Pentax KP–Sorta review–Part 2 After a… Uh… While

So I’ve had my Kp for a few months now – which to my brain is basically enough time for stars to form and die, civilizations to rise and fall, and monkeys to happily evolve into semi sentient sea-slugs. Anything over a month is lots to me. I still like the Pentax KP lots is the upshot.

17GP2606
Take that shake reduction! I think at the time I was doing night landscapes and got bored.

I was planning a shootout between the K50 and the KP – but frankly I wound up selling the K50 after a few weeks – I literally just stopped using it, the Kp is a totally different class of camera. Between that and my Olympus EM5 I pretty well have my photography needs stitched up (maybe a medium format film camera… maybe a couple). Suffice it to say that the Kp is so far advanced from the K50 that it’s not funny (the K50 isn’t a bad camera, it’s actually quite a good camera, it’s like the canon 760d or the nikon d3200 – though both of those autofocus faster and quieter)

I haven’t spent much time using the K70, though the image quality seemed similar to the Kp – if image quality is all you care about then the K70 is a great buy, I use a camera all the time, so the extra ergonomics of the Kp are worth the money for me (especially as the K70 is $1200 and the Kp is $1800 here in NZ – the K70 would be about NZ$900 if the american pricing was carried across evenly).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Pretty serious looking camera – I had a guy who was serving me in a shop say – “Ooh, nice. I have no idea what that is, but it looks really expensive” I suppose that’s something of an endorsement – it is a cool looking piece of kit.

The Kp is small enough to carry on a daily basis, but frankly it’s winter here, so I’m wearing a jacket – thus I tend to have my EM5 on me most of the time (jacket pocketable with the 20mm 1.7). I have shot a number of times documenting gallery shows and suchlike with the KP and the imaging potential there is exceptional.

I’ve documented a couple of exhibitions where other people simply gave up and let me have at it – they were using high end Sony and Canon cameras which were a generation or two old. So basically yes, it’s ideal for documentary photography. and surprisingly easy to manual focus in the dark. I wouldn’t buy it for sports photography.

17GP2754
It was very very bloody dark, there were four bulbs in a 15×30 meter black painted space, that’s a projection on the wall – and I had to darken down the image about a stop in post and it’s still a bit bright to my tastes.

The ISO can be left to run to iso3200 or so in auto mode without any gratuitous grain – in a space which is evenly lit (ie no bright patches or super dark patches) you can push it to absolutely bloody stupid levels – I have shot at 64,000 iso with grainy but useable results. I used to routinely push b&w  film two or more stops so I quite like grain, the grain from the kp is quite natural although when you go over about 50,000ISO there is some faint green & magenta mottling when viewed at 100%. (this whole paragraph would have been bloody ludicrous five years ago).

 

17GP2185
32,000 ISO – it’s grainy, but usable in this context – copy the address of the image and cut off anything after *.JPG to see it full size.

This low light performance is enhanced by a genuinely usable shake reduction system – I’m not sure what happens under the hood, whether the camera somehow bakes the file, but I’ve had basically grain free, sharp shots at 0.4sec, 1600iso and f2.8, it will also auto focus reliably and fairly quickly when it’s at least two stops darker than that(well, it’s not glacially slow anyhow – nothing else on the market is any faster in those light levels) . The shake reduction is far better then the k50, or frankly any other camera I’ve had hands on with.

Ergonomically I think it’s the mutt’s nuts, or some more appropriate animal’s body part colloquially used to denote good stuff. I tend to leave it set up with the raw button on the left side of the mount as a trigger for depth of field, and with it set to A mode I tend to have it set to rear dial = aperture, front dial = ISO & custom dial C1 set so that the second rear dial is EV compensation – it’s the closest thing to full manual override and this works well for me in that I don’t have to use the rear screen or take my eye away from the viewfinder when I am working (unless I’m using my sigma 10-20, just cos I tend to walk into stuff using that lens).

17GP2578
Some leaf action.

