As a teenager I had a hobby interest in photography. My Dad bought me a nice Minolta SLR and over time I added some extra lenses. After a little reading on the fundamentals I dabbled with different subjects. I did a bit of sports photography. Among my best sports shots was one of an amateur boxer in the Golden Gloves (circa 1972-73) who always did a back-flip after he won a match. I timed the shot perfectly and captured him upside down in mid-flight! As a sophomore in high school, I submitted a slide presentation of the local watershed for a science class. Occasionally, I would bring my 35mm film gear to a Grateful Dead show and, over the years, I did get a few good shots of the band in full jam. Many of those pictures I gave away to various friends and acquaintances who shared an interest in the band. I am not sure where the rest of those old film prints and slides are now, but I had fun taking them. I also documented some of my gardening projects over the years. Some of those slides would make nice prints for framed wall hangings. Eventually, I will get around to that. Natural scenery, landscape and wildlife photos were my primary subject. I lacked confidence to do any real work with portraiture….mostly because I was too shy to ask anyone to be a model. A couple of the dogs we owned were willing models and they didn’t demand any pay. Homer was a terrific subject. He always looked so regal…He was an impressive canine! I was the sole photographer of my children when they were involved with sports or at family activities in their youth. There are a few nice pics from that era, though perhaps most of them are more sentimental in value than a testament to any great photographic talent on my part.
Around 2001, I had both of my old Minolta SLR cameras fully cleaned and re-calibrated. I was shocked when I learned the cost for this procedure was nearly as much as what the cameras sold for at retail 25 years earlier. As late as 2010, I was still using the 35mm film format and after a trip to Europe and then the Philippines, I grew tired of lugging around all that heavy camera gear while traveling. I had resisted the new digital format just because I am old school and a low tech kind of guy. What can I say? I was born in the 1950’s. Technology does not come easy for me.
After those two trips in 2009 and 2010, I decided to buy a small point and shoot digital camera. The weight and bulk of the old cameras were not the only reasons to go digital. In Amsterdam I had a hard time finding 35mm film, cost of developing the film had become very pricey and I had several very frustrating incidents in which “technicians” who were in charge of developing the film had mishandled and overexposed or completely ruined entire rolls of 35mm film! It was clear that the old technology was not easy for the younger technicians to work with. It seemed a case of adapt or die. Well, maybe adapt or quit taking pictures anyway. Given all the issue with film I bought the little pocket camera — what I call an idiot camera. It doesn’t require any skill to take pictures with this point and shoot model, but after using it and experiencing the ease of posting digital pictures onto computer for email and blogging, I have to say, it is infinitely easier than film and the quality is actually impressive for an inexpensive camera.
Up to this point almost every picture that you see on the blog has been from the little CANON Power Shot SD 1300. It features 12.1 megapixels, fits easily in a shirt pocket and cost about $150. I have been pleased with the performance of this compact and easy to use camera, but I wanted to step up to something in the DSLR classification. So, I set about doing quite a bit of research on the multitude of models available in my price range. Initially, I set my budget in the $600 – $800 range for an entry level digital body with at least one lens. I found that Nikon and Canon are the dominant players in the field. I knew that in the 35mm format of years past, these two manufacturers gained very good reputations. Nikon cameras are widely used by professionals and Canon seems to be the second runner. Both of these producers offer the widest selection of lenses (over 50 each) and their digital models feature a lot of gizmos and gadgets including video. Most of the packages (or kits) I looked at offered a 2 lens set up. In the course of my research I handled both the Canon and Nikon models and for the money, I was a bit disappointed with the feel of the camera. They were lightweight for sure, but coming from a film camera made in another era, these cameras felt like children’s toys –cheap, thin and certainly not durable. They offered many features and frankly, most of those offerings were too technical for me to be able to fully access them without some formal training. One of the current en vogue selling points is super fast video capability. Prior to picking up these cameras and actually holding them in my hand, I felt I had narrowed the choice down to a couple of models from both Canon and Nikon……but then I reconsidered two other issues; durability, weather resistance and well, maybe a third –why did I need all this high speed video stuff? Sure video is cool to have, but it is not my primary concern. I like to shoot still photos. The video feature is superfluous.
So, I did a little further investigation to see what I could come up with in terms of less emphasis on the video features and to look for anything that could stand up to some weather and a bit of hard use. Face it, if you travel or plan to use your camera in the great outdoors durability is a big factor. What I found was the Pentax K-30. It was advertised as weather resistant (WR). This camera was in the same price range as the Nikon and Canon models I had looked at, but the description and reviews of this camera indicated that it could stand some use in cold and wet conditions. The body is not just plastic or polymer but has a stainless steel core covered by the polymer and a gasket seal system that keeps the weather out. Here is a cool video demonstrating the effectiveness of the weather resistance offered by this camera. You can’t do that with Nikon or a Canon! Strangely, both of the standard lenses sold in the K 30 kit versions were not weather resistant. However, they did offer a versatile 18 – 135 mm lens that was WR and received some great comments in the reviews that I read. The cost of going to that lens bumped the price up over $1,000. That was an increase of several hundred dollars above my initial targeted purchase price, but I am confident that it is worth the price. The K-30 is a step up to 16 Megapixels from the point and shoot I have been using. The camera has a video feature but it is not as fast as the Nikon or Canons in the same “entry level” category. This was not a concern due to my inclination to shoot still photos. Again, the video option can have application in some situations, but it is not a selling point to make or break the deal for me.
At the beginning of this April, I purchased the K30 with the 18 – 135mm lens. I found the best price through Hunt’s Photo and Video in Massachusetts. I had looked at B&H Photo in NYC, but their price was not as good. Both of these companies offer free shipping and have an excellent reputation. I have dealt with B&H before and I have friends that recommend them . Hunt’s was not as competitive on accessories. I picked up several SanDisk memory cards and a set of 3 Tiffen lens filters from B&H.
This new camera is part of my preparation for a trip to China next year. I suspect it may take over a year to become familiar with how to properly use it. Actually, I am quite certain this camera is smarter than me! The manual is a daunting 290 pages. I struggle with technical writing. Too often manuals are written by tech geeks and thereby become an arduous task to read and comprehend. I wonder when manufacturers of computers and other high-tech consumer products will figure out how to write manuals so they are more easily accessible to the layperson.
Here are a few sample shots taken in the auto mode.
Stay tuned for more pictures from this terrific DSLR camera.