Sunday, August 30, 2009

Expensive Lenses, Poor Quality Control

I have just returned from a short business trip to Japan for several days and came across the Bic Camera shop and tested the DA 15 lens on my K-m hands-on myself.

The good news is that the DA 15 lens that I tested is actually not that bad in IQ as what the DPR found (and posted). I am almost certain that Pentax UK just sent the DPR a very bad copy, which I think Hoya/Pentax have always been so causal/careless but actually stupid each time when they sent DPR some gear to test.

The DA 15 I tested has good IQ wide opened. The corner sharpness is acceptable. There is no obvious vignetting as what we can see in the test review of the DPR.

As I have been thinking to acquire the DA 15 since it was announced, I decided to buy the lens shortly after my brief testing. Indeed, the lens is far cheaper than what I could get it in Hong Kong, at about US$600 at the Bic Camera (Vs $850 in Hong Kong - that price is just crazy for such a slow prime! $600 is not cheap neither IMO). The sales person got a new box for me and I shortly found a problem with the lens cap, which was just too obvious. The lens cap is a screw-in type (metal material which looks good and felt elegant but for practical use, it is just a joke). It was officially told that the PENTAX logo should stay upright when the cap is fully screwed in but unfortunately it was not so for that copy. It inclines at more than 10 degrees (approximately) to the left when looking from the lens front. So, I asked to get another copy.

So, the salesman got me another copy then. The logo position had no problem that time but more unfortunately, that copy seemed to have been mishandled and there was two small scratches on the glass elements which could be easily seen when I looked through the lens wide opened. Well, this may not be a Pentax factory problem though, anyway..

Since that shop has only two boxes of the DA 15, I went to another branch shop nearby. There was a new box sitting there and I felt happy and thought that I was lucky enough and I should be able to get it that time.

That one looks like never opened for the package and everything looked clean and brand new. But I found again the misaligned logo of the lens cap again. This time is less, I think in less than 5 degrees to the right when looking from the lens front - so comparing against the first one, the variation is at least 15 degrees. I still accepted that but then I shortly found two big dust particles *inside* this brand new lens (so was the salesman able to see them easily), which should be "included" out of the Pentax lens factory when it is "Assembled in Vietnam". As that was the only new copy at that shop, I gave up finally. After all of the above, I still could not buy the lens and I was upset.

I am really disappointed for the truly inferior and poor QC of Pentax and their Vietnam lens factory once again. I have never seen such problems for Canon lenses of higher grade which were and are made in Japan from my own experiences since I had my first Canon EF lens in 2007. And so did the better Pentax glass when they were made in Japan - I had never seen one bad copy amongst all the Pentax lenses I bought in the whole 80s and 90s. In early 2000s, the only bad copies of lenses which I encountered were those made in Taiwan (I exchanged my FA 24-90 for three times in 2001) and elsewhere which was unknown as the country of origin was intentionally not printed if it was not Made in Japan, for years for the Pentax goods sold in my country.

It seems that the main culprit of the inferior IQ of what the DPR found may also be caused by the poor QC of the Pentax lens factory as actually I found a big difference in IQ when I tested myself. Whilst I do now believe the optical design of the DA 15 should be good enough and is not really that bad, Pentax/Hoya has once lost the opportunity to earn the money of a "new" customer owing to their really inferior production QC. So, this is rather sad afterall.

As for the QC of the Pentax DSLR bodies at the Philippines, it is not good neither from my recent experience. Actually, my K-m Olive was chosen amongst five units at two different shops in Hong Kong, Except one was obviously scratched (which should not be a problem of the factory), the other three has different kinds of misalignment of the RTF closed position and the EV compensation button as well, which was found rotated in a large degree for one unit.

After all, I just wish to ask: WITHOUT better and up-to-standard QC in the Pentax land nowadays , will they survive longer? How can they compete??

P.S. The DPR tested the DA 15 on a K20D, I still do not reject the possibility of that the DA 15 is not working very well as on the K-m, which has a Sony sensor, and so does the K-7, which yet has the Samsung sensor (which has been reported by different users to be problematic).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

K-m Debug Mode Unleashed! (For AF Correction)



Further to my last Blog entry about the topic, the screen captures of the debug mode and menus as well as status displays are captured as an animated GIF above.

For the steps and instructions on how to enter and to leave the Debug Mode, read back my last Blog entry.

A few more additional remarks and explanations:-

1. Under the Debug mode, pressing the MENU button while turning on the camera will display the CPU and DSP versions used in the camera. Mine are both 1.10.01.06 in which the 1.10 is the Firmware version whereas the 1.06 is the hardware version.

2. "Debug Mode" will be displayed at the top left corner of the LCD screen when it is turned on.

3. The new Debug Mode "Set-up" menu tab can be found in between the normal Set-up menus (#1 to 3) and the Custom menus (#1 to 4).

4. Enter "AF TEST" to do the "Focus Correction". Don't touch other functions as those are not useful and meaningful to the user.

5. Enter "FocusCorr" value in um in the "AF TEST" page. The default value is 0 um.

To compensate for Front Focusing, enter a Negative value;

To compensate for Back Focusing, enter a Positive value.

6. "AF Area Number" is from 0 to 10. I guess this represents each of the 11 AF points of the SAFOX VIII system. But since the K-m has only Five AF points (all crossed), I think only numbers from 0 to 4 would be meaningful and for the rest it will have no function. It looks like that the programmers just left the debug menu as what it used to be and they just didn't bother to change the maximum value for its range.

Naturally, the AF Area Number 0 should represent the central AF point, which is the most important.

7. "AF Area Test" is from 0 to 3. I have not much idea about what these four different tests are about.

8. After you have disabled the Debug Mode and return to Normal Mode again, when you press the MENU button while turning on the camera, normal Firmware version of 1.10 will be displayed again.

By the way, so far I am quite satisfied with the AF accuracy of my K-m and I do not need the adjustment. But if you have encountered FF or BF in AF with your K-m, I am sure that this new "feature" will be much useful.

Have fun and I hope you do like what I've shared! :-)

Disclaimer: Try all these and changing any setting at your own risk! You bear all the responsibilities for any consequences resulted. If you are not brave enough to do so or just hesitate and lack the confidence, just forget about it and don't try!

Hoya to Seek Digital Camera "Alliance"

See what Reuters report for an interview with Hoya's CEO yesterday:-

http://www.reuters.com/article/technology-media-telco-SP/idUST15448620090818

Quoted:-

"Hoya's Pentax unit posted an operating loss of 11.6 billion yen ($122.3 million) in the year ended March 31, hit by restructuring costs and a sluggish digital camera market."

Yes, US$122.3 Million ($122,300,000), for just One Fiscal Year!

"I'm afraid it will need some sort of alliance with another company in the long term."

So, who will be that "alliance"? Will Hoya simply sell off Pentax to stop bleeding in the end?

"Hoya sold 2.3 million digital cameras last business year. That is less than a 10th of Canon Inc's (7751.T) sales of 25.6 million units in calendar 2008. "

"Hoya's revenues in the business year to next March are likely to exceed 400 billion yen, Suzuki said, compared with a consensus figure from analysts in a Reuters poll of 398 billion yen."

"Shortly after Suzuki's comments, shares in Hoya closed down 1 percent at 2,060 yen, underperforming the benchmark Nikkei average .N225, which gained 0.2 percent."

All Pentax Lenses are Solely Designed by Pentax!

Here is an excellent article by Mr. Peter Zheng, very informative:-

http://forum.xitek.com/showthread.php?threadid=655516
(Text in Simplified Chinese, another reposted full version in Traditional Chinese can be found Here)

The article contains all the essential details for the patents and optical designs used by various new Pentax digital lens models, namely, DA* 16-50, DA* 50-135, DA 10-17, DA 35 Macro, DFA 50 Macro. In fact, Tokina has never had any patent of any lens design at all! Yes, nothing. So, what was that old Pentax-Tokina lens "co-development" actually about??

Peter, Well Done! Bravo and My Thumb Up! Please do continue to keep up the good works in the future!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

POLL: Will You Get the K-7? (2nd Call)

Last time, when the K-7 was launched officially on 5-21, I created this Poll:-

http://ricehigh.blogspot.com/2009/05/poll-will-you-get-k-7.html

I put a "Yes" entry after I created the poll. Now, after all those user reports (good or bad), photo samples and reviews etc. about the K-7 these days, if you are to make up your mind by now, will you still get the K-7? Or Not?

