Pentax DA 15mm f/4 Limited

The Pentax 15mm Limited is the reason I bought into the Pentax system. The news surrounding its introduction was my first exposure to the DA Limiteds and I was immediately smitten. The Sony / Minolta gear I was using at the time was fantastic optically, but build quality in the affordable lenses was lacking. At the same time, I was getting into film photography using manual focus lenses forged from a single piece of granite. Why couldn’t I have that kind of build quality and “feel” in a modern lens? Turns out I could.

Deer Nose

Pentax truly read my mind when they designed the 15mm. All of the DA Limiteds have a 49mm filter diameter, which places a size constraint on the lens designer. How to keep a 15mm lens this small? Smallish maximum aperture of f/4, screw-drive autofocus and image stabilization in the body of the camera instead of the lens. Those are all acceptable tradeoffs to anyone who’s had the pleasure of using the 15mm. The screw-on lens cap is cool, but you’d have to be crazy not to replace it with a $5 pinch style cap. The lens hood is built-in and collapsible and made of metal and so much fun to fiddle with. Image quality-wise, Pentax seemingly prioritized rendering quality above edge-to-edge sharpness. While nowhere near as soft as the Pentax 50-200, it pays to be careful about what you place at the edges of your frame when shooting at f/4. A bit of corner softness can be seen in this photo, but it’s usually nothing to worry about. Depends on the subject.

Mount Rainier

How silly of me, I’ve gone this long writing about the Pentax 15mm Limited without mentioning how good it is at shooting into the sun. Example, from Farmington, NM:

Farmington, NM

And another example from Cannon Beach, OR:

Cannon Beach, OR

This is the first lens I’d show someone who thinks sharpness or bokeh are the only lens qualities worth paying attention to. All of the Limiteds are accused of having pixie dust in them, but I think the 15mm is the best example of a lens with a “prettiness” to the way it renders that is hard to describe quantitatively.

Neglected Truck

The DA 15mm Limited is Pentax at their best. It’s not perfect, but that only makes it more appealing.

SMC Pentax DA 1:4-5.6 50-200mm ED WR

I’m not a fan of telephoto zooms in general. The good ones are big, heavy, and expensive. The cheap, small, light ones just aren’t very good. In my opinion, Pentax excels when it goes after high optical quality, high build quality, and small size at the cost of weight and sale price. That’s the formula for the Limiteds and the reason I bought a Pentax in the first place.

Big Moon

Even though I rarely enjoy using telephoto zooms, I miss not having one. I live in constant fear that I’ll see a gazelle 100 meters away and I’ll be unable to fill the frame with its face. I had the Tamron 70-300 for A-mount, and I had a lot of fun with it. Probably the best lens of the type for the money. Tamron sells the same lens for K-mount, but I wanted something smaller and weather proofier.

Puget Sound Orcas

I didn’t feel a need for a K-mount telephoto zoom for a while because I got a manual focus Pentax M 135mm f/3.5 essentially for free. That lens doesn’t have the best reputation among Pentaxians, but I found it to be a gem. Small, fast enough, and pretty good optically. Manual focusing on a DSLR is not my favorite, but I managed some nice shots with the lens and got used to its quality for my telephoto shots. Instead of honing my skills with a quality lens, I decided I had to have a lens with autofocus and weather proofing.

Tongue Out

Enter the SMC Pentax blah blah 50-200 blah blah WR. It’s small, light, inexpensive, zoomy, autofocussy and weather proof. It’s also built well for a modern lens. I like everything about it except for the image quality. The image quality isn’t bad at all, but it’s nothing special. Furthermore, with all the convenience features like zoominess and autofocosity, I get lazy and take boring photos. Other photographers most certainly make fantastic photos with this lens, but I struggle with it.

Mount Rainier from Kent Washington

Maybe that says more about me than about the lens.

Battle of the Legends: Pentax FA 77mm Limited vs Olympus 75mm

Let’s get this out of the way first: I know these lenses were designed for different mounts, different formats and even different recording media. Still, it’s not apples to apples; it’s more like apples to pears or peaches to nectarines. The Pentax and Olympus 75-ish mm lenses are the same price, the same-ish focal length, the same maximum aperture, roughly the same size, similar build quality, and oh yeah, they both take pictures when you stick them on a camera and point them at stuff.

