Friday, October 31, 2008

Setting Up a Prime Lens Kit with Pentax

by Miserere

Ever noticed how many things in life come in threes? The 3 Stooges, the 3 Musketeers, the 3 Tenors, the 3 Wise Men...and your friends will always give you 3 cheers. So too do primes come in threes.

Last week I wrote about my love of primes, and hopefully I got some of you to put away your zoom lens for an afternoon and go shooting with a prime instead. Did you have fun? Did you enjoy shooting at lower ISOs? Did you show off to your friends because their primes weren't image-stabilised while yours were thanks to Pentax's in-body IS? I hope you replied "yes" to all of the above.

Let's make it clear that I am not advocating that you throw away your zooms, only that you broaden your horizons...and your tools. There is a time for zooms, and a time for primes. When you've spent enough hours shooting both you will know exactly when you need, or want, either of them.

But how do you go about setting up a 3 prime lens kit? With zooms, you just choose a wide angle zoom (18-55mm, 16-45mm, 16-50mm...) and a telephoto zoom (50-200mm, 55-300mm, 50-135mm...), with the depth of your pocket being the determining factor as to which ones you pick. How could that be easier!? Primes are another story, because there are many focal lengths and apertures to choose from.

Superman says 28mm is normal.

Back in the day it wasn't so difficult. Most photographers had a wide, a normal and a telephoto lens. Wides were usually 24mm or 28mm; normals were somewhere between 35mm and 55mm (depending on what "normal" meant to each photographer) and telephotos were between 100mm and 135mm. The rule of thumb was to pick focal lengths that were about 1 stop apart in length, such that each lens had half the field of view of the preceding one (which is double the focal length). Possible combinations following this rule could be 28mm, 55mm and 105mm; or 24mm, 50mm and 100mm. Then, as now, which particular flavour you chose of each lens depended on your pocket. If you could afford it, you would have picked a 28mm f/2 and a 50mm f/1.4. More thrifty photographers would have gone for the more affordable 24/28mm f/2.8 and a 50mm f/2.

In 2001 Pentax made the choice of a prime trio easy for those who could afford it by issuing the 31mm f/1.8 Ltd., last of the three FA series Limited primes. Those who wanted the very best in construction and image quality could buy a 31mm f/1.8, a 43mm f/1.9 and a 77mm f/1.8. While these numbers might seem like they were pulled out of a bingo ball after too much sake was drunk at a Pentax New Year's party, they actually do make sense. 43mm is the length of the diagonal of 35mm film, which makes this limited the epitome of "normal" lenses. 31mm offers a FoV that is about 1-1/3 times wider than 43mm, while 77mm is a little over 1-2/3 narrower than 43mm.

50mm is the king of primes.

The problem is that all these focal lengths I'm quoting are for 35mm film. What about those shooting digital Pentax? Fret not, there is still hope. Pentax thought of us APS-C guys and introduced a line of DA Limiteds: 15mm, 21mm, 40mm and 70mm; and all but the 15mm are pancake lenses! While the 40mm and 70mm lenses are longer than their FA Ltd brothers (61mm and 107mm 35mm equivalents), the 21mm is a 32mm-equiv. However, the DA Ltds. are actually closer to the classic 28/55/105mm trio (in FoV, when mounted on APS-C) than their FA counterparts and are more versatile for it. The upcoming 15mm f/4 Ltd will provide a 23mm-equiv. FoV in a small package, for those that want something wider than the 21mm f/3.2 Ltd.

OK, but how about those who are on a budget? Again, Pentax is here to help you, because you can use Pentax's backwards compatibility to your advantage. There are literally tens of thousands of K, M, and A prime lenses out there in the used market looking for a new home, and unlike with other brands, they will work on your Pentax DSLR (although some functionality might be lost, you will never lose the ability to meter, even if it means pressing an extra button). Claim a 28mm f/2.8 for well under $100 and use it as your normal lens. Get a 50mm or 55mm as your short tele lens, ideal for portraits on APS-C. If you don't want to jump for a new FA 50mm f/1.4, get an M series version. If you want the versatility of being able to use Av or Tv, why not try the crowd favourite SMC-A 50mm f/1.7? (Just be sure to enquire as to the health of the aperture ring, because they tend to break easily for this particular lens.) If you want wider angles than 28mm or 24mm, Pentax can offer you the K or M series 20mm f/4. And don't be shy, there are also plenty of 3rd party options available. And remember, while these older Pentax primes might be old, they are made of metal and glass, have long focus throws, and are a joy to use. Once you get one, you might find yourself sitting in front of the television turning the focus ring this way and that, just because it feels good.

