Thursday, September 06, 2007

HyperDrive ColorSpace 120GB

I decided to do sth I wasn't counting on a few weeks back: upgrade my trusted CompactDrive PD70x 80GB... It has served me well a long time and in harsh environments, the 80GB is still ample space, and the AA-batteries ensured I didn't have to carry any extra spares or extra charger since I already carried those for my flash... The PD70x no longer receiving firmware upgrades made that it won't support SDHC cards, but I could do without that...

But then I read about the HyperDrive ColorSpace. I never wanted the preview facilities - for me this kind of solution is just for storage - but this tool featured a few characteristics that made me wanting it very much. The most important one being the card recovery tools. I already have two SD cards with faulty sectors (one Sandisk Ultra II 2GB and one Sandisk Extreme III 2GB), so this seemed a great tool to me. I still have to test it. This report is a first glance review only.

Here's the beast:

Compared to the CompactDrive PD70x it's a tad smaller, well slimmer actually. It also looks nicer. No covers protecting the cardslots or buttons however. It comes with a nice pouch (neoprene by the looks of it, better than the one with the PD70x, but not dust proof), a relatively compact power adapter for charging the battery, a USB cable and a car charger. There's also a screw driver and two screws for mounting your own drive into the device. The specs can be found on the net easily so I won't list them all.

No AA-batteries in this one. The generic 18650 battery boasts a long life, which I couldn't verify yet. I did notice however that it doesn't have the drain the PD70x had with the AAs (much more than the normal drain of rechargeable AAs). This had me keep a piece of paper between the contacts and the batteries when the device was not in use. Having batteries that don't drain will make a big difference. Not having to take along the charger will too, but its being fairly small means I'll probably carry it along anyway just to be on the safe side...

Switching on the device is pretty straight forward (one button to push for 2 seconds, though I had the impression it switched on almost immediately, hope it doesn't do that in the bag).

Starting the back-up is immediate after switch-on if a card is already in there. By default you get a visual confirmation for every transferred image once it's on the drive, no verification however. That's great if you shoot JPGs and can visually check progress (nicely done with progress bar and remaining time estimate), but if you shoot RAW this only shows the embedded JPG, so it is still possible that the remainder of the file is not intact... Verification can be switched on, and visual check can be switched off to work faster. Alternatively you can also set the visual check to show the image that is being transferred, but then the device read it from the card, so this doesn't hold any value in terms of verification.

There are various speeds to choose from, each of which is tuned for different card speeds. The modes are named for the Sandisk line-up, i.e. Extreme, Ultra, ... I'm not sure yet what mode would be best if a variety of cards is used. Setting it for the slowest would seem best I guess...

Browsing the images requires going into the directory structure which I didn't find straight forward (same for browsing the menu's but that was slightly easier). All five buttons are assigned different functions on every screen and these are always shown on the botton line of the display, but I found I needed to check this every time before I could continue navigating. Perhaps I'll get the hang of it soon, but it wasn't really intuitive. Looking at the images can display the EXIF and a luminescence histogram (no RGB). Zooming in on them can be done once, and even then the quality of the zoomed-in image is not so great. The device can generate faster preview thumbnails, so perhaps these will be better quality. Though the browse function is nice to flip though the images, this does not seem a great way to check image quality in terms of focus.

Customizing the ColorSpace can be done extensively by putting specifically named bmp files in specifically named directories on the drive. If present, these will override the ones in the devices firmware. Since all buttons are bitmaps, this can be used to make the device talk another language. Perhaps we'll be able to download other language sets? Nice feature, though the one customization I really liked on the PD70x could not be found on the ColorSpace, i.e. the facility to include a file containing the directory naming prefix. This can be very handy to separate shoots without having to download the images everytime. The ColorSpace does not seem to have it, a shame...

Remains the feature I wanted the ColorSpace for. Its cards recovery tools. These allow for a check of the sectors of the card and marks the faulty sectors so they won't be used. I did the same on a faulty card from windows and that fixed the card for me until I formatted it again in-camera. The ColorSpace also has a formatting feature and it offers an option to remove all files from the card after a back-up is done. I am counting on this feature to allow me to recover my two corrupted cards so I won't be having to buy new ones to replace them. Though in all honesty I am lured by a 4GB SDHC card now that I have the choice...

