Saturday, June 28, 2008

RiceHigh's Pentax Blog - First 100,000 Visits

Today, my WebCounter has counted the first 100,000 distinct visiting sessions for my Blog, which I think is quite a milestone for my site and possibly for all who are interested in and care about Pentax products.

Since launched in November 26, 2006, time goes by just like "flying", I would say. My Blog has been on the Internet for 19 months now. During the period, I have written 103 articles according to my themes and there have been quite a number of reads to my pages over the months. According to the StatCounter statistics, it records more people visit my Blog and people do stay longer and longer per visit and there are more pages read per visiting session as well.

Nonetheless, whilst I am glad to gain popularity (or maybe more hatreds, anyway), I shall continue to summarise and write about all those user reports/feedbacks, reviews and related news and report all that I know or observe. Still, the happiest and greatest time for me when I wrote were when I could see *real improvements* for new Pentax DSLR models (like this and this, for example). Sometimes, "nitpicking" (as accused by many Pentax fanboys who are blinded by stupid brand loyalty, frankly said) did make even myself felt upset somehow, but, I shall continue to report and do my works as objective as possible and as accurate as it can be. Of course, my works are not perfect, constructive comments are always welcomed and I will be glad to make corrections and updates to my blog entries as it should be if you tell me something valid.

Last but not least, I wish to thank once more for all those people who sent me their kind emails for supporting and encouragement and also for those who sent to ask me my advice and opinions. I take this opportunity to thank you ALL for your kind support and trust! Despite I am actually very busy in my life, I have actually replied all the emails and I did not even miss to reply one of those indeed numerous ones that I received for questions related to Pentax and cameras.

Of course, I do not encourage any hate emails which I think are all silly and meaningless. What I can only tell those guys here also is that: Don't waste your time to drop me an hate email, I would just ignore you from time to time and delete your email(s) at once without further reading, nor I would ever even think to reply. In fact, I know well for what those hate mails would say, of which the contents contained and wordings used were usually more or less the same.

Read Also:-

RiceHigh's Pentax Blog - One Year

Why This Blog?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

K20D Exposure Inaccuracy and Inconsistency

As we all know, the DPR review of the K20D has been out.

Whilst as usual, typical DPR review does not measurbate AF speed, AF accuracy, system time lag and exposure accuracy which IMO are the most important performance aspects for a DSLR, the sample photo gallery of the review does give us some hints, on the exposure accuracy of the Pentax DSLR system, with their current "flagship":-

http://www.dpreview.com/gallery/pentaxk20d_samples/

By doing some simple and basic statistical anlaysis, we can actually get much more useful information than what DPR have already told us:-

1. There are 12 samples out of the total 36 did not require exposure compensation. So, the hit rate is only 1/3, or 33.3%;

2. For the rest of the 24 samples (2/3 of he total samples) that required manual exposure compensation, 16, i.e., 16/36 or 44.4%, had +ve exposure compensation applied (so as to avoid underexposure);

3. Whereas for the other 8, i.e., 8/36 or 22.2%, -ve exposure compensation was made (so as to avoid overexposure);

4. The mean (average) value for the +ve compensation is +0.59EV with a standard deviation of +/- 0.21EV. The mostly applied (mode) compensation value is +0.7EV ;

5. The mean value for the -ve compensation is -0.55EV with a standard deviation of +/-0.17EV. The mostly applied compensation value is -0.7EV;

Well, as I always emphasize, we need to compare other results from the same (gang of) measurbator(s) for those measurbation reports published at the measurbation sites, so as to make things meaningful and for fair comparison as well so that we could interpret the results sensibly. By using the same methodology above, here we can get a summary of the results for the K20D, 450D (Canon), D300 (Nikon), A350 (Sony) and E-420 (Olympus), which are all the latest current DSLRs as most recently reviewed by the DPR. I tabulate them as follows:-

Camera (DPR Sample Gallery Link):Pentax K20DCanon 450DNikon D300Sony A350Olympus E-420
Number of Samples36
36
36
36
40
Correct Exposure Rate33.3%44.4%75%80.6%80%
Underexposure Rate44.4%2.8%5.6%2.8%2.5%
Underexposure Compensation Amount (Mode)+0.7EV+0.7EV (one sample only)+0.3EV and +0.7EV (two only)+0.3EV (one only)+0.3EV (one only)
Underexposure Compensation Amount (Mean)+0.59EV+0.7EV (one only)+0.5EV+0.3EV (one only)+0.3EV (one only)
Underexposure Compensation (Standard Deviation to Mean)+/-0.21EV0EV (of course)+/-0.2EV0EV (of course)0EV (of course)
Overexposure Rate22.2%52.8%19.4%16.7%17.5%
Overexposure Compensation Amount (Mode)-0.7EV-0.7EV-0.7EV-0.7EV-0.3EV
Overexposure Compensation Amount (Mean)-0.55EV-0.6EV-0.59EV-0.73EV-0.36EV
Overexposure Compensation (Standard Deviation to Mean)+/-0.17EV+/-0.27EV+/-0.18EV+/-0.24EV+/-0.14EV

Remark for Above:
Green colour means the Best; Red colour means the Worst.


