Supersonic Man

January 13, 2013

Q time

Filed under: birds,Photo — Supersonic Man @ 12:45 pm

In WWII they used the term “Q ship” for a fighting ship disguised as an innocent commercial vessel.  In later years, that term got re-used for hot-rod cars that externally appeared to be unenhanced stock vehicles.  Now there’s a Q-ship of a camera… and it’s called the Pentax Q.  It’s a tiny pocket model, the size of a budget point&shoot compact, except it’s an interchangeable lens system.  So it competes with Micro Four Thirds cameras, the Nikon 1 system, and the like, but because of its tiny size, it’s crappier than any of them.

Until, that is, you put the right adapter on it.  Precisely because it’s so undersized, using it with a normal-sized SLR lens suddenly turns it into a monster of extreme telephoto.  A 300mm lens, which in traditional 35mm terms becomes like a 450mm on a typical APS DSLR, will on this camera become equivalent to something like 1650mm.  That’s not a telephoto, that’s a fucking telescope.

The thing is, with all the bird photography I was doing, quite a lot of my shots were being cropped that small already!  Which meant my existing camera was only giving me about one megapixel to work with.  Now I can shoot the same picture with twelve megapixels.  This would be like cropping the middle out of a shot taken with a camera that had a hundred and thirty megapixels.

The main tradeoff is just that I have to use manual focus.  With an LCD for a viewfinder.  So I bought a Q at a cheap closeout price.  (The original model has been replaced with one called the Q10.)

300mm is pretty extreme.  I prefer a more moderate 200mm, I think.  I’ll be looking for old manual-focus prime lenses of that length… hopefully I can come up with something sharp.

Because naturally, that extreme magnification also magnifies every flaw: every optical imperfection of the lens, every faint trace of camera motion, and every minute error of focus.  Shooting with a long lens on this camera is difficult and challenging. To get the noise down and the shutter speed up high enough needs either a very fast lens or full sunlight — so far, I don’t have the former and have had to wait a couple of weeks for the latter.  But fortunately, with good enough light it can be done without a tripod.  (I still recommend a monopod, though.)

There’s really no such thing as a lens that can get full use out of all twelve megapixels on a sensor this small, but I’ll just see how sharp a one I can find.

It’s taken a while but I’m starting to get some halfway decent shots out of it.  This one was taken from a tripod through a window:

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