Finding the limits of your gear.

Life is filled with personal history, little pockets of time that become fond, cherished memories for small circles of families, friends, and social groups. They don't make the evening news but are important nonetheless and worthy of documenting.

This is a photo of personal history - four generations of a family (my family) in one room, the first generation frail and in bed, the fourth generation a smiling cherub in his young father's arms. The light is low, the moment fleeting - can the Pentax K-01 capture the moment?

As the scene unfolds, I grab the camera and quickly realize that I have the wrong lens for the job. The DA35 F2.8 Macro Limited is one of my favorites but here it is too long and much too slow to focus. Tender candids appear and disappear in the blink of an eye as the lens struggles to focus. A quick jog to the living room and I return with the fast-focusing DA21 F3.2 Limited. How did it and the K-01 perform? How did I perform? In a word? Meh.

This is F4.0, 1/25, ISO3200 to give you a sense of light levels. The DA21 was faster to focus but I was balked by the 1FPS limit when shooting RAW/DNG. Note to self, trust AWB and shoot JPG. I probably shoot have pushed to ISO6400 as well to get faster shutter speeds. Still, I don't have full confidence that the K-01 would have pulled it off. The AF may be just a hair too slow. I've tried to compensate by stopping down to increase DOF, but at these low light levels that's hard.

I have to be honest with myself - the K-5 with the DA* 16-50 F2.8 would have done a much better job. So would any number of fast-focusing dSLRs. The problem though is that none of them would have fit in my laptop bag and thus would have been left at home.

The Micro Four-Thirds cameras like the Panasonic GH2, G3, GX1 and Olympus E-P3 and E-M5 would have been much faster to AF, but I'm still not confident pushing beyond ISO1600. I suspect I would have struggled, but with different things.

What about the Sony NEX? Maybe faster AF as well, but do they have the lenses? And the new/old Fuji X Pro 1? I hear it's slow to AF as well.

Every camera has its limits, the point at which the pace, nature, and environment of a scene push the bounds of what the camera is capable of. Every photographer has its limits as well, the point at which knowledge and training and experience ends and the blue ocean begins.

It's always good to find what those limits are, to walk along the edge, so that when the opportunity to "shoot in anger" arrives, we are intimately familiar with the cliff.

NOTE: Don't worry, I also got some good shots.

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