Friday, March 11, 2011


Back in high school, I bought an Olympus OM-10 35mm Single Lens Reflex--manual focus, shutter priority automatic.  Took a bunch of pictures, lost the camera when I was in USAF tech school--but by then I was spoiled.  From then,  I disliked point and shoot film cameras, even though I do not have a particularly artistic eye.

Later I bought a used, fairly old Minolta SRT-101 with an f/1.2 lens because I was more than willing to trade the minor inconvenience of match-needle exposure and manual focus for better pictures and less reliance on flash.  Over the next few years, I bought a few more lenses, so when the camera died it made sense to find another used Minolta body rather than replace all those lenses.  This illustrates a point with interchangeable lens cameras--you aren't just buying a camera, you are buying into a system.  There is a good chance that your investment in lenses will eventually dwarf the cost of a body.

Although I did switch to a digital point and shoot around 2000, I still missed my SLR, just not enough to deal with film.  A point and shoot digital does an OK job in most situations, and since film is free, you are likely to get as many or more acceptable pictures as you could with a 35mm SLR--I used to hand a digital camera to my 5 year old niece and get great candid pictures at family events, mixed in with pictures of refrigerator, shoes and aquarium.  Nobody got camera shy when a 5 year old took their picture.

But even a good point and shoot has limitations compared to a DSLR.   A DSLR is faster responding in almost every way--time from 'off' to the first shot, time between shots, focus time, shutter lag, zoom and how fast you can find a subject in the viewfinder.   Higher end point and shoots can have the same number of pixels as a DSLR, but each pixel is much smaller--this affects image clarity, noise/static, low light sensitivity and the ability to control depth of field.

The picture above (click to embiggen) would not have been nearly as good with a typical depth of field--the background was cluttered, ugly and not relevant to the subject.  By choosing the right settings on a DSLR, the background can be left out of focus, concentrating attention on the primary subject.

A couple weeks ago had a couple of different packages of Pentax K-x camera outfits, differing in lenses and colors.  I bought one with 18-55 and a 55-300 zoom lenses, only available in black.  I'm very impressed.  Automatic mode generally does a good job of figuring out what you are trying to do.  If that's not quite right, there the most common exceptions are available as presets on the main dial--portrait, sports, macro, lanscape and night portrait.  There are another handful of presets in the menu, and there is full manual control of almost everything.  Low light ability without flash is fantastic even with the limitations of the kit lens.   It can do about 4.5 pictures per second (depending on focus) for about 5 seconds, then it slows to about 2 per second depending on the speed of your memory card. 

Pentax has kept a fairly surprising amount backwards compatibility with their older lenses, to the point where a 70's lens will do everything it did on the cameras it came with.  With an adapter lenses from the 50's will work with some effort--although significantly less than on a 50's camera.  You can set it to automatically take the picture as the image comes into focus, and if you tell the camera what the focal length is, image stabilization will work.  I'm going to be looking for a couple of old K mount non-zoom lenses from the 70's or 80's--if I'm happy with low light performance and depth of field control with the current lens that only goes down to f3.5, an f/1.7 or f1.4 should be awesome.

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