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The Best Lens Options for Your Pentax DSLR

So if you are like me, you own a Pentax DSLR. You love your camera but the lens selection is paltry compared to Canon or Nikon and of course you hear photographers tells you that there isn’t the good glass to go with Pentax.  Even many local camera shops don’t have a great section despite them selling a lot of Pentax K-3 and K-5 IIs cameras in the last year.  

So what do you do?  First of all you take a look around online and see what is there.  If you are reading this page, there is a good chance that you are doing just that.  To help you with your search, I have listed around 25 lenses that would all make great additions to any photographers bag.

If you have no idea which lens you want to purchase, ask your local camera shop for advice or check out this video from Pentax.

Ricoh has more about the available Pentax lenses here.

So the next time someone tells you there are not great lenses for the Pentax cameras, remind them of what is out there.  There is some amazing and professional quality glass for your camera.

Each link on the post goes to Amazon.com which offers you some purchasing options and price for each lens.  Since lens price is often moving, it’s easier to check them out there.

Normal Lenses: In photography and cinematography, a normal lens is a lens that reproduces a field of view that generally looks “natural” to a human observer under normal viewing conditions, as compared with lenses with longer or shorter focal lengths which produce an expanded or contracted field of view that distorts the perspective when viewed from a normal viewing distance.

Pentax 35mm DA L F2.4 AL

Pentax 35mm DA L F2.4 AL

This versatile Pentax 35mm DA L F2.4 AL Lens is considered a standard, normal focal length lens for the Pentax DSLRs it was designed for, but it’s a great lens to own, even if you only have one lens. This 35mm lens (equivalent to 52.5mm in 35mm format) is ideal for family photos, portraits, landscapes and a lot more. The fast f2.4 maximum aperture helps you get pictures even in low-light situations, and it provides high-resolution images with edge-to-edge sharpness. An aspherical lens element helps to compensate for spherical aberration to maximize image quality, and PENTAX Super Protect (SP) coating helps repel dust, water, and grease–making the lens easier to clean.

35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Lens

35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Lens

The 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Lens for Pentax DSLR Cameras from Sigma is the first entry into Sigma’s Art series of professional lenses, with an emphasis on artistic expression and the creative potential of the lens. With a bright f/1.4 maximum aperture, floating inner focusing system, and Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) you’ll have quick and accurate control over the artistic effects achieved by the lens’ high quality elements.

For wide angle photography, this 35mm lens and its circular 9-bladed f/1.4 aperture ensure excellent brightness and blurred background (bokeh) effects. The Super Multi-Layer Coating reduces flare and ghosting and provides sharp and high contrast images even in backlit conditions.

The lens’ Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) and floating inner focusing system ensure that you experience quick, quiet and precise autofocusing whenever you need it. Adjust focus using either autofocus (AF), or full-time manual focus, without having to switch camera modes or change settings – just flick the switch from AF to MF.

For greater build quality and strength, all metallic parts and the new Thermally Stable Composite compound material (TSC), are housed internally. Its brass made bayonet mount has both high accuracy and durability, and a special treatment is applied to its surface giving it greater strength and making it highly resistant to long-term daily use.

Pentax smc DA 50mm f/1.8 Lens

Pentax smc da 50mm f1.8

The smc DA 50mm f/1.8 Lens from Pentax is a fast and inexpensive f/1.8 lens for cameras with a Pentax K mount. Mounted to a camera with an APS-C sensor, this lens gives an angle of view equivalent to a 76.5mm telephoto lens–ideal for portraits. The wide f/1.8 aperture makes this an essential lens for working in low light, and it also delivers beautiful bokeh (the out-of-focus portion of a photograph). This lightweight (4.3 oz) lens is very compact–just 1.5″ (3.8 cm) long. 

Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4 Autofocus Lens

Pentax 50mm f/1.4 Lens.png

A standard lens for Pentax autofocus cameras with a bright f/1.4 aperture.  The SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4 is an excellent choice for lowlight handheld photography, and effectively becomes a brilliant short telephoto portrait lens when used with your Pentax DSLR.  The Pentax Super Multi Coating process provides the highest possible transmission of light.

Portrait Lenses: a prime lens with a relatively high aperture and usually a means for softening definition in taking portraits

Pentax 55mm f/1.4 DA* SDM Autofocus Lens

Pentax 55mm f/1.4 SDM Lens

The Pentax 55mm f/1.4 DA* SDM Autofocus Lens is a compact and bright short-telephoto lens of the highest order, made exclusively for Pentax digital SLR cameras.  In a stocky housing ready for harsh conditions, you’ll get a bright f/1.4 aperture-worlds away from the experience you’re used to with more common zooms-that opens up new creative doors to you as a photographer.

This lens was born to shoot between f/1.4 and f/2.8, and comes with a 9-bladed aperture diaphragm which shows up as perfectly round when you stay between f/1.4-2.8.  Shoot dramatic portraits with bright point light sources behind the subject, and you’ll be dazzled with lovely diffuse, circular out-of-focus highlights that make everybody look better.  Beyond portraits, this lens works well any time you would use a moderate telephoto focal length.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens

Sigma 85mm f/1.4.jpg

When you need a medium-telephoto standard lens for everything from portraiture to sports, the fast Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens for Pentax Digital SLRs is a great solution. This large aperture beauty is designed with an SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass element and a glass mold element which yield first-class, sharp image captures with high contrast.

