Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pentax K-7 review (part 2)

Strange: ergonomics

I have small hands with rather long fingers, thus the hand grip of K-7 is comfortable to me. So, mechanically, so to say, K-7 is just fine. The user interface is totally different matter.
  1. Menu system. Pentax has decided to abandon its old and rather logical menu structure. All menu pages of K-7 fit on the screen, so that no scrolling is necessary. This is good. However, the sheer amount of options is such that the menu system has more than 10 screens. This is not good, as it takes lots of button clicks and wheel rotations to get around.
  2. Button location. Pentax changed the location of the green button, exposure compensation button and added dedicated ISO button. This is neither good nor bad, but it will take time to get used to this button placement.
  3. Button operation. With K10D to issue exposure compensation one had to press the respective button and while pressing it, the wheel had to be rotated to set the exposure compensation value. Not any longer. You don't have to keep the button pressed. Click the button. Camera enters the exposure compensation entry mode. Rotate the rear control wheel. Click the button again when you're done. This is actually good as it is convenient. The only problem is that while this invites using this interface without taking your eye off the viewfinder, the new placement of the buttons may lead you to unexpected results. Again, this is perfectly ok, but one has to accustom oneself to the new interface.
  4. Basic settings. Say, you want to turn on or off the shake reduction. K10D had a dedicated switch for this. In case of K-7 you have to click "Info" button, move the cursor to the SR square, click Ok, set the state of the shake reduction (on or off) and click Ok or whatever is necessary to confirm your choice and get out of the info screen. Though seemingly good with intent of having all basic options under the info screen umbrella, this is a little cumbersome. Not a big deal, just different concept of operation.
  5. Position sensor and other goodies. There are decidedly good things about the new interface too. If camera is rotated so do its display contents. The same is valid when you chimp. The viewfinder info has ISO settings visible at all times. The AF mode switch is placed more conveniently and is easier to operate.
To summarize - nothing is broken, but the changes from K10D are so significant that certain learning period is inevitable.

Excellent: electronic level

I always had a hard time aligning my verticals and horizontals. Now, it seems, I've been given a tool to ease my burden. Some people reported that the electronic level of their cameras was consistently off the mark by 1 degree or so. That's just fine by me. As long as I can get my straight lines aligned consistently, I will be a happy camper. Really useful add-on by Pentax.

Pretty useless: live view mode

Either my camera is defective or else, but AF in LV mode is awfully slow. It gets there eventually. Eventually being major key word here. What LV seems to be good for is manual focusing of my SMCP A 50/1.2 lens. It is because you can have middle of the frame enlarged for fine focusing. Until I get a Katz Eye focusing screen, it could be a reasonable stop gap solution.

Additionally, the LV button is placed in such a way that it is quite easy to click it when moving your finger so as to change AF mode. Certain additional care is in order.

Fascinating: video mode

I've shot a short video of my daughters playing. But I've done it in portrait orientation. It was hilarious.

However, shooting passing cars on Ayalon freeway in 720p mode resulted in some jerky motion of the cars, probably because they were moving too fast thanks to absence of traffic jams.

Evidently, the video mode of K-7 can be used (and will be used by me) with great success, but it is not a fully fledged video camera. Though, it has never proclaimed to be one.

Nonetheless, I should admit that video mode of K-7 is truly a new toy for me. I still wonder what kind of results can be achieved by shooting with SMCP A 50/1.2 at f1.2 or f1.4 after fall of darkness...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pentax K-7 review (part 1)

I think it is time I wrote a review of my own on my new camera, so here goes. Be warned that I am a wordy person...


Perhaps it would be a good idea to write few words about me. Especially so, if it is your first visit to this blog and you arrived here by googling "Pentax K-7 review" or some such.

I am an amateur photographer, meaning that I do it or fun, not for profit. Occasionally and may be even accidentally a photo or two of mine would be published in local camera club calendar or somewhere on the net. I have tried myself in a small number of competitions, but that yielded nothing.

