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Pentax K-r Digital SLR Review

John Riley reviews the new mid-level Pentax K-r Digital SLR.

| Pentax K-r in Digital SLRs

Pentax K-r Digital SLR Review: Pentax K-r
John Riley reviews the Pentax K-r.

Pentax was once one of the two marques of choice for the Professional Photographer. However, the 1960s are a long time ago now and things have changed considerably. Pentax has survived in a smaller way the change to a bayonet mount, the coming of AF, the electronic revolution and is now forging ahead in the Digital Era, striving to regain that lost ground. The *istD was the first of the line and slowly but surely Pentax have been expanding and progressing their range of offerings. The K-x made a major step forwards and now is the K-r set to capitalise on that success? We shall see, in black, white or red...

Pentax K-r: Features
The Pentax K-r is a mid-range DSLR with a 12.4MP CMOS chip. It uses the Pentax KAF2 bayonet mount which enables full use of all Pentax bayonet lenses from the manual focus A series onwards. If the lens has an “A” on its aperture ring then in almost all cases all that lens's functions will be available. Earlier lenses than the A series can be used with restrictions.

Image stabilisation and dust removal are via sensor shift. An SP coating on the sensor also reduces the chance that any debris will stick. Up to 4EV stabilisation is possible. This is available with any lens.

The usual Pentax PEF RAW format is joined by the option of Adobe's DNG open RAW standard, a useful way to future-proof our images.

AF is a new SAFOX IX system with 11 points, 9 of which are of the cross type. Metering offers the usual choice of Matrix (16 segments), centre weighted and spot.

Viewing of the subject is either by the 95% Penta-mirror optical viewfinder or via LiveView. The monitor is a 921,000 dot TFT LCD screen with a wide viewing angle.

There are a wide variety of modes and shooting styles, plus a blistering 6fps continuous drive when needed. Movie mode offers recordings at 1280x720 pixels.

A novel feature is the provision for alternative battery types. A Lithium battery pack is supplied as standard, but this can be changed for an internal holder for 4 AA cells. The holder is purchased separately. AA Lithium batteries could offer up to 1600 images per set if the flash is not used. The supplied DL-I109 offer up to 560 images per charge.

The final choice, following on with considerable success with the K-x, is the colour – in the UK this is black, white or Pentax red.

Pentax K-r Key features: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
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The Pentax K-r has been tested with an 18-55mm kit lens.   The K-r runs off a rechargeable D-LI109 Lithium-ion battery or 4 AA batteries.
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The rear of the camera has a 3in TFT colour LCD monitor.   The top of the camera hosts fairly typical buttons for a DSLR.

Pentax K-r: Handling
The camera looks and feels solid. It rests comfortably in the hands and the placement of controls and buttons follows Pentax principles. The contour of the grip offers an excellent hold on the camera and there are no buttons in unfortunate places that could be accidentally pressed.

The controls are firm and operate smoothly, buttons are of high quality and the overall finish is of an impeccable standard. Clearly high grade plastics are used and the assembly is of a high precision.

The camera mount is metal and the DA L standard zoom bayonets firmly into place. The lens is all plastic, including its mount, but in practice this works and lasts well.

The K-r feels just right in use. The viewfinder gives a crystal clear optical view and of course this has the advantage over an EVF in that a quick preview of a scene can be made without having to switch on the camera.

The 921,000 dot screen is bright, detailed and clear.

Access points to batteries and SD card via separate doors are both well built and should present no problems.

The K-r is a very attractive looking camera that is well designed for the job.

Pentax K-r: Performance
The camera operates in all respects totally reliably. It is very, very fast. Start up time is well under 1 second, write times are not a problem, even when shooting at maximum frame rate. All the functions are responsive and virtually instantaneous.

The manual claims a continuous burst at 6fps in JPEG can be maintained for 25 frames. My own test suggests that this is a conservative estimate and I found that the frame rate only dropped from maximum after approximately 28 frames.

The metering system appears to be spot on in most circumstances. It is certainly very hard to fool, but in extreme cases exposure compensation can be dialled in and is clearly displayed on the rear screen and in the viewfinder. Centre weighted and spot modes are offered for those who prefer them.

The focusing system seems to have been upgraded from earlier Pentax models and snaps in very smartly, with no hunting or indecision. In daylight it has no trouble keeping up with the frame rate. This performance is well maintained in very low light levels and even dim street lighting at night does not prevent the camera from confidently locking on.

Resolution and noise are intertwined and the slightly lower pixel count no doubt helps with noise reduction. 12.4MP still makes for some impressively clean images, full of vibrant detail. Exhibition prints will not be a problem.

ISO and noise performance
Noise levels are seriously tackled and as a result there are extensive options provided. An extended range of 100 – 25,600 ISO is offered and at all settings any noise pattern is crisp and clean. At the maximum setting in daylight the appearance is similar to a very fast film, but with very sharp grain structure. In lower light the appearance is softer, but action stopping images in ridiculously dark places become a possibility. For normal picture making, it is only at 6400ISO that any real deterioration sets in. I am happy that for the highest quality images up to 800ISO would be fully usable and that in the proper circumstances all the speed available could be put to good use. This is a new benchmark of capability for Pentax in an area being furiously fought over by all the manufacturers.