The 85mm f/1.4 has Sigma’s HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) which provides fast, accurate and quiet autofocusing. The exterior of this lens is EX-finished which translates to a superior build and optical quality, enhanced handling and appearance. It comes with a petal-type hood to block out extraneous light. A dedicated hood adapter for cameras with an APS-C size image sensor is also included to expand the length of the hood for blocking out extraneous light more effectively.

This fast f/1.4 lens is great for capturing fast moving images, allowing you to use faster shutter speeds, and is what you want when shooting under low lighting conditions. This highly efficient lens has a nine blade circular diaphragm for creating pleasant out-of-focus highlights (bokeh) which is a major asset to portrait and wedding photographers.

Short Telephoto Lenses

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Lens

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 ART lens

The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Lens for Pentax is a wide-angle to normal-length zoom lens that features a fast, bright constant f/1.8 maximum aperture. It is specifically designed for use with APS-C-sized sensors and provides a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 27-52.5mm.

The lens integrates four aspherical elements into its construction as well as five Special Low Dispersion (SLD) glass elements to help minimize various aberrations and distortions throughout the zoom range as well as provide greater image sharpness and clarity. A Super Multi-Layer Coating has also been applied to lens elements to reduce surface reflections, lens flare, and ghosting to produce images with higher contrast and color fidelity. The lens barrel design is constructed from a Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) material that is akin to metal in texture and resistance to temperature and environmental changes while also remaining lightweight and compact. An internal focusing and zooming mechanism also helps to maintain a compact and consistent overall length and non-rotating front ring also better enables the use of circular polarizing filters. For control of focus, a Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) is used to ensure fast, precise, and quiet focusing capabilities that are well suited to continuous shooting and movie recording.

This lens is part of Sigma’s Art line; deeming it well-suited to creative image making due to its large, constant f/1.8 maximum aperture and ability to produce aesthetic bokeh by way of a nine-blade circular diaphragm. The range of focal lengths it covers, from wide-angle to normal-length, is nicely situated for everyday and artistic shooting applications.

Pentax DA* 16-50mm f/2.8ED AL [IF] SDM Lens 

Pentax 16-50 f/2.8 lens

 

Pentax DA* 16-50mm f/2.8ED AL [IF] SDM Lens is a high-quality bright f/2.8 lens. This lens brings together advanced optical technologies, including aspherical elements, special optical-glass elements, and original lens coatings. It offers a versatile ultra-wide to medium-telephoto zoom range, and can be used as the ideal standard zoom lens in a wide variety of applications, including landscape, snapshot and portrait.

Walk Around Lens

I love a good walk around lens.  There are times when I don’t know what I am going to expect when I go out with my camera .  I could be shooting wide or long.  The quality may not be as good as a prime but sometimes you need more versatility than you need sharpness or low light performance.

Pentax SMC DA 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 ED AL (IF) DC WR Lens

Pentax 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 WR Lens

You may already have this lens.  It’s offered in some kits as an alternative to the 18-55 lens.  If you have the option of getting it, make sure you do as it is well worth the price.  If it doesn’t come in a kit, you may want to consider picking it up.  It’s got a decent range, is decently sharp, and is weather resistant.  It offers a focal length that is equivalent (in 35mm format) from 27.5 to 207mm. This wide coverage is ideal for a variety of telephoto applications, including portraiture, sports and scenery.

The image circle in DA-series lenses is designed to perfectly match the 23.5mm x 15.7mm size of the CCD used in Pentax digital SLRs to optimize camera performance. This design also contributes to a drastic reduction in size, weight and production cost compared to 35mm-format counterparts with similar specifications.

Pentax DA (DA-Star) zoom lenses come equipped with the SDM System, which assures smoother, quieter auto-focusing operation by using a built-in supersonic motor. Like all Pentax lenses, this lens is treated with smc coating for maximum light transmission, sharp definition, and high contrast images.

Tamron AF 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 XR Di-II LD Aspherical (IF) MACRO 

Tamron 18-200mm Zoom Lens for Pentax DSLRs.jpg

The Tamron AF18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 XR Di-II LD Aspherical (IF) MACRO is a high power zoom lens designed exclusively for digital SLR cameras using the more compact (APS-C) digital size image sensors. The focal length of this lens is equivalent to approx. 28-300mm in 35mm format.

Designed as an “all-in-one” lens, it will meet almost all photographic opportunities without changing lenses.

The 18-200mm zoom lens realizes an MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) of 1.5′ (45 cm) over the entire zoom range by the employment of a new optical/mechanical design configuration. Since the maximum magnification ratio at f=200mm is 1:3.7, you can enjoy close-up photography easily and conveniently.

Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC Macro HSM Lens

Sigma 18-250mm walk around lens for Pentax DSLR

The 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC Macro HSM from Sigma is an incredibly versatile lens that is a real jack-of-all-trades lens you can carry in any situation. With a focal length spanning from a wide-angle 18mm up to a 250 mm telephoto zoom, with macro capabilities to boot, Sigma’s 18-250mm could easily be your camera’s first all-in-one lens, or a great replacement for several smaller lenses that you’re looking to consolidate.

Sigma redesigned the optical and structural design of this lens in order to achieve a relatively compact size, at 4.0″ long, as well as a close minimum focusing distance of 13.8″ for macro photography. Their Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) construction maintains the structure of the lens, with little variation despite changing temperatures. The lens also incorporates a brass-made bayonet mount, to further reinforce the lenses durability and resistance to wear and tear over time.

The minimum focusing distance is the same throughout the focal length of the entire zoom range, and provides a maximum magnification ratio of 1:2.9. As an added benefit over fixed focal length macro lenses, the size and framing of subjects can quickly and easily be adjusted by rotating the zoom ring. For even further convenience, at each focusing distance on the side of the lens barrel, the maximum magnification ratio is also displayed.

For high image quality, you know you’ve got to have high quality glass, and Sigma has incorporated their Special Low Dispersion (SLD) glass element into the 18-250mm. In addition to the SLD element, three aspherical lenses, including a double-sided aspherical lens, have been used in the lens’ construction–offering excellent correction of color aberration, for better clarity and quality of images throughout the zoom range.

A Super Multi-Layer Coating has also been employed to reduce flare and ghosting with this lens. This makes it resistant to strong incident light, such as backlight behind a subject, providing sharper, high contrast images even shooting into a light source. To prevent internal reflections from occurring, the included petal-type lens hood can be attached in order to block out extraneous light.

For a lens that offers a wide-angle to telephoto focal length, and the ability to zoom-in with macro photography, Sigma’s 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC Macro HSM made for Pentax cameras is more than a match. Whether you’re on a macro product shoot, a walk in the park, or have a wedding to go to, this lens will help you shoot high quality images in any situation.

Pentax smc DA 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 ED SDM Lens

Pentax smc 18 270mm lens 1 1358880197

The Pentax smc Pentax-DA 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 ED SDM Lens is an all-encompassing zoom lens, featuring a 15x zoom rangefrom a wide 18mm to a long 270mm (equivalent to 27.5-414mm in 35mm format). Benefitting the long reach of this lens, two extra-low dispersion elements have been incorporated into the lens construction to help reduce chromatic aberration and improve overall image clarity. A minimum focus distance of 1.6′ across the entire zoom range also makes this lens an effective tool for macro and close-up work.

Telephoto Lens: In photography and cinematography, a telephoto lens is a specific type of a long-focus lens in which the physical length of the lens is shorter than the focal length. This is achieved by incorporating a special lens group known as a telephoto group that extends the light path to create a long-focus lens in a much shorter overall design. The angle of view and other effects of long-focus lenses are the same for telephoto lenses of the same specified focal length. Long-focal-length lenses are often informally referred to as telephoto lenses although this is technically incorrect: a telephoto lens specifically incorporates the telephoto group.

Telephoto lenses are sometimes broken into the further sub-types of medium telephoto: lenses covering between a 30° and 10° field of view (85mm to 135mm in 35mm film format), and super telephoto: lenses covering between 8° through less than 1° field of view (over 300mm in 35mm film format).

Pentax HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4-5.8 ED WR Lens

Pentax 55-300mm f/4.8 WR Lens

The HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4-5.8 ED WR Lens from Pentax is a portrait-length to telephoto zoom lens that provides a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 84.5-460mm. This extensive zoom range is complemented by the inclusion of two extra-low dispersion glass elements, which work to minimize chromatic aberrations and enhance overall image sharpness and clarity. A high-grade multi-layer HD coating has been applied to lens elements to help minimize flare and ghosting for enhanced contrast and, additionally, an SP Protect coating has also been applied to the front lens element to effectively protect it from dirt, oil, and finger prints.

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM

Sigma 70-100 f/2.8 lens for Pentax DSLR cameras

The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM for Pentax is the second generation of large-aperture telephoto zoom lenses incorporating Sigma’s OS (Optical Stabilizer) anti-shake system. It offers the equivalent of shooting at shutter speeds 3 to 4 stops slower than without OS, thus allowing handheld telephoto zoom shooting even in poorly lit conditions. Its HSM ensures quiet and high speed AF as well as full-time manual focusing.

It features a large maximum aperture of f/2.8 that remains constant throughout the zoom range, making it incredibly valuable when shooting in low light situations such as weddings or other events. It is also great when shooting fast-moving subjects such as sports, when fast shutter speeds are needed to capture fleeting moments. The 70-200mm f/2.8 is fast and versatile and at a length of 7.8 (19.8cm) will be a tool that seldom sees the inside of your camera bag. The lens comes with a petal-type lens hood plus an adapter to extend its length for users with APS-c cameras.