So, here comes the further analysis and observations for the above:-

1. The most unreliable DSLR in the exposure accuracy department is the Pentax K20D;

2. The King of Underexposure belongs to the Pentax! The K20D underexposes pictures in an unbelievable large percentage of 44.4%, which is very far more than the underexposure failure rate of all other DSLRs under test, which are all able to keep a very low percentage of underexposure;

3. The amount of underexposure for the Pentax is in a great amount of 0.7EV, also, in addition to the huge number of underexposed shots recorded (as they could be if not compensated);

4. The King of Overexposure belongs to the 450D, which has also an unbelieveable high rate of 52.8% (!?) of overexposure recorded (as they could be if not compensated). Whilst many Pentax fanboys always talked about the overexposure issue of the entry level Canon DSLRs just in order to defend the infamous underexposure problem of the Pentax DSLRs, I actually found that kind of defences is silly and pointless. Does a tends-to-overexpose-most 450D would turn a tends-to-underexpose-most K20D into a correctly exposing DSLR with their unsubstantiated argument? This stupidity just recalls my memory of my primary school classmates who told my teachers about the wrong acts of other classmates when they were caught of doing something wrong! ;-)

5. Surprisingly, the most reliable exposure system and DSLR outthere is the Olympus E-420. Despite the larger number of sample photos posted in the gallery. It nearly didn't underexpose any photos nor the amount of underexposure is significant (0.3EV only and for one sample only, out of 40). It did not overexpose more also, most of the time only a -0.3EV compensation is required (for those 7 overposed shots (as it could have been), there are 6 out of 40 applied -0.3EV only). I am really impressed. Well Done, Olympus!

6. In fact, the exposure system of Sony and Nikon are also very good to good. It is just that the Olympus is so excellent that they cannot be the best in this Shootout.

Ironically, the above shootout comparison breaks the myth of "Pentax DSLRs preserve highlights best" (Really?) as particular Pentaxians have been insisting on and strongly believe like the Gospel! The K20D is obviously not preserving highlight well neither, which just comes in second after the Canon 450D, for the risk of burning highlights. But do bear in mind that the K20D has also a super great tendency of underexposure (which no others will), which simply implies it is just a very inferior exposure system with very poor consistency afterall!

I know that some people would think or just to argue that the sample size is just "too small" (as always, when the test results are not so favourable to *them*. But how many samples are those guys need? There are 4 x 36 + 40 sample photos plus at least five officially provided bodies with various different lenses tested already). Or, those brand-blinded fan boys are consistently accusing that the reviewer(s) of DPR are being biased or even they don't know how to use the Pentax DSLRs (really funny! In fact the DPR crew are the real camera experts! They are just professional gear heads with far more technial knowledge about cameras than any Average Joe - they earn a living by testing cameras afterall!).

Anyway, I know that those people would still not be convinced but would start to bash Phil Askey and his employees. SO, I would point you to an expert Pentax user who is so official (and maybe too official! ;-)) and authoritative for you to believe. Inspect all the EXIF data of the sample photos in the following links:-

http://nedbunnell.blogspot.com/2008/06/17-70-test.html

http://nedbunnell.blogspot.com/2008/06/35mm-macro-photos-at-9000-ft.html

See, think and judge yourself. I won't explain and talk furthermore (as I have no more to say)!

In fact, the wonky metering and exposure system of Pentax DSLRs has been one of the biggest annoyances to many Pentaxians (as who have encountered the problem and reported or complained about it for years). The users have been simply wasting too much time in fiddling around with the exposure compensation values, just hoping to get the best exposure but in the end either photo opportunities were missed or just not-so-ideal exposures were resulted.

If Pentax still do not improve their system which is just with such a low hit rate and has great underexposure tendency but yet actually does not preserve highlights well neither, I really doubt how they could compete (or simply just to survive).

I think technically there must be something wrong inside their metering/exposure system in their DSLRs (and/or digital lenses) which only Pentax themselves would know (for why their this metering/exposure system is inferior). But anyway I still hope that they can improve and will improve, in the near future, and in the coming next models (although I have been rather disappointed and desperate for long already).

Read Also:- Underexposure Tendency of K10D and K100D

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dynamic Range and (Background) Noise Tests of the K20D

Have just come across a test review of the K20D today and found it to be quite refreshing and non-typical (I like it!):-

http://daystarvisions.com/Docs/Rvws/K20D/pg1.html

I think the most interesting part of the review is the test for the K20D's DR (by the author) and the test for the background noise (quoted results by others) of the K20D. To make the published results meaningful, the results are compared with other current DSLRs like the K200D, (Canon) 40D and (Nikon) D60 and D300 and the K20D's precedor, the K10D, as well. As such, a better interpretation could be achieved and I do believe the comparisons are fair.

I like the DR test was carried out in a way that it is very simple but effective to obtain meaningful results. I also like the review is written in a way that it is concise but yet very useful for the information contained and shared. I particularly like that the author writes technical stuff in a way that are easily understoodable for laymen and does not make it look too difficult (for the readers to read and understand).

So, here is the DR test results as well as the background noise analysis and comparisons, which similar testings and information is by far could not be found on the net and I do highly recommend to read this page (even you don't read the rest of the review!):-

http://daystarvisions.com/Docs/Rvws/K20D/pg3.html

As I have said, since the author has explained things so good and clear, I won't explain further for the above. Go read yourself, I am sure you can understand fully (or at least mostly) and do get something! (in particular for those refreshing data/info which are not that conventional!)

Nonetheless and all in all, I've learnt from the review that the longly and highly praised "underexpose to preserve highlights" myth as emphasized and insisted by particular Pentax fans has been proven to be invalid for the K20D. Or at least it is not really practical for getting good to acceptable results even such an approach is taken, manually and intentionally, in more contrasty situations. Also, with the comparatively much less DR and actually very limited DR of the K20D, it is a real concern for its impact on image quality for the pictures produced with the K20D. Furthermore, a narrow DR will lead to exposure problems more often too, as either highlights or shadows will be scarified in more cases. And, as recommended by the author, he would rather opt to blow out highlights to keep shadow details with the K20D owing to the limitations mentioned above - see his review and article for his full reasoning (which I am fully agreed with).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nikon D700 Full Frame Is Probably Coming. So, What Pentax Will Do?

See this post at the FM forum about some believed-to-be leaked images of a printed brochure of the upcoming Nikon D700 posted at a Chinese forum:-

http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/657828

It is shown that the D700 is actually quite ready to market and it is in Nikon's "FX" format, i.e., 135 Full Frame. If it is really true, the D700 is just a downsized advanced amateur version of the Nikon D3 and finally there is a real competitor to the Canon 5D in the lower priced full frame DSLR market, only almost after 3 years, very possibly.

It maybe very hard to believe when a "big boy" company like Nikon, who had told the world just about two years ago that they had full commitment and strong faith in an APS-C DSLR system but that they "suddenly" steered their wheels so quickly to go full frame with their top-of-the-line pro model and now with their most upper class advanced amateur model again.

Yet, now it just leaves alone Pentax, as the last old film SLR system maker, for now *just* having an APS-C DSLR system, of which this will just be intended to be marked as an entry level playground now or very soon by the big boys Canon and Nikon as well as the aggressive DSLR player Sony also.

Afterall, I think Pentax should really think very very seriously for how they should do to catch up in the game by launching a Full Frame DSLR of their own with a collection of usable FF lenses not too late. Otherwise, they will be circled (or they just circle themselves) in a market segment to compete with those low end and cheap P&S DSLR models of those C, N and S are offering in the near future. Eventually, they will possibly die in the game as they are now in the P&S DC market.

Moreover, considering that Pentax have almost discontined all their (mostly excellent) full frame FA autofocus lenses (unlike Canon and Nikon, both of them keep making and marketing their full frame lenses over recent years), the situation is actually rather adverse for Pentax. It is just not too optimistic for Pentax to be able to re-build a FF lens system in a short time so as to support a new FF DSLR body (even if there will be one), in order for them to compete and survive. (Ditto for the situation of Olympus, whom I bet eventually should be the first one to be (kicked) out of the game owing to a too small sized DSLR sensor format - which physically just can't compete in the high end battle field, but just to be marketed as a compact P&S DSLR system, owing to all those technical shortcomings and limitations that are well known.)

