Photography

Experimenting with manual-focus lenses on a Pentax K10D DSLR

Blogger and photographer Dan James, on his mission to simplify his photographic life (read more about it here), seems to have settled on a Pentax K10D DSLR and screw-mount, manual-focus Pentax Takumar lenses. And he gets great results.

If the K10D isn’t a dinosaur among DSLRs yet, it will be soon: it was introduced in 2006. At 10.2 megapixels, its image resolution won’t blow anybody’s socks off. But it’s still a competent performer, and used examples can be had for about $100. And, tantalizingly, users report that its CCD sensor returns film-like images. So I bought one to see for myself.

Almost every K-mount lens ever made mounts directly onto this body. My 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens was at hand when the K10D arrived, so I clipped it on.

Daisies

Shooting a manual lens isn’t as simple as mount and go, however. This site explains the procedure in detail. But in short, you first go into the camera’s menus to turn on a setting that lets the camera recognize the aperture you select on the lens. You also need to set the mode dial to M (for manual exposure). And then when you’ve framed and focused a scene, you have to tap the green-dot button (next to the shutter button) to stop the lens down and meter.

Agua

These steps ain’t nuthin’ to those of us used to futzing with old film cameras. If you’re used to all-automatic shooting, you might disagree. But these lenses are fine and fun — it’s worth scaling the learning curve.

That 50mm lens offered a pretty narrow field of view, thanks to the K10D’s APS-C sensor. At 22.5x15mm, it’s considerably smaller than 35mm film’s 36x24mm frame. It makes that 50mm lens effectively a 75mm lens, great for close work and portraits but not so great for landscapes.

Ford

So after I got a little settled into my new house after my recent move, I dug through boxes until I found my 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens. I find 28mm to be simply too wide on my film cameras. But on an APS-C camera it’s effectively 42mm, offering a great field of view for medium- and long-distance subjects. To show that, here’s my car in my driveway.

Bokeh

I got some pretty reasonable bokeh with this lens. Even after just a handful of shots I like it a lot better on the K10D than on any of my Pentax film SLRs.

Grille

I tried moving in close with this 28mm lens. On my 35mm SLRs I like 50mm lenses because they’re a good compromise, allowing me to get medium-distance subjects in the frame if I back up a little, while letting me focus pretty close if I want.

Fake flower

I can move in closer than this with my 50mm lenses on 35mm film, but this level of closeness is pretty good. I can see myself taking this 28mm lens along on a road trip, where I mostly shoot landscapes but sometimes wish to focus on a detail.

Ford

I also want to shoot my M42 screw-mount Takumar lenses on the K10D, so I bought a Pentax K-to-M42 adapter and screwed my 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar in. It let me get super close to my car’s grille!

Out of focus cars

It’s not like you can’t take wider shots with a lens like this 55/1.8. You just have to back way up to get everything in.

A tip, by the way: if you buy one of these adapters, get a genuine Pentax adapter. Third-party adapters don’t mount flush, which prevents focusing at infinity. I bought a new one off Amazon, but they’re also available used on eBay.

I’m still working out some challenges in shooting the K10D with manual lenses. One is that I often get focusing wrong. You can see it in the photo above, especially at larger sizes: my Toyota is soft while the houses in the background are crisp. The K10D is meant for autofocus lenses and as such offers little in the way of focusing help (like a microprism). I did find a menu setting that helped: press Menu, go to Setup, choose Beep, and check the In-focus checkbox. Then whenever what’s in the center of the frame is in focus, the camera beeps.

Also, I find that my photos are often a little underexposed. It happens especially in close compositions with my 50mm lenses. This could be because the K10D uses center-weighted metering with manual lenses. A hit of auto-fix in Photoshop’s RAW editor corrects exposure issues lickety split, but I have a deep drive to get photos right in the camera. Maybe I’ll play with exposure compensation, and maybe I’ll meter for the shadows and then recompose the shot.

Finally, I am still learning the Pentax menu system. This isn’t specific to shooting my manual-focus lenses but is a hurdle I need to jump nevertheless. I know the Canon menu system inside and out after so many years shooting my Canon S95. I’m not enjoying starting over. This feels like getting into someone else’s car to find the gas pedal left of the brake and a joystick instead of the steering wheel.

Statuette

Still, these experiments are fun. I don’t know where they will lead, though. Maybe I’ll really enjoy shooting these lenses on the K10D and will fold it into my regular rotation, and maybe I won’t. Hedging my bets, I just bought a 28-80mm autofocus zoom lens for this camera. I figure having a working DSLR system could be mighty handy in its own right.

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20 thoughts on “Experimenting with manual-focus lenses on a Pentax K10D DSLR

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    The manual focus thing has been a bug-a-boo with me since day-one digital. I try to explain this to the “kids” I’ve managed over the years, but they don’t get it. Because so many digital auto-focus cameras have slow zooms, the “focusing” screen is really a bunch of little light pipes that sort of pipe the image through. There is virtually nothing to focus on, it’s not a ground glass or anything! I have a buddy who always complains his eye’s are going, because he turns off auto-focus and tries to manually critical focus, and he can’t do it. I had to show him that you can pick up a 1970 Nikkormat, and the image from a 28mm 2.8, easily pops in and out of focus, not a problem!

    This is one of the “pluses” of mirrorless, not only can you set multiple formats on the camera, but the if you have a high rez scree, you can focus just like an old SLR, everything pops in and out just fine!

    Why can’t we get a camera body with a “real” focus screen like a 30 year old SLR?

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    • I guess some DSLRs have interchangeable screens and Fresnel/split-image screens are available. But you gotta know that the average DSLR will always be used in autofocus mode; good focusing screens won’t be useful to the majority of everyday users.

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  2. Me too, … experimenting with manual lenses on … digital bodies.

    In my case using my old workhorse Canon EOS 5D, where I already noticed a couple of lenses hitting the mirror. This is why I more and more used my Olympus E-M1 for it.

    Unfortunately – or fortunately – the M4/3 gives a field of view like the double focal lenght. It’s fun focusing at 15cm with the 35mm Flektogon, having a 70mm FoV equivalent.

    Best of all for me is, that I can now use Focus Peaking with the E-M1, which makes focusing so easy.

    However with the Oly, I’m missing the real impressions of the lens’s real focal lenght. Especially with wide lenses <28mm like the 20mm Flektogon or the 15mm Takumar.

    So let’s see what comes next …

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  3. Tim Carlson says:

    Very good write up Jim! I have a few old Takumar’s in M42 and K mount that I’ve been using on an Olympus E-PL2 – like mentioned by Reinhold the doubling of the focal length makes it a bit challenging. I just picked up an EOS 5D to remedy that but haven’t had a chance to play around with it yet.

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  4. Dan Cluley says:

    I wonder if the underexposure is a Pentax thing? I find my K-x is pretty much perfect in full sun, but in the shade or a cloudy day it will go under about 3/4 of the time. Haven’t tried any manual lenses yet, but I’m saving that link, it looks very helpful.

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  5. Great post Jim, reminded me of the K10D one of my old favorites! If I recall correctly, this camera might be using the same 10.2mp sensor as in the D200 but the jpeg processing brings out very different results from what I remember. The few times I tried using manual lenses with the K10D, it wasn’t fun and I got many out of focus images. I can’t blame the camera though as it camera from an era way before focus peaking, etc. Hope you post more with the K10D and those great Pentax manual lenses!

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  6. Thanks Jim! Dan’s writing made me buy one too. It will arrive next week and I’m curious if this might make me like digital after all. No Fuji, as much as I liked the handling, ever succeeded in that field.

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