“Don’t buy a compact digital camera!” That’s the advice most photographers will give you these days, mostly because DSLR (digital single lens reflex) models are finally coming down in price – well below $1,000 in some cases. And they carry some major benefits: interchangeable lenses, seeing an accurate representation of the subject matter, and great quality. The Pentax K2000 is an excellent example of this emerging category. It’s a good all-around quality DSLR that withstood some fairly unusual testing conditions, provides all the serious amateur-to-prosumer features you’d expect, and even comes in an all-white custom model (we tested the black version). Sure, it’s no Nikon D3X or Canon Mark II, but you can easily save a couple of thousand bucks and still get great photographic results.
Features and Design
Serious photographers will balk right away at the K2000’s unusual body design, but it’s easy to adjust to the differences. For example, the on-off switch is located in the exact same position as the zoom on most DSLRs, so at first you might find yourself reaching to zoom and switching the camera off by mistake. The grip feels tight compared to a bulkier Canon or Nikon, although it might seem huge compared to a Fujifilm or Olympus all-in-one digital. With the battery inserted, the 20.8 ounce device feels lighter than other DSLR models, such as the Nikon D90, which weighs 22 ounces sans battery. The K2000 is a 10.2-megapixel camera that captures 8 bits per channel in JPG, or 12 bits per channel RAW. Image resolution is 3872 x 2592 pixels, and ISO range is 100 up to 3200 (compared to ISO 6400 on the Nikon D90, which costs about $200 more). ISO is one of those benchmark indicators – it relates to lens speed, and like the speed of a router or the PC under your desk can determine what you can do with the camera.
In one field test, the K2000 felt a bit limited. For example, we used the camera to snap some photos of a computer screen and the K2000 just couldn’t capture at the right speed for a bright photo, either by manually adjusting the settings or using the auto exposure modes. A Nikon D60, which has a similar price and specs, worked better for this odd low-light, bright-LCD scenario.
However, we also used the Pentax K2000 during a long snowmobile ride. In temperatures ranging from about 10-20 degrees, we packed the K2000 in a rear compartment and used it for several outdoor shots. We never had any shutter-speed problems or other glitches, and photos looked crisp and clear. During another road test snapping winter scenery, the K2000 worked well – although some of the shots ended up looking a bit neutered as far as color quality in bright sunshine.
Outdoor shots like these show that the K2000 worked well in cold weather, and the fast motor on the camera meant we could snap quick photos – but the color quality is not exactly five stars.
Another issue with the K2000 is RAW support. The Pentax line is often not supported by image organizers such as Adobe Lightroom (although they have now added support for the K2000). In a more unusual program, such as Expression Media 2, the K2000 is also not supported, while just about every other model we have tested before – such as the Nikon D60 – has worked fine.
Scene modes are not exactly a major perk on a DSLR, especially when you can adjust aperture and many other settings yourself. Yet Pentax includes quite a few, such as surf and snow and kids, that help you get the right shot quickly instead of fiddling with dials and buttons. One thing we really liked about the K2000 is that the camera is fast. On the snowmobile trip, we took a quick group shot in the freezing cold and fired off a round of shots in just a few seconds. With shutter operates as fast as 1/4000, and as slow as 30 seconds, it’s highly versatile. The motor on the camera just runs solid and fast.
Playback on the device is a bit awkward. You press the play button, and you’ll see a thumbnail and some specs for that shot. We’d prefer a default full-screen view, and a way to see specs if you want. The K2000 is also missing some cutting-edge features such as high-def video capture, better overlays on the LCD viewer and touch-screen options, and support for multiple media types. It only supports SD cards, which are ubiquitous, but may not be the format you prefer to use, especially if you have CompactFlash.
In the end, we recommend the K2000 because it field tested so well. A DSLR camera will usually perform well under many conditions, and the results often depend on the photographer, not the camera. Color quality in RAW was just okay, but we loved the fast motor, the fact that the camera was rugged enough for winter shooting, and the scene modes are handy and worked well. The K2000 is also a great buy: it includes a 18-55mm kit lens and a Pentax AF200FG external flash unit for just $600. (Pentax mentioned that this model will be transitioning to a two-lens and no-external flash offering for $650 – the second lens will be a 50-200mm, and this is the gear included with the K2000 all-white model for $680.) Unless you need the Cadillac of cameras, this more general-use D-SLR will suffice just fine.
- Fast motor
- Works well in cold conditions
- Scene modes actually work
- Includes kit lens and flash
- Light and portable
- No HD video
- Color quality was just okay
- No multi-format flash support
- Had problems in low-light, no-flash conditions
- Lacks a touch screen