One thing which I think has made the ergonomics even better for me is the medium size accessory grip (that’s my preference of the three), alongside a mod which looks bloody daft, but balances the rig nicely – that’s the poorly adjusted L plate which I have sticking out the left side of the camera by 40mm (1.5”) or so. As I said, it looks daft, but it’s great for carrying the camera and seems to help with the balance for larger lenses. Protects cables too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Nice ergonomics.

I have only used the flash for fill once, when photographing an artwork which was heavily spot lit in a dark room – it worked perfectly for that, and that is basically what it’s for – fill flash (or triggering strobes at a push). I frankly have no idea what the GN is, or the recycle time, or the spread for that matter. I very rarely use on camera flash, I’d rather use either natural light or else pocket wizards and a real strobe (or three).

It is really handy to have a fill flash on your camera but it won’t light up a room. I leave it dialed down ev –1.7 It never seems to blow out at that setting. I won’t show those photos as I don’t tend to show photos of other peoples artwork – it’s a bit weird to do that, and its not polite.

17GP3081
I’m super pleased by photos of reflections right now – It’s great being this easily amused – 10 years of daily photography and I still learn something daily.

I don’t really see this as a camera that people would buy for landscape photography, though it works fine for this – nor would I buy one for sports or action photography – What I see this camera as is as either a ‘work’ camera or as a backup camera for someone who uses a K1 professionally. It is perfectly adequate for many things, and exceptional for several, but frankly its not a camera which I would see a wedding, landscape, product, etc photographer using as a main camera. Sure, it will work fine for these things, but there are better choices.

Using it as a backup camera for a K1 is logical, it uses most of the same gear, and will step in in a pinch (although it strikes me as more logical to just get another K1 and be done with it). As a work camera is where I see the real utility of the KP.

In my daily job I work as a photo technician in an art school (and no, I am not linking them), so I do a lot of installation setups, tech consulting, documentation including information layouts, some technical teaching, and one hell of a lot of admin work. It’s not exciting stuff really, though I generally enjoy it.

wires
A project I’m working on right now – that’s about 90% of the electronics involved. A post about this project is coming soon.

In this role the KP has become my go-to camera for stills. Most of the photos I take at work aren’t high end art shots, but rather they are documenting the condition of gear, they are documenting gallery shows for the schools Facebook page, I photograph a fair few paintings, some jewelry, setting up lights for people, and so forth – it’s basically the spec work you do when you are an art technician.

In this role I used to jump between my cellphone, Canon 60D’s, 760d’s, 5Diii’s, Pentax k50, Nikon d90’s, d7000’s, and Panasonic GH4’s (depending what was available and what I was doing). I still use my cellphone, especially for time-lapses, and very occasionally the GH4 for video. But for any stills I pretty much default to the KP as I know straight out that I can get the shot with no issues and quickly. I also know that I can get close as damn to the image quality of the 5Diii as is doesn’t matter.

IMGP0271
Very early morning with the white balance set blue, those smoke stacks are steam vents.

Keep in mind that I don’t do 40×60” prints and billboards for my day to day, most of what I do is documentation for digital and magazine size output – the KP will do a nice 40×60” if given a decent lens and decent lighting, it’s usually pretty hard to see much of a difference from full frame cameras at this scale – especially if you used to use 10mp cameras for the same stuff and are up to snuff with Photoshop prepress routines. Any camera which can do a 40×60” can do a billboard. For small images I have gotten away with using battery powered continuous lights and shooting at ISO3200 (the client couldn’t see any problems even when I mentioned it).

As far as video goes, it works just fine for static setups with a fairly static scene and no real camera movements, it has a audio input, and can be used with a laptop on wifi for a monitor, and also for sound mixing. So it’s fine for this sort of static studio shot (ie on tripod), but for anything with movements I basically think that m43 cameras typically do a better job – especially if they can film at 120p, which the KP cannot. I’ll probably use it for time-lapse at some point – I’m certain it’ll be great for time-lapse, though I’d probably use an external intervalometer and premiere pro rather than the internal video options.

17GP2555
I mentioned earlier that I’m currently excited by reflections.

