SMC Pentax-DA* 50-135mm F2.8 ED [IF] SDM Fix / Repair / Workaround

Just like many other Pentax-DA* 50-135mm users out there, I have the SDM issue where the lens will no longer auto focus. While possible to repair yourself (not recommended) I have found a simple work-around that seems to get the lens working. If you listen carefully (ear to the lens body) when you depress the shutter you will hear a high-pitch sound. If you keep pressing the shutter (triggering the auto focus), you may notice the pitch getting higher and higher. I have found after about 15 times, the lens will start to auto focus again. Depending on how much you then use the lens your mileage will vary.

Howto: Water Drop Photography

I had been trying to replicate a photo I saw online recently of a bowl of jellybeans though water drops. Not having a bowl of jellybeans lying around – I cheated. I loaded a picture of jellybeans onto my iPad and used that as a backdrop. Here are a couple of shots:



The main issue I had was getting the water to form beads. This time round I applied Glaco (Similar to RainX) to a different sheet of glass. The water beaded up instantly. This time I used some candles as the backdrop instead of the jellybeans.

 To take photos like this you don’t need much. I made a basic frame using knex, and then placed a clean piece of glass over the top. It did take a while to get the glass clean enough, trust me – its worth spending alot of time getting it perfectly clean. Dust specs and watermarks show up very clearly. I recommend using newspaper to clean and polish the glass.

I used a spray bottle to make the water drops. If you want more control over the layout, try using an eyedropper.

At the bottom of my frame I set up a grid of red and yellow/white candles. I tried a few different patterns, but this looked the most appealing.

I was using macro tubes for the first few photos. After removing them I noticed that I could still focus close enough to get a good shot. So, use them if you need to but check to see if you can achieve the effect without them first.

You will also need a good tripod. I have a Manfrotto that allows you to slide the center column out sideways, making it very easy to aim the camera straight down. Getting the camera position just right is very important if you are using macro tubes. Just a centimeter or so too high/low will put your image out of focus. I used a coin to help getting the camera in focus.

Focusing with a coin.

Single drop with unlit candles.

Single drop with lit candles.

Multiple drops.

Multiple drops with additional light source.

You may also want to adjust the aperture to control the bokeh.

Decisions, Decisions

What to do? Lens or camera body? The opinions of the lovely folks at (forums) indicate the general consensus is that lens > body. I can see the sense in this but why does it still feel like a body upgrade is a better deal?

Enough questions! The choice has been made. I will be getting a new Pentax K5 to replace my (still excellent) K20D. My reasoning is this – with greater ISO performance I can essentially reap the speed benefits of the faster (2.8 etc) lenses by bumping up the ISO. Doing this on the K20 produces easily noticeable noise at ISO levels higher than 400. Obviously it wont be possible to get nice bokeh and that the image quality wont be as good, but for now the body is going to make me happier than a new lens. I hope.

This is not to say I ignored the excellent advice from the guys in the dpreview forums. No! They almost convinced me to change my mind and buy a lens. Originally I was 100% set on the body, but now I am at 40/60. Still, they made a strong argument. The outcome of this discussion basically lead me to look for a temporary second job so I can finance the camera purchase, and hopefully a decent lens too.

For those of you wondering which lens I was considering – I was stuck between two options, the SMC PENTAX DA STAR 200MM F2.8 ED (IF) SDM and the Sigma APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM.

Now the waiting game begins. With the recent takeover of Pentax by Ricoh (Today!) and news about a new camera on the horizon it would only make sense to wait for the price of the K5 to drop further. Here’s to hoping it will be sooner rather than later.


Which would you choose?






HDR Panoramic Test Shot

I really should make an effort to post more. Anyway – I thought this would be the best place to upload my HDR panoramic test shot. I don’t think Picasa or Facebook would be very good for an image with such a high-resolution. After taking a bunch of shots (multiplied by five times for the HDR) the image size came out at a staggering 383 megabytes (23909×2803) and Photoshop was using 7 gigabytes of memory! After bringing it down to a more reasonable resolution and optimizing for web, it came out at 6.8MB.

For those of you on slow connections, you may want to pass on this one. I tried a few different panorama plugins for WordPress to try and make the image scrollable, but none worked very well. WP-PhotoNav came the closest, but it seemed pretty buggy. Not sure if it was the plugin or my theme however. I guess lightbox will have to do for now.

Shooting Smoke

Shooting smoke is fairly simple, the most important factor being light (it always is in photography). Instead of having a fast shutter speed, you will need a flash unit to freeze the smoke.

Depending on what kind of picture you want, and the ‘depth’ of the smoke, you will want to set an aperture between 4 and 8. Also, you want to get the sharpest possible picture, so use ISO 100 or 200. This leaves shutter speed. Similar to when shooting water-drops, the shutter speed isn’t going to matter all that much as the flash will do the job of freezing the photo. What you will need to do with this method, is make sure there is no other source of light, otherwise it will show (because you are using a slower shutter speed) Here are the settings I used when shooting:

ISO: 100
Exposure: 1/180 sec
Aperture: 4.0
Focal Length: 21.3mm
Pentax AF540FGZ Flash
Remote controlled Shutter

Next you will need to set up your smoke source. You will need to be in a room where there is no draft. Incense sticks are relatively easy to use. I tried with a cigar, but found the smoke dissipated fairly quickly. Make sure you have some newspaper down to catch the falling ashes. Also, you may want to use a black sheet as a backdrop.

To get swirls and such in your photos, just swipe a thin stick across the smoke trails. Be creative, you can mould the smoke to any shape given enough time.

Here are some shots I took a while back:


Inverting the photos makes for an interesting change. Add some colour with Photoshop and you have some interesting smoke photos. As simple as that! Keep in mind that you may be taking many, many photos to get one or two good ones. Also, don’t feel that you have to use the recommended settings, this is just one of many ways to take photos of smoke.

TGS2010 Cosplay

Just a few cosplay shots from the 2010 Tokyo Game Show.


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