Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Bottom Line

I've had the camera for about a year now, so it's a good time for a summing-up:

The figures:

  • Events attended: 20+
  • Frames shot: 5-6,000
  • Published images: (local and yachting press): 31
  • Total images sold (retail and editorial): 75

The good points:

  • Rugged, weather-sealed construction and compact size.
  • Adequate image quality under most conditions.
  • Acceptable burst speed and AF performance.
  • Very flexible to set-up and customise via menus.
  • Good use of legacy lenses eg 50mm f1.7.

Not so good points:

  • Noisy images at ISO 400 and above.
  • Some controls can be fiddly to use and too easy to operate accidentally.
  • Video is very hard to use for a spectacle wearer; cannot focus on the subject and the viewfinder (rear LCD screen) at the same time although that will be the same for all DSLRs, not just the K-7.

My main regret is that I haven’t had the chance to use the K-7 with some good Pentax glass, like the 300mm F4, which is also weather sealed. The sharpest lens I have used on the K-7 has to be the SMC 50mm f1.7 which came with my old K-1000 about 30 years ago!

And the bottom line –

If I was starting from scratch in this field of work, without the current investment in Canon equipment (especially lenses) would I consider the K-7? Certainly, although by now I would be more likely to be looking at a K-5.

An Indoor Job

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by a friend who plays in a local jazz quartet (Take 4 - if I would take a few shots of a gig in a local put, for use on a new CD sleeve. The lighting was pretty grim and it was a very cluttered environment, so I concentrated on close-ups, using the K-7 on ISO 1600 with the old 50mm f1.7 lens. This is the shot they used on the CD cover.

Monday, 18 October 2010

On the Kayak Again - and a Pavlova

The weather on Sunday was perfect for another outing on the Kayak, on the Exe estuary. We were also on neap tides so not too much current to worry about. Plus, Exe Sailing Club had a Sunday afternoon race so there was plenty of subject matter. You can see some of the results on the club website at
But the picture of the day was taken after racing. Club member Tony Brewster had pledged during a Help for Heroes fundraising evening back in March to have a pavlova made for post-racing tea. Yesterday the plan finally came together and the pavlova, made by Sandra Sydenham, was fantastic! I just managed to get a shot of it before the hordes scoffed the lot. It was in the unlit kitchen, shot at 1/8 sec so I guess the anti-shake was working!
The on/off switch is now so stiff I prefer to keep the camera switched on all the time just in case it seizes up completely.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A Pentax-only Mission

Last week from Thursday to Sunday, Exe Sailing Club (my club) hosted the national championships for the RS500 and 800 classes. On the first three days I shot with the usual combination of Canon and Pentax and you can see the results on the Fotoboat website. On the last day, I was rostered for duty as safety boat crew, so I only took the Pentax, so as to be best prepared to do rescuing if needed. It was a blustery day with quite big waves, but very little sunlight. Most of the time the camera was on ISO 400.
There were plenty of opportunities for photos as boats came past us going upwind, but looking at the PC screen that evening I was disappointed by the number of dud shots. I don't know if it's the speed of the AF, or the lack of contrast making life difficult for the AF, but many of the shots were a good deal less sharp than I know the camera is capable of producing. The images here show one which I accepted for the website and one I rejected. I think you will be able to tell which is which.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Perfect Conditions

When the conditions are right, there are few better sailing venues than Lyme Regis. Last week the 505 class held their national championships there, blessed by four days of great breezes, building waves and not a little sunshine. I was there on the Friday and enjoyed one of the best day's shooting this year. I was using the usual setup - Canon 40D with 70-200 f4L plus 1.4x extender and 400 f5.6L, and the Pentax K-7 with 50-200 DA WR.

The best shots of the day were undoubtedly taken with the Canon, particularly the ones shot with the 400mm lens, but some respectable results from the Pentax. I would love to have the opportunity to use this camera with some better quality glass!

The on-off switch has now become very stiff through salt water ingress. I expect (hope?) the seals are keeping it out of the camera's vitals, but in places where it gets trapped it must be doing some harm.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

At the Olympic Venue

I had a day at the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta yesterday. This was not a great day to be there, with low cloud, mist, rain and high winds. High winds is OK but the rest we can do without. I was out on a press boat shooting with the usual combination of Pentax K-7 and Canons. The Pentax got very wet indeed. At one point I changed the ISO up to 800 (yes, it was that dark!) and button remained stuck down, so that all rear wheel adjustments changed the ISO instead of the aperture. I think dried salt water must have made the button a bit sticky. It's now been rinsed in fresh water and seems to be OK. The picture shows Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes, who represented GB at the 2008 Olympics.

