The K-r boasts several improvements over their entry-level dSLR offerings, including a high-sensitivity 12.4-megapixel CMOS image sensor, broad ISO sensitivity range of ISO 100-25,600, faster burst rates up to 6fps, increased shutter speed range up to 1/6000 of a second, and a versatile dual-power system (use Li-ion pack or AAs) to name a few. The K-r also sports built-in Shake Reduction and Dust removal systems, a nice 3.0-inch LCD screen with 921K dots of resolution, records cinema like 720p HD video at 25fps, offers an improved in-camera HDR function, and a new 11-point phase-matching "SAFOX IX" autofocus system.
The K-r is designed to fit the needs and abilities of a wide variety of shooters. Whether you're a total noob to the photography world, or a seasoned vet, the K-r has various exposure modes and settings at your disposal. For beginners, the camera offers several fully automatic exposure options, like Auto Picture. This mode is much like the intelligent or smart auto options found on point-n-shoots, which chooses not only the proper exposure and focus settings, but the best shooting mode as well (Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Macro, etc.). If you want to manually select the scene mode, you can choose from about 16 different settings, including their new Night Scene HDR mode. Even though these are automatic settings, you still have some customization options, such as ISO. Instead of having to just deal with the camera using Auto ISO, you have the option to manually set the sensitivity, or you can determine the max range the Auto ISO option can work under. This is an awesome option, which will allow you to fine tune even the Pre-programmed scene options of the camera to ensure you're getting the best possible photos.
For you experienced users, Pentax has loaded the K-r with plenty of manual control, along with a plethora of custom functions. On top of theses settings, the K-r has some of the most advanced in-camera HDR functionality that I've seen from a dSLR (or any camera for that matter). Not only do you have the Night Scene HDR scene mode, but several HDR options within the menu system. You can choose from five different HDR modes (HDR Auto, HDR standard, HDR Strong 1, HDR Strong 2, HDR strong 3) and even choose whether the camera will Auto Align the images or not. These options, along with the other multi-exposure and interval shooting settings, will further enhance the K-r's appeal to HDR fanatics.
The build quality of the K-r is excellent. Pentax claims the camera uses a sturdy stainless steel chassis, which is wrapped in a strong plastic. For those who like variety, the K-r is offered in three colors; black, white and red. While not near the options found with the K-x, it was nice of Pentax to offers these options. We tested the white K-r, which I dubbed the "Storm Trooper" as soon as it arrived. While I normally like my SLRs in one color, black, I will say the white has grown on me; you won't catch me with a red one though. The body is slightly smaller than the K-7 we reviewed last year, however offers a very similar shape and grip contour. While the look and feel might be alike, the control layout on the K-r is more simplified, which adds to the overall ease of use Pentax was aiming for. The controls are arranged in a comfortable manner, easily accessible by your fingers and thumbs. I only had to change my grip on the camera to push the Flash Up button when not using one of the automatic exposure modes (which will pop-up the flash themselves when it's needed). The included kit 18-55mm zoom lens offers a much more aggressive grip texture on the zoom control ring compared to other lenses I've used; which I actually like as your fingers seem to stick to the rubber better. The only thing I would have liked to have seen added on the K-r would be a control dial located on the front of the main handgrip, like we see on most all dSLRs. This would make changing the shutter speed and aperture in Manual mode easier in my opinion. However, using the rear dial and the AV button did allow me to make quick changes, and after using the camera for a while I did get use to this method.
The K-r employs a similar LCD screen to that found on the K-7, which is a very nice 3.0-inch display with approx. 921,000 dots. This helps the monitor display a nice crisp live image, whether you're framing a shot in Live View mode, navigating the menus, or inspecting captured photos and video. The K-r does not have a data LCD mount on the top like other models, however the shooting information display on the LCD takes its place, and offers plenty of information. Like most setups, this information screen also becomes a shortcut menu, which allows you to quickly changes settings that are not accessible from shortcut buttons on the body itself. Overall I found the display was a pleasure to use in various conditions, and the coating didn't seem to collect finger prints that bad either.
