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05-18-2016, 10:15 AM   #1
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Best body/lens combination for pictures of moving toddlers?

I'm going to be taking lots of photos of active toddlers and I'm looking for suggestions on the best camera/lens combo for tracking them at two price points: sub $1000 and sub $2000. I could buy into a brand just for this if the price was under $1000. I am reasonably heavily invested in Pentax (see signature) but the K50 cannot focus on running and being silly toddlers. I'd say a 10% hit rate. If the kids are still it is more like 90+. I use AFC and have tried all the various focusing options and spray and pray.

I typically find 50mm on APSC my most used focal length, and I usually shoot between f1.8 and 4, so the depth of field is narrow most of the time. Obviously the hit rate can be higher at f8+ but conditions do not allow this. So the lens needs to cover 50 on APSC / 75ish on full frame. 2.8 zoom or prime is fine.

Used equipment is fine.

The reason for the $2000 price point is the K1 -- if it can do it with lenses I already own I'm tempted for everything else it offers since I am already in the system and like it.. Replacing everything I have in a different brand would be a lot. Unfortunately I haven't seen many reports on the K1 tracking and there is nowhere nearby to try it.

Thanks for sharing any similar experiences and combos that worked well!

05-18-2016, 01:26 PM - 1 Like   #2
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Well the high ISO on the k-1 combined with the faster AF would probably help to get shots at f8

If you happen to know someone with a K-3 and DA40, I'd be tempted to see if you can try that combo out. The focus throw on the DA40 is so small, that it's a very very quick focussing lens. The AF performance of the K-3 is much faster and more accurate in lower light than my old K-5 (never used a K-50, but I assume it's similar to the K-5). The 8.4fps burst rate of the k-3 may come in handy as well

The K-1 is a better camera with regard to autofocus, but I'm not convinced that the longer 75mm ish focal length lenses will be faster than a DA40. Certainly the higher ISO would allow you to get away with a faster shutter speed. I'm not sure what focus is like with say the new 24-70 or 28-105, but those may be an option if you were to go the k-1 route?
05-18-2016, 01:47 PM   #3
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That 50 would focus amazingly fast, and you'd have loads of cropping room if needed. The other lenses would work in crop mode and give you roughly the same resolution you have with the K50, but with much better ISO and focusing performance.
05-18-2016, 02:30 PM   #4
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Toe in the water here, but ..

Birders who have crossed systems tend to prefer Nikon or Canon to Pentax for AF performance. Think of a toddler as like a moving bird.

(I'll just head back to the bunker now.)

05-18-2016, 04:50 PM   #5
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Thought: try a 28-75/24-70 type zoom. (there are tons of meh old kit zooms in that range so you can pick one up for a few bucks to test the concept and get a decent one if you like it). Stay at the wide end and crop when they're really going. Zoom in when you want detail and they're not moving too fast or lighting permits. Or grab a cheap MF 28mm/2.8 lens (I paid $5 for one a couple years ago), prefocus it to give you a depth of field that matches where the kids would be, and snap away without having to mess with focusing.

Reason: At 24-28mm you'll have a lot more depth of field at the same aperture. Online Depth of Field Calculator

Trying these might only cost you a few dollars and give you a better idea what you need going forward.

Or you could just do like some sports photogs - prefocus on a specific area and wait for them to enter it.
05-18-2016, 06:54 PM - 2 Likes   #6
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Loathe to interrupt another man's GAS, Mgoblue, but technique is super important. You could be given a sports photographer's D4 and 300 f2.8 and not nail toddler shots.


You have a K-50 and Tamron 17-50? I've shot cyclists with a K-30 and Sigma 17-50 coming towards me at 50kmh.


The key in AF-C mode is to be proactive, and not pick up your camera when you see one of the brood suddenly being cute! Get a good position like a sniper and track your subject. The first pic has to be already in focus - see the green square beforehand, hear the beep - then keep the shutter half-pressed until the Decisive Moment or you want to fire a volley of shots - or the rest will suffer playing catchup.