I have shot Pentax since 2002. I have shot Pentax digital since late 2004. All together I shot just a whisker less than 10K frames with *istD, a tad more than 20K frames with K10D (bought just before 2006 ended) and now I have K-7. My main lenses are three FA limiteds and DA 21 limited, which probably says more about my income than about my abilities as a photographer, but who knows - perhaps you wanted to know which lenses get mounted on my camera bodies.

I should say that I don't do brick wall/resolution target/etc testing. For a number of reasons. First, it makes little sense as I don't have more than one sample of either camera of lens, so it has no statistical merit. Second - I just dislike it. Thus, what I am going to say below it based on my usual shooting, not anything special.

By the way, don't expect a formal review. There are going to be a number of so called official reviews of K-7 on the net. Instead here I am going to try to write down my own opinion of this camera based solely and only on my shooting experience and habits or style.

Bottom line

Just in case if you like it straight to the point. Pentax K-7 is an excellent camera but it may require quite a learning curve. Also, though really good, the hype and all the rumors that preceded it are much much more than it really deserves. No, Pentax K-7 is not bigger than life, it is just yet another camera from a second tier (Canon and Nikon being the first) major manufacturer.

Good: viewfinder

The best thing is that now it has 100% coverage. So you get what you see, literally. No more guessing what else is going to be in the frame. The not so good thing is that glass wearer such as myself (-6 diopters in each eye) still cannot easily or reliably perform manual focusing with the stock focusing screen.

I will have to buy Katz Eye split focusing screen like I did for my K10D.

Excellent: shutter

Finally Pentax came up with the camera that is quiet. Likely releasing the shutter now is going to attract far less attention than it did with K10D.

When I get a chance to try 1/8000 sec shutter speed, I'd probably just post a picture.

So-so: matrix metering

In my view it does not really matter how the shutter speed and aperture values were determined. So I use matrix metering for 99.9% of my shots.

My specific K-7 sample has quirky or worse yet unreliable metering. Outdoors it is just fine. Indoors it tends to underexpose by 0.7-1.0 Ev. No big deal as it offers -5.0 through +5.0 Ev exposure compensation range. However it means that I am going to keep chimping just like I did with good old K10D. My K10D however has more consistent metering. And if it errs, it is usually by 0.3 Ev, far less often by 0.7 Ev and I cannot recall full 1.0 Ev mistakes.

The fact that K-7 underexposes indoors is even more annoying as the shadow noise is more likely to be more prominent in this case.

So-so: autofocus

Yes, new Safox VIII+ system is not all that good as it is said to be. At least not on my camera.

Again, outdoors and at far distances - no problems whatsoever. It is also quite faster than K10D's AF outdoors as well as indoors. But, indoors it is still imprecise. It seems more sensitive too. E.g. if I set it to use only center sensor, focus, move the camera ever so slightly and focus again, it feels it and refocuses. Yet, I had to dial in some focus correction for my FA 31 limited and with FA 77 limited its focus precision is inconsistent - sometimes it focuses wrong.

Again, buying Katz Eye screen would resolve this issue, but sans focusing speed, which is improved, it gives me no advantages over K10D.

Yes, I tried K-7's AF in some rather dark situations and it focused where K10D would probably give up. However, even with FA 43 limited which so far has been most consistent precision wise, when there is not enough light, it would simply misfocus.

Admittedly I haven't figured out when the green focus assist light is supposed to come for the rescue, as I saw it few times, but I don't yet understand what are the exact conditions for it to kick in.

PESO 2009 #025

Another reason for my silence here is that right after I returned from the (business) trip to USA, my new camera arrived. Naturally, it is Pentax K-7, probably the most hyped, rumored and discussed camera of the few recent months. Mine seems to be a good copy, within reasonable tolerances though admittedly it did not click with me right away like K10D did some 2.5+ years ago. I should be writing more about K-7 later on, as I familiarize myself with the plenitude of its abilities, options, features, etc.

Meanwhile, Galia inherited (as per early agreement) my K10D. Here is she doing something her father does all too often.

PESO 2009 #024

There's been a period of silence on this blog. It is partly because I had a business trip to Maryland/DC area. There I was given an opportunity to spend a weekend with my friends.

You can find more photos from that wonderful weekend after this link.