Dave Mitchell

Pentaxian profile

By PF Staff in Pentaxian Profiles on Mar 18, 2011
Dave Mitchell

Welcome to our first PentaxForums Pentaxian profile!  To read more about this series, click here. Without further ado:

Dave Mitchell - An Experienced, Enthusiastic Photographer

It was fall of 2008 and I had been using a point-and-shoot digital since the summer of 2002. Prior to that, I had used a Canon film SLR for six years. My photography had reached a point where I was longing for the flexibility of an SLR once again, and the price for DSLRs had reached a point where they were much more affordable. I saw the enjoyment that a good friend of mine was getting out of his DSLR, a Pentax, and so I felt the time had come to think about taking the plunge.

I hadn’t seriously begun my quest, which for a major purchase usually involves several weeks of very thorough research, but when the time came I was “naturally” going to check out what Canon had to offer. After all, I reasoned, the Elan IIE had been an excellent camera – it was the first “real” camera that I had cut my teeth on – so why even consider something different?

So with this at the back of my mind, I remember being at my Pentax friend’s house one day. I recalled the other occasions in my mind since we had met when I had seen him shooting with his Pentax, but I have to admit it was with a kind of skeptical, perhaps arrogant attitude like, ‘I wonder why he’s using a Pentax?’ But there I was and, again thinking about getting a DSLR decided, like a bolt from the blue, to quizzically ask him exactly why he was using a Pentax. I for the life of me had no idea why he was using one – or why anyone else was – but I have always had an interest in “different” things and why people like them, so it was asked out of curiosity instead of seeking direction about a camera purchase.

He didn’t start by sharing the virtues of what he particularly liked about his new K20D at first, but rather the story of how his father had been a professional wedding photographer from the 1960s to 1980s and had used exclusively Pentax, some 35mm and some regular format. He also mentioned how, to my surprise, back in that day Pentax was the most popular choice of camera. He and his father still like to tell people the story of how Pentax (Asahi) glass was used by the Japanese military in their optical instruments during World War II, not that they favored them in the War, but rather how this showed Asahi’s reputation for quality and precision.

In the later years of his father’s career, when he ran a camera store in our area, he would have Canon and Nikon shooters challenge him about who made the better camera. In reply, his father would challenge them to produce a better quality image than what his Pentax cameras made, which he would examine with a loupe, but not once did anyone ever take him up on it.

As for my friend’s K20D, I recall him mentioning some of the things that it seemed to offer that the competition didn’t, and that’s why Pentax was still occupying a small but very loyal niche market. I believe he mentioned the weather-sealing and the in-body SR (shake reduction), but what got me the most interested was the backwards-compatibility to film-era lenses, even ones dating back several decades. To me, this indicated a company that has respect for its loyal customers, which has always impressed me about other companies with a similar perspective. I returned home that evening curious enough about looking further into Pentax, and the research began.

Internet searches turned up Pentax Forums as one of the first results, but I consulted the “other” site quite a bit at first since it had helped me to make digital photography decisions in the past, for me and for others. But it was the results of research on several other sites as well, especially user reviews, that tipped the scales for me in favor of Pentax. Sure, I was very impressed with things like weather sealing and in-body SR, but I was also impressed with how these and other features were available for a price that was very reasonable compared to the competition without a sacrifice in quality. Also, at the time, the new lenses I was looking for were still very reasonable in price.

In late November of that year my first Pentax arrived, the K20D. I charged the battery, mounted a new FA 50mm f/1.4 lens that I had bought in advance, and was … disappointed and frustrated. The autofocus wasn’t as accurate as I had experienced with the Canon nor as consistently as I had experienced with my digital point-and-shoot. But I persisted, and the results got better. I realized that these were more cases of user error than equipment error, but so often people throw up their hands and blame their equipment. The saying “Patience is a virtue” is especially true when it comes to learning any new piece of equipment or system. Only later did I learn that this particular lens can be a challenge in terms of auto or manual focus, but when I nailed it the results were quite impressive.

Things got noticeably better once I added the DA 12-24mm and particularly the DA 35mm f/2.8 Limited Macro to my arsenal. The several years of pent-up creative energy were beginning to unleash into the best photos that I have taken in my nearly 15 years of more serious photography. I was able to finally go really wide-angle, plus I was able to indulge in my love of macro and, with the purchase of the DA 10-17mm Fisheye, to finally get a shot at the exciting world of fisheye. I also threw the very underrated A 70-210mm f/4 into the mix, which I got for a steal (and which has produced photos as good as any of my other lenses – you just have to know how to use it), and the creativity ran wild.

