Copyright © 2007 K-Mount Treasures


'10 Tips to get the most out of your new PENTAX DSLR' is an attempt to collect and document some of the best tips, tricks and secrets being used by PENTAX fans like you and me. Although these might be useful for anybody, they are primarily targeted towards people who are new to the PENTAX digital SLR (DSLR) scene and who are looking for just the right resource to get a jump start on their DSLR experience. The more you learn about the tips and resources, the more fun and rewarding your hobby can be.

Get intimate with the camera

If you are like me, you are in a hurry to check out all the bells and whistles of the new camera. We all do. We rush to rip open the box, plug in the batteries and the card and off we go clicking. There is nothing wrong with it. In fact, I think that is the best way to explore all the features of the new camera. You should first fiddle with all the menu buttons, exposure modes and the settings. But I also think it is helpful to pick up the manual and enjoy a few pages written to get us familiar with the interesting piece of photographic equipment that the DSLR is. You will be amazed how many nuggets you can pick up from the users manual. After all who else can tell you about the machine better than the people who created it? I don’t suggest reading the manual in entirety before you start exploring your new camera. But flipping the pages of the users manual on a lazy afternoon and a cup of coffee (put your drink of fancy here) works fine for me.

You will also find lots of good information at the PENTAX digital SLR site.

Familiarize yourself with the PENTAX lens nomenclature

K, M, FAJ, DFA..., If you are new to the PENTAX system, you are struggling to get a grip on these designations. Let’s be honest. When you are starting off, the lens nomenclature all sound Greek to you. You find a lens that sound interesting and you are wondering if you can use it on your new DSLR. You start looking at the lens type and you find it being called A or FA. This does not give you a clue if the lens really fits your needs or worse yet, if it will work properly on your new camera.  Its not so complicated as you might think. The nice thing about PENTAX is that any lens will fit any of its SLR cameras. This compatibility between the bodies and the lens mounts is the best thing going for PENTAX.  And maybe you are aware of that and this is the reason you were convinced to buy into the PENTAX system. Simply put, the PENTAX lens can be classified into four separate groups, arranged in order based on when they were introduced into the market:

  • Screw mount – These lenses were designed for cameras with 42mm diameter screw mount cameras, also referred to as universal PENTAX screw mount. You will find these lenses under the names of Takumar, Super-Takumar or Super-Multi-Coated Takumar. Many of these lenses are classic.
  • Manual Focus – There are three types here: K, M and A. As the name implies, you need to manually focus the lens.
    • The M type lenses do not know how to communicate aperture information to the camera. In old days, you had to select the aperture on your lens and you have to set the exposure on your camera manually by using match needle type of visual confirmation. It’s actually much easier to use the M type of lenses on your DSLR and I explain that later.
    • The A type lenses have extra features that allow you to set both aperture and shutter speed in your camera without having to change anything on the lens. This is possible when the lens is set to the special ‘A’ setting and the camera is set to the Automatic or ‘A’ setting at the same time.
  • Auto Focus – There are three types: F, FA and FAJ. All of them work flawlessly with your DSLR without any need for a specialized setting on your camera.
  • Digital – There are two types here: DA and D FA. These lenses are designed specifically for digital SLRs with APS-C da_fisheyesized sensors. Since these sensors are smaller in size compared to 35mm film frames, the designers could use some tweaks to make these lenses smaller in size and weight and improve their light collecting performance as well. The DA lenses still mount fine on older cameras, but except a couple of them, they do not work very well because they create a dark ring around the frame, called the vignetting effect. You can use the D FA lenses just fine on your older cameras.

My intention here was to provide you a very simple cross-section of the lens system. If you need more details, refer to the most comprehensive online resource for PENTAX camera and lens system is Bojidar Dimitrov's Pentax K-Mount Page.

Know how to use the different types of lens

Okay, you are now familiar with the lens nomenclature. Now you need some wisdom to use the lenses on your new DSLR.

