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06-12-2010, 05:18 PM   #1
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K-x photos dull, lack contrast

Hi folk's,

First post, so please be kind!

I've just bought myself a K-x and I have a slight problem with it. It's my first DSLR btw, but I did own a Pentax ME super years ago. Compact digitals since.

Anyway, the problem is that about 80% of the shots so far have come out dull and lifeless. After applying some 'auto-contrast' however, they really come to life and I'm very pleased with the results.

Why do I have to do this? Most were taken in P mode. Am I doing something wrong?

Thanks for any help.

Cheers, Frank

06-12-2010, 05:23 PM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by Frank-x Quote
Why do I have to do this? Most were taken in P mode. Am I doing something wrong?
There are a number of settings(and conditions) that can affect the amount of POP an image has. However assuming you shoot JPG, would recommend you hit the OK button and fiddle around in the scene settings to see if you can't find something that suits you.

Typically most camera's come with modest settings(almost neutral) which is often preferred. ie. I shoot RAW exclusively so all my images look soft and washed out. Which is good because I like to pick and choose my own attributes.

Anyways, that would be my first guess.
There could be other reasons too, but this is where I'd start.
Hope this helps.
06-12-2010, 06:12 PM   #3
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QuoteQuote:
Why do I have to do this?
Because there is a whole range of adjustments that Pentax puts in the camera so you can make your jpgs look how you want. Unlikely it comes from the factory set up exactly for you. Everybody has their own tastes.
06-12-2010, 06:14 PM   #4
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Out of the box, K-x images usually have plenty of pop.

I'd suggest looking at a few of your camera settings. Like, if you are shooting JPG:

- check your JPG resolution and quality settings. Make sure the camera is set to 12MP and 3 star quality for best image quality

- check your noise reduction settings. You might have NR kicking in too early and softening up the image. Have NR only kick in above 3200 ISO, and even then just set it to 'Low'.

- check your Custom Image settings (p-194 of the K-x manual). Your camera might have it's image tone set to the 'Muted' option.

Also, of course, if you have placed a filter over your lens, like a crappy UV or 'protection' filter, that could also be the culprit. Most of those are garbage and have horrible effects on image quality. Remove the filter and try again.

But overall, I think you probably just need to adjust how the camera renders it's default JPG output to suit your tastes.

If you go into your Custom Image settings, you can choose a different default for the way the camera renders JPG's. Select from the following seven modes for Image Tone: Bright (default setting), Natural, Portrait, Landscape, Vibrant, Muted and Monochrome. The Custom Image settings tune colour rendition, but also contrast and sharpening defaults.

Or just shoot RAW or RAW+JPG, and setup a workflow that tweaks your output how you want it to look.

06-12-2010, 08:02 PM   #5
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Do you have any sample images to post showing exactly what is wrong?
06-13-2010, 04:40 AM   #6
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Sample images would help. Is it hot & humid where you live? If so, you may be dealing with a lot of atmospheric haze. Auto-contrast is a great way to reduce atmospheric haze if the haze is uniform.

In any event, it is my understanding that when you press the shutter button, the camera captures raw data. If you are shooting in raw, that data includes an embedded jpeg, which is what you see on the screen.

If you are shooting in jpeg, the camera converts the raw data into the jpeg format using the image parameters you have set up in your camera.

The raw data itself is bland & lifeless. What brings the image to life is the processing that takes place when converting to jpeg.

So if you're not getting the results you expect, you may need to change image settings.

But the factory default settings should not be giving you bland lifeless results. So maybe you have a defective camera.

Sample images will help.
06-13-2010, 07:13 AM   #7
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Thanks very much for all the helpful advice.

Obviously I have a lot to learn!

Just to answer a few questions:

  • Custom Image was set to 'Bright'
  • Not sure about noise reduction setting.
  • No filters used.
  • 12Mp and 3star quality set.
  • Photos taken yesterday here in the UK. Sunny but partly cloudy, about 20'C not humid.
  • Photos taken mainly in P mode. I naively thought that would produce perfect exposures.

Is it normal to routinely tweak photos or is it considered to be cheating?

Please have a look at the samples. Tell me what you think.

Thanks again,
Frank
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06-13-2010, 07:53 AM   #8
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The picture you posted looked under exposed to me. Not sure about the KX, but the K-7 likes around .3+ exposure in camera I've found, as much as .7+ when it's really dark indoor shooting or dusk conditions outside.

