An Open Letter to Pentax about the K-1

Almost perfect...

Almost perfect...

Dear Pentax,

I haven't got a clue what to do anymore. But don't you let my letter get you down, I believe there is a solution out there, a simple fix possibly, but I would really appreciate your input on this.

 

Since 2011 I have been a full-time photographer and, thanks in large parts to the Pentax K-5, also a videographer. Now that might sound a little strange as admittedly Pentax is not known to have professional grade video features, especially coming from the K-5, but despite its lack of manual adjustments in movie mode, that camera has served me remarkably well for what I do. 

 

I'm what some might call a Fusionist, a hybrid photographer-slash-filmmaker, primarily in destination weddings. I shoot photographs, flip the switch, capture some video footage, flip the switch, and make some more images. Admittedly not the easiest way of covering weddings, and I don’t claim to be the world’s most consistent or technically adept, but my clients seem to be quite happy to refer me to their friends, or blogs and magazines. 

 

I have been using the K-5 almost continuously up until last year, although it has become necessary to do so in combination with other cameras. Just in order to meet my creative and qualitative needs. More specifically, I have had affairs with the K-01, the Canon 70D, 7D, 6D, 5D mk II and III, the Sony a99 and A7s, and finally the Nikon D750 and the D810.

 

Yeah, it does sound like I've got commitment issues: why not buy two bodies, one set of lenses and be done with it? And what exactly is it that keeps me bringing my K-5 along? The answer to the latter is simple: The excellent mechanical SR stabilisation in movie mode. It has given me the freedom to shoot video handheld, without a cumbersome rig, monopod or tripod. The Pentax K-5 to me meant peace of mind that I could catch a spontaneous moment and not worry too much about shaky footage. It has, despite its limitations, given me confidence. And that is ultimately all I want from my relationship with a camera: trust that it will do its job while I have the creative confidence to shoot stills and video.

 

And there lies the problem. I have not yet found the one. I know very well what I want, but it did not exist with all the features I needed. Each camera had something going for it, but none incorporated them all. For me this included:

  •  a full frame sensor to shoot with a cinematic aesthetic at higher ISO
  • a tiltable screen for low/high angle shots
  • mic and headphone jacks
  • dual card slots for overflow or division of pictures and movie files
  • good battery capacity
  • Reliable AF for stills, even in low light
  • at least 50fps at 1080p
  • a flat color profile or video log for optimal colour grading in post
  • last but not least, in-body stabilisation, preferably 5-axis, for both stills and movie mode.

 

The Sony a99 almost fit every point of this wish list, unfortunately its tech was not quite reliable enough, and some quite weird color science, especially in videos, so that try-out model went back to the distributor.

 

The 5D Mk III is a great camera, my second shooters use it, but for me it's too heavy, bulky, and of course it doesn't have a tilt screen, I was much happier substituting it with the 6D in combination with the 70D, whose dual-pixel AF and touch screen paired with silent STM lenses make for an amazing video DSLR. 

 

Unfortunately the problem with all these Canons is the dynamic range. Shoot something slightly underexposed, you have to bring them up in post and then everything turns greenish. Plus you are limited to a few capable IS lenses, and there’s only one that has the famed hybrid IS (the excellent 100mm L 2.8 Macro IS). To date, there is still no Canon full frame sensor camera with a tillable screen.

 

Sony introduced their a7 range and the a7s sensor revealed details in even the darkest scenes, but housed in a fidgety mirrorless body with only 12 MP for images and again their strange colour science, plus the need for stabilised lenses, not abundant for Sony E-mount (and forget about fast AF from Canon lenses via the Metabones speedbooster). This camera did not make me feel confident, at all.

 

Along came the Nikon D750, and oh, it had a lot going for it. Wedding photographers were raving about its astonishing dynamic range in stills, low light AF lock, compact weight and file sizes. Gabe McClintock sold off all his Canon gear for two D750s and a few sweet primes. Even EOSHD's Andrew Reid was unusually positive about its video capabilities and gradeability utilizing the Flat colour profile. Last year Nikon loaned me a D750 and I was very impressed with it, shooting both video and images for a large foundation project as well as an engagement session in an abandoned monastery on Naxos island, the bright sun shining in on the couple's faces, underexposed not to blow the highlights, and I was still able to bring back all the details from deep black shadows of the indoor walls. The RAW files sizes are resolution-rich yet not massive, the video codec is decent, dual card slots, mic, headphone and clean hdmi ports. Only caveat on the D750 is the lack of in-body stabilisation, so VR or VC lenses would be necessary, most likely Tamron's latest offerings.  Nevertheless, I had caught yellow fever and was about ready to sell all my accumulated gear.

