30 December 2015

The camera waltz

Step forward, then to the side, slide both feet together.  Rotate while doing so to be sure that your path is nothing like a straight line and 'step forward' is always in a different direction.  Hmm, the waltz and my camera kit have much in common it seems!

 As soon as our recent cash crunch slowed, the 4k craze took me.  The G7 can do it all, obviously - hooray for micro4:3! Well, after going in for about $1k (and each buy a true bargain!) maybe micro4:3 isn't much of a bargain after all.  To see the miracle of 4k would also require a new monitor and probably a TV too.  OK.. so maybe we'll let that dream incubate for a bit.

Looking back a year it seems I had the Big kit / Little kit combo worked out nicely.  Pentax for best image quality and poorest weather, nx for compact size and video.  Budget crises removed all traces of both k200 And nx300 but the logic remains.. and the nx300 was a good fit with its tip-screen touchAF, very responsive controls and nice 20Mpxl sensor.

via camerasize.com/compare
In Samsung's world, the nx500 sings the 4k siren song too.   But that makes the talented but older nx300 even cheaper: for a G7 price I could afford to buy two nx300s (white for my wife, black or brown for me?) and make the Q worry about its place in the kit!

The best deals include the retractable 20-50 zoom; no stabilization but a camera that fits in a big pocket.  Like the G7 it has good tiny wide-angle lenses (NX 10mm FE or samyang 12/2). And the NX  can trickle-charge from my solar charger on long sunny walks or campouts in the wild, unlike most every camera out there!
Hmmm.. time for another dance?

27 December 2015

three weeks with the G7

Hard to believe it's been three weeks.  The 3 busiest weeks of the year, and I choose to toss a camera tryout in the midst of it?  Not wise.

And it's not just because it's Christmas season: toss in a long-running home refinance, an appliance meltdown that filled the house with smoke at 11:30PM, fleas from our new kitten.. then add a new camera.

Now that I say this, I begin to understand why the G7 and I have not had the greatest of times - the times were crazy regardless of what camera I would have carried!

Anyway, I suspect the G7 will go back in the coming week for another to try.  Image quality was never scrutinized closely for dirty details, so I won't comment on that - nor will I rant about the inherent disability of a mic4:3 sensor compared to APSc or 36×24mm types.  My issues (those that I can tie to the camera) were more on the practical side.

First off let's say that I've been using Pentax dSLRs since 2010.  I've been very happy with their gear and grown used to how they work.  Many shots I take make use of Pentax post-capture processes that are easy to access and to use.  Given that comfort level the G7 is a tough swap for me: it can do similar work but it's just hard.  With everything else in life being hard, I guess I need my photography to be easy for a while.

As for G7 disappointments that don't fall into the merely-unfamiliar category.
  1. white balance is more frequently off with the G7
  2. while EV-4 is possible, even EV-1 is really slow to reach focus
  3. I'm not happy putting NR settings in the photo profiles
  4. PictBridge?  Really??
OK perhaps #3 is another basic-ergonomic setup.  On the K-50 I can menu dive once and set all NR by ISO bands, whereas Panasonic chooses to set it up by picture type (standard, monochrome &c each have a separate NR setting that applies to all ISOs).  I prefer the Pentax way that I'm used to - no surprise there.

The low-light AF should not have surprised me but it did.  The K-50 does not go nearly as low, but in the prism viewfinder I can see naturally and focus for myself.  The EVF option gets too grainy to be easy even with focus peaking in place.  No doubt I could train myself to get better with manual focus on the big screen, but once again: this is a lousy time to do new-camera things.

PictBridge is sooo 2008 - but when I plug my G7 into the computer to transfer files it doesn't go into photo-transfer mode.  It asks whether I want PC or PictBridge mode - and when my screen is facing in I don't know that it is waiting for a response.  So I either have to hold the cam to my eye to answer the unseen question or flip out the screen. That must be adjustable, but -- really.  PictBridge??

Finally to the WB.  Pentax has made great strides recently in tungsten-light corrections and AWB that includes tungsten.. and Lumix hasn't reached that point in my casual tests.  Bummer.