I'm not sure yet what I'll do with the CompactDrive PD70x, but I guess that the HyperDrive ColorSpace will replace it. I might put it in a ziplock bag though, to keep the dust out...

hth, Wim

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Welcome to the DA Stars!

About one month and a half ago I ordered two new lenses. The new Pentax DA*16-50/2.8 and Pentax DA*50-135/2.8. These were announced almost one year ago and first shown at in September 2006 at Photokina in Köln, Germany. It has been a long anticipation, and I have been long doubting whether they would hold any use for me, already having a complete kit of high quality fixed focal length lenses and a set of fair zoom lenses.

The exact features were unknown apart from rumours until this press release:
Two new smc PENTAX-DA ( DA Star ) Zoom Lenses

Both lenses are designed by a collaboration between Pentax and Tokina, with the Pentax adding SDM (supersonic drive motor for quiet AF) and WS (weather sealing) to the design. The latter features (and the suffering of my zoom kit during travel) made me decide they could provide for a two lens travel setup, so I ordered them from The lenses have been arriving at their owners for a week or two now, but I seem to be among the first forum regulars to have received them. My report does not include brick wall nor other test shots. It shows my observations from a users point-of-view. Images will follow, but not full size...

I finally received my two DA*s Saturday and I tried them out immediately. The DA*50-135/2.8 is optically clearly the better one of the two. From the first shots I was clear to me that zooming in on the LCD screen the DA*50-135 delivered crisp sharp images similar to what I get from the best of my glass. I'm sure there will be pixel peeping differences, but not of the magnitude that I would care... The DA*16-50 was a bit less, but still I found it better than the average results of the DA16-45.

The weight of the lenses is considerable, but they balance well on the K10D with grip. Mounting them on the camera feels different because you feel the weather sealing slightly damping the rotation. I did miss a firm grip on the lenses while mounting them, with the wide focus ring and the wide zoom ring there's not much fixed barrel to grip onto. I still regret Pentax abandoning the little ball for gripping onto... But this is more a habit than anything else. Once I get used to holding the lenses further from the mount when (dis)mounting I'm sure it'll be as easy as other lenses.

The size of the DA*16-50 is slightly larger than the DA16-45. The DA*50-135 is about 3/4 of the Sigma EX70-200/2.8 (pre-DG version, but I think they are all the same), but with the hood on both the difference is only about 2cm.

The focus ring obviously doesn't rotate when AF is working (same with SDM or traditional AF), and Quick Shift Focus sets in from the moment you turn it yourself allowing immediate manual focus tuning. This works great providing much more grip on the lens, but if you're used to holding the focus ring without it affecting focus like on the Sigma EX lenses some getting used to is required. The focus ring doesn't stop at the extremes of the focus range, as you can turn it further though you feel additional friction. Makes for steadier handling, similar to FA* standards.

The zoom ring is considerably different between the two, with the DA*16-50 feeling much more rigid than the DA*50-135. The latter having internal zoom makes the difference I guess, since the DA*16-50 extends when zooming in, which means two weather sealed barrels are pushed out of the construction, the first one rotating, the second not.

SDM... By my observation (not measurement!) it is NOT significantly faster than regular AF. Strange thing is that when I looked at the movement of the distance scale when focusing, I didn't notice any difference in speed, but I did when looking through the viewfinder. The lens seemed to slide into focus much faster... Guess less noise and the sliding into focus makes a big difference in perception. Also you don't feel the lens rotate, which was the case with traditional AF ever so slightly. Not a faster but a much nicer experience nevertheless.

Makes me think the actual difference in AF speed between Pentax and the other quieter brands isn't so much after all, more perception than anything else?

Esp the DA*50-135/2.8 doesn't seem a fast focuser. Hunting up and down takes a while. The Sigma EX70-200/2.8 is much faster. On the other hand, the Sigma only covers from 1.8m to infinity, and the DA* from 1m to infinity with the range between 1m and 2m covering slightly over half the entire movement of the focus ring. Taking that into account, focus speed on both should be around the same, hunting time doesn't mean a thing when focus range isn't taken into account.

SDM is retained when using a TC with powerzoom contacts. Though SDM AF does seem to suffer more easily from adding a TC. I mounted the Tamron 1.4x without problems on the DA*50-135. However this combo doesn't seem to lock focus all the time. The lens slides into focus that's visually correct, but the focus lock doesn't engage. Since I use the AF button to AF and my shutter release is AF independent I guess I could live with that, but others may find that a problem.

