Pentax Q

It’s been a long time between posts in my blog – far too long, etc, etc.

Enough apologising already, let’s cut to the chase in this year of the Snake.

Regular readers will know my love/hate relationship with point & shoot cameras. I love the size and portability, I hate the compromised results they give. However, I have been persevering, and even took an Olympus XZ-1 as a pocket camera in a recent sojourn to the USA. It did OK in the main, but I missed far too many shots while waiting for the damn thing to focus, decide on the exposure, warn me about stuff, etc. My main workhorse, a Canon 5D2 with an L zoom was too big and conspicuous to push into people’s faces as a street candid, and so I lost even more shots.

Maybe I now have  the answer – enter the tiny, tiny Pentax Q, fitted with a fast prime lens. Meet my new buddy:

Pentax Q with the extras

You can see here how small it really is, even when fitted with a viewfinder (it needs one as I hate arm’s length snapping), and a lens hood. The SD card should give you a suitable visual scale clue. It makes my Olympus EP-2, itself diminutive, look oversized even when that one wears its Lumix 20mm f1.7 prime. I guess Pentax takes being smallest very, very seriously. It even makes the 1950’s vintage Leica IIIf look huge.

The lens is fast – it’s a 5 element unit with an f1.9 aperture – and it is sharp at that opening. Because the real focal length is so short – 8.5 mm, pretending to be a 47mm focal length standard lens – everything has a tendency to be in focus  most of the time. To overcome this, a pet hate of mine, Pentax has equipped the camera with the smarts to have a setting (“BC” for blur or bokeh control, you can see it right there on the front control wheel ) with which to blur the background and separate out a foreground subject as no other tiny sensor camera can actually do.  I am still coming to terms with this feature.

Here is a picture grabbed from the web showing it next to an old Pentax 110 SLR – they are about the same size (yes, I used to have one, even fitted with a motor drive. It’s such a pity that the 110 film format was so crappy.)

It powers on quickly, it focuses quickly and it takes a picture quickly. The only gripe I have so far is that when saving both DNG RAW – yes, it can produce raw images – and large JPGs together it takes a second or two to write to the SD card, eve with a Class 10 speed card. To cut the write time down, I have been breaking my own rule and not saving images in raw format, but relying on the camera’s JPG engine – yes, it’s that good.

Pentax even provides firmware updates for both the camera and the lens.

I will post some snaps with it in a day or two. You will then be able to see what wonders Pentax (now owned and managed by Ricoh, and it’s easy to see Ricoh’s influence on both the design and firmware support, a great leap forward – I so do like Ricoh) have managed with such a tiny sensor.

The latest body firmware (vn 1.10) also adds focus peaking which will be a boon for manual focus control, and yes, even this feature is well implemented. It just awesome what power is packed into this tiny marvel. Another Ricoh benefit.

The Voigtlander finder pictured above is actually a frame-lined as a 75mm unit, but beyond the lines it shows a standard lens field of view. Maybe the Voigtlander Kontur finder (see a couple of posts ago) is what should be fitted until I can find a cheap Leitz SBOOI finder unit at the right price – if you want to sell me one (or a 50mm Voigtlander unit), feel free to contact me.

More soon, dear readers, and I will have proof for you of what I write.

Footnote – The lens hood in the picture is an old German metal unit originally made for a Zeiss Sonnar for a Contax, of 40.5 mm diameter screw fitting. I called around to see if I could buy locally a rubber collapsible hood of the same diameter – guess what – not bloody well available, it will have to be a Chinese unit off the web. What is wrong with camera shops these days?


Fujifilm Finepix S6500fd – a review

What would you say to an 11x f2.8 zoom lens that has few optical issues? How about one with a quality camera body attached? All for $20…

Enter the Fujifilm S6500fd camera, found at my favourite camera store, complete with power supply (not even supplied with the original camera!), original USB and video cables, unopened instructions, original software CD, strap, cap and lenshood. Oh, and a couple of 2 gb XD cards… And also 4 re-chargeable Sanyo Eneloop NiMh AA cells, that are worth $25 where I live… They’ve gone into my flash unit already.

