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Pentax K-30 review

Introduction

One of the benefits to photographers of Canon and Nikon being so dominant in the market is that other companies like Pentax have to think a little bit harder to offer prospective buyers something different.

In several cases this has resulted in manufacturers turning to compact system cameras (CSC) and abandoning their SLR line-up.

So after its flurry of activity in the compact system camera (CSC) market, bringing out the teeny-tiny Pentax Q and chunky K-01, it’s great that Pentax is still interested in SLRs and has introduced the K-30. And with a weather-sealed body, high resolution LCD screen and a 100% viewfinder it seems like quite a compelling option sitting below the K-5 in Pentax’s two camera SLR line-up.

 

Features

At the heart of the Pentax K-30 is an APS-C (23.7×15.7mm) format CMOS sensor with 16.28 million effective pixels.

This sensor is able to shift to correct camera shake. Pentax’s Shake Reduction system functions just about whatever lens is mounted and can be set to the correct focal length if the camera cannot automatically detect the information.

In addition, when the Shake Reduction system is activated the K-30 can rotate the sensor automatically by up to 1 degree to correct the composition and avoid a sloping horizon. There’s also a digital level display option for the viewfinder and LCD screen.

The same system allows image composition to be adjusted up, down or left or right by up to 1mm over 16 steps. It’s hard to imagine this being used very often, but a 1mm movement at sensor level makes a reasonably significant difference, which could prove useful with critical still life or macro set-ups.

 

Pentax has coupled the sensor with the PRIME M processing engine that enables JPEG images to be captured at a maximum continuous shooting rate of 6fps, or 8 raw files at 3fps, and sensitivity to be set in the range ISO 100-25,600 with expansion enabled.

In addition, Full HD videos can be recorded at 30, 25 or 24fps in clips of up to 25min in length. Movies can be cut and joined together in-camera to make better footage.

 

Autofocusing is handled by the new SAFOX IXi+ AF module that has 11 AF points, 9 of which are cross-type. Pentax says that the system takes the lighting conditions into account when calculating the focus and there’s a new select-area expansion function for tracking moving subjects.

Pentax was pretty quick to introduce automatic HDR (high dynamic range) shooting in its SLRs and the K-30 has several options available for combining three images with bracketing of up to +/-3EV.

Shadow and Highlight Correction is also available to boost the dynamic range of individual images as they are shot and there are seven digital filter effects such as Toy Camera, Retro and High Contrast that can be applied to JPEG images as they are shot.

 

 

Enthusiast photographers may prefer the 11 Custom Image options as these can be used when shooting raw or JPEG files with aspects such as saturation, hue, high/low key, contrast and sharpness being customisable.

Build and handling

Although it replaces the Pentax K-r, the K-30 has a very different shape, it’s a bit more angular and has a bigger grip. In fact the grip is one of the most ergonomically shaped and comfortable to use that we have come across. For extra security it is coated with a textured rubber-like material to give it more purchase.

The K-30 also feels a little more robust than the K-r it replaces and this is underlined by the fact that it has 81 seals to keep moisture, dust and sand at bay.

During this test we took it out for a couple of hours in the pouring rain and even though there was water running down the camera, it still worked perfectly well. We took care not to change the lens or expose any of the ports while it was wet though.

When the sensor cleaning system is set to operate on powering up and down the K-30 starts up with a knocking sound and it feels like ball-bearing is bouncing around inside. It feels reassuringly solid.

 

Unusually for an entry-level SLR, the K-30′s viewfinder covers approximately 100% of the scene. It seems a little bit dim, which is more noticeable in low light, but at least there shouldn’t be any surprises around the edges of the frame when images are reviewed.

While the screen layout looks a little simplistic and dated, it is up to the minute resolution-wise as it’s in a 3-inch device with 921,000 dots and it provides in nice clear view in all but very bright light.

All the usual shortcut buttons are on-hand giving access to the sensitivity, drive mode, white balance and flash options. Helpfully the screen displays a graphic of the navigation buttons on the back of the camera making clear what shortcut options are on offer. This could be useful in low light or for those who have forgotten their reading glasses.

