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04-28-2007, 09:57 PM   #1
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Focusing in Dim or Low Contrast Lighting

Hi, hate to open a thread with a gripe, I am 90% totally happy with my K10D these days, is doing a superlative job for my needs, and for the most part is making me look good.. except for this problem that I can not resolve. Mind you, this problem is not limited to Pentax or the other two big names either, but I have used a Sony F-7x7 and F-828 which had a holographic laser focus assist that DID work reliably.

The problem is, when shooting candid and random impromptu shots in dim or low contrast light, the AF lock is very sporadic.

Case in point last night. I was invited to shoot a photo essay for a 21st birthday party, outdoors on a cloudy night with little ambient or other illumination. I found that the focus hunted a lot, then flashed the red square for locked, but after viewing the shot it was major out of focus.

My gear. K10D, Sigma 17-70 DC 2.8, AF360FGZ flash. Shot in P mode, with the focus zone set to centre.

I did notice, the AF illuminator in the flash did not come on at all (Sometimes it works, mostly not???), so I tried my best to zero in on a bright spot of the subject and hold the lock to frame, worked sometimes but not others.

From experience, is the 540 FGZ better than the 360 FGZ in this ??

Is this a common experience? as this is a dynamic environment I tend to shoot in, posing or lighting is not an option... when you lose a shot like this you have no second chance to reshoot it.

Thanks, if anyone has any ideas that would be great.


Last edited by matix; 04-29-2007 at 05:51 PM.
04-28-2007, 11:24 PM   #2
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Similar problems experienced

I too have had similar experiences.

I just photographed a wedding today with my K10D and three primes. Unfortunately this is the first wedding I have done without a second camera, but it was for a friend, so I wasnt too worried.

Anyway, inside the church, and whereever there was low light, lots of shade, etc...the autofocus was not as fast as I would have liked.

I would say that I probably missed 20-30 candids due to this and had to wait on a number of formals for the camera to catch up with me.

On the upside however, I can't be happier with my lenses.....I get really good photos most of the time....but this slow focus is bothersome. I notice it in particular in the 43mm prime and 77mm prime. My 21mm pancake IS a bit faster though for some reason....maybe size.

Still...I love the pics. (see some samples attached)
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04-29-2007, 01:40 PM   #3
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matix,
in looking over your statement here I see you were shooting outdoors in Ambient light on a cloudy night. An almost imposable task. Now if I could ask What lens did you use. unless it was an f1.8 or faster then I can see your problem. I also can see there was no focus point. In this kind of light and a slow lens even an 11point AF can't function well. what you need to do in this case is get different glass to boost the AF or use manual focus and take your time. sorry my friend but there isn't a whole lot you can do in that kind of light. If I were shooting film I would have gone to infrared or at a very high ASA. It's hard to shoot a subject in a dark closet.
04-29-2007, 02:28 PM   #4
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I have a thick skin John... no problems

QuoteOriginally posted by jfdavis58 Quote
I hate to open a reply with an insult--ahhh heck that's not true. From my recent replies all can see that I love to start my replies with a slap or a shot or a bucket of cold water--whatda U expect this to be different???!!!???

Repeatedly it has been stated that the K10 is a 'photographers' camera. The it requires an active mind connected to the finger that pushes the button(s). I looked at you photo-there doesn't appear to be any focus point, anywhere. You simply mashed the button until it fired, damn the settings, full speed ahead.

First-the camera requires light to work properly-it's operations envelop is centered for sunny 16 conditions as the average and by the time you get to the conditions of your photo it's working the fringe of it's envelop.

Second, auto focus is an assist in it's own right. Adding an assist-illuminator--to an assist--auto focus--is stringing many problematics into a row then expecting miracles.

Third-there is a reason theaters, bars, nightclubs and some swanky eateries are so dark--your not supposed to take photographs!

I'm left shaking my head. There is not any real advice that anyone can give. Those glossy moody low light shots you may be trying to emulate (the concert, the bar, the lovers in a restaurant) are not 'low light' at all--they're controlled light. Surely somewhere deep down in everyone mind there is a little whisper that this must be the case.