Neither DA* will mount onto the Sigma EX2x TC however because of its protruding front element.

With a polarizer the DA*16-50 focuses no problemo! Not like the DA16-45 which sometimes refuses to focus with a polarizer, esp at 16mm. Haven't tried the DA*50-135 yet, but it will inherit the polarizer of the DA16-45.

The hoods on both lenses are of better quality than the ones on the DA16-45. Both have the polarizer door at the bottom, which is inserted nice and tightly. The front lens cap has a center pinch to remove it, which makes for practical usage with a mounted hood.

Both lenses come in the classic Pentax pouch. the rear caps have the rim to protect the contacts. Nothing different to what we know there...

The DA*16-50/2.8 seems to deliver images similar to the DA16-45/4. Not in terms of sharpness of so, but in terms of exposure. I guess the 16mm wide angle is mostly responsible for that. I fear the threads about underexposure with this lens will be coming soon... Though those who came to appreciate the DA16-45/4 know this is a very relative thing, some Ev compensation at the wide end may be required in certain situations. I didn't experience this with the DA*50-135, but that's normal since telephoto scenes generally have less DR than ultra wide angle ones. Anyway, it's not a problem for me, but I guess it should be mentioned for those who might consider it so...

Closest focus distance is very workable on both, though the DA*50-135 at 1m is at the limit. It having a slightly shorter minimum focus would have been handy. The 30cm of the DA*16-50 feels much less than 30cm.

Overall both lenses are very much to my satisfaction, and I think both with serve me well for the purpose I got them, i.e. travel to the wetter and/or more dusty places on our planet.

I think this about covers all aspects that I considered. I'll post an update should I think of anything else.

hth, Wim

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sfinks festival

The first image I am going to post on this blog is one I shot at Sfinks 2007. This is a world music festival that occurs every year around this time in Boechout near Antwerp. I usually go there, but this was the first time with the K10D.

One of the highlights this year was the Rajasthani group called Mukhtar Ali. I always loved music from this area of the world, so I was happy I got these two shots:
With the FA77/1.8 limited:

I used the FA77 frequently and the K10D's SR saved the days on most shots. Last year I had to resort to ISO1600 on my *istDS, now ISO560 and SR got me much better shots.

With the FA31/1.8 limited:


Thursday, July 05, 2007

6 months with the K10D

I had originally intended this blog to be updated much more frequently, but a drastic change in my personal life (as hinted to previously) makes this impossible. But I still want to write about what I learned about the K10D since I started using it about 6 months ago.

I have taken the K10D with me on a number of outings now, and to be honest I couldn't go back to my DS even if I had to... ;-) The K10D has received a number of firmware upgrades too, making it an even more complete camera than it already was when I got it. Most noteworthy are:
- OK button as a dedicated ISO change button (OK+Green=AutoISO; OK+front dial=ISO up or down)
- Use of the built-in pop-up flash as a controller or master for wireless flash setup.
- Support for the new remote software to allow control of the camera from the PC.
- Support for SDM. I.e. Supersonic Drive Motor, the new AF mechanism that will make its debut with the DA* lenses.

Some other changes were in there as well, but these are the ones that make me happy!

The city trips have made me invest in a small limited kit setup. This included the confirmed purchase of a FA31/1.8 limited as well as a FA43/1.9 limited, which means I now have all three the FA limiteds and one DA limited. The really short end is covered by a Zenitar 16/2.8 fisheye for now, but I continue hoping Pentax will release a nice DA16/4 limited for my 24mm equiv wishes... 24mm used to be a favorite of my 35mm film days. This setup has served me very well and I'm going to stick to it for these short trips where changing lenses is not a problem and long reach is not needed.

This limited kit fits nicely in my new bag, a Pentax Cross Over bag. This is a rebranding of the Lowepro Slingshot 100 AW. The Pentax being a bit cheaper is explained by its not having the rain cover the Lowepro has. But it handles nicely and I like the look of it!!! :-)

The new wireless controller capacity of the built-in pop-up flash has made me invest in a second AF540FGZ flash. At first my second copy refused to zoom, but Pentax Europe (in Hamburg) fixed that promptly. This does seem to be a known problem with the last batches of these flashes. Setting off two remote flashes set at different strengths is a dream for product and macro photography, for which I think I will be using this most.

