Sound Decision:: On this glorious day I was lucky I had the time to drop everything and travel into Fahnestock State Park, 10 min from my studio, instead of having to commute into NYC as I had for over 13 years (4 hours a day commuting? Was I crazy?) As I got off the Taconic Parkway and headed West on Rt. 301, I had to carefully drive under several fallen power lines (see last photo in slide show), but once I did I was the only photographer in sight for the next 2 hours as I traveled around to some of my favorite locations. As I made my way into the forest, the sound of the ice cracking on the branches with every tiny breeze was unlike anything I’d ever heard. (A photographer-friend of mine who raced to the park when I called him from my cell phone described it as a forest full of popping rice crispies!) I was able to record that sound using the K-5’s built in microphone (check out the video above.), but the external stereo mic I left behind in my car would have been a better choice. Compared to the K-7, the K-5 captures video with fewer obvious metering “jumps” as you pan around a scene with lots of brightness shifts. It also allows you to record in FULL HD 1080p at 25fps, while the K-7 crops in to a 2:3 aspect ration in HD. Compared to many competitive HD SLRs, the K-5’s built in image stabilization in video mode is a real blessing for those who don’t have a tripod available. And more than once I noticed how wet the camera had gotten from melting ice, but that’s another reason I took the K-5 with me. It and the lens are weather-sealed, and had no problems dealing with the moisture from above. Can’t say the same about my leather jacket.
Pentax K-5 Auto HDR Modes: I mentioned earlier that I had chosen the Pentax K-5 to shoot this ice storm, and was very interested in checking out its new Auto-HDR (high dynamic range) feature. In Auto-HDR mode, (which can only be set after selecting JPEG mode and not RAW), the camera takes three quick exposures–under, normal, and over– and then combines them into one JPEG. If you hold the camera steady during the exposures, and your shutter speed is fast enough, the results are quite good, with sharp images showing increased shadow and highlight details compared to regular JPEGs, especially in high contrast scenes. To prevent any motion blur, I’d suggest using a tripod. In either case, there are two slight drawbacks to using the Auto-HDR mode: first, it takes several seconds to process the three images into one, during which time you can’t take any other pictures. Second, you wind up with a good 8-bit JPEG and not a 16-bit Raw file (it would be a great improvement, or FIRMWARE UPGRADE, if the camera could combine three exposures and save them as a 16-bit TIFF file!) Back in my studio, I was able to process the RAW files (saved as DNG format in the camera) into slightly better images than captured by the camera in Auto-HDR mode, while retaining higher bit depth and image control. Although I have to say that bright snow patches (highlights) looked extremely good in the auto-HDR images, possibly due to the extent of underexposure in the three shot sequence. I also have to admit that it took more time in post processing to get the images I wanted from RAW files than the few seconds I had to wait for Auto-HDR to do its magic. That said, I’d still rather spend time in post processing a RAW file than miss a shot in the field waiting for the camera to free up.