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD (IF) Macro AF Lens

Tamron 70 200 lens


The Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD (IF) Macro Lens is a telephoto zoom lens that has a large maximum aperture of f/2.8 which remains constant throughout the zoom range. It also offers an excellent “close-focusing-distance” minimum of just 3.1′ (0.95 m) throughout its entire zoom range, with a maximum macro magnification ratio of 1:3.1 at f=200mm. When mounted on an APS-C sensor size digital SLR camera, it provides a focal length equivalent of 105-300mm.

The advantage that the Tamron has over the Sigma is cost.  While it lacks image stabilization, your Pentax camera has that built into the body which means that you don’t need it.  This lets you save the money and still get great performance in that distance.

Sigma 50-500mm F/4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM Lens

Sigma 50-500mm lens for Pentax DSLR cameras

This Sigma 50-500mm F/4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM Lens for Pentax covers a lot of ground. The 10x zoom can be used on everything from landscape and portrait photos to sports action and wildlife photography. It uses 4 Special Low Dispersion (SLD) glass elements for optimum color correction and sharpness through the entire zoom range, and a Hyper-Sonic Motor (HSM) provides quiet and high-speed auto focusing. The Optical Stabilization (OS) system allows you to use the lens even off a tripod to capture sharp, clear photos.

This 50-500mm lens is designed for use with Pentax DSLR cameras–with an APS-C-sized sensor, the effective zoom range is approximately 75-750mm in 35mm equivalent.

While around $500 more than the Sigma 150 to 500, it is slightly sharper so keep that in mind when you are considering which one to get.

Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM APO Autofocus Lens for Pentax

Sigma 150-500mm lens for Pentax DSLR cameras

This Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM APO Lens for Pentax is for digital SLR cameras with a Pentax K lens mount. It is an ultra telephoto zoom lens ideal for nature, wildlife, or sports photography. This zoom range translates into an equivalent range of 225-750mm when used with digital SLR cameras with an APS size sensor.

The OS (Optical Stabilizer) system minimizes image blur caused by camera shake, and offers the equivalent of shooting at a shutter speed 3-4 stops faster. This allows handheld telephoto zoom shooting even in poorly lit conditions.

The use of the OS (Optical Stabilizer) system, HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor), APO apochromatic design, three elements of SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass, and multicoated optics all enable this lens to provide a high level of performance throughout its entire zoom range, as well as versatility. A rear focus system insures quick, convenient manual focus and a non-rotating front barrel.

The improved DG lens design corrects for various aberrations. This lens is specially coated to get the best color balance, while cutting down on ghosting caused by reflections from the digital image sensor. The lens provides the utmost correction against lateral chromatic aberration, which is a serious problem for digital SLR cameras.

Pentax SMCP-DA* 300mm f/4 ED (IF) SDM Autofocus Lens for Digital SLR

Pentax smc DA 300mm F4 ED IF SDM

The Pentax SMCP-DA* 300mm f/4 ED (IF) SDM Lens is a high-quality telephoto lens that is designed for exclusive use with Pentax digital SLR cameras. It offers a focal length that is equivalent (in 35mm format) to 450mm. This wide coverage is ideal for a variety of telephoto applications, including portraiture, sports and scenery.

Pentax DA* (DA-Star) zoom lenses come equipped with the SDM System, which assures smoother, quieter auto-focusing operation by using a built-in supersonic motor. When mounted on the K10D digital SLR camera body, the focus mode is automatically switched to SDM-assisted auto-focusing. When mounted on older Pentax digital SLR camera bodies, the conventional autofocus mode using a camera-mounted motor is selected.

Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO Autofocus Lens

Sigma 500mm f/4.5 lens for Pentax DSLR

This Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO lens is an Apochromatic ultra-telephoto lens with a fast f/4.5 maximum aperture, and it incorporates two ELD (Extraordinary Low Dispersion) glass elements to reduce chromatic aberration to a minimum. Internal focus enables responsive and fast autofocus speed.

The improved DG lens design corrects for various aberrations. This lens is specially coated to get the best color balance whilst cutting down on ghosting caused by reflections from the digital image sensor. The lens provides the utmost correction against lateral chromatic aberration which is a serious problem for digital SLR cameras. 

By adding the optional Sigma APO teleconverter, you can use this lens as a 700mm f/6.3 MF ultra-telephoto lens with a 1.4x EX teleconverter, or as a 1000mm f/9 MF ultra-telephoto lens with a 2x teleconverter.

Macro

Pentax smc Pentax-D FA 100mm f/2.8 WR Macro Lens

Pentax DA FA Macro 100mm f2 8 WR


Optimized for DSLRs and compatible with film SLR cameras, the smc PENTAX-D FA 100mm f/2.8 WR Macro Lens is constructed with an aluminum housing and 6 weather seals (thus the WR designation) so you can shoot in almost any environment without risking internal damage to the lens. Optical elements are treated with the Pentax Super Protect multi-layer coating to lower surface reflection, reduce ultraviolet rays, and deliver clear, high-contrast images. Plus, the configurations of its optical elements produce crisp, sharp images with no flare and ghosting. It also features a “Quick Shift” focusing system which allows you to easily switch between manual and AF modes.

