Chicago on the Pentax K10D and the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M

My Pentax K10D DSLR’s first serious outing was in Chicago. Margaret and I had a getaway weekend downtown. A good part of our trip was spent walking around looking at the architecture.

On the Chicago River

It rained all day Saturday of our trip, but my K10D is weather sealed so I wasn’t worried about a little rain when I made a photo. Still, I kept the camera tucked inside my raincoat when I wasn’t using it. Sunday the weather cooperated better.


Target currently inhabits much of the former Carson Pirie Scott department store space. Its iron facade is stunning. On the K10D, this 28mm lens is equivalent to a 42mm lens on a 35mm SLR. From the opposite corner it let me get this much of the facade in, but no more. The facade runs all the way down the block, out of the photo to the right.

Target Pirie Scott

I made a dozen photos of the ornate Tribune Tower, which houses the Chicago Tribune and WGN Radio. Most of them were of details in dusty corners. Because the K10D meters only at the center with manual-focus lenses, I have to take extra care in metering in uneven light, such as that found in dusty corners. I haven’t mastered that yet.

Tribune Tower

Margaret had never been in the amazing Palmer House lobby, so we walked in for a few photographs. I stayed here with my son Damion when we visited Chicago for his 13th birthday seven years ago; see those photos here.

Palmer House lobby

Conventional wisdom says that the K10D does film-like work with manual-focus lenses the closer you set ISO to 100. Shooting inside handheld, of course, ISO 100 is too slow. So I cranked it all the way to its maximum of ISO 1600 and hoped for the best. 2006-vintage digital cameras hadn’t sorted the high ISOs yet, and images could be noisy. The noise in these photos isn’t unpleasant, at least.

Palmer House spiral staircase

Because I’m used to shooting old film cameras, I never felt burned by manually focusing and stopping down to meter as I shot the K10D around downtown Chicago. It was a fully usable system.

Colorful tables and chairs

Yet I picked up an autofocus 28-80mm Pentax lens for 20 bucks the other day and it’s currently mounted on the K10D. This lens gets mixed reviews for performance, but the price was right for me to find out whether I like using the K10D as a full-on auto-everything DSLR.


14 responses to “Chicago on the Pentax K10D and the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M”

  1. dan james Avatar

    Those colours of the chairs and tables are captured very well! I love that very subtle grain/noise too – not like the super-clean look of later digital cameras.

    I think with a b/w conversion shooting at ISO800 and 1600 would probably give very pleasing results. As you say, in colour it’s not unpleasant at all.

    The APS-C and the crop factor doesn’t pose many issues in most instances. Where I have noticed more is at the wide end. Like you’ve found, a relatively wide 28mm on 35mm film gives a 42mm field of view on APS-C.

    I ended up seeking out a 24mm lens for my Pentax DSLRs, which equates to 36mm field of view. Still not that wide, but significantly wider than a 28mm on APS-C. I have toyed with a 21 or even 15mm DA, which of course would give a 31.5 and 22.5mm field of view respectively. But they’re somewhat beyond my usual price range so would need very careful consideration and a bit of saving/selling!

    Looking forward to seeing your relationship with the K10D unfold…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I don’t know if I’ll invest in a manual-focus lens wider than what I already have just to shoot it on the K10D. I can’t imagine ever using a 24mm on one of my film Pentaxes, you see. I think that if I want to go wider than 28mm, I’ll buy an autofocus zoom that goes wider. The 42mm field of view was pretty good for walking around Chicago — I seldom felt frustrated by its contstraint.

      Ooo, b/w conversion on the higher-ISO shots. Hadn’t thought of that. Will have to play with it!

  2. Reinhold Graf Avatar

    Some nice pictures, even if you had no sunny days. My favorite is the stairway, despite the noise, which does not really hurt – as you mentioned.

    I like the 28mm and I have the A-Version recently used on a trip to Frankfurt on a Pentax film body (can be seen on my Flickr).

    I agree with Dan, that the crop factor is no limitation – IMHO using 35mm upwards.
    For me the focal length combined with the min focusing distance gives some nice opportunities on my m4/3 – but this is for near distance. I do not use it for a mid to far distance very often, besides some rare CZJ Sonnar 180mm pictures, which are not easy to focus.

    Seeing the wide end, I am tending more to analog cameras or digital fullframe, as then the visual effect of a wide anlge lens is ‘real’. IMHO a 20mm Flektogon should look like 20mm … but that’s only my feeling ;)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m not crazy about this 28mm lens on my film cameras. My objections to it go away on the K10D given the maginfication factor. Using it on the K10D might just be its best application for me.

      Maybe I just haven’t taken to wide lenses in general. My everyday digital camera, the Canon S95, goes to 28mm on the wide end and I seldom shoot it wider than 35mm.

  3. Steve Miller Avatar
    Steve Miller

    Very Kodachrome like saturation on the hotel lobby in particular… I think, though I don’t know how much of that is post-processing.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That lobby itself is Kodachrome-saturated! Minimal post in my image.

  4. SilverFox Avatar

    Nice little trip. I agree about the light amount of grain, not unpleasant. So, do you have any conclusions about the K10D?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      So far, it’s a competent DSLR that feels very solidly built. Its high-ISO performance is not up to modern standards, and 1600 as as high as it goes. But for everyday good-light shooting it’s a fine machine.

  5. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    I like them all, but the staircase is easily the favorite.

    It occurs to me that thinking about your photography style, I think of the detail shots like that one rather than the big vista shots. I wonder if there is a connection between that and your lack of interest in the wide angles.

    I have not been to Chicago since I really went full on digital. Am a little afraid of how many shots I would take these days.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I do like to move in close. I share a lot of that kind of work here. So perhaps it’s become my signature.

  6. Sam Avatar

    Great shots Jim! I commend you for using a manual lens on this camera when you could easily use autofocus. Well, you just got the 28-80mm a lens I’ve been tempted to get myself cause it’s so cheap. Will rely on you to see if it’s a good bang for the low bucks! :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Images to come from that 28-80. Early verdict: not bad if you don’t pay more than $20.

  7. George Rogers Avatar
    George Rogers

    Love following your blogs, James. This one dated the 25th marked my 60th year and 51 years of taking images in film and more recently, digital. Still love film though and will keep using it. Thanks for such great memories. Keep em coming!!! G.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      George, I’m happy you’re along for the ride! My first foray into film was in 1976, so you have a bit of a head start on me. As you can see, I’m equal opportunity film and digital, too!

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