Friday, 30 July 2010

First Problem

I was out today at Teignmouth, shooting the last day of the Lark national championships. Not a spectacular day - rather cloudy and a light and very shifty wind. I was using the usual combination of K-7/50-200 and Canon 40D with a variety of lenses: 400 f5.6L, 70-200 f4L with 1.4 extender and Sigma 10-20.

Towards the end of the afternoon I noticed in the K-7 viewfinder "F - - -" which seemed to indicate an indeterminate aperture setting. I guessed the problem was the connection between camera body and lens. After detaching the lens and wiping the contacts on both camera body and lens, the problem was solved.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Too Wet?

I spent nearly 7 hours on the water yesterday in Lyme Bay, in a small, very wet RIB in quite large waves and 15-20 knots winds. The occasion was the 2010 Albacore National championships. I used 3 cameras: the K-7/50-200 which I kept inside my jacket when not in use, and two Canons: the 40D, with 70-200 f4L/1.4 extender and my old D60 with the 400 F5.6L. These cameras stayed inside the waterproof bag when not in use.

I got some nice shots from the K-7, but the sheer amount of solid water coming over the boat and spray in the air got the better of me in the end. All my available lens wipes were just sodden and keeping the lens clear of water droplets became increasingly difficult. A whole series of shots at the finish of the last race were ruined through water on the lens.

Pleased to say though that all three cameras survived the ordeal and out of the 1000 frames shot in total, I got some reasonable shots.
I also had a go at shooting some video of the leader rounding the wing mark, but the up and down motion of the boat made it a very unpleasant watch!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Showing it Off

I was at Netley Sailing Club, on Southampton Water, yesterday for the RS Tera National Championships. It was the hottest day of the year so far (pushing 30 degrees) and it took the sea breeze a while to get going. I took the opportunity to wander around snapping the surroundings and chatting to people.

Giles Barclay, another Canon user, was interested to see I was using the K-7. He had a go with it and was impressed by its compact size. The picture on this post was taken by Giles.
Once we got afloat it was quite a fun event - you can see the pics on the Fotoboat website. I used the K-7/50-200 alongside the 40D with a range of lenses: Canon EF 400 f5.6L, Sigma 10-20 and Canon EF 70-200 f4L with 1.4 extender. I found the Pentax viewfinder noticeably brighter than the Canon's, something I haven't commented on before.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Beer at the Weekend

I went to Beer Sailing Club last weekend for the RS700/800 open. Another lovely day with a building sea breeze - enough for some close racing but not enough for really exciting photos.

I used the K-7 with 50-200 in conjunction with the Canon 40D/400 f5.6L. In a small RIB (4m) with fairly choppy seas the smaller, lighter Pentax was much easier to handle than the Canon. But I wouldn't sacrifice the 400's image quality and reach just for ease of handling!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Nearly Very Wet

I paddled out to the Exe safe water mark to photograph Exe SC's bank holiday race yesterday. Quite a long way, into the wind and I was glad to tie up to the committee RIB and climb aboard for a breather. Took my shots, and set out back, now with both wind and tide behind me. For a bit of sport I decided to go over the Pole Sand, through the breaking water. Great fun until I was swung broadside by the fierce current then rolled by a wave! Luckily the water was only a foot or so deep but the kayak was completely inverted and the camera bag submerged. But the bag (Watershed Ocoee) was securely tied to the boat and stayed totally waterproof. The paddle was also tied on, so no dramas there.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Wet at Last!

Last weekend I went to a cold, grey, wet and windy Chew Valley Lake to cover the latest round of the RS200 South West Ugly tour. This was a great opportunity to put the K-7's weather proofing to the test. I was on a small RIB, and the combination of spray and rain provided enough "weather" for the 77 seals to resist. At least the spray was fresh (Bristol Water's finest drinking water) and not salt water. I kept my hand over the end of the lens hood when not shooting, and the deep hood proved useful for keeping off all but direct rain when shooting straight into the wind.

Going back into the clubhouse at lunchtime provided another test - with a sudden rise in temperature and 100% humidity everything steamed up instantly. Once I had towelled down all the kit, everything was still working fine - as expected.

Two snags are worth reporting. Firstly, when using the camera with gloves on it was all too easy for my right thumb to hit the Live View button, which lost me a few shots. Second, I lost more shots than usual through poor focus. This appears to be because I had the AF switched to 'S' (single shot), where 'C' (continuous - equivalent to Servo mode on Canon) would have been more appropriate. Read the **** manual!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Dinghy Show at Alexandra Palace

The show took place over the weekend 6/7 March but as I was shooting for Dinghy Sailing mag I didn't post anything until the mag had come out. It's the May issue, now out, the one with the Scorpion on the front cover (one I took at Looe in 2005).