For those who like to use the optical viewfinder more for framing, the K-r uses a pentamirror type viewfinder, which is typical for a camera in this class and price range. It offers approx. 96% field of view coverage, which means you are capturing a bit more than you are actually seeing in the OVF. The view is pretty average as well, with a magnification of 0.85x, however I found the OVF to be a bit dim. For those of us with falling eyesight, you have -2.5 to 1.5 in diopter adjustment, and Pentax includes their "Natural-Bright-Matte II" focusing screen. I found the eyecup was a bit hard, and not near as comfortable as the units found on other Pentax dSLRs we've tested, such as the K-7. Overall, it's a pretty standard OVF that gives you a decent view of your subject(s), with some limited exposure information along the bottom.
Shooting performance was very robust, taking only 3/10 - 8/10 of a second from power on until the first shot was captured; depending on the degree of focus change required by the lens. Shutter lag was close to instantaneous when pre-focused and a scant 1/10 - 2/10 of a second including the single autofocus with our PENTAX smc 18-55mm DAL lens. The shot-to-shot interval in single drive mode was exceptionally fast, capturing images almost as fast as I could press the shutter release. The average was 3/10 - 4/10 of a second between frames with the flash off. Popping up the flash, the interval slowed to an average of about 7/10 of a second between frames, which is quite fast.
The K-r offers two burst or continuous capture modes; Hi and Lo. Hi mode allowed me to shoot Large/*** JPEG images at just over 6fps, and showed not signs of slowing down even after capturing 30 frames in a row. Switching to Lo mode slowed the camera down to about 2.5fps, respectively. In either mode, when you were finished shooting the buffer would empty rather quickly (within 10 -12 seconds, even after a long run of Large/*** JPEG images). Changing the image format setting to RAW mode didn't affect speed much, however it did have an effect on the frame depth. Using Hi mode, I was still able to capture frames at about 6fps, however after 14 or 15 shots the camera would slow down to about 2.5-3fps due to a full buffer. Again, the camera was able to quickly clear its buffer.
When using Live View mode, I saw an improvement in shooting performance when compared to past models. Shutter lag averaged about 2/10 of a second when pre-focused, however slowed to between 8/10 and 1 second when adding Autofocus, depending on how long the Live View AF system hunted for focus. The shot-to-shot delay averaged about 2.2 seconds between frames, and the burst modes performed similar to non-Live View shooting since you only need to focus and move the mirror once. Like we've mentioned with past models, if you are planning on using Live View, we highly recommend you photograph static subjects. All results were obtained using a PENTAX 18-55mm DAL lens, shooting Large/Best (***) JPEG quality, Program mode, image preview On, ISO set to Auto, with a SanDisk Extreme II SD card. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media used, etc.
After inspecting all of the photos we captured with the K-r, I've come to the conclusion that this camera has the ability to capture very nice 12-megapixel photos both indoors and out. Using the kit smc 18-55mm DAL lens, we were able to produce pleasing exposures with good color balance and saturation. Colors are very realistic when using the default (Bright) Color or Custom Image setting in P/A/S/M modes. When using Auto Picture mode, you will notice colors are a bit more saturated in an attempt to make them more dramatic; much like we see with intelligent or smart Auto modes on consumer point-n-shoots. The kit lens helps the K-r capture relatively sharp results throughout the zoom and aperture ranges, with typical amounts of distortion and aberrations when compared to similarly classed lenses. Together, I think the these two make a great team for helping novice users capture pleasing photos of various types of subjects. And, the great thing about dSLRs is you can always add more glass later to cover the areas where the kit lens falls short.
The K-r also performs well when using higher ISO settings; comparable to models like Canon's EOS Rebel T2i. When reviewing our typical M&M man ISO series, I noted that the camera was able to produce great results all the way up to ISO 3200. While I believe the best photos will come from using anything from 100-1600, the 3200 setting was still able to retain a great deal of fine detail. The K-r also boasts extended settings from 6400 - 25,600. ISO 6400 shows a great deal of luminous and chroma noise, however there are still some fine details to be seen in the image. While you can see noise plainly at full screen viewing, I feel that with some post processing you could make some usable prints from this setting. However, the 12,800 and 25,600 settings look pretty bad, and I don't really see anyone using these options for much other than emergencies where capturing the photo is more important than the actual quality.