Or you can fiddle with the exposure in post processing. The nice thing about slightly underexposing - you don't blow highlights, because once gone, you can't get 'em back.

If you shoot RAW, it matters less, as you'll be PPing everything anyway to convert them to usable formats. But when I'm shooting jpeg, I've found that cranking up the in camera exposure helps quite a bit on the K-7.

06-13-2010, 08:00 AM   #9
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I'm a Kx newbie too and initially found that many of my photos were underexposed. That's how your original looks to me. Although the "auto-contrast" shot looks better, a lot of detail's been lost on the tops of the wings (IMO). I found that playing with the different metering settings (matrix, center-weighted average, spot) depending on my subject made a big difference. I also often bump up exposure compensation (1/3 to 1), and that helps too. My Canon S90 is much more forgiving and requires almost no exposure and metering adjustment, but then it doesn't capture nearly as much detail!

I'm now shooting RAW only (with above adjustments as needed), and I find the changes I make in post processing, even though often minimal, make the difference. Over time, my images require less post processing for the most part, and I take that to mean I'm getting more practice! Get to know your camera and lens, and I think your images straight out of the camera will improve. But do try shooting RAW if you're so inclined and process the images yourself. You'll likely prefer the results.

Hope this helps!
06-13-2010, 08:48 AM   #10
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That picture is easy to over-expose because there's so much sky. That's brighter than your subject, and the camera can't magically figure out what to do. Matrix metering tries to offer that kind of automation, but (especially with only 16 segments to compare) you can't expect miracles.

Even with the exposure right for the airplane, the sky is going to be close to all washed out; there's not much to do about that. I can see you've lost highlights on the windsock even with the over-exposure.

That said, I think the "after" picture looks pretty artificial and over-cooked. This is partly the fault of the "bright" mode, which does horribly wrong things to human-made blue colors.
06-13-2010, 08:50 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Frank-x Quote
Thanks very much for all the helpful advice.

Is it normal to routinely tweak photos or is it considered to be cheating?

Please have a look at the samples. Tell me what you think.
Without tweaking I am nothing.
06-13-2010, 08:51 AM   #12
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A third vote for under exposed. Instead of changing the contrast, try to adjust the exposure in the software that you're using.

Did you use matrix, centerweight or spot metering? This type of shots (dark subject against bright background calls for spot (or maybe centerwight metering) so you can get the subject properly exposed. The same applies, btw, to a light subject against a dark background.
06-13-2010, 09:05 AM   #13
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First of all, I would change the custom image to natural.

There is no exif data, but the image looks underexposed to me. The camera's meter will do a good job for a scene that averages 18% gray, but you should learn when and how to override the camera meter. Here is a useful link for learning how to do that:

Ultimate Exposure Computer

As for tweaking photos, in my opinion any photo you take that is worth keeping should undergo post-processing, even if only a minimal amount. It's not cheating, it's making a photograph as opposed to taking a snapshot. P&S cameras do a good job of taking snapshots but DSLRs are capable of much more than snapshots. But to achieve more requires more work on your part. You start with a good, properly exposed photo, and post-processing enhances the final photo.
06-13-2010, 10:13 AM   #14
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Can you post a version of your original photo that retains it's EXIF info? That would be useful. Any good image browser (eg IrfanView, FastStone etc) or manager (eg Lightroom, Picasa I think etc) will allow you to resize an image whilst still retaining the EXIF metadata.

And yeah, underexposed is the issue.

PS - what software are you using to adjust your images? If you shoot in RAW and use for example the software bundled with the K-x there are a lot of options for tuning up a photo really well even if things like under/exposure happen.
06-13-2010, 03:10 PM   #15
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Thanks for looking at the samples and for the comments.

I'm now thinking that my problem is under-exposure. I opened up the image with the Pentax camera utility 4 supplied with the camera and discovered you can adjust the sensitivity setting. By boosting it up by about 0.8 the image looks far better and maintains the detail on the upper wing.

I've attached another 2 pics, hopefully with EXIF data this time. First is the original again and second is with +0.8 compensation. Looks better than auto-contrast to me. What do you think?

Tomorrow I will try taking some shots with +exposure compensation and see how they turn out.

Frank
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