Your alternatives are more light, faster glass, faster iso (and noise), some form of support, manual focus, luck, and prayer.

Sorry for the 'cold shot' but that's the facts, friend.
Ha, a bit stern but non the less accurate and you leaned toward constructive toward the end... I guess you have no plan to join the diplomatic core anytime soon John?

I guess I am being too hard on the K10D, it does a great job on focusing unless the subject is really dim. When I saw I had blown these 3 shots, I cast my mind back on the actual shot and it was hurried, but that is the nature of candid shots.

"I looked at you photo-there doesn't appear to be any focus point, anywhere. You simply mashed the button until it fired, damn the settings, full speed ahead."


Well yes, and if you read the original post again you will see that I admitted to this, with a comment that I DID see the red focus lock illuminate, did not hear a beep this was at a party remember, and as I was using center focus, and the red square was on the face, "Mashed the Button" as you say.... I was surprised that it did not result in a focused image, I took 300+ images and only 20 or so were dumped for being out of focus, so I guess I have some talent in the use of the camera.

With the Sigma 2.8 17-70 it is a lot better, than for instance the Sigma 18-200 which does a great job outdoors, but not so good indoors in the evening. I also have the DA 18-55 and a Sigma EX 15-30 none of which are super fast, and a Ricoh 30mm 2.0 which may have been better.. and with manual I would not have tried the quickie shots I did.

What this boils down to is the fact that if you have light, or even a bright spot on the subject you are ok it will focus and lock, but in these instances there were none, if you read the original post it notes that my gripe was not so much with the camera, but with the flash. For some reason it no longer strobes the focus assist.

I stated in the OP that... "I did notice, the AF illuminator in the flash did not come on at all (Sometimes it works, mostly not???), so I tried my best to zero in on a bright spot of the subject and hold the lock to frame, worked sometimes but not others."

From experience, is the 540 FGZ better than the 360 FGZ in this ??


I was not bagging the K10D, just wondering if the flash was doing what I expected of it.

Yes, I 'Mashed the Button' on this one a few minuted earlier, similar conditions.... took 3 frames, all ok. I was just expecting the flash to pre strobe or strobe the focus assist in the previous examples, but it did not... I reiterate, has anyone else had this experience?



The camera is superb, I have no intention of selling it or changing just need some better and faster glass and also need to get a flash that works better, I have just bought a AF 540 FGZ and will keep the AF 360 as a slave flash.

Phil

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04-29-2007, 02:33 PM   #5
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Also an accurate observation.. point taken

QuoteOriginally posted by Photo Tramp Quote
matix,
in looking over your statement here I see you were shooting outdoors in Ambient light on a cloudy night. An almost imposable task. Now if I could ask What lens did you use. unless it was an f1.8 or faster then I can see your problem. I also can see there was no focus point. In this kind of light and a slow lens even an 11point AF can't function well. what you need to do in this case is get different glass to boost the AF or use manual focus and take your time. sorry my friend but there isn't a whole lot you can do in that kind of light. If I were shooting film I would have gone to infrared or at a very high ASA. It's hard to shoot a subject in a dark closet.
Yes you are correct David, I have been roundly chastised in another post and have taken all comments in good humour. I have learned a lof from this forum to back up my 50 years of photography, but as I stated to John earlier, my question was perhaps poorly presented, and every one missed the point about the AF 360 FGZ no delivering any focus assist. The subject was only 9' away, if I had been using the pop up flash it would have flashed pre focuse assist, but the external flash did not do it all all.

Thanks David.
04-29-2007, 02:46 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by pentaxshooter Quote
I too have had similar experiences.

I just photographed a wedding today with my K10D and three primes. Unfortunately this is the first wedding I have done without a second camera, but it was for a friend, so I wasnt too worried.

Still...I love the pics. (see some samples attached)
Hi Pentaxshooter, thanks for the feedback. Loved your shots, nicely presented and framed.

A tip though, when adding more than one pic using attachements on the forum, it is a good idea to keep them small, or use the Pic Icon on the top of the screen and enter the URL link to the actual uploaded image.