The Pentax FA 77mm Limited is one of the best AF lenses ever made and it has a devoted following of Pentaxians who wait year after year for Pentax to release a “full-frame” DSLR to put it on. Some Pentax fans even adapt full-frame Canon DSLR’s just to use this lens. I can’t say I understand the thinking there since Canon sells a silent-focusing 85mm f/1.8 for about half of what Pentax charges for its 77. Perhaps it’s the pixie dust. The Pentax FA Limiteds are built like no other AF lenses. They are compact, metal, and heavy. Even without taking a picture you can tell they are special. That specialness doesn’t stop once you start taking photos. The 77 is sharp from wide open and has beautiful rendering. Stop down a little and you’d be hard-pressed to find a technical flaw. I suppose I should mention that the focusing is slowish and loud, but I don’t care. Try this lens for a day and I guarantee you won’t care either.

I’m renting the Olympus 75mm, so I don’t have very much personal experience with it. It’s very new, but already has an excellent reputation. For micro 4/3, there is no AF competition for this lens. The build quality is better than any other micro 4/3 lens I’ve ever used (I’m guessing that the Voigtländers are built better). However, it’s not as well-built as the Pentax. I’m sure they are both perfectly reliable, but in terms of “feel” it’s not even close. The Pentax wins. Also, how about that size difference? I said they were close, but the Olympus is significantly bigger than the Pentax. One of the huge advantages of micro 4/3 is that the lenses are so much smaller than their APS-C or 35mm equivalents. How is it that the Pentax, which was designed for a 4x larger sensor is so much more compact than the Olympus? Ok, it’s not that much of a mystery: the Olympus has a more complicated modern design and internal, silent focusing.

I haven’t yet had time to take any “real” photos with the Olympus, but I found this comparison too interesting to pass up. I compared the Olympus 75mm on an OM-D and the Pentax 77mm on a K-7. That’s 16MP vs 14MP and 150mm vs 115mm equivalent FOV. I used contrast-detect autofocus for both cameras and took all pictures hand-held because that’s how I take most of my photos in real-life. Here are a few 1:1 comparisons for you to peruse:

The differences are small, but it’s not hard to tell the Olympus is sharper than the Pentax. Surprisingly, they both had about equal purple fringing. The Pentax is known for being pretty bad at fringing and micro 4/3 lenses are software-corrected for fringing. For me, the differences between the lenses come down to issues with their respective formats. DOF control between micro 4/3 and APS-C is essentially the same. Any difference between the two can be easily mitigated. Full-frame does offer more control of DOF but there is not yet a full-frame Pentax DSLR, so the point is moot.

I’ve been shooting exclusively micro 4/3 lately, so going back to the K-7 was interesting. The autofocus speed was about the same between the OM-D and the K-7 with their 75mm-ish lenses attached, but the contrast-detect autofocus of the OM-D was way more accurate and repeatable than the phase-detect system in the K-7. The auto focus design of DSLR’s is inherently dependent on calibration and thus susceptible to front or back focus errors. Contrast detect focusing measures whether the actual image data is in focus. There is a speed advantage to phase-detect sensors, but that gap is closing fast. I had to switch to the glacial live-view contrast detection AF mode on the K-7 to get these samples to focus accurately. It’s not all bad news for the Pentax, though. I’ve yet to use a camera that feels better in hand and has better control placement than the K-7 (and the identical K-5, K-5II etc).

What’s most interesting to me is that the differences between the two just don’t matter much. If the lens is good enough then the variables that pop up when we are out shooting are going to dwarf any tiny differences in image quality between two excellent lenses. I threw in some shots with the Olympus 45mm as well. When you get closer to the subject to match the subject size to the 75mm shot, the DOF is roughly the same. So much unnecessary internet-blood has been spilled by people arguing over differences in DOF between different lenses and formats.

Since this is a “battle” I must now choose a winner… The winner is the Olympus, but I reserve the right to change that verdict after shooting with it in the real world (until I have to ship it back). Don’t throw your Pentax up on ebay just yet, though. The 77/1.8 is still an amazing lens that can be used to produce images with a signature look. The slightly older design of the 77/1.8 means it can’t compete on sharpness with  newer lenses, but it has just the right blend of character and technical perfection. In fact, I better stop writing about it now because I might end up changing the verdict.

