Friday, August 08, 2008

KatzEye focusing screen in my K20D

A few weeks ago I decided to finally set the step and order myself a replacement focusing screen. I saw a KatzEye with a split prism on the *istD of a mate and liked it very much. After some mailing to and fro with respected users of various forums, I decided not to get the split prism, but to order a KatzEye screen with just some custom grid lines and the Optibrite treatment. The latter should help in low light and with "darker" lenses.

Communication with the KatzEye people went beautifully. They are so helpful!! We settled on the following design:

It's a combination of the "Rule of Thirds" Grid, the Square Format Crop Lines, and an approximation of the spot metering arcs as on the original Pentax screen. The large circle is not an option as it's part of KatzEye's base material. The spot metering arcs were a first for KatzEye, but they turned out great!

I received it last week in large UPS envelope containing a small box with foam holding a smaller sealed plastic bag with the even smaller focusing screen inside. Installation instructions were not included, but a download link to a PDF had been mailed to me after my order and I had printed this out. I printed it in colour which made the pictures in the document much clearer. An installation tool was included as well.

I only got round to installing it yesterday. I waited for a moment that I could do this in a controlled and relaxed way without anyone around to distract me, as I had read that it was a delicate operation.

I took all possible precautions in cleaning the work area and making sure there was as little dust as possible floating in the air. I also made sure the mirror chamber of my K20D was as dust free as possible by carefully blowing it out.

The tool provided in the package by KatzEye was very helpful. It's plastic tweezers that open when squeezed and as such hold the screen by its tab without any effort required to keep it there. I was surprised how easy I could free the installed focussing screen and how small they are. No force was required at all. The holder fell open but not quite onto the mirror as some installation reports mention. It stopped a few mm above the mirror. I feared for a moment the Pentax screen would fall out, but it didn't and I could remove it easily with some care. I didn't think of preparing a dust free spot to put it temporarily so I'll probably have to clean it should I want to put it back... The KatzEye box doesn't have the temporary space for a second screen that I have seen in the box Pentax provides with their replacement screens.

Placing the KatzEye into the camera was straightforward, though getting it properly out of the plastic bag wasn't, esp since I only managed to open it at the wrong side (I had to turn the screen around in the bag to get to the holding tab to grab onto it). When I move up the holder it fixed into place neatly, though I didn't hear the click the instructions told me I was supposed to hear. The screen seems fixed properly, and has stayed in place since, so I guess it's OK.

I managed the entire procedure almost dust free, only getting one dust spot on the upper edge of the frame, but I'll leave it there for now as I don't want to risk getting more dust onto the screen by trying to remove this one spot.

Tests showed that the grid lines (3x3 and square combination) are aligned correctly (no water running out of the sea ;-) ), and the 3x3 lines are placed spot on. I tested this on a few test shots I imported into Lightroom which has the same grid lines in its cropping mode.

The Optibrite treatment seems to enhance the view in low light indeed as well as with darker lenses, although the fading light while I was doing the installation made a decent comparison less obvious. Metering doesn't seem to be affected noticeably, but of course I got a version without the split prism.

I have the impression that MF will be easier too as I seemed to see test subjects snap into focus easier than with the Pentax screen, but again that could be just a thought. The shots that I took using MF were spot on.

I'm a happy customer indeed. OK, the screen wasn't exactly cheap and I did have to add the usual 30% of import taxes (importing US goods into Belgium), but I feel it will be worth it!


Friday, April 25, 2008

The Pentax K20D replaces my K10D

I've upgraded from my Pentax K10D to the new K20D and I've had it for about a month now.

While I was happy about my K10D I could not have imagined being even happier about upgrading to the K20D. Esp since at first glance the K20D looks exactly like the K10D.

But it is so different!!

Most obvious is the new sensor. I boasts 14.6MP instead of 10.2MP. Not very important you may argue, and even too much for APS-C to handle? No on the contrary. The Samsung CMOS sensor Pentax put in the K20D has better noise, impressive resolution and more accurate colour than the K10D. Also higher in the ISO's for those moments when the light is just lacking and there's nothing you can do about it. Files are much bigger though and the need for bigger cards surfaces again. A set of two 4GBs does it fine.

Looking at the camera there's only a few seemingly minor changes in the buttons (mostly for a bit better grip and more consistency with the battery grip) and a PC sync socket. The latter may be important for some (incl me) but is going to be an irrelevant detail to most. The improvement of the buttons is felt after some use.