Achieving life-size (1:1) magnification, this macro lens is ideal for the close-up photography including, but not limited to, nature, technical, medical or product applications. It is also great for portraiture. Its 8 rounded diaphragm blade configuration assists in producing out-of-focus areas of your images with a pleasing look.

Wide Angle Lens: The terms “wide-angle” and “telephoto” are based on the different angles of view they provide when compared with a normal lens. A wide-angle lens captures a wider angle of view than a normal lens does. There is no single wide-angle lens, but rather a variety of lenses that give wider and wider angles of view, some of which are classified as super or ultra wide-angle lenses, and the widest of all – fish-eye lenses. Lenses considered to be wide-angle include the 35 mm, 28 mm and 24 mm varieties, with the 28 mm being the “standard” wide-angle lens. Super wide angle lenses then take over, and run from 20 mm to about 13 mm.

Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC J Autofocus Lens

Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens for Pentax DSLR cameras

The Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC lens offers a super-wide zoom solution to digital cameras, and was exclusively designed to suit the characteristics of digital SLR cameras. The super wide-angle capability of this zoom lens (equivalent range of approx. 15-30mm when used with a Pentax digital SLR camera makes it a very powerful tool for both indoor and landscape photography.

Where the Wild Things Die

From Foreign Policy

South Africa is home to roughly 80 percent of the world’s remaining rhinos, which number about 20,405 white rhinos and 5,055 black rhinos, according to conservation group Save the Rhino. But that population is in danger of imminent collapse due to a recent, dramatic increase in poaching. This is fueled by Asia’s reinvigorated appetite for the animal’s horn, prized for its alleged curative properties and mark of wealth; rampant corruption in South Africa; and soaring international prices on the black market. As a result, there is a multimillion-dollar global conservation war that stretches across southern Africa. And de Rosner is a mere foot soldier in the battle against these nighttime killers. “We do something — they adapt. They do something — we adapt,” he says, squinting in the midday heat. “They’re watching us as much as we’re watching them.”

Flickr: Oliver

As I mentioned before, I gave Oliver my old Fujifilm J10 for his birthday.  The camera has served me well but it is obsolete and has been replaced.  That being said, it is perfect for a six year old who loves taking photos.

To show off those photos, Oliver is now on Flickr at flickr.com/oliver_cooper.  His perspective is a little lower to the ground than most of us but he manages to get some fun shots.  Since your first 10,000 photos are going to be your worst, he is well ahead of many of us in that regard.

Maggi ready to go to the lake

Of course the bad news is that he still can barely read and doesn’t have a computer.  At the same time he is rather particular about his photos which means that I get to argue with him every time I downtown his card over which photo is any good or not.  So far I am winning (no selfies) but that won’t continue for long.

Japan earthquake has raised pressure below Mount Fuji, says new study

Geological disturbances caused by 2011 tremors mean active volcano is in a ‘critical state’, say scientific researchers

So should Japan be on red alert? “We cannot establish a direct relation of cause and effect between quakes and volcanic eruptions, even if statistically the former lead to an increase in the latter,” Brenguier says. “All we can say is that Mount Fuji is now in a state of pressure, which means it displays a high potential for eruption. The risk is clearly higher.”

Science, however, has no way of predicting when this might happen. But there is a precedent. The last eruption of Mount Fuji occurred in 1707. It projected almost a billion cubic metres of ash and debris into the atmosphere, some of which reached Tokyo (then called Edo) 100km away. It was preceded, 49 days earlier, by a magnitude 8.7 quake to the south of Japan that, in conjunction with the tidal wave it raised, claimed more than 5,000 lives. This time, more than three years have already passed since the Tohoku quake. But that does not mean that Mount Fuji, under the constant supervision of Japanese geologists, is slumbering.

Come what may, the method developed by the Franco-Japanese team for investigating volcanic areas should improve the accuracy of efforts all over the world to assess the risk of major volcanic eruptions.

I Died Today

Heart breaking photo essay about a family dog’s last day on earth.

I Died Today. By, Duke Roberts

The Case Against Summer Vacation

I have been saying this for years.

Once school is out for the summer, the opportunity for children to engage in educational activities of any kind decreases. Studies show that, on average, students lose about a month’s worth of instruction, as measured by standardized test scores. But not everyone is average and, as a 2011 RAND Corp. report finds, summer learning loss disproportionately affects poor students, who already begin school behind their more affluent classmates. Research shows that any high-quality summer program that keeps children engaged — whether that is a traditional camp, summer school or even frequent trips to the museum — can mitigate summer learning loss.

The problem is, not everyone can afford to send their kids to a fancy summer program. That means low-income children (exactly the children that could benefit most from such programs) cannot afford to participate. Meanwhile, in a world in which most children grow up in a household without a full-time caregiver, low-income parents not only struggle to find full-time care but also must divert large a large fraction of their limited salaries to pay for it.

Worst of all, this loss is cumulative, with serious consequences as the achievement gap widens every summer. Karl Alexander, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist, tracked 650 children in the Baltimore public schools, recording their scores on the California Achievement Test in June and again in September, after summer break had ended. Alexander found that the poorest kids “outlearn” their wealthier peers in terms of knowledge gained during the academic year, but during the summer months they fall further behind. In contrast, the wealthier children, aided by a home full of books, organized summer camps and “concerted cultivation”-type parenting, continue to develop their skills.

