2012/12/12

Family Candids with the Pentax K-01, Focus Peaking, and Manual Focus

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In some ways, capturing candids of family members is really hard. The low light of most houses forces you to push the ISO and open up apertures, which slices down the depth of field which in turn taxes AF systems. And the truth is, some family members can get downright ornery when you point a camera at them*, especially when you blind them with the AF assist light or, worse yet, flash. Fast-moving toddlers makes things even harder. On the other hand, capturing candids of family can be really easy. I've been bringing a camera of some sort or other to family for twenty years now, so most family members are more or less desensitized to my photographic presence. But the low light, moving subject issues still remain, and some cameras are better at it than others.
Most point-and-shoots fail here. They're just too slow, particularly in terms of AF. Sure, you'll get a shot, and it's a decent shot, but more often than not it's not the shot, the decisive moment that you tried to capture. The Pentax Q and Nikon 1 V1 struggle as well due to AF. While the V1 is brilliant outdoors, when the lights dim, it switches from faster PDAF to slower CDAF. The K-5 is notably better, but slows down when you turn off the focus assist light.

I've recently taken a strong liking to the Pentax K-01 when used with manual focus and focus peaking. That combination did quite well on the streets of NYC, but I did hedge my bets by stopping down to F8 or so and increasing the DOF. I'm often shooting indoor candids, so I was curious to see if the focus peaking of the K-01 could handle the task with larger apertures. Here are some of the good shots:

70mm, 1/40s, F2.4, ISO3200
Like a brother
This is one of a sequence of ten shots. Across the room, 10-15' away. Of those ten, I'd say 2-3 are critically sharp, 5 or so are acceptably sharp, and the remaining are blurry. Some of the blur may be due to the slow shutter speed and/or subject movement. The short focus throw of modern AF lenses makes a shot like this tough, as even the slightest rotation will cause the focus peaking to shift from the seat back to the shirt and then to the arm.

70mm, 1/50s, F2.4, ISO3200
Lolo with granddaughter
This is one of a sequence of eight. Of them, four are critically sharp, with the rest having some subject movement or slight OOF. The issue with focus peaking is that it's sometimes hard to distinguish where the plane of focus really is. It's highly dependent upon the subject matter. A yard stick against a black cloth is easy. A shot like this with lots of details and folds an patterns are a bit harder.

70mm, 1/60s, F2.4, ISO3200
Baby gets lots of love
Ok, this was a tough one - my cousin walking around with our niece about 5-7' away. I did not ask him to stop moving and just really tried to make manual focus and focus peaking work. It wasn't easy, but to be honest, this would be a challenge for a DSLR as well due to slow shutter speeds combined with unpredictable subject movement. Thirty-five shots taken. Seven critically sharp. Eighteen OOF due to subject movement

70mm, 1/80s, F2.4, ISO6400
Ila
One shot of eight of my great niece. She's ever curious and always moving, turning her head, leaning forward, reaching for things, even when seated as she is here about four feet away. The culprit here is certainly subject movement, but the K-01 is also slow after the shot, with the LCD blank for a fraction of a second. So in a fast-changing situation like this, the K-01 is not able to keep up. I have a bad habit in situations like this of rushing, as if working faster will make up for the camera's deficiency, but I think I would have been better off actually slowing down.

31mm, 1/50s, F2.5, ISO3200
Family
This is a one shot grab of a fleeting moment. I'd judge this as sharp but not clinically so. My great niece on the right is moving a bit, but that's fine. Still, this scene lasted a fraction of a second before it disappeared, and it would have been a struggle even with good AF. At the end of the day, I'd much have this shot then a clinically sharp shot just a second before or after this.

What's the conclusion to draw here? Focus peaking is great but it's not a panacea for all situations. I think with more practice and with older MF lenses with longer focus throws I could get the success rate up significantly. At this point, I think that I'm confident enough to use MF and focus peaking in situations that frowns upon focus assist lights and where there are pauses in subject movement. To be honest, in such a situation I'd likely turn on AF for a handful of shot. Just in case. I do wish that the K-01 was more responsive post-shot, so that I could quickly take a shot, then another, then another - snap...snap...snap - not hold the shutter down and hope it comes out.

Note: black and white (and square frame) are stylistic choices here. The K-01 @ISO3200 is very clean, it's just that the lighting here isn't real nice.


* I often say to a frowning relative, "I can either take a good picture of you or a bad picture of you. In either case, I'm going to take the picture. Your choice." That works. Sometimes.

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