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After a slow start into the digital revolution and a series of 6Mp nondescript offerings, Pentax have taken a major leap with a 10mp serious contender into the dSLR marketplace. Ian Andrews takes a look at what should be a new beginning for Pentax
A number of years ago, Pentax were probably the leading supplier of advanced amateur and semi-professional cameras in the UK but the intervening years have seen them drop down the pecking order. Almost the last of the traditional brands to go digital with the badly named *istD they followed that with minor upgrades suffixed with Ls and Ss. Recently though, all that has changed and the K is back! First was the K100D with a new Anti-Shake (AS) device and now, the K10D with AS plus a whole host of new features aimed not just at the advance amateur, but also the semi-pro ‘togs too.
Modes and features
Historically, all cameras worth their salt have had PASM, meaning Program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual. With this camera, Pentax have gone one step further with what I am going to call PASIM as they have added a very sensible ISO priority setting. Pentax are calling it sensitivity-priority but we generally know of it as changing the ISO setting. In fact, there are two versions of the sensitivity mode, one selecting both the shutter and aperture for you, while the other, called shutter & aperture mode, allows selection of the shutter and aperture while optimising the ISO for you.
Other settings on the mode dial are a Green mode, which is the fully Auto mode, B, X and User, a mode that can be configured through the menu to the users favourite settings. There are no scene modes wasting space on the dial.
The next major advance is in the image-processing engine. Called PRIME (Pentax Real IMaging Engine) it collects data from the sensor in 22-bit format prior to A/D conversion to 12-bit RAW or 8-bit JPEG for storage. Pentax claim better graduation through this system. DDR memory is utilised to keep the image processing and data transfer as fast as possible.
The AS and dust reduction are interlinked, as the sensor has a nanotech based fluorine sealing to prevent dust from settling and an adhesive strip to collect particles along with a combined vibration function to remove the stubborn ones like pollen. The AS is claimed to give a lens independent improvement of up to four stops when hand holding.
The camera will record images onto its SD memory card in three file formats, JPEG, Pentax Electronic File (PEF) RAW and also DNG RAW which is Adobe’s universal RAW format. JPEGs can be shot in three sizes - 10, six and two megapixels, and in three qualities, three, two or one star. The camera also supports SDHC compliant cards offering higher capacities.
The menu system will be familiar to anyone upgrading from earlier Pentax dSLRs and is simple enough to navigate for newcomers to the system. The secondary menu, accessed by pressing the Fn button on the right of the rear screen below the daisy wheel, brings up common changes like shooting mode, white balance, flash and ISO settings. White balance is adjustable between Auto, six presets, manual and a Kelvin scale. Shutter options include single shot, continuous, 12 sec timer, two sec timer, IR remote and IR remote with a three sec delay. ISO can be set from 100 to 1600 in 1/3rd or ½ stop increments and the flash has five different modes and compensation between –2 and +1 stops, again in ½ or 1/3rd steps.
A switch to the side of the K-AF2 lens mount, allowing single, continuous or manual, selects focussing and the AF area can be set to auto, selectable or centre spot with the knurled ring around the rocker type daisywheel. Metering mode is selected with a secondary ring beneath the Mode dial.
Build and handling
The K10D is built around a stainless steel chassis and, with a total of 72 individual seals fitted into its fibre re-enforced polycarbonate (FRP) body, is dust proof and rainproof, with a durable finish. It feels well made too, with no pretensions to light weight or small size. Not that the camera is over-sized or heavy but more in the area of just right. The grip is comfortable, both in big hands as well as more dainty versions with enough space between that and the lens mount for the clumsiest of fingers.
The shutter release is well placed on top of the grip and the two adjustment wheels fall easily to thumb and forefinger. An LCD screen, showing all of the shooting parameters along with an estimate of the number of frames available on the SD memory card, occupies the right hand side of the camera’s top. To the left of the prism housing, the main mode dial has a secondary lower ring controlling the metering mode. The prism housing itself, contains a pop-up flash unit with a handy but not over powerful guide number of 11 along with a hot-shoe. Controls on the rear of the camera are well laid out with a good deal of kinship to its junior siblings but with a few extras thrown in to enforce its seniority. These include the ribbed ring around the rocker to select the focus mode, a handy addition that has been taken out of the menus.
