Sunday, March 23, 2008

K200D First Impressions

Handled a K200D today and below are my observations:-

1. Body is larger and heavier than that I would like, at least noticeably more weight and bulkier than the K100D. The build quality is felt just a little bit better than the K100D, though, which is similar to the K10D and the K20D. Anyway, the plasticky outshell must not be something that I really like;

2. Viewfinder is the same as that of the K100D, for both the image magnification and the brightness, that is, medium image size and medium brightness for an APS-C DSLR - no particular excitement or disappointment here;

3. The AF point red illuminated marks are yet again misaligned, as usual. No real surprise here;

4. AF speed is the same, nothing considered speedy and it will become rather slow and hunt at just lower light conditions;

5. Mirror slap and shutter actions have been improved, smoother and quieter, very similar to the K20D, better than both K10D and K100D. Shutter lag and finder black out time are quite noticeable, close to the K20D for what I could see;

6. Auto ISO does work even when the Exposure Compensation is applied. The function and setting of the Auto ISO is just the same as that of the K10D and K20D. With the launch of the K200D and K20D and the dis-continuation of other older Pentax DSLR models, it has marked a full-stop for the annoying long lasting Pentax DSLR Auto ISO bug since the *ist D, which has been persistent for five year!(?) But yet, my question is: WHY Pentax do NOT release firmware updates for those other older Pentax DSLR models for all we old users so as to get rid of this annoying old problem completely??

7. The operations and settings of the camera are mostly identical to that of the K10D/K20D. Of course, the K200D has only one e-dial, though - but now there is a green reset button, also;

8. The LCD monitor looks the same as that of the K20D, larger than that of the K10D and the K100D but the pixels are now even more obvious as the resolution of the new monitor is yet the same;

9. It should be noted that set price of the K200D is the most expensive amongst the latest 10+ Mega Pixel DSLR offers from the brands C, N, O and S. Nevertheless, the K200D still costs less than half of the price of a K20D;

All in all, I can see a real dilemma here for the existing Pentax DSLR users who just wish to find a better upgrade path, especially for the old K users. The dilemma is that the K200D and the K20D are almost designed and built identically, feature wise and in many characteristics, even for those which are not published, e.g., the improved mirror damping and quieter shutter action (but along with some noticeably system time lag and finder black-out, which are very similar). The major (only) differences, which are obvious or published on paper, between the two latest DSLRs are just on the pixel count (and the new Samsung CMOS sensor) and the new Live View feature of the K20D which is weakest in the market in terms of features and functionality.

It seems that the K200D has a far better price-performance ratio than the K20D but it does not have the Live View (anyway, I think it is not a real concern as far as the K20D's LV is not further improved by Pentax with their upcoming firmwares which are to be issued, if any). But as far as price is concerned alone, the price of the K200D is not really competitive in any sense for a new purchaser whom has no "system concern". The AF of the K200D is indeed slow and the K20D's one is not really fast neither, despite that quite some users have already reported that the K20D has improved software algorithm for the AF-C mode now (it seems that the hardwares are the same) and has improved AF accuracy (which *should be* at the very *beginning*, frankly).

So, if the K200D is proved to have the same debugs as the K20D later on (e.g., so far I could see no more "soft in-camera jpegs" from the K200D and K20D so far), than I would say it is a no-brainer for anyone who want to buy or must buy a new Pentax DSLR now. If it is not, then I don't think it is valuable to get the K20D just for a few of those found debugs - I do believe many of the old Pentax DSLR users do wish for more for that premium price we would pay for the cost of a K20D!

To sum up, my final conclusion and comments are that the K200D is competitive for new users only if it is made smaller, sold cheaper (at least comparable to the D60, A200/300/350, 400D etc.) and should have some unique features, e.g. a better LiveView or tilting LCD or a better one and so on. On the other hand, if a current Pentax DSLR who really need an upgrade, I think the K200D should be the better choice, especially when the P/P ratio must be taken into account, but don't expect a *real* or significant upgrade for what we could get with the K200D, especially when we already have a later generation of Pentax DSLR, e.g., the K100D.

