Changing Camera Systems - Pentax to Nikon

November 27, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Those dreaded words...

After looking for more than a year, I finally mustered the courage to say the words my wife most fears:

"I'm thinking about buying a new camera."

Thankfully, my wife 1) is a saint and 2) knows that I'm always looking at gear.  More than that, she understands that for me, cameras are an investment.  More than that, she trusts me.  (Did I mention she's a saint?)

In my last post, I gave three tips on choosing a new DSLR camera.  I recently changed to a Nikon system from Pentax, so I thought it would be helpful to see how I applied these tips to my own process.

Nikon camera

Three tips in action

1.  Decide on your initial budget

For me, I worked with an expanded budget based on the fact that I knew I would be selling old gear.

Based on years of shooting and learning my style and preferences, I had a pretty solid lock on what I needed to pick up and a good estimate for what that would cost me.

Step 1: Complete.

2.  Go to a store that carries a variety of cameras in your budget.

I can go into any local camera or electronics store and find Canon and Nikon.  I would have to drive to New York to get my hands on a Pentax.

I went to Best Buy to try out several Canon and Nikon bodies.  Fortunately for me, my local store carries bodies all the way up to Canon's 5D MkIII and the Nikon D800.

Step 2: Complete.

3.  Choose the camera that feels right, and where you can intuitively find the features you want to use.

I went into my search thinking I wanted to go with Nikon.  I knew from previous searches that Nikon has similar button and dial placement to Pentax, which would make any transition more intuitive.

I also knew that I wanted to keep my options open because my brother shoots Canon, and the few times I have borrowed his camera I found everything very straightforward and easy for me to use.

Working with those notions and assumptions, I tried out the cameras in both lineups.  Multiple times.  Over many visits.

This was not a one-shot deal, because the investment I had in mind required that I take my time.  I even downloaded manuals at home to go more in-depth with their features.  This ultimately factored into my buying decision.

Canon repeatedly impressed me with the autofocus system on their newest cameras.  It was, however, not entirely intuitive (to me, anyway) to change focus modes.  I slowly became accustomed to the thumb wheel on Canon's bodies, and grew comfortable making adjustments to the floor model.  I also found that Canon's ISO 102,400 capability is just amazing.

Nikon proved to be a different road at first.  My first impression was still positive, and I loved the way the camera fit in my hands.  The autofocus system worked well, but I could not find a way to change the focus modes.  I searched every camera menu in the store and simply could not locate it.  I looked on several camera bodies, but it simply wasn't there.

This is where the product manual came into play.  I discovered that at the store, the button I so desperately wanted to find was hidden beneath a security device intended to keep customers from stealing a $200 lens off a camera body worth 10x as much.  Go figure.  That nearly cost them a sale.

With that mystery solved, almost everything else quickly fell into place.  The Nikon had virtually every important adjustment at my fingertips, and in no time, the Nikon felt very natural in my hands.

The "AHA!" moment

Each system had it's advantages, but my breakthrough came with the Nikon in my hands.  If you are familiar with electronics stores, you know that they keep cameras "tethered" to the display by a cord that is usually just long enough to get the camera to a few inches below eye level.  This severely limits what you can do, but does allow for some amazing test shots of the other cameras on display.

On one of these test shots, I focused on the display behind the other cameras - just a block of text a few feet away explaining the different camera models.  I snapped a picture with the kit 50mm lens in poor store lighting and relatively high ISO and then reviewed the image on the LCD.  As I zoomed in on the image, I was astounded at the detail.  I was literally examining the wood pulp that made up the paper in the display!

Eureka!  This is it!  Thanks to some good hands-on experience and an understanding of my needs and budget, the decision became quite easy.

Step 3: Complete.

So, why were you looking to change cameras?

I learned to shoot on a Pentax ME Super (a 35mm film camera, shown below) with a handful of prime lenses.  My dad made sure I had more than enough practice on family vacations throughout the west.  Around the time I started college, this camera stopped working, but I hung onto the lenses.

Fast forward several years, and Pentax entered the DSLR marketplace with a system that accepted all of their old K-mount lenses.  In practical terms, this meant that I could jump into digital without a significant up-front investment in new lenses- something that wouldn't be possible with any other manufacturer.  Remember, when you invest in a camera, you begin investing in their system and infrastructure.  I picked up a K10D (their flagship at the time) and began shooting. 

For the last five years, Pentax has been a pretty good fit.  Their cameras are light-weight, rugged, and offer some nice features like shake reduction, weather sealing, and high ISO performance at a value price.  I traveled to India and China, shot portraits, and a few weddings on a my ever-growing Pentax system.   I put these to a lot of good use, and they definitely helped me grow as a photographer.

However, as I have worked and pressed the shutter tens of thousands of times, the gap between "pretty good" with Pentax and "exactly what I need" has grown wider.

I wish I could give you a detailed "airing of grievances" (see Festivus).  The truth is, that gap is the sum of many small issues that collectively make Pentax less-than-ideal for me.

I think it ultimately culminated in their poor showing at PhotoPlus 2013 which included half a table, and that filled with with brightly colored camera bodies.  (I saw orange, pink, green, purple, red, and blue, to name a few.)  It's hard to feel like you're in it for the long-haul when that's who's got your back.  Petty?  Maybe, but it's hard to escape that sinking feeling when that's the best you can muster at a major industry event.

Will I find things to complain about with Nikon?  No doubt.  Will I switch to Canon or Sony someday?  Possibly.  I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

Right now, Nikon feels like a great fit.  For my wife's sake and my own sanity, I hope it stays that way for quite some time.

Leave a comment and let me know what you're shooting, especially if you've ever gone through a system change.  I'd love to hear about your experience.

Thanks for looking,

Adam@LiC


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