But there's so many changes under the surface. Here's the ones I found most practical so far (in random order except for the first one):

- Most important is AF accuracy. I am amazed at the accuracy the K20D achieves. The K10D wasn't bad, but it wasn't perfect with some of my lenses when using them wide open and focussing them close by. The DA*16-50/2.8 and DA*50-135/28 I had the camera corrected for, but the DA21/3.2, FA43/1.9 and FA*85/1.4 all suffered slightly wide open and close by on the K10D. The K20D suddenly is perfect spot on!!! It even has AF adjustment settings where you can store specific adjustments for up to 20 lenses (or better lens models, two different lenses of the same model can only have one common adjustment), which was much called for, but to be honest I haven't had the need to use them so far. Perhaps if I have some time to shoot at a test sheet for a few hours I might improve accuracy further still, but I haven't shot a single picture where I honestly can say more AF accuracy was required to get it right.

- Live view is the hot topic in DSLRs now, and the K20D is no different. Not really practical if you want to AF (this requires a blackout of the LCD for about 2s) though I have used it efficiently in specific cases. However, with a lens with sufficiently short DOF to allow MF using the LCD screen it is a dream to open up those alternative angles and perspectives. Especially for macro work this will save me a lot of laundry costs... No more laying on my belly in the mud to get the shot!

- The LCD screen is only slightly bigger at 2.7" (though not the rumoured 3"), but has visually improved more than what the specs suggest. It is also colour correctable so that you can configure it to show colour exactly correct when this is important.

- The shutter makes considerably less noise. I found it possible to work more discretely with the K20D, although it's still not exactly silent. SR on the other hand (esp when used to shake the dust at start-up) seems to be noisier.

- The OK button now has a function in most situations, resulting in a more powerful and flexible interface, esp. in the various settings under the Fn button. A big improvement too.

- EDR (extended dynamic range)... Hard to tell, but I feel it does provide better highlight retention in contrasty situations (hard sun light). My K20D is currently set with EDR on permanently. This does limit ISO at the low end to ISO200, but switching to ISO100 when needed is fast using the Fn button.

- In the same vein is the improved bracketing. That is, you can now setup the camera to take the series of bracketed images by pressing the shutter release only once. That minimizes movement between shots so that aligning them is easier (the LR/Enfuse plug-in I'm using for multi-exposure blending works perfectly with images shot handheld like this, more on this later), but it also no longer requires you to remember the number of shots you've already taken, and avoids your missing subsequent shots in case you forgot to turn off bracketing. I've often not completed a bracketing series or forgotten to switch it off and shot a drastically wrong exposed next shot. No more of this!

- JPG processing is improved. That includes more profiles for finishing them and more settings to fine tune these. Also more filters. As a RAW photographer I really appreciate having these available through the vastly improved RAW->JPG filter, which allows me to make JPGs on the fly without having to use RAW+JPG all the time. Great for making small JPGs for posting on my travel blog while on the road!!

- Dust detection is practical and quick. Much easier than taking regular OOF shots of the sky and then zooming in to spot the spots. It takes an 30s exposure at f/16 which is then enhanced to show the dust spots. I recommend leaving the cap on the lens when you do this. The camera even reverses the shot so that it shows the location of dust as you would see it by looking at the sensor through the lens mount.

- The 20fps 1.6MP burst mode has a lot of potential. I won't be making movies with it (as it's limited to about 5s of recording) but for a subject where movement is more important than detail, this mode can deliver a series of images from which a subset of perfectly timed frozen postures can be extracted to beautifully document the movement. I'm thinking 3x3 or 4x4 grid compositions.

- The CMOS sensor setup requiring less power (so I'm told) means battery life has improved and possibly also AF speed has slightly improved as well.

Probably there's more that I'm not thinking of right now, and I might add some later on.

Is there a downside? Well I haven't discovered one yet. Except perhaps that reviewing a shot seems to take slightly longer for it to display on the LCD. And of course the bigger file size... That means less images on a card.

Although I was really happy about my K10D, I now feel the K20D has achieved the perfection the K10D should have had with some additional features to make the package more attractive to specs scouts. But the difference is not in the differences on the specs sheets. The K20D is just the better made camera the K10D perhaps should have been.