So yeah, as a travel camera with the ability to do some simple vlogging, yes, it’s fine, but as a dedicated video camera it won’t replace a m43 camera, or frankly even a cellphone. It’s a handy thing the camera can do rather than a reason to buy the camera – What it will do in terms of video which is a bit unusual is it will work quite nicely in extremely low light with it’s high iso performance, and that can be a segue into a thing which has been niggling at me since I brought it.

I’ve been reading reviews that say it looks like anything from a mirrorless camera through to it looks like a Pentax ME. It doesn’t look like these things at all, though it does look more like an Olympus Em5 than any other Pentax camera, Frankly it sorta looks like a Cosina CT1g also, but stylistically it looks to me like it was inspired by something else.

When I first brought the Kp I had a student look at it and excitedly say “Man, that looks like a handgun!”. He had a point – It really does look like is was inspired by a high end tactical firearm of some persuasion. I’m not really gun savvy enough to provide an example of what it might have been inspired by, but I can’t unsee it now, so I figured I’d share.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My gun style shot – I’m not really a gun person, they look kinda cool, but I just don’t have much of a need to put holes in stuff. You can see my badly adjusted L-Plate mod here – makes a nice handle.

In a way the logical (to me) case-use for this camera seems a little similar to a handgun – Basically nobody ever (almost nobody I hope) has needed a handgun as a daily tool, that is, as a tool that they will use day in and out in the way that a carpenter uses a hammer, or a product photographer uses their camera. Rather it is a tool which you always have with you, which may have infrequent use, and may not be the absolutely perfect tool when or if it is needed, but it’d better freakin work if it’s needed, and you need to practice with it more than casually.

17GP2167
It’s nice to have a weather proof camera, the weather was sleeting when this was taken.

I don’t see the Pentax KP as a tool which I will use to take thousands of frames each day, day in and out. I would buy a different, and probably much heavier camera for that case usage – This isn’t to say that the KP can’t do it – I’ve taken over 1000 frames in a day a couple of times, and I routinely take 100-200 frames per day even when I’m not actually photographing for a project – That’s not working,  it’s just cos I enjoy taking photographs.

17GP2305
I’ve included this as an example of pulling back on a super contrasty shot – it was originally black shadows and a near white sky – I fiddled it in post. Lot’s of space to move stuff about in the raw file – I use DNG files rather than PEF.

I see the KP as a tool which I will generally have with me, and which will, in a pinch be able to produce the goods without any drama, hassle or screwing about. Despite the fact I work with camera’s I don’t generally go out of my way to call myself a photographer, and while I do take a lot of photographs it’s not the core of what I do (I tell people I plug stuff in). The Pentax Kp is good for this sort of work, It’s light, tough and flexible tool compared to any other options I have available.

It’s not a cheap tool, with an array of decent lenses it runs to $3000+ in the local currency, but that’s less than a canon 5Diii body only, and gives very nearly the same image quality in a smaller lighter form factor. It’s not the absolute best image quality out there, nor the fastest and most reliable autofocus, it’s not the smallest or lightest camera, it doesn’t have the best battery life* But it does fine, to very bloody well in these things, and all told I’m very happy using it, especially as I have a full set of lenses.

17GP2623
Another very bloody early morning in paradise – Dunedin Harbor.

The down sides – Video, it’s just not so hot – if Pentax allowed the sensor stabilization to be used in video and for a higher data bit rate then it would be more useful. Also continuous AF is only average to be honest, it’s not awful, but I tend to leave the camera in central point and to manual focus when things get tough. The metal body can be a bit of a pain in cold weather, which isn’t a Pentax problem so much as a me problem.

* The rated battery life of 400 odd frames is pretty conservative, I have managed to get over 700 out of it including some video and flash without running it down. I think that the battery depletes according to how long it is switched on as much as how many frames it takes – I always have the rear screen off during stills shooting and I don’t chimp much, I also switch the camera off if I’m not using it. Having said that – you do need to buy spare batteries if you are considering heavy shooting or multi day excursions. I have several spares for every camera I own, so I don’t see this as a big problem apart from the eventuality of having to change batteries in bad weather. I’ve had to get out of the habit of leaving the camera switched on ready for shots.
17GP2008
Just ‘cos I think it’s funny.

