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I have an art project that I need to document and could really use some help picking a lens and possibly a camera for it. I did the documentation process a long time ago when I was applying to art school and used my Pentax K1000 and slide film, which I could do again, but I was hoping to go digital with this. I have a Pentax K10D with the old 10-55 kit lens that I've been using pretty happily for the past 10 years, but this project makes me think I should upgrade the lens at the very least, but to what?

Do I want a macro for this? I'm fine with getting a prime lens, but doubt I want one with a fixed aperture as a shallow depth of field could mean having to layer images and there will be 100s of them (there's 60 odd separate pieces of sculpture to document). Should I just upgrade to something like a Pentax SMC DA 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 WR Lens or something more specific like a 20-40? If I had infinity money this wouldn't be a problem, but I don't. I was hoping to spend under $500 on lens(es).

The other major issue is that my digital camera is 10 years old and has fewer megapix than my phone. Of course my phone can barely focus, so was planning on using a real camera even if it ends up being a K1000. I've been looking at the Pentax K3 III, but it's so expensive. I'm not too, too invested in Pentax glass (just a 20 year old Sigma 70-300 that I bought for my K1000 that's too zoomy and slow for anything but tripod work), but I am comfortable with the Pentax and like the physical view finder of the DSLRs and that is also worth something. A lot of what I use the K10D for is taking pictures of the grass on the side of the highway from the passenger seat of a moving car, so the quick and accurate autofocus is what makes it (rather than the K1 II) so tempting. All together, we're talking $2500 which I can do if I have to, but I had a better paying job 10 year ago when I bought the K10D and this is more than twice as much.

Thank you in advanced for any advice you have!

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    Just to clarify: A prime lens means it has a fixed focal length, not a fixed aperture. Even better, a prime lens usually gives you a wider max aperture, which allows you to place with a shallower depth of field for effect. Problems with the cheap kit lens are rather: Not great widest aperture, more distortion (which can be corrected on the PC with software) and and possibly more unwanted flare (reflections) if you the object has highlights (e.g if it's metal). I would not worry too much about the lens unless you need the larger aperture for effect. Aug 12 at 21:10
  • In regards with the camera: The K10D, which has a rather low resolution, but unless you want to create large (way above letter size) prints or need to enlarge small parts of the taken photos, this won't be much of an issue. Aug 12 at 21:11
  • You may rather want to invest in a good flash, or even several, or into reflective surfaces, all to improve the lighting, as Michael C proposes. Oh, since you didn't point out whether the art is stationary and fixed or moving: If you have moving art, a newer camera may offer a better high speed "drive mode", starting with the K-5. Also, higher ISO sensitivity may make a difference then. Aug 12 at 21:16
  • At this time in the US, the Pentax K70 seems to be the best combination of price and capability. The 50mm f1.8 is reasonably sharp when stopped down and is inexpensive. But if you are comfortable doing it all on slide film, there's nothing wrong with that. An Aug 12 at 23:21
  • I did order some reflectors, so those are coming soon. As far as flashes go, some of the sculptures have metal components (mostly very tarnished silver) and a lot of it includes glass. Would that be compatible with flash photography?
    – Reka
    Aug 13 at 18:31
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Documenting sculpture isn't all that much about the camera. Any ILC on the market today is more than capable of doing it. Your decade old Pentax K10D should be able as well. It's not that much about the lens, either, as long as you're using something reasonably sharp. At the apertures you're probably going to want to use, anything that's not misaligned or otherwise out of whack will be sharp at f/5.6-f/8-f/11. The 18-55mm kit lens that came with the K10D is probably sufficient unless you're wanting to display at very large sizes.

Documenting sculpture is all about lighting and technique.

As far as technique goes, one would assume you're going to have the camera on a tripod and release the shutter with a remote cable or wireless remote. If the K10D offers mirror lockup, that would help improve your results as well.

As far as lighting goes, what you need all depends upon how you want to present your work. Without knowing how large your sculptures are as well as a few example photographs that show us what you want the photos of your work to look like, it's hard to give much guidance about lighting your project to get a specific look.

