This is a much-anticipated digital SLR. Not only does this new Pentax have a 10.2-megapixel CCD, it also has built-in Shake Reduction and a cleaning system to keep dust off the imaging device (and your prints). It’s also built to take a bit of beating since it’s weather resistant and has tight seals to keep dust out of the body. Not only that, it costs less than $1,000 with a lens, a very reasonable price but above the Sony alpha which has similar features (10MP CCD, image stabilization) but not nearly as rugged a body. It’s also more affordable than the 10MP Nikon D80 ($999, body only) that doesn’t have shake reduction. I was pretty excited taking this one out the box and couldn’t wait for the battery to charge. After sitting around for a few hours (no, we weren’t as bad as Southpark’s Eric Cartman waiting for the introduction of the Nintendo Wii) it was time to see how this new D-SLR performed…
Features and Design
The Pentax K10D is a bit of a bruiser; forget about casually taking it along on a jaunt—this is a serious camera targeted to serious photographers. The camera is rather hefty, tipping the scales at 38.2 ounces fully loaded (battery, SD card, strap, supplied lens and hood), over two pounds. It feels much more substantial than the Canon EOS Rebel XTi we reviewed earlier. Dressed in basic D-SLR black, the K10D has a fiber-reinforced polycarbonate (plastic) body that covers the stainless steel chassis. There are dozens of seals (72 to be exact) to keep water, humidity and dust away from the sensitive electronics and mirror system. We have problems taking $1,000 cameras and spraying them with water to test manufacturer claims but Pentax states the K10D can handle it. It certainly feels like it.
The camera looks very familiar to anyone who has handled a current vintage D-SLR. For the most part, controls are logically positioned but there are a few that are hidden by a layer of menus that should be more accessible such as ISO and white balance. It’s not a deal breaker but Pentax should revisit this in the future.
The front of the camera is pretty straight forward and dominated by the lens opening. Pentax, like every major D-SLR maker, has dozens of optional lenses. The K10D accepts all Pentax F-, FA-, DA- and DFA- lenses and they’ll function with the camera’s electronics when used in Auto. The lens supplied is the usual 18-55mm which translates to 27-82.5mm due to the 1.5x digital factor. Surrounding the lens mount is a key to change auto focus setting (single, continuous, manual), a flash open key and a very cool one not found on the competition—a RAW button. If you’re shooting in JPEG and the urge to shoot in high-quality RAW hits you, simply hit the button and you’re set. Almost every other D-SLR makes you go through the menu system to perform this task. Nice one, Pentax! You’ll also find a few subtle logos but nothing that seriously detracts from the design.
The right side has a slot for either SD or higher-capacity SDHC cards. In keeping with the ruggedized motif, rather than simply popping open the card slot, you have to lift and turn a nearby key. Surprisingly, the slot and the left side with various inputs/outputs just takes a fingernail to open. Here you’ll find a DC-in for an optional charger, a USB out and an optional remote input. I don’t know why the USB out is labeled PC Video since no D-SLR takes videos…
Image Courtesy of Pentax
The top (from left to right) has a sturdy mode dial to change settings such as Auto, manual, aperture and shutter priority. Under the dial is a dedicated switch to change metering modes (multi-segment, center weighted or spot). This is another good feature since you typically have to take more than one step to make this change on other D-SLRs. You also find the flash, a hot shoe and a small LCD screen for monitoring the camera’s basic settings. On the far right is the grip that felt just right in my hands. The shutter key is nicely positioned and there’s a jog wheel to move through menus options called an e-dial. Next to the shutter is the “Green button” that resets exposure settings and exposure when you’re in the M mode.
The rear is dominated by a 2.5-inch LCD screen rated a solid 210K pixels and the viewfinder with diopter adjustment. Surrounding the screen and the usual keys found on D-SLRs such as menu, delete, info, Fn (function) and playback. One awkward design is the four-way controller. In this case, Pentax surrounded it with wheel that lets you adjust focus between auto and center spot. This device makes it more difficult to touch the four compass points on the controller. It’s very awkward on an otherwise straightforward layout. Other rear controls include the Shake Reduction on/off, a jog wheel to adjust aperture and ISO, AF and AE-Lock buttons.
