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.

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 🙂

Lions tigers and polar bears.

Still on a reflections kick, Its a bit like the bastard offspring of  street, landscape, and product photography. I’m really surprised at how coherent this particular image is.

The strangest part for me is that if I move the camera even a few inches then the shot  doesn’t just look a bit different, Its wildly different… totally different. Angle, aperture, lens, framing, timing, etc.

Its also really bloody difficult… Trying to nail a composition in one plane is difficult, It takes years of obsessive snapping to get it right intuitively and consistently. 

Starting to learn to see two or three or more planes come together as an image in two dimensions it pretty exciting 🙂

Might be a ‘one trick’ sorta thing, but screw it, I’m having fun 🙂

Physautotypes…

Well, I investigated the idea that I thought would allow me to print them faster – doesn’t work sadly 😛

The idea was sensitizing the solution with methylene blue dye – Only I think I may have used a bit much as it pooled quite drastically, and frankly it cut the sensitivity away to nearly nothing, so I may be on to something with the idea of spectral sensitizing, just I have it backwards or something. *shrug*

That’s my pouring bench, my uber high tech coating method is to put about 1/6th tsp of solution in a spoon and then dump it in the middle of a clean plate… Like so (after 30 sec or so of spreading out).

I was double coating those in the hope it would make a difference – it didn’t. With a clean glass plate the solution will spread itself out by capillary action or something – over a minute or two it basically covers the plate on it’s own – this makes for a slightly thicker coat at the center, but unless you’re dopey enough to add dye to it it shouldn’t matter.

Some coated plates;

So in essence, the blue dye offers no advantage, coats really badly, slows down the print time (1/2 a day out to 2 1/2 days), and to boot, it makes a bloody awful mess when (not if) it gets spilled.

I guess it eliminates a variable – Yay me!

This is the closest that i got to a print;

It’s from a negative, so is negative, and it’s on black perspex – a substrate which, excitingly enough, I have discovered does not work at all well with this process (it coats very unevenly) – though it is good for backing coated glass plates – In the following I’ve bumped the levels and suchlike a bit.

I can make stuff out cos I know what the neg was – a view from my atillier window amusingly enough – there’s a square white sign in the foreground, some stairs about 1/3rd of the way up towards the right – and at the same level on the left a rounded window on the building facing me – very bloody hard to photograph.

So for now, I’ll go back to 1 & 2% solutions of rosin in ethyl alcohol on chemically cleaned glass plates, cos I’m reasonably sure that works.

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 😛