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Pentax K2000 reviewed

pentaxkm just posted their comprehensive review of Pentax’s latest entry-level DSLR, the K2000 (or K-m). Being a Pentax K10D owner I was excited to see the K2000 hit the market to go head to head with the entry-level Nikons and Canons. Unfortunately, it seems Pentax has taken a similar path as Canon did with their original Digital Rebel (EOS 300D). By simplifying the camera to appeal to novices, they have created a starter DSLR that most users will quickly outgrow.

While I understand this tactic from a business perspective (when users outgrow the K2000 they will theoretically upgrade to a K200D or K20D), it frustrates me as a photographer that Pentax would hamstring the K2000 in the ways they have (read the review to see what I’m talking about). Seeing as how one can pick up a K200D kit for less than $500 these days, I’d have a lot of difficulty recomending the K2000 to anyone. But that’s just me. Be sure to click over to the review and decide for yourself.

It’s the lens that matters most

new toy

I have been thinking a lot lately about lenses and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts. I’m planning on doing a more specific lens comparison but I will save that for a later date. For now I just want to talk about my general thoughts about lenses and their applications. Why is this important? Well, as you begin to expand your collection of lenses you will soon learn that what you have really invested in is a lens system and not a camera system. Quality glass (lenses) will last a lifetime and will likely outlast the latest whiz bang technology of the latest DSLR you just bought. Hopefully by sharing my thoughts and experiences some of you will have an easier time of navigating the confusing quagmire that comes along with upgrading your DSLR’s optics and make the most out of your investment.

For this discussion I am going to primarily refer the standard 35mm film focal lengths of lenses. I will add APS-C (1.6X) focal length or 35mm equivalents in brackets [ ] where appropriate. In general, if I say 50mm I mean 50mm focal length on a 35mm film camera or full frame sensor DSLR. The reason I am doing it this way is that the 35mm equivalent focal length of a lens describes its field of view (FoV) more accurately than APS-C (or DX) format measurement does. If any of this is confusing to you I strongly suggest reading the Wikipedia page on the APS-C format before continuing.

What would I buy?

Let’s imagine for a moment that money is no object and I could fill my camera bag with whatever I wished. What would that be? While we’re in dreamland, let’s assume that the camera I’ll be shooting with all this fictional glass is Canon’s awesome new 5D Mark II. Here are the lenses I’d want to have available and why (I’m sure I could find similar choices for Nikon but I know the Canon stuff better):

