Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pentax K100D review

I purchased the Pentax K100D today from Blacks Cameras in Mississauga. It took a couple of weeks of online reading to finally come to this decision and I thought I would share my thoughts.

It is hard to decide which camera to buy given the overwhelming amount of information the net, but this is how it boiled down for me. First, I had to dismiss the reviews by wannabe photographers employed by computer magazines. They follow the same, predictable pattern that they employ while review computer equipment. Less expensive equipment is "entry level" or "beginner", sort of like selling condoms by asking if you want "extra small". Then there are the dedicated digital/film photography sites, who basically find fault with everything.

"I wish the LCD was bigger, it takes 0.6 seconds to turn on, you can only take 400 shots before the battery runs out or, my wife won't sleep with me anymore." Constant whining.

Two sites helped me immensely. Steve's digicams was a great resource when I decided on my Point & Shoot Canon Powershot A70. I must say though, Steve doesn't use very good pictures as examples but Flickr now lets you search by camera model, and that really helps. Sort of.

There are so many talented photographers on Flickr, you really can't see the REAL difference between a Pentax, a Nikon or a Canon, or any other brand. Flickr proves, that at the end of the day, its the person behind the lens, not the lens. Steve does a good job at explaining features, but never really says, "hey, don't buy this, buy this instead". That's good, but I want someone to really tell me what it's like.

So my second source was Ken Rockwell. Ken loves his Nikons, but he is honest enough to tell you that he enjoys his Nikon D40 as much as his Nikon D200. He explains the minor differences, and actually blows the doors off the industry. Why do all of these cameras basically cost the same? Why is a D70 or a D50 selling for the same as a D40, when the D40 is new? Why do people pay a premium for a D100 that has an admittedly crappy screen? He really likes Nikon, but he he doesn't mind telling you that a D80 or a D200 is probably not necessary. He explains the megapixel myth, which will really make you think. It made me realize that all I needed was 6.1 megapixels to really enjoy the SLR again.

So, I read all of this, and I sift through the data. The Nikon D40 looks good. I had a Nikon FG for years and although Nikon lenses are overpriced, the equipment was top notch and the results were amazing. Everybody loves the D40. Flickr loves the D40. Why the Pentax?

Well, the Pentax has the same image sensor as the D40, so image quality wasn't the concern. I liked the fact that the K100D took AA batteries. Four of them ( i get over 500 shots on 4x 2650 NiMH). I have always used NiCad or Li-ion AA batteries in my other cameras, and I don't ever want to be stuck without power. Another factor was that the K100D has Shake Reduction technology (which also doubles as a sensor cleaner). That's cool and Nikon and Canon don't have it. The K100D has top display like the Nikon D50. The D40 did away with this. It's handy to know battery power, shots left, mode, etc. Why give that up? I use it all the time, since the rear color display is off 99 percent of the time.

Finally, Pentax invented the SLR and they have maintained the same lens mounting system for years. I can take a zoom lens from 1975 and it will adpat to this camera. Manual focus of course, but hey, I know how to focus. It isn't heavy work. Invest in the Nikon D40, and you have to buy into new AF lenses. In order to take advantage of Nikon  AF lenses that you have, you really need to to look at the D50 with it's built in AF motor. At this price point anyway.

The Pentax K100D is just a better camera. It also has an 11 point AF system. The Nikon D50 had 5, the D40 has 3. Sure, you probably only use one, but the K100D is keeping the pro aspects intact. The Shake reduction alone allows far more creative low-light shots than any of the other cameras. The Nikon D40 was $700 (Canadian) at Blacks, and the K100D was $750. This was a no brainer. Last but not least, the diopter correction on the K100D has a larger range. Just enough in fact. Buying a D40 would mean getting another eyepiece to compensate for my eyesight.

Look at Flickr and see the pictures for yourself. An unwritten feature of the K100D is its infra red abilities. Many digital cameras are incapable of decent IR photography which is something every photographer should experiment with. The Pentax K100D produces spectacular IR shots with a filter. Yes, almost all of the brands and models have amazing shots, but when you look at the cameras in the sub $1000 sector, the K100D is a pro model with more features and and expandibility (Pentax lenses will keep their value for sure).

I didn't buy the SDHC card at Blacks. $50 for 1 Gig. Across the street at Tiger Direct, I managed a 4 Gig SDHC (150x) card for $70. That's 378 6MP RAW pictures, or 1400 6MP, JPEG (high quality) pics. I downloaded the new firmware update that allows the Pentax to use SDHC cards. It's fast.

