Re-learning curve: Pentax K100D Super

Things I like about this camera:

1). It was really cheap to buy (although most offerings of it aren’t).

2). CCD sensor. You want “film quality” images? Can’t beat the CCD sensors.

3). Uses standard ‘AA’ penlight batteries. Nothing special or expensive about powering it.

4). Pentax K lens mount. That’s a vast array of available lenses. I also have the M42 – PK adapter so I can use my classic Takumars.

5). Good control arrangements, easy to set up and use.

Things I don’t like about this camera:

1). It was used in an archaeological dig. As a shovel. This explains the price, and why I am continually cleaning it. The lens has significant coating damage on the front and I keep getting shadows on the images because more dirt is rattling around inside. It’s easier to re-touch the photos.

2). CCD sensor is only 6MP, making digital zooming an impossible dream.

3). Uses standard ‘AA’ penlight batteries which are more expensive to continually replace than just recharging a lithium set. I could buy rechargeable penlights, but that would be substantial capital outlay.

4). Pentax K lens mount limits adapting of other lenses because it is small. Fitting the M42 lenses is even tricky because the K mount is just a bayonet incarnation of the screw mount so the adapter is thin, fragile, and not always easy to get in place.

5). The shutter button focus has failed, causing some significant problems for me because I can’t tell if the image is focused and forget to push the ‘wrong’ button.

6). In addition to the internal and external dirt problems, some of the silver has come off the pentamirror so the viewfinder presents black splotches. My eyes have their own black splotches now, thank you, and I don’t need to see any more.

The ultimate question is: how well does this camera fit with my current photographic plans? This we evaluate on a basis of two criteria: usage and results. Usage … well you’ve seen the clues above. The viewfinder issue is more than a little vexing, and the back-button focus requirement has resulted in far too many out-of-focus images. Add to that the lack of digital zooming ability due to the low resolution sensor and subtract the fact I can adapt the Takumars to one of the Canons (and more easily) and you see it fails for usage.

Now what about results? As with all the equipment under my “new” eyesight, the percentage of “good” to “bad” pictures is disappointing. For the other cameras this has been a matter of me re-learning. In the case of the Pentax the camera itself presents faults which can not be overcome. It would be better if this were an excellent example of a K100D (without the silver loss and focus problem), but it isn’t. I could replace the lens, but should I bother?

Let’s look at the pictures:

Rusty rhubarb.
Lavender weed.
Typical sky shot.
Suddenly a raven. I fired off half a dozen shots trying to get this bird in frame and in focus!
Pale moth. (Notice the lack of sharpness due to the lens.)
A look at the lake.

Over-all I’d say the results are good, maybe only fair. Changing the lens helps (I have another series coming re that), but nothing can be done about the 6MP limitation on getting closer after the shot was made.

This is a camera I should sell. The question mark hanging over that is: would anyone buy it? If not, I have no problem keeping it. It doesn’t take up much space and is unlikely to get any worse from sitting unused.

1Ds with 28mm

The weather has gone lousy again so it looks like photo shoots stop for a while. Of course it could all turn around tomorrow: it does that at this time of year. Still not clear enough to go to the cabin, but maybe next week? We’ll see.

In the meantime I took a few shots with the 28mm f3.5 Super Takumar on the Canon 1Ds. This is not my favourite lens for this camera. It works fine and is plenty sharp of course, but it doesn’t ‘fit’ right in terms of taking pictures. In fact the lens-body combinations that work best (to my eye) are the 50mm on the full-frame 1Ds, the 35mm on the Pentax K100s, and the 28mm on the Canon T100 (the last two are APS-C sensors with 1.5 and 1.6 crop factors respectively). Not really a surprise as that’s as close to ‘normal’ lens/body combinations as you can get with these equipment choices.

So let’s see the pictures.

Dead rose hips. Square format for purposes of composition.
Hat tree chain saw carving made by my friend Lorne. Remember digital doesn’t have to have rigid dimensions.
Detail of the carving showing the woodpecker peeking out.
Marley napping. This is a segment of full-frame to see how well it stands up to magnification. Okay.
Winter colour. The tones of this camera are subtle.
Sit, Marley! Checking the dynamic range which is good.

A quick on-line check shows the shutter count on this camera is less than 31,000 – which means it will probably outlast me since they are supposedly good to 150k.