So, I start another poll again for the same question. As previously, I shall enter my vote shortly after the poll creation. Let's see if there will be any big difference and what the results will be.

Will You Get the K-7? (2nd Call)
Yes
No
Neutral

The direct link of the poll page and results is:-

http://www.learnmyself.com/personality.asp?p=poll-results&qp=16254x9f6048B5

Remark: Just in case if you have *already* got the K-7 and happy with it, just click "Yes". On the other hand, if you have got the K-7 but unsatisfied and feel remorseful, click "No".

UPDATED: New Method to Access the Debug Mode of Various Pentax DSLRs

(8-19: Updated with more details and exact instructions of mine - There is a major error (intentional?) in the Pentax Hack for their told operation procedure to make it works, just read more carefully below if you want to "risk"! It does work! ;-))

Here the new excellent Russian Pentax DSLR hack site strikes again! They have posted the simplest method/hack (ever!) to enter the debug mode of various Pentax and Samsung DSLRs, namely, the K10D/GX-10 (FW 1.10), K20D/GX-20, K200D, K-m and K-7!

http://www.pentax-hack.info/documents/blog.php?entry_id=1249616275

So, what you need to do is just to create a text file named as"MODSET.XXX" that is to copied to the root directory of your SD card. In that file, just type the command line(s) that you wish to be executed (by pressing the DELETE (NOT MENU) button while turning on the camera). To enter the Debug Mode, the MODSET.XXX file only needs to have the following line (for my K-m, it is named as MODSET.464):-

[DEBUG_MODE EN]

The camera has now been put into the Debug Mode, the Debug Mode Menu with Sub-menu items will appear forever until another command is executed to tell the camera to get out of the Debug Mode (will tell you how to do it in the next paragraph). Next, press the MENU button again, then the Debug Mode menu tab will appear and can be found between the original Set-up menu tab no. 3 and the Custom Setting menu tab no. 1. The new tab is just named "Set-up". To do AF adjustment, just go into the "AF TEST" sub-menu and then under which enter the "FocusCorr" value (in um). The default value of the FocusCorr is 0 um.

To Turn Off the Debug Mode, simply modify the command line(s) in the same file to and repeat the above procedure:-

[DEBUG_MODE DIS]

Enjoy and happy hacking! This "feature" is particular valuable for those Pentax models without any focus adjustment feature, like the K200D and the K-m.

As a general Reminder and Warning: Do all these hacking and entering the Debug Mode at your own risk. If you don't know what you are doing, my recommendation is that you should not try it! :-)

I have successfully entered the Debug Mode and change some settings (but reset to defaults afterwards), Screen Captures of the Debug Mode Menus and Displays of the K-m is to follow!! (Hopefully within this week - I shall see if I have the time to do it :-))

Update: The K-m Debug Mode Screen Captures can be found Here!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Era of More Affordable Full Frame DSLR Comes, Will Pentax Survive?

See all the background information of the latest rumour about the upcoming Sony budget FF DSLR:-

http://www.1001noisycameras.com/2009/08/sony-alpha-a850-revealed-24mp-fullframe-dslr.html

And there are some real questions as raised by a typical Pentaxian amongst many other Pentaxians or potential Pentaxians who are likely for having the same doubts and concerns:-

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1036&message=32581082

Your thoughts?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Pentax DSLR (Firmware) Hack Site

http://www.pentax-hack.info/index.html

Very Informative! Highly Recommended!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

K20D Discontinued

See: http://www.pentax.jp/japan/imaging/digital/slr/others.html (in Japanese)

Latest Pentax Lens Review - Issues and Adverse Comments

I like this latest post at my Pentax Discussion Group, in which the poster speaks out exactly what I have been thinking in the beginning of his post:-

http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/ricehigh_pentax/message/630

"So far, regardless of what anybody says, I have been able to personally confirm many of the results that dpreview got in their tests. Just wanted to say this in case anybody has problems with their results!

