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10-11-2012, 11:43 AM   #1
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Help getting started - K7

Hello all! I'm new to the forum and to shooting with a DSLR, so I'm looking for some guidance to help get me started.

About me:
I'm a new dad (for just over a week now - her name is Olivia ) who has always used point and shoot cameras and I wanted to move up to a DSLR so I can get better quality photos of my family. I'm also a very avid hiker, so I wanted to capture those moments as well.

I took a photography class back in High School and loved it, but unfortunately I didn't retain the knowledge. I've been reading up on photography and trying to learn the craft, but my current knowledge is still very basic.

I spent a while comparing the offerings in my price range from Canon, Nikon, and Sony, but decided on Pentax in the end because, as a brand, they seemed more up my alley - simple, rugged, reliable cameras. I was going to pick up a K5, but happened to find a K7 for sale locally that was too good of a deal to pass up.

Here's what I got:
K7 Body
Tamron 18-250mm zoom lens
Pentax M-50mm F1.7 prime lens
Pentax M-28mm F3.5 prime lens
Pentax Battery Grip
Lens Filter (polarized, I think)
K7 Accessories - strap, charger, cables, manuals, SD card, etc.

So, I've had the camera for couple days and I'll be honest - I don't know what the heck I'm doing. I've gotten about halfway through the manual so far, so I understand the control layout and screen navigation, but I'm struggling to take a decent picture. I get good results with the automatic "green" mode while shooting stationary objects outside under natural light (using the Tamron lens), but anything shot indoors or in motion looks pretty bad. And I'm not sure how to set things while using the Pentax lenses, so I haven't had good results with those.

I understand that shooting with SLR cameras requires a lot of knolwedge and practice to produce good results, and I am excited to learn more and improve my skills. Right now I'm hoping to receive some guidance from those with more experience.

What are some basic settings to use for these types of shots?
-Indoor/low light

When and how do I use the two Pentax lenses? Likewise, when should I use the lens filter?

How conservative should I be regarding actuations? I think I recall reading that the camera is rated for 100,000 actuations. It had about 2000 when I bought it, but they add up quick when taking shots to test out different settings, and I don't want to be wasting shots.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

10-11-2012, 01:34 PM   #2
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I have a K7 as well, and really enjoy using it.

So, first off, the indoors shots are likely blurry do to insufficient light which can be solved using a faster lens (more money invested) or a flash (the on-camera one is decent), or simply using the lens at the largest (smallest number ie. f4 rather than f8) aperture.

The pentax lens are m-lenses which means they don't communicate information tot he camera which means you need to set the exposure manually. Read the manual regarding the green button for info on this.

Lens filters are a matter of opinion. Some use them simply to protect the expensive lens behind them. About the only necessary filter in the digital age is a polarizing filter that cuts incident light and makes some colours more vibrant.

And finally, the camera is made for taking pictures, so my advice is don't worry about the actuations. Use it as you want until it dies.

Hope that helps a bit at least.

10-11-2012, 01:53 PM   #3
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The last question is the easiest. Just go for it. Say you take a hundred shots a day every day, and the shutter falls a bit short on life expectancy. That's two solid years. By then camera technology will have advanced (I think the K-7 design will be about 5 years old) and you'll be thinking about upgrades. DSLRs don't exactly hold resale value either, so it's not worth saving shutter actuations for later.

A polarizing filter will look like tinted glass or sunglasses, and have a rotating ring in front. It's mostly meant for outdoors, to cut polarized sunlight. The ring turns so you can change the effect to match the direction of the sun. They cut down reflections and increase contrast. They reduce the overall light reaching the lens, and have little effect indoors, so there's no reason to use one indoors.

Photography is a little annoying because everything is connected to and dependent on everything else, so it's like juggling 5 balls at once. [I would get the book "Understanding Exposure" because it covers three of the balls pretty well.] The other two balls might be focus and camera controls, or lenses, or something else. Like juggling, starting with one ball is easier.

Which ball is a coin flip. You could start with the Tamron 18-250, and let the camera focus. That lens works with almost every feature or mode on the camera. You could let the camera control other stuff while you learn about one setting, such as aperture. To do that, set ISO to Auto and turn the mode dial to Av. Now one dial sets different apertures, and the camera tries to choose other settings to match. The camera can be set up like this to control everything except one setting. You just need to change that and analyze the results.

The other way is maybe more hard-core, using one of the manual lenses. That means putting the camera in M mode. The flash will only fire at full power. The camera switches to center-weighted metering. You have to change aperture on the lens, with no displayed value. To get a meter reading, you have to press the green button first. Focus is manual, though the camera will help a little by telling you when the center AF point is focused on something. The lenses only have one focal length as well, so you're stuck with that. That's sometimes more learning curve than people like at first, which is how cameras got so many features to begin with. Still, it's basic photography, and people used to do it just fine. The advantage you have is instant feedback.
10-11-2012, 02:16 PM   #4
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Hi supro, and welcome to the Forums.