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  • It looks like the K10D has neither bulb mode or mirror lock up unfortunately, but I do have a decent tripod. Fortunately, most of the pieces are on the small side and I was planning on starting my borrowing a friend's light box. It sounds like for portfolio purposes, the K10D will be fine, but they might need to be retaken if I ever what to exhibit the photographs. (Traditional portfolio stuff went on slides to be projected HUGE which digital is just starting to be able to achieve.)
    – Reka
    Aug 12 at 17:20
  • Slides projected huge were rarely observed from close distances, though. It's ultimately about how many degrees of arc an image occupies in the viewer's field of vision. Viewing an 8 foot by 10 foot screen from 12 feet only requires the same resolution as an 8"x10" print does from 12".
    – Michael C
    Aug 12 at 19:58
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What limitations do you find in the current lens? If you cannot find specific ones, then 1) maybe you don't need to upgrade and 2) you cannot upgrade efficiently since you don't know what the new lens should do better than your current one.

Macro lenses have variable apertures like the rest. Macro capability is depending on the size of the art (or the pieces of art) that you want to document. If you don't need a field of view that is smaller than 4 inches in real life, you don't really need macro.

Not an expert in Sony lenses but I doubt that an affordable 18-135 is any better than the classical trans-standard.

Yes, you K10D is somewhat obsolete, but that doesn't mean you should jump for the latest and greatest. There are plenty of hardly used second-hand 5-years old cameras that can still do an excellent job. And since you have no real investment in lenses you can even switch brands (if you can adapt to the different ergonomics).

I'm not convinced that even an ultra-reactive AF can focus on the grass of the side of the road above moped speeds. On the other hand the distance being somewhat constant you can likely preset the focus. Where a better camera would make a difference is allowing you to obtain much shorter exposures due to more usable high ISO and thus reduce motion blur. Using a "fast" prime lens (opening to f/2.8 or less) would also help, but a wide aperture reduces the depth of field that is useful when you use a preset focus.

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  • I have noticed that my current lens isn't super sharp which I've noticed when photographing stills in green mode in daylight, but hand held, not on a tripod. The Pentax has built in image stabilization, but that many generations ago it's not that great. I've got less experience with using it on my tripod, but I'll take some pics and check if it's still an issue. The current lens is also not weather sealed. I do like the idea of getting a fast prime lens for pics of grass and thank you so much for talking me out of getting a brand new camera when it probably won't solve my problems anyway!
    – Reka
    Aug 12 at 16:57
  • @Reka, if the pics are not super sharp, then it may also be that the auto focus is a bit out of line. To verify, set focusing to manual and take several pics, on a tripod, of the same flat, structured, surface, while turning the focus ever so slightly in/out every time. Then check the pics for sharpness. If one is clearly sharper than the rest, and that's not the one the camera used with auto-focus, then it's out of alignment. There are ways to correct that, then. Live View would also help, but I believe the K10D doesn't have that, yet. Aug 12 at 21:21
  • Thank you for that suggestion! I tried it and apparently the autofocus is occasionally a little bit out of line, but that is corrected by multiple focus attempts (my first and last pics at a given zoom were autofocus and once the first pic was a tiny bit off). You are right that the K10D was pre live view (though I think Pentax might have been behind on that). I also found (apparently I had forgotten) that the auto white balance is complete crap on my camera, but that is easily correctable in camera for any given situation and the presets are mostly ok.
    – Reka
    Aug 13 at 18:10
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My experience with indoor photography (assuming the art is indoors here) is that you have to have some kind of strategy for eliminating camera shake. There are four possibilities:

  1. Use a flash. Ideally the flash should have a tiltable head so you can point it directly at the art, or alternatively upwards to bounce it from the ceiling. Bouncing the flash from the ceiling obviously works only if the ceiling is low and white. If you don't have a low and white ceiling, there are some flash modifiers that help you achieve the less harsh light than pointing the flash directly at the art. Expect to spend few hundred dollars. Of course if you want to use the flash externally and want light from multiple angles you'll need a transmitter plus flash stands plus umbrellas plus more than one flash, quickly bringing the costs up. It may be worth it, however.

  2. Use a lens with a good image stabilizer. Note that the cheap 18-55 lenses usually have cheap image stabilizers so you may need to choose a slightly better lens. It doesn't cost many hundred dollars if choosing some slightly better lens like 18-135 for Canon.

