A few months ago I bought a Pentax Q system. While this camera is usually criticized for its very small sensor, I saw a tremendous opportunity for macro photography. I really enjoy the camera and use it for a wide variety of purposes with excellent results, but I have been hankering to try some snow crystal shots with it.
Why snow crystals? The sensor on the Q is a diminutive 6 x 4.5mm in size. A large snow crystal would be about that size, meaning that one could get a frame-filling snow crystal image (for a large crystal) at a simple 1:1 magnification, and smaller crystal could easily be photographed at 2:1. This makes for a much simpler setup than what is required for shooting snow crystals on an APS-C DSLR – where magnification needs to be 4:1 to 8:1. The Pentax Q is compatible with all my existing Pentax flash gear and focus peaking should simplify focusing. So I figure I’d give it a try.
So today, when it finally snowed, I tested the Q on my snow crystal macro setup. I usually use a reverse mounted 50mm macro lens (Sigma EX 50mm f2.8) on a bellows (135mm maximum) and extension tubes (180mm maximum). A flash is used to light the crystal from below. I decided to try the Q first with this setup, but just the lens and bellows. Due to how the bellows mount on the macro-focusing lens, they have to be extended to at least 48mm. So, here is a plastic ruler, the metric scale, taken with the Pentax Q and 50mm macro lens reverse mounted on a bellows extended to 48mm. As you can see, the frame covers less than 2 mm on the longer axis. That would be great for many snow crystal shots.
So here is one of my first shots. Not a pretty crystal, but the shot is clear enough:
One of the problems I saw right off is that the flash stays in P-TTL mode, even though P-TTL needs access to the lens’s electronic data to function properly. I could not figure out how to get the flash into manual mode, so I just worked with it the old-fashioned way, and put a diffuser over it to manage the power level.
So here is another shot – even at the minimum magnification, the crystal was too big to fit in the frame:
But… What’s that magenta rectangle in the middle of the shot? It can be minimized by desaturating the image, but I don’t like it. Here’s the desaturated image:
So… Plan B – skip reverse mounting and just use a macro lens mounted normally and shoot at 1:1 or 2:1. I tried the DA-F 100mm macro, but the working distances posed a problem with my tripod setup. So, back to the Sigma 50mm. The lens will go to 1:1 on its own and with a 25mm extension tube it will do 1.5:1. So I setup the Sigma 50 mm macro lens on a 25mm extension tube.
An early test - here again the crystal was larger than the 1.25:1 magnification that I had set up the lens for:
Here’s a very “fluffy” snow crystal lit by a flash from below and compact florescent lights from above:
By this time the snow had stopped… So that was it for today’s experiment. I’ll continue working with the Q for this kind of photography – need to work out what is going on with the flash and test some other lenses. I guess that the magenta triangle was some sort of lens flare from the reverse mounted lens, but there is still a bit of it in the shots taken with the lens forward mounted. I have never seen that in shots taken with other cameras (I’ve used this setup with the *ist-D, K-10D, K-7 and K-5.)
As for noise – at ISO 160 there is very little noise. The advantages of the system way out weight the disadvantages.
More experiments to come - assuming it snows some more! At the end of the day, the grass is till poking out of the snow. Less than an inch fell today, but more is coming.
Folks on the PDML have been posting their 12 best shots of 2012 lately… I’m a little late and can’t say that these are my best shots, but they are my favorites for the year. To make it a baker’s dozen I added an older shot that I finally worked on enough to be happy with in 2012. So here are my 12 for 12 (click on images for a larger file):
Snow Crystal (January, 2012): It barely snowed at all here in SW Michigan in 2012, but I managed one nice crystal shot in early January:
Spring Colors (March, 2012): Why wait for fall for foliage colors? Spring tree blossoms and buds captured on color film wiht the Pentax 6x7:
Around the House (April, 2012): My boy Jazz - psycho cat Qu’est-ce que c’est? Made with a Pentax LX and Kiron 105mm f2.8 macro lens on Fuji Neopan 400, rated at 400. Developed in D76 1+1.
