Pentax K-5 II SLR Camera
A camera you can grow into
Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.
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It’s called the paralysis of choice, when you’re so overwhelmed with options you can’t decide at all. That’s how a lot of folks feel when they first fire up a DSLR camera. When the camera’s display comes alive with a plethora of icons and options, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But before you give up and return that digital camera, read on. There’s a way to push past the paralysis and experience the pleasure of high-end photography.
Graduating from Point-and-Shoot
I had outgrown my small point-and-shoot camera. The shutter wasn’t responsive enough to get good action shots, the lens wasn’t good enough to get proper focus on close-up shots, and the display was too low-rez for me to tell if everything was in focus.
So I was very glad for the opportunity to try out a Pentax K-5 II. This 16-megapixel DLSR camera came with a 18-135mm 7.5X zoom lens, ready to go. If I was purchasing a DSLR to replace my point-and-shoot, I would have chosen one just a little more advanced than my old camera. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to try a top-of-the-line piece like the K-5.
All those controls can look overwhelming. But with a little practice, you can quickly navigate through the settings.
I fired up the camera and admired the big, beautiful display. The camera had a substantial heft, and it just felt like something I could take great pictures with. Then I looked at the back of the camera and froze. All those buttons! All those dials! All those on-screen choices! I didn’t know what to do.
Running on automatic
Fortunately, I didn’t need to know what to do. The K-5 has an automatic setting, just like my old point-and-shoot. The electronics in the K-5 are much more powerful and sophisticated, of course. Plus, the lens was much, much better than that of my little compact camera.
It only took a simple decision to break the paralysis. Rather than trying to puzzle out all the options and settings, I just set the K-5 to automatic and started shooting. The picture below is one of the first ones I took. It looked great in the display, and equally well when I transferred the file to my computer.
Quality does matter, especially in a camera. Most of the shots I took with the K-5 were great. They were full of detail, both in the foreground and background, with rich, natural-looking colors (like the image at right). I hadn’t set the camera to capture at the highest resolution, and was surprised at how much detail the K-5 captured. And all on the automatic setting.
To operate the camera, I only needed to know three things; where the power button was, which button to press to take the picture, and which button changed the display from viewfinder to review images mode.
Growing into the camera, one step at a time
When I found how to switch from display to viewfinder, I felt good. I hadn’t mastered all the ins and outs of the K-5, but it was a start. And really, that’s the secret to enjoying photography with a DSLR. You don’t have to do everything right off the bat. Just take it one feature at a time.
Once I was comfortable shooting in automatic, I decided to add just one option to my repertoire. We were going to a steeplechase, and I wanted to capture the action as the horses jumped over the barriers. Before the races, I spent a little time and learned what settings I needed.
The K-5 lets you dial in how many shots you want in burst mode, plus how closely together you want to take them. I quickly found out that resolution was an important factor, too. The higher the resolution, the longer it takes the camera to process the image. Which meant that if I set the camera to take 40 pictures a tenth of a second apart, it might only take five before the processor maxed out. The camera would resume shooting once the backlog of images was processed, but that meant it would miss all the action that happened in the meantime.
I took some practice shots and learned how to balance all the settings to capture the action I wanted beforehand. When those riders rounded the course in the first race, all I had to do was set the K-5 to burst mode, and press the button. Beautiful.
Using burst mode, I was able to capture the moment when the horse was perfectly posed over the barrier (center). (click on image to enlarge)
And when the action was over, I put the camera back to automatic mode and took some more great pictures, like the one below.
The Pentax K-5 as a point-and-shoot. This candid photo was taken with the camera in automatic mode.
Plan B: Automatic setting
Over the course of my time with the camera, I slowly added to my knowledge of how to use the K-5. I learned how make manual adjustments for low light photography. I discovered what settings were best for shooting at extreme magnification. And a few other things, as well.
By the time I had to return the camera, its controls were no longer daunting. I still didn’t know what all of them were for, and I didn’t use all the ones I did know about. But I had learned to take advantage of some of the features the K-5 offered, just by trying them out one at a time. And if I wasn’t sure about what to do, or didn’t quite remember the settings I needed to dial in, there was always Plan B. I flipped the settings back to automatic.
And the Pentax K-5 II performed just fine.