When you add two very large images as you did, it makes the post and all subsequent replies very hard to read as the text does not wrap, and you have to keep sliding the screen from one side to the other.

Thanks, Phil
04-29-2007, 05:27 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by matix Quote
my question was perhaps poorly presented, and every one missed the point about the AF 360 FGZ no delivering any focus assist.
The first part of this statement is probably true, the second is not. Perhaps you missed what was said about it because it wasn't what you wanted to hear?

I'll echo JFD (and to some extent, David), you were in a tough situation, and using the assists available to you, which was probably not a totally bad idea. However, from the way you are talking about it, it really seems as if you wanted the assist to take over for you. The problem is, it isn't perfect, and it can't take over for you. The truth is that the camera can't make you look good--you have to make you look good.

You say that you only had to dump 20 out of 300+ shots because the focus was bad, and you imply causation (the flash assist didn't work--therefore the shot was out of focus). For a situation where the camera isn't perfect, the flash isn't perfect, heck, you ain't perfect!, I'd say you did just fine, and the tools worked very well under the direction you gave them. Depending on what you tell the flash, and how it is set up to 'see' what it sees, the focus assist may not always fire. Depending on how you look at it, you got average or better than average use out of that aid. From my personal experience--yep, average, when you allow the camera to think while your own brain wanders.

My advice? You question is buried under a bunch of extraneous information, and is rather poorly posed. We can't answer your question about the assist because the first instinct is to reply to all of your moaning about 50 years of experience, and how you must have some skill because you've been doing it for so long. Knock it off! Unbunch the panties and stand up.

It's a poor craftsman who blames his tools, and you appear (from what you've said) to only have used one technique to get the shots you want. You've told us what equipment you used, that you had it in Program mode (and you didn't tell us what mode you had the flash on), and your thinking when you stepped on the shutter. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but also feel free to ask for the kind of advice you really need, because there is no shame in that. If you need books to read while sitting on the can, ask for those related to this topic. If you need help, if you need a refresher on how to get the camera out of P, or get the flash out of Auto, and a starting point to work from in order to get the shots you want as best you can with the equipment you've got, ask for that. Just please don't sit back and reiterate that the camera&attachments struggle under dim conditions, and they aren't perfect in green, easy, auto mode. Yes, that point has been made.
04-29-2007, 06:11 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by bdavis Quote
The first part of this statement is probably true, the second is not. Perhaps you missed what was said about it because it wasn't what you wanted to hear?

I'll echo JFD (and to some extent, David), you were in a tough situation, and using the assists available to you, which was probably not a totally bad idea. However, from the way you are talking about it, it really seems as if you wanted the assist to take over for you. The problem is, it isn't perfect, and it can't take over for you. The truth is that the camera can't make you look good--you have to make you look good.

You say that you only had to dump 20 out of 300+ shots because the focus was bad, and you imply causation (the flash assist didn't work--therefore the shot was out of focus). For a situation where the camera isn't perfect, the flash isn't perfect, heck, you ain't perfect!, I'd say you did just fine, and the tools worked very well under the direction you gave them. Depending on what you tell the flash, and how it is set up to 'see' what it sees, the focus assist may not always fire. Depending on how you look at it, you got average or better than average use out of that aid. From my personal experience--yep, average, when you allow the camera to think while your own brain wanders.

My advice? You question is buried under a bunch of extraneous information, and is rather poorly posed. We can't answer your question about the assist because the first instinct is to reply to all of your moaning about 50 years of experience, and how you must have some skill because you've been doing it for so long. Knock it off! Unbunch the panties and stand up.

