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09-26-2012, 08:28 PM   #1
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The K-mount as both strength and weakness

This is the third in a set of musings about Pentax cameras and lenses and their place in the industry. The first two are in the camera discussion forum.

Pentax makes some great lenses. Its pancake primes are excellent and unique in the industry. As with any company, some of its offerings are better than others, and it has holes in its lineup. What I see from Pentax is that in the last couple of years it has focused more on low end glass than in updating its aging line of high end lenses. It's wonderful that I can slap a 40 year old prime on my K-5 and not worry about it working or not. My question is will those lenses be relevant to the new world of mixed still and video photography?

As good as Pentax lenses are, many of them lack motors. Since modern cameras are fast becoming video machines as well as still photograph cameras, the old lenses are becoming less desirable. Simply put, they are noisy. They lack motors, relying on the camera's screw drive. Even Pentax lenses with motors aren't something to brag about. Lens motors have not been a company strength. The SDM motors have suffered from reliability and speed of focus issues, and some are not silent. While motor noise was an aesthetic problem while shooting still photos, with video there's a nasty impact on recording quality.

Another consideration is that lens coatings have improved in the last ten years, too. As sharp as some of Pentax FA lenses are, they are showing their age in the anti-flare arena. Pentax has shown no indication that it intends to update its old glass.

Has Pentax rested too long on its laurels? Has it relied on legacy lenses that don't quite measure up to modern glass? That's certainly something to look at. If you like manually focusing prime lenses, there's no problem. If you're shooting weddings and need to produce some video for your client, then you might think twice about Pentax as a camera choice.

There are also some holes in the Pentax lineup. It's wide primes are optically worse than the 12-24mm zoom. But that's a crop sensor lens. If Pentax does finally introduce a full frame camera, it will hurt for zoom lenses through the entire range. Primes are nice, but many working pros use zooms on assignment.

Even in ranges where Pentax does produce lenses there are shortcomings. The DA* 16-50 is not as sharp through some or most of its range as either the Sigma or Tamron equivalents. The 16-50 is a well built lens, though it has had more than a few problems with its SDM motor, but not being able to beat the Tamron, that costs half as much in IQ, is sad.

Cost is another concern. In the last three years many Pentax lenses have doubled in price. Not that long ago, lens price was a major selling point for Pentax. Now it's not. I'm looking at the DA* 50-135 lens as my next investment. A couple of years ago it was a bit over $800 US. Now, it's listed at $1600. I understand from Adam's post that B&H can offer under the table discounts, but that doesn't help the brand image.

Should I invest $1600 in an arguably good lens that I can't use if Pentax offers a full frame camera in the next year or two? Should I be looking at a third party 70-200mm lens? Sigma and Tamron both make decent alternatives. Should I, instead, consider going with a system that offers full frame glass now? That would insure future compatibility.

That's the rub. As I wrote in my last post, I'm not sure that APS-C sensor DSLRs will remain relevant. Full frame cameras offer more versatility. Canon, Nikon, and to a lesser extent, Sony have systems that include full frame cameras and glass, including full frame compatible zoom lenses. As an aside, they also offer more robust flash systems and third party flash accessory makers build products that are compatible with Nikon and Canon TTL flashes.

My question is whether or not the current Pentax system will be the one I'm happy with in three years. Pentax may be exactly what serves you best. These are the questions I'm asking myself. My K-5 has given me some wonderful images. I'm also bumping against the walls of the APS-C sensor limits in resolution and low light ability. Will I want the increased capabilities of full frame systems? Will I want the convenience, and smaller sizes and weight of non-DSLR, ILC systems? Is Pentax committed to updating its legacy glass? I don't have answers to these questions. I'll be watching the reviews of the newly announced systems. I'll rent or borrow other systems to see if something will better meet my needs. I'll wait until spring before I make any firm decisions. If Pentax announces that it will come out with a full frame camera in the next year and that it will have new quality zooms to go with the camera, I will be very happy. I like Pentax. I just don't know if it will offer the products that will meet my evolving needs.

09-26-2012, 08:50 PM   #2
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Lens prices don't really change much on the used market. It seems like if anything, high quality lenses are a good investment (much better than you could have done if you had invested in real estate or the stock market 5 yrs ago). So I don't really understand the fact that people are apprehensive about the direction that Pentax will be moving. Say they never release FF - worst case scenario is you sell your lenses and system and move to Canikon with a minor loss due to selling fees. There is always uncertainty in the future, especially with the fast pace developments in the digital camera industry.