Mods

  1. The badly adjusted L plate – Gives it a handle, and protects cables – massively improves the balance.
  2. You can download a piece of software called Pentax KS2 remote from Source forge – it’s a bit twitchy, but it will let you tether the camera through wifi – that’s besides the cell phone app – I used them to trigger, not to transfer data.
  3. The grip size does make a difference, I’m looking forward to third parties making more-better ones.
  4. The old style 2.5mm cable release can be used with a simple audio adapter – I have a metal body 3.5mm four pole male to 2.5mm female – I’m using a 2.5mm canon style intervalometer with that, works fine.
Advertisements

Planes

How close you are to the glass makes a difference, its not just angle, your distance from the glass is what balances the exposures. 

Its multiple exposure photography, just you have to work it all out on the spot by moving your body 🙂

still alive, still making stuff.

I’ve begun working as a technician for an art school here in New Zealand – I’m a photo technician, though ironically what I do in that role is basically all digital, video, database, and even computer programming. Pretty funny given that my specialty dates back to about the time that people were astonished by electricity.

This is from a quickie show that I was a part of;

The big print in strips is a shot I took with a rebuilt digital camera a few years (2008) back, and printed out with a receipt docket printer – suffice to say that the printer makers never planned for this – all told it’s about 150+ meters of printing.

The small prints are half plate physautotypes from the same series of images.

I can finally say that I have something of a handle on the physautotype process, it’s only taken five years for me to basically understand what’s at play there. I am not sure that I’ll ever reach the point of completely controlling it, let alone mastering it. That said, I’m starting to work on larger prints. There is no other process which looks like it – it has a translucent irridescence which I suppose looks like the bastard child of a dageurrotype and an ambrotype.

In other news, I now have a studio set up, and am looking forward to summer when I’ll be getting a lot more of my own work done.

Bookages

A book I made as a test;

The cover looks a wee bit greener in real life.

Some of my photographic subjects (vandyke pics) piled to the side
Some cyanotypes – which are a headache to mount

Another. – Yup, the blue ones are taxidermied.

Vandykes of wee plastic animals.

Tempera print of a fishing lure.

And a gum print of a model tiger.

I made that as a test to see how people reacted to a particular set of ideas – and discovered that I’m on the right track, but with a few caveats – for one, people devalue regular binding, even hand made – probably because they can pick up something that looks (superficially – but who can see past that these days?) similar for a few dollars from a discount store.

Also how much hand can be visible, and what the aesthetics should look like – As a result I’ll go more towards something like this;

The spine looks like;

This was also a test, just using some ply I pulled out of a skip bin (dumpster) and some heavy glossy card stock I hadn’t found a use for yet – bound with linen thread.

The covers are ok, need a bit of sanding and some sort of treatment Shellac or wax/oil – the thread needs to be much thicker – perhaps embroidery thread, and I’ll probably move to using Hahnemuhle bamboo for the paper stock as it’s cheap, decent quality, and is conceptually in line with the recycled covers – final piece prolly won’t have ply covers, but we shall see..

I might be making some sketch books like this – prolly with laser etched covers. I feel a squirrel rampant coming on.

Progress

Some things I’ve tried – first up an orotone – which is a fancy term for painting the back of a positive gold (you’re supposed to use a ‘particular’ paint, but whatev’s, I just used oil paint)

A black print (yup, I made that name up) – sorta like an ambrotype, but not like an ambrotype at all (silver gelatine liquid emulsion based) – I’m handing in one of these this week – it’s washing as I type.

And Physautotypes – I’ve had three crack at it so far, the first was a total failure;

Yup, a blank piece of glass (reflecting my camera strap and my black top).

The second I got a line;

Which at least proved that it’s light sensitive.

The third I got a rhinoceroses bottom;

I messed up the development a bit, but it’s proof of concept – violin rosin and meths with mineral turps as a developer – a la Niepce. I’ve figured out a couple of things to improve the print – but learning to coat the stuff onto glass is top of the list – not easy compared to gelatin, or even collodion.