Let's point out the good stuff though.  
The G7 has many features that Pentax cameras may never see - especially video derived features:
  • touchscreen AF + other functions on flippy screen
  • 4k video mode with autofocus option
  • 4k photo extract of 8Mpix still images
  • multiple reprogrammable buttons on the camera body
  • mirrorless / mic4:3 features such as lighter overall bodies & systems
That final one needs a caveat though.  If you want / need superfast lenses to compensate for the mic4:3 sensor 'equivalence' issues you will have similarly bulky lenses attached to a lighter body.  Unlike many small thin cameras the G7 has a truly excellent grip, so it won't be hurt as much as a GX Lumix, Oly Pen, samsung NX500 or any of Sony's NEX-type bodies.

Last and by no means least to me - weather resistance.
The reason I chose Pentax from 2010 on is their combination of in-body stabilization and weather seals to minimize fears in inclement weather.  In fact the weather at our new home is even more damp than my lifelong homes in Portland - annual rainfall is half again as much, and the past two months have combined for over 26 inches of rain - plus we've had over three inches of SNOW in the past four days!  Given all that, the Pentax WR is an even more vital feature.  Like other things around the house the weather has been very chaotic, in record-setting fashion - but I can actually choose a camera to lessen that bit of chaos.

So after three weeks of (minimal) learning, what shall I do?
My current plan is to revert to a Pentax K-50. The Amazin' Amazon warehouse has a Like-New red one And an HD 55-300WR, both in great "unwrap/rewrap/return" condition.. so it begins again. I can return the G7, or maybe just sell it if anyone reaches me really soon.

I'm not giving up completely on the mic4:3 concept however.  I just feel that the chaos is too great right now for me to give it a decent trial period.  Maybe in several months life will settle down and I can explore some possibilities.

a not-really-fun fact:

  • this is a lousy time to learn new photo tricks.
My 30-day window for returning the G7 is up next week, and I will probably send it back.  No issues with the camera, the old line  'it's not you it's me' is definitely in play.

No, this dog is Not too old for such things.  I often look forward to doing things in new ways.  It's simply that I know the Pentax methods of doing what I do often, and I like them!  The G7's methods still work fine, it's just different - but different is hard right now in a home where nearly everything is a whirlwind of 'different'. Case in point: I did not realize just how often I shoot, replay & immediately adjust exposure and/or crop.  Those things are a simple down-arrow away in Pentax play mode, but I had to hunt to find 'cropping' and then zoom to crop instead of .. well anyway.  Different.

It's also been more expensive than I planned for a reasonable mic4:3 system; it's nearly at $1000 now, vs. about $300 for a K·50 and a WR lens or maybe two (plus what's still on my shelf).  I was falling victim to the usual concepts that elude me - a few excellent deals on individual lenses still adds up to several hundred dollars total.  I was just outbid on a $400 lens that was up for $225, and I feel good that I shall lose!

And of course - nothing that I have purchased has any weather resistance.  That would require a different body, different lenses.  Yet again - different.

We'll see in a day or two how this pans out.  Stay tuned.. or don't!

25 December 2015

thanks kitties!

The Christmas gifts under our tree included two AF-able extension tubes from Duncan and Zuzu.  This is the one method of shooting close that I had yet to try: screw-on diopter lenses, Vivitar's 2xTC with 'macro' adjustment, true macros and tight cropping really did not 'take' with me.  It's curious that I had never tried tubes so it should prove interesting to see how often I bring them along.  For m4:3 just two tubes are common, 10mm and 16mm.

My first tests were using the 12-32 zoom; it's handy that these tubes include AF contacts, since no manual mode exists for this tiny zoom.  And wow are these closeups close!  I quickly backed off from the 16mm to the 10 in order to reveal a bit more context in the shots.  This image is of another gift (Carolans Irish Cream that came boxed with two glasses) and only a tiny part of the bottle can be seen!  That is fruit juice in the glass, BTW - not a creamy alcoholic mix..

I've yet to try them with the 45-150 (nor the incoming Sigma 30/2.8) so the results from additional tests will be informative.

