Colorado Railroad Museum with the Pentax K3 II (User Review)

Entrance Colorado railroad musuem

Entrance to the Colorado Railroad Museum

There is something special, even magical about trains. Something that harkens back to a time before but persists even still in our modern digital world. I just never seem to get tired of seeing and photographing trains. Talked briefly with one of the Engineer/Mechanics who works there restoring, maintaining and operating the trains and he mentioned the best part of the job was never having to grow up.

The Colorado Railroad Museum is located 12 miles west of downtown Denver. Take Exit 265 off of I-70 on to Colorado Highway 58 and follow the signs. 17155 W. 44th Avenue, Golden, CO 80403 A is like a giant toy box for kids of all ages from 1 to 100. I love visiting here periodically and shooting with a new camera is always a great reason to stop by.

So, with Pentax K3 II plus the new 16-85 zoom lens I decided it would be a great place for some photos and to get to know the new gear. The photos will be about the Colorado Railroad museum but I will also talk about my experiences with the Pentax K3 II.

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An authentic old rail station bench.

The Pentax K3 II is the first DSLR I have shot with since My old Olympus E3 and E510. So it has been a bit of a re-familiarization process, getting used to a full optical viewfinder instead of an EVF. Not a difficult process, but interesting.

Now let me say first that I have no favoritism when it comes to camera brands. I look at each individual camera and measure how it works for me. I had seriously thought before about getting a Pentax K30 or K50 but never did. I knew I did not want to haul around large kits of body, flash and lenses any more. But still I realized that there was still a place for some kind of larger format (APS-C) DSLR in my world.

My last Pentax was the LX DSLR film camera and that was quite some time ago. So while I have watched them fail and watched them succeed, I just never took the big leap until now. There was just something about the Pentax K3 II and the new 16-85 lens that said “YES”. I must be honest when I say, the transition has had its share of glitches. But I most admit that most of those glitches were my human error. The more I work with the K3 II, the more comfortable it gets.

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There is no doubt that Pentax “walks their own road” or perhaps I should say “rides their own rail”.   They have had some incredible successes and miserable failures, but the K3 II I am pretty certain will be one of the really great successes.  The one thing you can say for certain is that since the very early Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic, they have not been afraid to try something new.  Personally I think that their purchase by Ricoh has been a very beneficial thing.

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Inside the engine housing. Notice it doesn’t look anything like the Hollywood movies.

The first thing I have been doing is getting familiar with all of the controls, buttons, switches and where they are. Trying to remember where to go is the hardest part of learning the camera. In some instances however there may be more than one way to get to the same result. The menu system has not been a big problem for me. While rather “plain” it is easier than many to understand and to navigate. A little awkward at first, but a few times through the menus and it is already almost second nature. Struggled with the GPS at first which was frustrating but in the end found I was doing a few things backward. Once I got it sorted out though, (mostly user error) it worked fine …. but, when I uploaded files to Lightroom 6 they didn’t show the GPS info in the EXIF.

Google time, I figured! Sure enough other users had encountered the same problem. Turned out that my copyright and info preset, was over writing the GPS info in the meta data. A few minutes to redo the preset and voila, it all worked.  I have to admit, built-in GPS was one of the things that really got my attention and encouraged me to get the Pentax K3 II.   I know some people lament the loss of the built-in flash, but I have to be honest, for my purposes, which is travel photography, the GPS is far more useful and more likely to be used.  I can probably count on one hand, the number of times that I used built-in flash and was satisfied with the results.   Usually ended up using an external flash if it was important anyway.   To that end, I did pick up the Pentax AF540FGZ II flash as well.  I considered seriously the 360FZ model to save money but with some of the deals on the internet (Amazon and B&H) there wasn’t that much difference in price and quite a bit more power.  Again, there are more times I lamented not having enough flash power then I lamented not having a flash built-in.  But that is just me.

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Yep, that’s an old coal burner.

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You've heard the saying, black as coal, well coal is not the easiest thing to photograph but I think the K3 II did a pretty fine job of it.

You’ve heard the saying, black as coal, well coal is not the easiest thing to photograph as it can really soak up the light, but I think the K3 II did a pretty fine job of it.

There is still a lot for me to learn about the Pentax K3 II, so I will reserve any final judgements until I have had time to really get to know it better.  Kind of like finding a new girlfriend or wife.  You have to learn how to communicate with each other if the relationship is going to work.  So far, I’m off to a good start with the K3 II.  Really like how it feels in my hands, and it is just a matter of my understanding it.

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This one is quite the oddball, It was a full grade engine, that was modified to accommodate narrow gauge mountain tracks. Take a close look at the narrow center rails in front and how far the engine extends on both sides of the rails. I believe that is the largest narrow gauge engine ever made and used.

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The Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Rail engine. there are geared tracks for it to go up and down the mountain on. Underneath a big engine powered COG gear pulls the train up the mountain and slowly lets it back down.

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WHAT I LIKE.

  • Well built and solid.
  • Weather Sealing.  An astounding 92 different seals.  Pentax does weather sealing as good as any.
  • Ergonomics is a very personal feeling, but I am really liking the feel of the the Pentax K3 II.
  • Decent viewfinder.
  • Functional and useful in most ways.  Easy to handle.
  • Pretty good Live View.
  • Real good Image Quality.  Very nice colors most of the time.
  • Great RAW files that I can really pull big amounts of highlight and shadow detail without a lot of issues.
  • It works, and works.  Most operational controls make sense,
  • Still Image Quality is awesome
  • Really like the 16-85 WR lens.  Admittedly it is slow, but the image quality for the price is exceptional.   All photos taken with that one lens.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE QUITE SO MUCH

  • Wow!  So many buttons scattered all over the body.  Nice i some ways but taking a long time to get used to them all.
  • RAW buffer seems a bit slow.  Also JPEG seems slow after doing HDR or Pixel Shift images.
  • My own ability to keep up with all the latest changes.  Okay, that is me thing, not a camera thing.
  • Pixel shift and HDR modes are slower then the industry average and slower then the Olympus EM5 Mark II.  (not a big thing but worth noting)
  • FLU Card.  It works, but is probably one of the least elegant solutions.  Lacks decent remote control software.
  • Some of the operational controls are a bit odd.  Not quite the market norm
  • Video is not so good.  Well behind the curve, but Pentax isn’t the only one.  Just one more thing for them to improve in their own unique way.

Well enough of that for now.  If I think of anything else, I might do an additional right up. Tomorrow just going to take the camera out, weather permitting (the camera is weather proof but I am not so much so any more.).

So here are the rest of the photos.  Enjoy!  Feel free to ask questions (I may or may not have answers), comment, or just share your own stories.

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92 weather seals. Most all of the Pentax have exceptional weather sealing and resistance, as do a growing number of their lenses.

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Thanks for looking.  ~David  — Thoughts, comments, and respectful criticisms are all welcome.  

 

Oh, and for those looking for a technical review of the Pentax K3 II check out EPhotoZine’s review  

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