more use than the m42 tele I expect.. that is no cheap treat but the stabilized lens is worth owning as winter's gloom envelops the region.  As to additional updates time will tell; hopefully an NX pancake prime or two will come along soon.

Tests have impressed with AF video, and the touchscreen focus-point shift does well.  That feature reminds me of the GF1 micro-43 I once owned, but this sensor is both larger and more fully featured.  So far so good.  I recognize this camera will not compete with a K-3 for features, but for reasons that seem good to me this is quite satisfactory.

17 November 2014

sweeping changes!

While selling a few good Pentax lenses to 'trim the fat' as it were, I encountered more than one post in the 'Wanted' section. These were for items I planned to keep, but sale items were not moving so why not capitalize on the available interest? So the DA18-55 wr and DAL55-300mm lenses, the two great kit staples, are now gone. Immediately after that, interest bloomed on the other lenses I had expected to go, and the K-01 swap did not happen as the trade options diminished.  Now I have NO Pentax body, several very nice K-primes, and a Samsung NX300 with K-adapter arriving momentarily - and the sale continues.   Wow.   

So where are we now?
  • primes: 17/4, 50/2, 85/2, 90/2.5 1:2*, 135/3.5 
  • zooms: NX 20-50 II, 100-300 
  • future prime: NX 30/2 pancake 
  • future zoom: NX 50-200 III OIS
  • primes for sale: 28/2, *85 or 90 above 
  • zooms for sale: 21-35, 28-90 1:2 

14 November 2014

reading fine print + more comparisons

Well, now I know why the NX300 was such a great price: it's missing box flash and battery.  And registration papers, and manual.. and Lightroom 4 come to think of it!  That was pretty much  stated on the listing but I failed to do my due diligence.  In this case I'm OK as a battery (my 'spare') arrives tomorrow and I can contemplate the flash options for a bit.  I've ordered a spare spare battery now.  I will contact them about how to register and get a copy of LR4 software, and on to Samsung after that.

Re. comparisons - I've boxed up the Pentax K-5 IIs so only the Q can take photos, making it difficult to compare the NX300 to another camera.  On the other hand it's smaller than my 5"-screen cell phone in two of three dimensions, so that's saying something.  The Q is definitely smaller in every way, but given its 1/2.5" sensor the comparison (0.4" against a 1.15" using that math) gets a bit silly.  Silly data is still data though, so there it is.

Well OK, it's pretty bad but the phone in fact can take an image of the two cameras together.  I warned you!

13 November 2014


Here are two lenses with curious specifications: a 20-50mm and a 20-40.  One is a lot smaller, one is rather faster at f/2.8-4.  Both are optimized for APSc sensors,  both are computer-optimized to do their best given the other constraints noted above.  Both do the job rather better than others from their respective companies.  Neither is stabilized internally nor is geared to closeup work.  One cost me $60 used, the other $680 new but open-box.  Interesting!

Yes, the tiny slow one is Samsung's 20-50mm f/3.5-5.6 II.  It has no OIS because it's designed to be small.  It does have the iFunction button on the side, press it and turn the front dial to control settings like white balance, shutter or aperture or ISO, and such.  The Limited from Pentax is solid, weather sealed and built to their Limited standards so metal and smooth focus are pretty much forced upon it.  It also has a DC motor inside for silent focus.  Both lenses appear to test out quite well and in online tests I've seen both leave their 18-55mm siblings far behind.

Note that the Samsung unlocks to become similar in length to the Pentax Limited zoom on the right, but this is what you carry with you between shots - so it matters.

I do not have the NX300 yet so no test images from the 20-50 for a few more days.  And by the way, camerasize.com shows us the camera-body difference as well.  Same sensor size, and similar sensor quality as measured at DxO labs. The Pentax (Sony sensor) outpoints the Samsung by a bit, but not by much - and the latter adds 20% more pixels to the equation.

No doubt the Pentax has more external controls and it's a familiar feel to me.  It has two control dials and numerous external buttons & switches that I would miss.  It has a viewfinder, and while I have managed my Q and a K-01 without major problems I would miss it.  The NX300 has a tilt screen and I have missed that for some time!  Samsung also has WiFi , video-autofocus and the ability to adapt most older Pentax lenses to work manually.  And a larger screen.  Nice.

So how do they compare in my budget?  Glad you asked.  One is a lot smaller, one is 'full-featured'.  Both are optimized for APSc sensors, and scores are similar.  Both are computer-optimized to do their best given other constraints, and both do the job rather better than others from their respective companies.  One is stabilized internally, the other uses stabilized lenses.  One gets 800+ shots per battery charge, the other closer to 400; not surprisingly the factory-original batteries differ in retail price by a similar amount.  Curious though - K.Tuck reports that he had Pentax-like battery life when he tried the NX300...

One cost $650 used, the other $250 used/open box. So camera plus lens = $1330 or $310. 

Interesting, again.  

10 November 2014

ch' cha' changes

Apologies to mr. Bowie!
Changes are coming to the kit, big time!
Sorry mr. Gabriel!

So it occurred to me after scouting the K-s1 that a few new features were worth waiting for that it did not have.  High on that list was on-sensor AF and a tilt screen, and others say cameras like it need WiFi options too.  At the same time I find that I'm not at all happy with the photo chaos within my hard discs: I have several programs now (ps elements, LightZone, AfterDark.. others?) a redundancy which actually adds to the clutter!  What to do??

Go shopping?  Really?

Let's talk about Samsung and cameras, and how little I knew a week ago!
  • they make very popular phones (we owned some long ago, they were .. OK)
  • An electronics giant, at least as large as Panasonic and Sony 
  • once partnered with Pentax & supplied K20 and K-7 sensors
  • now a big player in compact/mirrorless cams
  • use their sensors on their own NX-mount cameras
  • a line with viewfinders, and one without
... er that's about it.