  3. Use a very good tripod. My experience with tripods is that the cheap should be avoided at all costs. Some entry-level Manfrotto tripod for example could be a good starting point. I have chosen to buy a used very old Manfrotto tripod, it's slightly less user friendly due to having screw locks at the feet, but for occasional use it's very stable and good enough. Few hundred dollars should be all you have to spend.

  4. Use a large sensor and lens with a fast wide open aperture, for example f/2.8 zoom with a full frame camera. The trouble with this approach is that a full frame camera and f/2.8 zoom bring the costs quickly rather high: not few hundred dollars but few thousand dollars. The other trouble with this approach is that the depth of field will be very shallow. You may or may not want that. If you have "deep" art that requires a deep depth of field, this isn't recommended.

If your art isn't static but rather is moving, then you're limited to flash or a large sensor + fast wide open aperture lens, unless you really like the motion blur effect to demonstrate the art is moving.

Cheap zoom lenses for crop sensor cameras are actually rather good for macro photography. Even something like 1:4 magnification (really common for crop sensor zoom lenses) means something 90 millimeters wide and 60 millimeters high fill your frame. Of course if you have something smaller, you can always crop the image. High megapixel cameras have lots of room for cropping. So only really miniature art requires a macro lens.

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  • I have a tripod (Manfrotto distributed by bogen, almost certainly entry level but 18 years ago) and was definitely planning on using it, so thanks for reminding me about that detail! I'm less sure about bulb mode and mirror up that someone suggested on such an old DSLR. If it's available, it's certainly not easy to find on the camera. Some of the pieces are smallish (2.5"x1.5"x1.5") and many of them have a lot of fine detail like beading and embroidery, but none of them are truly miniature, so it doesn't sound like I need a macro!
    – Reka
    Aug 12 at 16:47
  • Lighting doesn't have to be a lot of expensive flashes. For static objects shot from a tripod, diffused daylight from a large window on one side and fill from a reflector on the other could do the trick.
    – Michael C
    Aug 12 at 19:55
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    I disagree about needing a high-quality tripod. The objects are stationary, and unless the camera is getting shaken (e.g. by wind), you can work around a cheap tripod just fine with either very short and very long exposure times to prevent blur due to vibration. Aug 12 at 21:06
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This is totally not an answer to your question.

What do you mean by "documenting"?

  • Do you need to take photos to post them in a printed catalog? A website?

  • What are the size of the sculptures?

  • Are they outdoors?

  • Are they in a room, like a gallery? or do you have the option to move them to a photo studio, even in location but with controlled lighting? Do you have space?


The best-case scenario is the last. I would think about the project like a product shot. Preparing a sturdy table. Have one person responsible for moving the objects and focus on the light, framing, composition, texture of the background.

So, probably it is better to invest in that. Or rent some gear, probably 3 lights with diffusion. Think about the background too.

Look at this search:

https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=sculpture+photography

Do you care about the Mpx? or all things I described?

Documenting a sculpture is also a good opportunity to make some rotating 360 shots if weight and size allow it.

If the sculptures are on an exterior, probably you need to implement some HDR techniques, but also you can modify the light with large diffusers.

Even if the sculptures are on a gallery if the project allows it you can construct the light.

If it is a paid work be sure to have the final specifications. Probably also rent a camera for the project. The first question, about if it is going to be printed is the real reason for having more Mpx, and a good raw file so you can adjust it.

The size of the sculptures and the space available determines the focal length. Also if you need to take photos from some details in it. So you need to clarify a lot of things.

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  • The sculptures are currently in my somewhat cluttered apartment which does get good light and are mostly small enough to fit inside a commercial light box type set up (they range in size from a few inches to about 18" for the tallest). They can be moved but a few of them are too fragile to chance it.
    – Reka
    Aug 13 at 4:19
  • I'm looking for documentation for my portfolio (I'm the artist), so pics that are the size of a printed page at most. It sounds like from what everyone says that my real issues are lighting and situ which I will have to experiment with, but renting a camera is a great idea.
    – Reka
    Aug 13 at 4:29
  • Feel free to post an image of the candidate space you have to take the shots. Use your camera and the tripod, so we can see how sharp the final image is. And maybe we can help setting up a proper way to take the shots. Background, and probably use the natural light. I am a fan of DIY stuff, so probably make it on a budget. Probably post a new thread for that.
    – Rafael
    Aug 13 at 6:30

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