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06-03-2010, 11:09 AM   #1
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18-55mm + 50-200mm WR as alternative to compact

I wanted to title this thread "Can you help me find happiness for under $500?" but I know that won't draw very many responses.


The problem

Anyway, here's my problem, as briefly as I can put it.

For my work doing weddings and portraits, I now have a kit that I'm very pleased with, consisting of a K10D/K20D and a bunch of primes (mostly Pentax, some Sigma). I shoot almost exclusively with the primes. I'm not really looking for a change to my "serious photography" equipment.

What I am looking for is something better suited for carrying around everywhere and in particular for taking on vacation. For example, we're going to Yellowstone National Park this summer. I really don't want to take two cameras and six lenses. I might add, in connection with this trip to Yellowstone, and we will be camping for a week; and we camp fairly frequently during our vacations. However, I'm not shopping just for vacation. I would kind of like to have a camera I could carry around with me all the time, and be ready for a variety of challenges.

After a fair bit of "research," I ordered a Pentax X90. It was delivered yesterday. I've done some quick but careful testing. I picked this instead of the W90 (5x zoom) or the Panasonic DMC-ZS7 (12x) because of the mind-boggling zoom. The X90's 26x zoom is roughly equivalent (in FOV) to what I'd get by using one of my DSLRs with a 1.4x teleconverter + a 300mm lens (= 420mm). Anyway, let's just say that, while it's a very nice little camera in many ways, I've decided this is not the answer to MY personal prayers. So it's going back to Amazon later this afternoon. My main complaint about the X90 is that the image quality simply isn't as good as I'd like.


Possible solutions (1): compact cameras

So here are the compact camera options I'm considering at the moment.
  • Panasonic DMC-LX3. Two years old but it looks like it's still the best compact camera on the market. Pros: Leica lens with a FOV more or less equivalent to what I'd get on my K10D with an 18-40mm zoom, raw mode, f/2-2.8. Cons: No real telephoto capability. If I want something small to carry around and I want the best possible image quality, this looks like the best choice. No video.
  • Panasonic DMC-ZS7. Looks like nice compromise. 12x zoom. No raw. Does video. Very well reviewed. Leica lens, although not as fast as the LX3 or, for that matter, the Pentax X90.
  • Pentax H90. Massive compromises here—the best any reviewer can say about image quality is that it's better than they expected. But it's cheap and small, so it really would fit in my pocket, and as "take everywhere" camera it would at least be an improvement on my cell phone.

Both of these cameras get excellent reviews, albeit for slightly different reasons. The LX3 is clearly best for image quality, but you compromise on zoom range, video. The ZS7 lacks raw, has a slower lens, and image quality apparently isnt quite as good as the LX3's; but the ZS7 has a good zoom, video, and some other nice features. Of these two, I'm leaning toward the first one, the LX3. Aside from vacation use, the focal range of the LX3 would suit me nicely if I used it as a carry-everywhere camera.


Possible solutions (2): sticking with DSLR

But I'm now thinking that, perhaps the compact camera idea simply won't work. So now I'm considering something new.
  • Taking my Pentax K10D with me on vacation + the Pentax 16-45 f/4 lens, and perhaps the Tamron 70-300.
  • Buying the Pentax 18-55 WR AND the 50-200 WR and taking them with me to use on the K10D.

The first idea costs me nothing: I have the 16-45 f/4 and the Tamron 70-300 already. It's that last idea I really am asking for help with. How is the image quality of those two WR kit lenses? I owned the non-WR versions of these lenses about 4 years ago. The 18-55 came with my K100D (first DSLR I purchased) and the 50-200 was the next lens I acquired. I ended up selling both of them fairly quickly. I've not used the WR versions.

Obviously, I'm attracted to the idea of having a couple of WR lenses, since I've got (in my K10D and K20D) a couple of weather-resistant bodies. TO be honest, I don't worry about weather-resistance when I'm shooting weddings. None of my lenses are weather-resistant any more but it's just never been a problem. But camping in Yellowstone, well, it might be a good thing to have a couple of WR lenses. And I was surprised to learn just now that these lenses are much less expensive than I expected.


The question

So what do you think I should do? If I'm used to the image quality I'm getting from my Pentax 21, 40, 70, etc., will I be disappointed in the image quality of the 18-55 WR and/or 50-200 WR?