I haven't seen any LCD screen protectors. I use screen protectors for a Palm Pilot. This works on my Powershot A70 and my iPods as well. It's the first thing I do.

I used to take very good pictures with my old Nikon. I can hardly wait to do that again.

Quick update: After a thousand shots and some very good ones at that, I can attest to the capable AUTO features. Some wannabe photogs will insist on manual aperture settings and guessing their own shutter speeds all the time, but lets face it, you are splitting a thousand bucks between decent optics and a clever computer that figures out stuff for you. Shoot art when you have the time to set manual shots, but shooting from the hip at 2.8 fps using the K100D on Auto is absolutely amazing. I throw away about 90 percent of my shots when shooting this way, but the 10 percent that stays is great photography. Using a 4 Gig card, I can take 1400 high res JPEGS or almost 400 RAW pics. Of course, RAW is a bit over rated and should be reserved for special portrait or landscape shots. The compression algorithms on the K100D are exceptional and if Photoshop can't fix it, you took a bad picture. The camera model or the image format won't help you much if you didn't take a decent picture in the first place, so let's not argue over the merits of RAW.


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5 comments:

Mos Dafe said...

Wicked article, man. Thanks a lot. I've been debating the K100D vs the D40 all night and was leaning towards the K100D precisely for the reasons you stated - AA batteries and shake reduction.

Thanks for helping me make my mind.

Happy picture-taking!

CADer said...

Hey thanks for taking the time to write this I just bought the K100D with not much time to look up the reviews (due to the sale ending) and this article helped me to feel assured that I got a good camera! If you have any web sites that could help me get a flash and any other essential for the camera I would greatly appreciate it- though I know how to Google I just got the camera and don't know much about the SLR's.

Carl said...

If you are just starting with 35mm digital on the Pentax, I would suggest using the built-in flash first and figure out what your needs are. I am not a big fan of flash photography unless it is controlled in a studio environment. Of course, there are always times when a flash is a necessity, such as low light gatherings such as parties or get togethers.
The built in flash of the K100D is not very powerful on its own, but if you change the ISO setting from AUTO to 1600 or higher, you will see dramatic improvements. Try using the AUTO setting on the top first, then going to the Fn button on the rear right and selecting 1600 as ISO. Pushing the "film" like this produces great shots with very little graininess when using a flash.
I would also suggest buying a 1A UV filter to make sharp outdoor sunny shots and also protect the lens from dirt. You never have to take this off.
Also get the highest capacity NiMH rechargeables you can find and keep a spare set of lithiums or even alkalines handy.
I have a 2G SD card in mine, but with the dropping price of 1 G SD cards, maybe have a few handy.
I only use RAW for special portraits or long exposures (special pics). Most people become obsessed unnecessarily with RAW, and in most cases, you will see no difference between that and the 6M JPEG setting. The compression algorithm used by the K100D is excellent at 6M.
At 6M, set the shutter repeat (under Fn as well) to repeat. I always shoot 3 to 4 shots in succession and then later pick the best one. You can also set it to shoot different exposure compensations (-1,0+1), so you can pick the best later.
To me, photography is about catching the moment. I dislike posed shots. I shoot life as it is. People as they are. Learn to shoot from the hip so people don't see it coming.

Shouty McNasty said...

What a great article. Thanks for your assessment, I was interested to see that the K100D and the D40 have the same sensor though. I have a K100D Super and am extremely happy with it. Your point about the older lenses applies to me since I have a load of Pentax lenses I used with an old Ricoh KR10 back in the 80's. In addition, the part about the RAW vs High Quality JPEG is accurate, I find the extra steps to convert the RAW files too much of a hassle for 90% of the pictures I take but the quality of the JPEG is so good it really doesn't matter.

Shouty McNasty said...

What a great article. Thanks for your assessment, I was interested to see that the K100D and the D40 have the same sensor though. I have a K100D Super and am extremely happy with it. Your point about the older lenses applies to me since I have a load of Pentax lenses I used with an old Ricoh KR10 back in the 80's. In addition, the part about the RAW vs High Quality JPEG is accurate, I find the extra steps to convert the RAW files too much of a hassle for 90% of the pictures I take but the quality of the JPEG is so good it really doesn't matter.