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05-12-2021, 07:29 PM - 9 Likes   #1
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K-3 iii track meet success

I've been photographing high school track meets for years and have come to know the behavior of my K-3 very well, including during action sequences tracking runners, jumpers and throwers. I have learned when my K-3 was likely to get and keep action in focus, and when it was likely to lose focus, fall behind the action or simply fail to produce the kinds of results I desired from AF-C. I've been able to capture great photos of action with the K-3, but at the same time I have also had many failures which were simply beyond the camera's abilities.

I've been waiting for the new APS-C flagship to replace the K-3, and desperately wanted to see improvements that would have a visible, tangible improvement in auto-focus and use for sports. I bought a K-3 iii as soon as I could.

Today was my first chance to put the K-3 iii to the test at a track meet. The lens I used was the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 APO DG HSM. 90% of photos were TAv mode, aperture was 3.5-5.6, and shutter speed was 1/800 to 1/2000. Shots were ~80% AF-C, Expanded Area AF-S, with AF hold OFF. AF-C release was focus priority for 1st frame and action. All images captured in RAW DNG to ProGrade 128GB UHS-II v90 card.

I took ~2500 photos, a mix of active, moving shots, still shots, long auto-bursts, intermittent bursts, tracking runners moving towards the camera, runners moving parallel to the camera. I put it to the test.

The results exceeded my expectations. The K-3 iii delivered on its promise. It's the real deal auto-focus and AF-C improvement I've been waiting for.

Some observations:
  • Not every photo was in perfect focus, but my general hit rate was way better than I ever had with the K-3. And this is only my first time using the Mark iii, so I expect this to improve.
  • Image quality is fantastic, and image noise is significantly improved over the K-3, even at low (100-400) ISO. I'm using a custom NR curve that turns the NR to the lowest level for ISO 100-800.
  • The K-3 iii excelled at grabbing focus when rapidly switching between runners. One challenge is when there are multiple runners in the same heat that you want to capture. You need to grab focus on one, fire a quick burst then rapidly switch to the second runner, and try to get a burst in focus before they go past.
  • The high FPS mode is great for jumpers/throwers.
  • I often hit the buffer limit, causing me to miss some action. Buffer clearing time was very fast using the v90 SD card. I imagine that more careful use of the Medium and High drive modes will help alleviate that issue.
  • I miss seeing the focus point in red using AF-C. Too easy to lose the black squares in busy backgrounds. I just had to hope the focus points were where I wanted them.
  • Battery life is slightly worse than the K-3. I needed to swap the battery during the meet. A grip with a second battery is coming.
  • Setting optimal customizations and settings for the E-dial will be very useful once I become more comfortable with the camera.

I've attached some sample photos from the meet. These are just quick exports to JPG. It is hard to "prove" that the K-3 iii performance is significantly improved just by posting a couple of JPGs, and these might not even be the 'best' examples I have to show what the K-3 iii can do. Rather, just consider them as evidence that I'm really happy with my K-3 iii today.

Hope others find this useful. Let me know if you have any questions.

Cheers,
Mike

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05-12-2021, 07:40 PM   #2
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Great to see. Thanks for sharing these.
05-13-2021, 03:24 AM   #3
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Nice shots. Looking forward to trying the K-3iii in sports.
05-13-2021, 05:14 AM   #4
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These are great - the shot with the runner 102 really captures the effort; the leaps and bounds of the others show true athleticism. Worthy of your local paper.

05-13-2021, 05:50 AM   #5
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Great shots! I am looking forward to using mine in a more action type setting.
05-13-2021, 06:13 AM   #6
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I have that Sigma... good to know it performs well. Thanks for the detailed post.
05-14-2021, 11:25 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by noelpolar Quote
I have that Sigma... good to know it performs well. Thanks for the detailed post.
The Sigma worked very well with the K-3 iii. I haven't done any tests using the lens stabilization with the K-3 iii. I don't know if it is focusing faster than when used on the K-3, but it delivered much more consistent focusing with the Mark iii.