Update: I removed the 100% crop comparisons with both lenses mounted on the OM-D because I messed up the manual focusing. The full images are still available for comparison, but keep in mind that the focus point is different between the two shots.

Nighttime Dancing in Seattle

Just for grins, I brought my manual focus 50mm f/1.7 lens out for a walk in Seattle to get some practice manual focusing on my K-7. Manual focusing on a DSLR is a lot harder than on a film camera with a giant viewfinder and focusing aids (on an unrelated note, spending too much time around photographers puts you at high risk of contracting focusing aids. Beware). You can use live view and zoom in on the focal point, but that’s incredibly klunky.  With practice, I got fairly good at focusing using the viewfinder. The K-7 is already on the small side (however its viewfinder is one of the largest for APS-C cameras) for a DSLR and with the tiny 50mm it was just the right size. Doing without the grinding noise from the autofocus motor was nice too. With no pressure to get results, this was a fun combo.

I wandered around while the light was growing dim and I found some fun stuff going down at Westlake Center.  Some kind of dancing club was occupying the space and they even had live music.  I can’t imagine wanting to dance for fun, but taking pictures of it was fun.

The event attracted participants of all ages. Most of them seemed to switch partners after every song.  As someone with antisocial leanings, I felt like an alien observing and documenting the social behavior of another species.

 The event also attracted a homeless man who seemed a bit inebriated. He had a large bandage on his belly and dog tags around his neck. He fed off of the energy of the event and seemed to be enjoying himself.

A few more photos of the dancing:

After the dancing died down and the sun went down further, I explored a little while longer. Below is a picture of one of the Borders stores right before it closed for good.

Walking around with a camera is one of the best ways to connect with a place and best of all, it’s free. To finish off the set, I processed all the photos with a similar “look” and I’m pretty proud of the results. I’ve been shooting a lot lately, but it’s the uploading and blogging that I need to catch up on. I’m not too upset, though. It’s better than being the other way around.

Bite of Seattle

Bite of Seattle is one of my favorite annual festivals in the northwest because it’s all about food. Other festivals have food, but it’s not their main attraction. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate this year, but that had the advantage of keeping the crowds a little thinner. “Thinner” of course referring to the number of people and not their size.  This is a food festival after all. For a change, I decided to post-process all the photos in this set to give them all the same “look.” Nothing extreme, I just tried to give all the photos roughly the same tonality and contrast.

Note the umbrellas in the photo above. I think I’ve forgotten what sunlight looks like.

I’m a sucker for a funny sign. Also for burgers.

I like this photo because of the mix of posing and candidness.

Yes, he was balancing a corn dog on his nose. He was very good at it.

Mmmm pastrami.

Is there anything better than grilled meat?

I don’t know why there weren’t more people playing in the fountain.  We were already getting rained on.

Bird!

Lots of good food this year with smaller lines due to the rain.  Also, I’d like to note that having a weather-resistant camera makes all the difference in this soggy state.

Remember when photography was fun?

Two major announcements have been made recently that promise true innovation in photography land.  The responses to them show a startling lack of imagination and open-mindedness.

The first is the Pentax Q system.  Smaller than a credit card, the Q is an interchangeable lens camera with a tiny point and shoot sized 1/2.3″ sensor.  Looks like great fun to me.  The lenses must be about the size of an Altoid.  At $800, the camera is not cheap, but niche products rarely are.  The internet reactions to this camera range from “it’s way overpriced” to “what’s the point of changing lenses when the sensor is so small” to “Pentax is a bunch of Nazis!”  Ok, I made up the Nazi one, but you know that comment must be out there, right?  It seems that the overwhelming response to the announcement of the Q is negative.  Why?  Nobody is forcing you to buy one.  I probably won’t buy one because of the price, but the concept looks like fun.  I’d love to play with one for a week.

The other announcement is from Lytro, a new company promising to eliminate the need for focusing before taking a picture.  Their product uses an array of micro-lenses to capture the entire light field and reconstruct an image where the focus plane can be chosen during post-processing.  Unlike the Q, the responses to this have been mostly positive.  Of course there is the predictable grumpy photographer response of “great, how easy does picture-taking have to get?  Now NOBODY will need a professional photographer.”  If the only thing you offer over amateur photographers is correct exposure and focus, then you aren’t worth your price.  The other reaction is a complete misunderstanding of the technology.  I’ve seen several comments from people hoping to use this to fix their blurry film photos from the 80’s.  Not going to happen.  The comments that actually bother me are the ones asking “what’s the ISO?  What’s the focal length?  What’s the f-stop?  What’s the shutter speed?  How many megapixels?  Isn’t Lytro just a bunch of Nazis?”  Seriously?  Are we (photographers on the internet) that blinded by spec sheets?  You’re being presented a revolutionary new imaging technique at a reasonable price (supposedly) and your reaction is “how many megapixels?”

