The Colour Quest (X) – Cracking The K-30

Whilst finding cameras that make b/w images I love straight out of camera has not been too hard – and virtually all other cameras I’ve used can produce something pleasing after a quick run through one of my Snapseed presets – colour photography has proved far more challenging.

This is the latest post in an ongoing series called The Colour Quest, where I report on various experiments in attempting to make colour images I love.

You can see previous entries in the Colour Quest series here.

My two CCD sensor Pentax DSLRs, the K100D and K-m, deliver lovely colour images all day long. They are the benchmark for colour digital photography for me. 

My other Pentax DSLR, the K-30, is in many ways my favourite of the three.

It handles best (just – all are brilliant), the rubber grip is near perfect in shape and feel, it has the largest, brightest viewfinder, ditto for the screen, and the build and controls feel classy and inspire confidence.

The b/w mode, with some additional tweaking of the contrast, has made photos I’m happy with.

When it’s come to shooting colour though, I’ve struggled with the K-30. 

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With the K100D and K-m, I just set them to the “Bright” colour setting, and snap away.

All I need to adjust shot by shot is the aperture (I favour Aperture Priority most of the time) and exposure compensation, though with the latter once I’ve adjusted it once or twice for a particular lens and photowalk, it doesn’t need so much additional tweaking shot by shot.

I know that for most of the images I make, I’ll be pleased with the colour, and many I’ll be delighted with.

I love this simple, direct kind of photography. 

With the K-30 today, it wasn’t so straightforward.

I made around 140 photographs, perhaps three times what I’d make with the K100D or K-m on a similar walk. 

The first sweep of editing culled all but 18.

This is pretty severe, usually this initial pass will eliminate perhaps half of the images I make.

The reasons so many photos weren’t worth keeping, are poor exposure, or I just didn’t like the colours.

Of those first 18 I kept, nearly all were the best of perhaps three, four or five attempts at the same composition, where I was trying to get the colour and exposure right. 

The second wave of editing reduced this to nine images, all of which I was happy enough with to keep.

And of those, I decided to share six to my Flickr stream (which also serves as a back up).

My hit rate today then was 6/140, which is about 4%. 

Can you imagine the fortune this would cost me if it was a film camera – only one keeper for every roll of film, so each “successful” photograph would cost perhaps £10 or more in purchasing, developing and scanning costs!

This is the lowest hit rate of any camera I have that isn’t one I’m testing for the first time and making all kinds of test shots to work stuff out.

A good keeper rate from a photo walk with one of my favourite cameras (like the K100D or K-m) is probably about 25-30%, sometimes even more.

In other words, I find it very difficult to consistently make colour images I like with the K-30! 

It’s like an old friend you love, but just know that every time you meet up, it’s not going to be an easy, laid back experience. It’s going to be hard work, and go on longer than expected. But you still meet up with them anyway.

When I look at the photos I’m left with, I do really like them.

The K-30 makes a handsome image indeed.

In terms of colour, I think after today’s further experiments I’ve found a set up that works.

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I started with some advice from Chris, a fellow avid Pentaxian, who kindly shared his settings for his K-50, which is near identical to the K-30.

Using this as a jumping off point, I then tweaked myself to find colours I liked.

I’ve ended up with the following as the main settings in the camera, and saved them as one of the custom user modes on the dial – 

ISO – Auto (with range limited to 100-400)
Exposure Mode – AV
White Balance – Auto (though strangely it tended towards green in some very low light situations)
Custom Image – Muted, Saturation +3, Toning Off, High/Low Key Adj Zero, Contrast +4, Sharpness -3
Image Capture – JPEG, 12MP (max is 16MP, even 12MP is overkill for my needs), JPEG Quality *** (max)
AE Metering – Multi-segment
AF Active Area – Spot
Shake Reduction – On
Everything Else (HDR Capture, High ISO NR, Horizon Correction, D-Range Settings etc etc) – Off

For Instant Review, I set to five seconds and enabled the Bright/Dark Area (affectionately known as the “blinkies”) so I could see instantly any over exposed areas.