The subject might run behind a chair or another kid might cross the line of fire in front of your subject, which is why for me I'd be using Back Button Focus. Again, good technique, rather than maxing out your credit card.
05-18-2016, 09:30 PM   #7
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Interesting ideas -- thanks to you all so far! I used to shoot basketball and hockey with a split prism and ISO1600 bulk film. I wasn't a sports photographer, but I had to do it occasionally. I still have some film cameras -- it may be that would have a good keeper rate with toddlers but I don't know. With sports I know where to prefocus. With toddlers the behavior is totally erratic. Some of the best moments are when they are suddenly running towards the camera after circling in random directions.

Maybe my K50 is defective but it almost always focusses behind the kiddos as they run towards me regardless of the lens or my attempts to track. It often manages to get the back bits of hair on their heads (which is sort of worse -- oh so close!). It is dialed in perfectly with lens comp for still shots.

I haven't tried a cyclist. I wonder if the camera has an easier time when the subject is more distant since the speed will seem relatively slower even if it is actually faster, and depth of field much bigger? The toddlers are between only 3-12 feet away. Maybe that in lens motor in the sigma is the difference?

Anyone tried a d7100 for something similar? They are about $600. I know the review here on the forums showed the K3 inferior to the d6x0 series for tracking head on. The d7x00 is supposedly even better than the d6x0.

It sounds worth trying a K3 with my FA and a DA40 at the local shop (they said they were getting k1s but decided only special order). Thanks for that suggestion robthebloke!
05-19-2016, 04:55 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by mgoblue Quote
The toddlers are between only 3-12 feet away.
24mm lens. f/8. Prefocus to 6 feet. That'll cover you from 4 to 12 feet. Bounce flash or boost iso if you need more light.

21mm limited, f/8, focus a touch past 5 feet, you'll have 3 feet to 12 feet, give or take an inch or two, not that that's an easy lens to precisely manual focus.

Or 20mm lens (sigma 10-20 or something similar) will get you 4-12 feet at f/5.6

05-19-2016, 04:55 PM - 1 Like   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by mgoblue Quote

Anyone tried a d7100 for something similar? They are about $600. I know the review here on the forums showed the K3 inferior to the d6x0 series for tracking head on. The d7x00 is supposedly even better than the d6x0.

It sounds worth trying a K3 with my FA and a DA40 at the local shop (they said they were getting k1s but decided only special order). Thanks for that suggestion robthebloke!
Still very gearcentric rather than technique oriented thinking from you, Mgoblue.

As an old filmhead who did basketball and hockey, surely even if you haven't mastered AF-C (I repeat, that first frame has to be in focus, if not, the others from an approaching subject up close will be a lost cause, so have them locked *before* they run towards you!) you can go old school ... set to f8, 1/500s and manually focus at 24mm to six feet. That covers the 12 feet to 4 feet zone, with all their zig zags, jumping, wrestling moves, terrorizing the family cat, etc.
05-19-2016, 06:11 PM - 1 Like   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by narual Quote
24mm lens. f/8. Prefocus to 6 feet. That'll cover you from 4 to 12 feet. Bounce flash or boost iso if you need more light.

21mm limited, f/8, focus a touch past 5 feet, you'll have 3 feet to 12 feet, give or take an inch or two, not that that's an easy lens to precisely manual focus.

Or 20mm lens (sigma 10-20 or something similar) will get you 4-12 feet at f/5.6
QuoteOriginally posted by clackers Quote
Still very gearcentric rather than technique oriented thinking from you, Mgoblue.

As an old filmhead who did basketball and hockey, surely even if you haven't mastered AF-C (I repeat, that first frame has to be in focus, if not, the others from an approaching subject up close will be a lost cause, so have them locked *before* they run towards you!) you can go old school ... set to f8, 1/500s and manually focus at 24mm to six feet. That covers the 12 feet to 4 feet zone, with all their zig zags, jumping, wrestling moves, terrorizing the family cat, etc.
This seems like a good time to repeat a story. When I was looking at NCAA men's basketball finals pictures on MSNBC.com, I realized they had serious depth of field - not only was the player in focus, so were the players some distance from him. Being curious about what f-stop provided that, I downloaded a picture to my computer, hope against hope the EXIF data was still there .... and it was. It turned out the {professional} photographer had set his new Canon {designed for this purpose} to an "insanely high" ISO setting, which then allowed him to use both a small aperture and a very high shutter speed; my assumption was {of course, I had no way of contacting him} that was his way of making sure guys hanging in the middle of nowhere would be in focus even if he had nothing {hanging in the air} to pre-focus on. Every year, usually early in January, forums like this will get a question of the sort, "what kind of lens do I need to photograph my son / daughter / grand-son / grand-daughter playing basketball, and people are always recommending {very expensive} constant f/2.8 zoom lenses. Part of my take home lesson from the NCAA example is we need to think more about the total package, about looking for higher ISO as well as good aperture, but the lesson applies here also. The smaller the aperture you can work with {as suggested, numbers like f/8 or even f/11}, the deeper your depth-of-focus area will be, and the easier your task will be. {inside joke: but please don't tell anyone I'm telling you to "focus with your aperture ring" - you're still focusing with your focus ring, but the other choices you make are simplifying that task}