Come on, Internet, get your excitement on like you did for the Fuji X100 before it was released and you realized that it was imperfect just like every other camera.  Photography is a fun activity and cameras are fun to play with.  Let’s encourage innovation because we have more than enough megapixels already.

Pentax ME

This isn’t a full-on camera review (not that any of my “reviews” are), but just a discussion of the pros and cons of automation.  I ran a roll of film through a Pentax ME recently and had a bunch of problems that I wouldn’t have had with a camera that has manual exposure controls (or with a digital camera…).  All of the pictures in this post were taken with a Pentax ME, a Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens and Fujifilm Superia 100 film.  The lens and the film pass with flying colors, but the camera was frustrating.

"Hello, I'd like to store my self here please."

First, some background.  Prior to automated exposure settings all SLR cameras had controls for aperture, shutter speed, and focus.  After automation became all the rage (and it still is), SLR cameras had anywhere from full manual control to no manual controls.  Today’s DSLR’s thankfully have lots of manual control with the added bonus of fully automated modes and instant feedback.  The Pentax ME lands towards the fully automated end of the spectrum.  It has manual focus and aperture settings, but shutter speed is completely controlled by the camera.

New Beetle never understood why he wasn't as cool as Old Beetle. Prius was ignored by both of them.

This is the problem.  When the meter in the ME is working correctly, it’s a fine and easy to use camera.  However, my meter was acting wonky and there was nothing I could do about it.  Exposure compensation only works if the metered value is consistent.  I almost always work in aperture priority mode on cameras that offer it, but I need some way of choosing the shutter speed if the brains in the camera aren’t working right. On occasion my brain works right and it wants to pick shutter speeds!

Some cars are art...
...and some cars have art on them

I have to cut the ME some slack because it’s over 30 years old and who knows what the condition of it’s battery is?  I love the form factor and the build-quality, but I don’t feel like depending on a 30+ year-old meter with  no ability to override it.  Of course, the answer is the Pentax MX.  It’s almost exactly the same has the ME, but with a shutter speed dial on top and a 0.97x 95% viewfinder.  Anyone care to trade?

Emerald City Comicon 2011

I went to Emerald City Comicon last weekend with my wife and her sister. I don’t have much comic book knowledge, but I do enjoy me some sci-fi.  As a photographic outing, the Comicon was outstanding, but there was almost too much good stuff to take pictures of.  There were tons of costumes, and the people in costume were very friendly and had no problem with being photographed.  A lot of the costumes were incredibly detailed and the characters being played were pretty convincing.  That’s why I tried to catch the moments when they broke character.

Before even entering the convention center, we saw this guy dressed up in a fantastic costume that would even give Peter Jackson a run for his money (or maybe it was Peter Jackson under the mask?). The punchee in the photo above seems to be really really enjoying this moment.

The convention center was packed with people and it was pretty hard to find your way around.  Even Batman had trouble getting where he needed to go, so he had to enlist the help of Superman to give him directions.  This was my favorite shot of the day.

There was a steady stream of costumed folks coming in throughout the day.  It was fun watching superheroes performing mundane activities like waiting in line and riding escalators.

I caught up with Rorschach and he posed for me.  In Watchmen, the pattern on Rorschach’s mask continuously changes and the mask used here did that as well.  He used a special kind of paint that changed from white to black when he breathed on it.  A pretty cool effect when you can’t rely on CGI.

The mustache this guy is wearing is detachable and attached to a chain that goes to his jacket pocket.  Hilarious.

The sign above his head reads “Because I’m a pretty freaking PRINCESS!”  My eyes still haven’t recovered from this.

The waiting process for getting into the celebrity panels was very disorganized, but at least there was plenty of time for me to manually focus my Pentax SMC-M 135mm lens.  Aside from the slowish f/3.5 max aperture, the little 135 has grown on me due to its build quality, sharpness, bokeh, and small size.