I also got the O-ME53 1.18x viewfinder loupe and I like it very much. It is better built than the standard cap, extending further from the body with less nose smear on the LCD as a consequence, and it enlarges the view significantly though not very much.

The SDM upgrade (firmware 1.3) which was published today will finally enable the supersonic AF in the DA* lenses, so I expect these to become available relatively soon. I have pre-ordered both the DA*16-50/2.8 and the DA*50-135/2.8. The underlying motivation is the three week trip to Cambodia my GF and I will be undertaking in October/November. Weather sealing and the extra f-stop (f/2.8) tov my DA16-45/4 being the most important. On the DA16-45/4 AF never really worked as it should with a polarizer mounted, and dust got in there easily. Cambodia shouldn't require the same reach as a wildlife destination, so the two first DA*s will give me all the day-to-day reach I will need while providing sufficient protection against the elements, sth my limited kit will not provide. I might take along a lowlight lens, but the Tamron SP90/2.8 macro and the FA*300/4.5 stand a better chance for the occasional nature photography opportunities that we may encounter. I'm considering getting a tripod collar for the latter.

First things first though. I'm taking the limited setup to the Côte Opale first. Next WE we'll be exploring the North Western French coastline. I'm planning to take my tripod to try some long time exposures with the Hoya R72 IR filter attached.

Not sure when the next post will come, but I have to run now to go and enroll for my third year of photography school...


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Got the Pentax K10D!!!

When I was in Costa Rica, I got word that the K10D was in stock at the place where I pre-ordered. However, I could not respond immediately and hence could not secure one from the first batch and was put on the waiting list. Upon my return I did vent my frustration about this to some Pentax friends, which helped me in getting a K10D less than a week later. I cannot go into details (though everything happened perfectly legitimately), but an unsold K10D was located for me and sent through express service. Also got the grip, but not the viewfinder loupe which I had intended on getting as well.

In the mean time my personal life hasn't given me much time to play with the K10D. Only on the Christmas eve party at my parents did I shoot some family pictures. Enough to make me a happy man with the camera.

I cannot comment on image quality yet, since I didn't upload the images onto my PC yet, but I got to taste some aspects of the K10D I hadn't noticed at Photokina when I first handled it. It's the ergonomics! Pentax already had great advantage for me on this field with the *istDS, but they have really outdone themselves with the K10D. The dials have received a function in most every menu, and as such the camera is sooooooo easy to handle:
- in playback: rear dial zooms (as on the DS), front dial navigates between images keeping the zoom. Great for reviewing sharpness.
- in the menus under the menu button: one dial is page up/down, the other tab-to-tab. On the DS navigating the menus was much less confortable. All of a sudden having to go into the menus for some settings is much less work.
- Under the Fn menu. Here the dials work really well. Setting AutoISO boundaries is a breeze, flash compensation in the flash menu (exactly where it should be),
- and of course in the exposure modes (P, Sv, Tv, Av,...) both dials can be extensively customized, allowing no operation, program shift or Ev compensation to be set on the free one (which one that is, can be chosen per mode).
- I LOVE the way the bracketing works...

Well, the K10D is a much richer camera than the DS in features, but the way the controls interact and give you an considerable extra degree of freedom is just as important, if not more.

One gripe is the AF button, which becomes hard to reach when the grip is mounted and held in portrait orientation. Why couldn't an AF button be put on the grip too?

Anyway, I think the K10D will be a camera that will serve me considerably longer than the DS did. The *istDS was a great camera to get to know the advantages of digital without going overboard on specs, but now I know what digital can do for me and photography has become much more of a hobby for me than it ever was, I really think only a camera like the K10D suits me. The DS won't be retired 100% yet though. It may still serve as a small light weight alternative when the K10D is just too big to carry, esp with a pancake mounted, there's no APS-C DSLR as nice and compact as the Pentax *istD series.