So here is another blow to our beloved K-Bayonet mount. It seems we are dying for good these days, with prices going up for less quality all the time.

http://www.dpreview.com/lensreviews/pentax_55_1p4_p15/page5.asp

Quotes from the conclusion page:

Unfortunately though, we have serious concerns over two issues with this lens which have to temper our enthusiasm; namely optical alignment and autofocus (which are quite likely related). Over the course of what has become a rather protracted regime of testing, we've looked at three samples of this lens; each has shown a clear tilt to the focus plane, most pronounced in the first sample, and least problematic in the last (which we finally decided to use for the published tests). This does more than simply mess up our studio tests - it clearly results in real-world image quality and focusing problems too. In fact we've never before seen a lens so capricious when it comes to focusing - we're used to F1.4 primes being challenging for cameras' AF systems, but the 55mm was most difficult of all. We couldn't get any of the tested samples to focus sufficiently accurately for reliable shooting wide open without resorting to focus adjustment, and the amount required on our K20D body (which focused the FA 50mm F1.4 just fine) was huge, a full +10. The lens worked better on the K-7 we received during the course of this review, but still needed adjustment for best results, although curiously in the opposite direction (-3); but on the K2000 we were left high and dry, unable to achieve accurate focus at all. Based on this experience, it becomes difficult for us to recommend the lens to owners of cameras other than the K20D and K-7, on which AF adjustment isn't available, unless you can test it to your satisfaction first.

The other big problem we simply can't overlook is the distinctly high price. At the time of writing we're looking at $650, which does seem rather steep when compared to the alternatives; $500 for the excellent Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM, or a mere $250 for the outgoing Pentax smc FA 50mm F1.4 (by way of comparison, Nikon's new AF-S Nikkor 50mm F1.4G retails for about $470, and Canon's EF 85mm F1.8 USM full frame portrait lens, $380). Now it's fair to say the 55mm F1.4 is much improved over the old FA 50mm F1.4, but the Sigma is a different proposition entirely. It sports both excellent optics and ultrasonic-type focusing, placing it very much in the same league as the 55mm. However it's not weatherproofed, and noticeably short for a 50mm lens (we'd place it closer to 47mm, giving a 70mm equivalent on APS-C), making the 55mm a nicer length for portraits.

So providing a final recommendation to this review becomes very difficult. When this lens works properly, it's one of the best portrait lenses that Pentax users can currently buy. But getting it to work properly has been the source of much frustration, and we consider that, especially given the price, it really should work better out of the box. If you can afford the asking price and get the lens functioning properly, you will certainly be delighted; but for most users we can't help but feel that the Sigma, or even the older 50mm F1.4, will be a better (and safer) option."

In fact, I think this time the DPR reviewers have nailed the problems quite dead accurately and they have described the current difficult situation faced by we current Pentax users very well.

Btw, sometimes I just wonder even if the QC of those latest current Pentax products are poor, Pentax/Hoya have been very unwise whenever they sent a test sample of any gear to DPR, it seems that they had never checked the samples themselves, technically, i.e., to finally check if there were any problems with the gear that were to be tested. It also seems that those Pentax officials at the Japan HQs just let Pentax UK to deal with DPR alone but in fact those DPR tests affect the sales of Pentax products worldwide much (as their readership base in reading their reviews is still very huge). All in all, it's not only about the poor and inferior quality control at the Pentax lens factory at Vietnam, it's also about their poor PR and publicity works and they have just been too causal when sending samples for testing - How come they could not be a bit more alerted and took more awareness when they sent DPR their Pentax test samples?

Nevertheless, to make some balance of DPR's experience, findings and results. I do believe that the DA*55/1.4 should still be a good lens optically (putting aside the really problematic QC issue and the ridiculous current high price tag of it), see the tests and results below. Still, the lens at least looks fine to me (and optically it is good to excellent, on APS-C DSLR bodies):-

http://www.informatik.uni-bremen.de/foto-ag/DA55/DA55.html (on K-7 and K20D)
via http://ricehigh.blogspot.com/2009/02/da-5514-vs-fa-5014-measurebating.html

http://www.slrgear.com/reviews/showproduct.php/product/1235/cat/45 (on K10D)

And, as for the slow focusing of the SDM, this is of no doubt and actually nothing arguable - ALL the testers/reviewers are saying the same so far!

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