Pentax K-50 Digital SLR Camera

I recently procured for myself a Pentax K-50 DSLR camera and have enjoyed it immensely. Being a new parent and also developing a keen interested in photography I knew I needed an upgrade from my usual point-and-shoot digital camera. I upgrade technology and equipment at a slower rate than many of my counterparts, partially because I operate on a modest teacher’s salary and income from odd contract work… also because I tend to get the most out of my equipment for as long as I can. I tend to purchase computers every 6 to 8 years instead of the usual 2-3. I enjoy point-and-shoot digital cameras simply because they have improved over each previous generation in quality and features greatly and usually only replace them when they break or become severely obsolete. This time around I decided to splurge and research DSLR brands and came to favor the Pentax K-50.

Canon and Nikon are the most favored brands, the Pentax seems to be the oddball in the bunch, but I can’t seem to fathom why. The Pentax K-50 is regarded as the most overlooked model of the mid-to-entry level DSLR group of products. I teach a digital photography class that is blessed with a set of Canon Rebel T3i’s and an older Nikon D70. While these are fine cameras I hesitated to go down the same route when it came to my choice for a personal camera. I choose the Pentax K-50 for two main reasons, firstly it is water-resistant and dust proof, a feature that is rare-to-nonexistent in the K-50’s price range. On YouYube you can find a video of a US soldier burying his Pentax DSL’s in dirt and dust and then washing them off under a shower, a solid testament if I ever saw one. The second reason is that the Pentax K-50 can use almost any Pentax lens and Pentax has used the same K-mount since the 1970’s. As most photographers know, taking great photos is more about the lens than the camera. I was able to find a great set of older prime lenses such as my favorite 50mm 1:2 for very little money. The Pentax K-50 DSLR came with a resistant AF lens. Many people sell their old Pentax film cameras with lenses and great bargains are everywhere. This is an awesome feature for anyone that wants to build a collection of lenses for different shooting conditions on a modest budget.

The Pentax K-50 is packed with great features that are rare on other entry level cameras such as focus peaking, which highlights areas of focus with white highlights so you can really have tight control over your depth of field. It has some really nice preset artistic image filters that allow you to shoot in B&W, add vignettes, shoot in HDR, etc. My favorite feature is the ability to shoot double exposures right in the camera, no Photoshop needed. The K-50 isn’t the best choice for shooting video, as it suffers from some rolling shutter issues, as many DSLR’s do… for video the camera needs to be held steady or used with a tripod for best results. The video samples I have shot do look good… crisp HD and looks great through my lenses and audio is good despite the lack of an external mic jack. If I was shooting a real video project I would use my trusty Zoom H2 audio recorder anyway. The K-50 sports a 16 Megapixel resolution which is more than enough for my purposes. It may have less resolution than some of its counterparts, but unless you are printing billboards it is more than sufficient.

Overall this is a very well featured camera with enough resolution to get the job done, it has backwards compatibility and comes in at a great price. It is compatible with Eyefi memory cards. The battery bay can take either rechargeable battery packs or with an adapter run on AA batteries, a great option when away from power sources. The K-50 is rugged, easy to use and fun. I couldn’t ask for more for the price. Did I mention it comes in a variety of colors, I choose the white on black model, who doesn’t want a camera that looks like a stormtrooper? No one, that’s who.

-- Seth Wilson  

Pentax K-50 16MP Digital SLR Camera Kit with DA L 18-55mm WR f3.5-5.6 Lens
$413

Available from Amazon



Time Lapse and Stop Motion HD Video Camera

Interesting doesn’t come close to how incredibly cool this camera is. Exceptionally quick to set up and learn, I’ve been charging around the house and neighborhood taking high-quality time-lapse movies of everything from my cats sleeping to my neighbors going about whatever it is neighbors do.

The camera is cute, 4 1/4″ H x 2 1/2″ W x 1 3/4″ D. With batteries it is less than 1/2 pound and solid as a rock. Tripod mount on the bottom, but it sits very steadily on four rubber feet. The lens rotates up and down 120° and has settings for 1 second to 24 hours per image. Accessories like a manual shutter release for single frame photography for stop-action, a water resistant housing, wide angle lens, carrying case, and it supports up to a 32GB SD card. To use it, you turn it on, set the timer, point the camera at something interesting and walk away.

While the product information says it comes with a 2GB card, mine came with a 4GB card.