I have yet to try this out on night photography due to lack of weather co-operation. We have already got to the point where you have to stay up ’til 10:00 PM to get a truly dark sky, and that will get worse as we near the Summer solstice and get almost 16 hours of daylight!

There are only two things I don’t like about this camera. The first is the weight, which is enough to relegate it to studio-only work. I can’t imagine even a young photographer gaily toting this 3.5 lbs. body plus lenses over hill and dale. Sure, I’ve handled heavier cameras but that was when there was no choice. It makes me wonder if this wasn’t the driving force behind mirrorless design; all for the sake of weight!

The second issue is the controls are pretty badly thought-out. Many of the most-used items (like ISO) are stupidly complex to operate or are in dumb locations. That big turning wheel on the back for selection is absolutely moronic: four simple arrow buttons like everyone else uses would be infinitely better. The major selections for operation are again stupidly done, where a simple PASM dial would be welcome. Even the ON/OFF switch is poorly located. I think no photographer was involved in the design. For my purposes this isn’t a major issue because I usually “set and forget” things in advance – a particular camera has a particular job and doesn’t get altered from the best settings for that job. The exception to this is the ‘experiment’ camera (Canon T100) which suffers all sorts of changes depending on the experiment of the time.

Otherwise I like the larger sensor size for giving exactly what was expected of it. I don’t see it as the miracle solution for bad photography it is often subliminally touted as – by the same people who think more megapixels cures the same problem. I still haven’t tried it for astro or landscape really, and that’s what I really want to do with it. I don’t think I’ll be buying any more lenses for it specifically, other than in so much as the T100 also takes EF lenses.

Time will tell.

6 with the 35

Struggling to find anything like light around here lately, but at least I did clean the sensor on the Canon 1Ds! These were taken with that camera on manual, using the 35mm f2 Super Takumar.

Camera Decision says this camera is no good for landscapes. I disagree.
First shot was looking West down my road, this one is looking East.

Okay the landscapes themselves aren’t very good pictures, but there’s nothing wrong with how the camera captures them.

Big rock in my front yard. You can do a lot of photos with this rock.
Berry close up. That lens is very sharp, like the other two Takumars I have are.

That’s a segment of the full-size image of the berry, by the way. So much for the “11MP is very low resolution” crowd.

A section across the road. The colours from this camera are not the rich, saturated tones of the T100 but I like them anyway. Very realistic.
Subtle, moody shades. More artistic than what I usually shoot.

Next for this camera I will try the 28mm f3.5 Super Takumar. I am debating buying additional lenses for this camera because I’ve come across a deal on a couple, and I find I like the camera fairly much – aside from the absolutely idiotic controls arrangement. No photographer was consulted on the layout of them, obviously.

I will be ordering a larger CF card because this “ten picture limit” is driving me nuts. I can’t really go out in the field and shoot a “whole roll of film” because of the storage limitations.

Not possible to get out to the cabin yet as snow and ice is still all around and keeps coming back. I have q few pictures taken with the Nikon P610 to share, and a photo shoot ‘job’ to do this week. Who knows; maybe the sun will shine long enough to capture it.

That which we call a lens

Even though I still haven’t cleaned the sensor on the ‘new’ Canon 1Ds, I have tried a couple more lenses on it. So far I’ve used the two Canon EF lenses I have (40mm and 75-300mm) and the 50mm Pentax Super Takumar. All okay so far.

Now a brief explanation of Canon EF lenses. There are two types: the EF, which has a red alignment dot, and the EF-S which has a white alignment square. Both will fit on a crop-sensor camera such as my Canon T100 (the body of which has both the red dot and the white square), but only the red dot EF lenses work on the full-frame cameras like my Canon 1Ds (which has only the red dot). The EF-S lenses will not fit due to the rear of the lens intruding into the camera body. Don’t try it, you could damage something.

That said, the next lens I tried was my old M42 mount Vivitar 135mm f2.8. It’s a pretty good lens too.

I like this.

How sharp is it? Here’s a portrait of Marley the usually silly dog:

Marley being sensible.

And now we take a 640×427 segment out of the full frame, right around her eye:

Up close and sharp.

It is not the sharpest lens I own, but it’s hard to fault it. There’s no trickery like ‘unsharp mask’ used here either; it’s all in the lens.

But the lens does have its failings. Of course it’s manual, so that means manual focus and manual exposure. So no quick ‘grab shots’ of anything. Also, for most of the things I shoot the focal length is pretty short:

Three snow geese far away.

