Sunday, January 11, 2009

Technology Update at L4T.com

Recently, I've had a growing dissatisfaction with the quality of some of my photos. While I think the Canon S2IS is a tremendous camera, and it has served very well through some 7000 clicks of the shutter, within me has been germinating the seed of a hankering for a DSLR. You just need to accept that tech upgrades are a part of life when you are frolicking in this digital playground known as the internet.

After negotiations with Mrs. L4T, it came to pass that I had the green light to acquire such a device (within reason, of course). The parameters were that it had to be something I would be happy with and not want to replace in a few months, and the cost had to be "reasonable". I had done some prior research, and all the DSLR's seemed to promise a great increase in image quality. There were a couple of features I was interested in. First, image stabilization of some type would be nice to have, and second, the last three cameras I owned had all used AA batteries and I was sold on the cost effectiveness, convenience, and most of all, ability to refuel on the fly at almost any C-store that this power source offered. I wouldn't have to worry about a dead battery spoiling an afternoon of shooting.

While all the manufacturers offer image stabilization in one form or another, the only DSLR's that I found that used AA cells were some of the Pentax line. I had nothing against the other brands (I was very happy with the Canon camera I have been using for the last 2 1/2 years) but was willing to look at all brands when purchasing a DSLR. It was relatively easy to handle various offerings from Canon, Nikon, and Sony, given that Best Buy carries all of these brands, but the Pentax and Olympus offerings were impossible to find in my area. I relied heavily on internet reviews of these cameras when making a decision.

After much reading and turning things over in my head, during which I learned that forums for the various camera models pretty much say only good things about the cameras that the people posting own, I settled on Pentax, due to the AA battery issue, the fact that the camera had in-body image stabilization (Pentax calls this Shake Reduction), and the ability to use pretty much any lens Pentax had ever made. I thought this would give me the opportunity to buy some used lenses down the road and expand my abilities. I know that it's a "no-no" to buy a camera without handling it first, but I was willing to take the risk. I bought my S2 sight unseen and it was a great experience. And, there was just a certain attraction to the Pentax that sold me. I can't explain it.

I started looking for prices on the net and found that an ebay seller going by "prodigital2000" out of Canada was offering various Pentax models for auction, with prices settling around $400 for some K20D, K200D, and K-2000 models. The K200D and K-2000 included a kit lens in most auctions. I initially intended to go after the newly released K-2000 but after some more research I found the K200D was a more robust body, with weather sealing and more AF options, so I decided this was a better fit for me.


Was I ever excited when I won the third or fourth auction I bid on with an offer of $367 plus $45 shipping and insurance. Of course this is the time when you always start to doubt what you have done, and wonder if the product can really be that great.

The wait was on, with me picking through the Pentax message boards and reading all the horror stories of people who had bad experiences with this dealer (which were a small fraction of the total stories), talk about how Pentax was a dead-end decision and the world was about to be taken over by the "Canikon" hordes, and discussions of general DSLR challenges such as sensor cleaning and lens shortcomings. By the time I was done reading this stuff I was regretting my decision.

Well, soon my camera arrived, new in the box, in perfect shape. In no time I had it up and running, taking pictures around the house that failed to impress me. Finally, I decided that a few minutes invested in reading the manual might be a good idea, and sure enough it was.

A couple of days later a Pentax DA 50-200 mm f4-5.6 showed up from Amazon, and I was ready to go. However, a combination of work and clouds conspired to prevent me from giving the camera a good workout right away. The story of the first "real" train photo will have to wait for the next post.

All in all, at this time I am very happy with the camera. I got into a DSLR at 10.2 mp, with pretty good image quality to ASA 800, and focal lengths from about 30 mm to 300 mm (35 mm SLR equivalent), all with image stabilization, for under $600. The photos look very good to me, and I am learning to use the camera controls. It is different enough from the S2 that learning the camera will take some time. But it's time that will be well spent, and I look forward to it. I'm shooting in RAW+high quality JPEG and right now am processing the JPEG's until I get a handle of the RAW software. I have noticed you can crop the 10.2 mp images a lot more aggresively than my old S2 photos, and still have a much better image when you are done.

I've got a couple of outings under my belt so far, and a handful of photos I will be sharing over the next couple of posts, but here is a sneak preview.

Until next time,

Jim, out.

1 comment:

John said...

Congrats on the new camera purchase Jim! Looks like you have a feel for the camera already with the shot featured in this blog entry! Keep up the good work!