Pentax K-r Test chart ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
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ISO100 ISO200 ISO400
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ISO800 ISO1600 ISO3200
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ISO6400 ISO12800 ISO25600

Pentax K-r Outdoor ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
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ISO100 ISO200 ISO400
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ISO800 ISO1600 ISO3200
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ISO6400 ISO12800 ISO25600

Colour reproduction has always been a strength and this Pentax is no exception. AWB produces neutral-warm images and switching to Daylight is my favourite trick for maintaining the shifting qualities of the ambient light. If warmer images still are required, then Cloudy gives a result similar to an 81A warming filter on film. Skin tones are just right so I expect that wedding and portrait photographers will be pleased with the results and, more importantly, their clients will. There are all the usual presets for incandescent and fluorescent light and a custom white balance can be taken where necessary. However, that Pentax warmth is very pleasant just as it is, so there may be little need to try to filter it away.

The full range of colours is well reproduced and there are no weak points. Blues are a particular area of interest and difficult subjects such as bluebells I would expect to be handled well.

In some situations the presets will be needed, and certainly incandescent (tungsten) light is outside the normal range for AWB. Fluorescent light is always difficult as it does not have a complete colour spectrum and hence no specific colour temperature, but the camera does a good job.

Pentax K-r White-balance test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
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Auto white-balance in incandescent lighting.   Incandescent preset in incandescent lighting.
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Auto white-balance in fluorescent lighting.   Fluorescent preset in fluorescent lighting.

One interesting result shows that the Infra Red blocking filter over this sensor may not be as strong as on previous Pentax DSLRs. Making a “pseudo infra red” image using Channel Mixer in Photoshop gave a very impressive result. This extends the creative possibilities of the K-r and I find this a welcome feature.

There is a very full dynamic range, as can be seen from the step wedge images, and this comfortably exceeds what can be printed on inkjet paper or seen on some monitors. This is one of the advantages of digital and the range of film is being exceeded many times over. It seems there is little need with the K-r to reduce exposure to prevent washed out highlights as in general the indicated exposure is correct.

LiveView opens some interesting possibilities and seems very effective with the K-r. Essentially we can use the camera in the same way that most compacts are now used – composing and focusing whilst viewing the LCD screen. This means that low level shots, for example of forest fungi, may not need to have the photographer kneeling or lying on the ground quite so much. The focusing is slower in this mode as the camera zooms in the image to focus and then zooms out again to take the shot. Most compact cameras are no faster though, so it is acceptable. Using LiveView is time limited and will switch off after 5 minutes. It can be switched on again, but the camera monitors internal temperature and will switch off again when safe levels are exceeded. Live View is enabled by a single press of a dedicated button and switched off again in the same way. The mirror is of course flipped up whilst Live View operates, so optical viewing is not available at the same time.

Shooting movies is also limited by temperature, but in this case up to 25 minutes of shooting is possible before the camera needs to cool down again.

The battery options are quite innovative. The provided Li-Ion DL-I109 battery pack has a potential capacity of up to 560 images without flash, or 470 with 50% flash usage. This equates to 300 minutes of viewing on the LCD screen.

As fill-in flash in daylight is well balanced, the possibility of using the built in flash unit is increased. If the AA insert is purchased then various types of battery can be used, with Lithium AA cells offering a capacity of up to 1600 images. Even after almost 300 test shots, the provided battery still shows full power, so my expectation is that the quoted figures may well be realistic.

Pentax K-r Performance: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
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Metering is reliable under a wide variety of conditions.   Pseudo infra-red images work well with the K-r sensor.
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It is almost impossible to induce any degree of flare.   Bold colours have vibrancy and depth.

Lens Performance
The lens provided as standard is the SMC Pentax DA L 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. This L version has an all-plastic construction, including the mount, and is sold without a lenshood. Although a lenshood could arguably be regarded as essential, in practice it was all but impossible to induce any flare.

The same applied to chromatic aberration as there seemed to be very little if any colour fringing of any type. Branches against sky were handled with ease.

The lens is slightly warm in tone, good for portraits, and wide open is softer than when stopped down to mid apertures. Open aperture seems usefully balanced for portraits, although plenty of detail is still there. Mid aperture crisps up the image very nicely, and at f22 and beyond it softens again but is still usable where depth of field is the main consideration.

Edge quality is well maintained, some fall off being evident at wider apertures and wider focal lengths, but still remaining a usefully sharp lens.

Distortion is where lens designers tend to allow more leeway and here we have no exception. Partly to favour other lens properties such as sharpness, contrast and low chromatic errors, distortion is allowed to creep in. At 18mm there is definite barrel distortion, this has become slight pincushion at 35mm and increases slightly more at 55mm. It is no worse than many lenses, and for some wide angle shots some barrel distortion may be considered beneficial.