Susan Delecourt talks about Stephen Harper

but is largely describing how Saskatoon City Council operates in Saskatoon.  It’s really depressing.

Kansas was supposed to be the GOP’s tax-cut paradise. Now it can barely pay its bills.

Kansas’ tax cuts haven’t worked out as planned

Brownback’s tax cut proposal came as Kansas’s revenues were on an upswing. Spending cuts and a one-cent sales tax passed by Brownback’s Democratic predecessor had combined with economic growth to give Kansas a surplus. Now, Brownback argued, his tax cuts would lead to even more success. “I firmly believe these reforms will set the stage for strong economic growth in Kansas,” he said.

The governor proposed to cut income taxes on the state’s highest earners from 6.45 percent to 4.9 percent, to simplify tax brackets, and to eliminate state income taxes on most small business income entirely. In a nod to fiscal responsibility, though, he proposed to end several tax deductions and exemptions, including the well-liked home mortgage interest deduction. This would help pay for the cuts.

Yet as the bill went through the state Senate, these deductions proved too popular, and legislators voted to keep them all. The bill’s estimated price tag rose from about $105 million to $800 million, but Brownback kept supporting it anyway. “I’m gonna sign this bill, I’m excited about the prospects for it, and I’m very thankful for how God has blessed our state,” he said.

Democrats, and some Republicans, weren’t buying it. “It bankrupts the state within two years,” said Rochelle Chronister, a former state GOP chair who helped organize moderate Republicans against Brownback’s agenda. And the House Democratic leader, Paul Davis, laid down a marker. “There is no feasible way that private-sector growth can accommodate the price tag of this tax cut,” he said. “Our $600 million surplus will become a $2.5 billion deficit within just five years.” In return, Brownback’s administration claimed the bill would create 23,000 jobs by 2020, and would lead 35,000 more people to move to Kansas.

After the cuts became law, it was undisputed that Kansas’s revenue collections would fall. But some supply-side analysts, like economist Arthur Laffer, argued that increased economic growth would deliver more revenue that would help cushion this impact.

Yet it’s now clear that the revenue shortfalls are much worse than expected. “State general fund revenue is down over $700 million from last year,” Duane Goossen, a former state budget director, told me. “That’s a bigger drop than the state had in the whole three years of the recession,” he said — and it’s a huge chunk of the state’s $6 billion budget. Goossen added that the Kansas’s surplus, which had been replenished since the recession, “is now being spent at an alarming, amazing rate.” 

This is crazy.  His paid for bill went from $105 million to $800 million and he still signed it.  No wonder Brownback’s popularity has hit rock bottom. 

Lake Mead Is Drying Up

This is bad and reminds me of what Thomas Homer-Dixon wrote in The Ingenuity Gap when he was shocked that no one in Las Vegas was calculating projected droughts (which have arrived)

Lake mead nevada all time low fe

The water level at Lake Mead dropped to a new record low this week, but it hasn’t hit rock bottom—yet.

As of Tuesday, Lake Mead was at about 39 percent of its capacity. The drought has taken a toll on water resources, resulting in precautionary actions such as a decreased flow allowance into Hoover Dam to protect current distribution policies. 

The projected lake level is at about 1,082 feet above sea level, and officials say they can meet water obligations at least through next year without a key shortage declaration. But if the water level drops below the 1,075-foot trigger point, Arizona and Nevada will face water delivery cuts, according to the Washington Times.

The lake is currently storing 10.2 million acre-feet of water. Lake Powell, the reservoir managed in conjuction with Lake Mead and located farther up the Colorado River, is holding 12.7 million acre-feet of water—or 52 percent of its capacity.

This is why Alberta never invaded Saskatchewan when it had the chance

The costs of taking over Crimea are more than Russia can afford

Rising prices and stagnating wages may make hundreds more Russians think twice about the government’s price tag of between 800 billion and 1 trillion rubles ($23-30 billion) for Crimea, and may come to pose the first real threat to Putin.

The Russian leader for now looks unassailable, with popularity ratings running at over 80 percent and his critics reluctant to speak out against him for fear of being labelled a traitor against the popular cause of building a Greater Russia.

Russian markets have bounced back, recovering all their losses since the start of the year to trade slightly higher, and some bankers are encouraging their clients to dive back into a market they say is undervalued.

But Russia’s economy, riddled with corruption and nepotism, is still weak and, increasingly isolated by Western sanctions, is for now teetering on the edge of recession.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine, an influx of Ukrainian refugees and the threat of further sanctions all hang over an economy, which the International Monetary Fund sees growing by just 0.2 percent this year. Russia’s central bank hopes for 0.4 percent and the Economy Ministry 0.5 percent growth.

After weeks of saying visa bans and asset freezes imposed by the European Union and United States against a number of firms and officials close to Putin could not harm the economy, Russian leaders are increasingly testy over the damage wrought if not by the current sanctions, then by the threat of more.

