My past history with DSLRs has given me many highs, but ultimately it’s fallen short of giving a consistently enjoyable experience.
The first round began around 2014 with a Pentax K-x.
I arrived there having loved shooting Pentax M and A series SLRs, their native K mount lenses, as well as M42 lenses via a simple adapter.
Given Pentax’s excellent backwards compatibility, it was very easy to choose a Pentax DSLR that would use the lenses I already had and enjoyed.
The K-x was compact, very competent, and looking back, there’s little I can think of to complain about.
Except one thing. The viewfinder.
Now to be fair, the K-x has a pretty decent VF by DLSR standards, a 0.85x magnification, 96% coverage pentamirror.
It’s just I’d been used to using cameras like the Pentax ME Super, with big bright wonderful VFs that made photography such an immersive experience.
I never got over the disappointment of the K-x’s VF – the relative small size and dimness compared to what I was used to, as well as this making manual focusing tricky – and sold it on in favour of a Sony NEX.
The Sony was easily adaptable to the same lenses, and had a very decent screen that could be angled, as well as offering focus peaking to aid manual focusing no end.
But the poor handling and disappointing colours led me to look for a DSLR again.
And so began chapter two of my DSLR story.
Initially I stuck with Sony and bought an a350, then shortly after, an a100.
Both are compact and capable and plenty of fun.
I could use my M42 lenses via an adapter, and began exploring the excellent Minolta AF lenses that the Sony Alpha series inherited their lens mount from.
But again the VFs were poor (probably worse than the K-x), and the cameras just didn’t really excite me much, so it sent me looking for something better again.
Back to Pentax, in 2017 I discovered the magnificent K10D, Pentax’s flagship camera on its release in 2006.
Using it 11 years on, it was still a delight.
The VF was bigger and brighter than any DSLR I’d had before (a 0.95x, 95%, pentaprism), and switching the default focusing screen for one with a split prism aided focusing with manual lenses even more.
This was the best DSLR experience I’d known so far.
The K10D’s weight and bulk started to take its toll – over 700g without a lens, and much bigger than any camera I’d used before .
Add a vintage M42 or Pentax-M lens and you’re well over a kilogram.
With a zoom or tele lens it could double as a small rocket launcher.
Plus, even with its better specs, the VF still seemed to tire my eyes far more quickly than a film SLR.
I’ve later learned that even when the spec says 0.95x magnification, it’s relative to the sensor/frame size. So because an APS-C DSLR has a 1.5x crop factor compared with a frame of 35mm film, the magnification has to be divided by the same crop factor.
So even with my K10D, 0.95/1.5 = 0.63x effective size.
So a 35mm camera (or a full frame DSLR) with a 0.95x viewfinder (where there is no crop factor, or rather it is simply 1, so the effective size is also 0.95x) is going to be far larger.
Then, when I discovered cameras like the tiny Ricoh GRD III and Pentax Q could deliver such great images in a package so much smaller and lighter than the K10D, the writing was on the wall.
I sold the K10D, as well as its near identical sibling I’d bought as a back up, the Samsung GX10.
A few months later, my smaller Samsung GX-1s followed suit.
Its VF was exactly the same as the K10D, but still not as good as those old film SLRs for the reasons about effective size stated above, and focusing became an eye exhausting chore.
And whilst its 6MP CCD sensor was a gem, overall the Samsung just didn’t have the same classy feel of the K10D.
Now, after approaching two years of focusing (literally!) almost entirely on digital compacts, I have the urge to try a DSLR again.
The main issues that have turned me away before have been a small and dim VF, the overall size and bulk, and the difficulty in manual focusing.
Even though virtually none of the digital compacts I use own have a VF, and are all AutoFocus, I have come to love using this set up, especially using the screen to compose and check focus.
None of my previous DSLRs had a live view screen. Well, that’s not quite true – the K-x and a350 both did, but I never really thought to use them, as my thinking and process was so engrained in using a VF from my history with 35mm film SLRs.
Another factor is the output from the camera and how much processing is needed.
Since I’ve all but abandoned colour photography again for now, I appreciate cameras like my Pentax Q and Lumix LX3 even more, with their dynamic mono modes and contrast settings that can be set up to deliver the moody b/w images I love, straight out of camera.
So combining all of this experience of the last five years or so, if I am to try a DSLR again, I need the following –
- A great viewfinder with 100% view (or very close).
- An excellent screen with live view and potentially an additional manual focus aid like magnification and/or focus peaking.
- Satisfying handling and logical controls.
- Compatibility with my remaining lenses (two Pentax K mount, five in M42 mount). I really don’t want to explore another lens mount when I love M42 and PK so much.
- A small, light body.
- Enough in camera control to deliver contrasty b/w images without the need for post-processing.
This checklist has, inevitably, led me back to Pentax again.
I did consider another K-x, as I don’t recall using the live view at all, and it did tick virtually all of the boxes above.
Even the older K-m was an option, ticking plenty of the above boxes, but it lacked live view, and the VF was lower spec than the K10D/GX-1S.
So instead I started to look at Pentax DSLRs further down the line, and read more and more about the Pentax K-30.
Bright 100% VF? Check. 0.92x, 100%, pentaprism.
Excellent screen with live view and focus peaking? Check.
Good handling and logical controls? Check. The layout and menus especially appear to be very similar to my lovely little Pentax Q, basically a DSLR shrunk to quarter of the size.
Lens compatibility? Check. It’s Pentax K mount and I can use my M42 > K adapter for the M42 lenses as I did with previous Pentax DSLRs.
Compact and light? Check. Not as tiny as the Q, obviously, but small and fairly light for a APS-C sensor DLSR.
In camera image control? Check. It appears to have many of the same features of the Q, including b/w filters, contrast and saturation adjustment and so on.
Needless to say I’m excited to discover whether the K-30 will finally fulfil the DLSR dream.
Can it become the camera that gives me a sustainable and enjoyable way to use those lovely old M42 and PK lenses, with much of the convenience I’ve come to appreciate and love about compact cameras like the Ricoh GRD III and Pentax Q?
I’ll keep you posted.
What’s been your experience with DSLRs? Which has been your favourite, and why?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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