When you know, you know.
The moment your fingers first close around the body and it feels like they were meant to be here from birth.
The instant your eyes meet the viewfinder and the view seems even more big and bright and colourful than if the glass wasn’t even there.
And then, when you click the shutter button and it sounds reassuring, sensual, indestructible and exultant all at once.
That’s when you know you’ve found the camera you’ve been looking for your whole (photographic) life.
Unfortunately, whilst finding just one of the above experiences isn’t especially tricky, finding them all simultaneously in the same camera is very much harder.
Here are a few of the near misses in my experience, followed by the one that’s come closest of all to being a Cinderella for my prints. Sorry, prince.
Minolta Dynax 7000i
After sampling this Dynax, plus its more chunky and crude (but still charming) predecessor the 7000, and its more refined and feature laded successor the 700i, it was this, the 7000i, that ticked most boxes.
The handling is fantastic, thanks almost entirely to the contours of that right hand grip and how it subtly curves back away from the lens. I don’t think any film camera has felt better in my right hand.
The viewfinder is also very good, especially for an AF camera. This shouldn’t be a great shock really, as the X-700 and X-500 from the last line of manual focus Minoltas had class leading viewfinders, and remain the best I’ve used in any camera before or since.
The sounds it emits are, well, whiny and electronic mostly.
There’s loads to love about this Dynax, and the Minolta AF lenses I’ve had have been outstanding, especially the 35-70 “Baby Beercan” and 50/2.8 Macro.
So why do I not still have it?
I’m just not an AF kind of guy, nor do I much like auto wind film. The Dynax, through no fault of its own, felt a kind of halfway house between film (it uses 35mm film with all its delights) and digital (auto focus, auto wind, program modes) I just didn’t enjoy shooting with it that much. Despite its tactile joys, when I want to shoot film, I prefer it to be a far more manual experience.
I’ve been a Pentax lover from very early on in my film photography adventure, the ME Super being the first I tried. Since then I’ve had a couple of dozen Pentax bodies and enjoyed all of them in some way or other.
The MZ-5N is one of the last film bodies Pentax made, and as such it makes use of the technological advances of the time, and Pentax’s decades of experience.
It’s very light, and probably as compact as an SLR can be before it starts to feel uncomfortable and cramped.
It of course has access to a vast range of Pentax K mount lenses from 1975, both manual and auto focus. And all the program and shooting modes you might need.
With that glorious glass available to me, I’ve actually made a handful of my favourite photographs made with ANY Pentax with the MZ-5N.
So where did it fall down for me?
Partly, the same overly automated issues I had with the Minolta. You don’t really have to do much with your hands to use it, making it more point and shoot than SLR.
But a much bigger flaw for me was the viewfinder – usable, just, but incredibly disappointing with manual focus lenses compared with its late 70s and early 80s siblings like the ME Super through the A series (Super A, Program A) to even the P30 and P50 line, which still have great viewfinders.
Plus all that plastic may be light, but it makes it feel, well, plasticky. Again I prefer more heft and metal between my fingers.
After shooting a substantial amount of photographs via almost as substantial amount of different lenses with my mirrorless Sony NEX 3N, I realised it just didn’t compare with using a camera that felt like a camera, not a device, and had a proper viewfinder.
Enter my explorations into Sony Alpha mount, and the highly promising a350.
At this point I’d decided that the majority of my favourite lenses I owned were M42 mount. This was a crucial decision in purchasing the Sony – a simple M42 to Alpha mount adapter was widely and cheaply available.
A little further down the line I discovered the delights of Minolta’s AF lenses from the mid 80s. When Sony bought the camera arm of Minolta (then Konica Minolta) in the mid 2000s, they kept the AF mount Minolta had invented over 20 years previously. So these lenses fit straight on Sony Alpha mount digital bodies. And perform excellently.
The Sony was in some ways like the Dynax, but digital. Same lenses, plus the option to use M42 manually. But the convenience and immediacy of digital compared with film.
Why didn’t the affair last this time?
Again though, despite its appeal, ultimately the Sony (and it’s even more usable predecessor the a100) fell by the wayside when I realised I didn’t much like using AF lenses – however capable – and the viewfinder was, like the Pentax MZ-5N, miles away from my favourites I’d experienced with film cameras.
Plus, again, the plasticky feel put me off. It wasn’t exactly flimsy, it just didn’t feel robust or well made enough to inspire much confidence or affection.
Would Cinderella ever appear?
After the Sonys failed to tick enough boxes for my fickle prince, I went back to what I knew best. Pentax.