I personally hope Pentax releases FF eventually, but I don't NEED it today. Today I like shooting my K-x and I am still not at the skill where I would benefit much from going FF. But if one does NEED FF for whatever reason, just switch systems!

"Every photograph you've ever admired was taken with past equipment, not the thing you're waiting for someone to announce" - Thom Hogan
09-26-2012, 09:04 PM   #3
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You ended your well written musing with: "I just don't know if it will offer the products that will meet my evolving needs."

Needs change, As do artistic visions and customer demand.

Brand loyalty should never get in the way of what tools one needs to move on.

Some can keep going with the same equipment for decades producing exactly what they want, Some cant.

A very personal journey.
09-27-2012, 01:54 AM - 1 Like   #4
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Buy the 50-135 and enjoy it.

FF seems to be to-days flavour of the month, but APS-C performance to-day matches yesterdays FF IMO.

If you want FF to-day, go and buy a system. It's only money and we're a long time dead. Otherwise, suck it up and enjoy your K-5.

Too much analysis and soul searching just results in inertia and you missing out on things.

Who knows what will happen to-morrow?

09-27-2012, 03:22 AM   #5
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Ill go back to the same reference that I used in your post on APS-C. The camera is a tool in the tool box. It is the photographer that makes the picture not the camera.

Here although you are discussing lenses you claim the low light capability of the APS -c sensor is a limiting factor. Sensor technology has evolved greatly om the *istD to the K5, and will continue. aPS-C cameras because of their market share evolve and update faster than full frame, therefore while a full frame might be wonderful the moment it comes out, it is quickly surpassed in performance at the sensor level by its siblings. If you want to ride the crest of the sensor resolution and resolution wave full frame is not the way forward

As for Pentax and "resting on their laurels" given being sold twice and having three failed technology partnerships in the digital era, can you blame them for caution?

It has cost them badly to try and lead
09-27-2012, 03:32 AM   #6
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If sensors continue to improve at the rate they have during the last 5 years, very soon an APS-C or even smaller sensor is more than enough.
Up to now the sensor has been the limiting factor, perhaps the lenses are the limiting factor in the (near?) future.

What is the point then to make FF lenses? Or cameras. To impress a fellow canikon user or to combine a fitness gym and photography?

Seb
09-27-2012, 04:55 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by mysticcowboy Quote
As good as Pentax lenses are, many of them lack motors. Since modern cameras are fast becoming video machines as well as still photograph cameras, the old lenses are becoming less desirable. Simply put, they are noisy. They lack motors, relying on the camera's screw drive. Even Pentax lenses with motors aren't something to brag about. Lens motors have not been a company strength. The SDM motors have suffered from reliability and speed of focus issues, and some are not silent. While motor noise was an aesthetic problem while shooting still photos, with video there's a nasty impact on recording quality.
This depends on what level of video you're shooting. Most of the more expensive video cameras, with which DSLRs are competing in terms of image quality, are manual focus only...and will probably remain that way. So shooting video with a manual lens isn't that big of a hinderance. In fact, it may even be more desirable.
09-27-2012, 05:25 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by TaoMaas Quote
This depends on what level of video you're shooting. Most of the more expensive video cameras, with which DSLRs are competing in terms of image quality, are manual focus only...and will probably remain that way. So shooting video with a manual lens isn't that big of a hinderance. In fact, it may even be more desirable.
Many manual focus lenses have better focus through and dampening than the af counterparts. As far as the age of the k-mount, the Nikon F was 16 years old when when the K was released in 1975. Pentax kept the registration distance the same with the m37, m42 and K-mount.


Last edited by Blue; 09-27-2012 at 05:43 AM.
09-27-2012, 05:55 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Blue Quote
Many manual focus lenses have better focus through and dampening than the af counterparts.
Right! It allows the videographer to be in control of what they want to have in focus and what they want out of focus. I'm a videographer. In our shop, we have a big traditional camera with a manual focus zoom...and we have a much smaller, lighter camera with an autofocus lens. The last two videographers I worked with wouldn't even carry the autofocus camera on shoots. To them, it was a toy. But they were both old-school news shooters. I use whatever works best.
09-27-2012, 10:20 AM   #10
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mysticcowboy, I think you're overconcerned in a way - APS-C will not become obsolete in next years for sure...
50-135 is excellent glass....I personally rate it higher than FA77 limited, but I do rate K 85/1.8 in a same way - this leads to your concern about old manual focus lenses. If you buy old Pentaxes great ones or old Pentax * lenses ...you will not be dissapointed. I've tested K85 against 77 and 70 limiteds and it is better than either of them. Unfortunately this fact is known to many Pentaxians....that's why those lenses are quite expensive.
09-27-2012, 10:41 AM   #11
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this last page of postings has had a lot of common sense answers.

