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09-29-2013, 05:01 PM   #1
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Portrait Lens for Children

Hi all,

This is my first post. I've owned Pentax cameras since high school. This summer I bought my very first prime lens (a SMC Pentax-A 50mm 1.7) and I finally started shooting in manual mode (I have a K100D). My only goal right now is to be able to take better pictures of my toddler.

I love the shallow DOF and bokeh, but I find I am missing too many shots because of the manual focus- either because he moves and I can't adjust quickly enough, or because I'm shooting from a bit of a distance and I can't get the focus exactly right. We were on the Jurassic Coast in the UK this summer and the best shots of him were ever so slightly out of focus, and I was so frustrated.

I think I want to try a lens with auto focus, but I'm not sure whether to try to replace my current lens or whether I should branch out and get something different (35mm?).

I've been looking at the Pentax DA 50mm 1.8, but am worried about some of the reviews concerning the auto focus function. I don't want to buy another lens to have it struggle with tracking my toddler, especially with shallow DOFs. Obviously the price is right with that one (it's on sale right now for $169), but I would rather spend more if necessary to make sure I'll end up with a lens I can trust to keep up with my little guy.

Upgrading the camera is also on the wishlist, but I feel I haven't yet learned enough to rationalize that expenditure.

Any advice appreciated!

09-29-2013, 06:55 PM   #2
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The DA 35 F2.4 AL should be added to the list of potentials. Although it doesn't have a wide aperture (only F2.4) it still performs very well based on the evidence i have seen. I don't own a copy, as i have the FA 31 Ltd, but if you check out the reviews it is very positive.
Particularly with sharp images, and many reviews indicate snappy focus.
09-29-2013, 07:09 PM   #3
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A focus screen meant for manual focus lenses would help, but you wouldn't be able to use it on any of the newer cameras. Those screens make it easier to see when you're in focus and when you're not.

The DA 50/1.8 will work on your current camera and newer Pentaxes, so it's better if you plan to upgrade. I haven't used it but it would surprise me if it wasn't at least good at autofocus. I have a 25 year old Pentax-F 50mm f1.7 and it works very well. The DA should be at least as good. Your camera is not as fast at autofocus as the current models anyway.

You could do some testing to see if your current focus screen is off a bit. Try using a tripod and focusing as perfectly as possible on one line of text on a newspaper on the floor. The idea is to have the camera angled down so each line of text is at a slightly different distance from the camera. When you look at the test shot on the computer, see if the right line is in focus.

If you are very close with a 50mm lens, f1.7 gives you hardly enough depth of field for a three-dimensional subject. It does allow shooting in very low light and low ISO, but if bad focus will ruin the shot anyway, it's not an advantage. I like to be 10-12 feet away when I am using f1.7 and focus is tricky.
09-29-2013, 07:25 PM   #4
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Something that focuses fast and a lens that is fast in aperture. Then, if you already got that a macro for the close up work.

I've been loving my DFA 50mm f2.8 for portraits of my newborn, now...it doesn't focus fast and it hunts on my K5. but its a great lens for it. The other one I really enjoy is the DA*55mm f1.4... but I'm sure just the regular FA 50 f1.4 would be a winner too!

09-29-2013, 07:56 PM   #5
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Welcome to the forums! And as the mother of my own 21-month-old and house photographer for all my friends' and family's kids, I'm inclined to say that the problem is more toddlerhood than your lens. That 15-month to 3-year-old window is just tough when you're trying to have a limited DOF. I just checked my K100D and I don't think it has catch-in-focus (at least I couldn't find the option in the menu), but that's one thing that might help you out, regardless of the lens you use.

If you are going to buy a new lens, I find that the 30-35mm range is more useful indoors, although it's a little wide for outside. Like Chaos, I don't have the DA 35 but I do have the FA 31, and it lives on my camera. I just moved from a dark little apartment in New York, and I kept the aperture at f/1.8 pretty much permanently. Even with the FA 31, though, most of my shots are NOT keepers. Not even close. I spray and pray and hope my kid isn't making some weird face when the elements all magically align. So in that regard, a big SD card might pay dividends as well.

Best of luck!
09-29-2013, 08:08 PM   #6
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I believe you mean catch-as-catch-can "candids" rather than "portraits" which are generally controlled shots of a cooperative subject.

The Tamron 28-75 has a good range, is relatively fast, and sometimes can be found in the forum Marketplace for $325 or so.

Last edited by SpecialK; 09-30-2013 at 06:05 AM.
09-30-2013, 12:38 AM   #7
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use any one of the FA 24/2 31/1,8 43/1,9 77/1,8 135/2,8
09-30-2013, 04:23 AM   #8
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The top two causes of "photo-failure" are missed focus (as you have experienced) and failure to get close enough to the subject (or zoom in close enough). Primes of less than 50mm will require you to get in really close to avoid lots of cropping, leading to distortion and disruption of whatever cute activity your child is undertaking. When your child begins to roam about the backyard a longer zoom will allow you to follow from a greater distance, capturing the wonder of new exploration etc. etc. Prime advocates will bemoan the (supposedly) lower quality of a zoom, so save your 50mm for posed photos if you must, and consider a good zoom for everyday.