Read also my earlier article:-
The Current Pentax DSLR System As A System

K20D Firmware 1.01 Incompatibility

As we all know, Pentax has released the firmware version 1.01 for the K20D in order to "minimize the noise when taking picture with 2 seconds self-timer mode", which actually has been well known as the hot pixels issue of the K20D recently.

Whilst the effectiveness of this firmware update is still needed to be verified by most end-users, it has already been reported by various different K20D users at different Pentax forums that the 1.01 PEF file is not compatible with various RAW convertors, namely, Aperture, iPhoto, Phase One, Bible and etc. Here is an example thread for those reports:-

http://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-dslr-discussion/30136-k20d-1-01-firmware-update-broke-iphoto-08-pef-support.html

There has been a totally speculated (but not convincing) explanation for the incompatibility by some people that the incompatibility is simply caused by the different firmware version as stamped in the RAW files. But I think it should not be the case, as most RAW convertors used to identify camera *models*, but NOT also the firmware version. Isn't it just too silly for the RAW convertor to fail to work just because of the camera user has upgraded to a newer version of the firmware, if just in case these software are written to work like this? (but there has no report of similar case ever heard before actually.)

So, the better and more logical explanation is that something have been changed in the PEF content and file format/structure in the firmware 1.01.

Last but not least, it should be noted that it is not told that if the hot pixels issue has been addressed for the 3 second timer mode when using a remote controller nor there is any new re-setting function to initialise the hot pixels table back to the factory setting, in which hot pixels are accumulated more and more by the camera automatically and also by the user manually in a custom function, as found out and reported by a professional reviewer previously (so that the whole frame could be finally ruled out if all the pixels are becoming "hot" enough eventually).

Well, if this incompatibility issue has yet verified further and found out to be true, I am afraid that a firmware version 1.02 has to be coming out soon (but of course it should come out as soon as possible, hopefully).

Update (June 28):

PentaxForums new member Sondek found out and has reported that all the incompatibilities is just caused by a string changed in the Make of the PEF RAW file, see his post below:-

http://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-dslr-discussion/30926-downgrading-firmware-k20d.html#post279015

And, I am totally agreed with his comment that it looks somehow rather stupid to cause those troubles to the end-users with the reason of just want to be politically correct and removing the name of "Pentax Corporation" (by taking this chance of firmware update) which looks really utter silly to me as in this case a serious bug was created. What bug else is worse than incompatibility with existing various different commercial software programs?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Digital Storage and USB Drive Letter Management

Digital photography has led to a somewhat headache problem for most users - storage. In fact, I have been shooting digitally since 2001, when I still also shot film with my MZ-S for more serious shootings. Until January 2004, I got my first DSLR, a Pentax *ist D. After that, I have shot almost mostly digitally. Nonetheless, I still shoot some slides very occasionally from time to time just for fun.

In fact, the internal harddisk of my compact sized desktop PC (which is a MSI slim barebone bought in 2003) has been full quite a number of times over the years and I had upgraded it from 40G to 80G to 120G and then finally to 250G about two years ago. Each time I got a new harddisk, I had to migrate my Windows, application programs and all data files to my new harddisk and then I moved some of less important files to the old ones and then used the old ones as data backup disks. Since my desktop has limited expansion ability owing to its compact size and thus limited space inside it, I could only install one 3.5" harddisk inside it and thus I just made two partitions on it with one for the OS and system files and the other solely for data (which is not so desirable of course). In the past, I used Norton Ghost to make a disk-to-disk operation to simplify the job, which could be a bit clumsy and time consuming.

There is some tricks for ghosting both the system files and data in one-go with the Norton Ghost. What I had to do is to leave the old harddisk to be physically connected to the booting "C" drive for the hardware connection before the ghosting and then plug in the new drive to another connector. And then, boot with a Norton Ghost bootable utility disk (which could be made with the older version of Norton Ghost of Windows, say, the 2002 version. Don't get the later version of the Ghost which clones files under Windows environment which is problematic AFAIK). Lastly, unplug the old disk and replace it by connecting to the new disk, reboot and everything is done and will work as it has been!

Recently, my two-year old 250GB harddisk has got full again last month after flooded by my digital photos taken over the last year with my 5D (which are quite large in size in fact - roughly 5MB each even for shooting large fine jpegs alone). Indeed, I have got tired of such internal harddisk replacement procedures nor it is not totally logical to back up digital photos and other data in this way. It is because the newly purchased harddisk will always have a capacity much larger than the old one, usually doubled for my case. Since the 2.5" notebook harddisks are damn cheap right now and I do consider they are more reliable than 3.5" ones since they are less susceptible to shocks and vibrations as well as higher temperature, I opted to purchase two as a pair and simply move all of my "current" digital photos (in whatever formats) to my new notebook harddisks via USB. Those notebook harddisks in fact could be even more reliable since they usually have a lower spin rate at 5400 rpm instead of higher ones.