  • Screw mount lens - You need a special adaptor called the M42-to-bayonet mount adaptor. m42_adaptorIt mounts flush with your camera’s bayonet mount such that it can accept any screw mount lens. To remove the adaptor, you have to pinch the spring loaded retainer and off it comes. Once the adaptor is in place, you can thread in a screw mount lens until it stops. Now, you need to select the following in your camera's Menu> Custom Setting>Using Aperture Ring>2 (Permitted). Set the sliding switch on the right and bottom corner of the camera (as you look at the camera from the lens side) from AF (auto focus) to MF (manual focus). Because you have to meter manually, you can leave the setting on the camera to P, A or M – it does not matter. I like to meter with the lens set to the highest aperture setting for the best visibility. Focus manually using the focusing ring of the lens. If you have set your camera for this, you will get a visual focus confirmation in the viewfinder (a green hexagon at the bottom) as well as an audible beep. You can change the aperture on the lens to whatever you desire for your desired depth of field. Once you press the shutter half way, your DSLR will calculate the correct shutter speed for you. If you find that the shutter speed is too low for hand holding purpose, you have to manually increase the ISO. You access the ISO setting using the Fn button at the back of the camera. Press the shutter all the way to get a picture.
  • K and M lens – I think it is a bit trickier than the screw mount lenses. After you mount a M lens, af_to_mf_switchyou need to switch the camera’s dial to M (Manual). Make sure that the sliding switch on the right and bottom corner of the camera is set to MF (manual focus). Set the lens aperture to your desired stop and focus. Now press the AE-L button (for *ist DS, DS2, DL and K100D) or the green button (for *ist D and K10D) on the back. This will make the camera talk to the lens, close down the aperture to the value you had set and to get a meter reading to hone in the correct shutter speed. You are ready to shoot now.
  • ds_with_a_lens
  • A lens – For complete automatic exposure, make sure the ‘A’ setting of the lens is in the 12 o’ clock position of the bayonet mount and the sliding switch on the right and bottom corner of the camera is set to MF (manual focus). If you need aperture control, you can set the lens to any desired f stop. Set the camera to A or P or any of the other program modes. Focus manually until you get a visual confirmation in your viewfinder (a green hexagon at the bottom) as well as an audible beep. That’s it, you are ready to shoot.
  • F, FA  and DFA lens – Set the sliding switch on the right and bottom corner of the camera to AF (auto focus). Make sure that the ‘A’ setting of the lens (for F and FA lens) is in the 12 o’ clock position of the bayonet mount. Press shutter half way to focus (let the camera do the auto focusing) and press it all the way to shoot.
  • D and FAJ lens – There is not much to do here. Mount the lens, set your program mode of desire and shoot.

You can also refer to a PENTAX lens compatibility chart put together by Ole Oest and Adam Melis Oest. It shows how the different lens types match up with different PENTAX camera bodies

Keep your LBA under check

It’s well known that all PENTAX lovers suffer from LBA, which stands for Lens Buying Addiction. There is very little mystery behind it. PENTAX and other third parties have produced lots of lenses over the time to fit the PENTAX K-Mount. The good news for you and me is that you can still use them on your digital SLR, even if some of these lenses pre-date us. Just don’t give the secret out to the other camps. Some of these old lenses are of exceptionally optical quality and PENTAX has carried over their lens design heritage to some of the ones being produced today. This means that you can collect and use some of the older classic lenses without breaking your bank. There are plenty of old and used PENTAX lenses you can find to satisfy your plbahotographic needs and I tell you how to find them below. But before you jump into buying any lens, I advice you to explore inside yourself about your photographic needs.  Most likely your DSLR came with the DA 18-55mm kit lens, which is a very nice performer. Chances are that you are absolutely excited with your initial shots and you have got hooked to the DSLR photography. Before you know, you have got tired of your kit lens and you are itching to purchase that super zoom that screams ‘wow’ and its price looks very affordable. However, I suggest you get methodical about your lens collection. There is nothing wrong in getting a nice super zoom. But you will find it much more exciting to build a collection of a lens system that you actually use to fit your needs. For example, if you are looking for a lens combination mostly for travel, the DA 50-200mm is a stellar lens and complements nicely with the kit lens. The two together is likely to give you much better performance compared to a super zoom like 18-200mm, barring the inconvenience of switching between the two lens. I am not going to propose any lens combination recipe for your photography habits. I think the choice of lens is very subjective and it depends on your needs. But I do think everyone should have a lens that will come handy in low light or for available light photography. The PENTAX 50mm primes lenses (M, A, F or FA) are considered by many to be some of the best prime lenses with the best bang for the buck. Pick up a 50mm lens in either the f/1.7 or f/1.4 version, experiment and you will be amazed with their sharpness. Throw one of these jewels in your travel bag and you won’t regret using it for a portrait or when the light gets low.

Know which are the prized lenses

PENTAX has had a wonderful lineup of lenses over the years. Many of them are class acts when it comes to sharpness, performance and build quality. But like any other products or brands, there are good ones, some great ones and then there are those not so good ones. It is just smart to know which ones are worth hunting for and to identify those that are considered by the PENTAX fans to be in the Hall of Fame.

