Pentax – In Praise of Usability of Cameras and Lenses

By Andrea Monti

The Internet is full of columns and videos about why ‘I left brand X for brand Y’, magnifiying this or that ‘new feature’ that forced a photographer to ditch his previous setup in favour of a brand new one. Sometimes there is a genuine motivation behind such a choice, sometimes – often – it is just a clickbait set up by the need (or hope) to monetise a piece of content published on a social network.

This long introduction violates the golden rule of journalistic writing – tell the reader what’s the matter in the first paragraph or so – but it was necessary because this article is exactly that: an ‘I left this for that’ – specifically, Nikon for Pentax (having left, a decade ago, Canon in favour of Nikon).

The switch was gradual: together with a D700. D610 and a D750 I started using a K-5 II and later a K-3 Mark II for more demanding assignments until when, finally, I got a very good deal on a K-1. Over the years I started to use Pentax cameras more often than Nikon up to a moment when the Nikons were left on the shelf, dusting.
In this kind of article, this is the part where the photographer explains what ‘forced’ him to do the switch, the feature that was impossible to resist, the ‘different’ kind of photos made possible by the new gimmicks and so on.

In my case, though, I have nothing to complain about Nikon cameras and lenses as such. They have served me well and produced outstanding exposures.

Emanuele Cavallucci - Right hook in southpaw stance
Taken with a Nikon D610 and a Nikkor 24-120

Value-for-money parameter was not an issue either. True, compared to its peers, for an affordable cost (used, in particular) the K-1 had a bigger sensor, in-body stabilisation, a high weather resistance and so on. But, again, to me this was not the reason to change: unless someone is (professionally) working in challenging environment such as travel or naturalistic documentary, war or crisis journalism, sport photography etc. where a specific ‘revolutionary innovation’ might be worth the change, the choice of a camera system over another is mainly a matter of personal preference.

Caparezza - Prisoner 709 Tour - 2018
Taken with a D610 and a Nikkor 35-70

So, finally, here we are: if not for the specs, if not for the allure of the brand, if not for some other esoteric self-delusion on how a new processor would improve one’s pictures, why did I commit to a system that is considered by many as a (shrinking) niche?

The answer is just one word: usability. I find the Pentax command layout intuitive, rational and effective. It allows me to handle the camera with greater ease than the (many) systems I have used in the past.

Kyoto, a view of the Ginkaku-ji
Taken with a Pentax K-5 and a Pentax DA* 16-50

Being DSLRs performance essentially comparable, what really makes the difference is how easy they can be operated. True, one can learn how to use even the most complicated machine. But that confines a person into a a lock-in, as the effort required to re-learn how to work quickly and efficiently with a different camera may be considerable. So, for me, the ease of use of a camera is a major factor in choosing one. Again, this is not to say that Pentax’s ease of use is THE best and that the other brands are inferior. Many fellow photographers would claim that shooting with X or Y is a breeze, and they would be absolutely right.

A British track and field runner, before the start at the European Master Athletics Championship
Taken with a Pentax K-3 Mark II and a Pentax FA* 80-200

My point, however, is quite simple: usability is a huge and underestimated factor when choosing a camera system, whereas it should be a major factor to consider when choosing a platform.

Andrea Monti

You may find out about my works at andrea.monti.photography

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About The Author

By Andrea Monti
My name is Andrea Monti. I’m an Italian free-lance journalist, photographer and – in my spare time – an hi-tech lawyer. The works I am more proud of are covering live jazz, pop and rock concerts for an Italian online music magazine and Opera and prose for a 200 years-old theatre. I also do sport photography mainly in athletics and fighting disciplines. You may find out more about me on https://andrea.monti.photography
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Comments

Aaron Alfano on Pentax – In Praise of Usability of Cameras and Lenses

Comment posted: 14/02/2024

I'm curious in what ways you find the Pentax cameras more intuitive than the Nikons. I've been using Nikon DSLRs for about 15 years, but I have never found them particularly intuitive to use. They do, however, have very good owners manuals, so they are at least well documented.
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Andrea Monti replied:

Comment posted: 14/02/2024

I found the location of the ISO and exposure-compensation buttons quite convenient. I can change the settings with one hand, and the same goes for WB. The info button is also located on the bottom of the body and is easy to reach without having to look at it. In fast-moving situations, even a fraction of a second can make the difference between a shot and a miss. As I said, you can achieve a high degree of automatism with any camera if you use it long enough and with the specific intention of developing the right 'muscle memory' in your fingers. For me, but that's just me, it's easier with the (current) Pentax layout.

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Aaron Alfano replied:

Comment posted: 14/02/2024

Andrea, Thanks for your reply. I see your point; using a Nikon DSLR is definitely a two-handed affair.

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Ibraar Hussain replied:

Comment posted: 14/02/2024

Interesting - I’m not familiar with Nikon. I find minolta to be perfect (dynax 7 and 7D) and also the Olympus E1. One handed

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Ibraar Hussain on Pentax – In Praise of Usability of Cameras and Lenses

Comment posted: 14/02/2024

Thanks for the article Yes you’re quite right when you say most of the stuff on the web and YouTube is clickbait. Like Gary above I didn’t leave anything for anything. However I do understand when people prefer the look or feel of one type to another depending on their purpose, work or type of photography. My decision are mainly down to costs and availability. Or getting bored of the same look and feel and wanting to try something different.
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Andrea Monti replied:

Comment posted: 14/02/2024

My need for only one system (or two at best) comes from the nature of my work. Sporting events and theatre performances often require the hands to move much faster than the eye. So you have to develop a very high degree of automatism in handling the camera and lens. This pays dividends in terms of the ratio of good shots to bad shots, but the negative consequence is that it locks you into a particular system (or the layout of a particular camera) and makes it difficult to move elsewhere.

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Gary Smith on Pentax – In Praise of Usability of Cameras and Lenses

Comment posted: 14/02/2024

I don't think I've left anything for anything. While I did stop shooting film 50 years ago I have since reacquired both of the film cameras that I started with. I've also kept the digital brands that I've been shooting although I did discard the Panasonic LX100 in favor of a similarly sized Panasonic gx85. Same with my very 1st digital Sony - although I no longer own that model camera I do still own both a Sony APS-C a65 and a FF Sony a7Riii. I've recently added a Leica IIIc and (another) Mamiya m645.
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Andrea Monti replied:

Comment posted: 14/02/2024

As time went on, I took a completely different path. When I realised that I was spending more time maintaining so much equipment to rival a small shop than I was shooting, I decided to go the other way. After all, we can only shoot with one camera at a time, can't we? :)

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