  • 17-40mm f/4 L wide angle zoom. Why if money is no object would I choose the 17-40 f/4L over the faster 16-35 f/2.8L? Simple, the extra speed the 2.8 provides is not worth the extra weight.  A super wide lens like this is something I’m most likely to carry around with me while traveling and the lighter it is the more likely I’ll take it with me. Also, the idea of wide angle shots is usually to capture as much detail as possible (think streetscape, landscape or 5-year-old birthday party action) so a larger aperture is just going to work against you. I’m sure there are specific situations where the extra speed of the 16-35 f/2.8 would come in handy but for me I’d most likely choose the slower and lighter option here and just dial up the ISO as needed in low light situations. The only caveat here is if I was shooting an APS-C body. Then the 16-35mm [26-56mm] would make a logical upgrade for the standard 18-55 kit lens. See my comments below for APS-C wide angle lens thoughts.
  • 35mm f/1.4 L wide angle prime. I really like having a fast wide angle lens for available light shots of the kids around the house and for other times when a 50mm lens just doesn’t provide quite enough FoV to capture a scene the way I want to. In fact, while a 50mm lens best reproduces the magnification the human eye sees, a 35mm lens better represents the field of view our eyes can see (in focus). Having never owned a fast 35mm I can only guess but I bet it would end up being my standard lens mounted on my camera 90% of the time. Becomes a medium angle lens [56mm] on an APS-C camera.
  • 24-105 f/4 IS L zoom. This is a close call. The 24-70 f/2.8 L is a very tempting choice. I have rented both lenses and they are both superb. The 24-105 f/4 is the one I’d put in my bag though because money is no object here and I’m going to have all these other lenses to choose from. Huh? Well, if I could only have one lens it would be the 24-70 f/2.8 L. Easy. However, if I’m going to be toting around a bag full of glass the 24-105 f/4 just makes more sense. It is lighter (see argument for 17-40 above), has a wider zoom range (better for “walking around”) and has IS. There are times when a slower shutter speed (1/30-1/4 second) is what you need to capture action and IS is the only way to get get these shots w/o the hassle of a tripod. The 24-105 focal range means I would have a stabilized lens that covers all wide to medium telephoto applications. Also an awesome all-purpose [38-168mm] lens on APS-C bodies (though lacking a bit on the wide end).
  • 50mm f/1.4 USM prime. Here I go again cheaping out even though money is no object. Yes, Canon’s 50mm f/1.2L is the Mother of All fiddies. However, from what I can tell it is not that much better than the non-L 50 1.4 but it is that much bigger and heavier (and somewhat slower to focus). I know this whole weight thing is getting long in the tooth, but for the way I shoot it is important. When I travel I typically head out on foot to explore which means I have to carry my gear on my person. After spending an entire days lugging an overloaded camera bag around Hong Kong and Paris I can tell you that less is definitely more. The main problem is that you get to these wonderful places and you are faced with making the choice of picking one or two lenses and hoping for the best- or lugging your entire kit with you. I’ve done both and can say that whatever the choice the weight of what you carry always remains an issue. Studio, sports and landscape “trunk” photographers are the only ones that don’t have issues with how much stuff weighs. As for me, I carry my camera almost everywhere (including on my bike) so I want to find the best balance between size and performance. Here, the 50 1.2 just doesn’t make sense for me. YMMV. See fast prime suggestions for APS-C cameras below.
  • 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro. You can’t beat a dedicated macro lens. I like the 100 f/2.8 on a full frame body as it provides the right mix of magnification and stand-off distance from the subject. I like to shoot most of my macro shots at arm’s length. Canon’s 50mm f/2.5 Macro is OK but I have found that I often have to get too close with the camera to get the magnification I want (often blocking out the available light). Meanwhile, Canon’s 180mm f/3.5 L Macro is an awesome lens but its longer focal length pretty much requires a tripod to get decent results. APS-C photographers should check out Canon’s EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro.
  • 70-200 f/2.8 IS L zoom. This is one of photography’s greatest lenses. Perfect for portraiture, sports action, school plays, wildlife, the occasional macro shot, and pulling in details in just about any situation. The f/2.8 version gets the nod over the f/4 version even though it is larger and heavier. You’ll need the speed to catch those low light shots and the shorter DoF will make your subjects pop. My bet is that you’ll rarely shoot this lens at anything other than wide open. Works great on both full frame and APS-C bodies.
  • 400mm f/2.8 IS L super telephoto. Here’s where the “money is no object” part really pays off. I have always wanted a fast super telephoto for getting in tight to stuff you can’t get up close to. I’m thinking sports car racing, school plays, African safaris, and the occasional full moon. Not a lens I would carry around in my bag but definitely one I’d like to have if the situation warranted it. I’d skip the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 IS L in favor of lens speed and ultimate image quality. Have an APS-C camera? Then your 1.6X crop factor makes this monster a 640mm f/2.8 equivalent for no extra charge ;-)

OK, so back to reality for a second. Most of us are amateurs and can not justify dropping $15K on our camera gear. Therefore, what should you take away from all of this?

