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.

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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).

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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.

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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).

 

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

Camera making.

A bit of fitting to go, and I need to make a focus screen (Lubitel for scale).

It’s a fairly large camera 😀

[EDIT] Turns out that the kodak lens doesn’t quite meet my expectations – I’d really only thought about coverage, not that it would give me a range of magnification starting at 1:1 macro (which included the front of the focussing rail) and going up to about 5:1 (five times life size) – which is sure interesting, but not exactly ideal for the level of focussing technology I’m using.

So I’m cobbling something together out of an old pair of spectacles which will go from infinity to about 1:1 as well.

So I now  have a system 😛

Finished work, and an unfinished camera.

Well, the crit seemed to go ok, the feedback that I got was all along the lines of the stuff that I’d been thinking about when I was preparing and selecting.

Having given it a days thought, I shortened that in the critique to a verbal “I’m interested in how photography can make icons of ordinary things.”

My little wee 5×7″ print all on it’s lonesome, well, it does have a couple of vents to keep it company I guess – incidentally that’s the name of the gallery – “Vent” – not sure which one is ‘the’ vent – probably the one above my pic.

It’s quite a hard thing to view, cos it’s really as much a mirror as a print in an odd way – it’s black on black, but how you look at it determines the tones you see,

Also a wee bit of a trick to photo, I love that to represent it here I first had to decide what I wanted it to look like 😀

And, I’m reaching a point where I’m starting to see what a camera I’m building will look like – it’s a half plate camera for dryplate (the hole at the back is 7×7″ – it’s a big camera by my standards).

The front will be friction focus and will have front tilt, no other movements are planned in this iteration – I’ve been working on it for about a month on and off, I guess there’s another week or so of work to go.

And the obligatory studio shot;

Yup, mildly ordered chaos – yes, I have three power drills, handy things. – And what’s happening on the bench (typically three things at once).

The aluminium curve is my cyc, the animals on it are just there cos they are, the makings of two camera’s in the foreground, and all the little black dot things are wee screws out of a plate back.

That’s all.

More stuff.

Stuff? Well,now have a shiny new exposure unit (The Squirrel Mk.2?) – it’s made of custom wood, glue, sticky tape and paint;

Actually looks kinda fancy, it’s 10×12 format, for a bit of space with 8×10’s – it seems to cover it’s area pretty well – at least with cyanotype and gum bichromate, seems to work as well as expensive stuff, albeit somewhat more slowly.

I also now have cyanotype chemistry to play with, I’ll need to calibrate stuff, but i did a print of a branch just for kicks – this is what it looked like before washing out (after exposure);

And this is after washing (inverted);

It goes darker over a few days – this if straight out of the wash (hence the shiny water, yup 😛 )

I’ve also re-started another project, which is about images rather than techie printing stuff, photographing wee animal facsimiles (only been on that topic since 2009 😀 ). This is one from the very end of last year;

I’m using a 1/4 plate camera for this, I’ve modified it to take 3×4 graflex holders, I spent the afternoon at home attempting to get a result with camera flashes and a bedside lamp, the results were predictably enough rather shite;

That’s a (somewhat shoddy) digital inversion, so I should be able to scrape an image out of that neg with a bit of pencil work (You can draw on the backs of paper negs to get highlight detail, pencil is a good tool for this). I then sucked it up and went into school and set up some proper lights, and a proper tripod, which looked like so;

You can see the basic set up here – light tent, about 1000w of painfully frigging bright lighting, and my camera – yup, the view glass is hand made, seems to work ok *shrug*

Gratuitous shot of the focussing glass – the red is a sweater I was using to cut down reflections.;

Yes, upside down, which actually makes it easier to compose in some strange way – not sure what the reflection is of, might be my hair. The marker lines make it easier for me to line stuff up for different formats.

That’s what the camera looks like now, you can see that I’m using it at near full extension, the back was designed originally for septums, which after 100 odd years don’t really exist any more, so I removed the back and rebuilt it to take graflex 3×4 double dark slides – they’re just held in place by friction with velvet, so I’ll never have sub millimeter precision, but it does 1:1 macro happily enough below f22. The bit in the back is the removable focus screen, the inside is hardwood that I’ve sanded to the right thickness, a piece of sanded glass, and some cheap customwood for the actual back – I might get around to painting that one day. it’s not original, but it works rather well.

 

Finally, I found a cheap knockoff etch a sketch sort of toy with candy in it today (the sort with a magnetic stylus) for 39 cents, so I snaffled it up happily enough (they’re kinda fun, and candy is nice), but waiting for me inside was this dire warning;

Holy fucking hell! As a warning that’s even more frightening than the picture of some poor sap getting body slammed by a coke machine after they tried to rock n’ rob the sucker.

Unhappy face indeed.

Super 8 Developing and filing camera’s

First off, the minolta 16 film I got with my 16p seems to be stuffed, it’s hardly surprising given that it’s 50 years out of date for it to be a bit fogged – but this has been left somewhere hot and damp for a very long time – after developing the d-max was about 1/6th above fog, which is essentially unprintable.

Pity, I wanted to make friends with a new (old/antique/obsolete) film stock, I guess it’s not to be – I have some fomapan 100 cut down from 120 when I was making 127 rolls that fit’s very neatly into these cartridges, I guess that’s my next step. I really like that camera, it’s nice to use.