All in all, I do think Pentax should make a real entry level DSLR (which should be sold cheaper, and more importantly, smaller and lighter) and a real advanced level DSLR (like the D300, that has faster and stronger AF and quicker system responses), otherwise they again could seek no further market share at all, with their current somehow "weak" offers which are unable to compete in *any* market segments (Indeed, I really have big doubts about what are the actual *targeted* market segments which the K200D and K20D are positioned for by Pentax?? which is indeed very unclear, at least to me!)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Improved Continuous AF Tracking of the K20D

A new K20D user has made an interesting and systematic comparison test in comparing the AF-C hit rate and performance with his new K20D against his old K10D :-

http://www.dchome.net/viewthread.php?tid=475739&extra=page%3D2

(Text in Traditional Chinese, use Babelfish if required)

What's the most interest test he did is the "Goldfish Test" (to be exact, the goldfish is called "Peacock"), he used a stop watch/time counter, set it to five minutes and then put his K10D or K20D in AF-C mode. There are 11 numbers of the goldfish in the tank. Each time he focused on one fish. After the focus confirmation is achieved, he focused on another nearest fish and repeated the test for five minutes. The number of taken shots was then counted and then the shots were then classified into "Good", "Fair" and "Bad" according to the sharpness in focusing or the amount of out-focusing. For example, "Bad" shots were those totally out-of-focus ones which are not usable and should go to the trash bin anyway, "Fair" means that there were slight out-focusing in the shots, but the amounts of errors were yet acceptable.

So, here are the raw results of his:-

K10D: 64 shots taken: 14 "Good", 23 "Fair", 27 "Bad";

K20D: 90 shots taken: 30 "Good", 44 "Fair", 16 "Bad".

Thus, it's obvious that the K20D has smarter continuous AF tracking ability than the K10D. The K20D had taken 40% more photos within the time limit! .. which simply means more photo opportunities which I have been emphasizing on from time to time.

I tabular the following on the successful, failure and in-between rates by simple calculations for our more easy reading:-

Camera
Good
Fair
Bad
K10D
21.86%
35.94%
42.19%
K20D
33.33%
48.89%
17.78%

So, for ideal "Good" shots, K20D has a 52.47% improvement (by comparing the numbers of "Good" shots) over the K10D although the hit rate of 33.33% is still on the low side IMHO and there is pretty much room for improvement. As for the "Bad" share of shots of total failure, the difference between the two cameras are huge. That means that the "usable" rates for acceptable pictures, in counting both "Good" and "Fair" are 57.8% versus 82.22% for the K10D and K20D respectively. Oh well, for the K10D case, I can't think out a better quick phrase to describe that as what "hit and miss" could tell for a such a low hit rate on even "Acceptable" shots - nearly one picture out of two is trashable for the K10D!(?)

Do note also that the user had also tested the AF-C for *static* objects, which he found NO difference between the K10D and the K20D. But, who would use the AF-C mode for shooting *static* objects then?

Besides, the user has also done some quick checking on the image quality differences between two cameras. We can note the purple fringing difference and the noise level difference in the comparison shot he made and posted along the above same thread which shows that the K20D is just better.

So, now back to the AF issues, as stated in the user's above opening post. In fact, he has been much dissatisfied with the AF performance of his old K10D owing to the poor AF-S accuracy that decreased the resolution (and thus decreased the image quality of his good lenses) and the inferior AF-C performance as well. As such, he just took a gamble to go ahead to acquire the K20D without second thought as he just won't want to switch, he told. Well, just as one responded poster said, he was considered to be "very brave", as he had already found that the K10D to be performing so poorly in the AF department. I do second this viewpoint totally - just imagine IF the K20D's AF is actually identical to the K10D's one, then!?

In fact, I found that Pentax has once again to be 200% unwise (or simply *stupid*, I would say) to tell the world that the K20D uses the SAFOX VIII AF system, which is actually infamous for poor AF speed, low light performance and accuracy. In fact, since it has been verified that various new K20D users have found *improvements* of the AF for the K20D. WHY don't Pentax just tell us it is of an improved version, say, it can be named as SAFOX VIII E (Enhanced) or something, just to tell the difference.