Will

06-03-2010, 11:51 AM   #2
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Short answer: yes. The quality is not in the same league IMHO, but at least you will get a shot without risking your lens and camera if weather is against you. If you eventually decide to buy it, get a used one so you won't regret it.
06-03-2010, 01:28 PM   #3
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I would agree with summonbaka on this.

I have a bunch of lenses including limited primes and good zooms with my favorites being the DA*16-50 and DA 17-70. I recently purchased the DA 18-55WR lens and am re-enjoying this fine kit lens. It's not as fast at my DA*16-50 but it does deliver good images and is light, not to mention the WR aspect. The first year I had my K10 I loved the DA 50-200 lens and have produced some excellent images with it as well. If your traveling light these two would be fine for a lot of situation IMHO. One other option is the Tamron 18-250 travel lens. I love mine. It's no WR but it's very versatile and produces good images over a very wide range. Yes you can do better with your primes but these two options are good for the travel aspect.
06-03-2010, 01:57 PM   #4
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Original Poster
Thanks for the replies. I appreciate the input.

I'm actually still thinking about one or both of the WR lenses. Makes sense to have at least ONE WR lens, given that I've got a couple of weather-resistant bodies.

But I decided for now to order the Panasonix DMC-LX3. Decided that it's terrific image quality and great walk-about form factor trump my desire to have longer focal lengths for possibly shooting wildlife on vacation. When I'm NOT on vacation (which 95% of the year) I don't really have use for long telephoto lenses. So I expect the LX3 will work nicely for me most of the time. And for my vacation, well, it looks like I'll have to lug the K10D plus a couple of lenses, either the Pentax 16-45 f/4 or perhaps the Sigma 17-70, and the Tamron 70-300. One of these days I'll win the lottery and buy the Bigma or something like that. ;-)

Thanks again.

Will

06-03-2010, 03:41 PM   #5
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The 50-200WR is optically identical to the orignal 50-200 and should be expected to eprform the same, although there seems to be more than uual sample variation here.

The 18-5WR is the new optical formula, better overall than the 18-55 you got with your K100D.

I'd be curious to see images you weren't satisfied with from the X90. I don't know the camera, but would have been inclined to guess that at low ISO, hardly anyoen would be able to tell the difference between images from it and from a DSLR with any consumer zoom attached (even upgraded ones like the 16-45 or 55-300) without *extreme* pixel peeping. At higher ISO, I'd expect the differences to be more obvious.

On that assumption, you might consider the X90 plus an LX3 for low light use. The K10D + 18-55 & 50-200 should be at least good if miuch larger, but neither lens gives you much in the way of low light shooting ability, so maybe take the DA40 also - or get an LX3 (!) - for that.

I've actually thought about this from another angle: take my DSLR with some nice small primes to cover shorter focal lengths and low light shooting, but get something like the DS7 for long telephoto shooting. Much smaller & lighter than a tele lens for my DSLR, and I'm guesisng the IQ would be more than good enough for my purposes.
06-03-2010, 10:11 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Marc Sabatella Quote
I'd be curious to see images you weren't satisfied with from the X90.
Well, here's one example.



That was taken hand-held at full zoom (676mm equivalent!).

And here's a whole gallery of some of the better shots:

Picasa Web Albums - William - 20100603 Pent...

It's not that the shots were bad, I mean, really bad. Years ago, I think I would have been happy with these shots. Actually I think the X90 is a rather nifty little camera and I don't want to dis it. For another shooter it might be ideal.

My decision to return the X90 was based on a number of things, which I'll talk about in a moment.


QuoteQuote:
On that assumption, you might consider the X90 plus an LX3 for low light use. The K10D + 18-55 & 50-200 should be at least good if miuch larger, but neither lens gives you much in the way of low light shooting ability, so maybe take the DA40 also - or get an LX3 (!) - for that.
Well, now I'm carrying a lot more stuff around than I wanted. Not to mention that an X90 PLUS an LX3 would break the current budget. The choices were either (a) X90 or (b) Panasonic LX3 or ZS7 or (c) the two WR lenses to use with one of my DSLR bodies. Only one of the above was feasible.