135 is not just an abstract number.

And what's my prime trio of choice? 24/28mm, 50mm, 135mm. Yup, I might be shooting APS-C, but I still like the old classics. I guess I'm not really a wide guy when it comes to photography. I can't sing much either.

To finish off, I want to remind you all that Pentax has always been known for its marvellous primes. You will find many photographers who will tell you the only reason they chose the Pentax system was because of their prime line-up. Even today, Pentax are continuing to release primes while other brands are busy churning out only zooms.

So be true to tradition and start doing your math: figure out which is your normal focal length, then divide and multiply by 2. Now get on the internet or visit your local pawn shop and get yourself a nice trio. They may not sing like The 3 Tenors, but they might make you sing when you see what you can do with them.

When you're done with your photography session, don't forget to give yourself 3 cheers.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Photography Network TV channel, coming up in time for PMA 2009

Hi Pentaxian friends,

There is a new TV channel "Photography Network" that will go live sometime in 2009, apparently just in time for PMA 2009. You can sign up for updates and be amongst the first viewers to preview new shows and participate in their private beta launch. This promises to be a great source of inspiration for all photographers, all over the world, using all brand of cameras. I understand that they will also cover videography.

I have subscribed to it and as soon as I hear about any new developments, especially associated with Pentax, I will post them here.

Thank you for reading,

Yvon Bourque

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Editorial: Where will Pentax go from here?

editorial (ĕd'ĭ-tôr'ē-əl, -tōr'-) ';}// -->n.
1. An article in a publication expressing the opinion of its editors or publishers.
2. A commentary on television or radio expressing the opinion of the station or network.

To begin with, understand that Pentax's future as depicted herein is strictly an opinion or dream of mine and this editorial is not intended to be another rumor about what’s next for Pentax.

In the old days, (1950 -1970) Pentax had a much greater share of the camera market than they have today. They were the first in many of the cameras development worldwide. Here is a brief history:

Ever since Pentax introduced their first 35mm SLR in 1952, the Asahiflex I, backward compatibility has been a strong reason for owning a Pentax camera. This is still true today. Here is a partial list of Pentax innovations:

In 1952, the Asahiflex I was the first Japanese camera introduced to the world. Unlike its competitors, the camera was not a replica of German technology.

In 1954, the Asahiflex II was the world’s first instant return mirror system.

In 1957, The Asahi Pentax model used a pentaprism in the viewfinder of a Pentax single lens reflex (SLR) camera, introducing the concept of eye-level viewing. It was the first camera to be marketed under the name Pentax.

In 1964, Pentax introduced its Spotmatic camera featuring the first through-the-lens (TTL) metering system in a Pentax camera.

In 1971, the Pentax ES SLR camera, the world's first SLR camera with a TTL aperture-priority AE control, was introduced. Pentax also introduced the Super-Multi Coating (SMC) system for the Asahi Optical Takumar lens series. Other manufacturers followed suit.

In 1981, Pentax introduced the first through-the-lens autofocus camera, the Pentax ME-F.

In 1984, Pentax produced the world’s first multi-mode medium format camera, the Pentax 645.

In 1987, Pentax introduced the SF-1, an autofocus camera with the world’s first AF SLR with a built-in auto flash.

In 2006, Pentax announced the Pentax K10D, making history again with this revolutionary camera. It is followed by the K20D in 2008.

All the above confirm that at one time, the Pentax name was well known worldwide. Pentax cameras were selling more than Nikon or Canon. Everyone knew about Pentax and so many had Pentax 35mm cameras. Back then, the "Pros" were using Nikons F series, Leicas, etc. Even back then, Pentax cameras were aimed at the amateurs photographers, especially the 35mm market.

Pentax did cater to the Professional photographers by introducing the Pentax 645 and the Pentax 67.

These medium format cameras were very popular, and they still are well respected by "Pros" still shooting film. To me, it looks like Pentax might use a similar approach with the Digital cameras.

Did you know that only about 5% of the cameras sold are the "Pro-models" costing thousands of dollars? Yes, the "Pros" do need durable cameras that can withstand abuses. Although the big thing now is the Full-Frame DSLRs, my guess is that the Full-Frame sensors will be replaced in the not-so-distant-future with the Medium Format equivalent, such as the Hasselblads, the Mamiyas, the Sinars, etc,. That's what the "Pros" will start using. The price of these Medium Format equivalent DSLRs will likely come down.

