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Transitioning from film to digital-- what should I look for?

Lauren Butero , Nov 08, 2011; 02:07 a.m.

Hey everyone--
I admit, I need some help and am probably going to ask the thoroughly annoying questions.
I've been shooting film for about 10 years and have recently decided to make the move to digital.
My trusty film camera is a Pentax K-1000. I have two bodies and generally keep each loaded with different film (speed, ect.). I also have an old Minolta which was passed down from a family member, but I really love my Pentex.
I generally shoot b&w film and process my own whenever possible.
Unfortunately, I took a new job in a rural area and no longer have access to a darkroom (nor a lab that will process true B&W film), nor is there any way to accommodate my own equipment. I'm also interested in getting involved with a little freelance travel photography and possibly gallery work and am finding more and more that most publications expect digital submissions.
I've done a lot of research into DSLRs, but I am still not sure what would be the best for me.
I live in Colorado at high altitude and often travel to 10,000-plus feet in elevation, which I have found impacts my equipment choices when it comes to shooting film. I find the sun is just stronger here, and I often struggle to work within the range the Pentax w/ a 50 mm lens can handle without blowing out photos when shooting in anything other than ideal morning/evening light. I also often sacrifice a shallower depth of field for the same reason. I learned to shoot in CO, but I noticed the difference when I moved down to 3,000 feet, and I had to adjust my shooting style and how I was metering. Now I am back in the Centennial State.
On the other hand, I also shoot a lot of low light and time exposures, so that is important to me too.
I might be considered a borderline adventure photographer. During the summer I spend most of my weekends in the mountains or on other short trips. My camera goes hiking, it goes to the lake. For that reason, I do a lot of hand holding.
Most of my photography fits into two categories--- landscape and close-ups/macro. I'm having problems understanding how sensor size is going to impact how I shoot these two subjects. I don't shoot much action or wildlife. I know that almost any DSLR is going to out preform my Pentax, especially in those areas. It isn't that I don't want the capabilities, as I would like to be able to experiment and play around, but my main concern is having a camera that is going to do what I want it to do as well or better than the 35 mm I've been shooting, and that the transition from my Pentax to the new DSLR isn't going to throw a complete wrench in my shooting.
I would appreciate any advice.


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Mike Earussi , Nov 08, 2011; 06:06 a.m.

What's your price range? Since you already have Pentax lenses a K5 at $1,150 might be your best bet since, with its waterproof body, it works well under all conditions. But if that's too expensive then the Kr at $600 is about the best buy for the money on the dslr market. But any good dslr will work.

mark kittleson , Nov 08, 2011; 07:50 a.m.

Hi Lauren!
I second Mike's respsonse. However...this can rapidly turn into a "Chevy vs Dodge" post. If you are familiar with the Pentax stuff (which obviously you are) I would go down that road. For what type of shooting you mentioned virtually any camera brand will do. If you don't own a tripod, get one. Your budget (and imagination) will be your limit. Also ask questions regarding software for post processing. It is easy to get caught up in the neverending "what camera/lens" should I buy? If you are on a limited budget I would simply start out with a basic camera, a two lens kit and start shooting!
I would NOT recommend ditching the K1000 yet. I personally shoot film in tandem with my digi stuff. IMHO I personally like the results of TriX and HP5 gives me. Obviously if you have been developing your own BW you know that there is little or no equipment involved.
I hope this helps and I wish you well!

Andrew Gilchrist , Nov 08, 2011; 09:23 a.m.

I can also suggest you don't discount Pentax for a digital SLR. The company continues to have a general commitment to compact, rugged gear with good ergonomics and the current K-5 or K-r both have plenty to offer. As for dealing with harsh high-altitude sun, at least with digital you'll be able to review the exposure immediately, bracket exposures at little additional cost, etc. You can also cut the light with neutral-density filters or circular polarizers. Another factor is the ability to change ISO on-demand in-camera. I believe the K-5 has a mode with lower-than-most ISO 80. As far as dealing with harsh light/high contrast, digital also opens you up to a number of techniques including multiple-exposure high-dynamic- range processing (HDR). While this technique is sometimes used to produce garish surreal effect, if applied with a delicate touch it can still look very natural and overcome some of the equipment's shortcomings for recording wide spread of highlight-to-shadow.