Next on the list are some accessories for the K10D.
- I'm still going for the viewfinder loupe. Ok, it only enlarges 1.2x, but I tried it on my DS at Photokina as was heavily impressed by it. I want it still. I will have to forget about getting a Delkin LCD protector/hood for the K10D then though, but having it break relatively easily and become a bit loose on my DS has made like it less as a solution. A glue-on one may be a thought, but I'll probably go without for now.
- Since I'm thinking of the K10D as more of a longer term camera than of the DS, I seriously consider getting a more advanced focussing screen for it. I'm hesitating between the LL-80 Pentax makes (4 divisions horizontal and 4 vertical, unfortunately not 3 like the LF-60) and a custom Katz Eye one. The Katz Eye version would allow me to have only those lines I want and have a split screen for manual focus. I'm not sure I really need the latter one, since I always managed to focus manually just fine using the Pentax screens. Also Katz Eye has OptiBright and regular screens, the choice between which slightly influences the meter, so I will first have to get used to lens behaviour on the K10D (different or not from the DS??) to decide. The Pentax screen will not be different from the built-in one and is much cheaper, so possibly this will be the safer choice... However I would have preferred it to have divisions to enhance the 2 3rds rule rather than the 4-by-4 grid it has now...

And then we're back to lenses. I might have a chance to get a black FA31/1.8 limited soon. I'm sure I will like that even better as a standard than my FA35/2. And the upcoming DA* lenses have me eager too. Though the price will determine whether the DA*16-50/2.8 may replace my DA16-45/4 (unlikely). The DA*60-250/4 is a more likely contender though, fortunately it will come later in the year so my budget will be able to balance out more nicely...

More to follow...


The DS in Costa Rica

Already home about 3 weeks from Costa Rica, but no time yet to report here.

The Pentax *istDS proved still very useful throughout the trip, but knowing some of the functionalities the K10D is going to offer me, made me aware of some of the advantages of the K10D over the DS I wouldn't have realised before.

First what was in the bag:
- body: *istDS
- flash: AF540FGZ
- lenses: Zenitar 16/2.8 fisheye, DA21/3.2, FA35/2, FA77/1.8, Tamron SP90/2.8 1:1 macro, Sigma EX70-200/2.8, FA*300/4.5
- teleconverter: Tamron 1.4x

A few days saw very wet weather, esp in the cloud forests in and around the Monte Verde reserve and along the Carribean coast. I used a rain cover to protect the DS which made sure it survived the wetness without a glitch. However, this made the rear LCD inaccessible and changing lenses was out of the question too. I just mounted the Sigma EX70-200/2.8 and hoped this focal range would suit most images I would want to take (other lenses I took were too small to protrude through the raincover's lens opening, excepting the FA*300/4.5). Pretty much ok, only I did miss a wider angle and macro (plus flash). But I got to take some pictures, better than none at all. The rear LCD not being visible made me shoot all in ISO1600, and hence the reflection that the K10D's Sv mode (sensitivity priority allowing ISO control using one on its dials) would have helped me a lot.

The high ISO was frequenlty necessary because the monopod proved too cumbersome in the rainforest and the bean bag too dangerous. Too dangerous because of the poisonous animals crawling around on the rocks, trees and branches the bean bag would have to be put on. This was also the reason why walking required a walking stick for stability (grabbing onto rocks, trees and braches being too risky) which made carrying a monopod troublesome. Hence my wanting SR for most of the trip, which proved justified since I did get quite a few blurry shots, though I was content with the overall results.

Another thing that bothered me was the frequent hazing on my lenses. Especially when boating along a river in the humid climat saw the lenses fog up at every stop (when the wind settled down). Not a very large time frame to take shots and a long wait to have a second go. Very often the air made my camera bag interior go wet too. Fortunately all lenses dried out nicely without any trace. Next time I might invest in some more water absorbting stuff though...

Most used lenses ended up being:
- DA21/3.2 for landscape and town shots (occasionally the Z, FA35 and FA77 served too, the latter two for some pano work)
- Tamron SP90 for macro, and there's a lot of macro opportunities in Costa Rica. Always with the Tamron 1.4x TC mounted for extra working distance and the AF540FGZ for extra light (tilted down 10 degrees).
- FA*300/4.5 for birding and general telework. I'm very happy I had this one along. I often used it with the Tamron 1.4x TC for some extra reach. At first I was unsure the fixed FL of this lens wouldn't limit me too much, but I hardly ever used the Sigma except in situations where no lens changes were possible. The FA*300 also did well with the AF540FGZ on numerous occasions.

Ok, so I regretted not having the K10D yet, but I did appreciate the DS on other fronts. One of these was its size and weight. Some of the walks were pretty rough (one well over 30km on very hilly terrain) and the 8kg of gear weighed down on me considerably. The K10D+grip wouldn't have helped, so I was glad at times to only have the DS to carry... There's always a bright side... I might even hang onto the DS not just as a back-up, but also as a lighter travel solution.