QuoteQuote:
I've actually thought about this from another angle: take my DSLR with some nice small primes to cover shorter focal lengths and low light shooting, but get something like the DS7 for long telephoto shooting. Much smaller & lighter than a tele lens for my DSLR, and I'm guesisng the IQ would be more than good enough for my purposes.
I'm assuming you meant "ZS7" (the Panasonic model that has a 28-300 equivalent zoom and seems to be a very good camera overall).

Yes, this is kind of what I was thinking when I ordered the X90. I can't afford a Bigma. I could have afforded the Pentax 300 f/4 (manual focus), about $400 from keh.com. The 300 f/4 gets me about 2 stops over the Tamron 70-300, which I often shoot at f/8. But then I lose the zoom capability, and at least the way I shoot wildlife on vacation—which is to say, not very seriously—not being able to zoom really matters at that focal length in a way it doesn't matter to me when I'm shooting subjects up close.

What I wanted, as I started my shopping recently, was to satisfy as many of these goals as possible:
  1. Good take-everywhere camera
  2. Good "vacation" camera, which could mean a couple of things, like weather-resistance, and/or longer zoom for wildlife
  3. Video

I have listed the goals in order of importance to me. The only goal that the X90 absolutely satisfied was #3 (video). With respect to #2, I have decided that, although it SEEMS like the X90's 676mm-equivalent lens beats the pants off my 450mm-equivalent Tamron 70-300, well, it just doesn't. I took a number of photos of the same subjects and cropped the Tamron shot to the same field of view, and felt that the cropped shot on the dslr was better. Yes, the X90 is more convenient. But it wasn't really going to work as a substitute for a big zoom lens on the DSLR.

And as for goal #1: While the X90 is a lot smaller even than my *ist DS, it's still way too big to stuff in my pocket or carry around everywhere. With the LX3, I won't satisfy goals 2 or 3, but I think I will satisfy goal #1 very nicely. Well, I'll know more in a day or two.

*

I should add—because I really don't want to bad-mouth the X90—that it's possible that the X90 can take better photos than I took with it. I didn't study the user's guide and there was certainly a LOT that I didn't pick up about the camera in a single day of shooting. It doesn't matter, though, because my decision to send the X90 back wasn't based simply on image quality. The form-factor of the camera was also very important, perhaps even more important.


Will
06-04-2010, 06:05 AM   #7
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After owning many fairly high quality lenses, I've bought the 18-55 WR lens this winter, for hiking and snowshoeing. I expected to be disappointed.

I was not.

The lens is surprinsingly good, much better than I expected. Contrast is great, colours are vivid, and it's sharp enough. It's also super small and light, and very well built.

Going the WR lenses route is the best solution IMHO. Simply because no compact will get close to the quality of a DSLR. I've owned three of them (from Nikon, Canon and Pentax) and even though they are fine and serve a role, for serious photography they just don't cut it.

The 16-45 could be a fine choice too. Only you know if your shooting style and conditions fit better with or without WR. I know from the moment I got my K20D I've been thinking about a WR solution. Until the WR kit was released it meant the 15-60, too bulky and expensive.

The WR kit seems the perfect hiking solution for me, so light and compact. And reliable. The Sigma 17-70 is still a better lens, but the WR kit gets the job done.

I can't comment on the 55-200, but I suspect you can expect performances similar to your 70-300 in a lighter and smaller package.
06-04-2010, 09:26 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
Well, here's one example.
Hmm. Looked at that on picasaweb at the largest size available, and have to say, if that's taken at 676mm equivalent, meaning over 400mm on a DSLR, I'd personally keep the X90 in your shoes. I know you say you compared your Tamron 70-300 cropped to match and found it did better, but I guess I'd have to see that to believe it. In fact, I'd be *extremely* curious to see this comparison!

Even if the 70-300 beats the X90 here, though, the DA50-200 being shorter will struggle more to keep up at that extreme of an FOV. I guess if there's something you really find better about the 70-300 compared to the X90 here, the 50-200 might at least break even, but that's about all I'd expect at that extreme. No trouble believing it might outperform the X90 at shorter focal lengths, though.