I have the rear dial set as the aperture control, and discovered today I can set the front dial to exposure compensation, rather than hold the exposure compensation button on top of the camera and turn the rear dial.

I use exposure comp so much with this camera, it makes sense to have it somewhere fast and easy to access!

In terms of colour, I do feel now I have a set up that works pretty well, ie it gives me a final colour image I like, straight out of camera. 

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The problem still is not so much the K-30, but the fact that the older, simpler, K100D and K-m deliver even more lovely (and still more natural looking) images with far less faffing about, and as such give a more rewarding and direct experience. 

I’m still quite baffled as to why the K-30 is such hard work, when most of my favourite digital cameras, once set up initially, need very little adjustment shot by shot.

They just get on with it and deliver.

Perhaps the sensor in the K-30 being the size it is (APS-C) and the fact it’s the most MP and most sophisticated in any camera I have, mean it’s literally so much more sensitive to differences in light, and so hardly a shot goes by where I don’t have to adjust the exposure compensation.

Maybe next time I’ll try centre weighted metering and see if it’s any better.

If the K-30 was the only camera I had, I would really enjoy it, and I now know I have it set up to produce both colour and b/w images I’m happy with, straight out of camera. 

As I said before, it’s a lovely spec’d camera with its viewfinder, rear screen, handling and build. I just wish it wasn’t such hard work!

How do you make colour photographs with a DSLR? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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16 thoughts on “The Colour Quest (X) – Cracking The K-30”

    1. I have mixed views on this. Whilst I like photos to remain natural looking, on the whole, I like how certain cameras enhance what I see, by perhaps making the colours more vibrant, or the shadows darker. In contrast to you I often expose for the brighter areas and make sure the shadows are black!

      1. I do like good dynamic range. I am taking some courses at f64 Elite. Always more to learn. I like selective enhancements the f64 zone system gives.

  1. I hate it when a camera can’t produce acceptable results under normal conditions without a lot of fussing around. ‘Program’ on a sunny day should render a good JPEG. If it doesn’t, they didn’t build the camera right. It’s different if you prefer a certain film simulation or are shooting difficult lighting situations. But any digital ought to be able to make a decent snapshot without hours of fooling with the settings.
    I’ve been there, and you know what camera I mean.
    Meanwhile the Kodak P850, Nikon P610, Canon T100, and Fuji EXR just take good pictures right from the factor. Although I have got the T100 set in “Kodacolor mode” because I like that look. The P850 has the nicest tonal range, being a CCD sensor. I’m taking that with me today as I go out to the lake again to do more work.

    1. That is a fair point but I think a few of us who have experienced CCD sensors, have a hard time finding CMOS sensor output to be to our taste, straight out of the camera. I’m yet to find exceptions.
      But that’s different from “acceptable”, as you stated. Yes they are pretty much all acceptable nowadays… just not… super inspiring I guess.

      1. For me, I think it goes back to photography being at its best when there’s evidence of some kind of “magic” feeling. Modern CMOS cameras largely feel like efficient faceless machines. I want photos (and the cameras) to conjure up some kind of wonder and awe, and the K-30 doesn’t really do that (other than “wow, look how many different features and settings they packed into just one camera”) whereas the K100D and K-m do have magic in spades, despite (perhaps because of) their simplicity. It’s like there are millions of people you can look at and say they’re good looking, but far fewer who you feel some kind of almost indefinable chemistry with. It’s the magic and the chemistry that’s exciting.

    2. Yes, I completely agree, I like to have a camera that delivers a half decent image straight out of the box on Program mode, which gives a starting point for further tinkering.

      How are you getting with the Fuji EXR, haven’t heard you speak so much about that one so much lately?

