When the camera is just a tool

I got out my Pentax K10D because I was running behind on the blog and wanted some fresh photos to share. I had two film SLRs loaded, but I wouldn’t get the film processed and scanned fast enough. Shooting digital, I can use the photos almost immediately.

Indiana War Memorial

The K10D remains a competent enough camera despite being ancient of days: it was introduced in 2006. Thanks to poor performance at ISOs 800 and above, it’s best used outdoors in good light. Many of my old film cameras require the same conditions, so at least I’m used to it.


Margaret suggested a date night, and not a moment too soon. We took our cameras Downtown (we spell it with a capital D in Indianapolis for some reason) and went for a stroll.


I showed her where I work now, a couple blocks from the heart of Downtown. These balconies are the view from one of our conference rooms.

On the circle

The heart of Downtown is Monument Circle. The Columbia Club is on it. The K10D is heavy, at least compared to Margaret’s featherweight Nikon D3200. Seriously, what did they make the K10D out of that it’s so heavy — and the D3200 that it’s so light? But the K10D wasn’t fatiguing on this walk.

On the circle

The monument itself is hard to photograph, as tall as it is. So I tend to go for its details. The 18-55mm lens (that came in a kit with the camera) does a credible enough job. Distortion is fairly well managed, but is of course most noticeable at the wide end.

Wheeler Mission

There’s plenty to photograph around Downtown and the K10D was up to the task, handling the shift from mostly cloudy to mostly sunny with no trouble. I shot JPEG+RAW and with only a couple exceptions where the JPEG was great as is, edited the RAW a little bit to get the look I want. It was easy enough to do. That’s big: if I have to spend more than a few minutes editing a digital photo to get the look I want, I start to think the camera isn’t for me.


The Wheeler Mission sign and this Firestone sign are the two neon signs I know about Downtown. Maybe I’ll find others now that I work Downtown and have more time to explore.


I don’t love using the K10D. I don’t know why exactly. There’s a je ne sais quoi about any camera that puts into the love or don’t-love category for me, and the K10D lacks it. However, it works well enough and returns fine results, thus keeping its place among my cameras. If it didn’t, it’d be gone.

On the circle

At some point during our stroll we realized we were hungry, so we stopped at the Rathskeller, a German restaurant, for some wurst. It was a lovely evening and a tonic for our spirits. It’s nice to have these photos to remember it by.

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Dartmouth Apartments

Dartmouth Apartments
Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax DA AL

We came upon this interesting apartment building as we walked along Michigan Street, which is not to be confused with Michigan Road, in Downtown Indianapolis.

I noticed the texture of the brick and how the sky was reflecting in the windows. I knew there was an interesting composition in here somewhere. But we had a destination in mind, and I didn’t have time to frame this building from a bunch of vantage points to find the best composition.

So I quickly tossed off a shot. Sometimes that’s just the ticket. I’m sure there was a better composition in this scene somewhere, but I might have had to take fifty photographs to find it.

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Film Photography

single frame: Dartmouth Apartments



A snowy visit to Purdue

I spent an afternoon with my son, who’s in his last semester at Purdue. He really likes to walk, so we walked together, all over West Lafayette. It did my middle-aged body good to put some miles on my feet.

He lives in Cary Quadrangle, which is this grand old building.

Cary Quad *EXPLORED*

We walked to the northwest corner of campus where there’s a large hill. Lots of people were out sledding. Many of them were using cardboard boxes, because who brings a sled to college? This giant stage is at the bottom of the hill.


We walked through campus a little. The cold got to me so I asked if there were a coffee shop nearby. My son led the way. We passed this building, which very clearly was once a Burger Chef restaurant. Burger Chef was a competitor to McDonalds that was headquartered in Indianapolis. (See more old Burger Chef buildings, repurposed, here.)

Former Burger Chef

A burger joint still operating is the XXX, which has delicious root beer. Here’s one of its signs. You don’t see many of that style of Coca-Cola sign still in use.


Here’s another, this time in neon.


As usual, my son and I wound up at an Irish restaurant near the river. I got this nice portrait of him while we waited for our beef stew and shepherd’s pie.


Despite the cold, it was a good afternoon. I had in mind to have a long conversation with him about searching for a post-college job, but frankly, neither of us was in the mood so we skipped it and just enjoyed each other’s company.

Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL

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A hike through Eagle Creek Park

Hiking through Eagle Creek Park with my wife
Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL

When you are single for as long as Margaret and I were, you get used to living your own life. She was a full-time single mom, her time given to taking care of her four children and working to support everyone. I was a single dad who saw his kids two nights a week and every other weekend and filled the rest of his life with career, a non-profit, and church.

When we met, our lives were already full. Overfull, really. It was going to be a joy and a challenge to weave our lives together. We were going to have to approach it thoughtfully and deliberately.

Unfortunately, we didn’t do that. Serious challenges came at us so fast and so frequently that we went into survival mode. We’d both survived difficult times before, as single people. That’s how we knew to do it.

By this summer we found ourselves living our lives in parallel because it was most efficient to do it that way. We didn’t see for a long time that it was hurting us.

Thankfully, we saw it before it hurt us too much. We’ve made some strong changes that have us jointly planning our time, saying no to too much time apart, and making much more time to do simple things together. Like walk through Eagle Creek Park.

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single frame: Hiking through Eagle Creek Park with my wife



Back to experimenting with the Pentax K10D

I bought an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL lens for my Pentax K10D DSLR, and by golly, I think I might finally have found a lens this camera likes.

VW at the curb

I tried a 35mm f/2 SMC Pentax-FA AL lens but it didn’t play well with the autofocus. I also tried a 28-80mm f/3.5-4.7 SMC Pentax-FA zoom lens and while it focused better, the photos it gave me didn’t wow me.

garden thing

But those are both film-era lenses. This DA AL lens is not only from Pentax’s digital era, but it is the lens that most often accompanied this camera in a kit when new.


It focuses cleanly and quickly, and within the limitations of this 12-year-old camera’s firmware it returns good results.

Birthday flowers

I shot RAW but these photos needed little help in Photoshop to look good. I boosted shadows in the final photo above, tweaked color temperature in a couple of the others, and corrected minor lens distortion in them all. Zip zap zoop and they were ready for the blog. That’s just how I like it.

What’s leading me to try the K10D again is my last road trip. I do love my Canon S95 but in direct sun, like most point-and-shoot digicams, the screen washes out. I was frustrated one too many times trying to compose on that screen.

It’s just easier to compose in a real viewfinder. Typical of DSLR viewfinders, however, the K10D’s is small. And it shows an area slightly smaller than what the camera captures, so I’m learning to move in a touch closer to compensate.

It’s a tradeoff. The S95 has the strong advantage of slipping into my pants pocket. The K10D is large and heavy, so I sling it over my shoulder.

I’m on vacation this week and am at the moment at the Midwest Byway Conference, which is on the National Road in Richmond. I brought the K10D along to see how it behaves. Photos to come, eventually.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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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