I have a masters crit Thursday, so after that I’m looking forward to doing some more of them, fun!

Anticipated artsy thingees.

I guess this is where I do the ghost of Christmas future, having done present and past. Though to be honest I watched the Dr Who version of that story recently and am currently thinking of the flying shark, so, be warned, I may not be channelling Dickens in an academically appropriate manner.

In my art practice, what are my ongoing concerns;

Firstly the very idea of representation, and re-presentation are important – the former is a means of denoting something that stands for a meme or an idea it is conceptual – much in the manner that a (ostensibly female) model could stand for femininity (or a range of feminine ideals), the god awful “The two ways of life” (which admittedly someone had to do so I shouldn’t be too derisive of poor Oscar, dear chap) stands as an allegory for the choices that upright Christians must necessarily make between the left and right paths and suchlike – it is allegory, and metaphor, and as somebody who loves writing (note I didn’t say ‘good writing’) this interests me deeply.

Re-presentation on the other hand – and this is a purely personal distinction in terms – is when something is taken from it’s natural state (indeed, it’s original presentation) and re~presented by an outside agency as an original artefact, realistic and whole – think of how different contentious (or merely targeted) demographics have been promoted by their detractors – this also intrigues me, though I feel that somehow it is necessary to differentiate these terms, they are problematic in that each shades to the other, but identifying the extremes is nevertheless a worthwhile use of intellectual energy, even if it does lead to tone arguments and arbitrary distinctions.

The Photographic – the writing with light, or even Skiagraphic – writing with shadow (I have no idea how to format that sentence formally), is a fascination of mine also – this entails a whole spectra of options, from human vision to human failure of vision – to set arbitrary boundaries which are pseudobinaristic, but more properly merely a spectrum – I am fascinated by Light, Vision, Articulation, and the boundaries of my own senses. The Claude glass, and the infra spectral.

Sensory phenomena – not merely visual – I have hearing loss in a major way, though compensated otherwise, and work daily with a range of perception issues – some give me a sensory deficit, and some give me extra ordinary senses (as in more than usual, but they’re ordinary to me – colours glow complimentary in darkness (dimness?) for instance and I can track chocolate like a champion). Much of the video/audio work that I have done is along these lines. I still have no idea how to present smell adequately as a painting medium, despite having attempted and failed at this since circa 2000 – (the chocolate secret is all mine (my prechusss).

Yes, I am fascinated with the semantic, and the semiotic. these distinctions, when used thoughtfully can lead to a crystalline elegance in description – I appreciate the difficulty of stepping into this wavelength, but the elegance of distinction is more than worth it when I get it right – I know that a few people can follow what I say, even if many cannot, or perhaps simply cannot be bothered.

And media (see what I did there,? no?), I am simply in thrall of media, I love… not the stuff – as someone recently stated, but, what can be done with the stuff (‘stuffness’ is not a real word btw). Camera’s are neat, but so are paint brushes, and they’re a damn sight easier to learn how to make. I have a lot of media which I will draw from. I like physicality, both in art media, but also in myself and the world at large – from the martial arts I have done, I would say that the most important thing I’ve learned is where my body ends and the world begins – the extent of my influence as it were. My body, my art, what i make, and what i leave behind – these are important in terms of the trace i leave. Media is broad.

Though I am not entirely sure that identity politics (arguing them at least) is important, I am interested in how identity sits within the world. Personal, national, sexual, whichever. As a means of distinction this ties straight back into representation – and there we have a loop, already, after a mere seven hundred fifty odd words.

And I hope you know that my answer would be different tomorrow, cos my interests aren’t narrow at all – even if I am capable of focussing them rather sharply as need be.

The mechanism and the meme.

I’m currently being asked to define somewhat precisely just what it is that I’m wanting to study and why, and the short answer involves a lot of Ummm’s and ah’s…

So instead I’m going to break it down, starting with why I’m utilizing the medium of photography – and going for the long answer, even though this is messier and perhaps less elegant than the words I’d spin to hide my un-sureity about the conceptual terrain I am moving to occupy.