Rebel pilots are always willing to lend a helping hand, even if your costume is from the new trilogy.

The convention halls were packed full for every speaker.  This was the crowd during William Shatner’s talk.

And here’s Shatner himself.  He did a Q&A and told a bunch of stories.  He’s very comfortable in front of the crowd and a truly funny man.  I like that he acknowledges the importance of Star Trek to his fame without bashing it, but at the same time he is still working on new projects that he seems genuinely excited about.

Overall, the Emerald City Comicon was a fun time and I’ll probably return next year.

No Clouds, New Tripod, Wet Shoes and Cannon Beach

More photos to come, but I got a little trigger-happy and now I’m paying for it during editing.  Oregon provided me with a rare cloudless day for some sunrise shooting.  I also managed to catch the moon before it left to make room for the sun.  The moon was a brilliant pink color and I regret not bringing any lenses longer than 135mm.  After my recent change from Sony to Pentax gear, my lens collection has been a little “limited” 😉

I took this shot with a SMC Pentax-M 135mm f/3.5 lens.  This lens is manual focus and it was manufactured anywhere from 25-35 years ago.  Thanks to the K-mount’s unrivaled backwards compatibility it works on my K-7 without an adapter (thanks to sensor-based stabilization, it’s also stabilized).  This opens up all kinds of inexpensive lens options if you’re willing to focus manually.  I can’t claim that manual focusing on a DSLR is easy, but I’m practicing and getting better at it.

Rattlesnake Ledge

I went hiking recently on the Rattlesnake Mountain trail, which is located next to Rattlesnake Lake and leads up to Rattlesnake Ledge.  As expected, the hike was wet, but I came prepared this time with my weather resistant K-7 and kit-lens.  I was stuck using the kit lens the entire time because the trail was basically in a rain-forest and I was getting soaked.  So soaked, in fact, that my cell phone didn’t make it out alive.  It was 3+ years old, so maybe something else killed it, but it seems like too big a coincidence.

Washington provided me with one of its fine overcast days, which meant fog as I climbed higher up the mountain.  Until I got to the ledge, my view consisted of 3 things: fog, trees, darkness.  I tried hard to overcome the urge to convert all my photos to black and white, which is usually how photographers deal with the constant overcast here.  The Pentax 18-55 kit lens played its part well.  Purple fringing and flare were both well-controlled despite the worst-case conditions for those problems.  Image quality aside, however, I can’t emphasize enough how nice it was to have the piece of mind that comes with using a weather-sealed camera and lens.

This wasn’t my first time hiking in fog or NW rainforest, but it was darker than I remember.  Being stuck with my slow kit-lens without a tripod (mine broke about a month ago) meant that the ISO was in the 800-3200 range for the entire hike.  The only major complaint about the K-7, common to almost every review of it was the “poor” low-light performance.  I assumed correctly that the low-light performance was probably fine and the differences between this camera and its contemporaries would be minimal.  It turns out anything up to ISO1600 looks great and ISO3200 works just fine.  ISO6400 is available on the K-7 as an extended-ISO option, but the results look bad at any size.  Still, usable ISO3200 is a big step up from my A200 which struggled with anything above ISO800.  Here’s an example of an IS3200 shot from the hike:

18-55mm kit lenses aren’t known for their bokeh, but that didn’t stop me from trying.  Details like the one in this picture emphasize just how different hiking in the northwest is compared to hiking in the southwest.

Seriously, everything was dripping.  Everything.

I’m not usually a huge fan of too much digital photo manipulation, but I experimented a little with duo-tone for the following picture.  I think it captures the feeling of the area pretty well, but feel free to disagree or suggest improvements.  It reminds me of the opening scene from Book of Eli…without the cat-killing.

Rattlesnake Ledge itself offered up a spectacular view.  Unfortunately it was cloudy and the view completely disappeared within minutes of my arrival, but I plan to return soon and take another stab at it.  Here are the shots I ended up with:

The ledge was small and crowded with quite a few other hikers.  I took the next photo to show how little view there was once the rest of the clouds rolled in.  Also, I like dogs.