21 December 2015

the little kit takes shape

The miniscule Lumix 12-32mm retractable lens has arrived, so a team photo is in order.  That's an ordinary die for scale.. well maybe not.

The 45-175 and 12-32 square off here while the Bower 7.5 fisheye watches.  The new Tamrac Jazz 36 can handle all of this.  The shot was taken using the 14-42² that is most likely expendable with the 12-32 in town.

Other than the high level of noise reduction I'm seeing in shots like this, the G7 is doing quite well.  I really must get into the manual and see if that can be adjusted; smeary NR sucks.

In Pentax news, the K-50 and kit lenses just left - well it would have were the roads in fact passable.  An impressive windstorm hit the Longview-Portland corridor (further south too I'm sure) and getting around is pretty difficult right now.  It goes out tomorrow for sure!

16 December 2015

why stop at ordinary Micro 4:3?

One of the main allures of the micro-4:3 systems is their compact size.  More typical sensors (36x24, 24x18) designed the mount and lens system to be the right size to fill their sensor but not go beyond.  The (17x13ish) Four Thirds sensor does the same but can scale down substantially more compared to either of those.  So small is a big deal for this system.  So that means smaller is even better then.. right?

Part of why it works is that a given lens' focal length means something different to a smaller sensor.  The 200mm lens that was a decent telephoto lens on film now yields a different scale on the smaller sensor.  My Pentax sees a 200mm lens as 300mme (mm effective) when the same shot is enlarged, and the still-smaller Four Thirds sensor would give an enlargement with 400mme.  So the same lens gives more telephoto punch on the micro4:3, or a 100mm lens can match the film-era 200mm when images are enlarged to the same print size.

Back in the film days 20mm was an exotic, absurdly-wide angle lens.  Now I'm about to receive a 7.5mm lens for the G7 (15mme) and it gets five-star ratings from several testing sites.  Technology has definitely changed how the imaging game is done!  I briefly owned an 8mm fisheye for Pentax; it was great fun but compared to this 7.5mm it's a big lens.  Designing for a smaller sensor has advantages at the wide end too, not just by using 150mm lenses to shoot 300mme images!

Even more tech has resulted in collapsible lens designs; bring a tiny lens along but "unscrew" it before shooting and it becomes a more typical size.  Pentax now has its  18-50mm RE kit lens that does this - but micro4:3 has been doing it for a while now.  My G7 came with a well-designed 14-42mm lens that does not collapse yet is still much smaller than their original version.
But wait, there's less!

For their smallest m4:3 cameras Panasonic designed the 12-32mm collapsing kit lens.  It's flat as a pancake in imsge-speak as the pancake-style prime lenses are about the size of this zoom when retracted.  Not only is it tiny but it has earned remarkable praise for what it can do.  Its 24-64mme range goes just enough wider than my 28-84mme kit lens to cover more situations, and many have claimed its images are really hard to beat by any kit lens from any manufacturer.

image via photographyblog
A silver copy of the 12-32mm is coming here soon.  I was outbid recently on a copy but immediately bid on another, and that one came through!

Review sites do point out a few shortcomings of the tiny zoom.  Most notably is that it cannot be focused manually!  That could be a problem, we shall see - but for most wide images the depth of field will be a larger focusing issue than the specific point in focus.  Stopping at 64mme could be an issue for me also, especially since the 7.5mm fisheye can take up any slack when the 14-42 won't do. And finally the 14-42 and 45-175 zooms take the same filter size, which is handy; however, a step ring can turn the 12-32 into a match and double as a minimal hood!

Comparing  images taken with the 12-32 and 14-42 will not be a huge priority to me, but if the baby retractable zoom is worthy it makes the micro4:3 kit just that much smaller.  And as is so often the case, small is a big deal: just ask anyone who chooses their cell phone for imaging!