      1. I haven’t been using the Fuji lately as I’m spending more time out at the cabin so the photography is more about wildlife and the EXR isn’t really good for that. The Canon & Nikon have been pushed to their limits as it is!

      2. General photos; ‘grab’ shots of things seen while out and about. I’ve done some more artistic work with it, but that’s not what it’s best at. Nicest camera I’ve got for ‘snapshots’ though.

  2. Dan, metering and white balance on the K-S1 is probably the most improved aspect in relation to the K-50/K-30 – not perfect of course, but really getting there. That and some colors such as pink are much improved.
    Regarding your post… I’m glad these settings seem to worked out…
    I’m not surprised you backed off on the saturation a bit… since you didn’t set the High/Low Key to +1 like I do. The more “high key” adjustment in camera, the lower the contrast and saturation. And like Sherry, I do like my shadows lifted up a little bit, it looks more natural that way, so that’s where my setting came from.
    And in case anyone’s wondering… no settings can make these cameras look as good in color as CCD cameras. In your case, I assume they’ll mostly be used in case you are out taking B&W pictures with the K-30, in which case you’ll at least have an acceptable setting if you see a scene that you have to take in color 🙂

    1. Chris, your settings were a very useful starting point, and I didn’t change a huge amount, as you can see. It was good as much as anything to see that this could be done. What I’m never quite sure about in the K-30 – and this is the same in the K-m, and my Q – is whether all of the preset colour profiles start at the same base point.

      For example, if you went into the Bright profile and the Natural profile and the Muted profile and set every parameter (contrast, saturation etc) the same, would the images look the same across all three profiles? I think the answer is no, but then what it is that has been done to the images before we get to tweak them further with the additional parameters? Actually I think some of the profiles even have different parameters to each other, so they can’t all be starting from the same place… Any thoughts?

      1. I think most of the main profiles are based on the same base curve, just some parameters adjustment.
        Specialty profiles like the Muted and the Reversal Film apply a different curve (the Muted setting is actually closest – from what I can see – to what they did with Monochrome). And the Muted, I think, applies a “split toning” effect, which is why you need to choose a cast color (Toning) – but I don’t think it’s applying it to shadows and/or highlights like split toning does, but to the whole picture. You set your Toning off but I think it still applies some kind of toning effect. In my case, it seems like the Cyan toning corrects reds and makes blues more accurate so I went with that.
        In Darktable, I’ve used Split Toning a lot of times to “tame” the wild over-saturated and over-yellowish greens from CMOS sensors, which is why I was pleased to see that same kind of effect on the Muted setting.

      2. A part of me is fascinated by all of of this Chris, and wants to dive in deeper, and learn more. But another part of me just wants to pick up the good old 6MP CCD K100D with the 35-70mm F Zoom at 70mm, stick it on Bright and just enjoy those lovely natural colours without having to touch anything on the camera other than aperture, focus and occasional exposure compensation.

        I think a good plan might be to pick one element or setting or profile on the K30 each time I go out (or for a series of walks) and really get to know what I can do with it. There are a hundred possible cameras in just one camera. Especially when you add in the interchangeable lens factor.

  3. Dan, continuing from the previous comments – I understand that perfectly.
    I don’t have a certain “look” that I go for – when I look at film pictures, I love Velvia 50 pictures, Ektar pictures and Kodachrome for color – “alive” yet naturally so. For black and white, T-Max 100 is fine. No film emulation really captures any of those… I don’t think I can really get that “natural” look anywhere. CCDs are however closer to CMOS sensors I think… so I definitely see where you are coming from!
    If you like simplicity, I wouldn’t try to experiment too much with the JPEG engine in the K-30… just too much on tap and it might kill your enjoyment of taking pictures.

    1. Chris, you’re spot on with the last paragraph. I get to the point with DSLRs where there’s just too much fiddling about and I want to go back to a little point and shoot that delivers straight out of camera.

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