09-30-2013, 05:30 AM   #9
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I dont know what kind of light you're shooting under but with K100d's iso limit being 800-1600 I find that I want as much light as possible when the conditions allow for wider aperture (ie: toddler staying still). At this aperture keeper rate is low as DOF is super thin, but I'd rather have a slightly misfocused picture than dark/no picture when it comes to kids.

I'd recommend the new DA 50/1.8 but the F/FA 1.4s are a good option as well. Get either one you can get a good deal on. If you get the F/FA 1.7 versions you can safely sell your A, as they're basically the same lens (the A 1.7 is a great lens)

With subjects that run around, I've never had much luck with K100D, its tracking is nonexistent, so what you do is manually focus to approximately where you want and hit the shutter on continuous mode when the subject approximately where you want it.

Someone mentioned DA 35/2.4 and it's more of an all rounder lens, and not as fast, and you have to move closer, but you'll get an (imho) more useful focal length.

If you feel that you never hit your shutter-speed or ISO lsimit because your house has TONS of natural light or you like to use flash, DA 40 is a good option as it's probably the fastest focuser in the whole Pentax lineup.

Last edited by Andi Lo; 09-30-2013 at 06:19 AM.
09-30-2013, 06:33 AM   #10
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I use a the DA* 55/1.4 now but I sold a FA 50/1.4 and it is fast focusing lens that I had no trouble focusing with.
09-30-2013, 07:37 AM   #11
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For uncooperative children I would suggest a Tamron or Sigma zoom lens in the 17-70mm range. The photos won't have the image quality that your A 50mm has, but it will be close, and you will have a good amount of flexibility

But! I would also suggest you look at the catch-in-focus (aka focus trapping) tutorials on this forum. There were quite a few threads about it. This function can really help you out with the 50mm f1.7, because it basically gives you some AF-like functions.

Edit: To start with CiF, just set your camera into AF.S, turn the AF/MF switch to AF, go into Menu and near the very end, enable CiF. Now when you press the shutter, the camera will only take the photo when something is in-focus. So you can hold the shutter and wait for something to walk into focus, or you can hold the shutter and twist the focus ring (slowly), and the camera will snap the shot when focus is confirmed. This only works with centre AF point, which is about the size of the ( ) in the middle of the viewfinder. Use this, and an f-stop that gives you some DoF should let you take some nice photos. You can also select burst mode, and the camera will keep taking photos while something is in focus - this is a "spam" method, because you will take way too many photos, but it improves the chance of getting a great one. Then just delete the others, so they dont hog your hard drive space
CiF will only work with manual lenses and lenses that have an AF/MF switch of their own. Will not work with kit lenses, will not work with DA 50mm f1.8

Last edited by Na Horuk; 09-30-2013 at 03:15 PM.
09-30-2013, 09:23 AM   #12
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Im with Na Horuk on this one. I have Sigma 17-70 which manages to catch my 3 year old fairly well. Must admit I really struggled with 50mm 1.7 manual for some time with my son and had a very low hit rate (although I never tried catch in focus). Burst mode is also a great idea.
09-30-2013, 09:33 AM   #13
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FA 77mm:

10-01-2013, 08:02 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Na Horuk Quote
For uncooperative children I would suggest a Tamron or Sigma zoom lens in the 17-70mm range. The photos won't have the image quality that your A 50mm has, but it will be close, and you will have a good amount of flexibility

But! I would also suggest you look at the catch-in-focus (aka focus trapping) tutorials on this forum. There were quite a few threads about it. This function can really help you out with the 50mm f1.7, because it basically gives you some AF-like functions.

Edit: To start with CiF, just set your camera into AF.S, turn the AF/MF switch to AF, go into Menu and near the very end, enable CiF. Now when you press the shutter, the camera will only take the photo when something is in-focus. So you can hold the shutter and wait for something to walk into focus, or you can hold the shutter and twist the focus ring (slowly), and the camera will snap the shot when focus is confirmed. This only works with centre AF point, which is about the size of the ( ) in the middle of the viewfinder. Use this, and an f-stop that gives you some DoF should let you take some nice photos. You can also select burst mode, and the camera will keep taking photos while something is in focus - this is a "spam" method, because you will take way too many photos, but it improves the chance of getting a great one. Then just delete the others, so they dont hog your hard drive space
CiF will only work with manual lenses and lenses that have an AF/MF switch of their own. Will not work with kit lenses, will not work with DA 50mm f1.8
This is GREAT information! I have a 50 1.7 that I'm going to go try this on! Thanks so much for sharing. Now maybe I can get a good portrait with this manual lens! :-)
10-04-2013, 04:09 AM   #15
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Thanks, everyone, for your replies. You've given me some very useful feedback and quite a few lenses to investigate.

I had never heard of catch-in-focus before. I'll have to go see if the K100D can do anything like it.

You've also enabled me to have a think about upgrading the camera body sooner rather than later. Again, lots to think about.
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