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03-23-2014, 03:39 PM   #1
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K-3 autofocus excellent in low light

Yesterday I was shooting at a workshop with 4 others including the host. Of those others shooting, there were 2 d700's, a d90, and a canon 5dmkII (or III)

In our low light studio shoot, all of the Nikons had trouble focusing in the dim light, they were scratching their heads, muttering, and eventually reverting to manual focus in some cases. The Canon didn't seem to have a problem that I noticed.

Looking through the viewfinder of my K-3, I could see the little red dots 'dancing' on the subject. I was shooting at around f11, focusing in light I would estimate to be around 0 to 1 ev, and then firing studio flash heads.

Considering the problems that surrounded the K-7 and K-5 in low light focusing, Pentax have surely come a long way in a relatively short time.

03-23-2014, 04:14 PM   #2
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Unfair advantage - you have not only the newest body, but also the cheapest (except perhaps the D90)! Of course you win!

Pretty funny - the Canon shooter next to me had a 5D mk "whatever!" on Friday as I was shooting dance routines next to him. He'd been to more than a few of these and had some helpful tips - it was my first one. He also said my F*300 was "too long," but I got good shots with it. He was trying to be helpful, but you've got to know your own style and give it a try anyway. He had the requisite 70-200/2.8 L and had good timing, but from the few shots he quickly showed me I can't tell you how dramatic or compelling they were. I got some nice ones, but as usual it was exhausting work that merely creates the framework for good things to happen.

Anyhow, I thought it was the original 5D, but now that I think about it, the 'Mk II/Mk III' marking isn't next to the '5D,' so I could have missed it. But basically, it was a 5D "whatever."


Also, he was afraid to shoot over 3200 ISO in the poor light (so it probably was the original 5D). He thought image noise was a cardinal sin, so he shot action at 1/320s. I was happy to shoot at ISO 5000 or 10000 and allow a little noise when viewed at full size - I just think of it like film grain (not as pretty, but close enough). He didn't have any major AF problems that I'm aware of. My K-5 IIs did better than my K-5 in AF - which I already knew it would - but it was more difference than I expected indoors.

Last edited by DSims; 03-23-2014 at 04:40 PM.
03-23-2014, 06:21 PM   #3
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For me, this is the one and only reason to get me to trade in my K-30 for a K-3...
03-23-2014, 07:18 PM   #4
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I believe Canon shooters have been lulled into rejecting any amount of noise in their digital photos due to the aggressive NR done by default in their camera lines. Pentax has always prefered to leave some detail in the shot rather than smooth it all out.

03-23-2014, 09:19 PM   #5
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Interesting. I tried a K3 with my Sigma 70-200/2.8 DG HSM at an indoor photography show (shopping mall) couple months back and was not impressed with its' focusing speed & accuracy. Yes, it is better than K5 but not enough to make me to step up. On the other hand, I tried my D800 with the Nikon 70-200/2.8 VRII and it nail the focus pretty much everytime!
03-23-2014, 09:57 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by MJL Quote
I tried a K3 with my Sigma 70-200/2.8 DG HSM at an indoor photography show (shopping mall) couple months back and was not impressed with its' focusing speed & accuracy.
I shot about 1400 DNGs with the K-3 and my Sigma 70-200/2.8 HSM II at a bull-riding rodeo in low-light on Saturday evening, and I can confidently say that K-3 AF focus speed and accuracy, especially in AFC mode, is a LOT better than the K-5, since the last time I shot that event was with the Sigma HSM II and the K-5.

But the AF options on the K-3 are complex, probably just as complex as those of the D800 or 1Dx. So some practice (ie trial and error) may be needed to make sure one is using the K-3 AF settings that fit the shooting scenario best, especially for AFC.
03-24-2014, 03:26 AM   #7
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Speaking about the low light shooting : I tried focusing in complete darkness on a chart like this : http://static.photo.net/attachments/bboard/00L/00LM6C-36788884.jpg . Just for the fun of it. I used FA 50 1.4 . The AF assist light was enough to get the focus locked in the centre. I performed this test using live view.
On the other hand DA * 16-50 is slow to focus at night under artificial light, using contrast detection autofocus. During my last shoot out in these conditions, the camera / lens frequently refused to lock the focus. A couple of shots were misfocused. Switching to phase detect AF helped. But considering that I was shooting from a tripod, it was a pain in the ass.
03-24-2014, 06:01 AM - 1 Like   #8
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As a post script, the Nikon guys were having a discussion about if they should use Back Button Focusing. There was a little confusion about what that meant, and once they worked it out, how it could be implemented, and to what advantage. One brave Nikonian decided to try it (after working his way through the labyrinthine menu system).

Some time later he confessed it wasn't too good as the focus remained the same but as the subject to camera distance was changing through natural movement, he kept losing focus. I asked him if he had the camera in continuous focus. He of the mighty d700 and $3000 70-200 VR lens looked at me quizzically and then worked out for himself what ever that term means in Nikon speak. The penny dropped that back button focusing and AFS is not compatible. I advised him to try AF-C or whatever that means in Nikonian. Much better. Camera still had trouble finding focus even with his pesky AF assist beam interfering with my exposures. Interestingly the other D700 didn't seem to have the same level of problem, but it had a far more experienced operator.

These guys just never question what the mighty Nikon corporation sends them. They just think they have bought 'the best camera' and so it must just be the way things are. Live with it. Bang away and hopefully something good will emerge. I was very pleased with the performance of the K-3 in this company. Bested all of them.

It is also worth noting that no one but me had more than one lens available, irrespective of the camera/distance ratio or the scene they were attempting to capture. An expensive 70-200 f2.8 lens is not much good to you when you cant frame the subject in a tiny studio..... (Which of course was part of their focusing problem)

Also of note, the other three 'shooters' (not the host) were the type who would hog the prime spot, hog the flash trigger, and take the same shot over and over and over again. Ad nauseam. Once when I had finally wrested a trigger from one of them, after a 15 minute wait watching them struggle with being too close to the model, when it was finally my turn to take a shot, it was the model who actually spoke up when, after I had taken two shots, I was asked to give the trigger over again. She actually said 'i've been noticing who is missing out on the trigger, you need to take a rest' to the other 'tog. Well done brave girl. Thank the blessings for a mature girl to photograph.

Spare me from selfishness and blind faith in the Nikon god.


/end rant


Last edited by wizofoz; 03-24-2014 at 02:11 PM.
03-25-2014, 09:20 AM   #9
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Just compare K-3 DA70 vs D4s 24-70 2.8G ...

The dark object that D4s cannot lock focus ... but K-3 still locking fine... both test with middle point.
03-25-2014, 01:57 PM   #10
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I can only answer this after my own experience. I have been a pro concert-photographers for almost 6 years. K-3 is an amazing camera, no doubt. But when it comes to darker scenes, especially metalconcerts, Most Nikon's walk all over the K-3..unfortunately..Even tough im a Pentax ambassador, i have to tell it like it is. BUT, Pentax has something good going on. So im shure they will catch up in the time to come

Last edited by kenspo; 03-25-2014 at 02:02 PM.
03-25-2014, 02:02 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by kenspo Quote
I can only answer this after my own experience. I have been a pro concert-photographers for almost 6 years. K-3 is an amazing camera, no doubth. But when it comes to darker scenes, especially metalconcerts, Most Nikon's walk all over the K-3..unfortunately..Even tough im a Pentax ambassador, i have to tell it like it is. BUT, Pentax has something good going on. So im shure they will catch up in the time to come
Are you sure? The user above you noted that the D4s has trouble comparing with a F2.8 lens vs F2.4 lens. Also, many users have noted that the D800, with it's -3EV AF, is about equal or actually less capable at low-light focusing than the k-3. And my understanding is that the D800 is practically the best Nikon low-light AF system available.
03-25-2014, 02:08 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by JinDesu Quote
Are you sure? The user above you noted that the D4s has trouble comparing with a F2.8 lens vs F2.4 lens. Also, many users have noted that the D800, with it's -3EV AF, is about equal or actually less capable at low-light focusing than the k-3. And my understanding is that the D800 is practically the best Nikon low-light AF system available.
Yes, im shure! I have never used D800, D4 or D4S..just D700, D3 and D3S...K-3 is waaaaay behind. Its much more challenging now. K-3 with primes, are a little better then the 16-50 etc..But as i said, there are something good going on with Pentax these days. I didnt sign the deal just for all the free stuff, but because i liked the thinking from Pentax, the future plans, and of course, that the K-3 is a good camera. But do remember, i shoot mostly metalconcerts. Most cameras will struggle there
03-25-2014, 02:09 PM   #13
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Kenspo, have you tried the K-3 in low light? Just to repeat I was geting effortless focus lock shooting at F11 in almost no light. Granted the D90 is outclassed, and getting a bit long in the tooth, but I was very surprised that the D700's were struggling. This is not an isolated incident, I also shoot with a fellow who has a D300. That camera really strugles in low light, where the K-3 taks it all in stride. My focus assist beam doesnt even engage.
03-25-2014, 02:14 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by kenspo Quote
Yes, im shure! I have never used D800, D4 or D4S..just D700, D3 and D3S...K-3 is waaaaay behind. Its much more challenging now. K-3 with primes, are a little better then the 16-50 etc..But as i said, there are something good going on with Pentax these days. I didnt sign the deal just for all the free stuff, but because i liked the thinking from Pentax, the future plans, and of course, that the K-3 is a good camera. But do remember, i shoot mostly metalconcerts. Most cameras will struggle there
Hm, I would be surprised if the D800 was worse than the D700, and the D4s being worse than the D3s. Maybe your k-3 settings aren't optimal?
03-25-2014, 02:17 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by wizofoz Quote
Kenspo, have you tried the K-3 in low light? Just to repeat I was geting effortless focus lock shooting at F11 in almost no light. Granted the D90 is outclassed, and getting a bit long in the tooth, but I was very surprised that the D700's were struggling. This is not an isolated incident, I also shoot with a fellow who has a D300. That camera really strugles in low light, where the K-3 taks it all in stride. My focus assist beam doesnt even engage.
Keep in mind, that he is talking about Metal concerts. In most cases it is too dark there and the stage lights + smoke machines, make the conditions even more challenging. I will quote my own post in another thread :
QuoteQuote:
I took photos of two concerts with K-3. Considering that I was in the audience, it was relatively hard to get quality shots. I used DA* 16-50 and Sigma 28 mm F1.8 (not macro). Surprisingly enough my old copy of 16-50 was better in terms of focusing. Both contrast and phase detection AF worked like a charm. The real problems were relatively slow zoom lens and it's softness when wide open. Most of the shots were ISO 6400, considering a rather specific light and smoke machines, post processing required serious effort. Even at ISO 6400 the shutter speeds were too low for certain scenes.
The concert I shot with Sigma 28 F1.8 had brighter lights, so the shots were in the range of 3200 to 6400. Now that lens, had troubles with focusing.

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