12 December 2015

yet another bag

I swear I have nearly a dozen camera bags. Some were claimed from my dad's supply, but many are my very own.  Like so many purchases we all make, each made sense at the time.  And now another is coming?

from huntsphotoandvideo.com
Any micro:43 kit is relatively tiny and does not need a 'normal' sized camera bag to rattle around in.  I saw a great little Tamrac Jazz 52 on sale and almost bought it - then noticed that $hipping charge was nearly as much as the bag itself!  Err no thanks.  I then sought it elsewhere on the web but found something even slightly smaller: a  brand-new new Jazz 36 bag was available (last one!) for a slightly lower purchase price + Free Shipping.  Much better, both for price and volume; I can just toss under the tree, let my lovely spouse know of it & then forget about it for a few weeks.  The way my memory misfires have increased, that part will be easy.

As illustrated, this bag barely holds a standard DSLR plus one lens and flash.  In other words it will be very nice fit for a G7 with two zooms plus + a 7.5mm prime* perhaps? The Jazz 36 will definitely serve the purpose that I have in mind - and like no current bag can manage.

As to the G7 itself: so far so good, but wow it's complex!  And with several function buttons and a dozen or two possible settings for each one, it could take a month or more before the camera is functionally set to use.  I hadn't really thought about that!  And I've just installed v2.0 firmware so it's even more complex - Panasonic added the focus-stack-to-video option where you can choose which frame ahs the point in focus that you wanted most & save that shot as an 8Mpx still.  And if you like several planes of focus for the image, go ahead and extract/save them too!  What a clever way to play with 4k video.

I've been testing its low-light abilities first, seeing how close to EV-4 it can focus, how iso 6400/12800 look and how OIS does at such stupid-low exposure levels.  No surprise that details are smudged at such high settings, but very good results in the worst of circumstances.  I'm more than satisfied with these, so I doubt that iso200 shots will be troublesome.  I will check on that too, someday soon. Now to find a website that determines EV levels for a given shutter/aperture/ISO combo!

* Done deal!  I offered below someone's auction price but did not hear back, then found another one ending soon for cheaper.

09 December 2015

done and .. slightly un-Done

Papers signed, funds to flow soon.  The home refinance feels good!
However, I had planned to invest a bit more of the surplus funds into lenses.  That plan fails because of those silly fees that added up without being fully factored into my planning worksheets, which converted a pleasant excess into a small check that has several other important uses.  So any other items will wait for January, when no house payment is needed and a bit of excess from our former escrow account will flow back to us.  That money also has places to go, but a pinch of expense for that 7.5mm fisheye can probably be worked in!  It's available for $50 off right now, and hopefully a few buyers won't like fisheyes and drop a copy into my happy hands.  Or maybe an inventory excess sale?  We'll see if it works out.

This lens took a rare 5-star award from photozone, so the secret is out.
Its all-manual functionality and fishy output just aren't for everyone though, regardless of stars!

image via lenstip.com

It should be noted that Olympus sells their 'body-cap' 9mm fisheye for quite a bit less.  It isn't awful and it's a whole 30 grams - but at a fixed f/8 it will not be astronomy-friendly as this f/3.5 model.  With a bit more budget I could squeeze out a Samyang 12mm f/2 which gets rave reviews from astro-types.  It's $100ish more than the 7.5 though, for now I'll Just Say No.

07 December 2015

the New Kid

I picked up the New Kid a day early, rescued from the delivery warehouse before it sat too long.  
The Kid looks like new but it was a demo baby for all of 280 clicks.  
The Pentax caught it napping while the battery received a boost.

I'll give the camera some tests later for speed accuracy handling and such. First off it sure is light and compact - no surprise yet always surprising! It's a very nice fit for hands my size. Looks sharp, and the 45-175 silver is reasonably close to the G7 shade, a warmer shade of silver. This camera has many programmable buttons and two control wheels, so just setting it up for use could take a day or so. At some point I'll even explore the images I guess.. 'twas nice of Samys to leave the 4GB memory card inside!

05 December 2015

fine-tuning two systems

With Pentax and Lumix now shaping up as thin but complete systems, the chance to improve on optics becomes complex.  The best choices for good glass would be one that fit well into both systems rather than just one.  So with that in mind, here goes!

