Along with a host of impressive features, the K-7 also boasts a plethora of customization options. Not only are there 37 Custom Function settings, but the K-7 allows you to modify both shutter speed and aperture when using the automatic Program mode. Rotating the front or rear dial will put the camera in either Av or Tv Hyper mode, which is essentially the same as rotating the mode dial to those normal positions. This offers great versatility in my eyes, as you will be able to keep focused on the subject while altering settings that normally have to be accessed by changing the exposure mode. To put the camera back to automatic exposure, you press the Green button, and the K-7 will be back in Program AE mode. Along with the above, it seems Pentax allows you to customize most all of the preset White Balance and Custom Image modes. You can finely tune even the Auto WB setting, along with the standard custom image modes like Bright, Natural, Portrait, etc. These are all options that I feel experienced users will enjoy, as if gives you the tools needed to "dial-in" that unique look to your images.
Like past K-series models, the K-7's body is well designed. It felt very comfortable in my hands, although I think the optional battery grip would be a nice addition to your purchase; especially if you have larger hands like myself. While offering a great deal of customization options, the K-7 actually has a more simplified control layout when compared to its predecessor. All of the camera button and dials are positioned well, just within reach of your finger tips. The control dials have a good amount of resistance, which should ensure you don't accidentally change exposure settings when using the more advanced exposure programs. I especially liked the data LCD on the top right of the camera. It offers a good amount of exposure information, and lights up with an effective green backlight that allows you to see the screen in various lighting conditions; whether bright or dark.
The new 3.0-inch LCD provides a nice image, whether using it to navigate the camera's logically organized menu system, playing back photos or videos, or as a Live viewfinder. This is accomplished thanks to 920,000 pixels, which help the camera display a sharp image with good contrast and brightness. On top of the usual shooting information display, the K-7 offers a shortcut settings menu as well as a new electronic level on the LCD. I found the display was visible both indoors and out. The coating does collect finger prints easily, and there are still some angles that reflect light. However, when the LCD is on, the backlight is bright enough that these reflections will not distract your view of the subject(s).
Looking through the K-7's new optical viewfinder was a pleasure, thanks to it's improved pentaprism design. It offers 100% field of view coverage (compared to 95% on the K20D), which means what you see in the OVF, is what you are going to capture. Other specifications include 0.92x magnification, DOF preview, -2.5 to 1.5 diopter adjustment, and a "Natural-Bright-Matte III" focusing screen. I found the eyecup was quite comfortable, and blocks out most of the ambient light when you put your eye up to it. Pentax does offer optional units, like the magnifier eyecup O-ME53. Inside the viewfinder you will find a good amount of exposure information, including an electronic level.
Shooting performance was responsive, taking on average only 6/10 of a second from power on until the first shot was captured; I was able to squeeze off a couple at only 3/10 of a second. Shutter lag was close to instantaneous when pre-focused and a scant 1/10 of a second including the single autofocus with
our PENTAX 18-55mm DA lens. The shot-to-shot interval in
single drive mode was 3-4/10 of a second between frames, which is quite impressive. The interval
between flash shots averaged 1 seconds and shutter lag when using red
eye reduction mode of the internal flash measured 7/10 second. The K-7 offers two burst or continuous capture modes; Hi and Lo. Hi mode allowed me to shoot 34 JPEG (***)
images in just 6.9 seconds (4.9fps) with no slowdown from a full buffer. When changing to **** or Premium quality, the camera was only able to capture 20 frames (in 3.8 seconds; 5.6fps) before slowing down due to a full cache (the
camera then took 20 seconds to save these files to the memory card), and only 15 frames in RAW mode (the camera took about 15 seconds to
save these files to the card). Switching to Lo mode allowed me to shoot 34 JPEG (****) images in 10.9 seconds (3.1fps), without filling the buffer.