I’d had a K-x DSLR some years back, but had been disappointed in it for much the same reasons as the Sony Alpha DLSRs. But I couldn’t help wondering if if Pentax had made something I’d like more.
Surely the same company that had made at least a dozen different film cameras I’ve used and loved was capable of making something as appealing to me on the digital front?
After some research, I somehow stumbled across much talk about the K10D, the flagship semi-pro Pentax at the time of its release in 2006.
There was much talk of its CCD sensor rendering images with a “film-like” quality, and so many happy owners, not least of all on the epic PentaxForums thread devoted to the K10D and still going strong 11 years after the camera’s release. After reading a few hundred comments and seeing as many photographs made with a K10D, I decided I needed to try one.
When it arrived, the first touch was just like I wrote about right at the start of this post. It felt like the camera I’d been searching for for years.
Added to the contours and comfort, the weight and heft of the body, whilst maybe a turn off for some, just made it feel even better, and more confidence inspiring.
The K10D is weather sealed, and this further enhances its robustness of feel.
Though it’s largely plastic on the outside, it’s very well made and just from picking one up, you can see why there are still so many happy K10D shooters eleven years after the camera debuted.
The viewfinder is far superior to the Sonys, with 0.95x magnification and a 95% view. It’s not up there with the very best film cameras, but highly usable, especially with any lens with a maximum aperture of f/3.5 or faster. Plus it has a visible (and if you wish, audible) focus confirm, which works just as well with manual focus lenses, and has proved to be very accurate when lighting is challenging.
Of course I can also use all my M42 lenses with a simple adapter, as well as that vast range of K mount glass that began in 1975 and, yep, is still being made today. The K10D can use any of that 42 years’ worth of fine Pentax K glass.
No, it isn’t a film camera, but as many have raved about, that 10MP CCD sensor does have a charm and ability to render colour and to some extent texture that is reminiscent of film, and generally much more appealing to my eyes than newer, cooler, more clinical CMOS sensors.
It helps to keep the K10D’s sensor at its native ISO100 to optimise this look, which suits me just fine – it reminds me of shooting my very favourite film – FujiFilm Superia 100.
There’s little about the K10D to complain about.
Yes it could be smaller and lighter, as many subsequent Pentax DLSRs were. But when something feels right in your hands, the weight becomes a non-issue. And if you’re like me, you want to know the camera is there, your reliable partner in photographic adventures. You want the reassurance of that heft.
I love it so much I recently bought a back up – a Samsung GX10 that is almost identical, and a product of the Pentax/Samsung collaboration at the time. Aside from slightly different software, and fractionally different shaped buttons on the rear, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. The viewfinder and sensor are identical.
So is the K10D the last camera I’ll ever buy?
No, I’m sure there’ll come a time when I’m curious about what Pentax made a few years later.
But until both my K10D and GX10 break down beyond repair, and all other examples out there follow, I can’t see myself not continuing to use them to make photograph after photograph, for many months and years to come.
Have you found your Cinderella camera, be it film or digital? Let us know in the comments below.
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18 thoughts on “The Cinderella Dilemma – Finding A Camera That Fits”
Still searching…. but only film cameras. Just scored a very good looking Spotmatic SP1000 for next to nothing. Superb camera. I’m coming to live the M42 lenses too. I have a Pentacon trio of 29, 50 and 135 which are really great – not stellar though.
But I am sure this one is still not the last one. It feels great, yet…. I need a bigger viewfinder with my glasses above all. Do you have an hint which one might fit?
As for the K10, I love the rendering of this sensor, In the dark door-handle photo, the blacks really look film-like. Just like fine grain…. your comparison with Superia 100 is right.
Frank, the Spotmatics are fantastic, my last remaining M42 body is my Spotmatic F. There’s not much between it and the other Spotmatics, from the other couple I’ve had.
Briefly tried a 29mm Pentacon but didn’t do much for me. The 50/1.8s are amazing, especially the close focus, and great colours. Which 135 do you have? I’ve had the six blade and the 15 (I think?) blade one. I expected the latter to give much better results, but they were very similar, aside obviously from bokeh highlights in certain lighting. Found them a bit bulky and heavy – I have a preset Takumar 135/3.5, a Jupiter-37A 135/3.5 and Zeiss S (Sonnar) 135/3.5, all of which are much smaller and lighter than the Pentacons, were more refined to use, and gave me more pleasing results. I need to use all of these more on my K10D!
With viewfinders, in M42, the late Spotmatics were about as good as it gets, I think. The central spot on my F is fantastic for precise focus, especially in lower light. I would say that later K series bodies have bigger and brighter screens, like the ME Super onwards, up to the Super A / Super Program, even the P30 and P50 have a really good VF. They’re not M42, but all will take M42 lenses with a simple Pentax M42 > K adapter, if you don’t mind manual stop down and Aperture Priority. I can’t recall if you have one, or have used one.