Jumping Spider (May, 2012): Pentax K5 and A* 200mm macro:
Ebony Jewelwing (May 2012): A common but elusive damselfly. Pentax K5 and A* 200mm macro:
The Jewelbox, St. Louis, Missouri (June, 2012): Sort of a street photo. Infrared converted Pentax K10d:
Gateway Arch in Infrared (June, 2012): Speaking of St. Louis… note the troop of Boy Scouts in the lower left corner, best seen in the larger file.
Visitation #1… (April, 2012) If these photos were music they would be pop songs…. nothing wrong with that but sometimes you want to really rock out. So I started the Visitation Project in the spring of 2012. Pentax LX, Kiron 100mm macro, Neopan SS pushed to 200 and souped in D76 1+1:
Dashing Blue Dasher (August, 2012): Ever a favorite Dragonfly - the drought this year really hit the mid and late summer species, so the Blue Dashers hung around for a long time.
Finches and Thistle (August, 2012):I let a few bull thistles grow in my wildflower garden and the goldfinches loved them. Here’s one munching on the seeds. Pentax K5, A*400 f 2.8, SMC 1.7x AF converter:
Pastoral Scene (September, 2012): I traveled to central Indiana a lot in the last few months of the year and bought a Pentax Q kit in late August to take on the road with me. Marvelous camera - a shot from my tavels:
Autumn Colors (October, 2012): 2012 brought a beautiful fall to West Michigan and I managed bump into it one October morning. Pentax K5 and DA 16-45 f 4 zoom:
Baker’s Dozen: The Shady Spot Taken in 2010 and worked on since then, I finally made a photo from this exposure that I like. I could say that I really like it. Pentax LX, fa 20-35mm F4 AL lens, Rollie 400 IR film, Hoya R72 filter.
I watched the movie Lincoln the other day, and that reminded me that I never got around to processing the infrared photos I took at Lincoln’s tomb last June. So here is one. Click on the image for a larger file.
Taken with an infrared converted Pentax K10D and smc PENTAX-DA 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 AL lens.
Not shooting much or posting much right now… but I did get a chance to catch a little fall color over the last few weeks (months). Here are a handful of autumn shots.
A couple from early in the season, taken on a gloomy day in the Yankee Springs State Recreation Area:
I managed to spend one really beautiful October morning in the Allegan Forest, enjoying the luminous fall colors in the woods. A heavy gale with high winds rolld through the area a few days later and knocked most of the leaves off the trees. But for a shot while, the woods were gorgeous:
And lastly, a motion blurred abstract:
I’m really enjoying my new Pentax Q kit… the dang thing is just so much fun I find myself snapping shots like crazy, but somehow I feel that when I want to take a serious photo, it is there. It is just a joy to use, unlike most compacts that I’ve tried.
But in one area I have hopes for serious applications - and that would be in the realm of extreme macro photography. I’ve commented before that the very small sensor size found in compact cameras is a real boon to macro photographers because it allows for excellent DOF at wide apertures. The Pentax Q with a K to Q adapter applies a 5.62x crop factor to the focal length of lenses. So that D-FA 100mm macro turns out to be a 562mm macro… Very cool.
The great thing about the Q and SLR lenses the macro work is that the lenses give tons of working room. You can quite easily shoot a small bug from a yard away (with the 200mm lens) and get frame filling shots.
But, the Q’s tiny sensor poses a challenge to any optic. The photo receptors are so small that only the highest resolving lens can take advantage of them. Diffraction takes a toll at fairly open apertures and small amount of color fringing can make an image too soft to use beyond web sized images.
So I’ve been testing the Q with a variety of lenses. Here are the results so far (I have a lot of testing to do yet.)For each image there is first an un-cropped full image (reduced to web size) followed by an Actual Pixel crop.
