Thursday, May 28, 2015

Check out my new body!

No, I'm not talking about the results of some extreme makeover or diet.  I got a new camera body!
My older camera body started having some electrical issues and needs to be sent off for warranty repair, which is more or less the reason I haven't posted much recently.  I had been planning to buy a second camera body anyway, so that I could use my two favorite prime lenses without having to constantly change lenses, or so that my fiance would have a camera to play with instead of constantly wanting to borrow mine.  Yesterday there was a sale, so I figured now was as good a time as any for a new camera. 

I got a Pentax K-3.  It's not a camera you're likely to find on the shelf in a store, but y'all, it's the THE BEST THING EVER.  It's actually the same as my other camera body.  That's right, I liked it so much I got TWO!
Some test photos, just messing around in the sewing room.
Here's what I like about it so much.

First of all, it takes great pictures.  It has a 24 megapixel sensor, and the level of detail is remarkable.
Some silk crepe de chine
A small part of that image, enlarged.
On the other hand, it's hard to find a digital camera today that actually takes poor-quality pictures in good conditions.  Let's see how it does in truly awful conditions.

I took this photo at Big Bend National Park.  The sky was bright and the rock face was in deep shadow, which is usually a recipe for disaster-- dark shadows and blown highlights.  The K-3's sensor preserved enough detail in the shadow that, with a little bit of postprocessing, I was able to get a really nice picture.
15mm, f/11, 1/50, ISO 100

I took the next photo in a cave.  It was really dark.  Cameras generally don't do well at taking pictures in the dark because they can't gather enough light-- the image is too grainy because the sensor had to take the photo at too high of a sensitivity, or the exposure was so long there's motion blur.  As for this photo, there's enough graininess that I couldn't blow it up to be poster sized, but it looks fine at normal web resolution.
31mm, f/7.1, 1/20, ISO 3200
This brings me to my second point-- the image stabilization.  Pentax handles image stabilization by stabilizing the camera sensor, not the lens (which is what Canon and Nikon do).  This has several advantages.  First, this is much better for taking pictures in low light.  Any lens automatically has lens stabilization.  Canon and Nikon generally don't put image stabilization in their fast prime lenses (for the purposes of this discussion, you can just read 'fast prime lenses' as 'lenses that can gather a lot of light').  So, you can't use long exposures (which you'd want in order to gather more light) with fast prime lenses (which you'd want in order to gather more light).  You see the shot of the cave above?  I used a fast prime lens (31mm f/1.8) with a 1/20th of a second exposure.  The longest exposure I could use without image stabilization would probably have been 1/50th of a second.

I imagine most of you don't spend much time in caves, but have you ever gone to a dimly-lit museum exhibition and been disappointed with your photos?  The only bad museum photos I've taken with my K-3 have been due to user error.
Dress from Gone With The Wind exhibit, 31mm, f/4.0, 1/30, ISO 3200

The Enola Gay.  15mm, f/4.0, 1/10, ISO 400

Third, Pentax still uses the same lens mount as in the film era.  This means that practically any lens designed for Pentax cameras since ~1975 will work on new Pentax DSLRs, with no adapter needed.  This also means that you can buy awesome lenses for fire-sale prices.  For instance, this is my macro lens, an M 100mm f/4 macro.  It's a really old lens.  It cost around $100 at KEH, my favorite web retailer for used camera gear.  The comparable modern lens costs around $850. 

On the other hand, the old lens doesn't have autofocus or auto-aperture, which makes for a bit more fiddling around with the camera.  But, since I only use it for macro pictures where the subject is an inanimate object and the camera is on a tripod, it's not like the manual controls cause me to miss shots.  This little bit of extra hassle is definitely worth saving $750.  Plus, all of these old lenses?  They automatically get image stabilization!
Fourth, the weather sealing on certain Pentax bodies and lenses is ridiculously good.  It's just nuts.  If you don't believe me, check out this or this or this or this.  I haven't done anything that extreme, but I certainly wouldn't have stood under this waterfall to take pictures if it weren't for the weather sealing.
Nor would I have stood in the surf, getting splashed up to my waist, to get this picture.

On a similar note, the build quality is also very high.  The body is mostly metal.  It feels like I could pound nails with my K-3 and the camera would just shrug it off.

Fifth, I love the tiny lenses.  Not all Pentax lenses are tiny, but they do have a nice selection of tiny prime lenses.  Let's take another look at the camera in the first picture.  That's my 21mm pancake lens.  It only sticks out an inch beyond the camera.  It's small enough that I can carry the camera just about everywhere with me-- I can throw it in my ~12" x 12" purse along with my wallet, keys, and cell phone, and still have room left over.
I could keep going, but those are the major points.

On the other hand, there are some good reasons to go with another brand.  If you want a smaller, lighter interchangeable lens camera, get a mirrorless camera.  Fuji makes great stuff; I don't know about the other manufacturers.  If you want a bigger, heavier, more badass camera, get a full frame camera from Canon or Nikon.  I hear that Pentax video is mediocre, but since I only shoot stills, I don't know anything on that topic.  If you want to shoot very very tiny birds very very far away, Canon and Nikon have a better selection of lenses.  And, of course, if you want to buy your camera gear from a physical store, instead of an online retailer (my favorites are B&H and Adorama), you're better off with Canon or Nikon.

Anyway, here are some pretty photos to reward you if you actually made it to the end of this very long, non-sewing-related post!  (All photos copyright of me, don't use them without permission, etc.)  I should be back to posting more about sewing soon.
Black Swallowtail
Volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest-- hat tip to Ann

Big Bend National Park
Rock climber
Obligatory adorable cat photo

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