Friday, September 30, 2011

Pentax K-x, And My Other Cameras

I've been asked many times what cameras I use.

And I've been hesitant to say, because it's irrelevant.

Ansel Adams said, "The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it."

But since I've been asked so many times I will give a detailed list of the cameras I own and why.

Choosing A New Camera

When I decided to move from film to digital capture, I did so with much thought and research. It's important to understand value, which, with cameras, means getting the best quality photographs for the least amount of money.

For example, I could have spent $500 or $5,000, but would a $5,000 camera produce 10-times the image quality of a $500 camera? Even if the $5,000 camera had 10-times the quality over the $500 camera, that would mean their value is the same. In order for the $5,000 camera to be a better value, it would need at least 11-times the quality. In reality, at best, a $5,000 DSLR camera is 4-times better than a $500 DSLR camera (and that depends on exactly which models are being compared).

It made no sense to me to spend a higher amount if the value was less. And it especially makes little sense when you understand that your camera doesn't matter: either you can craft great photographs with any camera, or you can't craft great photographs at all. Yes, some cameras are prefered for quality, durability, or perhaps some "unique feature", but the fact is any camera could be used.

One's camera choice is a matter of preference and not a matter of capability. The photographer's capability is far more important than the camera's.

Knowing that, I went with a Pentax DSLR.

Pentax K-x

The vast majority of my photographs (probably 90%) are taken with a Pentax K-x. This is my first and only digital camera, aside from the one on my cell-phone. I purchased it about 18 months ago.

Starting back in late 2009, Pentax began offering some new digital SLR cameras with the intent of being considered a more serious camera-maker again. The first was the K-7, then the K-x, then the 645D, then the K-5 and the K-r. Aside from the 645D, which has an MSRP of $10,000, there is not a huge difference between the cameras. They all use the same Sony APS-C CMOS sensor, but with different megapixel counts. The K-5 is a slightly improved K-7, and the K-r is a slightly improved K-x. Pentax has discontinued manufacturing of the K-7 and K-x, although you can still find them brand new.

The K-7 (with a lens) costs about $1,300 and the K-5 (with a lens) about $1,400. The K-x (with a lens) and the K-r (with a lens) both have an MSRP of $700. Since the K-7 and K-5 cost twice as much as the K-x and K-r, they should be twice as good, right? They are not. The K-5 is perhaps as much as 25% better than the K-x, but not any more than that. They use the same sensor, just different megapixel counts and a few different features.

Paying 100% more money to get a 25% better camera just doesn't add up.

The same comparison could be made between the Pentax K-x and Leica M9, which costs $7,000. Is the M9 a better camera? Sure, no doubt. Is it 10-times better? Not even close. When you compare resolution, lens quality, performance and features, the M9 is somewhere around 3-times better. That's paying 1,000% more money to get a 300% better camera.

There is nothing wrong with purchasing an Leica M9, but buying that camera won't make anyone a better photographer, nor would buying a Pentax K-x make anyone a worse photographer. Camera choice is preference, not capability. It's the capability of the photographer that is of upmost important in whether a photograph will be successful or not.

Remember, a great painter can create a masterpiece with cheap brushes, and a great pianist can perform a great composition on any piano. A great photographer can create works of art with any camera.

The opposite is also true. Someone who is not a painter cannot create a masterpiece even with the best brushes. Even with a top-of-the-line grand piano, someone who is not a pianist cannot perform a great composition. And someone who doesn't know how to create great photographs will never do so even with the most expensive camera.

A great painter might prefer high-end brushes, a great pianist might prefer a grand piano, and a great photographer might prefer the M9. But none of those things are essential or required to craft a masterpiece, perform a great composition, or create a great photograph. They are simply prefered tools, and nothing more. If need be, there are many other tools that could "get the job done".

Another note while I'm discussing digital technology is that it doesn't have lasting value. Technology has been advancing at breakneck speed for some time now. The digital item that made us say "wow" 10 years ago is now nearly forgotten. The digital item that impressed us five years ago is now considered obsolete. Really, nobody is using a 10-year-old digital camera, because it's not any better than one's cell-phone camera (in fact, it might be worse). Technology advances and changes so quickly it's nearly impossible to keep up. And even if you can keep up it's expensive and exhausting.

Heck, my 18-month-old camera isn't even in production anymore.

You have to keep in mind that the digital camera you purchased will be considered obsolete much quicker than you'll be ready for it to be. Everyone else will have the latest-and-greatest, but you'll have your five-year-old camera that (in contrast) seems old and uncapable.

Perhaps this is one reason film has started to make a comeback.

Anyway, I shopped around quite a bit, and was very fortunate to find the K-x on sale at Amazon for $490 (30% off). There was no sales tax and free shipping, too! That made the camera an exceptional value. For less than $500, I was able to find a camera nearly as good as a $1,400 camera.

For those in the market for a new digital camera, you should find out which ones have the best value (getting the best quality for the least money). Once you've narrowed your search based on value, see which stores have those cameras discounted. Get the absolute most bang for the absolute least buck.

Think value, and don't get caught up in all the technical data (don't completely ignore the techincal data, either, because it will help you to determine value--there is a balance). Remember, the capability of the photographer is far more important than the capability of the camera.

I later purchased a used SMC Pentax-FA 28-90mm lens from e-Bay for about $25 to accompany the kit 18-55mm lens. Both lenses are good-but-not-great, but for the price an exceptional value.

My Other Cameras

The camera that I use second most (maybe 5% of my photography) is a FED 5c 35mm rangefinder that I found on eBay for $40, including shipping from the Ukraine. FED cameras are Russian copies of Leica cameras, and are nearly as good.

For $40, plus the cost of film, development and scanning, you can get some quality images for very little money. I think this is an excellent way for budget-minded individuals to get started in photography. Yes, you don't have to spend thousands or even hundreds to become a photographer. One could certainly create some great photographs with a FED camera and suppliment that with their cell-phone camera. For less than $50, he or she would have all they need to get started.

Next is a Canon T70 (maybe 3% of my photography). This was a gift. The T70 was an advanced 35mm camera for 1984 when it was introduced (although, by 1987, Canon had introduced two different cameras that were even more "advanced"). 27 years later it still works as advertised. No doubt, one could create some great photographs with this camera.

You can buy a T70 from eBay for less than $50, and maybe even for less than $25.

I also have a Holga 120N (perhaps 2% of my photography). This medium-format film "toy camera" has been used to create award-winning photographs (not by me). Check out this group on Flickr. I paid less than $25, which included shipping from China. I found 120 film on Craigslist for $2 per roll.

A cell-phone camera and Promaster 2500PK 35mm SLR round out the collection (maybe 1% of my photography). The digital camera on the phone was free (it was a "free" phone with a two-year contract). The Promaster is based on the Pentax k-mount system, and is about as cheap (quality-wise, not price) of a SLR that one can buy. Yet it can still be used to craft great photographs.


All of this is to say that, while having the latest Canon, Nikon, Leica, etc, camera is a nice luxury, none of those cameras are essential equipment. If you are budget-minded (and who is not budget-minded these days?), look for value. Find out which cameras give you the highest quality for the lowest price. It may be that you already own that camera.

One last point, which probably doesn't need to be said (but I'll say it anyway): buying a new camera will not improve your photography. Buying and reading Bruce Barnbaum's book The Art of Photography will.

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