Saturday, December 02, 2006

10 Things To Love About The Pentax K10D

(note: photos to be added shortly) Although the Pentax K10D was designed for advanced amateurs and isn’t meant to be a professional’s workhorse, it boasts features that are going to make some budget minded pros pick it up and it will also please a lot of other photo jockeys familliar with other brands. I'll be frank, I want one for Christmas even though I just bought my Pentax *ist DS this year. Of course, I want to keep my DS and have my cake, too, but unless one of you plan on surprising me this year I'll just keep on saving my pennies for 2007. But it should be worth it. I've read as much as possible on this subject, talked with owners, and played with a couple of K10Ds. I know I could do very well for myself with this camera. So without further ado, here's my list of the top 10 things I love about the K10D with explanations why.

1. 10MP CCD with 22-Bit AD Conversion
More resolution and dynamic range is what a lot of Pentax followers have been waiting on since the first 6MP *ist D was released in 2002. For people new to considering the brand, Pentax was one of the last major camera manufacturers to start shipping a 10MP DSLR, because of longer R&D cycles than Canon or Nikon. But being fashionably late to the 10MP party was worth it. Pentax took their time to prepare the first 22-bit analog to digital converter for consumer SLRs. Essentially, the camera intelligently samples its input based on a wider survey of information, more than the present Canon 12-bit Digic processor, so that it can save 14-bit DNG files and 12-bit RAW files. This advance may not be the huge improvement beyond 12-bits like it sounds (how much meaningful data that can be generated with current 10MP sensors beyond 14-bits is very difficult to measure), but it does inch the camera closer towards the color accuracy, resolution fidelity, and dynamic range that might suit professional users, and which you certainly can’t find in any other $900 camera.

The ASA range of 100 to 1600 is less filtered by processing so that sharpening and noise reduction doesn't compromise the inherent detail that the CCD is picking up in its RAW data. Consequently, users coming from an *ist D or even a K100D may miss the smooth noise reduction already in high ISOs, especially if they're used to pushing the ISO exposure a couple stops to compensate for low light, but it's not like they can't apply NR themselves in Pentax's Photo Lab 3.1 or other RAW development software. Pentax anticipates that some users will need to squeeze every last bit of detail from 10MP, so rather than limit what's available with too much noise reduction, which softens the image's fine detail contrast, Pentax decided to leave it to the user how much they will apply to mitigate ISO noise and color noise. On top of this, the sensitivity of 10MP sensors are notoriously difficult to reign in at ASAs above 800 (just look at Leica's M8 and the Nikon D200 which have received post release fixes), but early adopters might still be impressed. This is called making the most with what you've got, a Pentax user's adage.

ShadZee has blogged some photos from his K10D, and the color fidelity and shadow detail in his high contrast photos look incredible (for a great example, look here). He has said on the DP Review Pentax forum that where his *ist DS would only see near black, the K10D has been able to pick up the shadow nuances with gifted aplomb. Similarly, Ned Bunnell printed some of his K10D photos (here) untouched (all camera settings were preserved in the RAW conversion) from within Adobe Creative Suite to his Epson R2400 (to preserve Adobe RGB colorspace from the camera), and he found the results were very satisfying. This is Ned's opinion as a photographer who worked with Minor White. The camera is capable of a noticeably wider dynamic range than *ist cameras, so go ahead and print your shots at 16" x10" at 240ppi in color. That's what it was made for.

2. TAv and Sv modes
Now that many people are getting more experience making prints from high ASAs like 800 and 1600, Pentax is ready for us all to start using them more often. By adjusting ASA/ISO on the fly, you’re more likely to preserve small aperture and fast shutter speed preferences, like using aperture F/8 as the sweet spot for your favorite lens and keeping the shutter speed above 1/250 sec for action shots, especially when light is erratic and you don't have a highspeed strobe. Previously, Auto ISO in the *ist and K100D series didn't offer very much control of which ISO would be used, or for changing the manual ISO, which meant digging under function menus for a few seconds. But now you can stay in near manual mode and let the camera choose the best ISO more reliably (TAv mode, and you'll see the camera's choice on the info review), or you can adjust the ISO sensitivity yourself with a command dial and the camera will set aperture and shutter speed for you (Sv mode), all as you look through the viewfinder. And you can set your own custom ASA range limits, whether that's 100-1600, or 200 to 800, etc. You won't find anything else this versatile on the market.

