Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pentax K-30 ...At Night (ISO, Image Stabilization, Auto-Focus)

I took my brand new Pentax K-30 DSLR out two nights ago and photographed downtown Tehachapi, California. I didn't bring along a tripod because, well, I didn't much feel like carrying one around. I started out about 10:00 pm, so it was definitely dark, but this was a good chance to play around with higher ISOs and also the camera's image stabilization.  
MMC Carpet - Tehachapi, California
I'm reminded of an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in which Will Smith wanted to publish a book of "Celebrity houses night." These photographs are "Tehachapi, California night."
Plastic - Tehachapi, California
The image stabilization on the K-30 is fantastic. If you have a steady hand, 1/8th shutter speed is no problem. If you have a monopod or are braced against something, 1/2 shutter is absolutely possible. The ability to do hand-held photography with very slow shutter speeds gives you the flexibility to use a smaller aperture or decrease the ISO (or both). When there is not much light and you don't have a tripod, this could be the difference between getting the shot or not.
Serious Look of Fake - Tehachapi, California
The K-30 does very well at controlling noise (the digital equivalent to film grain), but ISO 3200 and higher are not necessarily pleasant looking. There is an obvious decrease in sharpness and colors don't look as good. That's to be expected from an APS-C sized sensor. If you want to use the really high ISOs, you can get better looking photographs by saving in RAW and fiddling with the images in software than saving as JPEGs.
Vacancy At The Santa Fe - Tehachapi, California
Then again, depending on what you are trying to create, maybe you want a softer and noisy image. Especially when converted to black-and-white, you can create some very dramatic photographs using the very high ISOs.
Treasure - Tehachapi, California
Last night I took my family out to Mimi's Cafe and then to a bookstore and I brought along the K-30. This was another chance to test the camera in low-light situations.
Inside Mimi's Cafe - Bakersfield, California
Pentax has a reputation for slow auto-focus in dim light, but the K-30 has an improved auto-focus system. The K-30 quickly and accurately focused in moderately dim light. In very dim light the camera struggled to auto-focus and was slow (which is not uncommon for any camera). However, I had a hard time finding a situation where it wouldn't correctly focus after a few seconds of fishing.
Outside Mimi's Cafe - Bakersfield, California
Using "Live View" is another story. The camera's auto-focus is noticeably slower when in this mode (both in daylight and especially in dim light). The pentaprism viewfinder with 100% coverage is great (I cannot say enough about it) and Live View drains the battery, so perhaps it is best to use the viewfinder and avoid Live View, especially in dim light.
Booksellers - Bakersfield, California
Overall, though, I am impressed with the quickness and accuracy of the K-30's auto-focus system. I think Pentax fixed the issues they previously had with it.
Learning Blocks - Bakersfield, California
Putting all of this together--good noise control, excellent image stabilization, good low light auto-focus--and you have a camera that performs well after the sun goes down.

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