It's a poor craftsman who blames his tools, and you appear (from what you've said) to only have used one technique to get the shots you want. You've told us what equipment you used, that you had it in Program mode (and you didn't tell us what mode you had the flash on), and your thinking when you stepped on the shutter. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but also feel free to ask for the kind of advice you really need, because there is no shame in that. If you need books to read while sitting on the can, ask for those related to this topic. If you need help, if you need a refresher on how to get the camera out of P, or get the flash out of Auto, and a starting point to work from in order to get the shots you want as best you can with the equipment you've got, ask for that. Just please don't sit back and reiterate that the camera&attachments struggle under dim conditions, and they aren't perfect in green, easy, auto mode. Yes, that point has been made.
Sheesh, I am sorry I asked... thanks anyway for your help everyone. It is amazing how much was read between the lines on this one post, and in some respects was responded to with assumption of intent, meaning or interpretation on my part, to result in vitriolic criticism before critique. I guess I blew the post, poorly written and phrased, it got a response but not the one I expected. I thought this forum was the friendly helpful one.

Sorry If I offended anyones sensitivities, it was not my intent... but I have learned now, this has not been a good experience in my mind.

04-29-2007, 06:19 PM   #9
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Thank you John!!

QuoteOriginally posted by jfdavis58 Quote
Phil,

I think your follow-up provides both missing information and needed clarification from your original posting.

Frankly you did pretty well with so few failures. At My peak I had problems like you experience with a fully manual camera--who/what do I blame things on in that situation? Cameras don't always give perfect or expected responses-it's part of the game.

I've got a couple of both flash models. There is little or no performance difference under the conditions you cite. I do think that overall, the 540 communicates with the K10 faster and more reliably--but that would be more mainline situations.

I like good results at this point in my life. I've pushed and pulled and tweaked and tickled--there results are strictly YMMV. Within the normal operation envelop the odds of good results are significantly better.
Thanks, appreciate your response John

I guess I should have said.... I have a K10D and AF360FGZ flash, it was my understanding that this model had a flash assist feature that would illuminate the subject at short range, with a red led pattern, to assist in the focusing in poor lighting conditions.

Mine does not seem to work, in fact it does not display the red flash assist at all even in total darkness. Is there a setting that can turn this on and off? With the pop up flash on, I do get the assist which does help a lot.

I am aware that I am trying near the impossible with this scenario, but on the few occasions that I do not have time to use all the techniques I have learned, and already tried with this gear, I had hoped that this built in flash assist would be reliable.

Does that make more sense?

Phil
04-29-2007, 06:27 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by matix Quote
Sheesh, I am sorry I asked...
.........Sorry If I offended anyones sensitivities, it was not my intent... but I have learned now, this has not been a good experience in my mind.
Hey, Mate, don't give up on us just because a couple of self opinionated pratts get their collective knickers in a twist.

They're just folks, and folks is wierd.
"All the world's queer save thee and me, Missus, and even thee's a bit odd." (Old Yorkshire expression)

It all adds colour, if somewhat garish, to the broad canvas of life.
04-29-2007, 08:24 PM   #11
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Ok, let's start again eh?

I guess I am weird too.. I like to shoot candid, that means....

The photographic setup of candid photography is best described as un-posed and unplanned, immediate and unobtrusive. This is in contrast to classic photography, which includes aspects such as carefully staged portrait photography, landscape photography or object photography. Candid photography is supposed to catch rare instances of life from the very immersion into it, rather than to produce imagery of still life, to catch rare moments of "reality" which presupposes a definition of "reality."

This shot of an 18month old, my step-grandson, was shot with the K10D, Sigma 17-70 2.8 DC and AF360FGZ. How did I set this up? I didn't really. I saw the shot, the camera was ready to go, and was hanging in my hand secured by my hand strap, by my right knee as I walked by. I took the shot from that position aiming by instinct not with the viewfinder, without the subject expecting the shot, it worked... that is what I do with my Pentax, and I love it.

The hat was on, 20 seconds later the hat was gone.. and tears would have resulted if the hat was forced on the little guy.

Yes I respect the others, the bird shooters, fashion, wedding, classic etc, I believe we are, as one wrote earlier... 'part of the mosaic of life', leave out one tile and the image is flawed.

Phil

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Last edited by matix; 04-29-2007 at 08:31 PM.
04-29-2007, 08:40 PM   #12
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I'm no psyciatrist but...