If you're only a couple of days into ownership and struggling with things, you're not necessarily doing all that badly, especially as you're juggling this very steep learning curve with new parenthood. The advice given already is good advice. Low light can be very challenging, and it's an area where even more recent cameras are still refining their ability to render images well in those conditions.

Getting focus right is one thing, but just as important at low shutter speeds is reducing blur due to camera shake. The in-built Shake Reduction will only get you so far, too. Your results will improve if you steady yourself and the camera as much as possible before you take the shot. Happily, your new subject won't be moving too fast for a while, so you have plenty of time to learn the various techniques involved.

So, the best additional advice I can give is to slow down a bit, make sure you're as balanced as you can be, that your grip on the camera is as firm as possible, and that you control your breathing. One bit of long-time general advice on using a camera has been lost a bit with modern controls, and that is to adopt the right stance, compose, focus, exhale and gently squeeze the shutter release button. There's plenty of tips on stance and a good thread here on how to hold the camera steady (do a search in the Forum search facility to find it), but I don't often see breathing control mentioned, which is still good advice, even with fast lenses and modern shake reduction systems.

I probably don't need to tell you to also relax and enjoy your new family. I got my first Pentax (an S3, film, no light metering in-built, no AF) for just that purpose of recording my children's progress and happy moments. That was forty years ago, and now I enjoy watching those children do the same thing with their children.

10-11-2012, 02:41 PM   #5
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+1 for "Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson. Great book that will unlock a lot of secrets for you. Should be required reading for all first-time DSLR owners, IMO
10-11-2012, 02:51 PM   #6
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Thanks for the quick replies. Lots of great info here!

I had no clue what I was doing with the manual lenses, and that clears up quite a few things. I'll be approaching those a bit differently now!

I probably should have done the math on he actuations, haha. I probably won't be taking 100-200 pictures a day, so I agree that I'll likely be looking to upgrade before the actuations get up there.

Thanks again. Great forum!
10-11-2012, 03:08 PM   #7
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Nice first setup! Looks a lot like me one year ago. I had 18-55, 70-300, manual 28mm and a M50/1.4. The M50 was the one that taught me the most as I HAD to think a bit and stay of the Green mode. After a while, together with reading books and articles, I started to learn what values the Green Button would show in manual mode and soon I learned to manipulate the values to match the pic I wanted to accomplish. Push buttons, take loads of pics and instead of becoming frustrated (I bet you will be at times) when things don't go well just try to find out why. After a while you'll feel so limited when handling your compact instead.

Also, that 50mm F1.7 is great for taken those indoor shots of a slowmoving baby.

Last edited by VisualDarkness; 10-11-2012 at 03:27 PM.
10-11-2012, 03:26 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Supro Quote
...What are some basic settings to use for these types of shots?
-Indoor/low light

When and how do I use the two Pentax lenses?
I skipped this part because it's the most complicated question. In low light, the M50/1.7 is a good choice, because it lets in more light that the others. (Only a handful of lenses that work on the K-7 let in more light, and not much more.) As I mentioned before, these M lenses limit many camera operations, so you have to use M mode and control everything yourself. Some basic rules that apply to each setting:

Aperture - at f1.7, the lens is fully open and lets in the most light. The tradeoff is a limited depth of field. If the focus ring is set to 5 feet, everything 5 feet away will be in focus. Closer or more distant objects will be softer or completely blurry.

Shutter speed - this should be high enough to eliminate camera shake from handheld shots. The general rule is your shutter speed should be 1/focal length of lens for handheld shots. For a 50mm lens, something like 1/50 sec or faster. The general rule goes back to a larger format which suggests it should be 1/75 sec, but ignores SR so maybe it should be something slower. And general rules don't mean you are awesome at handholding and shouldn't try 1/8 to see if it works. Shutter speed is also used to capture motion so is related to how fast a moving object is crossing the frame, and how you want it to look.

ISO - I think of this as turning up the volume on the sensor, which is a little wrong but close. At a certain point, it goes from just getting louder/more sensitive to light to adding in terrible side effects. ISO 100 limits the artifacts and errors to mostly invisible levels, while ISO 6400 looks worse. At higher ISO settings, the exposure is more critical because the image data won't allow for much manipulation. For a small print or web photo of a good exposure, you might not notice anything bad about ISO 6400.