Unless you are looking for a microscopic camera, pentax, even with the "terribly antiquated oversized and out of date" lens mount still manages to make lenses and cameras smaller than the competition.

One thing that is often overlooked in a ton of discussions about technology etc, is that there is a good and definite need for interfaces to remain the same, for an interchangeable lens camera, that is the mount, both mechanically and electrically.

It can evolve, as was seen with A contacts, the AF screw and AF contact, and the KAF2 mount with power contacts, but functionality has largely been retained across 40 years now. Why should the mount change, they are only using about 25% of the available area for contacts, so there is a ton of space left for the future.

as for the mount driving lens size and weight, this is and always has been a real joke. most lenses are from a size and weight point dictated by the diameter of the front element. my 300F4 will not get appreciably lighter ans smaller just because the mount changes, because there is a huge 77mm front element that still needs to be housed to make it F4.

What APS C has done, along with some new optical materials has enabled/forced/necessitated much better and wider lenses to become common. At the opposite end, long fast tele's are somewhat of a dying breed because with the high ISO performance of cameras as early as the K7, you could still bump the ISO and shoot with F5.6 in place of F2.8 or F4, with the added advantage that you had more DOF any way. That trend is still coming through in the long end.,

The only real restriction in terms of compactness that the present mount hurts, actually has nothing to do with the mount itself, but the system regestry.

being bound to 46mm from the focus plane forces retrofocus groups into wider angle lenses than necessary, so lenses could become smaller with a reduced distance, but at a cost, specifically that the sensor would be much more prone to vignetting due to the accute angle of incidence of the light at the corners. this is a trade off, but for now, i see no point in discarding the mount.
09-27-2012, 01:12 PM   #12
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+1, Lowell. Your last paragraph points up the problems with extreme wide angle lenses with sensors.
09-27-2012, 01:45 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Canada_Rockies Quote
+1, Lowell. Your last paragraph points up the problems with extreme wide angle lenses with sensors.
my BIL has a leica and the kodak sensor has progressively further offset micro lenses as you move out radially, to cope with the problem, plus I think they run "variable ISO" i.e. higer gain in the outer sensors , again radially, to resolve some of this.

but they can do all sorts for the $9K the leica costs
09-27-2012, 01:54 PM   #14
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APS- C isn't going away and even if it would, you could still shoot APS-C lenses on a full frame camera in crop mode. The K Mount isn't particularly a liability for Pentax, unless you want to shoot lenses from other systems with shorter registration distances (like Canon, Leica, etc).

As to the video issue, it has been already addressed, but manual focus is definitely the way to go, in general. My brother has D7000 and non-stabilized primes hunt like crazy and camera shake is killer, making its usefuleness for shooting off-hand videos some questionable. My K5 is much more useful, even though it doesn't have auto focus in video mode, because in-body stabilization actually works and manual focus works as well.

I do hope Pentax releases a full frame option, but since we have no idea what they are working on, we really don't know if they are resting on their laurels or not.
09-28-2012, 08:25 AM   #15
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The biggest problem I see with the K-mount is its dwindling support among 3rd party lens makers. That, along with the aged flash line-up and technology, would be my primary reason for switching systems when my K-5 has EOL'd. FF is less of a concern.

Case in point - I have the Tamron 70-200/2.8. An optically superb lens I purchased to replace my DA* 50-135 which didn't have enough reach for dance and theatre photography. But it's noisy. A new, silent Tamron 70-200/2.8 was unveiled at Photokina but it won't be available for K-mount. I would love to spend my money on this lens. Many of the new Sigmas won't be available for the K either.

Another mentioned issue is price. With more FF models on the market, I believe APS-C shooters from CaNikon and Sony will protect their investments purchasing FF glass. That will drive the cost of APS-C glass down. I can't see how Pentax will be able to maintain their current high prices.

So your concerns are quite valid.
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