No, that title isn’t a misprint, it’s the name some trans-Pacific Lost-In-Translation scenario conferred on the Pentax Digital SLR we just got. Some notes on the new world of Digital SLRs.
What happened was, the S50 is in the shop for repairs for the second time in a month, suggesting that its engineering is not quite up to life in an active person’s pocket. Which meant that the only decent camera in the family was the old Pentax (film) SLR, with its trio of pretty-good lenses. We poked around to see if Pentax had a DSLR, and the “*ist D” (gawd, that name) had reviews that basically said “Excellent DSLR, kind of a pricey starter unless you have Pentax lenses around.” There you go.
I got it going today and have some initial impressions based on the first few shots; here’s one of them, a rose that rejoices in the name “Parkdirektor Riggers,” which is almost as deranged as “*ist D”:
SLRs are Different · First of all, the idea is that you should be able to make all conceivable shooting-time adjustments without going near the menu. Which means that there are a lot of buttons and knobs and switches and so on. That’s the bad news, the good news is that they seem to have put a lot of time into designing the UI, because I never had any trouble finding the one I needed.
Then, there’s the speed. This could get addictive quickly; not enough to wean me from my constant need for a pocket camera. I’d forgotten the feeling of turning a camera on and pointing it at something and pushing the button and having your picture right there.
Finally, there’s the focus thing. The “*ist D” (just typing that hurts my fingers) has auto-focus of course, only we’re using old-but-good Pentax lenses that don’t. So far, I can’t see why you’d need it; I only took a couple of dozen shots today, but with the steely grip on focus the SLR gives you, I didn’t miss once, which is better than the results I get with the S50.
Shooting Modes · The camera has an all-auto mode, but once again I don’t see why you’d need it. It’s got this wonderful mode called “Superprogram” where if you twiddle the shutter-speed-adjust dial it goes into shutter-speed priority mode, and if you twiddle the aperture-adjust dial it goes into aperture-priority mode. Since I was doing flowers today I only fooled with the aperture dial. The thing starts at ISO 200 and can shoot well north of there, plus it can do 1/4000 shutter speed, so you can pretty well dial in the depth-of-focus you want and let the camera sort out the speed. And of course you can do all this without taking the camera away from your face, the status read-out via the eyepiece is a thing of beauty.
Save Modes · This is the tough one. The “*ist D” shoots at 3000x2000 plus a bit, i.e. just over 6MP. It’ll save JPGs at a couple MBs a pop, or TIFFs, in the 13MB range, or a RAW dump off the CCD at about the same size as the TIFF. The JPG and the TIFF both have had in-camera sharpening applied, which all the reviews agreed was underaggressive and gives you soft-edged pictures. So the smart thing to do is to save the RAW and use PhotoShop or whatever for sharpening. I did this, but in the first day’s findings the price is fearful and the benefit isn’t that great.
If you shoot RAW, first of all you get dozens rather than hundreds of pictures on a 512M flash card. Second, the USB downloading process becomes, uh, stately. Then, you have to import that Pentax-proprietary RAW mode picture. There’s a PhotoShop plug-in you can download from Pentax, but it didn’t work (it ran, but the image it produced was that of a violent-pink Martian landscape). There’s also “Pentax PHOTO Laboratory” software on the CD you get with the camera, which will batch-convert your RAW files to 18-MB TIFFs. Slowly. Very very slowly.
Then after you’ve done all that, if you use the PhotoShop “Unsharp Mask” tool, yep, you get much crisper pictures than the JPGs that come out of the camera.
Except for, I took a couple of shots both ways, and ran that same Unsharp Mask on the JPG and what came out of that looked very damn close to the results on the version that had been captured RAW. Further work required.