Pentax has already designed a Medium Format DSLR but it was put on hold. Why? My guess is that the demand for non-Professional cameras is Hughes and the price for large sensors is still too high. Computers still have problems with very large digital files, but computers and software will improve exponentially in the years to come. What makes sense to me is a scenario where Pentax would continue making DSLRs with the current APS-C sized sensors, which are getting cheaper and better all the time (Look at the K20D CMOS 14.6 sensor), until the price of large sensors suitable for Medium Format equivalent are affordable.

Then, they could use the "already designed Pentax Digital 645 SLR" with a new large C-MOS sensor and introduce it as a new Professional platform. Right now the money is in DSLRs (APS-C and FF). It is forseable that through 2009 , more people will upgrade from point & shoot cameras than ever before. Soon, almost every home will have a DSLR, just like nearly every home had a 35mm SLR prior to the digital revolution. Amateurs would have the current platform and "Pros" would have a new platform with incredible image quality.

On the other hand, who knows what technology will bring in the next five years? Digicams capable of producing high resolution videos as well as 24+MP still images? Holographic cameras? Heck...maybe cell phones with all of the above capabilities. I guess it's all about timing and luck. The 80/20 rule may still apply here; 20% timing and 80% luck, or 20% product and 80% marketing.

Thank you for reading,

Yvon Bourque

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My photographic buddy. I rarely go shooting without her.

Hi Pentaxian friends,

If you have been reading this blog for about one year or more, you have already seen photos of my buddy. I love to take pictures in the desert, atop mountains or in wilderness places. It can be very hot and dry, here in the Mojave desert, and one does not want to be stuck in the desert at night. Whenever I go in the wilderness, my buddy has got to accompany me.

My buddy is a she, and I don't really know how I could tell...but I know. I never gave her a's just my "buddy". She is very strong and get me just about anywhere I want to go. If she can't go somewhere, there are good chances that I can't go either. She brought me on mountains tops at nearty 9,000 feet in elevation and in the Death Valley at 282 feet below sea level...and she wasn't even tired.

I think she is one of the best friend a photographer can have. She 's always ready and willing. She never complains. She's alway glad to see me and excited about going somewhere...anywhere for that matter. She never talks back or complains. I do have to take good care of her and I keep her in tip top shape. She has had some needs, occasionally, for surgery, new shoes, but she's in great shape for her age. She was born in 1988 and in human age, she is in the Autumn of her normal life expectancy.

If you never heard about my buddy before, here are some pictures of her in all of her splendor.

Thank you for reading,

Yvon Bourque

Monday, October 27, 2008

You thought you couldn't use any DA/DA* lenses on future full frame DSLRs from Pentax? Well...think again. (See Update) By: Yvon Bourque

Dear Pentaxian friends,

The DA/DA* series of lenses were designed specifically for the Pentax APS-C sized Digital Cameras. The Pentax APS-C sensor is 23.5mm x 15.7mm, and the DA/DA* lenses have an image circle big enough to cover the diagonal length of the sensor. We don't actually know the image circle of every lens that Pentax designed for the DSLRs currently equipped with the APS-C sized sensors. What we know is that if the image circle is smaller than the diagonal of a FF sensor, vignetting will occur.

Click on the picture to the above right to find out more about APS-C/FF

Although my lenses are comprized of more FA and C lenses, I have been building my DA/DA* lenses arsenal since my first Pentax DSLR, the *ist D. Currently I have the DA 10-17mm, the DA 18-55mm II, the DA 16-45mm, the DA 50-200mm, the DA 70mm Limited, the DA* 200mm and the DA* 300mm.

Last week, I decided to get a roll of 35mm film, have it developed in prints as well as on CD, and try all my DA/DA* lenses on an older 35mm SLR, the Pentax PZ-10. I chose the PZ-10 because it was the only old SLR in my very humble collection that had a working battery. Because the DA/DA* lenses have no aperture rings, I could only go by shutter priority. So my examples do not necessarilly compare the 35mm results with the K20D results, as I am not certain of what the aperture was on the PZ-10. However, it's a good reference to determine which lens will produce images acceptable on future FF DSLRs and which will produce too much vignetting. (Of course, you can always crop the vignetting portion) The film I used was Fujifilm Superia @ ISO 400. I took a picture with each lens attached to the PZ-10 and then did the same with my K20D set at ISO 400 in shutter priority (Sv). There was a few days between the shots with film and the shots with the K20D. So basically, I focused on a US flag we have in the parling lot at work, and stood approximately at the same place. The left photos were taken with the K20D and, of course, the right photos were taken with the PZ-10 .

