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.