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Pentax – In Praise of Usability of Cameras and Lenses

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.