We know retro is all the rage in camera design but luckily those “oldies” like the Fujifilm X100S are stuffed with the latest technology. The Pentax K-30 ($750 with kit lens) is also a bit retro looking and has some cool advances, but what it lacks makes this “old school” DSLR more 1993 than 2013.
Features and design
We have a soft spot for Pentax cameras, as do many others, since it was many people’s first step into SLR photography, thanks to their solid quality and good pricing. The world has dramatically changed since those days and Pentax is holding on while Canon, Nikon, Samsung, and Sony dominate the field. Still the company perseveres, introducing lots of rugged point-and-shoots, a few DSLRs, and some compact system cameras that seem more half-hearted attempts than the real deal.
The 16.3-megapixel K-30, however, is the real deal as far as DSLRs are concerned. The basic black model looks like every digital single lens reflex camera you’ve ever seen but there are a couple of neat tricks. The camera is weather-sealed, dust proof, and cold proof, so it handles the elements; it’s not completely rugged as it won’t survive a fall onto concrete. Also, the K-30 goes way beyond basic black: If you’re a rainbow fan, there are 17 color bodies available ranging from bright yellow to silky green – you order them online. No matter what shade you choose, the camera measures 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8 inches and weighs 22.9 ounces for the body and card. It’s substantial without feeling like an anchor around your neck, depending on the lens, of course.
It doesn’t have all the features of an enthusiast DSLR and is too expensive for an entry-level buyer.
The top deck has the pop-up flash, mode dial, exposure compensation button, shutter button, and a “green” button that brings everything back to default status (so any tweaks you made will go back to original camera settings). On the front of the very comfortable grip is a jog dial for making adjustments. The mode dial lets you know this camera is targeted to more sophisticated shutterbugs. Along with the usual PASM modes, there’s a Sensitivity Priority option, Bulb, and two customizable settings. Scene has 21 choices plus there’s Movie and Auto. The only thing missing on the top is an LCD readout – if you want that as well as additional features you have to step up to the K-5 II and spend another $400, staying in the Pentax family.
At this point, we have to bring the skunk into the dinner party and it may be a deal breaker for movie fans. Amazingly, in this day and age, the Pentax K-30 does not have an HDMI-out so you can’t watch your videos directly on your HDTV. Now, if you’re just posting to YouTube this isn’t a killer but big-screen entertainment is off the table. Also, while the K-30 captures MPEG-4 1080/30p videos, there’s only a mono mic.
The rear of the K-30 is as familiar as you’d imagine (see photos). It has a bright viewfinder with 100-percent coverage, a 3-inch fixed LCD screen rated a solid 921K pixels, and the usual four-way controller, assorted buttons, and another jog dial. All of the buttons are clearly labeled with ready access to white balance, ISO, and flash settings.
On the right side is a slot for SD cards while on the bottom is the battery compartment; the supplied battery is good for 480 shots per CIPA, a good – not great – number. Also of note is the fact this DSLR can use AAs for power with an optional adaptor.
What’s in the box
The K-30 is supplied with various caps, covers, straps, battery/charger, along with a quick guide and a 292-page printed owner’s manual. It would be worth going through this tome since you’ll discover this fairly affordable DSLR has extensive tweaking capabilities including high dynamic range (HDR), horizon correction, multi-exposures, and more. The supplied CD-ROM has SilkyPix Studio Developer 3.0 software for handling files and turning RAW images into JPEGs.
Performance and use
We loaded a 32GB SDHC card, charged the battery, and set off to give the K-30 a workout. The camera has an APS-C sensor – typical for most DSLRS – and stills were set to the maximum resolution (4928 x 3264 pixels) and video at 1920×1080/30 fps.
The camera was used under a variety of lighting conditions, but since the first flowers of spring were in bloom we tried to capture them first (see samples). The camera focused quickly, thanks to an 11-point autofocus system with nine cross-type sensors. Even so, we still used manual focus for close-ups. The results were good – not spectacular – with accurate colors. We did find the images to be noisy in the shade, however. In the sun, this wasn’t an issue.
We performed our standard ISO test and found the K-30 handled noise well up to 800; even ISO 1,600 was passable in small sizes but enlarging them on a 27-inch monitor really showed the flaws. Not many people will blow up their images to wall size but our reviews are mixed on this front. Even though the camera can reach 25,600, we suggest this be avoided at all costs.
On a more positive note, the K-30 is quite responsive with a top burst speed of 6 frames per second for JPEGs. Another plus is the 1/6000th-30 second shutter speed range, which is better than the usual DSLR or CSC that top out at 1/4000 (enthusiast models hit 1/8000).
Usually a flash isn’t worth commenting about unless there are problems, and we had them with the K-30. We used it for some group shots at a friend’s wedding with red-eye reduction turned on; the results were a blurry mess and not in a pleasing, artistic way. Even with it turned off the results were poor. We were wishing for a Canon PowerShot as we know we’d get a good quality snapshot. This was a real disappointment.
As for videos, let’s just say this camera is geared for still photographers. It had some of the worst rolling shutter effects we’ve seen in a long time. If there isn’t enough ambient noise, the mic picks up every little adjustment on the mono soundtrack. Toss in the lack of an HDMI-out and no “red dot” direct movie button and you have a losing hand.
If you can get past the lack of an HDMI-out and mediocre video, the K-30 is an okay DSLR, especially for someone with a collection of Pentax lenses. But to be honest, this camera is in no-man’s land. It doesn’t have all the features of an enthusiast DSLR and is too expensive for an entry-level buyer. You really can do better for $750 – especially with the many quality and cheaper compact system cameras available and intriguing DSLRs like the new 18MP Canon SL1 ($799 with kit lens).
- Decent stills with enough light
- Quick response (6 fps)
- Top-notch screen
- Weather-resistance construction
- Poor video quality
- Very noisy mechanical operation
- No HDMI out
- Poor flash results