The mechanism and the meme.

(or why I do photography)

There seems to be an assumption, especially from photographers (though not exclusively) that people use photography as a medium because, one, they inherently are photographers, and two, because they wish to work with light – these a maybe partially true in my case (particularly the latter), but they are also somewhat misleading.

My earliest art practice, when I was a child was the written word, story telling, and poetry especially, to shape words in order to describe moments and events, this tendency to describe is still a very central pre-ocupation for me. Being reasonably articulate in forming the written word allows me to use the medium in a manner very much akin to how an artist uses charcoal to sketch in the details of a composition and to concretize a thought or situation in a manner which they can de/reconstruct, and which other people can access.

This can be a loose little snippet which implies a greater whole;

“As I crept along the musty hallway the cat food like smell gradually resolved into a far stronger cat food like smell…”

Or it can be a more insular and encapsulated (polished?) description;

“The man sits alone on the footpath,

disheveled, hunched, mumbling to himself.

People make him invisible as they pass swiftly by,

a child’s hand is firmly grasped…

I don’t look to see where the other cops are”

 

This tendency to draw, or to sketch thoughts using words has seen me expand the visual art media which I can use in a similar manner, pencils, charcoal, paint, and other similar media which have a similar fluidity when used in a looser, more reflective manner. By this I am not meaning an unfinished quality, but rather I am implying materials which can illustrate ephemeral concepts and momentary situations – at times the path to these places can be involved, time consuming, and deeply procedural, but they can inscribe the fleeting, the momentary, the insubstantial in all of it’s gossamer finery – obviously this can be done in nearly any media, but I am describing a personal sensibility which is served in my case by particular media far more than others.

I have also, over time, picked up a lot of process skills which can be brought to bear on a concept working with materials such as metal, fabric, print, and even supposedly non-art materials such as programatic coding. It wasn’t till I was 30 that I paid any particular attention to photographic media, though like everybody for a few generations I suppose, I had used camera’s for different purposes according to my needs or desires, albeit not in a manner that was deeply considered. I didn’t intend to pick up photography, or darkroom practice at all – instead I was kicked out of the print workshop at a former school when a new tutor decided to reconfigure the facilities and decided to occupy some time by having a nosey. Fate being what it is I quickly discovered that photography, as a medium, is one which is deeply capable of facilitating the sensibilities which I had developed already, though this necessitated a several year long investigation into process.

In photography, I have found a medium which to my mind produces a reflection – the camera itself is merely a lens which can focus and fix that reflection, I do not feel the popular analogy of a magic mirror to be relevant to me in the slightest, I don’t feel that there is anything magical about camera’s, or even process at all, though these can certainly shade to arcane in places – even when serendipity creeps into the equation (as it so frequently does), it is typically repeatable and a reflection of my working practice rather than an intervention by the ‘photo gods’.

The reflection that the medium can produce is really what draws me to the medium, this reflection as a sketching medium is about the closest thing to story telling that I have discovered in the visual arts, both in it’s speed of application, and indeed in how incredibly nuanced the reflected image can be. That which is reflected can be controlled, not just visually, but also in terms of what is implied, which is really the most important thing to me about photography as a medium. In the case of the urban landscape/vernacular photography that I have spent considerable time on, the control is a matter of peripatetic gathering, of movement, time, and selections which I largely make instinctively – in short, being there at the right time, and making choices both at the time, but also later in editing, printing and presentation (these are at least as important to me as the act of photographing).

Right now though, I’m more concerned with constructing and manipulating narratives, and in analyzing just how it is that a particular image/photograph/text can be taken to stand for a particular theme or meme, which doesn’t preclude working in the above manner in the slightest, but it does open up a lot of possibilities in terms of a more purely studio type method of constructing this reflection.

This in essence is why I choose to work with photographic possibilities as much as I do in my practice, it is because the medium allows me to sketch concepts and thoughts in a manner which is sympathetic to my intentions, and which I intuitively link to the manner and the methods in which I have previously worked. The narrative aspect and the questioning of assigned/valued meaning is the meme which I am working with – the medium is simply a mechanism.