At this point you might be thinking to yourself, ‘Well good for him, but he would have probably been just as excited by the equipment offered by any other brand.’ To that, I would have to agree. But for an advanced-amateur like me who was making no photography income because all I had was a collection of 3 mega-pixel images, the Pentax price point is what made the difference. Sure, I checked out the prices of comparable bodies and lenses made by Canon and Nikon, but I was very discouraged, so I thought for the price alone I would give Pentax a shot. And I’ve yet to be disappointed because the quality is arguably on par with, and in some respects better than, comparable Canon and Nikon products that often cost much more.

In fact, I offer a similar challenge to the one made by my friend’s father to anyone who thinks Pentax is still an underdog: take a photo of the same subject with my Pentax and your comparable APS-C (insert brand name here) DSLR, tweak both images however you want to – yet equally – in post-processing (white balance, contrast, etc.), blow them up into a 16x24 – heck, even a 32x48 print - and ask others 1) which is the Pentax print and which is not, and 2) if the Pentax print is any way lacking compared to that of the competition.

The more I’ve grown into my Pentax system the less I think about what brand I’m shooting with. It’s the results that matter, and this boils down ultimately to the photographer, not the equipment. A lousy photographer will take a bad photo with a K-5 or a Pentax 645D or a Canon 1D Mark IV, whereas a good one will make a great photo with even a toy camera. If anyone wishes to argue with or challenge me on this, I’m game. And I’m talking about image quality more in terms of composition, not just pixel-peeping; the latter is frankly a waste of time because it’s how an image appears on a print that ultimately matters. But I digress.

Let me finish with the story of how 2011 has unfolded in my photographic life, not to boast but rather to encourage. I entered the new year with a rather large collection of photography on my computer that had only ever been seen by very few people – you guessed it, some of my family and friends, and maybe the odd acquaintance. But the feedback as time progressed, even before I got my Pentax, was increasingly positive. However, I decided that it was finally time to test the waters and get my work out there somehow for more objective opinions – but how?

I’ve always been proficient with web design but I wanted something for free, so I created my own site. But now, where to display my photos? After some research, I decided that $24.99 for an entire year was very reasonable for a Flickr Pro account that I could link to from my site. Then, quite by happenstance, just after I posted all this and had no idea what to do next, I ran into a local artist by acquaintance at a Valentine’s Day dinner who, I had learned only a few months before, is known in the Western Canadian arts community and even runs a studio on the West Coast. On a whim and just for the heck of it, I asked if she would review my Flickr photos and give me her thoughts. I had reached the point that I had always tried to avoid – that of rejection – but I figured it was better now to have my hopes dashed than after I had poured much more time, effort, and dreaming into this endeavor.

A few days later, she e-mailed back with very enthusiastic and encouraging comments, and to make a long story short, I’m now a member of the local arts club that she had a role in starting, and which has some very successful members and thus connections to much larger organizations. And like her, others have given me much positive feedback.

My point in sharing this last bit is to encourage those of you who think your photography isn’t “good enough” to get an informed second opinion, and especially to ignore the fools who think you need to “move up” from using Pentax if you have any hope at becoming a “better” photographer. Find someone locally whose work you admire, a photographer or even a painter, and stick your neck out. You aren’t asking them to buy anything or even to promote your work, you’re simply asking them to check it out. Make up some cheap business cards (but not cheap looking) on your computer and print them out on card stock. Even make a few large prints to frame and pack around if you don’t have anything posted online or on a portable device.

What I’ve failed to mention is what finally encouraged me to take this bold step in the first place: I simply got over the pity party attitude that so many others do “better” work than me and just realized that it’s still better than the vast majority of people who’ve ever used a camera. Also, there’s something for everyone, meaning that there’s somebody out there who will like your photography, and they’ll never be able to access and enjoy it until you make it available to them. And who knows if one of those people might be instrumental in turning your hobby into an income source or possibly even a career?

I no longer try to play the comparison game with other photography brands or photographers. Yes, I try to learn from the latter and hone my craft to the best of my ability, but I am who I am, and I endeavor to capture this world and the things within mainly for my pleasure and benefit. And if my photography can be for the pleasure and benefit of others as well, and if it can be considered “good enough” by others, then I will have accomplished much more than I set out to do.

Dave Mitchell

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