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01-25-2008, 08:41 PM   #1
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Keep the K10D/K20D or go to D300 - A hands on test.

First of all let me say, this is really not a knee jerk reaction following the news and specs of the K20D, but a niggling thought I have had for a few months now. My son has a D70S and does well with it, and I am not particularly happy with the low light auto focus of the K10D and my assorted lenses.

Please do not start on about the 'who needs AF anyway, real photographers do it manually...' BS, if the camera can not see the object good enough to focus with it's technology, then my 'Mature' eyes and lack of split image viewfinder sure as heck can not do a good job in low light either dammit! My opinion, we have AF, it should work......

Moving right along, I read up on, talked to and studied all the pros and cons of a move, and with all the Pentax compatible gear I have, it would have hurt, a lot, but I had to ask.

So, today I took myself to my favourite camera shop in Brisbane where I bought my K10D 14 months ago, and was given a new D300 and copies of all the Nikkor and Sigma lenses they had, and told to have at it. Here is my report, for what it is worth, subjective of course and not terribly technical. I shot off 30 or so images on a new CF card so I could take them an evaluate them for my needs, and the followig are my comments for what they are worth.

Look and Feel:
  • The D300 looks and handles well, very similar to the K10D in weight, a few grams heavier without a lens, more with a typical Nikkor VR lens of course.
  • Had a nice feel to the right hand grip, felt a bit more secure than the K10, but also bigger.
  • The LCD screen is brilliant, clear and bright and huge by comparison, reviewing of images was great.
  • Live View of course, nice to have as I had it with the Sony R1 and DSC-7xx and 8xx and I miss it for low level an overhead shots, macros etc, BUT I do not think the fixed live view would be as good as being able to tilt or swivel when needed, but it is there if you need it.

Auto Focus, Accuracy and Response
  • A mixed bag here, yes it indicated focus, and the focus assist on the low light dark areas the K10D would not even try for, all I could say was WOW... I wish!! Nowhere near as fast as the Olympus E-3 I tried a couple of weeks ago, but the object had to be almost in total darkness with no contrast to defeat the focus indicator.
  • Tried the K10D on the same objects, same lighting and the AF gave up while still being relatively light, but we all know this, right?

What really got me on this AF test was, 75% of the test shots in very low light with the D300, where it indicated a focus lock, WERE NOT IN FOCUS WHEN THE IMAGE WAS VIEWED??

The K10D may have sounded like it was sawing firewood while hunting for enough contrast to focus on, but dammit when it said YES and beeped, it WAS IN FOCUS when the image was viewed later.

I complain the the K10D loses me many candid shots because of poor low light focus, the D300 lost me more in my simple, grab it and use it test!!. Maybe in fairness if I spent time with it I could have gotten better, but that was not the objective of this test. Much of my shooting is Grab and Shoot, if I had time to prepare, compose, adjust, focus and capture, then there never is a problem.

Cost of Ownership of Camera and Lenses
  • Well this was not really a surprise, a K10D body right now would cost around $1,100 on a good day, best deal I could grind was $2,599 for the D300 Body. Australian dollars of course. The Grip and Battery, Flash etc were also 40-50% more expensive as well.
  • Lens pricing? Sigma, Tamron etc would be the same, but Sigma has HSM for a few of their popular lenses, 18-200, 10-20, 50-500 Bigma I tried and they were nice and quiet.
  • Nikkor lenses are as costly, or much more expensive than closest equivilent Pentax glass, and there are many grades or quality levels I found.
  • Currently I have 7 Lenses including DA* 50-135, FA 31 Limited, Tamron 18-250, Tamron 90 DI Macro, Sigma 10-20, Sigma 17-70, Sigma 50-500 Bigma and a few older lenses, covering pretty much everything I need or will need
  • SUMMARY OF INVESTMENT: The D300 would cost around $1,500 more for the body, and the lenses an additional $2,000. This extra mainly would be to get a close equivilent for the FA31 Limited (I have not at this time found a comparable Nikkor lens for this beauty) and the DA* 50-135.

MY DECISION:

The answer? No reason to change. Apart from the investment in a new platform, the D300 in a hands on test did not have the advantages in AF I was looking for, and I have learned to use the K10D now, realistically it is in it's own way, a better camera for my needs and I am now looking forward to another year with what I have, and maybe an upgrade to a second body (K20D) later in the year.

Please note, the objective of this exercise was to satisfy my questions, no pixel peeping needed, not wild techy analysis of the specifications, good or bad, I just needed to know if I could solve MY problem. We sometimes get excited over a change, without considering all the implications involved, I for one am very happy with my Pentax, and the range of lenses and accessories I have.