I planned on hiking to a farther point another 2 miles out, but I think I may have taken a wrong turn somewhere.  I read some information about the hike when I got home that warned about most of the signs being misleading or wrong, but that information was too late.  I hiked for quite a while and it was good exercise and it was pretty, but nothing compared to the Rattlesnake Ledge view.  As the elevation increased, the scenery changed a little:

Still dark and foggy, but the trees looked different.  It even snowed on me for a few minutes.  I saw the sun for a little bit as it shined through the trees and I got this final shot.  It’s pretty cliche, but I have a weakness for sun-rays and you don’t have to look at it if you don’t want to.

Overall, it was a fun hike and I’m looking forward to returning to Rattlesnake Ledge when the weather is clearer.

P.S. – Despite the name, I didn’t see a single rattlesnake.  Actually I didn’t see any wildlife whatsoever.  Weird.

Pentax 31mm Limited

Warning! This post contains cliché photos of cats, Christmas tree bokeh, and in some cases…BOTH.  Please forgive me.

What I like about Pentax is their utter disregard for following convention.  There are certain focal lengths for prime lenses that everyone seemed to agree on: 24, 28, 35, 50, 85, and 135.  Lenses bearing those numbers can be found in any manufacturer’s lens collection.  Pentax however, went their own way: 15, 23, 31, 43, 77.  Their FA (full-frame) Limited lenses (31/1.8, 43/1.8, 77/1.8) are renowned for their compactness, build-quality and image quality.  Pentax offers some made-for-digital DA Limited lenses (including the 35/2.8 which I own) which are excellent, but Pentax users seem to have a special place in their hearts for the older FA Limiteds.  The FA Limiteds are even rumored to have fairy dust in them which makes your pictures better.  Since I knew I’d need the extra speed (f/1.8 vs. f/2.8) for indoor photography during the holidays, I decided to rent the 31mm Limited and find out.  When the lens arrived, I was surprised that it wasn’t as compact as I expected and it was fairly heavy, but it oozed quality in a way that few digital goods do these days.  As is required of any new lens, I tested it on my cat.

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO1600 f/2.5 1/30

This bored him.  I apologize for the gratuitous Christmas tree bokeh.  It’s unnecessary and it won’t happen again.

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO1600 f/1.8 1/60

Oops, there it is again, I’m sorry.  Here’s a close-focus, wide-open aperture shot to show off more of that legendary bokeh.  It’s sharper at f/4, but the sharpness here at f/1.8 is more than adequate and far better than my Minolta 50mm at f/1.8.

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO1600 f/2.0 1/80

Oh man, another cat picture.  The combination of moderately wide angle and shallow depth of field that the 31/1.8 provides is just plain fun.  A shot like this wouldn’t turn out as well with the 31mm Limited’s competitor, the Sigma 30/1.4.  Reportedly, the Sigma is sharp in the center of the frame, but very soft in the corners.  However, you could buy three of the Sigmas for the price of one 31mm Limited.  Hmmm…

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO800 f/2.0 1/80

Look!  People!  The holidays are a great time to take photos of the relatives that you don’t see very often, but it can be hard when those relatives get annoyed by being photographed.  But what is it really that annoys people about being photographed?  Usually it’s the shutter noise (for DSLR’s) or the flash.  The K-7’s quiet shutter and the large aperture of the 31mm Limited solve both of those problems.  Also, 31mm isn’t so wide that you get weird distorted body parts.

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO800 f/2.0 1/80

Here’s another shot of game-playing fun and a bit more Christmas bokeh to clog up the interwebs.

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO1600 f/2.0 1/60

I took this picture of my grandmother getting dessert ready and it’s probably my favorite photo taken with the 31mm.  Mmmmmm, pie.

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO1600 f/2.8 1/60

I don’t have a point to make with this photo, but I thought the internet could use just one more cat photo.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of Christmas snapshots disguised as a lens review.  The Pentax FA Limited 31mm f/1.8 lens was tons of fun to use and I’d love to own one.  However, it’s very expensive and it’s not as versatile or as compact as my 35/2.8 macro.  The large aperture of the 31/1.8 is nice, but there are more cost-effective options out there.  Neither of those should count against the lens and in fact I can’t come up with a single thing to fault the 31mm Limited for.  Excellent build-quality; excellent image quality right from f/1.8; compact enough; a little heavy, but not too heavy.  The great thing about any of the Pentax Limiteds is that they have that extra something that makes them more fun to use and there just might be some fairy dust in them after all.