  • Buy the best lenses you can afford. It will outlast your camera and you’ll never find yourself second guessing a lens purchase. If you find you don’t use a lens enough to justify keeping it, you’ll also find that pro-quality glass earns top-dollar on the used market. If you are thinking of dropping $180 on a Canon 28mm f/2.8 to get a wide angle prime do yourself a favor and save your pennies until you can step up at least to the $420 28mm f/1.8 USM. What you will gain in ultimate image quality and versatility will pay off many times over in your photographs. That 28 2.8 will end up in a drawer somewhere collecting dust as soon as you realize that its useless below f/4 anyway. Trust me. I know.
  • Do your research. This may directly contradict what I just said as you will find bargains out there. The non-L 50 1.4 I mentioned above is one example. In fact, at only $90 brand new Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 II is probably the best value in lenses anywhere. (Check out’s new review of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II.) That being said, do your research so you know what you are getting. Personally, I would wait and save up for the 50 1.4 just to get the speed and silence of the USM focus motor. Also, the 50 1.4’s 8 bladed diaphragm produces far superior bokeh and starbursts when stopped down than the 50 1.8’s 5 bladed diaphragm. Buy the 50 1.8 II and you’ll be perfectly happy with it until you shoot one of the USM lenses. Then you’ll start beating yourself up. The best places to research are websites that actually test equipment. I prefer,, and because they use standardized testing procedures. There are blogger/photographers (like me) who “test” lenses and write their opinions about them. Take those with a grain of salt but they are usually pretty useful. Be wary of discussion forums and review ratings and the like. These are typically very unreliable sources for quality information.
  • Pick up a fast prime lens. My recommendation is a 50mm equivalent focal length at f/1.8 or faster. If you are shooting an APS-C sensor camera this is going to be tough. Technically you’ll need a 31mm lens to get an equivalent 50mm focal length. Sigma is one of the only lens manufacturers making a lens like this. Their 30mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM looks like it fits the bill perfectly. However, it’s relatively pricey ($500) and tests say it is very soft off center. Pentax’s SMCP-FA 31mm f/1.8 AL Limited is an ideal choice for Pentax shooters but at $800 you’ve got to be mighty deep into Pentax. 35mm focal length lenses are probably your best bet. Unfortunately, truly fast versions are usually pricey and hard to come by (see the $1,200 35mm f/1.4 L above). If you can’t find a 30-35mm f/1.8 or faster lens do what most everyone else does and put your money into a fast 50mm. It’ll end up being a bit long on an APS-C sensor camera [80mm] but at least you can start exploring the Wonderful World of Bokeh and available light photography.
  • Consider an ultra wide angle zoom. I’m not talking fisheye. I am talking at least 15-17mm on the wide end, though. A super wide angle lens opens a whole new world of photography for less money than most lens investments. I’ve already shared my feelings above about Canon’s 17-40 f/4L and 16-35 f/2.8L lenses for full-frame applications. However, neither of these fit the bill for an APS-C body. Look for something around 10mm [16mm] on the wide end. There are a number of choices depending on your camera so do your homework. I hear Canon’s EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 USM is superb. I’ve owned Sigma’s 10-20 f/4-5.6 EX DC lens and thought it was great.
  • Avoid super zooms. These are the 18-200mm+ do-it-all lenses that are so popular at camera stores and on-line discounters. Sure, the idea of one lens for every situation seems like a good idea, but the reality of making such a lens results in some pretty significant compromises in lens speed, image quality and usability. While prime lenses will always give you the best ultimate image quality they may not be the right choice for every situation. However, you will be much better off if you limit the range of your zooms and follow suggestion number one above. In my experience you can get very decent results from mid-level primes but anything other than top-of-the-line zooms are likely to suffer in more than one area (speed, sharpness, vignetting, chromatic aberrations, etc).
  • Save up for that super telephoto. Don’t waste your money on bargain brand telephoto lenses. There are a lot out there (Phoenix) but most of them aren’t worth the plastic they are made of. If dropping $5K on a lens doesn’t seem like it will ever fit into your plan then…
  • Rent before you buy. So, if you’re following my advice and buying the high dollar glass maybe you should take it for a test drive before you take the plunge. There are a number of camera equipment rental services out there. I have only rented locally while I am traveling so I can’t recommend any of the on-line services, but I hear good things about many of them. Also, renting is a great way to get those awesome once-a-year close-up Christmas school program photos of Jr. from the back row of the gymnasium. No sense putting that $5K lens in the closet until next year, right?

