Friday, November 28, 2008

My Initial Impressions on the K-m

I had a chance to try out a K-m today, inserted four Energizer AA lithium batteries (not new but the camera still shown full power for the green LED indicator). Below are my initial impressions to share:-

1. The body felt really small and solid (very good built quality) but obvious not lightweight, even with the lightest AA lithiums. The weight is just somewhat very similar to the K100/Super but it is more compact;

2. The silver rim on body is not good looking in real than what I got the impression from the product photos seen before. I just feel that it is just too shiny and too much and too long. This little thin and long shiny thing is not matching well with the dull old type black matte plastic material of the whole body afterall, IMO;

3. The AF speed is not as fast as what some new K-m users have told. I tested the camera in a moderate well lit room with white lighting, set single AF, with the 18-55 DAL kit. There were huntings most of the time. Yes, there were huntings and the AF motor didn't move really that fast. Nonetheless, the huntings would stop just after one to two times. Actually, the behaviour is very similar to that of the K200D but it seems that the camera just simply gave up with a *limited number* of times, as pre-defined. In fact, the K20D's AF motor is obviously stronger and faster (but yet it could hunt endlessly!);

4. Exposure accuracy seems to be good enough/improved as performed in the room but I had no chance to shoot in tungsten lighting environment nor outdoor, as it was rather dim outside and thus I didn't test it;

5. The K-m is not as responsive/immediate in releasing the shutter as I thought before, against what I measurebated last time, for the shutter lag time of the K-m, which was found to be 114 millisecond (or, 0.114 second). Well, it is not scientific of course, but it did feel not so responsive and the delay was yet quite noticeable. The mirror action is smooth and has a light touch, though.

Well, after the trial, I think I now have no more strong incentive to acquire the K-m (which I have been really quite interested in). Well, to be fair, the K-m is not bad for an entry level DSLR, but I think those new owners have created some myths of its performance, which IMHO have been overstated, e.g., the high speed and "much faster" AF (which I guess the firmware just limits the maximum number of times of hunting which the camera would allow).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

RiceHigh's Pentax Blog - Two Years

My Blog is two years old today, since it was born on November 26, 2006. During these two years, a lot have happened for Pentax and so do many other things in the DSLR industry. As for my Blog, my editing directions have not been changed, so does my insistence on keeping my site totally Ad free and nothing commercial or simply no money related. Nonetheless, there is one other thing that is changing for my Blog, though: It is the increase in "popularity", well, in terms of the traffic volume.

In fact, my this Blog has been the most "popular" Pentax Blog on the Internet for months already, no matter people like my opinions (or simply me) or not. There have been consistently more than 17,000 page views each month at my Blog, which is just a significant increase than what I saw one year ago.

As for Pentax, I think they still do face a very difficult time right now. Nevertheless, the K-m seems to bring out some new hopes as it seems that Pentax/Hoya have shown at least some determination to debug their DSLRs and upkeep with the competition in performance/accuracy/reliability which they have been lagging behind quite much and for long for many important aspects which include AF performance, AWB and exposure accuracies.

But yet the bad thing is that Pentax have still been unable to update neither the K20D nor the 200D which could now actually be outperformed by the K-m in quite some areas (so could quite some other basic models by the bigger DSLR makers).

Indeed, the K-m does share many of my ideas to make a smaller Pentax DSLR which has a higher performance and reliability and does share my core belief of "Less is More", which I iterated in details here more than half year ago. However, the reality of such a highly effective low cost and basic DSLR will not please the entire or more of the new DSLR beginners, as the K-m does lack the latest and more updated features like a fully functional LiveView feature, Face Detection and/or Movie Recording and so on - so it cannot be a real most updated electronics gadget afterall.

In fact, the dark clouds are still all here over Pentax currently. I bet they simply cannot do much better with the K-m. They do need a true up-market DSLR model and system which is what they still truly lack one, even just for an APS-C system, not even to mention for a technically more advanced 135 Full Frame one, which Pentax (and then Samsung) told us in September that they would not have one (but just back to April and June, they had told something very different). But the *fact* is that as for those 135 Full Frame DSLR bodies, they just all have obvious advantages in Image Quality than those APS-C ones with a smaller sensor format, as once again verified by the DxO lab test results.

