Pentax K10D with “Pancake” lenses

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Pentax K10D with “Pancake” lenses

Sound Buys review by Don Lindich

Pentax’s K10D is one of the leaders in the SLR market. Featuring a 10.2 megapixel image sensor, sensor-based image stabilization (which Pentax calls Shake Reduction) a bright, clear viewfinder, and an intriguing set of custom features and manual controls, it has the goods to compete with much more expensive cameras and is pretty much untouchable at its price point of $999 with the 18-55 kit lens. This is not much more than an entry-level SLR from any number of manufacturers, but the K10D’s solid build quality, weather sealing, and advanced feature set put it in an entirely different league, though it can be as simple as a point and shoot when placed in automatic mode. Pentax clearly aimed the K10D at the advanced and serious photographers, as well as more family-oriented types that wanted something a clear cut above the entry-level competition.

Many of these serious photographers look for something special in lenses, too, and that can be hard to find unless you have a large budget and a big camera bag. The market and the industry have been trending towards zooms for years, and though they offer convenience, they are bigger and heavier than fixed-focal length lenses that do not zoom in and out. Zooms also are not as sharp as fixed focal length lenses and they do not work as well in low light, either. For those looking for the ultimate in image quality and performance, a fixed focal length is the undisputed choice. Regrettably, with the zoomward move of the market many manufacturers have neglected their fixed focal length offerings, especially affordable ones.

Pentax has a long heritage of catering to lovers of photography, dating back to their K1000 camera of decades ago. It imagine it is with many of these people in mind that they intriduced their new “pancake” series of fixed focal length lenses… lenses offering incredible color and sharpness, high-quality metal construction, and as may be guessed at by their pancake nickname, extremely small size that barely sticks out from the lens mount.

There are currently three Pentax pancake lenses available. The wide-angle 21mm/3.2 lens sells for $419 after rebate, the “normal” 40mm/2.8 at $225 after rebate, and the 70mm/2.4 telephoto for $489 after rebate. While these prices may sound a bit high in these days of the $100 zoom lens, it’s like comparing a high-performance European sports car to an entry-level commuter car made in Korea. The difference in quality and performance is that pronounced, and the difference in the pictures is easy to see even with an untrained eye. A set of pancake lenses costs about the same as a K10D body, and as I have always told my readers an investment in quality lenses is always worthwhile as you can use them for decades, while digital camera bodies will go obsolete and be replaced over time.

Using the lenses with the K10D reminded me of the convenience and capability of a classic rangefinder camera. In one tiny bag I had a camera body and three top-flight lenses capable of creating incredible images, much as a Leica user would have. Though they do not perform in low light as well as a Leica lens, the ability to raise the camera’s ISO compensates in some regard. They create a brighter, clearer viewfinder image than the kit zooms, as well.

The serious photographers out there understood the mission and performance of the lenses as soon as they were announced, but the new digital SLR owner probably wonders if they are something appropriate for them. If you are a travel photographer interested in the best possible performance in the least amount of space, I would say they are absolutely the way to go. If you are a little less serious of a picture taker but wants to see how good it can get, the 40mm 2.8 is easiy affordable and I imagine once you have one in your camera bag you will find yourself reaching for it often. If people pictures are your bag, go right for the 70mm/2.4 as it is perfectly suited to creating flattering portraits.

If the K10D is a little too expensive, I found the K100D to be a nice match for the pancake lenses as well. Pentax is to be commended for creating such wonderful, yet somewhat offbeat photographic tools. You can see them at www.pentaxslr.com.

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