I really love the rendering of the K10D, it makes pictures that don’t look “digital” to me. My favourite of those above is the pine cones, I just love the texture and look and colours of the greens in the background.
Thanks for your thoughts and input as always.
Dan, I have the 6-blade 135… still trying it out. On the already quite heavy Spotty SP1000 it’s quite something to carry! 1100 grams together!
I’m sure the Takumars are better, smaller and lighter, but these are my first M42 lenses…. If I bond with the Spotty, more will follow.
I never had a K10D, but it’s looking good…. if ever I give digital a try again. As I don’t like AF I’ll be able to stay with the lenses I got.
Other than that I’d like to try a Pentax MX… dunno why but that small camera just looks right to me… now does it feel right?
Anyways, I’m still searching for the right one. And you’re right, the camera has to FEEL right. Long time ago I had a huge Nikon F Photomic…. now that one felt great! I wonder if….. 😉
And yes, that pinecone photo is exceptional! They seem to jump out of the frame…. If it was a Zeiss on Leica lens I guess they would rave about that 3D pop…..
Frank, the 6 blade Pentacon will give you decent results. But I reckon you’ll get weary of using it, on purely physical terms. You wouldn’t believe how much smaller the Tak 135 I have is. And it delivers lovely images.
Did we talk about the MX previously, I think we might have? My experience was that it was TOO compact. it’s just not tall enough to get a proper grip on it. And I have fairly small hands. See my thoughts here –
For you it might feel perfect!
Yes “3D pop” is a phrase usually attached to photos taken by Ziess glass. I have struggled to see it myself, and any of the best glass from Asahi/Pentax, Minolta, Konica, Yashica and many others (even Helios and Pentacon) I’ve used have been equally capable of excellent images.
Never really clicked with the K10D, found focusing really difficult for some reason. IIRC you need to stop down to meter on MF lenses which was annoying as well. This year I got a K-5 and instantly sold the K10D as I thought it was so much better, I was instantly taking pics I was happy with.
I still hate the form factor of DSLRs and late SLRs though, they are so ugly it’s impossible to love them. I still spend most time using 70s SLRs just because they are so beautiful and tactile!
Those plastic SLRs and DSLRs are just ugly, true. But I loved my Canon T90…. must be my old brain getting flaky!
I had the T70. Very capable, surprisingly good handling and with good glass, very capable. But kind of like the Minolta 7000i, plasticky, noisy, and in the case of the T70, really ugly!
Sam, thanks for your thoughts.
With the K10D it took me a while to adjust to metering and shooting. I wanted to use M42 (via an adapter), M series, and A series lenses, and expected to use Av mode with all of them.
With M42, Av works, but yes you need to stop down. I was finding a lot of tweaking of the exposure compensation was needed as you varied the aperture too. Which was annoying.
With the M series, you can set the aperture on the lens first, then it remains wide open until the moment of shooting, but you need to use Manual mode and the “green button” to stop the lens down and take a meter reading before you shoot.
With A series, again you can use Av, and either control the lens aperture with the ring manually, or set it to A and adjust via the dial on camera. Again I was needing a bit of exposure compensation though at different apertures, and it felt a bit different to M series lenses.
So what I decided to do was try to find a way to shoot consistently, whatever the lens. This meant I had to give up my previous reliance on Av, and go Manual.
With the M42 lenses you still have to adjust the aperture ring manually after you’ve focused, if you want to be able to focus at max aperture and maximum light entering the viewfinder. With the M and A series though, just set the aperture ahead of taking the shot, and the lens remains wide open until you shoot.
Aside from this, with all three types, metering is the same – press the green button and the camera sets the shutter speed it feels is right for the aperture (and ISO) chosen, then shoot.
This consistency of approach and process transformed the ease with which I use the K10D and I don’t really think about what type of lens is on the front, as I use them all the same way now.
In my mind I’m still shooting Av mode, as I choose the aperture first, then let the camera make a decision on shutter speed via the green button. Then I can tweak the shutter speed up or down if I think it needs it – either before or after taking the shot.
If I want to just “point and shoot” I can use an A series or my DA 35/2.4 on a Program mode. But I rarely do! There are all kinds of modes where you let the camera decide aperture, shutter speed, ISO or any combination. But I just stick with M mode and ISO100 95% of the time now.
If I had to guess the next camera I’d buy, it’d probably be the K5. I’ve read a lot of good things about it. But for now I’m in love with the form and results with the K10D.
