A Few Thoughts on the Pentax K-x

July 8th, 2010  |  Published in pictures and photography  |  1 Comment

Tiggerball Swimming Practice

I played with a Pentax K-x for a few hours yesterday, hoping it would replace my slightly busted K100D. Wow. It takes some beautiful pictures for an entry-level SLR, and it represented the first time I’d be able to bring all my lenses along from one camera to the next. I was really looking forward to a return on my investment in lenses. Plenty of flexibility and control, just like you want in a dSLR. As much as people complained about the loud shutter, I found it more quiet than the K100D’s, and when I tested for the infamous “shutter slap/blur” problem, I couldn’t reproduce it.

However:

Reviewers spent some time dinging the camera for one of its tradeoffs. To get the size of the camera down, Pentax had to jettison the ability to preview autofocus points through the viewfinder. On the K100D, you can move the autofocus point around with the d-pad on the back of the camera, and you see a red LED light up the active focus point in the viewfinder. If you take a lot of low-light photos where you’re opening up the aperture and decreasing depth of field, the traditional “focus, recompose” approach can be problematic. Being able to position the autofocus point while composing means you don’t risk the important part of the image falling out of focus. One answer to that problem is to stop down enough that your depth of field is more forgiving, but at some point I came to trust the camera’s program mode enough that I don’t always think to switch to Av mode when it’s important to do so.

The closest you can get to feedback through the K-x viewfinder is the autofocus indicator. If you take your eye away from the viewfinder, you can identify the focus point on the LCD. You can also set the camera’s green multi-purpose button to recenter the focus point. But there’s no way to easily set the focus point while looking through the viewfinder, and there’s no way to know where the autofocus point is set without taking your eyes away from the viewfinder.

I read a few hands-on articles from photographers who said they eventually got over the issue. Some of these people were looking at the K-x as an auxiliary camera to their “real” dSLR, in which case their willingness to deal with that particular tradeoff made sense, the same way I trade down from my Pentax to my iPhone a lot of the time and don’t complain because the iPhone doesn’t offer Av or Tv modes. I also read comments from people who said that refusing to trust the K-x’s five- or eleven-area AF settings was some sort of luddite pose, and that was irritating but caused me to rethink my reflexive disdain of self-styled “typography nerds” who claim to become physically uncomfortable when confronted with poor typefaces. How is it I’m 42 years old and still need to be reminded that not all preferences I don’t share are stupid? Some days I feel like I need to go back to Decent Human 101 for a refresher course.

In the end, I gave the camera a shot hoping I’d also adapt, but decided it’s not something I want to get over. I don’t trust completely automated autofocus, especially in available light situations on a camera that doesn’t have an AF assist lamp, so having a quick way to set the AF point (and confirm that it’s set where I think it is quickly) is important to me. Too often over a few hundred exposures I found myself deciding to just center the AF point and get the shot, seldom recomposing because I’ve got an ingrained bias against risking the potential focus problems and my habits have led me away from more rigorous use of aperture priority (which I used to rely on a lot in my film SLR/newspaper days).

Life After the K100D

Picture-taking is all about tradeoffs, and when you get into the realm of low-end dSLRs, you become acutely aware of hardware tradeoffs:

  • When you stack low-end dSLRs up against the higher-end cameras, you lose some overall speed, ruggedization and control.

  • When you compare low-end dSLRs to to the high-end point-and-shoots, you expect to have more speed (both from shot-to-shot and in the time it takes to get the first shot), an edge in image quality, and a bit more control than all but a few (like the PowerShot G11/S90 or Lumix LX3).

If you’re forced into a situation where the act of composing an image involves an extra second or two of latency between identifying the shot, confirming the AF point is where you want it to be, composing and shooting, you’ve lost part of the low-end dSLR’s speed advantage over the high-end point-and-shoots.

That puts me in a weird place where Pentax cameras are concerned. I’m not ready to invest in a K-7 (the next up from a K-x), and I’m really hoping that Pentax rethinks the size tradeoffs it has made. I don’t want to lose my lenses and I don’t want to be forced up to a $900 body. The thought of stepping back down to high-end point-and-shoots if my K100D decides to fall completely apart while I wait around for Pentax to maybe change its thinking isn’t very pleasant, either, and it makes me a little sorry I didn’t truly splurge for a K10D back in the day, because they seem to be the better-built camera of the period.

It also causes me to wonder if the newer micro-4/3 cameras aren’t more up my alley. The bodies tend to be priced in that border zone between high-end point-and-shoots and low-end dSLRs, but they offer better image quality than the P&S class, along with the lens flexibility of dSLRs. Maybe the question there is the long-term viability of that format. Probably the next thing I ought to read up on.

Responses

  1. Nikon D5000 :: dot unplanned says:

    July 13th, 2010 at 11:27 am (#)

    […] D5000 a try. From everything I’ve read, it’s most competitive with the Pentax K-x (about which I’ve written) in most regards, and you can see the AF point in the viewfinder. (More on that in a […]

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