The K10D has a battery grip that can be purchased as an extra, but is worth a mention here. One of the most comfortable grips around, it is as well built as the camera, with similar sealing. It does, however, have one quirk. The grip only holds one battery, with the original camera battery staying in-situ in the camera. This does mean that, to charge the first battery the grip needs to be removed. On the plus side, the extra space in the grip is used to house a spare card holder.
The pop-up flash is a handy accoutrement on any camera, more especially for fill-in jobs rather than to light whole scenes and in this case it is well thought out. The function (Fn) button to the lower right of the main screen brings up the secondary, frequently used, menu and one of the four options is the flash settings. You can choose between Flash on, Flash on + red eye, Slow-speed sync, slow-sync + red eye and trailing curtain sync. With the screen on, you can use the rear thumbwheel to adjust the flash compensation between –2 stops to +1 stop in ½ or 1/3 stop increments. The whole thing is quite intuitive.
With a choice of recording format in two types of RAW, RAW + JPEG or nine sizes/qualities of JPEG, the choice is almost baffling when it comes to storing images. Although the three sizes and three qualities of JPEG are quite common nowadays, unusually, Pentax give you the option of recording the RAW files in their own PEF format or Adobe’s universal DNG format. The supplied software, Pentax Photo Laboratory supports both file types and is surprisingly good for free software.
Frame rate, although not magic, is a commendable 3.3fps in large/fine JPEG and although there is the occasional stutter, the camera can keep this up indefinitely, restricted only by the size of the memory card. Unfortunately, this drops to five frames only, once the file format is changed to RAW.
Autofocus speed only seems restricted by the lens and, as the camera is designed to operate with forthcoming sonic motor lenses that Pentax have in development, it will be interesting to see just how fast the system will be.
Files produced from the camera in JPEG at the default setting are pleasant in colour without undue saturation and the settings can be configured through the menus to achieve any desired amount of correction of image tone, saturation, contrast or sharpness.
click on large thumbnails to see large versions
This shot of some young mute swans was shot in RAW with the White balance on manual and set at 3200°K (above left). The supplied software has made a good job of correcting the mistake (above right).
ISO setting go from 100-1600 and the camera has a noise reduction setting that will operate at all speeds. Although it does make some slight difference at high ISOs, the job can be far better done in dedicated software packages. Files taken at speeds up to ISO800 are quite usable anyway, and the ability to select sensitivity speeds in increments of half or third stops gives great leeway.
ISO100 Noise reduction off
ISO200 Noise reduction off
ISO400 Noise reduction off
ISO800 Noise reduction off
Metering is carried out by 16 area multi-segment, centre-weighted or spot, selected by a secondary dial beneath the mode dial. It proved to be fairly accurate, managing to choose the correct exposure for all the scenes attempted.
The 2 ½ inch rear LCD screen proved to be bright and visible from quite a wide angle and the 210,000 pixel display is adequate for the job. Zooming in when reviewing pictures is achieved with the rear thumbwheel, making it an easy and quick operation.
The dedicated Li-ion battery proved to be long lasting and re-charges inside the hour from the three-quarter used state and it took the best part of a days' shooting, with lots of messing about in the menus, some flash shots with both the on-board flash as well as a dedicated Pentax flashgun, and plenty of image deletions to get it down that far.
Pentax are back! With the possible exception of frame rate, made up for in part with the Shake-reduction and dual RAW capability, this camera is up there with Nikon’s D200 and Canon’s 30D. Packed with features that have been well thought out and are easily accessible in a body that has been built to withstand the pressures of hard use in typically English climates it has a lot going for it. If their lens line-up takes a similar leap in the next twelve months, Pentax will be back toe-to-toe with the big boys. This is a serious advanced amateur or semi-pro camera.
In summary the positive points of the Pentax K10D are:
Weather sealed body with s/s chassis
Dual RAW formats supported
Good 11 point AF system
Sensitivity priority programs
In camera anti-shake should keep lenses reasonably priced
Good battery life.
Very well priced
The negative points:
SD compartment door release fiddly
Battery grip a little quirky
ISO1600 a bit too noisy