Monday, February 24, 2020

Mystery (Bargain) Enthusiast DSLR

Mystery (Bargain) Enthusiast DSLR
February, 2020, Carl Garrard

Today, I'm going to change things up here. I'm going to introduce a camera in reverse of my normal writing format, one that I find to be a very special bargain for enthusiast and pro level photographers. Of course, you could just scroll down to the bottom of this article to find out what camera I'm talking about, but wouldn't that would negate the very fun of a short mystery review? I promise, it isn't long, you can wait to be surprised. Assuming you have some restraint and haven't looked yet, I'll get on  talking about a very special camera that is a ridiculous deal for shutterbugs.

What if I told you that for $349.00 (used very good to like new)-$599.00 (new), the following list of specifications would be yours? Would you believe me?
  • 24mp APS-C sensor with no anti-aliasing filter
  • 100% coverage .95X pentaprism viewfinder.
  • Robust weather sealing
  • In body image stabilization
  • Freeze proof
  • Rock solid, all magnesium metal outer body
  • Pop up flash
  • Built in AF assist lamp
  • 3.2" glass covered gapless LCD screen
  • 8+ frames per second shooting
  • Battery life is 560-1200 shots range per charge
  • Top plate LCD status screen
  • Mic and Headphone Jacks
  • Dual Card Slots!
  • Full suite of external controls
  • Dual control dials
  • 4k Time lapse/Time lapse (in camera) movie mode
  • ISO range 100-51,200  
  • Vignetting and CA lens correction
  • -3ev low light focusing
  • 25 center AF points are all double cross type, with 3 down to f/2.8
  • 23 shot raw + jpeg buffer
  • 1/8000th second shutter
  • DNG raw files
  • Hyper vibration dust removal system 
  • 200,000 cycle rated shutter life
  • 1080p Video 
  • It's an award winner
  • And there's more...

Do you believe that? Well if you don't, have faith.

I will also say that this camera is extremely comfortable to hold all day long, and it's of supreme quality in every way. So your money will not only be well spent but you can enjoy that pride of ownership only really well built cameras can give you.. Buttons and dials are designed to use with gloves in all weather, yet the camera's overall dimensions make it very compact considering what it can do. It's an excellent camera for the enthusiast in general too, with thousands of lenses available for the mount. Particularly, it's an excellent outdoorsmans camera, covering landscape, birding, astrophotography, and macro photography extremely well.

But it's also just a great all around camera for nearly any task. I'd refer to it as a jack of all trades, master of none type. A camera that has earned it's place in my heart, not only because of its capabilities, but because those capabilities are reliable in tough circumstances. This fact, along with its amazing specification list, helps to make it a fun camera to use. And when you factor in how comfortable and solid it is (man it is rock solid), how decisive and quick it is in operation, it's hard not to be impressed. This is one high quality feeling camera, not some typical consumer plastic job.

You'll be proud to own it.

It's also a tool that can do many other modern functions, like video, live view, and unique trap style focusing. What is that exactly? Well, how about you set your camera on a tripod, manual focus on a flower, and just leave to go to work for the day. And when you get back you'll see that the camera made images of whatever flew in to feed on the flower, automatically. That's cool, right? I'm purposely not calling the feature by it's real name, until later on when I reveal what camera this is. Some of you may already know, but please, play along with me anyways.

Another character trait I like about this camera is the incredible detail its 24mp sensor spits out. With no anti aliasing filter, you get the full resolution you paid for (so long as you use a sharp lens).  This camera can easily punch out brilliantly detailed 30x40" prints for gallery exhibition quality. You don't have to sharpen in post either, since the camera has no AA filter. One less step/thing to do.

*Click on any of the images below for a larger view*

100% crop, no ACR sharpening, with a budget 35mm prime lens (under $125.00)

Full Size.

More 100% crop detail. See the security camera? No sharpening, none needed.
Original image. 35mm budget prime. Total cost for me, less than $450.00.

It's no slouch in high ISO performance either,  there's practically no noise at ISO 1600, and completely usable to 6,400. Take a look below at the crop, only chroma noise was reduced, and the resulting pattern is gorgeous and hardly noticeable at all on larger prints, near no noise showing on 13x19" prints. That's a good showing for a full frame camera, let alone an APS-C camera.

100% crop, ISO 6400, nice grain. Blows my $5K Full Frame Leica Monochrom out of the water in terms of noise and shadow quality

Original image before crop. ISO 6400. 6,400 is as high as Ill go, but I usually only go that high on my full frame cameras.

And if you need dynamic range, the sensor has plenty in the raw files, about 13-14 stops of total range at base ISO, and quite plenty as high as 1,600. You're able to lift shadows considerably with little to no penalty in low-to-mid ISO levels, and you can even get some highlight recovery too, about 3/4 of a stop. Good thing is that you can shoot at base ISO in low light and just recover the shadows with almost no penalty. Below is an before and after example shooting in raw. You can shoot in the dark hand held, and just raise shadows later.

Before raising shadows in post on the raw file. Shot at 1/6th of a second hand held. I can shoot without blur down to 1/4 of a second easily. ISO 100.

Same shot in raw, 4 stop exposure adjustment increase in post. Zero noise reduction or sharpening. 5 is sometimes too high for me, but this is an awesome result.

It's shutter sound is sublime too, quiet and satisfying to the trained enthusiasts' ear. And when you use the right lens, it's whisper quiet when you need it to be. The autofocus system for its class, it's quite excellent. Of course you can't compare to $6-8,000.00 pro level cameras, but it is more capable than you would expect, especially with the right lens attached. And you're able to shoot at 8+ frames per second (8.7 by my measurements!) continuously with a 60 frame jpeg/25 frame raw/jpeg buffer. That is plenty for the majority of photographers out there.

With its comprehensive menu system and customizeable controls (even the screen color can be changed), it will make even the most picky of photographers feel like they've purchased a custom job. The viewfinder is exceptional for its class, offering a large bright view with 4 total focusing screen options, a total of 27 Af points with 25 cross type in the center, and near total darkness lock on subjects. Yes, even without the AF assist lamp enabled.

Again, it's a jack of all trades. Take a look at the price again, yep I know.

Worried about lenses you can attach? Well it's got a classic lens mount that is backwards compatible with hundreds of different lenses available for use that were originally produced as far back as 1975. Granted, it doesn't have a wide array of the newer ultra high speed class lenses available, but there are a few key ones available that cover a wide focal range. Unless you are a demanding pro on a sideline, every other lens type will likely be available for you, often on the cheap.

And that's not including the new, growing full frame lens lineup either.

Do you want a supremely built, weather sealed, powerhouse imaging machine capable of doing unique tasks other DSLR's typically don't do? Like, catch-in focusing (i.e trap focusing ), 4K in camera timelapse movies, multi-exposure modes that save in raw? Also, it's compact (admittedly a bit heavier than you'd expect), comfortable as hell, and only lacks built in wifi and touch screen operation compared to modern cameras. Trade offs I'm willing to give up happily considering all you gain here.

If you truly love photography, any kind of photography, and anything that I've said here matters to you, you should check out the following camera... 

Introducing, the original Pentax K3. 

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Stay focused,

Carl Garrard

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