 

When the option to set the AF point manually is selected, holding down the OK button for a couple of seconds toggles between allowing the user to select the AF point using the navigation buttons and using them to access the white balance settings etc. It’s a quick and simple arrangement.

Pressing the Info button brings up the information screen that displays 15 of the key settings. Changing any of them is simply a question of navigating to it and then scrolling though the options using the rear control dial. Alternatively, pressing the OK button brings up the options for selection. It’s a very quick way of making settings changes.

 

 

The menu is spread across 13 screens and although they are sensibly grouped with tabs, it isn’t always easy to find exactly what you need quickly. The format option, for example, is on the third screen of Set-up tab, which takes a bit of finding. It’s a shame that there is no option to save the most commonly used features to one screen for quick access.

 

Small niggles aside, the K-30 is an enjoyable camera to use. It feels very well made and the knowledge that it won’t be damaged by a downpour is very reassuring.

Performance

In line with Pentax’s earlier SLRs the K-30 tends to capture plenty of detail at the risk of showing a little noise. We prefer this approach as it’s easier to remove noise post capture than it is to add detail.

Although the native sensitivity setting runs from ISO 100-12,800, images captured at the upper value and at the expansion setting (ISO 25,600) have lots of chroma noise, which is visible in the shadows at normal printing sizes. There is no particular pattern or banding in the noise, so the images are ripe for post-capture editing. Nevertheless we would try to avoid these top two values.

The best results are produced at ISO 3200 and below and this gives the photographer plenty of scope for shooting with the sensitivity set to automatic with this as the upper limit.

 

Another area where the K-30 impresses is with its white balance. We used the auto white balance setting in a range of conditions and it performed extremely well, even coping with artificial lighting indoors. That’s not to say that you won’t want to make the occasional adjustment, but on the whole the colours are good.

We enjoyed using the digital filters and combining them with the Custom Image modes, but it’s frustrating that they can’t be employed with raw files. Ideally we’d like to be able to use the filters when shooting raw and JPEG files simultaneously to produce one ‘filtered’ JPEG image and one ‘clean’ raw file.

 

Similarly the 77-segment general purpose metering system does a good job in many situations. There is a tendency to underexpose when faced with scene that has bright areas, but it isn’t quite so pronounced as with earlier Pentax cameras and at least it protects the highlights a little.

We found that the Highlight and Shadow Correction options are useful for drawing a little more out of the shadows and highlights. The in-camera HDR mode also produces effects that range from very subtle to overtly HDR depending upon which settings you choose. It’s a shame that only the composite image is saved at the end though, it would be nice to have the constituent bracketed images to work on post capture.

With the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DA WR kit lens mounted the autofocus system is best described as adequate. In good light it’s pretty quick, but as soon as light dips below ideal it becomes hesitant and indecisive.

 

The situation is much improved when a lens such as the DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR with an internal focusing motor is mounted, however, and focusing becomes much quicker and significantly quieter. Fortunately, the K-30 is also available as a kit with the 18-135mm lens and we recommend this option over the 18-55mm kit.

Although the K-30 has a claimed maximum continuous shooting rate of 6fps, we were only able to achieve 5fps when recording the highest quality JPEGs.

Sample images:

 

 

Final Verdict

The fact that the body is weather-proofed is a huge bonus as one of the main reasons why cameras area sent for repair is water damage. Of course to get the full benefit of the K-30′s weatherproofing it needs to be matched with one of Pentax’s WR (Weather Resistant) lenses.

Given the ‘outdoors’ credentials of the K-30 the smc DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR is a better pairing than the 18-55mm lens, giving greater flexibility, reducing the need to change lens in hostile environments and offering much better autofocus performance. If you’re buying a kit rather than the camera body only, we’d recommend the 18-135mm version, but at £250 ($300) more that means a serious hike in the price.

While the self-levelling sensor is a great idea (and one we have seen before in Pentax SLRs), it really needs to work beyond 1degree to be useful. As it stands it’s better to use the electronic level in most situations.

The digital filters are lots of fun, but when you want to get serious about image quality the results from the raw files taken at ISO 100 and 200 are hard to beat.

Source: techradar.com

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