Pentaxian Profile - Jeffry Scott

"Once a Pentaxian, Always a Pentaxian"

By PF Staff in Pentaxian Profiles on Sep 30, 2015
Pentaxian Profile - Jeffry Scott

You may have heard the phrase "Once a Pentaxian, Always a Pentaxian."  In the case of Jeffry Scott— today's featured photographer— it took extensive experience with four other camera systems for him to come to that realization.

We hope you can relate to this story of soul-searching in the camera world.  Enjoy!

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Mirrorless, mirrorless on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?

Well, as it turns out, none. At least for me. After trying Nikon 1, Olympus, Sony and Fuji, I came back to Pentax. A stint with Nikon DSLR was mixed in as well.

Mirrorless is the latest and greatest. Small and light, it is without a doubt the future and will continue to improve, narrowing the performance gap between it and DSLRs. While it is all that, there are also downsides, which, when it all comes down to dollars and “sense” (pun intended) I have found Pentax offers more for less.

My first adventure with Pentax was in 2013. I wanted more performance and higher image quality than I was getting from my Olympus OM-D EM-5, a lovely weather-sealed camera which performed quite well. But back then, mirrorless suffered from relatively poor continuous auto focus and tracking, and at the time the telephoto lens selection was limited. I found my way to Pentax. The K5 II was affordable and relatively small and with an APS-C sensor, it had improved image quality over micro four-thirds. Combined with the weather sealed 16-50mm F2.8 and 50-135mm F2.8 it gave me most of what I needed.

Action swimming - what I wanted to shoot

Why, then, did I sell my first Pentax kit? Well, as a former newspaper photographer who was used to high end Nikon and Canon AF performance, the K5 II suffered. While better than my Olympus, it wasn’t quite there for swim season, where my two daughters participated on a team. I was hoping to start a small freelance business shooting action of the swimmers, but I ended up not having confidence in the Pentax (with me behind the lens) to deliver consistent results. Additionally, the 50-135mm was a bit too short for the pool.  I had seriously debated the merits of the 60-250mm F4 with my initial purchase, but price determined the 50-135mm decision.  Thus, I begrudgingly sold the K-5 II for a Nikon D7000 kit with 17-55mm and 80-200mm lenses. All geared up with the Nikon kit, I was ready to shoot action. But, for whatever reason, I couldn’t get parents interested in action shots. They only wanted posed or team photos. Besides, the team had one parent who helped out with that and I didn’t want to infringe on his turf.

Posed shot

Here I sat, weighted down with Nikon gear and I hated lugging it around. Too big. Too heavy. It was just not as pleasant to use as the Pentax K5 II. I started looking at alternatives to supplement my D7000’s. As I don’t like to mix brands (mostly for workflow and consistency), I looked at the Nikon offerings. The Coolpix A was very expensive at the time and I simply couldn’t afford one. Then I found a very good deal on a Nikon 1 V1 dual lens kit. It was— surprisingly to me— a lovely, well-built little camera. Sure, the 1-inch sensor's performance was not up to APS-C standards, but AF was fast, it was fun and I carried it with me everywhere. The DSLR kit sat. There are a few nice lenses for the system, but price was an issue for me. I didn’t want to pay DSLR prices for such a small format.

Just a sample from the Pentax K-5 II

I plodded along in Nikon-land, content but not passionate. Then, one day, a professional photographer friend I know well posted on Facebook that he had jumped ship from decades of loyal Canon use to the new Sony A6000.  He claimed it was compact, fast, and capable of great stills and video: everything one could want! I don’t do video so the Sony strength there was unimportant, but it certainly did not hurt.

My Nikon stuff went up for sale (it's much easier to sell Nikon than Pentax, let me tell you) and soon an A6000 arrived. But wait, what about lenses? Sony’s selection was poor, at best. Sigma had the nifty, and cheap, 19mm, 30mm and 60mm lenses. I found those three used and optically, they are quite good, but they don’t take advantage of the fast AF the A6000 promised. So, I searched for a Sony offering. It was dismal. Aside from the Zeiss 24mm F1.8, the native wide-angle lenses were mediocre, and the zooms not much better. The lens selection was— and is— a weakness with Sony. Although it is currently much better for full frame users, it comes at the expense of price, size and weight. And, wait, what about the APS-C user? Sony, like it has done with other products, appears to be orphaning that market in favor of the hot A7 full frame series.

While I found the A6000 to be a technical marvel, it had no soul. No personality. It wasn’t fun to use. It was just a computer you attach a lens to. It may have been right for my friend (who is now one of the Sony Artisans), but for me, the Sony just wasn’t pleasant.

Fuji’s X100 and the X-series cameras had tempted me from the start. As a former Leica and Contax G shooter, the X-Pro 1 had seduced me from its announcement. But prices had kept me away. Two years after its introduction, the system had grown, firmware had been updated and prices had come way down. I sold my A6000, Zeiss 24mm and a tele-zoom for an X-Pro 1, 23mm 1.4 and 60mm macro. It was love. I thought the image quality from the Fuji blew the Sony/Zeiss combo away. I became a full-fledged Fuji fanboy. In fact, I became so caught up in Fuji that within a month, I had to have an X-T1, abandoning the X-Pro 1. Big mistake. The X-T1 was aesthetically lovely, but it was lacking in performance. With all its quirks, the image image qualty was fantastic, however. About the same time I found the X-T1, I found an Olympus E-M1. Because of the challenges I had with the Fuji, I thought I would give the E-M1 a chance. It had improved where the E-M5 had lacked. I decided to go back to Olympus.

