31 August 2010

A Limited Liking

Recently I managed to get my hands on a DA 70mm f/2.4 Limited from a friend. I spent about two months getting acquainted with it, shooting a variety of subjects. As I already had the terrific FA 77mm Limited previously, this lens was low on my priority list of lenses to own. While this lens certainly has it's admirers, I've always wondered if it really is as good as the buzz on the internet would have me believe.

First off, it is really compact in size and is very lightweight. The original screw-on lens hood with a sliding extension is cute and adds a little length to the overall size but I seriously wonder if it is all that useful to block against flare because the hood just isn't as deep as I would have liked it to be. The lens hood is indispensable because you need it in place in order for the dedicated slip-on, felt lined metal lens cap to go on. As things go, I quickly stopped using the original lens cap for fear of losing it and thereafter used a 43mm plastic clip-on lens cap instead.

The lens does focus pretty fast and sharpness is actually very even from center to the edges of the frame, even at the maximum f/2.4 aperture. I do like the Quick Shift, a standard feature of all DA series lenses. Like other DA Limiteds, the all metal build quality is good but bettered by the FA Limiteds. Images are nice and contrasty and colors rendition is nice. So on paper it appears to check off a lot of positives. However over time there were just a few things about it that started to become niggling irritations.

Well when I first started using it, I used it for head shots as the focal length lends itself to shots of people having a natural perspective. The angle of view and perspective were just nice, with the shooting distance to the subject especially good when shooting indoors. Images were sharp even when shooting wide open but very soon it became evident that f/2.4 wasn't gonna give as smooth a background as compared to the faster and slightly longer FA 77mm Limited. With the FA 77mm's f/1.8 maximum aperture and slightly longer focal length, there's more options on hand to vary the depth of field and the smooth rendition of the bokeh. The DA 70mm always seemed to deliver backgrounds behind the subject that I often wished could have been a little less distinct.

How does it fare in non-portrait situations? To me it all boils down to whether one is used to the perspective and angle of view. It does make for a nice walkaround lens if you're just picking up specific details but the recurring wish that the maximum aperture could have been a little faster and the minimum focusing distance of 0.7m could have been a little closer for better subject isolation always seemed to come up.

Inevitably when comparing the DA 70mm to the FA 77mm Limiteds, the point in question is which lens provides more options at hand. For me the more expensive FA 77mm Limited simply offers a greater range in shooting aperture. As a caveat, the DA 70mm Limited is quite a bit cheaper and prices haven't really skyrocketed like the FA Limiteds. If your budget is limited, the DA 70mm Limited does offer good value but if money isn't the issue, the FA 77mm Limited does offer that something extra. Right now I still shoot at 70mm but only because I decided to trade the DA 70mm Limited for the DA 17-70mm f/4 SDM zoom.

28 August 2010

Pentax Macro Outing: AMK Town Garden West

Our Pentax August 2010 outing was a macro shootout at the Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West. Never had the opportunity to visit this park which is situated on a hillock. Like all our group outings, there were plenty of friendly chatter and catching-up with one another. Here's a group shot of the eager macro shooters and I'm happy to say the Pentax community here in Singapore is growing and probably one of the most close knit group of photo enthusiasts around. Maybe everyone's cheery because we all just came out of MacDonald's, our designated meeting place just a few meters away!

As it was a full macro outing, everybody had their own version of gear, from macro lenses to extension tubes to flash units and flash diffusers to light up their subjects. This was a shoot where everyone was carefully spending more time looking for the well camouflaged tiny insects and spiders than merely wandering all over the place. A lot of careful plodding and stalking to look out for our subjects while trying hard not to step on angry ants was the order of the day.

For me this park is a small oasis that offers plenty of macro opportunities in an urban context. I had plenty of misses and I definitely need to look into improving my macro lighting setup. Controlling the quantity of light and diffusing it well to improve the quality of it is a challenge in any macro shooting but get it right and the subject will look beyond the ordinary.

BTW all shots were taken with the K-7 and the DFA 100mm f/2.8 Macro WR. For me it was a nice reminder that macro shooting is an exercise both in perseverance and technical perfection. Time to go shoot some more...

07 August 2010

Pentax Optio I-10: Stylish Retro Cool

About two weeks ago, our local photography forum organised ClubSNAP Live, an event that featured talks and workshops and a small flea market by different companies involved in the photographic trade. Our local Pentax agent had on hand the "oh so cute" Pentax Optio I-10, the compact digital point and shoot camera that comes in an all black and in an all white finish. This little camera's stylish design harks back to the old Pentax 110 film camera, the world smallest SLR film camera.

I'm not exactly all that excited about compact PnS cameras nowadays, after all there's a plethora of them all around, heck you can even find them in petrol stations and in convenience stores. But this little Pentax definitely has chic appeal, so who cares about the predictable PnS image quality? As things stand, PnS cameras nowadays pretty much deliver the same results, so any distinguishing feature lies in the design, easy of use and uniqueness. In this regard, this little camera does stand out quite nicely.

OK it checks off all the right specifications: 12.1 effective megapixels, an optical 5X zoom lens with approximately 28mm to 140mm coverage (equivalent in the 35mm format), a CCD-shift-type shake reduction system, movie clips at 16:9 high-definition TV proportions (30 fps), a set of digital filters (Monochrome and Sepia) including a creative Toy Camera filter (woo hoo!) and check this, a Starburst filter (yeah we all need that!) plus an advanced multi-face detection system. AF is fast, the pictures look good and there is even an ultra close macro mode..

Now to me that last face detection feature is really the key to why this little camera is a blast to use. The Smile Capture feature is just perfect for use in Facebook, use at parties and personal blogging. All you need to do is smile and the camera automatically takes the picture, you don't even have to hold down the shutter button. So taking quick snaps at parties and self portraits, not to mention kids is literally a smile away. Way cool!  As you can see my friend Bernard is grinning with the results as his lovely wife looks on.

Footnote: Pentax has also released the Optio I-10 in Classic Silver. Whoa! How retro can you be in this digital age?