All of the shots below were taken with the camera and lens firmly on a tripod, usually using the 2 second self timer to minimize any shake from pressing the exposure button. No flash was used. Had I used flash I think that the apparent detail could have been higher, since proper lighting can accentuate details.
Macro lenses first, in descending focal length order.
Pentax A* 200mm f4 macro:
Well, you’d *expect* a lens like this to deliver, and it does a fine job. Clearly the best I have tried so far.
Here are 3 shots, with actual pixel crops following. I took these on breezy overcast day, so I pused the ISO a bit. The first shot is ISO 640, the second two are ISO 800. The Q can get noisy but keeps the color noise down. Overall, I find ISO 800 workable, which is a surprise.
I think the shots above are at f 5.6. I did a series of shots, starting at f4 and stopping down a click with each successive exposure. By f 8 diffraction really impaired the level of detail. F 5.6 seemed to be the best compromise between sharpness and DOF. The last shot is at 1:1 magnification… Depth of field is still pretty tight even with the Q’s small sensor.
Pentax D-FA 100 f2.8
This lens fared pretty well, though not up to par with the A* 200. The shots below were taken at f4. The ISO was 250, 125, and 250 respectively.
Kiron 105mm f2.8 Macro
A legendary lens from the 80’s that back in the days of film was virtually unrivaled. Sadly, it is not up to the demands put to it by the Q. The chromatic aberrations in the fly shot really mess up the details in the eyes. The test shot of the cocklebur is just as bad. I’ll keep this for shooting with Tri-X!
These shots are at ISO 125 and 160 respectively - so while the Q is pretty good at higher ISO’s, it never gets to truly low noise levels at low ISO’s….
(Drat! That could have been a good shot!)
XR Rikenon 50mm f2
Rumors on the Internet persist - is this one of the sharpest lenses ever? Since the Q is pretty demanding, I thought I’d give it a try. I only made a half hearted effort - I put the lens on two 12 mm extension tubes and then back onto one. The sky was clear and the sun was bright, but the wind was gusting like made. I took less than 10 shots and decided to stop wasting by time… but then found this image stuck in the middle of a bunch of motion blurred photos:
That was at ISO 200. The results are close to the D-FA, and certainly warrant another try with this lens.
A* 300mm f4
OK - aside form macro photos, I was also interested in using the Q as a compact birding camera, so I tested it with an A* 300 f4. On the Q this lens is the equivalent of a 1686mm lens on a 35mm camera. Unfortunately, the A* 300 was not up to the job - a couple test shots, first of a goldfinch and second of a house finch.
For an example of what I would *like* to see, here is an actual pixel crop of a photo I posted recently, taken with the Pentax K5 APS-C sensor camera and A*400mm lens with AF 1.7x converter (equivalent to 1360mm on a 35mm camera.)This is from a recent post.
Well - I’m still hoping for clarity like that on the Q. If you are peeking at the noise levels in the bird images - the top goldfinch photo taken with the Q was at ISO 500, the house finch, aslo taken with the Q, was at ISO 200. The K5 goldfinch shot was at ISO 800…
But, to give the birds photos some perspective, here is an old photo (circa 2002)of a Yellow Warbler taken with a Pentax Mz-S and the same A*400 / 1.7x converter setup as used with the K5. It was taken on Kodak E100S and scanned on a Canon Canoscan 4000F. I’d say that the level of detail - which at the time I considered to be quite good - and noise - which also was state of the art back then - is comparable to what the Q is producing with the A* 300. Well, the Q might not be quite as sharp… But, I certainly hope to get useable bird photos from the Q, ultimately.
I have a few more 50mm lenses to test yet - most notably I’d like to try the Pentax 50mm f1.7 (I have both an FA and M version on hand), SMC M 50 f4 macro, and Sigma EX 50mm f 2.8 macro.
For birds… I’ve finally come to regret selling my A* 200 f2.8…