Last edited by reh321; 05-19-2016 at 06:35 PM.
05-19-2016, 07:00 PM   #11
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Yes, it's "F/8 and be there" -- just adjusted for APS-C, using a 24mm instead of a 35mm
05-19-2016, 09:27 PM   #12
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Again good suggestions -- and I agree with you all in a sense -- the difficulty and the answer is almost always light. In a hockey arena f8 or 11 is no trouble. Sometimes it was my preference sometimes not depending on the story the picture is to tell.

Sure outside, f11 no worries.

I am often places where F8 and 1/200, which already isn't fast enough, pushes the ISO beyond 4000 which is about the limit I find for an acceptable image. Bounce flash helps, but the camera stutters around trying to track. As I said I can rarely get above f4. That's just a hard limitation of the necessary shutter speed, noise, and available light. A K1 might allow another 2.5 f stops plus the better low light focus which together might be much more important than any focus tracking improvement.

It maybe it is not possible for any brand/camera autofocus to track and catch a moving subject In a dim room but thats the question! Maybe you are right clackers that there is no substantial difference between makes and models and it all comes down to technique but a lot of users seem to believe there is a big difference. I've seen no evidence that my (or any) K50 can do what I am asking regardless of technique. Too bad you aren't in Cali to show me your trick! But It seems possible that a K3 or if not a d7x00 or K1 can do it.

I was just hoping to find someone who has tried and knows. Otherwise, I'll find some time to try in a shop with some kiddos.
05-19-2016, 10:02 PM - 1 Like   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by mgoblue Quote

Sure outside, f11 no worries.

I am often places where F8 and 1/200, which already isn't fast enough, pushes the ISO beyond 4000 which is about the limit I find for an acceptable image. Bounce flash helps, but the camera stutters around trying to track.
Without a flash, I'd be reluctant to shoot at above 1600. Kenspo's live band pics tend not to be above ISO 3200.

Indoors, an event photographer is using flash. I'd have the flash either with a Stofen-style diffuser pointing forwards at a 45 degree angle or bouncing off the corner of two walls and the ceiling. You'll be able to keep the ISO down to 800 or even 400 that way.

I wouldn't be using P-TTL, that introduces a time lag unsuitable for capturing an exact moment, I'd put the flash into Manual, starting at 1/8 power.
05-20-2016, 12:03 PM   #14
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my question is what size of prints will you be making? if they are 4x6 you can go to ISO 5000 on the K3 and get an acceptable print.
I would give the new FF lens (is it 28-70?) a shot. if it doesn't up your keeper rate you can always get the K1 to go with it

good luck

Randy
05-26-2016, 03:15 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by clackers Quote
Without a flash, I'd be reluctant to shoot at above 1600. Kenspo's live band pics tend not to be above ISO 3200.

Indoors, an event photographer is using flash. I'd have the flash either with a Stofen-style diffuser pointing forwards at a 45 degree angle or bouncing off the corner of two walls and the ceiling. You'll be able to keep the ISO down to 800 or even 400 that way.

I wouldn't be using P-TTL, that introduces a time lag unsuitable for capturing an exact moment, I'd put the flash into Manual, starting at 1/8 power.
There's a difference between paid professional shots and "I'm shooting photos of my kids"

You can get usable shots at just about ISO level, especially if you're willing to convert to black and white.

Turning off in-camera noise reduction and using dedicated noise removal software in post helps, too.
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