I agree that DSLRs are ugly brutes and the K10D is no different really. None can come close to the elegance of most 70s SLRs. But as this post was about, the K10D is probably the best feeling in my hands of any camera I’ve owned. It just feels right – the shape, the weight, the texture of the rubber grip…
No camera I’ve ever used has been perfect, has ticked every box. It’s why I will end up keeping a selection of cameras. Tools in my toolbox. Use the right tool for the job.
Thanks Jim! Great analogy. I think tailoring that to me I’d have to say my K10D is my main power tool, then I have a selection of attachments and bits (ie lenses) that I choose based on requirements, meaning in the vast majority of situations the power tool K10D becomes the right tool for the job!
But yeh sometimes you just need a good old manual flat blade screwdriver, and a power tool is complete overkill!
Hi Dan, I hold you personally liable for what I did just now!
I have bought a Pentax K10D on eBay! Yes, me, the film guy!
I’ll give it a try with my M42 lenses and the Pentax A 50mm 1.7 that’s floating around here (hey will the automatic aperture work with that camera? Certainly not).
The camera comes with one year warranty from the seller and 30 days return, so if ever it should not work out no damage done (except return postage).
In my former digital escapades I stuck to Fuji cameras, loved them and then returned / re-sold them… Why? I somehow did not like the look of the photos. Hard to explain. I hope this one is as good as you say and will please me. Of course it’s a big plastic DSLR blob, something I normally don’t like… but then again I adored my Canon T90… go figure.
I’ll keep you updated when it arrives.
Ha Ha, Frank I’m so sorry to have corrupted you! But I’m not really, the K10D was an absolute gamechanger for me. Yes it’s a bulky evil DSLR, but the pictures that CCD sensor is capable of is quite lovely. Plus for me it definitely has Pentax lineage, it does feel like a descendant of the Spotmatic somehow. Fantastic handling and build too.
Once you get it set up initially it’s really simple to use, especially Manual mode.
Let me know how you get on.
Re the Pentax-A 50/1.7, I had one a few months back I got very cheap because the aperture ring wouldn’t go past f/8. Most users want it for the A setting to use on DSLRs, so it was dead cheap. Didn’t bother me as I rarely go smaller than f/8, so just used it between f/1.7 and f/5.6. Fantastic performer. Will yours move on all the other aperture settings just not the A?
Takumars perform beautifully with the K10D, well you’ve seen my pictures so have some idea.
My 1.7 is near perfect. Clean glass and all works well. The aperture ring is a bit too ‘clicky’ for my taste though.
I looked at your K10D photos a lot and they do look good.
The A is I think the same optics as the M. The M has a much nicer aperture ring. I have the A 50/1.4 and leave it on A with the K10D now. I don’t adjust aperture hugely anyway so a click on the camera’s dial now and then is painless!
Fortunately the smoothness of the focusing and the quality of the glass (and final image) is as good with the As as the Ms…
No my K10D (and GX-1S and GX-10) pics are all shot RAW then simply exported to JPEG via LightRoom. This seems to give me excellent results (LR does a little auto tweak, I don’t know what) without any faffing around.
Hi Dan, I’ve had the K10D for 3 days now and testing heavily!
First, the camera feels good, very heavy, much ore than I remember my old Canon EOS400D. With the 50 1.7 A lens, everything works like a charm. The 55 1.8 Takumar though is another beast to tame. I tried it on M, on Av and even TAv (all with aperture closed of course) and I have inconsistent results. Taking several shots whole closing the aperture from shot to shot, the results get sometimes ever more over-exposed the smaller the aperture?
But not always…. strange!
Another point is focusing, I find the green focus confirm thingy and red flashing focus point distracting. I’ll turn them off. Fortunately the focusing screen is fairly bright so I can focus more or less correctly. A split prism screen would be great though!
Can’t say much about image quality yet as I shoot the local wildlife from my couch, with very dim rainy weather outside! More on that later!
Frank, good to hear your adventures with the K10D!
Yes I have found A series lenses easier in terms of metering, and being able to leave the aperture on A and tweak on camera. I typically leave it on f/5.6 and only go wider if I need more light.
The M42s are a bit more challenging and the metering more tricky. I generally found I think I need to underexpose a bit when the lens is wide open, overexpose when it’s f/5.6 or beyond, and in between it’s about right.
I’m sure you can turn the focus confirm off, certainly the red one, I don’t think I have that show up in mine. The green hexagon can be helpful in low light though, it seems pretty accurate on mine.
I have a spilt microprism screen on one of mine, it does make a difference. Only about £15 on eBay, but takes a steady hand to fit.
Enjoy, and keep me posted!