If desired, there is a Lens Correction feature that identifies the properties of known lenses and corrects them in camera software. It works.

The performance of this lens is actually very impressive, especially as it is costing very little when purchased with the camera body. It is definitely worth having as part of the package and will serve very well.

Pentax K-r Lens Performance: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
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At f/11 the lens displays impressive corner to corner sharpness.   The lens is capable of resolving lots of fine detail.
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  (Above) Colour accuracy is excellent.

(Left) There is obvious barrel distortion at 18mm.


Pentax K-r Digital SLR Review:
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.

Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Pentax K-r.

Pentax K-r: Verdict
We have a well made, fully specified, compact and efficient camera in the Pentax K-r. It is attractive in appearance and handles beautifully. It can hold its head high in the company of higher priced rivals from the main manufacturers and also offers advantages in image quality, lens quality and extensive backwards compatibility. The excellent near-infra-red performance will please some buyers, as will the multiple power source options.

The lens is excellent and gives a tempting introduction to the qualities of the rest of the range. Only weatherproofing is missing, but that would not make a better performing camera.

I have no doubt that the K-r is a worthy contender for our cash. For existing Pentax users there is no better option at this price level, for those new to Pentax I firmly believe they will be impressed. For those considering an EVF DSLR then a consideration here is that the K-r is not really that much more bulky and it does offer much better battery life, a superb optical viewfinder and a much wider choice of lenses.

The conclusion is that Pentax have a new and exciting product here that offers excellent performance and is very well priced to compete in the marketplace. Highly recommended.

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Pentax K-r: Pros

Handles beautifully
High quality construction
Fast and responsive
Excellent colour
Low noise
Quality of lenses
Backwards compatibility with lenses

Pentax K-r: Cons
No weather sealing
No lenshood provided


Pentax K-r: Specification
Price £567.00
Lens mount Pentax KAF2 bayonet mount
Resolution 12.4Mp
Sensor size 23.6mm x 15.8mm
Sensor type High sensitivity CMOS sensor with a primary colour filter
Max. Image size 4288 x 2428
Viewfinder Penta-mirror, approx. 96% field of view
Focusing system SAFOX IX autofocus system with TTL phase-matching detection
Focus types Focus modes: AF.A(auto), AF.S(single, with focus lock), AF-C(continuous)
11 AF points (9 cross type in the center)
5-point or 11-point Auto, Select or Center
File types RAW and JPEG
ISO sensitivity ISO100 - 25600
Metering system TTL open-aperture 16-segment metering (coupled with lens and AF information)
Metering modes: Multi-segment metering, Centre-weighted metering or Spot metering
Metering types Program (P), Sensitivity-Priority (Sv), Shutter-Priority (Tv), Aperture-Priority (Av), Metered Manual (M) including Bulb, Video
Picture modes: AutoPicture, Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Moving Object, Night scene portrait, Flash off
Scene modes: Night scene, Surf & Snow, Food, Sunset, Kids, Pet, Candlelight, Museum, Stagelight, Night snap, Night scene HDR*

*In Stagelight, Night snap and Night scene HDR, image format is fixed to JPEG
White-balance Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent light (D, N, W, L), Tungsten light, Flash, CTE, Manual (configuration on monitor)
Exposure compensation ± 3EV (selectable EV steps: 1/3 or 1/2 steps)
Shutter speed range Auto and Manual : 1/6000 - 30 sec. + Bulb
Continuous shooting 6 fps high-speed continuous shooting
Image stabilisation Sensor-shift Shake Reduction
Movie mode HDTV: 1280x720 (16:9) at 25fps
VGA: 640x480 (4:3) at 30 or 25fps
Monitor 3in TFT colour LCD monitor
Media type SD / SDHC
Live View Yes
Interface USB and AV output
Power Rechargeable D-LI109 Lithium-ion battery
Size (hxwxd) 97 x 125 x 68mm
Weight (with battery) 598g

The Pentax K-r costs £567.00 and is available from Warehouse Express here: Pentax K-r

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Photographs taken using the Pentax K-r

Late MarigoldsKaffir LilyAll Aglow!Love-in-a-MistLast of the rosesDelicate shadowsGarden of Eden?Pink HibiscusBlue CeratostigmaHardy GeraniumA Lonely SnapdragonSunset MarigoldsThe Rain RoomCornflowersPenstemon

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Chaitanya 13 15 1 United Kingdom
3 Nov 2010 6:48PM
This camera has raised the bar for K-5's performance. I hope K-5 is as good as the K-r in terms of performance.
kenp 16 96 United Kingdom
11 Nov 2010 7:36PM
An excellent review John...thank you!
13 May 2011 4:21PM
Great review. I have just bought this camera it came with the 18-55 lense and a 50-200 lense. I am fairly new to photgraphy but this camera has everything i need and is not only fast but produces great photos thanks.
18 Sep 2011 8:01PM
Thank you very much for this fine review; through this review I bought this camera with the 18-55 en 50-200 WR lenses.
A beautiful combination, and I am very happy with it.
And the results are great!

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