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12-19-2013, 01:22 PM - 1 Like   #1
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K-3 exchanged ... my image sharpness issue identified & solved

Hi,

This is my 28-day experience with the K-3 after 410 pictures. Hopefully, this might help some people who may be having problems with image sharpness. Please forgive the length of this post as I would like to document everything.

While pros were debating K-3 image sharpness issues around the web, a newbie here was also quietly having similar kind of problem with soft and blurry images. Didn't notice it until last week as I tried to work through the issue.

My K-3 was the regular edition with 18-135 WR bought from Adorama.

Symptoms

1. Even raw images (my use for jpeg are backup only) are not sharp 99% of the time when viewed at 100%. I guess it would be the same with jpeg.
2. All of the ones that are 100% pixel peeping sharp or decent are with the use of built-in flash.
3. Images just don't pop. Colors seem dull. For this type of camera, I would say just ok quality. Don't know how else to explain it.

Tried

1. Tried different shutter speed thinking they are slow and my hands are shaky. Did not help.
2. Tried using my decent (Slik 330CX Pro) tripod for all pictures. Nope. May be not sturdy enough? May be anything with the word Pro in it is not necessarily for Pro?
3. NR settings. I wasn't even sure if it affects raw or not. But, what the heck. Worth a try. Nope. At least with raw, I don't have to troubleshoot jpeg engine.
4. SR on/off. Nope.
5. Initially tested the lens for front & back focusing using easy AA batteries shots (followed an online article). Seems fine.
6. Thinking it was my skills, I watched 16 hour worth of videos non-stop on photography. Remember, I'm just a hobbyist. Not even enthusiast or semi-pro.
7. May be mirror slap with dslr? 2 sec delay timer is needed? Mirror lockup thingy. Nope.
8. Was it the lens? Try another one? Too bad. I'm new. I have nothing else.

It was driving me nuts!

Thoughts

I was thinking if I have to take every picture with a tripod (even with it sharpness wasn't guaranteed) or utilize flash, K-3 is not going to work for me. Also thought about renting a different Pentax lens from Lens Rental and testing it out. Saw Ed's from Photo Universe thread on DPR and thinking, if this sort of pro is having this kind of problem, may be K-3 is too much camera for me. Of course, I still don't know if his and my problem are the same. I also don't like putting learning photography on hold while I wait for a firmware.

Thought about returning and getting an E-M1, when I thought the mirror slap was causing it. Mirrorless = problem solved. But, the cost is too high for what I get. Half a pound & 1cm in body size saving for $700 more? With a less sharp sensor (according to DXO comparison) and smaller zoom range (12-40 pro zoom vs 18-135)? No thanks. A7R? Very tempting! My pocket resists. D7100 and the likes: read too many comments with oil issues. What do I know? As a newbie, I just need to read tons of comment / reviews to make a decision.

All in all, I have no choice. If I have to get my bang for the bucks, I have to get this solved and stick with Pentax. Besides, I like the mature & polite atmosphere of this forum .

Clues

The other night, finally did two shots of mini Christmas tree on a tripod. Not with the timer. One with LiveView. One with ViewFinder. One with LiveView was so sharp. Started reading about PDAF, CDAF. Then, started thinking, may be I need to do lens calibration again. May be I did not do it right. Finally tried 5 C batteries test. AA batteries seem too small. Started with LiveView, -10, -5, 0, +5, and +10. Initial test with +/-1 increments and AA batteries are probably too close to tell it apart. The one with the +10 AF Fine Adjustment looks as good as LiveView. Set it to +10 and viola. Every single image pops, sharp, and vibrant at 100%, except where I make silly newbie mistakes of course. Handheld on all of them. Even 135mm, 1/50s handheld are super sharp. SR on or off makes no difference. All sharp. Sharp at 100% view all of them. Unbelievable sharpness and brightness on all pictures. Being a newbie, I don't know if this is a common practice with dslr to have to adjust the AF. I don't even know if +10 is front or back focused. Was it back? Anyway, I just know that +10 fixes it .

Resolution

Now that I have found the problem, I was thinking about what I should do. Decided to ask the expert. So, I browsed around Ricoh's website. Found the C.R.I.S number. I have read about them on this forum to be good. Called and talked to somebody there. I asked if it is even fixable? Yes. But, he said if it is under 30 days of purchase (I'm on my 28th day), return it. If over, send it to them. He said, a camera like K-3 and the lens should not be doing that (+10 max AF Fine Adjust) out of box. Anyway, technically, my major issue is fixed. I could continue to use it. But, might as well get a better one. My K-3 just went back yesterday. After adjustment, even with the 18-135mm, K-3 is so awesomely sharp, just like Ricoh's sample (model on the grass). I can't wait to get my replacement!

I'm just happy that, in my case, it's not the user . It's the QC or manufacturing tolerances or whatever. I can update this thread with some images as soon as I get a chance if anybody wants to see and analyze, as long as they don't mind suffering through my test photos.

Adorama is great. Exchange with no questions. C.R.I.S is awesome as well. Very responsive and helpful.

My background

Unlike others, I have no existing accessories, no brand royalty, and no significant photography experience. I do have a good eye for good art/photos, being formally trained as a commercial graphics major. I did have to take a semester of classes 17 years ago with a film camera that I had to borrow. Films with different ISO, darkroom, developer, etc, all the works. Can't recall a thing about it anymore. I also do not make my living with my training.

Making my living as a glorified corporate network handyman, I was determined to troubleshoot this little piece of electronic gadget. I wasn't going to let this simple little menu bother me. I mainly use point & shoot since school. Never took more than 100 photos in the past 17 years.

This background factoid might be usable for Ricoh marketing department's target market profile.

12-19-2013, 01:30 PM - 1 Like   #2
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I wonder how many poorly calibrated bodies are out there where the user just blames themselves? Imho, this part of QC should never be overlooked or pass without 100% accuracy attained before packing. It is after all a super important part of the camera manufacture to get right.
12-19-2013, 01:35 PM   #3
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Just curious but how did you determine that it was an issue with the camera and not the lens? Did you try a different lens on the camera, or try the lens on a different body?
12-19-2013, 01:40 PM - 1 Like   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by Steve.Ledger Quote
I wonder how many poorly calibrated bodies are out there
The incidence of defects of dSLR cameras is unacceptably high, industry-wide IMHO. According to Consumer Reports, all of the four brands for which they have reliability data (Nikon, Canon, Olympus, and Sony) have a defect rate of 4%. Yep, four purchases out of 100 go back as defective or require major repair during the four year window of the CU survey. That does not count the number where the user is not savvy enough to know that their new camera is not functioning to spec.


Steve

12-19-2013, 01:40 PM   #5
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Not such an unusual experience I suspect. I know micro adjusting my K-5 for each lens has been pretty much essential to get good results. Of some of that might be psychological but I seen plenty of evidence otherwise. On the other hand I am hearing quite a few reports that the K-3 is accurate out of the box.
12-19-2013, 01:41 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Parallax Quote
Just curious but how did you determine that it was an issue with the camera and not the lens? Did you try a different lens on the camera, or try the lens on a different body?
My thoughts as well. Either way, I am glad that the issue was resolved satisfactorily.


Steve
12-19-2013, 01:42 PM   #7
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Good work and thanks on your analysis and report with this issue. QC can never be 100% for mass produced precision equipment but in working out your problem you could solve it. Well done.
12-19-2013, 01:42 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Parallax Quote
Just curious but how did you determine that it was an issue with the camera and not the lens? Did you try a different lens on the camera, or try the lens on a different body?
To be honest, I still don't know if it is the camera or the lens. When I talked to the rep at C.R.I.S, he said, if the lens came with the camera, I probably have to return it as a whole. I cannot just exchange the lens. So, that's okay with me. The only thing is, I already have the ACMAXX (sp?) on. So, I had to take it off ... very carefully, before sending it back .

12-19-2013, 01:50 PM   #9
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Examples?

Penmar, just curious if you could post an example or two of your original unsharp images?

I'm somewhat of a newbie myself, curious what you were experiencing.
12-19-2013, 01:57 PM - 1 Like   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
The incidence of defects of dSLR cameras is unacceptably high, industry-wide IMHO. According to Consumer Reports, all of the four brands for which they have reliability data (Nikon, Canon, Olympus, and Sony) have a defect rate of 4%. Yep, four purchases out of 100 go back as defective or require major repair during the four year window of the CU survey. That does not count the number where the user is not savvy enough to know that their new camera is not functioning to spec.


Steve
4% is 0.040000. That's about two standard deviations.

Four Significant Figures, statistically significant error rate in many industries, is 0.000400.

Six Sigma is 0.000004

0.040000 = what stevebrot says is camera industry experience
0.004000 = three standard deviations
0.000400 = math of standard sample size error rate I was taught
0.000004 = what General Electric sold the financial industry in the 2000's.

The real question is how much money it costs to improve maufacturing efficiency from 96% to 99.96%. Maybe it would make a $599 consumer camera $5,999.

But if you could get 99.6% for $685, would that be worth it? That's three standard deviations.

Six Sigma was impossible - but Four Significant Figures isn't - and three standard deviations might be affordable.

Last edited by monochrome; 12-19-2013 at 02:18 PM.
12-19-2013, 02:44 PM   #11
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Examples. All straight out of camera. All taken handheld, I think. Just resized. Even that, "Save For Web" compression, resizing using different resampling algorithm in Photoshop might have skew the results. Please just click on the raw below the sample (!!! Huge DNG Files !!!) to see it.

1. Before adjustment. Sharp because I used flash. That's how I'd like ... without the flash. This is just one of the very few images that are sharp. The other 99% are like #2 below.


Raw DNG

2. Before adjustment. Sharpest I can get without flash. I won't bother you with hundreds of soft images.


Raw DNG

3. After adjustment. Sharp.


Raw DNG

4. After adjustment. Sharp.


Raw DNG

Last edited by penmar; 12-19-2013 at 02:57 PM.
12-19-2013, 02:48 PM   #12
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I wonder why a dslr doesn't come with a function or a macro to do initial calibration with an owner's lenses anyway?

When you install a surround receiver, there is a mic and a function to calibrate it with the room and speakers. With the compass on a cell you have to do eights to calibrate it. Why not dslrs?
12-19-2013, 03:19 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by penmar Quote
All of the ones that are 100% pixel peeping sharp or decent are with the use of built-in flash.
That's mainly thanks to the 1/10,000 sec or faster duration of the flash. Which means your sharpness issues may simply have a lot to do with camera motion blur.

I noticed the same thing myself. K-3 flash shots were extra sharp. But it really shouldn't be surprising, since the high pixel density of the K-3 makes even the finest motion blur quite visible [at 100% pixel peeping].

A normal AF test shot or two at 1/8000 sec without flash and you would probably get shots just as sharp as with flash.

Of course PDAF AF adjustments may also be needed too, but I think there are probably two issues here: motion blur, and PDAF accuracy.

Last edited by rawr; 12-19-2013 at 03:24 PM.
12-19-2013, 03:32 PM   #14
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penmar,

Thanks for documenting your detailed account of your methodical approach to the sharpness issue. Good on you for persevering and sticking with the K-3. Once they operate properly, the Pentax gear is really quite good.

Still, it's disappointing that users need to debug their new gear and spend time away from actually taking pictures. I've had to debug one of my lenses, which is now back at Ricoh Canada for repair.

Hope you got something out of the hours of on-line video!

By the way, welcome to Pentax Forums.

Craig
12-19-2013, 03:35 PM - 1 Like   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by rawr Quote
A normal AF test shot or two at 1/8000 sec without flash and you would probably get shots just as sharp as with flash.
Thanks for the suggestion.

I just checked most of my images. The highest I have is 1/1000 sec with f3.5 in daylight at 100 ISO. Since I only have this lens, I don't know how to get 1/8000 without a better lens or raising ISO. I was hesitant to raise ISO from 100 most of the time unless indoor. Even so, I opt for tripod under such condition. High ISO, I reserve for low light shooting. Yeah. I know. Newbie .

Can't try this now since camera went back for an exchange. I'll remember it. Thanks.
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