Somewhere on the network I bumped into some commentary about Samsung cameras including Lightroom software.  Most LR users really like it as a tool for both organization and  image improvement.  While every camera comes with software to work on images, each company does something different; for example Pentax has a light version of SilkyPix for their cameras.  Well Samsung was giving out the complete v4 of LR with several of their cameras (and now v5) - that's a nice bonus that one can set against the price of their cameras if one chooses.

And so I met the NX300, a slightly-aging camera with LR4 and no finder.  Reviews indicate that it is a large step up from their previous models in several ways:
  • sensor with PDAF layer for very fast 'hybrid' focusing
  • tip screen for odd angles
  • touchscreen controls but with redundant controls elsewhere
  • 20Mpixels for more resolution and crop-ability
  • decent noise performance at high sensitivities (better via raw, as always)
  • multiple WiFi connection tricks like view and xfer via phone
  • video with multiple recording options and full-time AF
  •  NX300 gets 4-5 stars (yes, out of 5!) in almost every review
  So it has the K-s1 "missing" features, adds many the Pentax cam lacks, matches the 20Mpxl pixel count, includes great software tool to clean up my photo-centric clutter, and it can use my classic K-mount lenses with an adapter.  NX-mount lenses are pretty scarce yet review well and are fairly inexpensive, so if/when the time comes to grab more native-mount gear the pain will be minimal; their 50-200 OIS would be a good choice as it provides stabilization for long shots.

Going deeper into the reviews it seems that Samsung learned many things during their Pentax days, as many of their features feel familiar to me.  Some like the i-function lens control are very much their own though.  Several Pentax features are definitely not here though, so I will have some learning to do.

Checking the dxOmark data shows the sensor to be slightly behind the K-5 series and essentially a match to the K-s1 and K-01.  Samsung made the K20 and K-7 sensor several years back which was well behind the Sony equivalents in several areas; those days are now behind us, it seems.  And its body is smaller than the K-s1!  I confess that a big part of the new Pentax' appeal for me was APSc imaging in a smaller body size.

OK, nice - but what does it cost?
A bit more searching shows $500 is common with the stabilized 18-55 or the smaller, no-OIS 20-50 zoom.  A browse on the Global Auction Site (GAS) found a demo body for $250 * (silver with warm brown 'leather' grip!), $60 for a well-used 20-50 and $14 for a basic PK adapter.

 For $325 I can have this setup:
  • Stylish NX300 body w/ a very good 20Mpxl sensor
  • 20-50mm DX lens
  • Adapted PK 17, 28, 50, 85/90 and 135mm primes
  • Adapted PK zooms up to 300mm
I can sell most of the Pentax gear and put a lot of funds elsewhere.. or I can grab a bargain K-01 and have two good systems!  I will miss weather seals and SR stability on every lens by doing this, but both my camera bag and budget will be lighter burdens for a while.

Also of note is that my wife might be happy with the nx300 as she is with the Pentax Q - maybe even more so with the tippy screen.  Small is big for her so Q and NX are nice options.

* turned out this great bargain was truly 'body only' = no lens flash or battery.  Also no CD with Lightroom :( yet the camera is worth keeping at this price especially with the bargain I made on the 20-50 lens.

02 November 2014

more 20-40 tests

angled view of test.  I centered my test image on
the brightly-colored recessed books in the middle.
A few more test-shots give comfort that this copy of the LimiZoom has minimal decentering if any, as test images look pretty symmetrical in appearance.  Colors and contrast are great, bokeh marvelous as advertised, and center sharpness is excellent.

Testing up close it's clear to me that field curvature is in play - at 20mm from a foot away, the center of an image looks great but not the sides.  I convinced myself of the issue by shooting a bookshelf with books at the edges pulled forward; by doing this I can have both center and edge books in focus.  Considering this only appears when shooting really close + wide and shooting a flat-plane surface, it is not a real-life kind of image for me; I'll let the Tamron 90/2.5 take care of those shots!

01 November 2014

the 90 arrives

We were planning a trip that would be ideal for the Q - more precisely the Q and an 06 telephoto lens.  I bought one at a good price and liked it a lot, but then the trip was called off.  While looking for ways to economize on the larger kit I encountered a trade offer of a Tamron 90 f/2.5 for an 06 zoom.  The deal was made, and now the 90mm macro has arrived!

Since this particular version of the Tamron 90 macro (the model 52E) was unknown to me, I read up on it before making the trade offer. Until now I thought that all f/2.5 models were manual focus, so this must be their first AF model.  I also thought all Tamron 90s were 1:1 macros but this one is 1:2.  So much for my general knowledge of early Tamron macros! :^)  It also lacks the bizarre AF/MF clutch that both Sigma and Tamron think are so clever, which may be true with non-Pentax systems.  That alone makes this appeal to me, as I really dislike the two-step focus change!

So this lens has AF, aperture ring and a limiter switch, and takes 52mm filters.  With the limiter set the lens snaps into focus down to about 1:4 which isn't a bad place to change over.  And it really does snap; focus speed is very fast even with no limit set - but it definitely helps to stop the spinning if it isn't needed.  The image quality is extremely good even wide open so it can be used as a general low-light lens and not merely for good closeups.  And if I feel really bold it can be a 180mm f/5 supermacro with the Vivitar macro/TC attached, though I haven't tried this to say how the results might look.

This serendipitous find allows the 85mm f/2 to find a new home, which will pay off a few items on the lens account.  Like the SMC 17mm before it, I find myself forsaking all-manual lenses for AF/auto-aperture and saving some money in the process.  This along with the F17-28 and DA20-40 are very good lenses so whatever happens I'll be just fine.