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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.