Week ago, I purchased two Fujitsu 250 GB SATA (model MHY2250BH) with two very nice external SATA to USB casings. The purpose of a dual setup is one for main data storage and the other for backup as a mirror, which I shall periodically copy all my data to the mirror disk manually using my favourite file management software (which is this one).

The story went on. Since I do not have enough USB ports in my desktop (which has 6 built-in only) and that my PC (which is a MSI barebone) has no option to cut off USB power after sleeping or shut down (so that my mobile harddisk(s) could run on 7 x 24 hours if they are not unplugged!), I acquired a PCI 2.0 card based on VIA chipset in aiming to resolve the problem. Unfortunately, this VIA chipset based card is just a piece of junk which has various software and hardware conflicts which I could never get it worked with my mobile disks but just system hung up or an unstable Windows as long as I used it. I have tried the card on several different PCs at my office and various different abnormal behaviours were yet found. So, it must be the card! For interested readers who have faced the troubles, you may look at this page.

So, as the VIA card is of neglectible cost, I just trashed it and purchased another USB 2.0 card based on the NEC chipset (I bought the Belkin), it installed without any trouble at once and my system has been operating speedy, reliably and flawlessly since then. As you know, I always hate troublesome products which have too many issues and problems just because the manufacturers have not spent enough efforts to make it good and trouble-free as it should be. In fact, those inferior designed and made products have created, would create and will create too many unnecessary troubles and pains to the customers and users who bought them, which is just a very unfortunate thing afterall! But in reality, there are yet too many those poor products in the market, no matter what they are - so careful selection is always crucial. For this case, I told myself I would never buy any VIA based products again. The logic is simple, if they could not even make a basic USB chipset to run properly, how can I trust them for some other more sophisticated products?

After all the problems have been resolved, I faced another problem which is just one of the typical numerous Windows Annoyances. The USB drive letters assignment was in a big mess and with my two XX-in-1 card readers, those drive letters caused even much chaos owing to the inconsistency and unpredictability of the assignment logic (which is rather illogical indeed) by the Windows (I am using the Xp).

After that, I found, downloaded and installed a very good piece of freeware which eliminated all the problems and is highly configurable and small in footprint but however may not be too easy to install for some of the Windows users, owing to the lack of a wizard nor even a dialog window for the setup. This freeware is surely for more experienced PC users but it is actually not too difficult to install and config if you read and follow the documented instructions with a few more minutes.

So, here is my highly recommended software, the USB Drive Letter Manager (USBDLM), which could set all those Multi-Slot Card Readers (MSCRs) to occupy a drive letter only when a memory card is inserted and all drive letter range can be assigned to the USB thumb drives, external USB harddrives and MSCRs as well. Fixed network drive letters can be excluded too. Even if not (set by the user), this tiny program is smart enough to skip those already assigned drive letter(s). Really excellent job done by the author!

I summarise also the installation and configuration procedures herewith: After downloading, unzip the whole zipped folder. Run the command line batch file "_install.cmd" and the program will be installed (forever until you run the other command line batch file "_uninstall.cmd"). And then, copy and rename the example .INI file "USBDLM_sample.ini" to "USBDLM.INI" and edit it in whatever ways you like for the features and settings available as outlined in the software's homepage or in the included help files (in German and English).

For example, if we want to assign portable harddrives and thumb drives as F, H to J and memory cards as inserted in a MSRC as U, V, W, X, Y and Z, we can simply type the following:-

[DriveLetters]
Letter1=F
Letter2=H
Letter3=I
Letter4=J

[DriveLetters1]
DeviceType=MSCR
Letter1=U
Letter2=V
Letter3=W
Letter4=X
Letter5=Y
Letter6=Z

OR, simply (for the recent versions):-

[DriveLetters]
Letters=F, H-J

[DriveLetters1]
DeviceType=MSCR
Letters=U-Z

On the other hand, if you just want to do nothing, but let the program to assign drive letter numbers in the same order as for the sequence of the USB device insertion, just enter nothing in those sections (nor any of them is needed to be created). Wonderful? (But I think it is just that MS Windows have too many unthoughtful designs or simply annoyances at the first place, all in all)

P.S. This is the first time I write about software tips in my blog, I hope you guys/gals do like it and find my shared information useful. :-)

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