Thanks, Phil


Last edited by matix; 01-25-2008 at 10:36 PM.
01-25-2008, 09:30 PM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by matix Quote
First of all let me say, this is really not a knee jerk reaction following the news and specs of the K20D, but a niggling thought I have had for a few months now.
Phil,

Thank you so much for posting this. I would have thanked you for the effort no matter what conclusion you had drawn, but of course I'm especially delighted that you DO NOT seem to feel that you have to sell your Pentax gear and reinvest in Nikon. I found the account of your experience with the Nikon D300 to be informative and personally helpful.

Will

Last edited by WMBP; 01-25-2008 at 10:01 PM. Reason: added important "DO NOT" that was missing originally (d'oh!)
01-25-2008, 09:45 PM   #3
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Thanks from me too, Phil. Another Brisbaneite

I have the K10D and almost exactly the same collection of lenses that you have - amazing coincidence. I only seem to have two that you don't - the Pentax 10-17 Fisheye - but that's only for very occasional use. The Sigma 10-20 serves most of my landscaping etc needs.

I also have the 16-50 DA* f/2.8, and I seem to have been lucky and got a good one.

I've been reading about the K20D, the 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, Live Preview, etc etc - but I'm not sure I can justify changing. Maybe if or when I decide to get a second body, then it would be K20D.

Mind you, if anybody wants to make me an offer I can't refuse for my K10D....
01-25-2008, 10:16 PM   #4
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Very good post Phil.

Kudos to you for taking the time & trouble to actually get off your butt and do your own homework. Admirable. Lets hope some others take your lead.

Your AF findings are something that are stated occasionally, but they seem to get dismissed as irrelevant by some that are more interested in the statistical data rather than what the machine (camera) actually does.

Thanks for the effort and thanks for posting.
Grant

01-26-2008, 08:07 AM   #5
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Cool!
I work as a video professional. I was recently booked to cover a rally for a presidential candidate. The client was from outside the area and requested that I secure a still photographer for them as well. I booked a wedding guy that did some photojournalism on the side. The shoot was the typical speaker at a podium gig with preset press risers. He showed up with his D200 sporting the 70-210 VR 2.8 lens. I brought my lowly K100D along for fun.
With some pre-event time to kill, we did the normal "shoot off". I was stunned at the AF speed of the Nikon. However, he was very impressed with the low light performance of my lowly K100d, and that was with the kit lens! I showed him the SunPak 433d flash setup (ebay-$8.12 shipped!) with the poor man piece of velum diffusion. He was surprised how well the flash setup worked in the old fashioned manual setup. (with the flash doing the exposure) Even did reasonably well in bounce mode!

About then the client dropped a bombshell on my photographer. They wanted groups shots after the main event with about 40 people. My photographer had shown up with just his camera and the one lens! Ouch.
Guess what rig he shot his group shots with?
After the event, he brought his memory card over to my shop so I could ship his photo's to Washington with my tapes.
Guess what? Only about a third of his D200 shots had totally hit focus........ OK, I get it. They substitite speed for accuracy.

He was stunned at how well my little K100d worked, considering how much less $ it was compared to his almost $4000 rig. Then I showed him my kit bag... Under $1000 and includes 7 great lens, 4 flashes, and wireless rig.....

Next time a client wants still photography, I'LL be doing the shooting with a new K20D!
01-26-2008, 08:56 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by matix Quote
What really got me on this AF test was, 75% of the test shots in very low light with the D300, where it indicated a focus lock, WERE NOT IN FOCUS WHEN THE IMAGE WAS VIEWED??

The K10D may have sounded like it was sawing firewood while hunting for enough contrast to focus on, but dammit when it said YES and beeped, it WAS IN FOCUS when the image was viewed later.
"sawing firewood" great!

I never realized Nikon's focus accuracy was questionable in low-light. Canon is, of course, well known for having a quick, but, in certain cases, inaccurate focusing system, but Nikon I always believed to make the camera sent down from heaven (with a price tag to match).