“In fact, we are dealing with a new offensive type of weapon,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said of the U.S. sanctions in an interview with the Kommersant daily.
Investment has all but dried up, forcing the government to dip into reserves meant for pensions to finance projects, and the government says it will sell a stake in Russia’s state-controlled oil company, Rosneft, to cover some of the costs of developing Crimea.

Finance Minister Anton Siluanov had to backtrack after coming under fire for saying that all the funds accumulated in Russia’s personal pension plans in 2014 had been spent on “anti-crisis measures” and on Crimea.

The next day, he said Russians “would lose nothing”, but stopped short of saying whether the sum of $8 billion would be returned to the personal pension plans.
While such measures may take a while to hurt the population, Karen Vartapetov, an analyst at Standard & Poor’s rating agency, said a more immediate danger was the stagnation of real disposable incomes, which show only 0.2 percent real growth (adjusted for inflation) this year.

“Zero growth of real disposable incomes against continuing growth of public sector pay indicates that salaries in the private sector and non-salary incomes are shrinking,” he said.
“The economy outside the public sector has been stagnating.”

On top of this, the Finance Ministry’s efforts to try to meet Putin’s demands to increase public sector pay, including proposing a new regional sales tax, mean that prices could rise further, putting pressure on stretched salaries.

In the major cities such as the capital Moscow and Russia’s second city of St Petersburg – where Putin faced street protests in the winter of 2011-12 that at times drew tens of thousands – core inflation running at an annual rate of more than seven percent has had little impact on a population largely wealthy enough to cover higher prices.

How Nashville is transforming itself

Through 9 amazing projects

In recent years, the city of 600,000 has become a regional leader in smart urban design and distinctive architecture. New riverfront parks are transforming Nashville’s connection to the Cumberland River, bikeshare docks have appeared around downtown, bus rapid transit is in the works, and the city’s tallest tower is set to rise. And that’s just the start of it. Take a look at the city’s dramatic transformation and a peek at where it’s headed.

Do Cities Really Want to Change?

Maybe Saskatoon doesn’t change because it is afraid of it.

The civic world is obviously more complex than this simple joke. But given the persistent failure to change the trajectory of so many places despite the enormous time and energy — not to mention vast sums of taxpayer money — spent on it, it’s worth pondering the possibilities.

Problems are problems, but they are also sometimes solutions to certain sets of questions. One of these is how to mobilize, allocate, and deploy community resources and power. Fighting decline has become the central organizing principle in many places.

As a friend of mine from the IT industry once put it regarding what he termed “rackets”: “A racket is when folks have something they complain about and commiserate about but don’t fix. Upon delving into the roots of a racket one finds that the folks don’t really want it fixed — the subject of the racket is a unifying force that if corrected will remove the common complaint and thus the unifying force. The cultural changes that would ensue from the change in practices that ‘no one wants’ are not acceptable to [the complainers]. In corporate organizational behavior, it is important to break the rackets. It is also difficult. But, I imagine, far easier in a company with some semblance of common objectives than it would be in an each-man-for-himself city.”

In short, economic struggle can be a cultural unifier in a community that people tacitly want to hold onto in order to preserve civic cohesion.

Jane Jacobs took it even further. As she noted in The Economy of Cities, “Economic development, whenever and wherever it occurs, is profoundly subversive of the status quo.” And it isn’t hard to figure out that even in cities and states with serious problems, many people inside the system are benefiting from the status quo.

They have political power, an inside track on government contracts, a nice gig at a civic organization or nonprofit, and so on. All of these people, who are disproportionately in the power broker class of most places, potentially stand to lose if economic decline is reversed. That’s not to say they are evil, but they all have an interest to protect.

Consider one simple thought experiment: If a struggling community starts booming, that would eliminate a big part of the rationale for subsidized real estate development, which constitutes the principal form of economic development in all too many places, and which benefits a clear interest group. It might also attract highly motivated, aggressive people from out of town, folks who are highly likely to agitate for better than the current inbred ways of doing business. This would inherently dilute the positions of the current powers that be.

Look but don’t touch

I know most of us are more concerned with the roads but have any of you noticed the condition of many of our light standards in the city.  Some are almost completely rusted through.  I have poked at more than one and had my finger go right through.  Others are really swaying in the recent wind. 

According to city reports, City Council has not only ignored city roads but also our electrical grid.  I know, I know, marking priorities is hard.

There were roads, bridges, and snow to neglect and now we have light poles that are not structurally safe and are rusting out. It’s actually remarkable that council could let so many things at the same time.

Oh wait, amidst all of our infrastructure falling, we have a clear goal.  In case you have ever wondered what drives the Mayor and council’s desire to keep taxes low when our city needs revenue, it is Calgary.

This is from 2011.

Saskatoon’s mayor is eyeing a property tax increase of one per cent per year less than Cowtown’s over the next decade.
In 10 to 15 years, Saskatoon’s tax rate could equal that of Alberta’s biggest city, where ratepayers have the lowest property taxes among major cities in the country, he said.

Calgary has fun with this.