Timelapse Formosa Sunset

-- Frank Townend  

Brinno TLC200 Time Lapse and Stop Motion HD Video Camera
$100

Available from Amazon



Fotodiox Lens Mount Adapters

If you’re getting started in digital photography, or have just picked up your first DSLR/mirrorless camera, your first purchase should be OLD lenses.

Vintage manual lenses take as good (often better) images than newer lenses, particularly on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Search eBay, Goodwill, Craigslist, and thrift stores for old SLR gear. My favorite lens is a Asahi Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4 — it sells for around $100 on eBay, and probably much less in a local shop. The quality of the lens blows away the cheap “nifty fifties” you can buy new. That’s just one example of dozens if not hundreds. It’s an affordable way to learn about focal lengths and image quality.

But much more importantly, shooting with vintage manual lenses forces you to THINK about your photography. Having to focus each shot and choose an aperture has made me a much better photographer. You can’t fire and forget and hope the camera made a good choice for you. That’s the real value of shooting with manual lenses.

That brings us to the cool tools in question — how to mount old lenses on new cameras. On my Sony A57, my Takumar lenses are mounted using a $6 adapter from Fotodiox. It’s as simple as it gets — screw the adapter onto the lens, mount the lens on the camera. I also use a Fotodiox adapter on a manual Nikon 70-200 f/4 zoom.

Fotodiox makes adapters for just about every camera system in existence. They range from less than $10 to hundreds of dollars. Some adapters come with focusing glass, which you may need to focus to infinity depending on the lens-to-sensor distance on some cameras.

I’ve dealt with Fotodiox for nearly two years, and they’ve been a great company with great service — when one adapter shipped with a missing screw, they quickly shipped a replacement, no questions asked.

-- Aaron Weiss  

Available from Amazon



SpiderPro Dual Camera Holster

I am a news photographer that moonlights as a wedding photographer. In my line of work I need to get the image fast and I often don’t have time to change lenses. For years I would carry 3 cameras around my neck with different lenses attached so I could get the image I wanted. Especially on long wedding days, this left my back and neck hurting.

The Spiderpro holster system utilizes a plate with a pin that attaches to your camera base and connects with a slot on your belt to hold your cameras on your hips. This gives your cameras freedom of movement at your hips and allows you to carry them comfortably without having weight on your shoulders for extended periods of time. This also makes crisscrossing straps unnecessary, and is much more streamlined looking as well, for the discerning wedding photographer.

Cameras lock into place each time they’re returned to holster. In the lower position, locks keep cameras secure for longer-term carrying and in upper position, locks disengage for quick and easy access.

The adjustable belt fits most waists, but being more portly, I contacted the company about a larger size, and my request was honored quickly with an extender that works perfectly.

I’ve purchased plates for all of my DSLRs and the belt takes the weight with ease, I never have felt like a camera would drop off. The company makes lighter duty holsters for point-and-shoots as well.

-- Matthew A. Walker  

SpiderHolster SpiderPro Dual Camera System
$235

Available from Amazon



Manfrotto Table Top Tripod

I travel a lot for my work, and every time I leave, my young daughter says “take pictures!”. I was a serious photographer for a number of years, so the thought of putting my name to substandard cell phone photos brought out the photo-snob in me. I just couldn’t do it.

No more. With my iPhone 5s and this tripod (along with the Glif from Studio Neat), stunning pictures are possible any time of day or night. The tripod is sturdy, with a removable ball head and a standard size tripod screw mount. The kit comes with an extendable riser and a quality leather case. If you are tight on space or budget, the tripod alone (Model 209) can be had for about a third of the price. The quality on this item is what you would expect from this venerable German name.

-- Chris Mullins  

Manfrotto Table Top Tripod Kit 209
$109

Available from Amazon



Magic Arm with Camera Bracket

The Magic Arm is just that, a magic arm to hold your camera, lights, bounce, flag. I use it with the camera bracket on one side and Manfrotto 035 Super Clamp($25, photo below) to turn a staircase railing, or the railing of a scissor lift, into a camera support. You could use it similarly to mount a camera to a bicycle handlebar.

I also use the Magic Arm with a Super Clamp at either end (the camera bracket is detachable) as a brace. For video and photo projects, the uses are extensive.

There are similar products, but this is by far the best. I’ve had two in my grip bag for more than a decade.

clamp

-- Elon Schoenholz  

Manfrotto 244 Variable Friction Magic Arm
$130



Marksta

Photographs are up for grabs on the Internet. Post a picture anywhere — on your personal Web site or Tumblr, via Twitter, on Facebook or Instagram, or anywhere — and it’s possible it will be appropriated without permission. Or, if you’ve marked a photograph as being available for use under a Creative Commons license, it often pops up without the proper attribution or under the right circumstances (used commercially with a non-commercial license).