I hope this helps clear up the mystery of lens selection a bit for those of you who are just starting to wade into the hobby. Feel free to post specific questions in the comments or drop me an email. Those of you who are more experienced please take a moment to share your thoughts on the subject as well.

Amazing shrinking memory

Micro SD

I just ordered a SanDisk 4GB Micro SDHC memory card to add a little storage capacity to my BlackBerry Curve. I know these things have been out for a while but it never ceases to amaze me how small they actually are.

I picked it up for $4.54 from The shipping charge of $4.95 cost more than the memory card itself. I think it is safe to assume that the bottom has fallen out of the memory market ;-) My guess? The memory manufacturers are busy trying to invent the next great memory format so they can try to actually make some money again. My advice? Upgrade your memory TODAY!

Just for the record, here’s that Micro SD card next to the SD card-sized adapter it came with…

SD adapter + Micro SD HC

Oh, and I would suggest picking some of these $4 Micro SD cards up for your digital camera applications but this version only clicks along at 15MB/s. If you’re going to upgrade then be sure you upgrade (30MB/s should be your target).

White balance lens cap

Interesting concept from BRNO- lens caps that facilitate the setting of white balance for DSLR users. As a product designer I admit that this is a very clever idea that is well executed. However, the photographer in me suggests pocketing the $54.00 and just shoot RAW. Available from B&H photo if you are so inclined (shoot RAW!). –via

UPDATE: Seems this is nothing really new. Pick one up at Amazon for a video camera for $7 if you still think it’s something you need.

Memory card conundrum

memory cards and readers

My first digital camera was a Nikon Coolpix 950 bought in 1999 for around $1,000. It came with an 8MB compact flash card. I soon upgraded to a 64MB card for close to $300. It used to be that the cost of memory cards for digital cameras was an important deciding factor in the camera purchase. One of the primary deciding factors in my move from the Nikon 950 to an Olympus E-10 two years later was its ability to use my growing collection of CF cards. However, by the time I traded up to my Canon Rebel XT in 2005 memory card prices had begun to fall while capacities rose and I found my collection of random 48-512MB CF cards replaced by a single 4GB model.

Flash forward to today and the collection of CF and SD cards and readers seen above is what I have left collecting dust in my desk drawer. When I made the jump from the Rebel XT to a Pentax K10D in 2007 I also made the jump from CF to SD memory. Since then I have once again made the jump to CF memory (during my all to brief stint with the awesome Canon 5D), over to Sony Memory Stick (for a not brief enough stint with a Sony DSC-H1) and back to SD (for my once again current K10D). All of this is a way of saying that I have had a bit of experience with memory cards over the years ;-)

Which brings me to the point of this article. With so many options available today, what’s the best solution? The simple answer is that there is no single solution that works for every photographer. However, there are a few things that I have learned that will make things easier for those of you just wading into this quagmire. So, wade into the following quagmire:

Compact Flash, Memory Stick Pro Duo, SD

Card Format:

I’m talking about the physical form factor of the card, not the camera’s software format of the memory card. Your choices today are pretty much limited to Compact Flash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD). Sony’s Memory Stick (and all its various permutations) seems to be going the way of the Dodo with respect to their DSLRs. Here, the decision will be (or more likely has been) made for you as you pick the camera that works best for your needs.

In my experience Compact Flash is my favorite. They are easier to handle and more durable than SD. However, they require bulky card readers, can be more expensive than similar capacity SD cards and are becoming harder to find as camera makers move towards the smaller SD format as cameras continue to shrink.

