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06-14-2015, 07:16 AM   #1
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beginner question about which modes to use

I mainly take pics of my kids and have two problems.
1. One of the two kids is out of focus, despite only being 6 inches to a foot farther away form the camera than the other kid.
2. Pics are blurry due to kids not sitting perfectly still and my reluctance to use the flash.
I'm not going to do any custom modes, so which of the modes on the wheel should I use?
The action option doesn't seem to give me much depth of field.

06-14-2015, 07:35 AM   #2
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Those are far more complex questions than I suspect you think.

If you mean the modes like 'action', or 'landscape' you should not be using any of them. Honestly if you want to use that type of automation you are far better off with a simple point & shoot that will deliver quite nice images without really understanding the camera. I recommend using the Av mode on your camera, or the 'P' mode. I prefer Av.

In Av mode my process is this:
1) Set the ISO for the ambient light. Outside @ ISO 100 or 200. Inside @ ISO 400 or 800 or more. You can use 1600 on the k-x though you will be getting some noise.
2) Set the aperture for the depth of focus I want in my image. Small aperture (high number) for lots in focus, the opposite for less.

To answer your questions:

1) This is called "depth of focus" and means how much of the image is in focus. Think of it as a series of vertical planes in front of you. Too close and nothing is in focus, too far and nothing is in focus. At some point ONE of those planes will be perfectly in focus. Now "depth of focus" is how many other planes in front and in back of your focus point are also in acceptable focus. If your aperture is very small (a high number like f/16) then many of those will be in focus. If your aperture is large (a small number like f/3.5) then not much but your plane of focus will be in focus. This might be literally less than one inch if your aperture is very large. To get more planes in focus you need to use a smaller aperture, which is a larger number.

2) This is the reverse of #1. As you make the aperture smaller to get more in focus less light gets in and the camera has to leave the shutter open longer to get a good exposure. But that means your subject can move while the shutter is open and thus you get blurry images.

3) The third part of this triangle is ISO. Which I think of as how sensitive the camera is to light. Increase the ISO and you get a good exposure with less light. But increasing ISO increases the amount of noise in your image so going too far makes for bad pictures too.

I would suggest a book called "Understanding Exposure" by Brian Peterson. It is available at most libraries and used stores as well as new. I think it is currently in the 4th edition. Shows you better than I can about the exposure triangle and how basic photography works.

You might also go here to understand more about depth of focus: Online Depth of Field Calculator
And here is a lot of information on basic photography online: Cambridge in Colour - Photography Tutorials & Learning Community

There is a tendency for people, perhaps led on by the camera manufacturers, to think that photography is easy. It is NOT easy to do right in the same way that anyone can pick up a paint brush and apply paint but without understanding what you are doing the results might not look so good. If online or books are not your best form of learning you might look for a local mentor or a basic photography class.
06-14-2015, 07:41 AM   #3
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The out of focus issue is due to shallow depth of field and the F stop you are using. The lower the f stop the shallower the depth of field. If you want both in focus you need to use a higher F stop. This will of course change the shutter speed you are using because you are allowing less light to hit the sensor so you will need to use a lower shutter speed to get the right exposure. You might have to start using flash if you are shooting inside. You could also look at boosting your ISO a bit. I personally shoot everything in M, manual, mode where you have full control over all settings.
06-14-2015, 07:48 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by Dairylander Quote
1. One of the two kids is out of focus, despite only being 6 inches to a foot farther away form the camera than the other kid.
This is a depth of field (DoF) problem. Depth of field is defined as the area that is acceptably sharp, in focus. The lower the f-number (f2.8 is a low number, for example. f1.4 even moreseo), the more shallow the DoF is. So if you use Av mode and choose f8, the DoF will be wider and there is a bigger chance both subjects will be in focus. This also affects the background blur - lower number means more blur, makes things more unrecognizable. Don't go too high, though, as that will cause the sharpness to drop due to diffraction. Basically, above f8 things can get fuzzy. Stay under f14, I'd say.

QuoteOriginally posted by Dairylander Quote
2. Pics are blurry due to kids not sitting perfectly still and my reluctance to use the flash.
Problem here is shutter speed or hand-holding technique. I would recommend you start with that. Practice holding the camera perfectly still and pressing the shutter button very gently. Also, hold the shutter button half pressed, so that the SR has time to activate (you will notice a little icon appear). SR minimizes the blur caused by holding the camera. But this will only stop the vibrations/blur on the lens and camera. If the subject is moving, running, then you will need a faster shutter speed to "freeze" the action. 1/250 should be enough, but it depends. A running dog or a moving car can require more. Tv mode is the one that gives you control over the shutter.

The problem is that a high f-number and a fast shutter speed would require a lot of light. This is why flash is used. Your alternative is ISO. You can increase the ISO number (sensor sensitivity), which will let you take bright photos even at f14 and 1/250, but higher ISO numbers cause digital noise in the photo. You can play with the NR (noise reduction) settings, but NR tends to lose some detail.
And now you learned the three pillars of photography that cause all the technical problems! Aperture, shutter speed, film sensitivity! Increasing them solves some problems, but introduces others! Its a balancing act.