This late 2006 camera introduced face detection that was built into the hardware to the world. It is a so-called bridge camera, looking like a regular but small SLR, but with a few differences:

  • a small 1 1/7 inch CCD sensor;
  • no optical viewfinder, but in its place a reflex eye-level electronic viewfinder, as well as a conventional LCD on the back of the camera;
  • uses 4 x AA batteries instead of an expensive proprietary unit;
  • no possibility for interchangeable lenses – instead it has a monster 28-300mm (35mm equivalent) f2.8 zoom, that offers a manual zoom ring – absolutely wonderful – and manual focussing, both via conventional rubber rings on the lens barrel; and
  • no sensor dust.

It’s relatively petite, and very lightweight, especially compared with my regular Canon 5D and lens combo.

So far, I have found that it shoots RAW images that can be opened in ACR (Photoshop’s Camera Raw software), and that it offers simple +/- 1 stop exposure bracketing.

I have tried using a polariser (58mm just like Canon, thanks!) and I can’t see if it makes any difference to the sky through the EVF, but the conditions today were poor for this.

You may wonder why I picked up a 6 megapixel, 4 year old bridge camera when I already have some nice kit? The reason is that I want to leave a cheap camera capable of reasonable image making in my car at all times as I never seem to have one with me when I want one. It all fits into a tiny case that will protect it, and only needs a light (read cheap) tripod for low light work as it is so lightweight and balanced. And yes, I have also got one of those from my favourite camera outfitter, complete with a bag and even its original removable top plate too, which is a rare find for junkshop tripods.

Downsides? In theory plenty, but not enough to really warrant a moan for $20. Here are my thoughts for the record:

  • uses XD cards (at least I have a few gb I got with it, so no purchase needed);
  • 1 1/7 inch sensor (but all P&S cameras have these);
  • 6 megapixels (but this is 50% more than on my venerable Lumix DMC-LC5 that can make big prints);
  • limited to only a max. of +/- 1 stop exposure bracketing (but manual control is there);
  • no threaded cable release (but it does have a self timer)
  • no hot shoe or PC socket, (but it does have a popup flash – not even my 5D has this)
  • plastic (ugh)

All in all, actually nothing to complain about.

On to the image quality.

Bridge cameras are named thus as they bridge the gap in the market (size, cost and utility) between P&S cameras and SLRs. This camera started out in life priced at $629 in October 2006 when it was introduced. One would expect that this sort of money would buy pretty reasonable image quality just 4 years ago, and It did. Like just about every other Fujifilm camera I have used, this one is capable of brilliant IQ, even considering its sensor size. Fujifilm just seems to do something special with sensors – I am guessing this is because of the pedigree and experience it has from being a maker of fantastic film emulsions for the past 70-odd years.

A concentration camp in Canberra? No, the Yarralumla Brickworks

The lens is a Fujinon 6.2-66.7mm f2.8 ~ f4.9 beauty, and from the look of the coating colours, it has Fuji’s famed EBC coating on it. It shows almost no barrel distortion, and very little chromatic aberration, and is flare free when shot against the light.

The Govenor-General’s driveway, Yarralumla, Canberra. HDR 3 shot, handheld, sepia via Topaz

As long as you don’t mind limited bokeh as a direct result of the physics arising from small sensor sizes (and a judicious choice of a long focal length when shooting faces will provide quite a bit of this), it is brilliant. Of course it’s not up to 5D capabilities, but for 20 bucks, dollar for dollar, it is just about the best quality camera I have ever used.  It is slower to use that my DSLR, the controls are not as intuitive, and the viewfinder is, well, crap compared to an optical reflex finder, but as a camera for those moments when you need to have one available, it can’t be beaten.

If you can find a better camera for $20, let me know.

Olympus E-P2 as a night / street camera

In my never-ending quest for the perfect P&S camera that will give me at least some control over depth of field choices, I have deliberately put down my trusty 5D for serious work for a short while, and in its place dusted off my Olympus E-P2 (digital Pen) with a half-hearted promise to myself to have it with me as often as I can (rather than a hollow claim of “all of the time”).