So, in the next year of 2009 to come, let's wait and see what Pentax will do to survive and hopefully to create some miracles for coming out of the current very difficult situation they are facing. Of course, all the current facts are still very unfavourable to Pentax, that's why some people like Thom Hogan have even predicted the dismissal of Pentax after 2009, which might be a bit too pessimistic, but yet still somehow possible, especially if Pentax/Hoya won't do better and act/react faster.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What type of Camera are you?

Come across this quiz today which is really a fun to take: What type of Camera are you?

After answering all the questions, the following result returned for me!



"Nikon. You're a Nikonian and a true Professional. Forever the perfectionist who always wants the most from the equipment. You see the world in tiny details and a day job as "pixel peeper" would probably be a dream come true."!

Its so accurate and it describes me perfectly! ;-) Except I am by no means a Nikonian, and have never been. Actually and strangely, I have never owned any Nikon equipment. I have had Canon, Pentax, Ricoh, Olympus, Minolta, Sony, Fuji, Casio, Samsung photo gear and so on but have never bought even a piece of stuff made by Nikon!

Well, maybe for the Question 6, I had to enter the brand "Nikon" since I have already had both a Pentax and a Canon DSLR system, so I have no other choice actually!

Do the test yourself and have fun!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

K20D has VPN under Cold Temperature?

A K20D professional user reported that his K20D produced annoying obvious vertical (stripping) pattern noise (VPN) when used under cold weather (that was not really extremely cold):-

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1036&message=30027850

As we can see from his artworks, which should have been great and nice ones, if these were not tampered by that superimposed VPN, which is very obvious. The poor models have just little clothes under a 2 degree Celsius working environment outdoor but I am afraid their scarification have yet been in vain, also. But anyway, their professional working attitude really makes them highly respectable and appreciatable. Bravo!

Furthermore, along the OP's own thread, it has been re-confirmed that it was not a RF or external power interference problem, nor a memory card issue, and neither a battery grip power interference problem (like what was confirmed with the K10D, which I reported very firstly when an user first confirmed that solidly, with good evidence). And finally, that K20D pro-user re-flashed his K20D and tested again, same thing once again re-confirmed, i.e., its *just* the cold temperature, but nothing else!

And, similar to another reported banding case much earlier before, this time pattern noise did also happen at low ISO speeds of 100, 200 and 400 (but the previous user didn't mention anything about cold temperature should be a factor).

Well, after all these, we may guess that the pro photographer's K20D has been defective. However, the very strange thing verified is that only lower temperature close to zero degree would create this problem. This maybe an isolated case and issue, but it could be in another extreme. Who knows?

Price Increases of Pentax Film Lenses

Here is the latest announcement by Pentax for the price increases, at their Japanese homepage:-

http://www.pentax.jp/japan/news/announce/20081121.html

The new price table, of which the new prices will take effect on February 2, 2009, is as below:-

http://www.pentax.jp/japan/news/announce/20081121-01.pdf

But this announcement and the move actually look rather strange to me, for the following reasons:-

1. With the strong trend of Japanese Yen (and US Dollar as well) and the high exchange rates of both currencies, I just don't know why Pentax/Hoya would still need to increase the prices of their lenses;

2. Especially considering that Hoya have previously announced that their lens production had been moved out of the Japanese home and now all lenses are made in Vietnam. It is therefore now the lens price as reverted to Japanese Yen or US Dollar should now be even cheaper. Afterall, the official given reason for the price increases owing to the "increased raw material costs" is indeed rather unconvincing. As opposed to Pentax/Hoya, who now have imposed lens price increases of 20% and more, the market big brother Canon do exactly the different, but actually something sensible, for imposing price cuts for their EOS lenses, in about -10% rate, owing to the recent very poor global economy. All in all, the Pentax/Hoya's move looks even more strange and unexplainable if we compare these two cases;

3. Why the announcement needed to be made months before the actual price increase date? Do they really want to increase the prices or just to do something so as to get rid of the old stocks? (by pushing the potential customers rushing for the old stocks before the "deadline"?);

4. Do Pentax just have so few film lenses now that are not yet discontinued? And why are those undiscontinued zooms are actually so useless on their current cropped 1.5X DSLR bodies (like those FAJ zooms or even the a few manual focus A lenses). Why do they not keep the more useful, unique and excellent film lenses in production instead (like the optical excellent and fairly priced FA*24/2, FA 28/2.8 (equivalent to a 43mm on Pentax DSLRs!), FA 200/4 Macro and so on..)?