QuoteQuote:
Well, now I'm carrying a lot more stuff around than I wanted. Not to mention that an X90 PLUS an LX3 would break the current budget. The choices were either (a) X90 or (b) Panasonic LX3 or ZS7 or (c) the two WR lenses to use with one of my DSLR bodies. Only one of the above was feasible.
Yeah, I wasn't entirely serious about the LX3 as the low light option. But don't you already own the DA40? It's so small and light, it barely qualifies as "more stuff". "It's only wafer thin"...

QuoteQuote:
I'm assuming you meant "ZS7" (the Panasonic model that has a 28-300 equivalent zoom and seems to be a very good camera overall).
I did. It's enough smaller than the X90 to be kind of like the DA40 in that respect - so small it's very easy to make room for.

QuoteQuote:
I should add—because I really don't want to bad-mouth the X90—that it's possible that the X90 can take better photos than I took with it. I didn't study the user's guide and there was certainly a LOT that I didn't pick up about the camera in a single day of shooting. It doesn't matter, though, because my decision to send the X90 back wasn't based simply on image quality. The form-factor of the camera was also very important, perhaps even more important.
Right. I'm actually very impressed by the IQ in your samples, but still, form factor would have me thinking ZS7 or the like instead if I were going for a "vacation" camera.

06-04-2010, 09:55 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Marc Sabatella Quote
Hmm. Looked at that on picasaweb at the largest size available, and have to say, if that's taken at 676mm equivalent, meaning over 400mm on a DSLR, I'd personally keep the X90 in your shoes. I know you say you compared your Tamron 70-300 cropped to match and found it did better, but I guess I'd have to see that to believe it. In fact, I'd be *extremely* curious to see this comparison!
Well, you can see it in the Picasa gallery, or at least one or two examples. Start with this pic of a door knob on my back porch, taken by the X90; the compare it to the next pic, which is a crop from the photo taken by the K20D + Tamron 70-300.

I didn't upload full-res files so, for pixel-peeping purposes, the comparison has been somewhat diluted already. Nevertheless, after looking at several comparisons of this sort, I came to the conclusion—well, I'd rather say that I came to the realization—that the 676mm-equivalent focal length on the X90 does not equal shooting with a 450mm lens (approximately 676mm-equivalent) on my K20D. Indeed, I'm slightly embarrassed now that I ever thought otherwise. It now seems to me that, as good as the X90 is, the difference in the sensors and the quality of the lenses, and also the fact that on the K20D I can shoot raw, means that, with my DSLR, I have very nearly the same reach as the X90, if I'm willing to crop. In addition to the really-pretty-good Tamron 70-300, I also have a Tamron 1.4x teleconverter, so if the light's good, I actually have up to 420mm in actual focal length (or 630mm equivalent in full-frame terms). There may be a difference in the max aperture available at these max focal lengths on the two cameras but even if there's a slight advantage to the X90 in that regard, I can compensate for it by raising the ISO on the K20D.

I think the X90 is exactly what I wanted five to six years ago, when I was using and very much liking the Canon S-series superzooms: a single camera that can go from wide angle to ultra-telephoto.

But now I kind of wish that somebody made a compact camera that provided ultra-telephoto capability but did NOT provide the wide-angle, too. With my DSLRs right now, I can, for example, put the Sigma 17-70 on one camera, and the Tamron 70-300 with the teleconverter on the other, and hope to take a pretty decent photo of whatever I encounter, using one camera or the other. I would be willing to carry two compact cameras that provided the same functionality. But as far as I can tell, there are no compact cameras that are "specialists" so to speak in the telephoto zoom range.


Will
06-04-2010, 06:32 PM   #10
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My other 1/2 uses a Panasonic TZ3 and the more recent TZ10 (ZS7?)

they are great little cameras if you understand that at a pxel level they are no match for a moderate DSLR with an average lens.

However for convenience you can't beat them. Imagine taking your DSLR with lenses that cover 25-300mm into the mosh pit of a punk gig and getting these images.....Deathstars - a set on Flickr

Its all horses for courses.

Personally I can't see the X90 producing worse images than the Panasonic's so if your aren't happy with that then maybe a compact camera will not do... I don't know.

MZ
06-04-2010, 09:41 PM   #11
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Panasonic LX3

This may be a bit off-topic, but I thought I'd follow up.

The Panasonic LX3 arrived today and, well, "wow!" is the word that comes to mind.