Snowpocalypse 2010

I’m about a month late sharing pictures of this, but the pictures are snowy and it’s winter now and it’s done nothing but rain in Seattle for the past month.  What wasn’t so pretty was the commute the night before.  Watching the conditions outside of work worsen, I chose to leave for home early at about 3:30.  Four and a half hours later, I arrived at home freezing cold with a full bladder and an offer for a free knife-sharpening.

Let’s back up a few hours to my first 10 minutes on I-5 South.  I was excited because the roads were clear of ice and traffic and I was able to make better time than usual.  Then I met up with the traffic jam that I would later find out was caused by a truck that jack-knifed right in front of my exit.  I was at a virtual standstill for the next 2.5 hours until I finally reached my exit.  Unfortunately, the exit goes up a small hill before descending and I could tell I’d need to keep my speed up or else.  I sped up and got almost to the top of the hill when I saw that two semi trucks were stuck and completely blocking the road.  I had to stop and quickly realized I was stuck.  I got out of my car to see that nobody was helping anybody.  Lots of cars were stuck on the not-so-steep incline and it wouldn’t have taken much pushing to unstick them, but nobody was willing to help.  I helped push a Japanese man’s BMW and he drove a little ways before getting stuck again and deciding to abandon his car.  He helped me get my car up to the apex of the hill and had me convinced that I too should abandon my car and try to walk home.  He didn’t speak English very well, so it took a long time for us to realize that we only lived a couple blocks from each other.  After walking about a quarter-mile and noticing that it was literally all down hill from there, I decided to make a go of it in my car.  I offered the Japanese man a ride home so he wouldn’t have to walk home alone and he seemed torn about whether to get his car or not.  He decided to ride with me and I found out that he owns a knife-shop in Seattle and in return for giving him a ride home I was welcome to come in any time and get a free knife-sharpening.  Unfortunately in the excitement, I failed to get the name or location of his shop.  We both made it home safely after an eerie drive through empty streets and abandoned cars.  Apparently we both were lucky to have made it home at all that day.  The news was full of stories with less happy endings.

The next morning was beautiful.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the ground was completely covered in a blanket of fresh snow.  My wife and I went for a short walk around the neighborhood to capture a few pictures.  I was excited to try the cold-proofing on my new K-7 and sure enough the camera didn’t break when it got out in the cold.  Ok, I don’t think it was cold enough for any camera to have trouble, but it was fun shooting with a “cold-proof” camera in the snow.

The lesson from all of this: when everyone around you is struggling, be sure to help at least one of them.  After I got stuck, I was refused help by two other motorists who were both literally spinning their wheels.  My Japanese friend and I both made it home safely because we helped each other.  Perhaps the news following the storm wouldn’t have been so grim if only a few more commuters had done the same.

Nikon Vs. Canon: Who Cares?

Balanced Rock, Balanced Camera
Balanced Rock, Balanced Camera, by Bryan Davidson

This is a big part of the reason Nikon and Canon bore me.

When was the last true innovation from Nikon or Canon?  They sell very high quality products, sure, but where’s the evidence that they are creating anything new?  These are some of the big camera innovations of the past couple of years:

  • Minolta (now Sony, Olympus and Pentax): Sensor-based stabilization
  • Pentax: high-quality, compact, APS-C primes
  • Olympus: 4/3 mount which led to the following innovation
  • Olympus and Panasonic: micro-4/3 which is innovative because of packing a large sensor in a small camera and for multiple companies sharing a single lens mount
  • Samsung: Mirrorless APS-C camera
  • Sony: Worlds smallest APS-C, the NEX-3 and NEX-5 with unfortunately one of the worlds worst user interfaces
  • Sony: First digital translucent mirror cameras, the A33 and A55
  • Sony: Sweep panorama, in-camera GPS, phase detect auto-focus during live view, least-expensive and highest resolution full-frame DSLR (A850), best viewfinder (A900)
  • Sigma: First large-sensor compact camera
  • Sigma: Foveon sensor (every pixel collects red, green and blue compared to Bayer sensors where every pixel only collects one color)
  • Leica: first full-frame digital rangefinder (M9), and most expensive logo (D-Lux 3)

Neither Nikon or Canon have sensor-based stabilization, a large sensor compact camera or anything that sets them apart other than market share.  I’m not trying to say that Nikon and Canon are bad, they’re just boring.  Kudos to Nikon for the D40 and to Canon for the Digital Rebel, but other than incremental improvements what have they done lately?