That is again taking a small segment from the full frame, and the birds are still very small. I even used the unsharp mask to enhance their shape, but no amount of computer processing will make up for the physics. Really: you’ve got to stop believing those TV shows that pretend a satellite in orbit can read a license plate that’s perpendicular to its lens as clearly as if it were ten feet away.

Now back to the EF vs. EF-S issue. I have one more lens in my collection which claims to be EF, in that it has the red alignment dot and will fit the full-frame camera. There’s just one little problem:

Say “nyet” to vignette. (The bird lost in the middle is a black-capped chickadee.)

This is the 18-200mm Tamron, which also has sharpness issues at any setting. Here we see the vignetting that showed up as a minor thing on the APS-C sensor at the 200mm length becomes full-blown-artistic-whatsit whether you want it or not. Yes you could crop this out, but then you’d notice the blurry focus all the more.

It’s a dark-eyed junco. Take my word for it.

Nope. That lens is not good enough for me. BTW it also focuses noticeably slower than the Canon lenses, and sometimes inaccurately.

I still have the 35mm and 28mm Super Takumars to try on this camera. But first I absolutely will clean the sensor. I promise. Or at least make a try at it.

I also need to get a larger CF card because at full resolution I can only fit 11 images on the 64 MB one I have. That isn’t even a ‘half roll’ equivalent.

As March winds down

It seems everywhere I look on WordPress these days there is a resurgence of complaints about what they are doing. Some people have apparently lost the Classic Editor entirely, while others are struggling with some bastardized version which is nearly as bad as the Blockhead Editor abomination. I guess they really don’t want us around anymore. Someone should mention to them that killing your customers is not a good business plan.

They aren’t alone at this: several places I do business with have been changing their rules in an effort to … what? Cope with easing COVID restrictions? Or just drive people crazy? The recycle center has now twice sent little notes of disapproval for using “the wrong bag” on returnables. The first time it was for the same type of bag I’d been using for nearly a year. The second it was for using exactly the type of bag they said I now have to use. If you want people to recycle, you make it easy for them to do so. Not more difficult than filling out the tax forms (and boy has that been a nightmare this year for everyone).

So while there is still no chance of even getting on the waiting list for the vaccine we don’t have enough of and I’m still waiting on test results that will tell me what direction my health goes in next (odds are it will be ‘downhill’), I present a few images made now that I can get about a bit again. Providing I don’t slip on the ice or WP doesn’t shut down the only usable editor they’ve got on me, I’ll keep snapping away in the hopes it will brighten someone’s day.

Three friends. (G11, cropped from full image taken at maximum telephoto.)
Rare photo of Marley not being a silly goofball dog. (Pentax K100DS.)
Bark unlike a dog. (Pentax K100DS.)
Glowing cloud. (Pentax K100DS.)
Duncan in a noble pose. (Pentax K100DS.)
A sliver of moon. (Pentax K100DS.)

Incidentally, I’ve discover the Pentax’s kit lens does not focus properly at distance. It is pretty small change between 7′ (2m) and infinity, and with age it has become too sloppy to be correct. The only way around this shortcoming is to either focus manually (which is difficult for me) or use a small aperture to compensate with depth-of-field (which is less than ideal too).

Anyway, having sorted out that camera as much as possible I have switched back to the Olympus E410 for my walk-a-rounds. It has the longer zoom on it (150mm max – equal to 300mm) in case I spot a bird. I find much of my photography is done telephoto so why fight it? Still wish I could get the longer zoom for this camera, but that is not yet to be.

As good as can be

It snowed Sunday night, after being 8°C that day. Then it warmed up and melted off again. This has been one weird Winter!

Anyway it was nice and sunny so I got out and walked around with the dogs and the Pentax K100DS a little bit. I wanted to see if I’d managed to polish the 18-55mm Pentax-DA lens sufficiently for use, and how well I’d manage a bit of activity. Oh, I have got the autofocus working off the ‘back (OK) button’ – but not from the shutter release. I don’t really like the back button focusing method; seems unnatural to a long-time photographer.

Here are the results. In some cases I had to do some post-processing to correct exposure errors it still makes, but over-all the camera is usable now.

The new snow.
Puddle remnant.
Marley being incredibly silly.
100% crop of 18mm shot. Fairly sharp.
50% crop of 55mm shot. The gossamer is blurred by wind.
100% crop of 55mm shot.