Images Courtesy of Pentax
The bottom has the battery compartment with a sturdy lock, tripod mount and the battery grip connector with another solid cover. The optional grip lets you carry another battery for extended journeys in the field.
The Pentax K10D comes with a decent kit including a battery rated 500 shots per CIPA standards plus the usual straps, caps and cables but no memory card (budget another $50 for a 2GB high-speed card). It’s also supplied with a 236-page Owner’s Manual and a CD ROM with basic software for handling images and RAW files (Photo Browser 3 and Photo Laboratory 3). They aren’t replacements for PhotoShop but they’ll get you going. Once the battery was charged and a 2-gig Kingston Ultimate loaded, it was time to take some photos.
Simply put: the K10D is lightning fast. Since it’s one of the newest D-SLRs on the market—witness the SDHC card capability–it has the latest electronics. You can go to the Pentax site and drown in the specs regarding the new processor and memory set-up. In the real world this translates to a camera that focuses quickly and saves large files to memory without breaking a sweat. It can save up to 3 frames per second in JPEG and blitz through the card without stopping. If you’re in RAW, you can save 9 images. I found the K10D to be much more responsive than the Canon Digital Rebel XTi and Sony alpha. In fact, I had to lighten up the pressure on the shutter since the camera was so “anxious” to fire.
I started taking shots in Auto then moved to the many manual options. Surprisingly, the K10D doesn’t offer any Program AE settings such as macro, portrait, landscape or high-speed shutter. I really think Pentax missed the boat for first-timers. That said, the camera had little problem grabbing focus (it has an 11-point AF system like the Nikon D80; the Canon XTi and Sony alpha use 9). A warning in the viewfinder lets you know when you have to pop open the flash. When in the up position, the flash acts as an AF illuminator; too bad Pentax didn’t offer this feature full-time. Since winter finally arrived in the Northeast, I took the camera out during a moderate snow storm. It was comforting to know the camera wouldn’t melt like the Wicked Witch when hit by a wintry mix.
It didn’t take long to get up to speed since the menu system is easy to read and quite straightforward (other than the issues mentioned earlier). I shot most of the images in JPEG but took many in RAW. The camera offers two types of RAW settings—PEF, a proprietary Pentax format, and DNG (Digital Negative), a more common setting most editing programs can handle. I opted for DNG. You should note the K10D has its own in-camera RAW processing but you’re better off working with the files on your computer if you want to make in-depth adjustments. After filling the card it was time to make 8.5 x 11 prints with no tweaking or use of the “vivid” settings on the Canon printer.
For the most part, I was very pleased with the prints. RAW and JPEGs shot on a crisp winter day had a blue sky that mirrored reality with zero noise. Colors of other subjects such as evergreens and cars were accurate and lifelike. Outdoors with Auto ISO there was barely a hint of digital noise. The camera has an ISO range of 100-1600 and I didn’t see much noise in the prints until 800—and even that wasn’t too bad. The camera reacted very quickly, even when shooting big RAW files. Images taken indoors with the flash were also very good, not washed out by too much light. And you’ll really appreciate the Shake Reduction shooting indoors with available light. Note: the K10D offers easy access to sharpness, saturation and contrast adjustments. It’s fun to experiment with. I liked my images with the sharpness ratcheted up a notch—but that’s my taste.
Any first-time D-SLR buyer should put the Pentax K10D high on the list—it’s a very good 10MP camera offering lots of room to grow as you spread your photographic wings. And its combination of good image quality, built-in Shake Reduction and sturdy build makes it a worthy contender for the competition and your credit card limit. As mentioned earlier, it’s a serious camera targeted to people serious about their photos. The price is serious too, currently selling for MSRP due to the demand. If you have a collection of lenses from Canon or Nikon, taking the Pentax path is more difficult choice since you’ll have to make a hefty investment in new glass. But it’s hard to argue with the value this camera brings to the table for first-timers.
• Very responsive
• Good overall image quality
• Built-in Shake Reduction
• Rugged weather-resistant construction
• No convenient Program AE settings (macro, portrait and so on)
• Supplied software is weak
• Supplied lens could be better