Performance during Live View was dismal at best. Shutter lag averaged about 3/10 of a second when pre-focused, however slowed to between 2.9 and 5 seconds when adding Autofocus, depending on how long the Live View AF system hunted for focus. Shot-to-shot delay with not flash was a little better, with successive shots after the first exposure averaging about 6/10 of a between frames. This is accomplished because you only have to focus once on the first exposure. Overall, if you plan on using Live View on the K-7, it will be best if you use it when shooting static subjects. These
tests were obtained using a PENTAX 18-55mm DA lens, shooting Large/Premium (****) JPEG quality, Program mode, image preview On, ISO set to Auto,
with a Lexar Professional (Class 6) 8GB SDHC memory card. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera
settings, media used, etc.
Image quality from the K-7 is pleasing when using the default Bright custom image setting. The camera is able to produce good exposures in a variety of settings, and colors look very natural. Some of out outdoor children shots look a bit cool, however it was a cold fall day, and the camera was able to represent that in the photos I captured. When pixel peeping, you will see come softness in some of the outdoor photos, as well as some aberrations from the lens; slight edge softness and some CA (aka purple fringing) in areas of extreme contrast.
When using the camera's high ISO settings (up to 6400 when expanded via the Custom menu), the K-7 performed very well. I found that you can capture usable photos for larger prints right up tp ISO 1600. Even the 3200 looks pretty decent, however you can see a good amount of speckling or luminance noise as well as some detail loss from the camera's NR system when viewing images at 100%. 6400 shows a Lot of artifacts, with good amounts of both luminance and chroma noise. On our samples page, you can see our usual M&M man shots taken at all of the available ISO settings, along with extra sets from ISO 800 - 6400 using each of the High ISO NR settings (medium, low, and strong). I found the strong setting was able to clean up ISO 3200 quite well, and would be my preferred setting if using anything above ISO 800.
When using telephoto lenses with the K-7, you can rest assured that you will have a higher chance of producing sharp hand-held photos, thanks to Pentax's SR stabilization system. By using sensor-shift technology, they claim that you can capture sharp hand-held photos at shutter speeds up to 4 stops slower than without any type of stabilization in place. I used their SMC Pentax DA 50-200mm f/4-5.6 ED WR lens during our testing, and the SR system gave me confidence when shooting at the telephoto end. This a nice feature, as many dSLRs on the market only feature image stabilization when using an expensive IS lens. With the K-7, no matter which lens you are using, you have an effective stabilization system in place. While a 4 stop advantage is nice to have, I still recommend using a support like a monopod or tripod when using long telephoto lenses.
One unique feature on the K-7 features is in-camera HDR. This is a widely popular photography format, where users capture three or more images at different exposure settings, then combine them together to create a single image with increased dynamic range. The K-7 does this right in the camera, so there is no need to use an optional software on your PC or Mac. Overall, the in-camera HDR mode worked well, producing images that show much more detail in both dark (shadow) and bight (sky) areas. You can see a set of three examples on our samples page, where we captured the same subject with HDR off, then set at both the Standard and Strong settings. I personally think the Strong setting produced the best image. Just be sure you use a tri-pod with this mode, as it will not produce a usable photo if hand-held.
Battery life from the 7.2v 1860mAh D-L190 battery pack was great during out testing. Pentax claims you can capture just under 1000 photos without using the flash, or about 740 when using the built-in speedlite for 50% of your photos. I was able to capture just over 700 photos on a single charge. This included extensive use of the LCD to navigate the menus, and prolonged use of the playback function. If your needs require even more power, Pentax offers the optional D-BG4 battery grip, which is also weather-sealed (like the K-7 body) and holds a second D-LI90 battery. This unit adds an even better grip on the body and doubles the battery life as well as features a vertical shutter release button, depth-of-field preview switch, front and rear control dials, and buttons for exposure lock, autofocus, Green mode, and ISO.
Bottom line - Pentax's K-7 dSLR is a worthy competitor in the enthusiast/professional APS-C equipped dSLR market. With speedy performance, loads of custom functions, good image quality, and usable high ISO settings, the K-7 is sure to please most any shutterbug. My only complaints about this model are the unusable maximum sensitivity setting of ISO 6400, short frame depth when using burst mode, and the extremely slow Live View shooting performance. With a street price of about $1099-1200 for the body only, the K-7 is competitively priced. I have no problem recommending this model to advanced to professional users, especially if you already have a good investment in KAx bayonet mount lenses.
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