I don’t think any further cleaning will improve the lens any: it is what it is. I need to take some more “general” shots to see how it handles medium and distant focusing. On the whole, usable but of course not as good as the Super Takumar manual lenses. One nice thing about this camera is that it automatically adjusts for the yellowed 35mm lens, making the two an ideal combination.

Although it’s a nice camera to use, I probably won’t use it much except in instances where I want to employ one of the old lenses like the Hanimex 80-200mm zoom. I might try the old Soligor on it as well, but that is one heavy monster lens and it doesn’t have manual stop-down so it’s either full aperture or I’ll have to wedge the pin.

Mini Manual Manual

Being basically lazy, I rely heavily on automatic settings. Hey, I paid for ’em so I’m gonna use ’em right? Besides which my eyesight isn’t that great so autofocus is a must.

Except when I’m using classic lenses, which don’t hook up to today’s automation technology.

It is then that I fall back on 50+ years of being behind a camera (any one of hundreds), and go “full manual”. This means “pre-setting” everything, and then hoping for the best. If you can judge the light and the distances it usually works (we didn’t always have light meters and rangefinders, you know). Here’s how to do it, in as brief a lesson as I can manage.

1). Set ISO. The only rule for this is that higher numbers mean more noise, the digital equivalent of grain. Otherwise it’s a matter of choosing your favourite film speed, or in this case as close as possible. I’m picking on the Pentax K100DS for this experiment, and it only goes down to 200. Ordinarily I’d use 100.

ISO set to 200 because there is no 100 on the camera.

2). Set shutter speed. There are two rules-of-thumb about this. The first is the “exposure rule”, wherein shutter is set to “1/ISO” or as close as possible. In this case 1/250. The second is the “image stabilizer rule” wherein the shutter is set to “1/focal length” (or higher) to minimize blur problems with long focal length lenses. Since I’m using the Pentax Super Takumar 35mm f2, this isn’t an issue. Thus we go back to rule #1. Now if you plan on shooting things in motion, the high speed shutter rules apply and you may have to go even higher than you would ordinarily as it’s all relative. This means you might crank the ISO up another stop or two as well. Remember that 1 stop increase in ISO is double the current number, and for these APS-C cameras 800 is about the upper limit for acceptable results regardless of what they can be set to. (Me thumbing my nose at manufacturers’ ridiculous claims.)

Camera on ‘M’, shutter at 1/250.

3). Set lens. This is the big one. This is where the trickery comes into play. That ‘trickery’ is depth-of-field, which enables sharp (or sharp-ish) imagery before and beyond the actual focal point. So we start by closing the aperture as much as possible, which on this lens is f16. Yes I know it’s all the rage to shoot wide open all the time these days. That’s just so much dingo’s kidneys. This full manual trick will not work at maximum aperture because there’s almost no depth-of-field available – we’re looking for exactly the opposite of the blurred background effect that’s so popular today it has become a cliché. The second half of this part is setting the focus to where infinity is at one edge of the D-O-F scale for the aperture. On this lens that’s about 8′ (2.5M), giving a range of sharpness from around 4.5′ (1.4M) to infinity.

Setting aperture and focal point to give maximum range of sharpness.

Now we can take pictures. These are corrected for exposure (under-exposed is your friend for digital; over-exposed is just an uncorrectable loss), white balance (including in this case negating the thorium yellowing of the lens glass), and then reduced to ‘Internet size’.

Bleak tree. I finally got all the crud off the sensor!
Eight feet from the Whale, the actual focus point.
Closest focus possible. Image is sharp!
Not framed: I just held the camera up to the roof and pushed the button. You can see the range of sharpness here.
Close up and cropped in, Marley’s image is sharp.

A couple of notes: bright light is your friend for this procedure. There was some variable cloudiness that effected the available light on these pictures. I did not change the settings, I just compensated in post-processing (sometimes as much as 2 stops). You can adjust the aperture in the field if you want to, but remember it will alter the depth-of-field and you may lose sharpness where you want it. Longer focal length lenses have less D-O-F for a given aperture and don’t work as well with this trick. Also if you want to focus closer you can, but you have to remember to switch back when you return to scenic shooting.