Another sample

Life was good in Olympus land— or so I thought. The Olympus was much easier to use, and much faster. All in all a more refined user experience was delivered in part thanks to an improved AF system.  The lens lineup was great, too. I bought a legacy 4/3 50-200mm SWD lens along with the 12mm F2, 17mm F1.8 and 45mm F1.8. Overall, it really was a brilliant system, but the 50-200mm and adapter was big. I wanted to get the pro 40-150mm to save weight and improve AF speed. But the cost was just too much, and I kept longing for the IQ of the Fuji.

Fuji keeps improving its cameras with firmware updates, and a big one was on the horizon. So I jumped back with another X-T1, the 18mm, 35mm and 55-200mm. Firmware 4.0 brought it close to the Olympus AF speed and alas, I mostly felt satisfied. I was planning our future together. I had wanted to add the 40-150mm F2.8 and 16-55mm F2.8 for their flexibility and weather resistance. And of course, I wanted to have a few primes. Fuji’s lenses are sublime, but price is always a deterrent, and when looking at the zooms size and weight was as well. But that was the plan, since I was a Fuji fanboy.

At that point, I thought back to my Pentax 50-135mm. It was smaller, cheaper, but it just wasn’t long enough. I would have the same complaint about reach with the Fuji. Maybe I should add the 1.4x teleconverter and I’d be good. But the Pentax kept encroaching on my thought process. As good as the Fuji is supposed to be optically, the Pentax couldn’t be far behind because it was a darn good lens.

Nevertheless, I was a citizen in Fujiland. I was living with its quirks and annoyances.  Then my 13-year-old daughter got into a photography class, and needed a camera.

The trusty K20D

When I looked at options, Pentax rose to the top of the list. Build quality, optical quality and price. I found a K20D and kit lens for my daughter for $150. She became a Pentaxian. The purchase for her made me reflect on the last few years of my brand swapping. It came to me that my Pentax experience was one of the most satisfying of all the brands I had tried, aside from a few minor complaints.

I looked at images from my Pentax days, started looking again at used prices and comparing Fuji vs. Pentax. Fuji’s 40-150mm weighs in at 995 grams, the Pentax 50-135mm is 765 grams. The Pentax 16-50mm is 600 grams, Fuji’s equivalent is 655 grams. Add a body, the K5 II was 760 grams alongside the 440-gram X-T1. Ultimately there were only 35 grams of weight difference in favor of the Fuji for the entire kit. Add the numerous batteries you need to keep the Fuji running, and the Fuji kit weighs more. Looking at cost, I could purchase an entire used Pentax kit for the price of a used Fuji 40-150mm.

Pentax was looking better every day. On an impulse (I’m a bit impulsive with gear, in case it hasn’t been made obvious yet) I posted my entire Fuji kit for sale. Literally a few hours later, it sold, and thus, began my return to Pentax. I opted, this time, for the 60-250mm. This addressed my concerns of the lack of reach offered by the 50-13mm5. And I again found a 16-50mm and ended up with another K5 II (I had wanted a K-3, but since I went for the 60-250mm, I had to give on the camera).

Coming from mirrorless, I found the return to a DSLR refreshing. EVF’s are great in many ways, but even though lag is minimal, it is present and I was missing moments. Maybe I’m old school, but I have to say I do enjoy a good optical viewfinder.

Third sample

My original K5 II complaints of slowish AF have shifted, perhaps thanks to the 60-250mm or maybe just perspective. Compared to the Nikon it is slow, but compared to the Olympus and Fuji, it is much better, as I discovered when I performed my standardized continuous AF test: a quick test of my 11-year-old daughter running at me full bore, from about the same starting point on the same sidewalk, at about the same time of day in front of my house. I’ve done this with my Fuji, Olympus and now Pentax. I was mostly satisfied with my Fuji and Olympus AF performance, after firmware updates from both companies. I thought I would be satisfied with my return to Pentax if performance was at least as good.

The results astounded me. Olympus gave me 78% in focus of the 42 frames shot. Fuji 76% of 21 frames shot in 4-8-second bursts. But to my surprise, the Pentax was 100% sharp in a 20-frame burst. These were shot in very similar conditions with similar lenses: 50-200mm SWD 4/3, 55-200mm XF and 60-250mm, all wide open.

While weight savings can be had with mirrorless, most certainly with Olympus, one pays a premium price (even for used) compared to what can be found in the Pentax world. For a smaller investment, Pentax offers better (or at least equivalent) image quality to the best mirrorless bodies that APS-C has to offer. The build quality is as good or better, too. Weather resistance comes at a more affordable entry point and I would post optical quality on par with the best out there.

Final sample

So, here I am, back with Pentax. I’m planning a new future with a K-3, Limiteds, and the 150-450mm.  For now, those have to wait, as I unfortunately dropped my lovely 60-250mm and it has to go to Precision for repair.  But I'm certainly looking forward to it!

—Jeffry Scott (jeffryscott)

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