3. Focusing Improvement: Motor support for supersonic lenses
The K10D’s lens mount now includes motorized gears to handle SSM (Super Sonic Motor) driven lenses. While Pentax is getting new DA* F2.8 constant zoom SSM lenses ready for 2007 (March, I hear), you can bet that when they come out they’re going to get scooped up fast. Lenses with SSM give you more torque for heavy glass and faster response times for all auto-focus movements. And the K10D is presently Pentax’s only DSLR that can use them. Additionally, the K10D is Pentax's fastest for AF with all present KAF and DA lenses, thanks to the extra juice from the lithium battery packs, stronger internal motors, and 9 wide cross-type AF sensors (11 sensors total). The cross-type sensors read acutance both horizontally and vertically, improving any of the sensors' chance of locating the sharpest contrast indicative of focus.

4. Weatherproofing
Sometimes you have to take pictures where it's wet, humid, or dusty. Because DSLRs are especially sensitive to dust, dirt, and water, it's nice to have a consumer level camera that caters to those of us who need to take pictures with something better than a disposable camera where others fear to tread. Not only does the camera have to be more adapted to rugged handling (and with its alloy body and rubber, it is), it means the camera needs to be relatively safe from atmospheric issues. The sealing around the camera's buttons and doors will protect it from condensation, splashes and fine grit, which will keep the camera's electronics safer and help keep dust from making its way to the sensor, pentaprism, and viewfinder. While you shouldn't go dousing your camera in the sink, you can at least feel safer taking it to the beach or rain forest.

5. Better Raw Support: DNG RAW, RAW+JPEG, and in-camera RAW to JPEG processing
In the ridiculous cycle of RAW compatibility software, where some cameras are left in the cold waiting for support from a user's favorite applications for months and months, it's a relief to know the K10D has adopted an open-standard (even though it is Adobe's baby) RAW file format, the DNG. But what many people may not realize is that the K10D is also an in-camera powerhouse at rendering JPEGs from RAW, even simultaneously. The JPEG rendering in-camera, especially at low ISOs, is phenomenal. For example, if you only shoot RAW, you can take a RAW image in the camera and render it to multiple JPGs using different sharpening, white balance, and other assorted values all without ever transferring your SD card to a computer. You'll even be surprised at how sophisticated Pentax's rendering algorithms have become even since the K100D was released. Natural mode (more subdued contrast akin to natural light) and Bright mode (a touch of extra saturation and contrast) take advantage of the latest processing software to create pictures that pop with more detail and richness than they could before. And if you're a stickler for the widest color gamut using Adobe's Creative Studio or Lightroom, try using DNG files with Adobe RGB rather than sRGB (like Ned did in his print test I mentioned in no. 1), and print from rendered 16-bit TIFFs when you output to your best printer (preferably one that has more color fidelity to the file than even your monitor can display). This will show off that PRIME engine.

6. White Balance Color Temperature
The K10D has the usual manual and auto WB settings that you find on most cameras, but it also allows the user to adjust the color balance by color temperature, which is not only important when inappropriate color casts derive from colored lights or reflected light of colored surfaces, but when you want to make a creative choice. You can save up to three of these custom color temperature settings. WB on the K10D can be fine tuned by using the four-way controller to shift the colors in according to a color matrix with 225 patterns and 7 levels, much like a color wheel. Importantly, as mentioned before, the user can apply these custom WB options to in-camera JPEG rendering from RAW files.

7. Battery grip battery sled has storage room for extra SD card and remote
When I saw this in person back in September, I grinned because it’s the sort of design touch I like. The new D-BG2 grip lets you you swap out batteries really quickly, but the battery sits in a little sled that has a compartment to fit Pentax’s wireless remote F, and a little slot that perfectly holds onto an extra SD card. While the SD card can’t be used by the camera while in there, it’s a neat way to keep one on hand, and an excellent spot to keep track of those mini remotes (which is about the size of a piece of Trident gum).The battery grip does communicate with the camera for its battery use, command dial and shutter button. When the grip is connected, you can choose which battery pack will be the camera's primary battery and which will be the backup, either the in-camera battery or the grip's.

8. Shake Reduction + Dust Removal
Pentax has built a cosy little home for the sensor that will keep a few of the wolves out. First seen in the K100D, SR is great. It's not going to stop a moving subject like a fast shutter speed does, but it can compensate for your moving hands or movement to the camera body that can blur an image otherwise. This magnetic horizontal and vertical redirection of the sensor can give about 2 stops or more of handheld speed before you need to get out your tripod, or it give you just a little extra stability even when you're using a tripod. It also generally helps the sharpness of images with any shutter speed. But maybe tge greatest advantage is that it works with nearly every Pentax compatible lens ever produced, including M42 screwmount lenses from over 30 years ago.

The Dust Removal system will simply vibrate the sensor when you start the camera, or you can turn it on manually. In either case, dust over the sensor will have less opportunity to collect. And this is in addition to a new SP coating over the low-pass filter that protects the CCD by making it harder for dust to stick in the first place.

When you see these designs all together, you really get the impression that Pentax understands that image quality is directly effected by the characteristics of how the camera houses the CCD, and that it's a concern that shouldn't just be limited to cameras twice the price.