Actually, if they actually have just listed all the Pentax Full Frame film glass that are still in production (which is very likely, see below), I do feel much sorry for them, as the available lenses are so limited and good glass left are are only a few. But this would probably the case because if they do need to make a significant price increase, this should be applied for all the current lenses of the same type in production. By considering that now the most popular film primes for Pentax DSLRs are mostly included (like the 3 FA Limited lenses, the FA 50/1.4 and the FA 35/2).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A New Measurebators' Paradise!

DxO Labs have recently launched their very interesting new website, the DxOMark.com, solely for ultimate measurebations on DSLRs (well, they say those are "measures" but I think "measur(e)bation" should be a better term in describing what they are doing! ;-)).

In this website, what you can see are only cold figures, but with no photos of any, except the images of those DSLRs under test! What I do like most are those cold figures are really cool, and most importantly, scientifically obtained and meaningful.

I bet this site will be the most popular measurebators' paradise after the old classic (but outdated) lens measurebation site Photodo.com (the old site).

Putting aside the new aggregate sensor performance mark they have created, the most important thing they have created and published is the comprehensive and up-to-date "Image Quality Database". In this database, you will see all the crucial performance figures, which are presented in a clear and professional manner but yet these are easy-to-read and also come with a concise and easy-to-understand explanation on each part for what have been done and what the figures represent. The "Compare cameras" facilitiy is really cool and it is very handy for comparing different cameras just with a few mouse clicks.

For example, they measure the Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) for each available ISO speed instead of just measuring the noise level (as what DPR have been doing for years which IMO is just almost meaningless as I have said this for long). The SNR is measured on a 18% grey target which IMO is again very sensible. The DxO Labs do measure also the Dynamic Range for *each* ISO speed and so do the actual sensitivity of each ISO against as rated. They also measure the Tonal Range and Colour Depth which I must agree are two very important image quality performance parameters in reallife.

Besides, the ISO noise performance scale/mark is sensibly designed. They called this as the "Low Light ISO" in their front summary page for the camera performances and comparison. This mark is just the essential highest ISO number which the SNR has dropped to a predefined threshold where image quality has become unacceptable.

Here is the direct comparison between the Pentax K20D Vs Samsung GX-20 Vs Nikon D90. It would be quite interesting to note that the Samsung GX-20 actually has slightly better image quality in every critical IQ performance aspect and thus undoubtedly it has a slightly higher overall "sensor mark" over the K20D. However, as it can be seen the Nikon D90, which has the latest technology and enhancement, wins both the K20D and the GX-20 quite significantly (except the colour depth where very slight differences can be counted), no matter for the DR, SNR and Low Light ISO and etc. To be fair, the D90 wins also its big brother but predecessor D300 and thus it is clear that the D300 has no bright future and will be obsolete very soon as positioned by Nikon just in the recent half year, i.e., for APS-C DSLR, the hotcake is the D90 (which has the movie mode, too) and the true up-market advanced amateur model of Nikon is just the 135 Full Frame D700!

As for the sensor size, larger format sensor DSLRs always win smaller sensor format DSLRs, overall speaking. Just look how poor the results the 4/3 DSLRs are (Pana and Oly regardless, model regardless, latest or older) and then look back how good or better the results for 135 Full Frame DSLRs, I think there is nothing arguable, anymore.