Some people may think this is a silly thing to do, as it basically turns an expensive DSLR into a box camera. But frankly I have no sharper modern lenses than these old Takumars, and some that are much worse. Other people may be a bit miffed to find they don’t need all the fine complexity of the modern digital camera to turn out halfway-decent photos. And didn’t I myself once say I paid for those auto functions so they better work? Yet here I am not using them. Sometimes, at least.

BONUS SECTION!

I said I’d compare the Pentax K100DS 6MP to the Canon T100 18MP (both APS-C size sensors), and here are those shots:

Barn shot #1
Barn shot #2

Taken with the same ISO, the same exposure, the same focus, in fact with the same lens (the 35mm f2 Super Takumar) switched from one body to the other. Slight adjustment to white balance for each to rectify exposure but nothing else. Both shrunk from their native size to “Internet size”, with no cropping. Go ahead: try and figure out which picture came from which camera.

K100DS at 500-ish pictures

Believe it or not, I’ve almost got all the dirt off the Pentax K100DS sensor. Only “almost” though, as it seems every time I’ve scrubbed one bit away another appears. At the moment there is still a small dot in the lower right. So far I’ve gone through half of a cleaning ‘kit’, or about six swabs and an ounce of methanol. This in addition to a lot of air, some isopropanol, and regular lens cleaner & swabs. Maybe I should have started with a shovel.

Meanwhile the autofocus has gone from working occasionally to not functioning at all. I’ve also used up two sets of AA batteries. If I ask myself objectively “is this camera worth it?” I have to answer “no”. True it can produce some good pictures (with a lot of effort) but so will my other cameras – with a lot less effort. With a ‘success rate’ of around 2% at best, the infamous “Mystery Camera” is destined for a shelf somewhere.

In the meantime, here’s some scenery shot with it. Some have had the spots retouched, but the last one hasn’t.

Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3
Scene 4

Lens used was the 50mm f1.4 Super Takumar, all manual settings.

I should do a piece on how I preset for ‘all manual’. I also want to do at least one comparison shot between this APS-C camera (1.5 crop factor) and the other, the Canon T100 (1.6 crop factor), using the same lens (Super Takumar 35mm f2 which is close to ‘normal’ for this format) and settings on both to show how the sensors compare (6MP vs. 18MP).

Maybe after I clean the sensor. Again.

I, eagle

Tracking a bald eagle on a gray afternoon with the Pentax K100DS and Vivitar 135mm f2.8 lens (202mm equivalent). “Full manual” with focus, aperture, and shutter speed pre-set. Except for the last two images, each picture is a 640×426 crop of the full size. Processing included sharpening, +10 contrast (dull day, old sensor), and smudging the flaw spots if they appeared in the image. This is a 6MP camera; these frames are basically 1/16 full size. That is a lot of digital zooming for such a low resolution imager. Notice the sky colour changes as the bird moves from being front-lit to back-lit flying into the light.

Mystery Camera Revealed!

Pentax K100D Super!

Yes that’s the camera I’ve been using to make all those fuzzy, spotty pictures with. At long last I’ve got an adapter to put the old Super Takumar lenses (specifically the 35mm which is a ‘normal’ FL on this camera) on it in place of the truly awful 18-55mm Pentax DA that came with it. Of course it can only be used on manual with the old lenses, but the auto exposure is usually wrong and the autofocus doesn’t work anyway so …

A raven, of course.
Rich colours. Finding camera settings that worked well took some experimentation.
Fallen ice.
Snow gnome’s hat.
Bleak tree.
Testing with the Vivitar 135mm.

There are still a few spots on the sensor:

Most noticeable spots.

Some of these images have been post-processed a bit beyond size adjusting, including sharpening, white balance, exposure correction, and cropping. This was about getting the best out of it, as the worst it can do is easy to achieve: out of 400+ images I’ve taken with this since the start, about 20 are any good at all. It’s been getting better as I managed to get a lot of the dirt off the sensor and switch to a lens that isn’t fuzzier than a bear, but still not a good record (we’re talking image quality only here, not composition issues).

I’m not sure if I’ll try another cleaning or not. The camera has some good aspects, but it has a lot of flaws as well. These are mostly due to age and misuse although some are design issues. On the whole I prefer slightly more MP resolution even though a shrink shots way down all the time. Plus it seems a shame to have automatic features and not be able to use them. Overall the Olympus E-410 was a better buy.

I am now holding out for a full-frame Canon as that is a camera which will actually add to my repertoire (low-light and landscape images).