Indeed, to explain such stupidity, it is just the typical and classic Pentax behaviour - they never admitted problems and tried to hide them as far as possible! BUT why not let the old bugs in the past over and be *positive* in promoting their new products? What wrong to tell the world that they have debugged (or maybe just using the word "improved" marketing-wise) the old system (although after so many years) and now they have been able to bring out a better version of the SAFOX VIII. I think it should still be a very positive thing afterall!

Read also: Improved AF accuracy of the K20D (Under White Lights Only)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Improved AF Accuracy of the K20D (Under White Lights Only)

An experienced Pentax DSLR user, who has a bundle of Pentax AF/digital lenses and various Pentax DSLR bodies including the K100D, K10D and the new K20D, has tested and compared (side by side) the AF accuracy between his K10D and K20D with different higher grade Pentax fine lenses of his putting on both bodies:-

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1036&thread=27049158

First of all, here is his detailed comparison tests (two sets - will explain more below) regarding the AF accuracy differences with the DA 21 Limited lens on K10D against the K20D, pair of comparison test shots are posted:-

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1036&message=27066095

Do note that since the DA 21 was found to have strange focusing behaviour on the K10D that the focusing accuracy actually depends on the Av number selected (as well as if the lens is turned from the infinity or closest), which I have reported here before, the user also carried out a second batch of the test in the above to compare the focus accuracy of the K10D against the K20D under the procedure which he believed his K10D should work best.

Well, as it is mentioned in the user's opening post and can be seen from the above detailed tests and measurements, there are significant focusing errors with the K10D whereas with the K20D could do very well with the same DA 21 (and other various Pentax AF lenses he has as well, as told - so far he has not posted all the test photos with all different lenses in the thread, though).

Indeed, I was a bit susceptible on his report when I first read his opening post just because usually people would have some kind of honey moon period effect when they've received their new toys and usually think that the new toys are better (maybe just because they've got excited or actually time will tell for many things, when they use their "new" gear longer). However, since there is some solid measurbation evidence shown above, I think I should believe.

In fact, I am really glad and pleased that Pentax have improved their design finally (as it seems to be from judging from the above) after years of the same persistent AF problem for inaccuracy, at last. I do think that "late is just better than none"!

Well, I do believe that it is always a good thing to let Pentax and the public know about those annoying gear problems as wide as possible so that Pentax should listen and potential buyers/users should be fully aware of such problems as well, before they are sold. Furthermore, for letting more people to know about the problems, more pressure would be made to Pentax so that they are forced to improve to a certain extent, instead of letting the problems drag on for long or even forever! That's is in fact my clear objective in setting up and updating my this blog.

Now, have all the AF accuracy problems (just say for shooting static objects only) been resolved totally? So, what are some of the well-known problems? Just read back my early Blog article about the "AF Accuracy's Dependency on Lenses and Yellow Light", then you will know more about these.

On the other hand, here comes the bad thing as reported also by the above Pentax user who carried out also the test to verify if AF accuracy has been improved under the yellow lights, i.e., tungsten light source or any artificial light source with low colour temperature. Unfortunately, he found that obvious Front Focusing *still* occured, as always for ALL Pentax DSLRs:-

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1036&message=27066212

This is yet a disappointment, although I would not be of big surprise. In contrast, I have been surprised this time for what it has been proved that one of the most annoying "Pentax's" problems has actually been removed, with the K20D.

Since I shoot a lot under tungsten lightings which are often dimmer conditions, I had found that such AF system problems to be a big annoyance. This is in fact one of the main reasons that I was forced to get a Canon 5D kit in June last year. Later on, I got also the Canon 50/1.8 fast prime which I have never seen the Yellow Light Symptom of the Pentax DSLRs (which I was the very first person on the Net to conduct a quick experiment to verify this problem), even at fully wide opened and under very dim conditions and even with low contrast objects. More importantly, the focusing was still fast and decisive with the 5D at lower light conditions, unlike all other Pentax DSLRs that would hunt seriously in the same conditions. Moreover, do note that Pentax film AFSLRs like the expensive MZ-S flagship and the entry level model MZ-30 which I have both do not slow down like what the Pentax DSLRs would do under lower light conditions, neither. Nevertheless, the MZ cameras do shift a little bit with slight front focusing under tungsten lightings but the magnitude is not that large as those Pentax DSLRs - that I can tell - just believe it or not!