Simon Hickie - Melbourne, Derbyshire, UK , Nov 08, 2011; 09:37 a.m.

For landscapes, you might want a lens in the 12-24mm range with a K5, depending on the sorts of landscapes you do of course. For macro, the Pentax / Tokina 100mm is well regarded.

Dave Redmann , Nov 08, 2011; 09:55 a.m.

My trusty film camera is a Pentax K-1000. . . . I find the sun is just stronger here, and I often struggle to work within the range the Pentax w/ a 50 mm lens can handle without blowing out photos . . . .

Definitely follow up on Andrew's suggestion--look into neutral density and/or polarizing filters (just make sure you get a "circular" polarizer, as some cameras won't function correctly with regular ones). Yes, such a filter will also make the viewfinder darker, but if you're in conditions that are that bright, it should not be a big problem.

Also, am I correct in thinking that the K-1000's maximum shutter speed is 1/1000 s? If so, then some of the good news is that pretty much any DSLR will have a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 s or faster. So if, say, you were shooting Tri-X in really bright conditions and you could not open up past f/16 because of a 1/1000 s maximum shutter speed, now you can open up to f/8 and shoot at 1/4000 s. And of course, in a moment you can drop down from ISO 400 to ISO 100 (with most DSLR's) and shoot at f/4 at 1/4000 s.

A Pentax DSLR should allow you to use your existing lenses. However, IMOPO, if using legacy lenses is not a big issue and you want a traditional DSLR, Nikon has the best lineup today. But lots of companies make interesting products, and reasonable cases can be made for Canon, Sony, Pentax, and others, and for interchangeable lens cameras that are not DSLR's.

Frank Mueller , Nov 08, 2011; 10:53 a.m.

What Pentax lenses do you own? If you have lots of expensive Pentax glass already, then buying a Pentax DSLR would seem like a no-brainer.

If that is not the case, I am sure everybody but Dave Redmann will agree that Canon has the best lineup in DSLRs today. Just kidding of course, but as a Canon shooter, how could I leave a statement about Nikon's alleged superiority undisputed? ;-)

Lauren Butero , Nov 08, 2011; 03:02 p.m.

I am not concerned about my investment in lenses. Several years ago when I was living on the border I had a break-in in my home and most of my more expensive lenses were damaged by the thief. I had them locked up and I have a feeling he was a bit disappointed when he found all that glass instead of cash/jewelry, ect. I still have two cheaper korean lenses (a Vivitar 35-70mm, and an Albinar 80-200mm) and the two Pentax 50 mms that I had on my bodies. I was on a pack trip when the break in happened and was more worried about the beating my equipment might take strapped on a horse in the mountains.
Anyway, I guess one of the big problems I am having is figuring out how sensor size is going to impact how I shoot.
Of course, then we have to get into Nikon vs. Canon vs. ? --- I haven't had a chance to get a feel for manufacturers other than the big two. Honestly, I liked the way the Nikon felt in my hand, but I worry about the extra weight that the bodies tend to have. Most of my photog friends shoot Canon though.

mark kittleson , Nov 08, 2011; 04:46 p.m.

Lauren, just a casual reminder..... sensor size considerations...FX (in Nikon) Full Frame..DX crop sensor...will mostly impact Telephoto vs Wide Angle. Will get more reach on Tele glass with the DX...Less WAngle and Vice Versa with FX.
Obviously Full Frame will be bigger coin.....but if you are re-arming yourself with lenses and a new system your lens choice can certainly be impacted by the FX/DX consideration....

Bill Tuthill , Nov 08, 2011; 10:19 p.m.

If you don't care about your Pentax lenses, you have a clean slate, so why buy a DSLR? The Fuji X10 gives you a faster lens (28-112 film equivalent) with more DOF control than any 18-55 kit lens (27-82 film equivalent). The X10 would be easy to carry, fine for landcapes, and it has macro mode that eliminates the need to carry a separate lens.

Tests are not in yet, but the F200EXR had about one stop more highlight range (in DR 400% mode) than any DSLR except Fuji's own S5 etc. The X10 should be similar. This might help you at high altitude in Colorado.

If you have GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) and would miss the joy of buying new lenses and accessories, my suggestion is a bad one, so please ignore. You said nothing about bird and wildlife photography, or sports, which are (if you ask me) the only remaining advantages of the DSLR.

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