Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The circular path

My first (film) camera was a Pentax P30n with a 50mm lens. My initial idea was to get a point&shoot, but a good friend convinced me to by a SLR. He also had a P30 and that's how I became a Pentaxian.

Those were the 80s and we were young. Every photo had a reason, a story to tell. And I sure loved my Pentax. Compact, sturdy, reliable. At the time, image sharpness was not a relevant issue and I never complained about just having a 50mm lens. The value of a photo was in the timing, composition and dramatic content.

A few years later the camera was stolen. That's when I made my first mistake: buying a Canon EOS 100. Not that it was a bad camera, not at all. But I was becoming a bit too interested in technical sophistication. These were the times when cameras were becoming "inteligent", with fuzzy-logic algorithms and auto-everythings. And I bought two zoom lens too (forgot which). Auto-focus and ultrasonic!

After a while I realized I wasn't having as much fun with that setup as with the Pentax. Something just was not right. There was no strong connection between me and the camera (yes, I think it is an emotional thing!).

After some thought, I had a revelation (helped by a comment in a photography newsgroup): the most important (technical) part of making photographs is the lens, not the camera. Good optics on a reliable body, that's all you need. The rest has to do with your personal creativity and taste. That's when I redeemed myself from the first mistake: I sold the Canon gear and bought a Contax 167MT plus two Carl Zeiss lens (25/2.8 and 85/1.4), all used. These were still the times of film. Digital photography was blooming but people were sceptical that it would replace film someday. I started using Fuji Velvia and Provia, depending on whether I was shooting nature or portraits. The Contax was built like a rock and the Zeiss lens were very good. Well, the 85/1.4 is actually legendary! I started having fun with photography again. Later on I got more used Zeiss glass: 35/2.8, 50/1.4 and 135/2.8.

Contax 167MT + Zeiss Distagon 25/2.8 + Fuji Provia

Then came the new century and, for personal reasons, I stopped taking photos for a while. By 2007 digital photography had reached a very good quality level and most companies quit producing film cameras. So I decided on buying a DSLR. Contax had closed a few years ago, so that was not an option anymore. After going through several reviews, the choice became clear: the Pentax K10D was very reasonably priced, well built and cleverly designed in terms of features and ease of operation. So I became a Pentaxian again and my Zeiss lenses continued collecting dust in a cardboard box.

But that's when I made my second mistake: I bought two zoom lenses (DA* 16-50/2.8 and DA* 50-135/2.8). Not that these are bad lenses, not at all. But, once again, something was not right. Instead of evaluating aesthetic quality, I was looking at my photos in terms of sharpness, contrast and focus accuracy. I was making many sharp, nicely focused, not very interesting photos.

And then something happened and everything changed: I found out that David Llado, in Barcelona (, was commercializing an adapter kit for converting Zeiss lens to Pentax K mount! This implies removing the original Contax bayonet and replacing it with the new one, but it can be easily done. Unfortunately, my beloved 85/1.4 has a slightly different bayonet and cannot be converted, as well as my 35/2.8, which has the older AE mount. But my 25, 50 and 135 are now fitting my K10D! And I hope to soon get a used 85/2.8.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 50/1.4

Of course that focusing is manual. But I replaced the original focusing screen with a split prism from Katz Eye ( and it works quite well. For exposure, I have to do stopped down metering, since the camera cannot operate the diaphragm. But I'm getting used to it. And all this makes me think more about the important things: composition, visual impact, emotional purpose.

So this is how I came back to Pentax and Zeiss.

No comments: