K-5 in sunshine - X1 and A55 gone

Pentax K-5 18-55mm zoom

Since buying the Pentax K-5 a week ago, I finally got to use it outdoors in sunshine! It didn't last long but it was a opportunity at last to see how it performed.

Pentax K-5 18-55mm zoom

I used two lenses. The 35mm f/2.4 which was impressive (see later) and the 18-55mm kit zoom which was OK. The 18-55mm is certainly not a great lens, but the results were reasonable if stopped down. I've been using it indoors quite a lot, either hand held at high ISO's where the results are quite noisy or on a tripod at low ISO's and narrow apertures, where it performed well. This was the first opportunity to use it in the situation where I would use it most, outdoors hand held. At f/3.5 to f.5.6 the edges were a bit soft and there's a fair amount of CA and fringing. Things get a bit better at f/8 and f/11. I'm not sure whether to keep this lens, as I found it somewhat disappointing. Using it indoors on a tripod for some still life shots, it didn't seem too bad, and I described it as a decent lens. Now I'm not so sure.

Pentax K-5 35mm f2.4

The performance of the 35mm f/2.4 was much better. This is a really good lens. Sharp across the frame and at all apertures. Its relatively inexpensive for a Pentax prime lens, but I didn't detect any compromise on the image quality.

I've decided to go with prime lenses at the moment with the Pentax. I've got a 15mm f/4 and 70mm f/2.4 arriving today.

Sony A55 18-55mm Kit Lens Sweep Panorama

The Sony A55, the camera that took this amazing image, has been sold on ebay. I haven't had it very long and if you read my posts on it you will be aware that I was pretty impressed. It would be fairer to say that I was very impressed with the technology but had some reservations about the body construction. In my predictions the other day, I suggested Sony might go to town with this technology and produce a top of the range camera with it, even possibly full-frame. This is a bit fanciful, but I do hope that Sony don't just leave these features in cameras like the A55 and the A580. I did actually consider the latter camera before deciding on the K-5, but went with the Pentax because of the construction. This may sound strange coming from someone who uses m4/3, but one of the things about the Panasonic G series and the Olympus Pens is they are pretty sturdy. I have some concerns about the lenses but the bodies are very well put together. 

My hope is that Sony, with the A77 or A99 or whatever they are going to call it, can house the translucent mirror technology in a heavier duty body. The sweep panorama and high-speed bursts, which I loved, felt like they were shaking the A55 to bits! The articulated screen, which again I liked seemed very flimsy and there was the overheating, caused by the image stabilisation on the video, which has to be sorted out. This is a brilliant feature, allowing stable hand held video, but to have it sabotaged by this problem is a bit slack on Sony's part. Didn't they actually test this? So as I indicated I have put the inexpensive Sony primes I bought away in a cupboard, in the hope that Sony will come up with a more robust camera in the near future. Rumours abound that this is coming soon, we will see.

Leica X1

My Leica X1 also now has a new owner. Again a very nice camera but one I've been using less and less, and currently not at all. I found it very useful at weddings, since it was very quiet and produced great images in low light. However since I no longer do that, its been used as a backup camera. I've been carrying it around with me, but haven't been using it. I have found the slow auto focus somewhat restricting, though the gentleman who bought it informs me a new firmware upgrade is on the way. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about it was the inability to lock the exposure. It would have made a great camera for multi image panoramas, but apart from using it in full manual there was no way to lock the exposure. Since the manual focusing aid wasn't that great, this would involve using the AF, then switching it into MF to take the Panorama. It was a long winded and fiddly procedure and I didn't do it very often. Its a great camera for those who want to take the occasional picture, but I became more and more frustrated with it. I certainly find the Leica M9 with its manual focus rangefinder focusing much quicker to work with. 

I do have a certain tolerance for putting up with less than straightforward camera handling, if the image quality is something I can't get anywhere else and at the time I bought it the X1 produced incredible results in a small package. Since buying it the Panasonic GH2 has appeared and has made it redundant. Using a 20mm f/1.7 on the GH2 at ISO 1600 produces better files than the slower 24mm f.2.8 at ISO 3200 on the X1, so its low light advantage has gone. The Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 Nokton is a sharper and faster lens, so its advantage for outdoors landscape work has also gone. 

The arrival of the Panasonic GH2 and the Pentax K-5 has put a lot of my gear out of work. I had got into the crazy situation of having 9 cameras all providing me with different things. With  these recent additions I can handle everything with 3. 

Its the nature of the digital revolution it seems, for gear to evolve faster than before, and the cycle of new products appearing with improved features seems to be getting shorter. Is it an infinite improvement curve or are we approaching any kind of limit? I was using a Fuji S2 Pro back in 2003, and in 8 years there's been a slow steady improvement. I've gone from 6MP to 16MP using an APS-C sensor with greatly improved low-light capability but looking at images on the screen the Fuji pictures still hold up. There is a often an expectation that things move faster than they do. You often see predictions something like, "Camera phones will produce image quality equal to a D3X in a few years time" Well, they probably won't, but if they do imagine what the D3X equivalent will produce. 

Its an odd situation that with more and more of my pictures selling for web use, my cameras are capable of producing higher and higher resolutions. What will happen to magazine and book production in the future is certainly uncertain. I used to think that printed media would always have a place, but I certainly find myself reading more and more from my computer screen. It then becomes a situation about exactly where is this increased resolution useful. I guess we could get to a situation where resolution becomes so high that you only need one lens on a camera and you just crop into the picture to get what else you need, but I hope that isn't the case. I'm certainly no technophobe but I do like the idea of cameras and lenses. I'd hate to think that the future was about small all in one boxes shooting holographic stills and 3-D movies with no effort.

In a comment to one of my recent posts John M Flores wrote about the GH2:- "Hopefully it will become an intuitive and capable photographic and video tool, but right now it feels more like an electronic device."  I do have some sympathy with that comment and I certainly like a camera to look like a camera. I prefer dials to buttons, and I do appreciate a bit of metal and leather. (!!!)  It would be sad if we lost that and all cameras looked like some of the ultra modern electronic boxes that now dominate the compact camera market.