In other news I developed the rest of the super 8 film I had the other day (might have been yesterday, I’m not good with days) – I stuffed about 40′ of film into a patterson canister, and developed as usual, I got maybe 12″ of emulsion spots, not too bad really, I still have 3000 odd negs to make something out of.

Holding up a magnifying loupe in front of my digi cam was never going to give me a sharp shot – such is life.

Finally – this is one of the (many) reason’s I’ll never be an adult.

In that shot are; and agfa box camera, a french… uh… Pontiac rollfilm camera that’s been converted to a film slitter, about 8 rolls of tape of different types, a ricoh 500g, a canon 300 with a helios 58mm on it, about 60 coloured pencils (FC polychromos), a variety of other writing/drawing tools, a few sketchbooks and reference books, an agfa isoly plastic camera, canonette 19, ensign 1620, fujica st605 w. 24mm, mat cutter, film loader, and a crapload of unsorted papers, Oh, and there’s my antacids, cool, I hate having to pay for stuff I already know I have.

Reportedly adults have an innate ability to manage to store things correctly and don’t suffer from periodic cameralanches.

Camera post – Concord Flash 803.

This camera was one of my many Internet auction purchases, It came up the first time for $10 plus post by memory and I just couldn’t justify it, the whole reason that I was interested was because it looks like the bastard child of an instamatic and a holga. I have since seen the holga 135bc, which looks strangely like it shares some sort of ancestry with this wee beasty, though the specs are quite different.

Anyhow, it came back at $5 and I snaffled it up. When it turned up it had had a bad repair attempt done on the flash and hadn’t been put back together right, that was easy enough to fix and get the flash working, though I stuffed up something in the frame counter in the process so it sits on zero permanently – no biggie, it’s not like I actually look at it on cameras like this, it also had a couple of rusty screws, they’re still rusty – who cares?.

The specs are essentially as follows;

Body; Black plastic, with black plastic bits, a sliding flash, and white screen printing here and there. It feels fairly solid and is kinda chunky with the battery compartment at the side. Dunno the weight, fairly light I guess – Normal point n’ shoot weight? (guess who doesn’t have scales?)

Lens; 38mm plastic fixed focus.

It actually looks about 38mm too compared to my ricoh. Being a plastic lens it’s a bit soft on the contrast and isn’t corrected for anything, it doesn’t have much distortion and very little viginetting generally.

Shutter speeds; One, no bulb mode, seems to be about 1/100 or so with three apertures which I’d guess are maybe 5.6, 8, and 11 – this is a total guess from the sunny symbols.

Flash; Manually switched (switched off above, on below), probably pathetically weak, no indications given whatsoever as to distance Vs aperture. Runs off 2xAA batteries – nimh are too fat to fit in comfortably, needs to be disposable (hence the fact I haven’t experimented much with flash on this camera).

Advance/Rewind; It’s a plastic camera – thumb wheel advance and normal rewind crank.

And are we impressed by this marvel of camera technology?

Well, it’s cheesy as hell, but in a terribly serious sort of a way, I have serious reservations about the claim that the lens is ‘Coated’ – Unless it’s a plastic lens which is coated in more plastic I’d go so far as to quietly suggest that this might be an ever so slight exaggeration in terms (or even a falsehood perhaps). It looks like it might be coated in the shot above, but in truth that’s just a reflection of me in the lens.

It came with a Chinon lens cap (shown above) which may very well imply that it shares some ancestry with the holga 135bc (or conversely that it’s cross dressing), though I’m completely unsure on this point as I haven’t found any net data on this camera. The lens does take filters, which is a bit odd and slightly pointless, I’ll try it with a yellow filter when I get an adapter for my Ricoh.

The viewfinder strangely enough ‘is’ coated to reduce flare and even has bright lines – Classy! – though it’s slightly awkwardly placed a frazz to the right of center, which feels odd to a left eyed person like myself. The Flash as above and below slides out from the body to switch on. It has a swiveling ring on the flash side for a wrist strap I guess.

You can see the flash switch and the aperture symbols for 100 and 400 speed films, No focus and it seems to be telling you to only use the widest aperture for flash, no idea on the distance. The flash ready light works, as does the shutter release. The frame counter does not. In use the thumb wheel is light, comfortable, and pretty quiet, as is the shutter, though the “ping-ChucK-ping” noise is a little off putting to begin with. The rewind knob is better than many of my more expensive cameras.

To open the back you lift the rewind knob and scrabble frantically at the back – fingernails are quite handy for this task. Other than that – no light leaks, and nothing special, it has a tripod socket and rewind button on the bottom, not exciting enough to warrant a photo.

All in all I actually kinda like this camera, it’s a slight step up from the regular plastic cameras, having a selectable flash is kinda fun, though I’d prefer a hotshoe. The three apertures is a nice touch for daytime photos, and it takes an okay photo so long as you can accept the limitations of plastic lenses, at that level it’s better than most plastic cameras, it’s also somewhat solid feeling (relatively speaking).

But the real reason that I like this camera is because it tries so hard to look like a serious camera and fails utterly – from the molded black plastic ‘leathergrain’ to the “COATED LENS MADE IN JAPAN” (made in Hong Kong) it’s just trying so hard to look like something a serious photographer might pick up to take ‘good photos’ that I can’t help but giggle just a little bit (and pick it up and attempt to take ‘good photos’ with it).

Photos to follow;