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01-16-2019, 11:52 AM   #1
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Disappointed by the K-m photos :-(

Hi all,

I have been reading this forum daily since two months so I was hoping for my first post to be somewhat more optimistic, but unfortunatelly I need to start with a huge dissapointment.

Little bit of background:

Some 10 years ago I got interested in photography because of my sister doing it in school back then. I played with her DSLR, spent weeks reading about photography and making experiments with a Helios M42 lens I could aquire. Unfortunatelly I could not afford my own DSLR back then and then other hobbies came in and photography was set aside to "some day" corner. So, last November I was visiting Hong Kong for business and I got completely amazed by a camera store in one of it's side streets, where they had heaps of used cameras and lenses from the past 100 years. And there it was, a Pentax, which I knew I wanted because of the best backwards compatiblity with M42 lenses and the old K mount lenses. So I bought myself a Pentax K-m, 18-55mm DAL kit lens and Pentax-A 70-200mm f/4.

Now the problem:

I was not really amazed by the pictures it was making, so I obtained couple more lenses over Christmas to further my experiments hoping for better pictures. Namely:

- Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3
- Helios 44M 58mm f/2
- Carl Zeiss Sonnar 180mm f/2.8

Today, finally there was a sunny day in the snowy Austria so I took couple dozens of pictures of mountains and landscape around with the Sonnar and Helios and THEY WERE HORRIBLE!!! At the first moment I thought: "Hell! I must have forgoten something like ISO 800 or 1600 in.", because the pics are so extremely noisy! But the ISO was 200... What I can tell, the noise is most visible where there are distant textures or same color surfaces, like snow on the mountains or snow with rocks, the sky or generally wherever the resolution power of the lens starts falling apart or where there is a texture getting some blur from the DOF.

Generally the photos from the K-m I find flat, greyish, lacking contrast and noisy when shooting landscapes. I seriously need to take every single photo through some strong PP, to achieve anything one can look at in 2019. :-(

For comparison I have some pictures here from my 2014 summer vacation I took with my sisters Nikon D-60, which is same 10M resolution and even 2 years older camera and the photos are just amazing. All of them have colors, contrast, depth and the noise is there but is somewhat blended in, same color as the background not like purplish random color salt crystal everywhere...

I can seriously say that my 2014 Nexus 5 phone is taking better photos than the K-m, no joke. With some serious PP I can at best take the K-m photos to the Nexus look and feels, but I would not really say that the resolving power or noise is any better.

...

So I am now asking the ultimative question:

Is it so that a 9 year old entry-level DSLR cannot even keep with modern top notch phones?
Are my expectations too high for a such an old DSLR?
Should I start looking for a different Pentax camera?
What is then better - newer lower class DSLR or older higher class?



Thank you for your responses. Please keep the responses calm. I do not want to start a flameware here I just want to set my expectations right.

billdotjr

01-16-2019, 12:04 PM   #2
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Welcome to the forums

It would be helpful if you could upload some comparisons of your K-m and phone photos, along with the settings used for the K-m.

The reason I say this is, despite being quite an old model now, the K-m is capable of taking really excellent photos for its age, but it's only a tool... the photographer has to play his or her part also.

As for the Nikon D60, I used to own the D40X which was its immediate predecessor (using the same sensor, I believe), and whilst it was an excellent camera, the K-m is just as capable.

Regarding phones, they are surprisingly capable for images viewed at relatively small sizes (e.g. on a laptop or tablet screen). But they achieve this through a lot of image processing techniques which often don't look good when examined in close detail at 100% reproduction. These are tricks designed to fool the eye, and they're surprisingly effective - but no phone I know of has anything like the flexibility and overall imaging capability of even the K-m (in the right hands ).

If you can post some images and details, we'll be able to point you in the right direction, I'm sure

Last edited by BigMackCam; 01-16-2019 at 12:10 PM.
01-16-2019, 12:06 PM   #3
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Can you show any examples? It's hard to really say what's going on until we can look at the files. I've taken clean photos that look far better than any cellphone on my old 2009 Sony H20 which is a point and shoot.
01-16-2019, 12:14 PM   #4
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The sensor on the Km is pretty old. I think anything newer than the K5 will do better than that. I never owned a Km, but I did have a K10 for quite awhile that had the same sensor as the Km and it was nice at iso 100, but get much above that and noise levels would jump.

The other thing to remember is that your phone has a lot of built in processing on the images that the Km doesn't have. I'm not sure what your price range is, but a K5 or K30/50 would give you a nice boost in image quality over your Km.

01-16-2019, 12:15 PM - 3 Likes   #5
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I use the 10 year old K7, and there is no doubt about its ability to produce images far better than a camera phone today, assuming I am taking advantage of the whole point of a DSLR system .... ie using a range of good lenses effectively, or specialised optical accessories (eg extension tubes, filters), or using a flash system and lighting which integrates with my camera.


All of these things that make a DSLR system elevate even my 10 year old camera well above the potential of todays smartphones. Also the resolution of the sensor ("only" 14.5mp), I believe will still allow much larger quality prints that most camera phones ..... Your KM is really a similar case. Its all about how you use a specialised photographic tool to its full advantage....