Well, I think it's time for me to stop here and let all you folks to start measurebating and compare endlessly! Oh well again, welcome to the paradise of measurbation or JUST the Hell for Photographers (or even at the level below the Hell!)! Bye and see you later in this Hell, maybe forever!! ;-p (But please don't worry. Actually, there will be no problem - all those DxO professionals as well as those so-called DPR "technical writers" will be there with all you folks, and actually should be all of Us - which should including Me, of course!)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Some More New K-m Tests and Samples

DCHome.net Pentaxian yobboy published his another two K-m tests on the ISO performance, P-TTL exposure accuracy and SR effectiveness as follows (Posts in Traditional Chinese, use Babelfish to translate if needed):-

1. ISO and SR Tests:
http://www.dchome.net/viewthread.php?tid=593140&extra=page%3D1

Some of his (more important, I think) comments:
- No big problem for exposure accuracy in general, in dark environment it tends to overexpose, by around +0.3 to +0.7EV;
- Auto WB is Neutral and better than that of the K20D which tends to be "warmer";
- Camera consumes very little battery "power" (actually it should be "energy", in engineering sense :-)), AA lithiums still go strong and battery indicator still shows full after 700 shots, some with flash and quite some playbacks and reviews have been executed;
- The "AF" button on the back can be customised into an "AE lock" button (there is no AE lock button as printed);
- ISO 100 and 200 excellent, 400 good, 800 okay, 1600 still usable after NRed or viewed in small size, 3200 similar to 1600 but with colour changes noticeable;
- Details retained well for high ISO speeds, but NR has no significant visible effect in reducing noise.

My observation is that owing to his test pics are of high contrast and main subjects are somehow overexposed whilst the dark areas are just too dark or black in colour, we cannot see more noise as it should be even in the crops (and for the full pictures, these are just somehow rather small in size to judge better). However, it should still be noticed that it's better NOT to use the NR function, no matter in "weak" or "strong", as it could change the colours (which is obvious, as seen from the posted test shots, strong setting changes the colour more - become cooler and less saturated) but however the noise level differences are not that obvious (as this has also been pointed out by the tester).

The SR, as tested very briefly, worked quite well.

2. P-TTL and second SR Tests:
http://www.dchome.net/viewthread.php?tid=593611&extra=page%3D1

Again, his more important comments are:
- AF responsiveness at low light is good, provided that there are at least some contrast/texture for the AF system to lock on;
- There is no difference in AF speed with SDM lenses;
- The optical quality of his DAL 18-55 kit lens is inferior to that of the DA 18-55 and DA 18-55 II in his opinion;
- Just discovered that the K-m do NOT have the cable release socket, somehow disappointed;
- The SR seems to be improved and more effective than that in previous Pentax DSLRs;
- P-TTL system in K-m looks more stable than that in other previous Pentax DSLRs.

My remarks: His test on the re-bouncing flash with P-TTL with different angles and from the left and right shows that the exposure levels are somehow different but the variation and results IMO are acceptable (shots do look somehow dark in general, anyway). There is no drastic change between P mode and Av mode. However, IMO his test target and scene may not be a good one as the objects are either black or white, which could somehow fool the metering system. (Well, maybe the tester intentionally to do so, for selecting some more tricky objects, who knows? ;-))

Also, the SR test with the DA* 50-135 looks good for the results.

Now, let's move on to another site, for a few of other interesting (yet again direct) sample photos produced by the K-m, see this Blog of a professional photographer:-

http://hk.myblog.yahoo.com/quist-ography/article?mid=93

The digtal filter effects look quite promising to me, especially for the posted "E to C" (the effect obtained for slides to be processed by C-41 instead of E-6 in the old film days, especially popular in Taiwan), paintbrush effects which simulate the pastel and water colours. Anyway, I can see that the photographer intentionally to arrange the model to dress in dark clothing and with a pure white background that would make the results more perfect. But I think the camera does do a nice job here as I would comment that the results just look quite nice and are better for what I could get with some PC software in doing similar image processing jobs which I have tried before.

The blogger also says that she will be invited to speak in a product press in December for the local Pentax agent (so she is official, anyway!).

Whilst the toy-camera digital filter function (those like what Lomo cams produce) can be found in the official K2000 user/owner's manual, I cannot find that "E to C" function, that is just a mystery to me. I just wonder if this function is unique in the K-m but not existent in the K2000? Btw, that "E to C" final results look very real to me, especially when I can compare some protrait shots made in "E to C" which I have myself.