A few days before, I tried two units of the K20D, I am not overall impressed with the AF responsiveness of the K20D neither. That says the K20D required to think longer than I would expect for the AF motor start to move and it also need longer time to re-confirm the focus and re-adjust the lens as well. This slow responsiveness that I can feel easily is not really a good thing, IMHO.

Last but not least, here are the remaining posted test results (a few pairs of shots only) for the AF accuracy comparison between the K10D and the K20D with a few other different lenses which the above mentioned user has, which proves again the AF accuracy of the K20D has improved whereas the AF accuracy of the K10D is just rather poor:-

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1036&message=27066277

So, for those old Pentax DSLR users who have being wanted to upgrade just because of the particular deficiencies they don't like and ask me if it worths the upgrade to the K20D by now. My answer would be "Nope" at the current stage, undoubtedly. It is just because I won't spend another (US)$1,400 to cure only one of the long lasting and well known problems which exist mainly in all the previous models of Pentax DSLRs. Unless later on it can be confirmed that more of the old typical Pentax problems for the camera performance and accuracy aspects are cleared (like this time for the AF errors with different lenses), it is just too risky to put the bet *now*, I would say. Note that for $1,400, actually we could already invest into a few good lenses in the basic focal range for another better system, even if we are to start from scratch, like what I did last year (although these glass may not be as good as some of the original Pentax glass! ;-))

Saturday, March 08, 2008

K20D First Hands-on Impressions

Tried out two different units of K20D (with a DA 70 Limited and the DA 16-45) yesterday and have the following first impressions:-

1. The whole shutter release action is smoother and quieter (than any other previous K cameras). That means the mirror up action is gentler, shutter sound is quieter and the mirror down damping is better;

2. However, the shutter release is not really instantaneous. I can observe a noticeable shutter lag plus an even longer blackout time of the finder (maybe even worse than what K10D does have which is already considered as not good);

3. Moreover, the shutter release button is badly loose, which means the reaction force is simply too little for the half-pressing. In fact, I found it just feels worse than my K100D. The shutter release button of the vertical grip suffers from the same problem as the main body button. The bad feel decreases the overall feeling about better build quality;

4. Metering and exposure accuracy *seems* to be better. No significant underexposure was seen for quite a number of test shots which I made, under sunlight outdoor and in different artificial lighting sources or even mixed source. I feel this to be a good thing since it *seems* that Pentax have tried to make their DSLR to expose right and at least brighter in the K20D production units. Nonetheless, for the various samples from beta models, I could still see obvious underexposure problems as what all Pentax DSLRs which I have used would do.

Do note that with my yet limited use on the K20D, I think it maybe too early to draw conclusion on an improved metering system yet. But so far I feel that this "new" metering system is just better!

5. Auto WB seems to has been improved, with less significant colour cast which would present under more difficult lighting conditions as for previous Pentax DSLRs. The AWB is not totally ideal, though - it just looks better but not perfect.

6. I shot stationary people and objects under the sunlight and indoor with the AF-S mode, using the central AF point mostly. What I would temporarily conclude that the AF system is the same as and identical to the K10D and K100D's (well, if Lithium batteries is used in the K100). The most annoying thing is the final focus reconfirmation which checked for if the first time AF movement stopped position had any errors and needed to re-adjust once more (aka hunting, although it is not in a serious way, just because the testing environment is just bright or not too dim indoor). The responsiveness of the AF is rather poor, too, which means that after you have half-pressed the shutter release button, there is a noticeable delay before the AF motor moves - the AF system just needed to think longer than what I would tolerate. Well, in short, I would still think that the AF system performance, speed, responsiveness etc. is still pathetic;

7. Furthermore, the classic Pentax AF red illumination indicator incorrect position problem does still exist for these two units I tested!(?) The first K20D was having the central AF red point shift upwards whereas the second one had it shifted upwards and to the right side. The problem is indeed rather annoying (at least to me and quite some other users as reported) although it have nothing to do for the actual AF sensor alignment, I just wonder why Pentax still and still have NOT debugged its design and adopt a better indication method which should not be having this persistent problem, which happened on day one with my *ist D bodies, which is just a very disappointed thing.

Moreover, do note that the misaligned AF red dot may mislead the user to level the image when looking through the *optical* viewfinder, which is a practical problem which much less people would notice.