Interesting to hear your report. Thanks.
01-26-2008, 09:20 AM   #7
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Well Phil, the others have said it and I'll say it again. Thanks for a great and informative post. Seems that the D300 is not perfect after all. By all the preliminary accounts the Pentax folks have created a much improved and great camera for the price in the K20D. When they choose to improve/add functionality they do it well. I can only imagine that when they set their sights on AF speed AND accuracy (and they will at some point) the results will be spectacular.
01-26-2008, 10:41 AM   #8
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i been thinking my self on the focsing thing

a lot of us have older lens that are MF if Pentax could come out with a way to inprove MFing that would be good ok i know that Katseye makes screens BUT say Pentax makes better ones with 0 drow backes and evin softwhere up dates to help out. i just bought a P3N and i would KILL to have the MF in that in my 2 DSLRs that way evin thow you would lose AF (when swiched over to MF) it would be FAST and accurate then very hard to beat in low light. then cobine that with storing the lens in the camera so you can set them man that would rock.

01-26-2008, 03:13 PM   #9
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And some of us who shoot professionally and could afford almost any body STILL choose Pentax, not the least of which is for their superb portrait lenses - the bulk of my business - like the 43mm, the 77mm and the 50-135mm.
01-26-2008, 05:20 PM   #10
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Thanks for the comments everyone....

QuoteOriginally posted by Chickenhawk Quote
And some of us who shoot professionally and could afford almost any body STILL choose Pentax, not the least of which is for their superb portrait lenses - the bulk of my business - like the 43mm, the 77mm and the 50-135mm.
Chickenhawk, you hit the nail on the head. I did up a spreadsheet to compare my existing lenses for Pentax, with equivilent lenses for the Nikon. Apart from the Sigma and Tamron lenses which should be the same but with a different mount, and in a few cases with HDM, I could not find many 'Superb' or even 'Great' lenses.

I talked to several Nikon users, including my son with his D70S who should be unbiased , and they all said that the Pentax primes are the best, and Nikon has little to compare in this area.

Nikon has many more lenses, but many seem to be 'Also Ran' models that do not stand out from the crowd like the FA-31 1.8, or the other classic Primes. The DA* lenses for example, if a Nikkor came close, were much more expensive. The Nikkor 80-400 VR, not a particularly high end lens, was $2,500

And them there is the problemw with the fact that a Non VR (Vibration Reduction) version of any lens for the D300 or any Nikon, is not as versatile as the equivilent K mount or Pentax lens with SR. I tried many low light shots with the Sigma lenses, and they suffered at 1/50th or even up to 1/125th. SR does work, or I hold the Pentax steadier.

I was in Melbourne on Dec 29th past, my son and I were in St Pauls Cathedral with our cameras, respectully we did not drag around tripods or flashes, all hand held or leaning on pillars etc. The lighting was really poor, lots of shadows and The result was, he had ONE or TWO keeper out of 30 or so shots using the Tokina 10-17 (same as the DA 10-17), I only kept the best of the best.. 75% of 22 shots were ok. That has to mean something...

Example: K10D, Sigma 10-20 at 10mm, 1/15 Sec at F4, 800 Iso.



So to add to my test notes as the OP... MORE is not always BETTER.

I am pre ordering my K20D asap....

Phil
01-26-2008, 06:32 PM   #11
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WOW Phil, great picture! How much photoshopping done, can I ask? I really really like the colors, sharpness, well, everything!

And my 2 cents about Pentax's AF... While I used my previous Panas FZ-30, I began automatically make 2 copies of each shot, just in canse one of them will be unfocused. My father, who has Nikon D70s, shoots in the same manner. One shot can be off focus occasionally, if you use AF, he says.
But now, using my GX-10 I am beginning to get rid of that habit, AF is accurate in 99% of shots. If mybe not the fastest in the world, but if it says it's lockd on target, it is REALLY locked.
01-26-2008, 08:10 PM   #12
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Thank you for the post. My limited experience with Nikon D70 and K10D concurs. When it focuses, K10D images are always in focus. I had more off focus pics with D70 than I have with my K10D.
01-26-2008, 10:58 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Snowcat Quote
WOW Phil, great picture! How much photoshopping done, can I ask? I really really like the colors, sharpness, well, everything!
Thanks Snowcat, all the PP that was done was to enhance the brightness and very basic sharpening. I can post the original if you would like, apart from being a bit darker it is exactly the same.

I use ACDSee Pro2, and occasionaly Paint Shop Pro 12, the exif says Picassa, but that is just what I use for copying from the cards and storage on the HDD.

Phil
01-26-2008, 11:50 PM   #14
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Phil, very impressive shot! Note, everyone, that he took it at f4! Imagine if he'd been able to use a tripod and f8-11...

Also concur with Skamaraju; the low-light AF and noise on my 2004-era Nikon was my biggest complaint with that system. That was the principal reason I bought a K10D to replace it.
01-26-2008, 11:57 PM   #15
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Wow matix, that looks like an HDR! Beautiful colors!
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