Here are some early results from it as a night shooter:


The first is (obviously) a B&W conversion, done outside the camera from a RAW file. The second is (equally obviously) a bit of a fraud – the comet and stars have been added to give it a bit of oomph. Irrespective of the truth of this image, I like it.

The more serious mono image requires a bit of processing info to explain its look – this was a bit more complex than normal – firstly get the exposure and white balance right in ACR. A dark vignette then drops the unattractive edges away. Conversion to mono, with the look of a titanium-toned image, filtered with green to kill off some of the brightness of the overpowering neons.

As for the rendering from the little Pen, it seems to be excellent. These images were shot on auto-pilot at 400 ISO, using the body’s inbuilt image stabilization as (of course) I had no tripod with me when I was returning the rented DVDs back to the shop just around the corner from this magnificent homage to the neon sign’s possibilities. Oh, and the lens for both was the bog standard kit zoom, a seemingly good bit of glass even if it a bit slow for my tastes. I took advantage of a wobbly signpost to rest the camera on, a couple of snaps – no movement as there is no mirror – and here we are.

As for street use, for unobtrusively sneaking in a few candid camera shots, it’s equally brilliant:

How’s this – an image from inside an art gallery, that was so quiet an SLR would have had the curator down on me in no time. Again, shot with the kit lens, opened to its maximum aperture, and set to 400 ISO, and processed to mono outside the camera from RAW. I love it. It’s small – my ruler says it’s just 122mm wide – that’s only about 4 & 3/4 inches. You can use any old Leica/Canon/whatever M39 screw mount lenses as well as any Leica M glass you may have lying around on it. Some call it the poor man’s M8 – I reckon it’s better – what do you think?

Infinite depth of field (ii)

For those of you following my blog, this shows what I generally hate most about point and shoot cameras – Infinite depth of field.

However, in this instance, perhaps I forgive them this failing. But the numbers don’t lie – 1/500 @ f5. What I really need is not f 5 – I want an an f0.5 lens on these cameras for subject separation possibilities. Please, pretty please, fit them with really fast lenses so they are of more real utility.

For those not familiar with DoF issues on a P&S camera, I hope I can shed some light on the subject of DoF in a half intelligent manner.

Depth of field is related directly to focal length of the lens, as well as the aperture used (and also to the subject distance, but I won’t worry about that here for clarity). Very wide angle lenses for 35mm cameras – 20mm or so – provide great depth of field even at fairly wide apertures. The focal length of a lens for a camera with a sensor size of 5 by 7 millimeters or so as in a P&S camera drops enormously, down to 6mm for a 35 mm equivalent view, or less for a wider one. It is still an incredibly short lens, although the senor size means it appears to have a normal field of view, but the very same physics that dictate DoF for 35mm cameras means that at these short focal lengths, just about everything is in focus at just about all lens settings, irrespective of the aperture.

Hence my hatred of P&S cameras – selective focus is just about impossible, except at long telephoto focal lengths. In addition, even at its widest setting, a 35mm FoV equivalent, there is considerable barrel distortion. I used the “distort” filter in Photoshop to straighten this up or there would be a curved horizon where there shouldn’t, at a setting of about 4. This is pretty poor performance, and although easily fixed it shouldn’t be there in the first place.

With 35mm sensor sizes, optical diffraction starts to set in at about f11 or so depending on the sensor pixel size, and image quality then starts to degrade. This is true from about f5.6 on a P&S, so chasing a really small aperture is self-defeating with these cameras.

Footnote – This picture actually made it to no. 9 in Flickr’s Interestingness rating on 6 April 2010, and so onto the front page. I find it hard to believe, but here’s proof:

6 days on – 1600 views, 78 favourites and 45 comments. I’m humbled, especially by this camera.

Oyster farming

Oyster farming at Wapengo, NSW south coast. Just beautiful.
This is a colour photo, not B&W.

As we were away for Easter, I only took my horrid P&S camera to be able to use it at the beach and not worry about sand killing it. This is a contre-jour image off the Canon A720IS. Perhaps there is a place for infinite depth of field?

Oh, 10 dozen oysters for $100, and the water is so clean the oysters don’t need to be flushed so they are truly in their own juice when opened.