Here's the old K7 in action..... I'm not sure if anyone could take this photo with only a smartphone ? ..... and yes, its an open challenge!



Last edited by mcgregni; 01-16-2019 at 12:20 PM.
01-16-2019, 12:28 PM   #6
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It is probably the same sensor as the Nikon D60, so you should get close to the same output with the right settings. Since the sensor is older, getting the exposure exactly right is way better than trying to post-process the exposure. Since you say you're shooting snow scenes and getting greyish shots, that makes me think the camera is underexposing the snow. You know the snow should be brighter so you brighten up the image in processing, which brightens up the noise so you can see it. The camera has a snow scene mode which tries to correct for that, or there are lots of ways for you to adjust for it. "Purple" makes me think you're also seeing purple fringing, which is common in high contrast scenes on digital with some lenses.

If you can post an unprocessed shot with the EXIF data intact, it would be easier to tell you what you could do better. It doesn't have to be awesome.

Phone photos get manipulated a lot before you even see them (on the phone screen).

Edit: slowest typist award! Anyway, the K-m is recommended by 100% of the users here, so it's not all bad.
Edit2: scene modes probably won't work with the Helios or Sonnar because they are fully manual.

Last edited by Just1MoreDave; 01-16-2019 at 12:40 PM.
01-16-2019, 12:39 PM   #7
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As an addendum to my previous post...

To see examples of what the K-m can do when used skillfully, go to the following link (these are all photos posted by our members):

PENTAX K-m | Sample Photos for Pentax Cameras & Lenses - PentaxForums.com

Hopefully this will reassure you that excellent results are possible with your camera

Last edited by BigMackCam; 01-16-2019 at 12:51 PM.
01-16-2019, 01:10 PM   #8
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Thank you everybody for your opinions, I appreciate them.

To the phone topic: I am well aware that the software does a lot of PP to create not high quality image but rather visualy appealing image. Some do it right some don't. My Sony phone with a newer Sony imaging chip is making terrible photos while my Nexus with older Sony chip is making excelent photos. So it is not about hardware, but the software. But anyway, I do not want to get into the discussion if phones are better than DSLRs - they are not. But what I was expecting when I got the DSLR was some wow effect, like that I will see all the little details in my landscape photos I was missing in my phone photos. And that kind of did not happen. :-(

I have uploaded a sample photo, I have put it to PNG on purpose not to have any JPEG processor to "improve" the noise.

untersberg.png - this is just to give you idea of the FOV
untersberg-crop.png - this is what 1:1 crop looks in Lightroom Develop without touching any sliders
untersberg-crop-jpeg.ong - this is about the same crop to show how the camera handled the JPEG development

It is shot with Sonnar 180mm f/2.8 at ISO 200, 1/3000, f2.8 (tried as well with f3.5, f4 with same result), Manual mode, stop-down metering, focus to beep. (Image looks underexposed to me.)

Attached Images
     
01-16-2019, 01:25 PM   #9
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Sonnar is very old with poor coatings and the Helios can be good if you have good copy or very poor... I would say very capable, but not beginner lenses. Maybe Sigma will be better in a good light around f8-f10.
...I'm also sure that your Sonnar would improve at f 5.6. Do you use hood with this lens? How your M42 adapter looks like - just a ring or with flange?

Last edited by Piotrek K; 01-16-2019 at 01:32 PM.
01-16-2019, 01:31 PM   #10
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Looks like the wide-open performance of that lens is poor, coupled with (possibly) a slightly-off focus setting.

The main issue you'll run in to with the K-m is the lack of live view, which would otherwise allow you to zoom in on the image and fine tune the focus until it's perfect.

Still, stopped down and with good technique, you should be able to squeeze some good images out of the combo.

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01-16-2019, 01:37 PM - 1 Like   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by billdotjr Quote
But what I was expecting when I got the DSLR was some wow effect, like that I will see all the little details in my landscape photos I was missing in my phone photos. And that kind of did not happen. :-(
A lot of people experience that same disappointment. But, whilst it's difficult to say without sounding critical, it is always - without fail - due to the user rather than the DSLR (assuming there is nothing faulty with the camera ).

QuoteOriginally posted by billdotjr Quote
I have uploaded a sample photo, I have put it to PNG on purpose not to have any JPEG processor to "improve" the noise.

It is shot with Sonnar 180mm f/2.8 at ISO 200, 1/3000, f2.8 (tried as well with f3.5, f4 with same result), Manual mode, stop-down metering, focus to beep. (Image looks underexposed to me.)
Thanks for uploading the images. This always makes it easier for us to help

The first thing I'll note here is that you're using a manual focus lens and relying on the camera's AF confirmation to get focus accuracy. Would it were that simple That AF confirmation can only get you in the ball-park. And it's very difficult to accurately focus a manual lens with a DSLR through the viewfinder, especially if you want sharp results at fast apertures. Using hard infinity stop for distant focusing is often unreliable due to manufacturing tolerances in the lens, adapter and - occasionally - camera. Couple that with this lens' performance at f/2.8 - which will be less than stellar - and you have a recipe for soft photos.