QuoteOriginally posted by matix Quote
Hi, hate to open a thread with a gripe, I am 90% totally happy with my K10D these days, is doing a superlative job for my needs, and for the most part is making me look good.. except for this problem that I can not resolve. Mind you, this problem is not limited to Pentax or the other two big names either, but I have used a Sony F-7x7 and F-828 which had a holographic laser focus assist that DID work reliably.

The problem is, when shooting candid and random impromptu shots in dim or low contrast light, the AF lock is very sporadic.

Case in point last night. I was invited to shoot a photo essay for a 21st birthday party, outdoors on a cloudy night with little ambient or other illumination. I found that the focus hunted a lot, then flashed the red square for locked, but after viewing the shot it was major out of focus.

My gear. K10D, Sigma 17-70 DC 2.8, AF360FGZ flash. Shot in P mode, with the focus zone set to centre.

I did notice, the AF illuminator in the flash did not come on at all (Sometimes it works, mostly not???), so I tried my best to zero in on a bright spot of the subject and hold the lock to frame, worked sometimes but not others.

From experience, is the 540 FGZ better than the 360 FGZ in this ??

Is this a common experience? as this is a dynamic environment I tend to shoot in, posing or lighting is not an option... when you lose a shot like this you have no second chance to reshoot it.

Thanks, if anyone has any ideas that would be great.

Having read your question and some of the more strident replies I am sorry to say that I am unable to see any hidden sub-text to your question, unlike the aforementioned posters. Perhaps you need to seek the help of a professional 'shrink'.

However, getting back to photography and your question. I cannot offer an opinion on the difference between the 540 and 360 flash units, but given the difficulties of shooting in low light situations no matter which camera you use, the lens can make a difference.

In these situations the faster a lens can focus the more likely you are to get an in-focus shot or any shot at all. I notice you are using a Sigma 17-70mm which relies on the in-camera focus mechanism and is naturally slower than a lens with a built-in motor.

This difference in focusing speed is especially important in difficult lighting situations and for any 'grab' shot, especially where you are relying on the camera's 'P' (auto) setting. I would be more inclined to switch to manual with some safe settings - you would probably get a better hit rate.

By the way, I had no trouble understanding your question - at least I think I understood it..

Good luck
04-29-2007, 08:49 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by matix Quote
Mine does not seem to work, in fact it does not display the red flash assist at all even in total darkness. Is there a setting that can turn this on and off?
This is not normal. Make sure your camera is set to AF-S. The AF assist does not work in AF-C. And you can try setting the Flash to "SP" mode; where it would only do AF Assist without firing the flash. The AF assist always comes on when you are at total darkness.
04-29-2007, 10:25 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by nosnoop Quote
This is not normal. Make sure your camera is set to AF-S. The AF assist does not work in AF-C. And you can try setting the Flash to "SP" mode; where it would only do AF Assist without firing the flash. The AF assist always comes on when you are at total darkness.
That is what I thought too, I had it on AF-S for sure, and Auto P-TTL, all other settings are default...

Will do some testing tonight, thanks nosnoop
04-29-2007, 11:14 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by matix Quote
I DID see the red focus lock illuminate, did not hear a beep this was at a party remember, and as I was using center focus, and the red square was on the face, "Mashed the Button" as you say.... I was surprised that it did not result in a focused image, I took 300+ images and only 20 or so were dumped for being out of focus
20 out of 300 is 6,6% failures. That's not too bad at all for difficult light shooting, I'd say. If you had that many failures with focus locking on at least something in good light, I'd be worried but with that percentage under difficult conditions... Hmm. Perhaps relaxing your criteria would be a good idea?

Not to question your judgment but still I think it's worth asking - where those 20 shots out of focus or were they blurry instead, because SR didn't compensate enough?

Also - you're using center focus for subjects that move and change places around quickly. Have you tried auto? Perhaps it's quicker to lock on areas that can be locked? I don't know about you but I've found that camera sometimes finds focus there where I didn't think it could obtain the lock. Using center focus is certainly good sometimes but you have to be pretty sure that it will agree with you on chosen point.
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