So here are the results. I probably don't have to add many words, the pictures should speak for themselves. Here goes:

Pentax K20D ***************** Full Frame

DA 10 - 17mm @ 10mm

DA 10 - 17mm @ 17mm

DA 18 - 55mm II @ 18mm

DA 18 - 55mm II @ 55mm

DA 16- 45mm @ 16mm

DA 16- 45mm @ 45mm

DA 50- 200mm @ 50mm

DA 50- 200mm @ 200mm (I guess the aperture must have been very small on the PZ-10 here.) There should be less vignetting at 200mm!

DA 70mm Limited @ 70mm

DA* 200mm @ 200mm

DA* 300mm @ 300mm can see that some of the lenses will be very compatible with FF DSLRs and some seem to have vignetting, specially in the wide angle portion.

Thank you for reading,

Yvon Bourque

UPDATE 10/18/2008 @ 7:10 P.M. Pacific Time.

I just realized that this topic is hitting home for many. If I get enough requests, I will go ahead and purchase a used Pentax AF 35mm SLR from EBay with the capability of selecting the aperture from the camera (I'm not sure which model does that). Following that, I will test every DA & DA* lenses in both formats, 35mm/FF and APS-C size. I will test each lens at all available aperture, using a tripod positioned exactly at the same place for all shots (35mm and K20D), and show the results here. Let me know your thoughts in the comments at the bottom of the post.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Look here...K20D and K200 available at Costco.

Hi Pentaxian friends,

Look at what I found here. It was posted on Photo-net by Zafar Kazmi. Good find Zafar. They also have the K200D. Go to the site and write a review, as suggested by Zafar. The more good reviews, the more people will buy. The more people buy, the better it is for all uf us. We all want Pentax to be there for ever.

I think you can only buy the Pentax DSLR kits from their online store, but hopefully, we will see the Pentax boxes stacked beside the Canon and Nikon offers at Costco "The brick and mortar stores". That would be so nice. And if they could manage to have the new K-2000 kit in all the Costco stores across the US and Canada for the Holiday season, Pentax could suddenly be a rising star (*) and finally the general public would get to see what good deal Pentax DSLRs are.

K20D and K200D available at Costco

It gets better by the day. See the current prices at

Thank you for visiting our blogsite,

Yvon Bourque

Friday, October 24, 2008

Prime Love

by Miserere

Back in the old days all lenses were primes; zooms weren’t introduced to 35mm photography until Kilfitt released the 36-82mm f/2.8 Zoomar in 1959, although zoom lenses had been used in movie cameras since the 1930s.

Just about every point-and-shoot camera on the market today uses a zoom lens, and every brand of DSLRs boasts a wide selection of them. Prime lenses seem to have gone the way of the tie-dye T-shirt, and many amateur photographers still wonder what they’re for.

Low-light candid portraits.

Despite the clear advantages of a lens offering multiple focal lengths, it can also create a clear disadvantage in the long run, and it’s that it makes us lazy and comfortable. When you can just plonk yourself in one spot and zoom in or out to compose a shot, your creativity suffers (a special case is wildlife photography, but that’s not what I’m talking about here). Creativity comes from challenge, instability, ignorance, dissatisfaction…not from remaining immovable in one spot with one eye closed watching Life pass you by.

Live music concerts with bad light.

I’ve had photographers give me puzzled looks when I show them one of my prime lenses; they’ll often ask what it does, as if taking photos might not be its purpose. After I’ve explained the advantages of the prime in question they’ll usually want to confirm what I said with “so it really doesn’t zoom?” It’s a shame the concept of a fixed focal length has become so alien to photography newcomers.

Night photography without a tripod.

For those that just joined us, a prime lens is one that has single focal length. Instead of the lens going from 18 to 55mm, it will be only 50mm, or 35mm, or 24mm. So, you might ask, if you want to replace your 18-55mm zoom with primes, you have to use 4 lenses? (18mm, 24mm, 35mm and 55mm.) “I’d rather just carry one lens, thank-you-very-much. And it will be cheaper, too.” And this is the strong point of zooms, their selling point: They are convenient on many levels. Just to show some practical examples I've peppered the article with photos taken using primes, so you can see the range of subjects they're useful for.

Cute animals.

I am not against zooms; my most used lens is a 28-75mm f/2.8. It’s versatile, relatively fast and with good IQ. It does a lot of what I need. But when it can’t, I know a prime will. I like taking candid portraits, and my opportunities for doing so are when I’m out with friends and family. Funnily enough, they don’t walk around with bright lights to one side and gold reflectors to the other. In fact, they tend to stay in dark pubs or indoors, away from windows. I also like shooting live music, which again, usually takes place in pubs under bad lighting. An f/2.8 lens just won’t cut it, and I’d rather not use ISO102400.