Finally, if you want to see more real end-users' K-m samples, I suggest you could follow this growing flickr link:-

http://www.flickr.com/groups/pentaxkm/

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More K-m Sample Pics by Users

At the flickr, you can find this K-m sample photos gallery as uploaded by a Japanese new K-m user:-

http://www.flickr.com/photos/h4ck/sets/72157608417034275/

The EXIF data are partially retained but these can be inspected only if the "original" size is viewed (those "original" photos are downssized anyway, they are not really un-retouched).

The lens used cannot be seen as in the EXIF under the latest version of Pentax Photo Browser (version 3.51) as the EXIF field has already been dropped, but I guess the lens used should be the DA 40/2.8 prime, by reading other EXIF data fields.

I notice that the photos are with better colour reproduction this time than what it could usually be seen for what produced by previous Pentax DSLRs even with the same lens. Well, as for the exposure, it can be seen that the exposure compensation now is within a reasonable limit of +/-0.3EV and the frequency of requiring exposure compensation is not as high as before for all other Pentax DSLRs. Btw, by considering the number of shots made and posted, I regard the exposure of the sample photos are proper, at least for this set of photos (as seen from the EXIF, in-camera Jpegs were shot).

Indeed, a more accurate and fool-proof metering and exposure system could be even more crucial for a DSLR targeted for beginners, as they are used to shoot with P&S DCs which are even more fool-proof. If Pentax really make it this time, it would mean that their upcoming DSLRs can be better as they finally have been able to get rid of their most persistent and the evilest devil which has been with them for more than half decade, IF it is really the case! Nonetheless, it is still subject to verification as I am really still very suspicious if Pentax could really nail it this time..

Yet, there is another latest new K-m user from Hong Kong who has written a short user report again with some direct-out-of-the-camera but downsized Jpeg photos here:-

http://www.dchome.net/viewthread.php?tid=592410&extra=page%3D1
(Text in Traditional Chinese)

Full K-m album of the user here: http://s289.photobucket.com/albums/ll215/yobboy0213/

Unfortunately, the EXIF data are all removed during the course of resizing but I do like much the image quality of the pictures which his K-m reproduced, particularly the first food shot which is of great 3d feel, nice WB and high fidelity, even it was most likely taken under artificial lighting.

Besides, I summarise his initial impression and comments in his above post as follows:
- Lighter than both K200D and K20D, not very light actually but the balance is good and the camera felt stable;
- Camera felt rigid and solid, especially compared against other entry level DSLRs (as Pentax entry level DSLRs all used to be :));
- Auto Focus is far better, lower light response is better than the K20D, so far AF is accurate (with the 18-55L and DA 21/40/70);
- But unfortunately there is no focus point indication (those red lit rectangles in the past);
- Auto White Balance seems to be improved, better than the K20D;
- LCD display too bright and yellowish by default but fortunately can be adjusted, Brightness: -1, Tone: M7, B7 are now set;
- Tend to overexpose by +0.3 to 1EV, but to be verified and confirmed;
- No test on noise control, but feel good so far, to be advised later;
- Image style and taste more like K10D than others (maybe owing to the same Sony CCD sensor used);
- Has never used an entry level DSLR with so many available settings, the "Help" button can be customised/turned into the "RAW" button, K20D type custom WB, highly customisable ISO settings, wireless flash trigger by the camera (by the built-in RTF?), dynamic range expansion and etc.
- Final comment: the new K-m with his DA pancake lenses is a set of great travelling gear with good mobility - a joy to use.

So far I am quite interested to acquire a K-m (if I really get it, I shall tell all you folks if it really performs, be better/debugged/improve, or whatever you like to say, or those reported better stuff are just myths created by the honeymoon period effect). However, I am still with some serious concerns and thus hesitation to get the K-m, on the other hand, as the K-m lacks a remote cable switch jack and also less importantly for the lack of focus point indication of any kind for the AF point it selects. The inability to use a cable switch just makes the Bulb mode, which is a must for shooting fireworks and longer time exposure, virtually useless.

( More official reference links for the lack of those features:-

K-m FAQ: http://www.pentax.jp/english/imaging/digital/slr/k-m/faq.html

The claim of SR don't comsume energy and battery power in one of the FAQ is really a joke, though. If so, the Physics of the whole Universe will have been changed and not be the same!

K2000 Owner's Manual: http://www.pentaximaging.com/files/manual/K2000_IB.pdf )

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