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03-06-2014, 02:03 PM - 1 Like   #1
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The more things change...

You know the old saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." And the other day, taking pictures on M Manual with my K-30, I realized that the basic aperture and shutter settings for daylight hadn't changed one bit since my first use of a Speed Graphic, 50 years ago.

What was it, 'Sunny f/16'? Where you could set the shutter at 1/100, the aperture at f/16, and take pictures all day (or most of the day) in the sunlight, using ASA 100 film, or ASA 125.

Amazing how my K-30 still lets me do that. ISO 100 this time, but that basic sunny-day relationship hasn't changed one bit. I guess we are dealing with laws of optics here, or fixed-in-stone industry standards for light measurement. And a wonderful lack of advertising hype. No ads for 'New improved Pentax K-5000 with transcendental lightmeter -- gives you ISO 400 where you only had ISO 100 before! Better pictures on moonless nights!' No, none of that. 1/100 is still a fixed value, and f/16 is still a fixed value, and ISO 100 is still the same as the old ASA 100 value.

What HAS changed, of course, is the ability of the digital sensor to deliver usable high-ISO images -- way past what we could do with film. I know, I know, there were specialty films like Polaroid's ASA 3200 that let you take a picture by candlelight... fine grain, too (low noise, you'd say today). But for most all purposes, film 50 years ago stayed around ASA 100 to 200... with an occasional foray up to Tri-X at ASA 400, or down to Panatomic at ASA 32. And just like today, the lower the number, the less grain/noise.

But my K-30 can take a good picture at ISO 800... and at ISO 1600. So, over 50 years, that's two full stops better than in the past. Four times the amount of light better, right? And that's wonderful, because it frees us up to take low-light pictures much more easily -- particularly action in low light.

As for lenses, I guess they are a lot better, since they have to be, given the amazingly small APS-C sensor size as compared to 4x5 or 120 film. But there were f/2.8 lenses back then, just like now, and they cost a lot back then too. And shutter speeds are higher today. My Speed Graphic maxed out at 1/1000 from its rear-curtain shutter, which you cranked up with a giant spring winder. Which gets to the one big advantage of those old cameras -- they were instantly ready to shoot, no waiting time, none at all. Mechanical, no batteries. But with digital -- you can easily get to 1/4000, 1/8000 today -- although, even for the fastest sports, I'm not sure if you'd ever use more than 1/4000.

Anyway, enough of this. It's a 'Sunny f/16' day in San Diego this morning, and I'm going out to take some pictures. M Manual! «Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...»

03-07-2014, 07:00 AM   #2
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to continue this thinking: I do believe there is a market for a (nearly) fully-manual digital camera. Especially one where you could add/remove the IR filter, add/remove the sensor (i.e. swap out a color sensor for a B&W one) etc. It would be even cooler if they had built-in peltier coolers that could be hooked up to an external cooling system for long exposures or astrophotography. Ironically, the company that has explored this modular concept the most is arguably Ricoh.

03-07-2014, 11:50 AM   #3
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@Michael -- stupid of me, I forgot the one truly big change from the past -- autofocus.

And let's use that as a starting point here, or the lack of it. Your near-manual DSLR camera could start as a stripped down K-500... a 'neo-K1000' ... no auto focus, no live view, just M Manual mode, plus Bulb. No Green mode, no P, A, S, Sv, TAv, etc. No AA filter. No LCD screen. So at the basic level, Pentax could have a wonderful camera for people learning photography, for schools, etc. Just getting rid of autofocus would be very helpful for student photographers. At the basic level, to retail for US $300.

But then it would be expandable. To let the owner add or remove the optional features you mentioned. A swapable sensor module would be neat -- the base camera could be sold with the ubiquitous 16 MP, but then you could change it for the 24 MP and also for whatever's next... count on a 36 MP APS-C sensor in a few years. Or, like you said, for a B/W sensor, like the Leica Monochrom. You know, maybe one of those Ricoh GXR cameras would be the best starting point for a project like this... they are already modular to some degree.

I wonder, if you had a spring-wound knob on it, like the old Kodak Pony, whether that would generate enough electricity to power the shutter for a bunch of shots. But I guess that's too far out... small lithium batteries are so inexpensive...

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