The first step comes at around 30-40mm.  Several nice Pentax options are available, but micro43 prefers to fill space just above 40mm and the Pentax 50/1.7 does just fine above that.  My 14-42mm would be f/5.6 at the long end, and the 45-175 sits at f/4 - so a faster prime would be very nice to have!  I see two options for sale right now: an older 35mm f/2 and a Limited 40/2.8.  That latter lens would have modern coatings and be auto-everything on the K50, but the 35's aperture ring is handy on the G7.  Since I've ordered an adapter that can adjust the aperture on K-mount lenses the DA40 is the better choice.. but really closer to the 50/1.7 than I would prefer.  More consideration coming..

Another space in m43 is at the wider end.  Many lenses are 14-xx and Lumix has a 14 prime - but what else?  Samyang has stepped in with several fun choices, and the 7.5mm fisheye is a good call as is the 12mm f/2 for sky imaging.  On the other hand, the 12-32mm zoom is tiny but well liked by owners and reviewers.  It's another of those f/3.5-5.6 types which is a bummer.. but getting to 12mm (24mme) is a nice option to have.  I see deals on that as well, so perhaps that will be wide enough - especially since the G7 has a panorama mode for times when wide-angle lenses just won't do.  Good luck using that mode with a fisheye lens, it would be interesting to see how the camera handles such a request!

the Orphan with the red X

It came a day or two ahead of its body, and now it must wait.

The race was close though - one reached Portland, the other Troutdale. Another two hours and they could have traveled together!

So the silver G7 will spend the weekend in the Big City awaiting the Monday delivery cycle.  Ah well, that will be a fine commemoration: it will be mine the same day we sign papers on the refinance of our home.  A great date to celebrate!

And another day of waiting to see how the two silver items match up.

03 December 2015

two ways to 300

Both of my recent Pentax telephoto deals have now arrived, so comparing the two will be interesting!

First came the Spiratone 300mm mirror lens.  I have been curious about this type of lens but never won a bid until last week.  At f/5.6 this one has a better chance of AF systems working with it, compared to the slightly slower f/6.3 Tokina.  That lens is micro43 only, while this is conceivably film-friendly  - and arrived PK adapted and stabilized on the K·50!

My first shots with it were surprisingly contrasty and pretty well focused.  These lenses are often criticized for low contrast so that was a nice surprise.  More tests are needed, and the 'donut bokeh' has yet to be featured in the few shots I've taken with it.

Today the Sigma 100-300 arrived.  This is my fourth copy I believe so it's very familiar to me!  AF speed is really fast, telephoto optical speed is dreadful at f/6.7 - this is why the Pentax 55-300 and this lens alternate in my bag.  The other good side is price; the 55-300 is an excellent deal at $100ish, while the Sigma came for $9.99 plus shipping and handling (about $22 all told).  The Pentax is a bit more crisp and contrasty for the most part, but really with minimal retouch the results are very nice with either lens.

I have a PK-m43 adapter coming, but perhaps a T-m43 would also be useful.  That 600mme closeup should be fun to pull off in good light!  In the meanwhile though, the 45-175 should arrive soon to take the mic43 system to greater lengths, even though the internal-zoom lens won't get any longer!

02 December 2015


Time's up.

Samy's camera went with others on the sub-$600 deal for a new G7 with 14-42 lens.  By doing so it forced a still lower price for their demo model (in silver) with ~280 shutter count.  Well below, like $470ish!  This was lower than buying a new one elsewhere with $100 credit, so this was hard to overlook.. so I didn't.  Yes those deals included bundles with additional lenses, but not lenses I was seeking.  I could settle for a 25/1.7 .. but I didn't.

They also threw in $10 speed shipping, not free but quite good for a 'used' item. Thanks folks!

For a brief time I worried that the 14-42 lens was type-I not type-II; that was not true though.  The newer lens does not say II on the nose, but it says HD and .2m-infinity on the focus range, definitely type-II parameters.  Yaay!

For the future I'll seek a spare battery and that 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye*.  First things first though: I have thirty days to be certain this is a camera I can enjoy and make use of for my kind of shots, both old-school and newfangled 4k types.  Should be fun, and a joy to carry such little weight.

* another thought is the 12-32mm retractable zoom; that lens gets very high marks for its image quality and silly-small size.  Even if I stop at 24mm or so it might be worth having!