SD cards are very small which makes them highly portable (and easy to lose). The main advantage of SD cards is that they do not have the multitude of tiny pins on the device side like CF cards do. These are easy to bend if one is not careful. SD cards may require a bit more attention to ensure proper orientation when inserting them into a device, but their spring contacts are more durable in the long run. One other thing of note: SD cards generally have a sliding lock switch. This is handy if you want to secure your data, but a hassle when you inadvertently lock your card inserting it into your camera.

As of this writing, Amazon is selling a SanDisk Extreme III 4GB CF card for $32.02 while the equivalent SanDisk Ultra III 4GB SD card can be had for only $19.93. That kind of percentage price difference would have been a big deal 10 years ago but today it’s not such a big deal. BTW, a SanDisk Extreme III 4GB Memory Stick Pro-HG Duo runs $58.21. Yikes!

BTW, be sure to format any new card you buy with your camera. Doing so periodically (monthly) will help prevent card corruption and lost images while clearing up miscellaneous files that tend to collect and take up storage space.


This one’s simple. The typical hobbyist DSLR owner should shoot 2-4GB cards. Sure, 8-16GB and even 32GB cards are common and likely within easy reach of most people. However, I can fit around 122 RAW (PEF) images on a 2.0GB SD card with my 10MP Pentax K10D. Switching to high quality full-size JPEGs that number bumps to 410. If I drop the JPEG size to 6MP I get 688 at the high quality setting.

If I was shooting a 16GB card I could likely fit nearly 1,000 RAW images on a single SD card. I personally have never been in a situation where I needed (or wanted) to have 1,000 images on a single postage stamp sized memory chip that could easily be lost, stolen, corrupted, dropped in my coffee (don’t ask), and/or overwritten. I figure it’s safer to shoot in smaller batches and download to the computer more often. When I travel I carry multiple 2GB cards in my bag for back up in case one gets full. I also will often switch to 6MP JPEG mode for the more snap-shotty type travel pictures. The only people who really need the largest capacity cards are professionals and people traveling to far flung places with no computer access (like Nevis or the South Pole).


CF and SD cards come in a wide variety of speeds. These are often expressed in terms of “20x”, “50x”, “133x”, etc. or more helpful “15MB/S”, “30MB/S”, etc. My Flickr friend Jim sent me this link to Rob Galbraith’s great website that scientifically tests the most popular cameras’ speeds with all the latest memory cards. Check out the site, find your camera and see what you find. Most likely you will see that the latest highest speed cameras perform the best with the latest high speed cards. However, you will also find that older slower cameras do not directly benefit from using the fastest cards. My advice, do a little research on this site then buy the fastest card you can justify. If you dig around a little on Rob’s site you’ll find his tests of card readers. This is where the cards’ speed will pay the most dividends for most people. More on that later.

One emerging area where memory card speed becomes increasingly important in the latest DSLRs is video capture. With new cameras like the Nikon D90 and Canon 5D MK II now able to capture full HD video, memory card speed is critical to their performance. If you have one of these cameras be sure to check the manufacturers’ recommendations for memory cards and follow their advice.


I recommend you stick to the top name brands like SanDisk, Lexar, Kingston, and PNY. You may pay a little more than the no-name discount and/or “house” brands but that’s because the larger name brand companies have a lot more to lose if their cards fail. If you follow my advice on speed you’ll be buying the name brands’ higher end cards to get the best speed. There are some “Professional” cards available but unless you can verify that there is a specific performance/dollar advantage don’t spend the extra money. One “Pro” CF card I saw at Best Buy was 2X the price as a regular card of the same speed and capacity from the same company. Turns out it came bundled with some kind of crappy image data verification and cataloging software that I would have never used. This came across to me as nothing more than preying on the prosumers’ desire to shoot “professional” gear.

SanDisk Extreme USB 2.0 card reader

Card Readers:

Now that you’ve settled on a memory card, do yourself a favor by stashing the twisted up USB cable that came with your camera in that drawer where all your old electronics go to die and pick up a card reader. Very few digital cameras can come close to matching the transfer speed of a good external card reader. As a bonus, you’ll save your camera’s battery by giving it a rest during transfers. The SanDisk Extreme III USB 2.0 3-in-1 reader above was one of the fastest USB readers you could buy last year. Now they have changed the design to CF only but at less than $20 it represents a great value for CF shooters.