8. I am not impressed with the overall build quality of the K20D. It feels exactly the same of all the *ist D and previous K cameras - the outer shell is just too plasticky somehow afterall.

9. As other reviewers have reported, I also found that the Live View AF is problematic and difficult to use. In the Live View mode, what we need is to press the AF button at the body back to do the AF. But then there is no indication of any kind for what AF has been done completely and correctly, or NOT! (unlike other LiveView DSLRs like the Olympus E-410 and 510 which have such an indication with red and green spot to tell the status).

I had eventually got some out-of-focus pictures with such an AF "function" under the Live View mode with the K20D. I think I just "didn't know how to use the camera" as particular Pentax fanboys always said when they were put into their "defense mode"!

10. The LCD video frame rate under the Live View mode is not very high. I can see the displayed "video" is jumpy when I panned the K20D in a not very fast manner. Do note that this jumpiness can only be seen when the Shake Reduction is disabled as the SR will smooth out any faster changes in motion and has a side effect of slowing down the motion of the displayed "video". On the other hand, if the SR is On, you will see the SR is functioning at real time through the Live View screen, just like what can be seen in the optical viewfinder of DSLRs for those lens-based IS or VR like what Canon and Nikon could. Anyway, it's a good thing to see that the SR is actually working but it can only be seen in the Live View mode. Nonetheless, for the lower frame rate of the Live View display, I think practically this would not impose major issue as we are to take still photos most of the time with DSLRs.

All in all, the quick conclusion of mine is that whilst I believe that the K20D should be the best DSLR body ever made by Pentax in the Pentax land. It just fell short of many things in the competition and by no means it is really a wise choice to choose by considering its relatively high price tag which it is just not worth the price no matter it is considered in many ways unless we are tied firmly to the Pentax system. Frankly, if I am starting from scratch, why not buy a Nikon D300 or a Canon 40D at around the same price? It is simply because both the D300 and the 40D are having better and faster AF, higher shooting frame rate, better build quality, less shutter lag, far less "classic" Pentax specified and unique problems, a stronger and more comprehensive system, better customer support and so on.

Finally, my bet is that the K20D will not be as "popular" as the K10D would as most of the potential new buyers who were interested in Pentax and such a "K10D" alike camera had already bought into a K10D already but I guess not many K10D users would upgrade to the K20D. The old Pentax *ist D series users might be interested but then the K20D by no means is an attractive offer for new comers, especially when they do not have any old Pentax lenses.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Weakest Live View in the Market

Here is the latest Olympus E-420 which has just been announced:-

http://www.dcresource.com/news/newsitem.php?id=3720

With its latest Live View design by Olympus, it can do almost all a P&S or Prosumer DC can do in real-time, e.g. Contrast Detection AF (but yet there is the option of using the Phase Detection AF system - but mirror down-and-up is required, or both), Face Detection/Recognition up to 8 faces, Live Histogram and exposure checking etc. and so on..

Whilst the Canon's 450D/Rebel XSi has the Live Histogram and have the Contrast Detection AF and Sony's A300/350 do have a swivel monitor which can be tilted up and down at right angles plus a separate Live View sensor (thus also have the ability to do AF *full-time* in Live View mode), the rather primitive Live View design of the K20D, which is just crude and has even no indication for the AF, just look really rather outdated (on day one when it was just born) and is actually rather impractical to use which cause much inconvenience, which in turn makes the Live View function almost useless. Besides, as for the K200D, there is even no Live View function.

So, again, this time Pentax is yet again clearly lagging behind. Pentax, could you have the minimal foresight each time before you made a new product? They simply failed to look ahead almost everytime! Nonetheless, Pentax, please update the firmware of the K20D soonest so as to catch up and not lagging behind too far away and for too long!

The *hope* is the hardware of the K20D is capable of a better Live View function, it's just that the software, i.e., the firmware, is way too immature. Enough said. (But even Pentax is willing to and will be able to update the K20D's firmware and provide a "kind* offer for a firmware update to introduce those essential missing Live View features some days later, how long shall those new K20D users or just potential buyers will be required or will have the patience to wait? Or, it is just yet another endless waiting in the end until the next replacement model comes??)

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