Primes are easier to design and build than zooms are, so it’s easier to make them fast. For a zoom, f/2.8 is fast, but that’s just normal for a prime. There are primes going all the way down to f/0.7, like the Zeiss which Stanley Kubrick famously used to film candle-lit scenes in Barry Lyndon, but most are somewhere between f/1.4 and f/2. Best of all, they don’t need to be large; the Pentax FA 50mm f/1.4 fits easily in a coat pocket, and at $200 will not break the bank. This is the first fast prime recommend to beginners because, despite its low price, it is a stunning performer. On a digital APS-C camera it is not as versatile as on full-frame, but I use it often at family gatherings as a short tele.

Not only are primes are fast and compact, but because they are simpler to build and incorporate less lens elements, they also offer better image quality. Many photographers who are obsessed with obtaining the sharpest, cleanest, most contrasty pictures will shoot only primes. I can’t blame them! Faster apertures also mean shallower depth of field, which is an effect you might want to exploit when isolating a subject from their surroundings.


OK, so apart from making coffee, primes have many advantages that are tangible and measurable, but let me go back to the beginning of this article and address the creativity issue. I talked about it in my article last week, where I exhorted you to take a prime and go walk around looking for opportunities. When you think you might be lost, off balance and slightly uncomfortable with your camera, when you’re not quite sure what you’re doing…chances are you are going to be more creative. That’s how a prime makes me feel. I know what it looks like through the viewfinder, but it doesn’t always reflect what I want, so I’ll move forward, or backward, or sideways, and often I end up in a completely different place to where I had imagined I’d bee. My photography benefits from this, because although I take many photos that exist in my head, often it is the unplanned shots that are the best, and you have to be slightly unstable and moving to find the magic angles.

But if you’re standing in one spot with one eye closed watching Life pass you by…

Thank you for reading.


PS: If you're wondering what different primes I used for all these photos, I'll tell you: They were all taken with the Pentax FA 50mm f/1.4 mounted on a K10D. :-)

Pentax's second day at Photo Plus Expo. See behind the scene.

Hi Pentaxian friends,

The Pentax Team above is ready for the crowd. I don't know everyone in the group, but in the last row, left to right: Drew Poley, Julie Quarry (Photographer), Chris Pound (Product Manager), Michelle Martin (Public Relation & Events Manager) and Kerrick James (Photographer). I am hoping to meet the rest of the Pentax team soon. Of course Ned Bunnell and John Carlson are not in this picture. They were probably taking care of important future Pentax endeavors.

Soon, I may be able to post a bio of each of the Pentax Employee so that all of us can can get to know this big family that Pentax is.

All the pictures above show the completed set for the Pentax booth. There is a lot that has to be done, behind the scene, before a company like Pentax is ready to present their equipment to the general public during an event like Photo Plus Expo. This takes weeks of preparations. Lighting, video and sound, showcases, stages, equipment, all have to be ready and perfect before the show's opening day. Let's not forget that all the personnel have to be mobilized and ready. We thank Michelle Martin and her team for such an accomplishment.
Along with the Pentax team, specialist Drew Poley, from Don't Wonder Productions, is hard at work with his team in designing, building, and erecting all of the visual components of this showcase. Drew is not new to this work as has an impressive portfolio in the trade shows and live Events production. If you are a company reading this blog, you may want to visit Drew's website.

It's a small world.

Last April, while my granddaughter from Florida was visiting us with her mother, we brought them to Disneyland, here in Southern California. Of course I had my K20D with me to get pictures of this rare event. As we were watching them enjoying a ride, I saw this guy with a K10D. Being the Pentaxian that I am, I approached him and started talking photography and more specifically about Pentax. He was curious about my new DA 10-17mm lens. So without hesitating, I handed him the lens and told him to take it for a test drive, which he did. It's a Pentaxian thing!

Afterward, I told him about my books about Pentax and he handed me his business card and told me that he was producing all of the Pentax shows. This past Wednesday, I emailed Michelle Martin to see if she could send me some photos of the show. The next day, I received the photos from Drew, from Don't Wonder Productions. I immediately recognize the company name and emailed Drew back to confirm that he was indeed the guy that I had met at Disneyland.

You see...I pays to be nice to people. Drew is a great guy and I know why Pentax have chosen his company. It was nice to exchange some emails with you again Drew.

The picture above shows Kerrick James giving his presentation to another group of photographers.

Thank you for reading,

Yvon Bourque