Does the K-x have TAv mode? I think the current lineup (as well as K-50 and K-5) have TAv mode. This lets you choose the aperture and shutter speed, and the camera then adjusts the ISO to keep the photo bright enough. I think the K-x is missing this mode, so I would recommend you choose Av mode and just keep an eye on the shutter speed (the number should be 1/160 or faster, like 1/1000) and ISO. You can also choose auto-ISO, an ISO range where the camera will adjust ISO.
Another trick is to select the "landscape" mode. This mode is good because it keeps a relatively high aperture, but adjusts it according to brightness.
Finally, you can use AF.C and burst mode, take photos, then delete all the ones that are not sharp, so they dont take up all your hard disk memory. Burst mode can help with moving subjects, it increases the chances of catching the right moment.

One more thing - the K-50 is on sale for a really good price right now. It is a better camera than the K-x, has lower noise at high ISO, and it has TAv mode. And it also is WR, so if you use a WR lens you don't have to worry about drizzle or rainfall much. Its a noticeable upgrade over the K-x, probably has faster AF as well. Its about the same size, though, so its still compact. Here is a quick stat comparison if you are interested. Not trying to sell you anything, and technology doesn't make a person a better photographer, but it can help with certain problems.

QuoteOriginally posted by Dairylander Quote
The action option doesn't seem to give me much depth of field.
Yeah, because it focuses on a very high shutter speed, and it sacrifices DoF to get it. Still, if you choose ISO 1600, it should be okay. But your probably don't need such high shutter speed, unless your kids are really running around.

Last edited by Na Horuk; 06-14-2015 at 07:55 AM.
06-14-2015, 08:35 AM   #5
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Cameras are like any technology: The more capable the technology, the harder it is to master, and the worse results that you will get unless you invest the time to understand. For example, if you were to drive a Honda Civic around a race track as fast as it would go, you'd probably be OK. If you tried to drive a Formula 1 car around that same racetrack, you'd be crashed before the first corner.

If you want to take photography as a hobby, a KX is a great camera to learn on. You can get stunning results. I can tell you that with an investment of 4 or 5 hours of learning, you will be a much better photographer, and be much happier with your SLR. If you want to spend this time, I recommend starting with the book "Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson. It will take you about 4 to 5 hours of study (I did it over a couple of weeks, not all at once!), and it will teach you the correct answer to your question.

We can't just answer your question, because there are so many variables. What's the lighting, and which direction is it coming from? Which aperture are you at? What's your ISO setting? How fast is the motion, and what's your desired shutter speed? What's your artistic intent? What kind of post-processing are you going to do? Are you shooting in RAW or JPEG? Are you interested in trying out different lenses with different rendering? Are you holding the camera correctly? Do you push the shutter gently? Are you holding your breath when you press the shutter (it really matters. Good camera technique is actually quite similar to good sniper shooting techniques!).

If the answer to all of the above is that you don't want to spend the time and energy to learn how to use a DSLR, you will absolutely get better results from a quality point-and-shoot. The sensors are much smaller, which gives greater depth of field, but worse performance in low light. Na Horuk is right that the K-50 is a better tool than the K-X, but it doesn't really take much better photos, just much easier to use assuming you understand what all the dials are doing.
06-14-2015, 10:17 AM   #6
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I agree with all the above answers. You need to understand your camera and what photography is all about. Even if it's just a hobby and you want pictures of your kids. A class is probably your best answer if you are keeping the Kx and not going for a point and shoot. If you want to try an online "class" I started a blog for friends who were in your situation. It's free and I have a Kx too!
Go here and take a look.

Not everyone can learn by reading and my blog isn't very old so it's not a total "class" but it should get you started. Even if you go through my blog, I highly recommend either taking a class or finding a mentor, someone or something to force you to try the new things. If you take my blog 1 lesson a week and do the assignments as though it were a class, you'd get some of the effect, but if you're like most people you need that pressure to actually do new things.

Last edited by jeantree; 06-14-2015 at 10:18 AM. Reason: link didn't show
06-14-2015, 02:03 PM   #7
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I simplified this early after someone emphasized that they are caller aperture PRIORITY and shutter PRIORITY for a reason.

I would simply figure out what my priority was. Really, to start out I needed to understand three things.
1) The lower the aperture number the smaller the depth of focus.
2) To avoid motion you need a certain minimum shutter speed.
3) ISO can compensate for less light, but the cost of noise. Learn the level of noise that you find minimally acceptable.

So, at a party with kids.......if you learn that 1/125 sec limits motion and you have dim light, you could use Shutter Priority, set an ISO range and let the camera figure out shutter. I'd recommend using the PRIORITY modes until you understand what each do effectively and focus on the one thing that is most meaningful.
06-16-2015, 11:10 PM   #8
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The camera can't judge as well as you whether you want just one person in focus or not, Dairylander.

Putting it onto Aperture mode will let you control that with the (one) control dial you have (I have a K-x too and love it).

If they're moving, you want the shutter speed to not be 1/30 or 1/60 or whatever, but higher.

If you set that to 1/180 you can use the popup flash to freeze action.

If you buy one of the second hand flashes that support HSS, you can cover everyone in the shot at f8 and shutter speed of up to 1/6000s. :-)


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