Rhythm

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To the best of my knowledge, there is only one word in the English language that lacks a vowel: rhythm. Rhythm is something I sure don’t have, but cameras do.

I’ve come to the conclusion that timing specifications (shutter lag, shutter release button travel, LCD refresh, AF speed, etc.) as well as the more obvious variables (like menu structure, button tension and the locations of the controls) all combine to create a mechanical rhythm as real as a melody. In order to operate a camera comfortably and effortlessly it’s necessary to get in tune with that rhythm.

I didn’t just dream this up overnight.

For nearly forty years I’ve had the great fortune to use many different cameras, lenses and related gear. At Minolta we introduced new cameras several times a year, and I’ve made many, many trips to Japan to participate in product meetings where prototypes were discussed and future designs decided. These days I shoot with one or more new cameras every month. And I must confess, I have never liked any camera the first time I used it. It usually takes me at least a week of struggling before I begin to comprehend the rhythm of a camera.

So I was stunned a few weeks ago when I picked up a Pentax K20D and felt the rhythm from the first embrace.

To be honest, I was predisposed to like the latest Pentax DSLR because several years ago I reviewed the Pentax *ist DS and had a similarly compatible experience. It was small, felt good in the hand and was quite responsive. And I liked the location of the on/off switch—a small but important detail. Although I used that DS for only two weeks, several of the images I shot with it have been published in unrelated articles. You could say that the camera and I just clicked.

The Pentax K20D is much more advanced but it retains that same familiar rhythm. It offers body-integral image stabilization that works with any Pentax lens and an advanced digital signal processing engine that produces very low noise, even at higher ISOs. It’s full of real “photographer” features like double exposure capability, single channel black and white and interchangeable focusing screens. You can adjust the color balance of the LCD—can you do that on your DSLR? It even has a built-in digital filter that simulates infrared. It’s the perfect camera for fanatics.

There’s a dedicated RAW button so if you want to switch from shooting JPEG files to RAW you can do so instantly, with a single button press. It produces “forever compatible” DNG raw files directly, and comes with Silkypix, a powerful RAW conversion software application.

Frankly, I don’t pay much attention to pixel count, but the Pentax K20D uses a 14.6-megapixel CMOS sensor. You can also shoot at 10- or 6-megapixel and of course, RAW plus JPEG simultaneously.

I’m guessing that if you visit this website you already understand how the Program mode works on digital cameras. The program slope itself is generally adjustable in some manner, with the bias shifting from Sports (high shutter speeds) to Portrait photography (shallow depth of field). The Pentax K20D allows the user to select a program slope that is biased in favor of MTF. MTF stands for Modulation Transfer Function and choosing it means that the camera will select the best aperture settings for whatever lens is attached. You no longer have to remember that your 28mm lens is sharpest at f5.6, for example—the Pentax K20D recognizes which Pentax lens is attached and makes the appropriate settings automatically.

Thanks in part to our temporarily struggling economy, the Pentax K20D is available with a sharp 18-55mm zoom for well under $999 (I’ve seen it at reputable resellers for as low as $900) and that’s an incredible deal for a full featured, weather resistant DLSR that offers so many features. Pentax lenses are very good, too, and there are some unique offerings, like a 40mm f2.8 pancake style that’s a hair over one-half inch thick. You can use any K-mount lens ever made. And they’re affordable. A versatile 18-250mm Pentax zoom can be had for around $399, and the 55-300mm f4-5.6 is about $100 less.

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