06-11-2021, 02:42 PM   #8
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Excellent photos. I do the same, Track as well as XC. Started way back with my K-r, then my K-70, now my K-3 iii. I have the 55-300 PLM and focusing has been awesome. My settings are similar to yours, mostly shooting in TAv and letting the iso float. I shot a state championship meet last weekend, 3600 photos. I shot JPGs and was able to do it on 1 battery, although I had a second with me ready to go. I'm really looking forward to XC season this year, I expect some great shots out on the trails.
06-11-2021, 07:41 PM - 2 Likes   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by jdplante71 Quote
Excellent photos. I do the same, Track as well as XC. Started way back with my K-r, then my K-70, now my K-3 iii. I have the 55-300 PLM and focusing has been awesome. My settings are similar to yours, mostly shooting in TAv and letting the iso float. I shot a state championship meet last weekend, 3600 photos. I shot JPGs and was able to do it on 1 battery, although I had a second with me ready to go. I'm really looking forward to XC season this year, I expect some great shots out on the trails.
After four meets, I've learned more about the K-3 iii.
  • It tracks action significantly better than the K-3. Runners coming towards the camera, vaulters, high jumpers, etc. Much higher rate of in-focus pictures. Not 100%, not perfect, but many more usable shots to choose from.
  • It is also much improved when switching focus. For example, shooting 4 frames on the runner in lane 2, then switching to the runner in lane 6 and firing off another 4 frames. This is something the K-3 always struggled with, often failing to ever get focus on the second runner.
  • 10-fps fills the buffer faster than I'd like. I'm using v90 UHS-II cards and I'm hitting buffer-full regularly. It clears quickly, but it is still something you must account for in your shooting.
  • Auto-ISO TAv is fantastic. I've avoided using this on the K-3, because of how > 1600 ISO looked. I've been editing K-3 iii photos after a meet and being surprised that I was editing a photo taken at ISO 4000 without realizing it.
  • Noise is easily 1.5 stops improved over the K-3, sometimes 2 full stops. Superb high ISO performance for my needs.
  • The quality of ISO noise in the images has changed. The luminosity noise reduction function in Capture One is much more effective on K-3 iii images compared to K-3 images. Color noise has not been an issue in any image I've yet taken. Luminosity noise cleans up very nicely.
  • I got 4500 images on a single battery last meet. (No image review, no 'chimping', all in AF-C Med/High). Battery life is impressive. (Maybe the battery on my first outing wasn't fully charged.)
  • I've just received the D-BG8 battery grip. It is 1cm thicker than the grip for the K-3, so the camera is bulkier, but it is a very nice combo with the Sigma 70-200 f2.8 (and should also be good with the Pentax 70-200 f2.8 which is even heavier.)
  • I'm on firmware 1.0.1 and have had random 'freezes' where the shutter/AF button simply stop responding. Turning the camera off and on again resolved the problem. I'll update to 1.0.2 and see if it makes a difference.
  • I find the AF-point joystick very useful. Glad they added it. Looking forward to using it on the grip as well.

So far, the K-3 iii is meeting my expectations, and delivering solid improvements in image quality and handling when used for sports shooting.

Mike
06-11-2021, 10:47 PM   #10
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Nice pop to your photos!
06-12-2021, 01:34 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by MrNPhoto Quote
After four meets, I've learned more about the K-3 iii.
  • It tracks action significantly better than the K-3. Runners coming towards the camera, vaulters, high jumpers, etc. Much higher rate of in-focus pictures. Not 100%, not perfect, but many more usable shots to choose from.
  • It is also much improved when switching focus. For example, shooting 4 frames on the runner in lane 2, then switching to the runner in lane 6 and firing off another 4 frames. This is something the K-3 always struggled with, often failing to ever get focus on the second runner.
  • 10-fps fills the buffer faster than I'd like. I'm using v90 UHS-II cards and I'm hitting buffer-full regularly. It clears quickly, but it is still something you must account for in your shooting.
  • Auto-ISO TAv is fantastic. I've avoided using this on the K-3, because of how > 1600 ISO looked. I've been editing K-3 iii photos after a meet and being surprised that I was editing a photo taken at ISO 4000 without realizing it.
  • Noise is easily 1.5 stops improved over the K-3, sometimes 2 full stops. Superb high ISO performance for my needs.
  • The quality of ISO noise in the images has changed. The luminosity noise reduction function in Capture One is much more effective on K-3 iii images compared to K-3 images. Color noise has not been an issue in any image I've yet taken. Luminosity noise cleans up very nicely.
  • I got 4500 images on a single battery last meet. (No image review, no 'chimping', all in AF-C Med/High). Battery life is impressive. (Maybe the battery on my first outing wasn't fully charged.)
  • I've just received the D-BG8 battery grip. It is 1cm thicker than the grip for the K-3, so the camera is bulkier, but it is a very nice combo with the Sigma 70-200 f2.8 (and should also be good with the Pentax 70-200 f2.8 which is even heavier.)
  • I'm on firmware 1.0.1 and have had random 'freezes' where the shutter/AF button simply stop responding. Turning the camera off and on again resolved the problem. I'll update to 1.0.2 and see if it makes a difference.
  • I find the AF-point joystick very useful. Glad they added it. Looking forward to using it on the grip as well.

So far, the K-3 iii is meeting my expectations, and delivering solid improvements in image quality and handling when used for sports shooting.

Mike
Hi

Great shots, and a very helpful analysis. Thank you.

Is there a difference between tracking AF in the medium and high frame rates? If you shoot at medium speed to avoid filling the buffer, do you get a higher or lower _proportion_ (as opposed to absolute number) of sharp images?

Paul
06-22-2021, 07:11 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Paul_R_H Quote
Hi

Great shots, and a very helpful analysis. Thank you.

Is there a difference between tracking AF in the medium and high frame rates? If you shoot at medium speed to avoid filling the buffer, do you get a higher or lower _proportion_ (as opposed to absolute number) of sharp images?

Paul
I have not noticed a difference - I'm getting good results with both. When shooting in high, I'll take bursts, switching between runners. I'll shoot in medium when I need to track a runner, such as following them around a turn. Either way, you just need to be aware of how many frames you've taken, as they go by quick.

I updated to FW 1.0.2 and had no lockups at my last meet.

Good example of quickly capturing the action. I had been following the runner on the left #1026 when the runner on the right tripped and I was able to catch them mid-air:
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Last edited by MrNPhoto; 06-23-2021 at 09:10 AM. Reason: added photo
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