For Mac users you can get the best speed via FireWire 800 readers. Unfortunately, Apple’s support of this format that they  gave life to seems to be waning. Personally, I’d stick with USB 2.0 unless you have a Mac with FireWire 800 you’re planning on keeping for a while.

USB SD card readers are a dime a dozen and they all seem to work pretty well. Again, stick with a name brand and all should be well. I like a cable attached design for desktop use and a thumb drive style for portable use. Also, if you’re an iPod user check out this product I created while at Griffin Technology. The Griffin Simlifi combines an iPod dock with a USB 2.0 hub and both CF and SD card reader slots. It’s not the fastest card reader out there but can really clean up the cable clutter on your desk. Plus, it features an actual aluminum case that I sweated many months over :-)

Another option for laptop users is a PCMCIA or ExpressCard reader. These adapters are a bit more pricey and can only be used with certain combinations of laptops and memory cards. However, they represent an extremely fast input interface to your machine (up to 480MB/S both ways) and are extremely convenient (especially if you just leave it in your machine). Sticking with a reputable brand name here is critical as I have run across low quality Asian versions that are not properly developed. When I was at Griffin Technology I convinced them to bring in an ExpressCard 34 SD adapter for use with the then new MacBook Pros. We were on track to be first to market with this product when we discovered that our vendor had fouled up the firmware on the first batch of readers preventing the computers they were in from going to sleep when the lid was closed. Griffin’s product finally made it to market and works great but Belkin, SanDisk and others got the retail slots which fatalistically limited production to a single order.

I’d steer clear of desktop built-in expansion bay options as they are not any faster than USB 2.0 options and have been known to have all manner of driver-related issues (particularly on Windows machines).

Bottom line on readers: make sure whatever you choose is USB 2.0 (or FireWire 400/800) compatible. If you end up with a USB 1.0 device you’ll be kicking yourself over the s-l-o-w downloads!

SanDisk SD Plus Ultra II with USB


Hopefully by now you are now fully armed with the basics needed to wade through the morass that is memory card-dum. The SD card above has been my card of choice since it came out a couple of years ago. It’s the SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus with USB and it breaks open to reveal a built-in USB connector. This completely eliminates the need for an external card reader! This is an extremely innovative solution that unfortunately seems to have not gained enough traction in the market for SanDisk to update. They are still available on Amazon but growing scarce. Here’s a couple of shots of one in use with my MacBook Pro:

SanDisk SD Plus open SanDisk SD Plus USB in use

Unfortunately, these Ultra II cards top out at 15MB/second transfer. Now that I’m back to toting around a MacBook Pro with an ExpressCard slot I think I may switch back to my ExpressCard 34 reader and upgrade to a 30MB/second SD card like this SanDisk Extreme III SDHC 4GB card.

If I was still shooting a Canon with a CF card I’d likely be taking a strong look at this Delkin SD to CF adapter so I could still make either my SanDisk SD Plus cards or a newer Extreme III card + ExpressCard 34 reader work. They do make ExpressCard 34 Compact Flash readers but since a CF card is wider than the ExpressCard 34 slot, they leave a nasty tumor hanging out of the MacBook Pros’ sleek 34mm slot.

Hope this helps. Please let me know if I missed anything or if you have any specific questions.

BTW, all the “studio” shots for this post were shot on my kitchen counter DIY whitespace studio.


I'm an industrial designer and an avid hobbyist photographer. People are always asking me "how'd you do that?" So, I decided to create this site as a place to share my experiences and insights about photography, the gear and what it all means to me. I'm not sure if this site will make anyone besides myself a better photographer but I figure it's worth a try. Take a look around and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by!


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