 

Then the almost unthinkable happened: you finally announced the development of the first Pentax Full Frame, for real this time.

 

Well, everything was up in the air again, and it would take at least another 6 months for a release. Even without any known specifications, I had a feeling this might very be what I'd been waiting for. I placed a purchase embargo upon myself, instead opting to rent full frame bodies for the season until more details were known. And by Salon de Paris it was clear the K-1 checked off most requirement from my list. Come spring 2016 I would finally be able to settle on one system and the ultimate hybrid photo & video DSLR. 

 

February 22, official announcement day, release of the specs and first previews. 36 MP full frame sensor, possibly similar to that of the Nikon D810. Check. An innovative and seemingly sturdy articulating 3.2" screen. Check. Accessibly placed Mic and headphone jacks. Check check. Dual SD card slots. Yup. Healthy battery life, increased AF point coverage, flat colour profile, even focus peaking and sound level monitoring, that third multi-selector dial will come in very handy for quick iso adjustments, and of course the mother of all features for me, 5-axis image stabilisation. It was all there....or so I thought.

 

Albert Siegel had to confirm my worst fear. Why, Pentax, did you not enable the marvels of 5-axis stabilization in movie mode? The unimaginable power it wields for a run and gun videographer, filmmaker, even cinematographer is a golden egg in our segment. Olympus had it, the Sony a7s II now has it, so we know it's technically possible on a full frame sensor. Why then did you choose to cripple the K-1 with the frightfully inferior, rolling shutter and jello-prone electronic Movie SR? 

 

According to Mr. Siegel your reps had mentioned that mechanical SR drew some complaints of noise from users of the K-r, and so this feature got ditched in all ensuing models. This is the reason why I never even considered the K-3. No mechanical SR is in my eyes a dealbreaker, and for Ricoh a missed opportunity of huge proportions. Imagine how much of a proponent and Philip Bloom would be if he was able to shoot video with the K-1. I think he's already single-handedly raised the global social profiles of the 645Z and Theta among his followers. And obviously you would need to fix 50/60 fps 1080i to 1080p in the final release firmware first.

This clip demonstrates the graceful ability of the mechanical SR stabilization in the Pentax K-5 for capturing smooth and clean video. Recorded straight out of camera with the camera's in-built microphone, so you can hear the slight whirring of the sensor being stabilised.


So now you know why I'm lost. As things stand now, what can I do? Buy a K-1 just for photos and tripoded video shots, and continue using a Canon 6D with IS lenses or a Sony A7sII (and the post-processing colour matching headaches that go with it)? Buy two K-1s and a huge 5-axis gimbal stabilizer when the camera already has it? Sell all my beloved Pentax gear and go with two D750s and the Tamron 15-30 2.8 VC, 35 1.8 VC and 85 1.8 VC lenses? I certainly don't want to get a separate bulky cinema camera like the C300 mk II for it would seriously slow me down. And it doesn't shoot stills. 


I need you guidance here Pentax. Is it still possible to implement mechanical SR in the K-1 by April? If noise is an issue, give users a menu choice to select electronic Movie SR or Mechanical SR, a prerequisite for the latter being that a microphone is plugged into the camera's mic jack. This would only need a software solution, right? Or is the omission patent related?


Camera technology has leaped  immensely. There's much to choose from and they all do more or less the same thing, but in the end it all comes down to character. We connect with the personality that Pentax embodies, we love our shared history, and I personally feel at home with the images that certain cameras and lenseswaq produce. It would break my heart to have to break up.

So what do you say, Pentax, won’t you stay in our lover’s story? If you stay, you won't be sorry, 'cuz we beleive in you. Please enable mechanical SR for kooks like me.


Still devotedly yours,


Marq Riley

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