To help set its mill rate, Calgary relies on a so-called municipal inflation rate, a combination of costs for salaries, service contracts, fuel and materials. Saskatoon’s administration is coming up with a formula to calculate its own municipal inflation rate and Atchison has said in the past it makes sense to try to tie property tax hikes closely to that amount rather than the consumer inflation rate.

Property tax increases since Atchison became mayor have averaged 3.7 per cent annually. During the same period, Calgary’s property tax has gone up by an average of 4.2 per cent with the municipal portion jumping an average of 6.5 per cent.

Atchison’s wish already has a fiscally prudent Calgary alderman, Andre Chabot, chuckling.

He notes this spring council chose to boost the education portion of the property tax by a onetime whopping 10.4 per cent to take advantage of the province’s move to cut its portion of the property tax.

By comparison, Saskatoon’s property tax rose by a relatively small four per cent in 2011.

“For the mayor of Saskatoon to make a claim like that, it certainly is a politically astute kind of selling feature for his proposed tax increases,” Chabot said, “because he can always make the argument that it was at least one per cent lower than Calgary’s increase.

So how many miles of roadways does “politically astute” pay for?

Of course there is a reason why Calgary’s mill rate is lower.  They collect more business tax.

Jack Vicq, professor emeritus of accounting at the University of Saskatchewan Edwards School of Business, said there are differences between how Saskatoon and Calgary are funded that need to be accounted for. The amount in business tax collected in Calgary keeps its property tax rate lower, he said.

More from Vicq

“Let’s make sure the framework we’re in is the same,” Vicq said. “I would go at it from the perspective of really, what is it we should be doing in the city of Saskatoon and how are we going to do that? And maybe that takes a property tax that is higher than Calgary. You can get into trouble by just looking at Calgary and saying, ‘I want to be there.’

“You might lose sight of what you should be doing as a city or what residents expect as a city.”

As an aside, as the video below shows, I am not sure that our mayor even understands basic tax policy.

Back to what we are talking about.

First of all, the reason we have a lower rate is that we don’t fund the city the same way.  We have inferior snow removal and road repair policies to Calgary.  We also do things like underfund transit and force them to purchase worn out busses from places like Edmonton.  Parts of our bus fleet are so old that people come from all over North America to ride them.  The reason we keep using them, they are cheap to run (but you knew that already).

We don’t repair things like light poles is no big shock but now we have the cost of replacing them that is going to be a big shock to the bottom line.  Either that or we will just watch them fall over.

If you are ever in budget review meetings, you hear city managers say, “If you cut this amount, I can’t afford to do maintenance on parks” or “We won’t have enough for fuel”.  Those things are cut anyway.  You know because why do city vehicles need fuel budgeted for properly.  In many ways I think you can say that Calgary is getting far more bang for their tax dollars than we do.

Instead of funding the city the way it needs, we have actually developed our own spin that blames “freeze thaw” for bad roads (we don’t have a freeze thaw cycle, it just freezes) or that rain wrecks our roads (because we are too cheap to use rock base and instead only use sand).  My favourite is listening to council talk about how brave and hard working our city workers are doing instead of talking about how underfunding is creating this mess.  My favourite was when Pat Lorje suggested that city council was under siege last winter because of the lack of snow removal which was something she voted against.

The whole things reminds me of Winston Churchill underfunding the defences of Singapore in 1937 while First Lord of the Admiralty and then calling the British general performance there abysmal when Japan invaded in 1942 and they had no defences to work with.

We have roads that are brutal because the Mayor and council stopped funding the roads years ago.  We have light posts that aren’t safe because the city doesn’t have the cash (because of our desire to beat Calgary) and our city is dirty and grimy into July because it is cheaper to clean the streets slowly rather than quickly.  We get upset that we don’t have enough swim lessons but underfund leisure services as the city has grown.

Jack Vicq is right.  Instead of playing political games, we need a council (who can override the mayor) and fund the city properly.  Instead we get a Twitter feed that is constantly tweeting power outages because they take large dividends out of Saskatoon Light & Power, a #BetterRoadsYXE hashtag, new pylons and lots of emails from the city telling me how much they are doing (that’s another topic).

While the 2011 article mentions the mayor, it is also the fault of city council.  Darren Hill, Pat Lorje, Charlie Clark & Tiffany Paulsen have all been there at least two terms and are working on their third terms.  Mairin Loewen, Ann Iwanchuk, Randy Donauer have all been re-elected once.  They are all there when the council pulls a mill rate out of Calgary and agree to it.  When you are as integral part of the problem, can you be part of the solution?

Sadly repairing the grid or maintaining the Traffic Bridge doesn’t get people elected.  New bridges and low taxes do.  This problem isn’t going to go away and if we don’t do something about it in 2016, the mess will be just huge when we do.

Man Flies Drone Through Fireworks, The Results Are Spectacular

Someone needs to do this during the PotashCorp Fireworks Festival in Saskatoon.

Complete Streets (it’s more than just about cycling)

It is so depressing to think about how much further along in their thinking that places like New York City are than Saskatoon in realizing that not all people own cars.  Just think about it, a street designed for cars, pedestrians, and cyclists.  It could one day happen in Saskatoon.