The iPhone and iPad app Marksta lets you easily watermark photos with visible text as well as add embedded metadata as a method of informing and deterring those who might use your image inappropriately.

Because many people may not have mastered the vagaries of copyright law (and why should they), having a visible mark could ensure that your image is passed along with your notes intact. Software like this abounds on the desktop, or one can use image-editing software to add text labels, but this app lets you snap shots, label them, and then post them all on the device.

For those who might take the effort to erase your watermark through a rubber-stamp tool or “healing” brush, Marksta’s marks makes it an easier matter if you wanted to pursue having an image taken down, obtain compensation, or even sue, as they would have engaged in a purposeful effort to hide ownership. For most of us, we’re looking for credit where it’s due: an acknowledgement of whose image it is and a link back to wherever it came from. Marksta can help with that.

From an aesthetic standpoint, a nice element of the app is that you can create quite lovely labels, copyright aside. The app lets you pick fonts, colors, placement, and other details, and then store the choices for reuse.

Marksta ($1.99, App Store)



Really Right Stuff Lever-Release Camera Tripod Clamp

Most tripod and camera quick release systems stink. The majority of them are bulky, clumsy and weak. Except for the Really Right Stuff System. Yes, the name is a bit off-putting.

Attaching a camera to a tripod by screwing it on doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, but for a professional it severely inhibits mobility. The cam lever with the RRS system eliminates any excuses for not mounting a camera onto a tripod when you know you should. The ease in switching between horizontal and vertical is life changing.

The beauty of the L-plate is that in the vertical position, it keeps the weight of the camera directly over the tripod – not hanging overboard.

I have been using a Really Right Stuff system for about 15 years. I still own my original tripod lever release and I have acquired new L-plates for different cameras over the years.
Be certain, these items are pricey but they will last several lifetimes.

-- David Barry  

B2-40 Lever-Release Quick-Release Clamp
$105

Manufactured by Really Right Stuff



The Glif

I use my iPhone to shoot video because the quality is excellent and I like the many different inexpensive video apps available for the iPhone (such as stop motion apps). I also like being able to email iPhone videos or upload them to YouTube directly from my phone instead of having to first transfer them to a computer.

The main drawback with using the iPhone to shoot video is that you can’t put it on a tripod — you have to hold it in your hand or precariously lean it against something. The best iPhone mounting solution I’ve found so far is the Glif, a tiny hard-rubber clip with a metal 1/4″-­20 thread that attaches to any tripod mount. Simply slide the iPhone into the Glif’s slot and you’re ready to go. (The Glif was one of the first breakaway hits on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, taking in almost $130,000 more than its $10,000 goal in late 2010.)

glif-tripod

The Glif has one other function: it’s a “kickstand” that lets you use your iPhone as a mini-display on your desktop or airplane fold down tray.

glif-stand

If you want to use the Glif when you’re on the move, pay the extra $10 for the Glif Plus, which includes a separate plastic piece that locks your iPhone onto the Glif so there’s no chance of it falling off.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

The Glif
$20

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Studio Neat



Clearviewer

More and more cameras, especially compact ones, have no viewfinder other than the LCD screen on the back. I find using the LCD as a viewfinder to be ergonomically awkward. Additionally, in bright light it is nearly unusable. There are other workarounds. Some cameras offer an external electronic viewfinder (EVF) that fits in the hot shoe. These tend to be expensive, and an additional electronic gizmo that could potentially break. There are also add on hoods to shade the screen from glare, but these do nothing for shooting awkwardness.

Enter the ClearViewer. This little device attaches to either the tripod mount or hot shoe of the camera and holds a high diopter lens about 2 inches from the LCD screen. You hold the camera so that your eye is right up on that lens, much like you would hold a camera with a traditional viewfinder. This makes the LCD display fill your entire field of view. Additionally, since your eye is so close to the screen, the brightness is adequate even in bright sun.

When you aren’t using it, it folds flat against the camera. If you want to use the screen, you simply fold the lens out of the way. It is not the most attractive camera accessory ever made. But it is very useful, and, at $35 (or $53 with a “premium plano-convex lens”, which is recommended for larger LCD screens), it is pretty inexpensive compared to EVFs.

-- Clark Case  

Clearviewer
$35

Manufactured by and available from Clearviewer