Pentax boasts that the K-r features an all new 11-point "SAFOX IX" autofocus system, which is an updated version of the system found on their professional series K-7. They claim this new system is fast and accurate in various lighting conditions. During our tests, I found these claims to be quite accurate. The camera was able to quickly and accurately lock focus on my subjects, even while shooting in marginal lighting. Thanks to the AF-assist lamp, the camera is even able to acquire focus in almost total darkness; as long as your subject is within the lamp's effective range. While I was pleased with the K-r's AF performance, I found it a bit odd that the camera defaults to 5-point mode, instead of 11-point. Changing between the two, I didn't notice any difference in performance, so I was puzzled as to why Pentax chose 5-point as the default factory setting.
Like I mentioned earlier, the K-r offers a wealth of HDR options for you to choose from, which are available in P/A/S/M and Auto Picture modes. HDR has obviously become a very popular photography technique. If you're not familiar, in HDR you basically capture three or more images at different exposure settings (often -2EV, 0EV, +2EV), then combine them together to create a single image with increased dynamic range using third-party programs; like Photomatix Pro for instance. Many new cameras, like the K-r, can perform this task right in the camera, which can diminish the need for additional software and post processing time. The K-r offers five modes, Auto HDR, HDR Standard, and HDR Stong 1-3. There's even an option to Auto Align the photos. In each setting, the camera will quickly fire three shots, each at difference exposure intervals, then it combines then in camera. The entire process takes mere seconds, and the result is a decent HDR photograph. On our samples page you can see a quick example of each setting, followed by a standard photo of the same subject. Overall I personally feel the K-r's HDR mode is a nice addition and a good starting point for novice users. However, you won't get dramatic results like those that can be had from post processing. Out of the examples we provided, I personally like the Standard and Strong 1 settings best. While you may be able to capture some decent HDRs handheld, I still recommend you use a tri-pod when trying to capture photos for HDR use.
The video option on the K-r is great for times when capturing an image just isn't enough. You have several options to choose from when in Movie mode, with resolutions of either 1280x720 (720p) or 640x480 (VGA). There are three quality level settings, just like you find in Still image mode, and you can add Digital filters and Cross Processing to the mix as well. Aperture control can be set to Fixed or Auto, and you can also choose whether to record sound and if the Shake Reduction system is active or not. We used the K-r in HD (720p) *** mode for all our video needs, and overall were happy with the results. Indoors the camera did well at a local bowling alley, producing relatively clean video with minimal noise. Playback is some-what smooth with the 25fps frame rate, however I did see some instances where moving subjects would blur a bit.
The K-r has some unique power options when compared to other dSLRs. While most only allow the use of a proprietary Li-ion battery pack internally (AAs can be used with external battery grips), the K-r can accept either the included D-LI109 (7.4V, 1050mAh) battery pack or four AA type cells. This adds a great deal to the versatility of this camera, with almost endless power supply options. In a bind, you can drop in one-use AAs if your caught with a dead pack and no time to charge the Li-ion battery. Pentax claims you can capture between 470-560 images on a single charge with the included pack, or up to 1000 photos when using one-use Lithium AAs. Battery life is right in line with its competition when using the Li-ion pack, however the addition of this multi-power configuration really gives the K-r and edge in the power supply department.
Bottom line - We were overall very pleased with the K-r and its results. The camera is able to produce pleasing photographs in a variety of conditions, including low-light thanks to good performance when using its higher sensitivity settings. Shooting performance is quite robust, and the K-r is loaded with cool and useful exposure options that many will find handy. I would have liked to see a bit better video options, and they could have ditched the extreme ISO settings (12,800 and 25,600). That said, with a street price ranging from $650 - 850 for the zoom lens kit which includes the smc 18-55mm DAL lens, the K-r is competitively priced for an entry to mid-level dSLR; and Pentax is the only manufacture producing dSLRs with multiple colors options; like the "Storm Trooper" White unit we test.
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