9. Memory buffer increase with DDR-2
The improved digital data rate speed allows the buffer to fill and clear photos to the memory card much faster than before, but startlingly there's no limit now to how many continuously recorded JPEGs you can write in sequence at just over 3FPS. It will keep writing to the card until the card is full. Pop in an 8GB SDHC card and this will go on for over 3 minutes! For RAW photos, that's up to 9 frames in sequence (which is also the limit for multiple exposure). But considering a 512MB card can only hold about 29 RAW files, that doesn't seem so bad. While Nikon and Canon have had slight advantages in FPS speed in the past, Pentax have caught up with K10D.

10. Lithium Batteries based on Minolta design
Pentax didn't need to reinvent the wheel for its K10D battery packs. Using a pre-marketted design that Minolta had been using, Pentax not only makes it easier for some Minolta users to upgrade to the K10D, but they've made it so you're more likely to find a replacement if you're in a pinch. Okay, this may not be amazing and might be stretching it a bit, but I like that it's one less new battery format for the world.

It all comes down to image quality and user comfort, and with all the opportunity you get with this camera to customize your images and its interface you're more than likely to be able to make this camera work like a charm, especially when working from RAW for extra sharpness and noise control. I haven't come close to mentioning all the features or new tricks the camera has, and this is only the first iteration of a 10MP camera from Pentax. I hope it will suffice to say these 10 features were what make the biggest difference to me when looking at past Pentax cameras and the K10D. When you factor in the lens compatibility, including the Limited lenses from Pentax, and the customer support (free software upgrades, valuable firmware upgrades) it all paints a picture of Pentax making a concerted effort to make a resurgence.

With the K10D, Pentax has a competitive camera against the Nikon D80 and Canon XTi, and one that represents entry into a very affordable system for SLR photo enthusiasts who haven't been brainwashed into thinking that spending a hideous amount of money will make their pictures that much better. And while Pentax may not have the deep inventory and store clout the others have, a camera like this is one we ought to rally around. As Pentax owners, we need to speak up to our friends, to store staff, and to our co-workers. It has virtues for a $900 camera that are no small feat and they all come from Pentax listening attentively to its user base to address issues as quickly as possible and to create cameras that are easy to use, yet versatile enough for really creative people. So go try one out, and see if you like it. Download the color brochure and manual. Play with it. Experiment with how you process your files. Then don't be shy to tell Pentax what you think. And, especially if you love it, don't forget to share your enthusiasm and go out with your camera to be creative.

Links: Pentax K10D, ShadZee, Ned Bunnell


castlema said...

I recently sold my *ist DL to my sister and bought a K10D. The DL really reignited my love of photography (well, that and Aperture) and the K10 is an incredible camera. While I am still waiting for Apple to add RAW support I am working with JPEGs and the image quality is superb. Although I am unlikely to ever print an image at a size where I need 10 MP the bigger sensor does give me a lot more flexibility in cropping and that is something I do a lot.

If anyone knows what the "program lines" are for the K10 I would love to see the graphs. I knew what the program looked like for my P3 and I would just like to know what it is for the K!0.

ShadZee said...

Well, thanks for mentioning me in your blog ;-) Now, I really have to update my blog daily.

I would also mention the fantastic viewfinder as one of the things to love about the K10.

Indeed, the DR is very good, and along with good metering even in extreme conditions highlights and shadow details are captured.

Dr Hiding Pup said...

Certainly ten very good reasons to buy a K10D. If I had to start again with my dSLR and buy tomorrow (I'm an Olympus E-1 owner), I'd get one without even thinking about the competition.

Your eleventh reason, of course, will be that your readers will expect you to have first-hand experience of such a great-looking camera. That expectation is, of course, a Christmas present from us to you.

Go on, you know you want to :-)

OK-1K said...

Yeah, the 'eleventh reason' sounds about right. I really need to try the K10D out in depth, because I know I'd like to write more about it!

But I should say that I have had first hand experience already. I was able to see one up close in September thanks to a get together I had with some people who work for Pentax. They were able to answer all sorts of questions for me, let me play around with its settings, and I was able to take some pictures with a limited lens, too.

Now that it's released even I have the expectation that I should be writing about first hand experience with the camera and how to get the most out of it. So, yeah, I want to jump on the bandwagon and buy one for myself, but good things come to those who wait. It's possible I might borrow one just to bridge that gap.

benjikan said...

I am a Canadian based in Paris, France and a Pro photographer over over 20 years. Just spoke to Pentax France and gave them just 2 critiques. One is the fact that the Pentax does not have a studio flash synchro interface...realltoo bad. Have to use an adapter. Two, the camera RAW DNG recording is slow. I may be switching from Canon and these two issues should be addressed.

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