I really do NOT mean to knock the Pentax X90, which is a MUCH more versatile camera than the LX3. The LX3 isn't going to be useful to me AT ALL for shooting birds and other wildlife (unless I can get within 20 ft). Still, the first thing that slapped me in the face when I opened the LX3 box and held it in my hands was how beautiful it is, and how extraordinarily well built it feels. I mean, the X90 makes me think of a Macdonald's hamburger, while the LX3 makes me think of filet mignon at a fine hotel. I've always been impressed with the build of the K10D/K20D, but to be honest, the LX3's build feels better. It surely isn't, in some respects. I don't think the LX3 is weather-sealed, for starters. Nevertheless, well, you'd just have to have one in your hands to know what I'm thinking of. It feels like a serious, grown-up camera.

The 3", 460K dot LCD on the LX3 is stunning. I'm used to the older 2.5", much lower-res displays on my K10D/K20D bodies. The Pentax X90 had a 2.5" display as well.

The controls are remarkably well thought out and easy to use. I haven't cracked the manual yet—and there's obviously a LOT to learn about this camera—but I've been able to get a good bit figured out without much trouble at all.

I've only taken a handful of quick pictures so far, all jpeg. (The camera supports raw but I have not figured out how to switch to raw yet.) Image quality is outstanding. Not sure whether it's the Leica lens or the special sensor; probably both.

By the way, the LX3 comes with SilkyPix Developer Studio 3—not a stripped down version, but the full, real version. Nice.

I'm also very pleased (and a little surprised) to discover that I was completely wrong about something: the LX3 does in fact do video. I thought it didn't.

Anyway, I think I've got my take-everywhere camera problem solved. :-)

Will
06-05-2010, 07:17 AM   #12
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Here are some shots taken with the DA50-200 WR:












My opinion of the lens:

1. Build feels sturdier than the original DA 50-200mm;
2. Don't use it at 200mm. It's useless at that focal length. But just bringing it down a tad bit to 180mm, you already see a huge improvement;
3. Shoot at f5.6 or smaller. You'll have more keepers;
4. Corners are soft unless shooting over f8. I prefer f10/f11. At these apertures the lens performs notably if you are after corner to corner sharpness;
5. Colors and saturation are very good.

Will I keep this lens? Yes (for now), because I like the weight, size and build, which is great for travelling. This lens is an outdoor lens to be used when light is ample. That is unless you use a KX or are willing to shoot at higher ISOs.

Hope this helped
06-05-2010, 10:09 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
Well, you can see it in the Picasa gallery, or at least one or two examples. Start with this pic of a door knob on my back porch, taken by the X90; the compare it to the next pic, which is a crop from the photo taken by the K20D + Tamron 70-300.
Well, I see what I expected to see - I thought the X90 picture looked better, so I guess it's just a subjective difference in our tastes. The 70-300 picture is no doubt contrastier, but that's something I'd expect to be able to control through camera settings and/or PP. Maybe I'd feel differently after playing with both cameras longer and seeing a wider of images. But of course, the minute oyu need to turn up the ISO, the DSLR will always win, and being able to shoot RAW is indeed nice. Between that and the form factor of the X90, I'd be returning it too.

QuoteQuote:
But now I kind of wish that somebody made a compact camera that provided ultra-telephoto capability but did NOT provide the wide-angle, too.
Just to avoid the distortions inherent in such a design? I too would consider a compact for its tele capabilities, but having wide angle too seems nice if you don't giver up too much to get it. I guess I'd have to see how much better it could be without the wide.

But yeah, the LX3 seems impressive...
06-05-2010, 10:19 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Marc Sabatella Quote
But yeah, the LX3 seems impressive...

And now I've just learned that Samsung has stepped into the fray with its next EX1. Has a slightly longer zoom range than the Panasonic LX3, and the lens is slightly faster. Video apparently not as good. OH, well, I'm happy with the LX3, which is smaller and cheaper. Got to stop shopping at some point!

Will
06-06-2010, 03:43 PM   #15
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Just a nnote, anothe option for you, not as expensive as some other solutions.

Keep the lenses you have, since you know and like them. Add a Pentax w90 (or used 60 or 80) for the tricky weather conditions. These cameras do work prtty well, and will survive harsher conditions than the WR equipment.

Here we own the w80, and I own the 18-55 WR and K20D. With these two cameras we can face just about anything
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