I believe that you can’t go wrong with any of the current lineup of the digital (DA) lenses. Any hardcore PENTAX fan would also love to sing the praise of the PENTAX Limited lenses such as the FA 31mm, FA 77mm, FA 43mm and the DA 40mm. Initially, you might find get a sticker shock with the prices for the Limited lenses, but once you use one of them you will be hooked for life. Then there are those lenses with stars (*), which are expensive and hard to come by. But here, I just want to give you some pointers on lenses that are well regarded and ones you can hope to find bargains on in the used market. Before you are serious about any lens, definitely check out the comments on different lenses made by several PENTAX photographers at Stan’s PENTAX Photography Site. Many of the lenses that were considered precious in the past are still considered as prized collection today. Be prepared to pay pretty penny for these good ones even in the used mark50mmet, especially if they have been discontinued. Personally, I believe you can’t go wrong with any of the PENTAX prime lenses. I have already mentioned the 50mm lenses above. You will be doing a good investment if you buy a FA 50mm f/1.4, either brand new or a used one. But do not shun the older M or A 50mm lenses if you are able too pick one up at a great bargain – the design for the 50mm lens hardly changed between the lens generations. Any of the PENTAX 20mm, 28mm or 35mm prime lenses (in M, A, F or FA versions) will put a smirk on your face after you download the pictures. If you are into macro photography, a 50mm and 100mm macro lenses with 1:1 magnification ratio should be part of your collection. As for the zooms, it’s a difficult pick, because your needs might vary. But most everybody agree that the F 70-210mm is one of the best telephoto zooms made by PENTAX. The FA24-90 and the FA20-35 are also highly regarded in the wide range. The other zooms worth looking for are the FA 28-105mm f/3.2-4.5, A or F 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5 and FA 80-320mm f/4.5-5.6.

It is equally important to be selective about lenses that are over hyped. The M 40mm f/2.8 pancake is often advertised as rare and precious. It is not. If you want to have one for your collection, feel free to get one. But I think you are better off putting that money towards the DA 40mm pancake. Some of the older telephoto primes and telephoto zooms are real gems. But they are also heavy and awkward. Do your shoulder a favor and get a newer DA zoom.

Know where and how to find the treasures

There are lots of treasures to be found when it comes to PENTAX lenses. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are a lot of people who are looking for them and their numbers are increasing ebay_searchas more of them start joining the PENTAX camp. The most common venue for finding these lenses is of course the eBay.  The auction prices for some of the PENTAX lenses on eBay have been hitting all time highs, thanks to the newcomers who are willing to pay top dollars for the one they like. If you need a particular lens and you have to have it, be prepared to pay as much as one and a half times the going price. Me, I like to be familiar with the condition of the item and its going market price before I bid on it. I like to set a bid that I think is reasonable  for me and I avoid the auction frenzy. How do I know the market price, you ask? There are a couple of sources to investigate the value of PENTAX lenses. One of course is eBay’s own database of completed listings. If you are in the hunt for a particular lens, do a search on eBay and you will see a list of similar items currently on auction. But repeat the search, this time check off ‘Completed Listings’ (see inset picture) under Search Options that you will locate on the left panel. The new search result will give you an idea how much are these lenses went for in the recent past. You will most likely find some outliers when the items were sold at a much higher price because someone wanted it badly and were willing to pay top dollars. If eBay’s prices are indicative of the going market price for a lens, the completed listings on eBay’s search will help you get an idea of how much you expect to pay. Just don’t fall prey to last minute bidding frenzy.

The second resource for the pricing on PENTAX lens is the SPLOSdb, a database of prices for PENTAX lens, put together by J. L. Colwell. It lists the prices of all the lenses made by PENTAX as well as by third party like SIGMA and Tamron. The prices are shown ranging from low to high, depending on the condition they were sold in. Download the pdf file and save it for your reference to assess the fair market price for a lens.

Do not forget to check out your local pawn shops, estate sale and newspaper classifieds. You might get lucky with someone getting rid of their precious PENTAX collection. One more place I can recommend for used PENTAX lens is KEH specializes in old and used photographic merchandise. I have had very good luck purchasing PENTAX lenses from KEH and I have been very happy with their customer service.

Know the Tricks of the Trade

Chances are you have read the manual or you have browsed the net and you are already aware of them. But I will list some tricks of the trade here:

  • 2 sec self-timer – This is not meant to challenge how fast you can run from behind the camera to your group shot. It is actually designed for mirror lock-up. If you want to take some pictures where it is absolutely critical that there is vibration (like a macro or a landscape), you want to avoid the mirror slap during the time when the picture is being taken. Set the self timer to 2 sec, make your composition and once you trip the shutter, the mirror is going to get locked in the up position. 2 secs later, the lens aperture is going to open to let the camera record the picture on the sensor.
  • Spot metering – In most situation, the default 16 segment matrix metering of PENTAX does a fantastic job. However, when the lighting is not uniform across your viewfinder, your camera will love you if you help it by switching to spot metering. A typical case may be when you want get a proper exposure of your subject under a spot light or if you have a dark subject in the middle of a big bright background. You can access the Spot Metering option in the Menu, go down to Metering and switch to the icon with one spot in the middle (the 3rd choice down in submenu).
  • ISO setting – This has nothing to do with a quality system. This changes the sensitivity of the sensor to the light. The higher the number, the higher the sensitivity and hence better the capability of the camera to use more of the available light. If you have your ISO set to AUTO, your camera will decide for you what the correct combination is between the aperture, shutter speed and the sensitivity to get the best picture for you.
  • White Balance Setting – This is one of the best features for digital SLRs and do not neglect it as a tool in your picture taking. fnYou access it with your Fn button on the back and then use the left arrow to set it. I am not going to discuss what White Balance is. Lets just say that it is the camera’s adjustability to the temperature of the light. Most likely your camera is set to AWB or Auto White balance. In most cases, the AWB is going to do a fine job. But the more you get familiar with the different settings of the white balance, the more you are going to realize how valuable of a control it is for picture taking. If you find that your pictures are coming out with a yellow or orange tint, set the white balance to incandescent light bulb and you should see a major improvement in the color reproduction of your picture. If your pictures are coming out with a greenish tint, try switching over to the ‘incandescent’ light to get the correct tint. If you are shooting portraits on a cloudy day, your picture might lack that warm look. Try setting it to the ‘cloudy sky’ white balance setting and you will see more vibrant and warm tone in your pictures.  If there is a mixture of light sources, try doing a custom white balance setting. For this you need to point your camera at the subject and click the shutter once for the camera to record a picture, analyze it and set the white balance setting. You will be asked to confirm the setting with an OK before you take more shots.
  • Depth of field preview – The power button on your camera has a dual function. dofLook for the depth of field preview icon next to the OFF and ON button. While you are composing your frame, turn it a click further and the camera will stop down the lens to the programmed aperture so that you can preview how much depth of field your final picture is going to have. Be prepared for the view to get dimmer as the aperture stops down.
  • Program values – PENTAX lets you know the settings you currently control by underlining them in your viewfinder readouts. For example, let say you have set the camera to aperture priority mode (Av). The camera will set the recommended shutter speed for the current aperture and it will display the aperture value with an underline and the shutter speed without an underline. This lets you know that you are in control of the aperture. Changing the aperture using the thumb wheel will shift the shutter speed; however, the aperture values will always be underlined. Pressing the OK button at the back of your camera will bring both back to the values originally recommended by the program line.

Invest in a better flash

The onboard flash that your camera came with af360fgzis great for snap shots. And it also does a good job when you need it for fill flash. And that’s about it.  In most cases, you end up getting pictures that are washed out because of the strong direct light from the flash. If you are serious about taking pictures indoors or for flattering portraits, do yourself a favor and budget permitting, buy a decent flash for connecting with the camera’s hot shoe. Definitely look for a flash with bounce and preferably one with swivel. The current flashes made by PENTAX, AF360FGZ (bounce) and AF540FGZ (bounce and swivel) are smart instruments that allow programmed through the lens (P-TTL) metering. You leave the thinking to the flash and let the camera and the flash talk to each other through advanced electronics. The end result is that you get properly exposed picture with very pleasing balance of light. If you are taking pictures indoors of your dear ones or of a group with a not-so-high ceiling, you will be particularly happy to use the flash in bounce mode to create an even and diffused light, without that hard washed-out look from a direct flash.

Join a forum

Someone told me long ago that if you have a question, there is an excellent chance that someone else has asked it on the internet. You have to just find the answer. Trust me, once you start using your new camera, you will have plenty of questions. These can range from ‘How do I shoot a bug I spotted in my sink?’ to ‘What lens works best for cave photography?’. You get the picture. There is no better way to tap into the resources than to join an online forum. If you are not already a member, you should consider joining a forum dedicated to PENTAX SLR users. Joining a forum is free and fun. My two favorite ones are the DPReview’s PENTAX Talk forum and PhotoNet’s PENTAX forum. I have met some of the best friends and photo enthusiasts there. Besides keeping track of what’s the latest with PENTAX and what is expected in the near future, I find the forums to be an excellent place to get inspired by photographs taken by people ranging from newcomers to serious amateurs and even professionals. If you are feeling up to it, post a picture or two and you can be assured of some great encouragement and critiques from the forum friends.

Enjoy the hobby

I saved the most simple for the last. It should be obvious. But many of us forget this easily. The reason you bought the camera was to enjoy your hobby of photography. Don’t get too hung up by the lens measurements, megapixels, RAW performance or resolution. Go out, shoot some pictures and then shoot some more. If you don’t like some, delete them – you have that freedom with the DSLRs, right? Enjoy every bit of trying out different settings on your camera and lens and you will learn so much more about the PENTAX system.