Focus - the K-7 was not really meant for manual focus but it works with care. What you see in focus in the viewfinder is rarely exactly what the photo will show. Look for the zone of sharp focus, then estimate the middle of that. Put your subject in that middle and you should be OK. Make sure your diopter is set right - it won't affect autofocus if it's off, but manual focus will be off.

Metering - the camera will suggest settings assuming that the most important part of the image is in the middle of the frame, and that it's a boring, neutral-colored object. So you don't have to believe it. Check the histogram after your shot and see how that looks. The manual has good and bad histogram examples. Indoor light won't usually change rapidly so you can skip metering with every shot, only remetering if there's a change.

White Balance - your eyes have been lying to you about light sources and color. And once you take a photo, they refuse to lie any more. You will find the north side windows of your house make everythiing blue, tungsten bulbs make everything yellow, and fluorescent might be any color at any time. It drives me to shooting in RAW and changing it later. You can also set a custom white balancde for a particular light source, or use a preset.

I might pick up the camera with the M50/1.7, set the focal length for SR, switch to M mode, and switch to manual focus*. My house is bright at night with a lot of lights and I am awesome at handholding. (I might set white balance here if I shot JPG). I prefer my ISO to be 800 or less. I'd set the aperture to f2.8, which lets in some light, blurs what might be a cluttered back- or foreground, and has enough depth of field for a person's head at normal distance. Then when I see a subject, I use the green button. If it suggests a shutter speed within my handholding ability, I focus and shoot. I'll adjust and shoot again if the metering was off. If the green button says I need a really slow shutter speed, I'll change aperture or ISO to get a higher speed. Then I know I have to be careful with depth of field or correct exposure in the shot. *You can set the focus mode to AF.S instead, so the camera won't fire until the center point detects focus.

Motion is hard to measure and lots of stuff moves. You can either freeze it or show it off. Motion means the shutter speed usually takes priority. Use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. For humans playing sports, something like 1/250 to 1/1000 is a good range. To show motion, follow it with the camera and use a slow shutter speed like 1/30 or 1/60, "panning". Practice following cars as they drive by on your street. (About every third driver will glare at you suspiciously; these people have something to hide.) You can see how fluid your panning is by the streaks in the images. Motion probably means some trial and error to match shutter speed to motion.

Flash is a special case for motion shots. A flash burst is 1/1000 sec. or faster. If the flash is providing all of the light on the subject, it'll freeze its motion exactly like a fast shutter. If you pop up the K-7's flash, you can't set a shutter speed faster than 1/180, but the flash itself will often stop motion anyway, for subjects within its range.

Last edited by Just1MoreDave; 10-11-2012 at 03:34 PM.
10-11-2012, 03:49 PM   #9
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I've learned it like this:

You have a bucket (exposure) of water (Light) and wants to fill it with water.
A. You fill it too little = Underexposed Too dark
B. You fill it too Much = Overexposed Too bright
C. Perfectly = Good exposure

You have a couple of things regulating how much water you get.
1. How big the hose is = Your aperture. The aperture changes the diameter of your lens with blades. Also affects how "big" the area of focus will be/how blurry the background becomes.
2. How long you fill it = Exposure time. Short time freezes the subject, longer times capture motion. Too short can induce shaking from the handling of the camera.
3. How high the water pressure is, too much will splash all over the place = ISO boosts the signal from the sensor by hardware or software, too high will create too much noise.

Now you need to combine this in some way that fills the bucket perfectly but at the same time gives you the result you want. Hope you find it somewhat useful!
10-11-2012, 04:36 PM   #10
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Great analogies and explanations! Thanks for the detailed post Dave. This is exactly what I was looking for. You guys have certainly given me some homework. Gotta do some experimenting and practicing - the fun suff!
10-11-2012, 04:43 PM   #11
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Practice makes perfect and experimenting is a great way to learn. Luckily the camera won't self-destruct just because you choose the wrong settings, so just shot around! Also, when you are familiar with the camera buy a flash or two, just recently began to use my flashes (that I had for a while) and discovered how much more you can do with them and you learn a lot about light.
10-11-2012, 05:51 PM   #12
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I have had a K-7 for several years now. I had one Pentax Kit zoom lens and a handful of old manual lenses. When I first took it home I was very disappointed with the results but with time and practice, it started to come together. I suggest you start with the Tamron using AV mode as one other correspondent has quoted.

The Pentax Manual; is very detailed on what each control does but does not really explain why you would use the various controls. I have found a book on the K-7 in the "Magic Lantern Guides" series to be very helpful in that area.

One big advantage of digital is the ability to process your own images in the computer. There are some in camera facilities for this but the world really opens up with decent processing software. There are several free programs available on the net or low cost ones such as Adobe Photoshop Elements which can give a real boost to your photos. Another learning curve (sorry) but one well worth the effort.

Welcome aboard and happy shootint

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