I used two cameras for the show shoot. The Canon 40D with the Sigma 10-20 lens and Speedlight 550 EX flash, and the Pentax K-7 with the 50/1.7 for available light shots. One of these made the contents page of the May issue - those huge stained glass roundel windows at Alexandra Palace are a camera magnet!
I went up to the organ loft to get a general view of the show, which needed the 10-20 lens so used the Canon for that. The aim was to get a shot with blurry moving people which I partly succeeded in doing (1 sec at f/32 was the slowest I could get).

Sunday, 14 March 2010

RS Event at Chew Valley Lake

This weekend (13 March) I went to the RS 6,7 and 800 Winter Championships and Musto Skiff open at Chew Valley Lake SC. Great weather - sunny, not too cold and a bit of breeze. I was shooting with two bodies - the Pentax K-7/50-200 combination and the Canon 40D. I used a variety of lenses on the Canon: 400 f5.6L, 70-200 F4L with 1.4x extender and Sigma 10-20.

The results can be seen on the Fotoboat website. They are a reasonable representation of the event but nothing really exciting as the breeze didn't get much over 9 knots.

I tried a bit of video and have posted a clip below. As a spectacle wearer I find using the back screen as a viewfinder quite difficult, as I don't have the necessary depth of focus in my eyes to see the subject directly and the screen at the same time. A monopod might be useful to prevent too much up and down movement. As with anything, it will take some getting used to but I think mixing stills and video work is going to be difficult.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Another Kayak Outing

After weeks without being on the water it was good to get out on the Exe Estuary today on the kayak. I took the K-7 with me, with its 50-200 DA WR lens, and was rewarded by the sight of three RS Vision dinghies, sailed by students on an Exe Sailing Club instructors course, accompanied by the club safety RIB.

I have reverted to the out-of-the-box settings for the control wheels, and had no problems. A selection from the shoot can be seen here.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Shower Test

I have just come across this - and wonder if I have got the bottle to try it for myself (with salt water, of course...)

Monday, 1 February 2010

Another Piece of Legacy Equipment

I have found the lens I used to use most of the time with my K-1000. It's a Sigma 35-135 f3.5/4.5 I bought in the early 80s, so it's nearly 30 years old. It's an 'A' lens, so it works on the K-7 in manual focus mode. Zoom/focus is by the same "one touch" ring; push-pull zoom and twist focus. This has a very smooth, well-damped action. At 135mm it has a macro mode, too. Many holiday snaps have been taken with this lens over the years, and as they were seldom blown up beyond 6x4 I never really saw what the lens was capable of.

The answer is - it's rather soft and images definitely lack contrast. A lens hood (I have mislaid that) might help a bit with the contrast. Overall verdict: still a useful, versatile lens but image quality not up to what I now find acceptable. I am still amazed that such an old lens can be attached to a modern camera body and be fully functional. Try doing that with a 30 year old item of computer equipment! It says a lot for Pentax's original design for the K-mount.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Starcross Steamer 24 Jan 10

The Starcross Steamer is an annual pursuit race held on the River Exe, organised by Starcross YC. I was shooting from a RIB with 2 cameras - the Pentax K-7/50-200 DA f4-5.6 and a Canon 40D/400mm f5.6L. Most shots were of approaching boats - hit them with the Canon/400mm first then with the Pentax as they get closer and sweep past. So lots of swapping cameras. It was very cold so I was wearing sailing gloves - thin neoprene with rubberised grip.

The biggest problem with the Pentax was constant, inadvertent operation of the rear dial, putting the EV compensation all over the place. Sometimes it was from the camera brushing my clothing, more often from the end of my gloved thumb. A batch of shots where EV was +2 stops was totally lost, some were not quite so extreme and retrievable (with some loss of quality). I am going to look at the manual again and see if there's a custom setting which isn't so vulnerable to mis-setting.

Not all bad news, though. I got some respectable shots with the Pentax - they can be seen on the Fotoboat website. Look for the 'C' or 'P' in the filename to tell which camera was used.

Where the Pentax scored physically over the Canon combination was its much lighter weight, though not really a fair comparison against a camera with a 400mm lens! My jury is still out over the effectiveness of the in-camera image stabilisation. I reckon if I can get acceptable shots hand-holding the Canon/400 combination in a moving boat, then using the much lighter (and shorter f/l) Pentax under the same lighting conditions isn't exactly going to test the Pentax's IS. I will have to work out a more objective test and report back.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

A gig at last!

It's been unusually quiet so far this winter on the Fotoboating front. I didn't get my usual trip to Queen Mary SC as (a) the weather threatened to make the trip from Devon somewhat difficult and (b) David Gates lives much nearer! David took some great pics which can be seen on the Fotoboat site.

Tomorrow I am going to the Starcross Steamer pursuit race at Starcross YC on the Exe. I will be using the K-7 alongside my Canon gear, so look out for some results and comment soon.