Magazine Article


Pentax K10D and the Broken Record

Pentax K10D
Pentax K10D
tug passes the Mary Murray ferry
The tug passes the Mary Murray ferry, visible in the distance.
Don Sutherland

The ghost of the Mary Murray
The ghost of the Mary Murray, the old ferry that sometimes turns up in lore about the Raritan River. It was wet out there, and the camera had no problems shooting in the middle of a nor’easter.
Don Sutherland

There are a couple of things we’ve been saying around here, month after month and year after year, like a broken record*. One of them is that digital cameras are based on a completely different technical conception than any kinds of camera previous, and once past the lens, the equipment that creates the visible image can be arranged in almost any form we want. The physical looks of a digital camera need pay little homage to the 35mm camera, or any camera back to Daguerre. That’s one of the things we’ve been saying over and over, regular as clockwork.

Another thing we’ve been saying with about equal pitch and fervor is that new-for-digital features of all sorts are, in fact, busting out all over. We’ve waxed rhapsodic over in-body anti-shake systems, live-view monitors, dust-reduction systems, face-detection systems, noise-control systems, user-controlled ISO settings from shot to shot, the capacity for a thousand pictures before having to reload—if you said at a party ten years ago that cameras like that would be here today, they’d tell you to have another drink.

Now, not completely in the form we envisioned, the camera that doesn’t look like a camera is solidly with us. Our imaginary design five or ten years ago was called the “Witnesscam,” which was on all the time, always beaming to a satellite (by now, with GPS), which, notably, could accompany you everywhere because you’d wear it. Freed from traditions dictated by the need for straight optical paths once past the lens, a camera could be a necklace, with one bead containing the lens and imager; another, the processor; a third, the memory; and the fourth, a tiny little playback screen. The flash could be your earrings.

The real-world realization of our Witnesscam takes the form of the picturephone, or whatever that burgeoning army knife of multimedia is getting to be called. [Editor’s Note: read: cameraphone.] We still think it would be more practical if you wore it, and the GPS is a must so that if somebody cuts you off on the highway, for example, one click gives you everything you need to sue.

Add ’Em Up…

You might say from the foregoing that all of our prayers have been answered, or at least those pertaining to cameras, because although not exactly as we recommended, picturephones do accomplish the majority of things we thought Witnesscams should. Our way, you’d have sort of a personal, 24/7, walking, listening, watching, recording Slomin’s Shield on your person—who’d dare to mess with you now? As things stand with the picturephone, you can always call 911 in an emergency, and you can do it from your car with pictures. It’s a step.

Also a step, made by another foot, is the DSLR as we know it. It still looks like 35mm cameras did, but it is gaining digital novelties both visible and otherwise. There could be an argument in favor of a professional digicam that is wearable, like a string of beads or an armband, but no one seems to care too much this week.

So instead we have 1960s-style SLR bodies stuffed with 2007-style innards. There’s plenty to be said for the traditional design—besides being familiar, it’s genuinely easy to handle, travels well, endures a few knocks, and makes pictures.
As digital-born features proliferate, new buttons appear near the top deck. Most advanced cameras nowadays have an Fn (function) button, an ISO button, or both. You didn’t see such things on cameras before 2000.

But why stop there? There are all kinds of things you can do when taking digital pictures, choices that affect how the picture comes out and what you’ll be able to do with it later. Some of these things could go up on deck, too.

Which brings us to the Pentax K10D and its companion, the K100D.

…Divide by Two

We reviewed the K100D a few months ago, and while lauding its industry-leading high light-sensitivity range (pictures it shoots at 1600 speed are like pictures by some others at “ISO 400”), we were pleased that its life on the market was planned through the fall. That’s a long market life for a digicam, probably the longest for any Pentax DSLR. But the K100D is, er, ah, a 6-megapixel camera, and isn’t this the year of the ten?

This is where designing a digital camera comes in. The first impression the 10-megapixel Pentax K10D conveys is that its designers had a photographer’s savvy. They put in features that a photographer would want, and a digital photographer
at that.

A digital photographer, for example, may want to make decisions that film photographers never thought of, such as: what format should I save my pictures in? Early DSLRs wrote in proprietary formats; a few write in TIFF. Most are set up to write in a JPEG format, and a RAW format.

We use RAW formats when lighting conditions are severe, and an in-camera processing system might make a few wrong decisions. For difficult lighting, working a RAW file oneself can result in more deliberate control, but the thing is, not every picture is taken when lighting conditions are severe.

What are RAW formats? Those that are “uncooked” by camera processing, or at least not cooked much. Their proponents liken them to the “negative,” the actual camera original, the data as it arrived from the sensor, before goofy camera algorithms get a chance to mess with it.

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