In this shot, I'd have selected f/8 where the lens will probably perform more-or-less optimally, and you'd have more depth of field to play with (requiring less accurate focusing) a correspondingly slower shutter speed.

Also, are you sure that your lens is actually stopping down to the selected aperture when you try at f/3.5, f/4 etc.? I assume it's an M42 mount lens that you're using with an adapter, yes? If so, does the lens allow for fully manual control of the aperture, or does it rely on the little pin at the rear of the lens being pressed to physically stop down? The reason I ask is that you should see a noticeable difference between f/2.8 and f/4. If you don't, it's likely a lens-related issue, or the way you're operating it.

Because of the difficulties with this lens, I would start out working with your 18-55 or Sigma 18-200, stopped down to around f/8 for best performance. Shoot in decent daylight so you can keep the ISO down to a reasonable level and the shutter speed at 1.5 x focal length and above to avoid blur from camera shake.

Once you start getting better results with those two lenses, you can move onto the manual lenses.

Incidentally, a newer camera with "Live View" (allowing the LCD screen to be used in place of the optical viewfinder) would be very helpful in focusing manual lenses, and previewing the quality of the shot before you take it. But, at least with AF lenses, you should be able to get excellent results with the K-m

Last edited by BigMackCam; 01-16-2019 at 02:00 PM.
01-16-2019, 01:44 PM   #12
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The adapter I am using is the recessed type, 3rd party, not eBay so focus to infinity is fine. Yes I do have the lens hood.

Unfortunatelly the attachments show in different order, but if you look on the 2nd there is quite strong noise. I have just figured out it is the outcome of the default Lightroom setting. If I set the Sharpen to 0, then the noise is still strong but not so bordered. Anyway I doubt noise has anything to do with the lens as such.

Here are some from the Helios 44M:


Full size JPEG.



Full size JPEG.

What do these look to you?
01-16-2019, 01:54 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by billdotjr Quote
Unfortunatelly the attachments show in different order, but if you look on the 2nd there is quite strong noise. I have just figured out it is the outcome of the default Lightroom setting. If I set the Sharpen to 0, then the noise is still strong but not so bordered. Anyway I doubt noise has anything to do with the lens as such.
Post-processing software such as Lightroom has quite a learning curve, eh?

When you shoot raw DNG or PEF files and load them into Lightroom, it typically adds a default colour noise reduction of +25 which is enough to remove most colour noise. If I remember correctly, it doesn't add any luminance noise reduction by default. You might try setting this to, say, +20 (but not much higher as you'll lose detail). For sharpening, you need to use the masking control to limit the sharpening to real details rather than everything (including noise). Try setting the masking for sharpening to +70 or +80 and see how that affects things. You can then add sharpening (carefully), and you should see that noise isn't sharpened as much as before.

Here, this is a case of learning to use the software effectively. It takes time, but it's worth it. There are many online videos to help you learn, but I recommend picking up a copy of Martin Evening's book, which is the best tutorial I've found (recommended to me by another member here). Make sure it covers the version of Lightroom you're using, though...

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adobe-Photoshop-Lightroom-Book-Photographers/dp/013...ning+lightroom

QuoteOriginally posted by billdotjr Quote
Here are some from the Helios 44M:

...

What do these look to you?
In terms of focus accuracy and sharpness, these look very good to me. Well done! I can see a little corner softness, but this is par for the course with the 44M. Still, I'm guessing you were shooting with the lens stopped down a bit to get these results (i.e. not at f/2)?
01-16-2019, 01:59 PM   #14
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I would expect the meter to underexpose that scene, at least one stop, maybe two. With that lens or the Helios, the camera is using center-weighted metering, but that probably is a technicality. You should see a histogram on the rear LCD when shooting, and I bet that shot has a big lump just left of center, with nothing on the right. When you see a histogram like that, you should change exposure so the next shot's histogram is just shy of touching the right side.

At 1/3000, you're probably not getting motion blur!

---------- Post added 01-16-19 at 02:05 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by BigMackCam Quote
When you shoot raw DNG or PEF files and load them into Lightroom, it typically adds a default colour noise reduction of +25 which is enough to remove most colour noise.
Pet peeve of mine. There is no way that +25 is correct for every camera on earth. I think it is overkill for most Pentax models.
01-16-2019, 02:06 PM - 2 Likes   #15
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I'm afraid all that those images (the first ones of the mountain) are really saying is that you need to get a decent lens, and one that has easier handling for you. I've got a budget Tamron AF70-300 Di LD (F4.5-5.6), about 100 new in the UK, and it would be a far better start into longer telephoto photography for you .....















And again, all with the 10 year old K7 which is not renowned for its noise performance! ..... Not trying to be some smarty pants here, but just want to indicate that its unlikely to be the age, or performance of your DSLR which is the issue for you.


BTW the second two shots you posted look really good I think! However that Helios lens looks a little soft ....Maybe a smaller aperture would be better. But you would probably be better served, at least for now, with modern lenses.

Last edited by mcgregni; 01-16-2019 at 02:36 PM.
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