Pentax K100D SLR Review
Pentax first used the "K" designation in the mid-1970's on its then innovative K1000, which offered a bayonette lens mount and full aperture metering to enthusiast photographers. Now, thirty years later, Pentax has chosen the model designation of K100D to represent its latest innovation, the provision of a Shake Reduction (SR) feature that promises to reduce or eliminate image blur caused by camera movement. The K100D's SR technology is complemented by several proven features retained from the previous *ist D series (thankfully Pentax has now stopped using the widely misunderstood "*ist" model name), including its 2.5-inch LCD monitor, cost-saving pentamirror from the *ist DL, and 11-point AF system from the *ist DS2.
The Shake Reduction feature did not quite live up to the Pentax claim of a 2-stop improvement. We were able to obtain consistently blur-free images at about 1 1/2 stops slower than the rule of thumb minimum shutter speed of 1/focal-length, but at 2 stops results became less consistent. But a combination of good technique and SR can yield incredible results; see the sample image of the bridge shot at 1/4 second. The K100D's SR feature is effective for still subjects and is quite cost effective compared with the lens-integral blur reduction solutions offered by Canon and Nikon. But the K100D's SR feature is not effective for moving subjects; Pentax recommends turning SR off for panning shots.
Only slightly larger and heavier than its *ist D predecessors, the K100D still qualifies as small in my book. But despite its small size, its ergonomic qualities are not compromised; the K100D is comfortable to hold and its controls are both logically organized and easy to operate.
The K100D's large 2.5-inch LCD monitor was a pleasure to use. Like other dSLR's the LCD is used to review images, display image capture parameters and navigate the camera's menu system. Although it can not be used as a live viewfinder, the LCD can be used to preview composition, exposure and focus by rotating the Main Switch to preview with Digital Preview set in the Preview Method Custom Function. The LCD was usable even on the sunniest of days, and the menu text was very easy to read, thanks to the large text, the LCD's brightness and contrast, and the colors chosen for the menu display. Review mode was very useful for field-checking images, offering a histogram, a display of shooting parameters, and the ability to zoom-in up to 12x magnification to critically examine the image.
The top-mounted monochrome data LCD panel presents a continuous display of shutter speed, aperture, battery condition, flash mode, white balance, bracketing indication, exposure compensation, AE metering mode, drive mode, focus point information and number of remaining shots on the SD memory card. The information presented on the monochrome LCD is nearly complete, but you'll find it difficult to use in dim lighting because no illumination is provided. More information is available on the color LCD by depressing the INFO button; in addition to reproducing the Monochrome LCD's information, you'll find image size and quality, contrast, sharpness and saturation settings, AF mode, selected AF point, color mode, ISO, date/time, focal length of the attached lens and Shake Reduction status.
The eye level viewfinder is bright and informative, although the viewfinder indicators were somewhat difficult to read in bright midday sun. The use of a lower-cost pentamirror versus the *ist DS2's pentaprism did not noticeably diminish the viewfinder's brightness or clarity. It can be easily used by those wearing glasses thanks to a nice rubber eyecup and diopter adjustment. Outside the image area you'll find information vital to the exposure, including flash status, Picture mode, shutter speed, aperture, focus indicator, EV compensation, remaining shot capacity of the SD memory card, Manual WB indicator, MF indicator, AE lock indicator, ISO sensitivity warning, selected focus point and Shake Reduction status. Because it displays complete exposure information, you'll be able to make adjustments while keeping your eye at the viewfinder, ready to release the shutter at the right moment.
Despite the effectiveness of the 11-point autofocus system, there will still be times that you'll want to use manual focus; the viewfinder's focusing screen provides a matte surface that you'll find very usable for this purpose. While using manual focus, the K100D's autofocus system is not entirely disabled; it monitors your focusing adjustments and provides both visual and audible feedback when it is in agreement with your focus setting. The K100D's viewfinder could be improved with brighter viewfinder indicators, but on balance I found it to be a pleasure to use.
Novice users will find a choice of six capture modes that optimize the exposure for Flash Off, Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Moving Object and Night Scene Portrait shots. If that's not simple enough, the K100D has AUTO Scene mode, which automatically selects one of the Scene modes based on image composition and focus distance; an icon representing the selected Scene mode is displayed in the viewfinder. The K100D provides eight additional Scene modes for more specialized conditions, including Night Scene, Surf & Snow, Text, Sunset, Kids, Pet, Candlelight and Museum. While the Scene modes of many cameras are completely automatic and offer the photographer no control, the K100D allows some flexibility; you can set exposure compensation, ISO, Focusing Area and Metering method (multi-segment, center-weighted or spot), and use exposure bracketing in its Scene modes. Other parameters, such as White Balance, Sharpness, Image Tone, Saturation and Contrast, are grayed-out in the menu system, indicating that they are unavailable in that mode.
Advanced users will find exposure modes of Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority, Manual, Bulb and Program. Missing, however, is a program-shift function that would allow the choice of different combinations of aperture and shutter-speed for the same exposure. Creative control of exposure can still be exercised, but you'll need to use Aperture- priority, Shutter-priority or Manual mode to do it. The K100D provides some help in Manual mode in the form of the AE-L button; depress it and the camera will set an initial combination of aperture and shutter-speed for an appropriate exposure; you can then adjust shutter-speed and aperture for the desired effect while monitoring the viewfinder's EV difference for proper exposure. This feature makes Manual mode less intimidating, and helps intermediate users improve their skills.
The K100D's shooting performance is on a par with the *ist DL. From power-on till the first image was captured measured 1.2 seconds, and waking it from sleep mode took the same. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was 1/10 second when pre-focused, and between 2/10 and 8/10 second including autofocus time for a high-contrast subject, depending on the degree of focus change. Shot-to-shot delay averaged about 1/2 second without flash; the internal flash recycle time extended shot-shot delay to between 1.3 and 4 seconds, depending on subject distance. The use of red eye reduction flash mode extended shutter lag to 7/10 second.
Continuous Shooting mode captured 5 JPEG Best quality shots in 1.5 seconds, with subsequent shots at 8/10 second intervals as the camera emptied its full buffer. It required 4.5 seconds to write a buffer full of JPEG images to SD card before being ready to capture the next burst at full speed. The above times were observed using a SanDisk Ultra II 2GB SD memory card, 18-55mm kit lens, flash off, continuous AF, daylight lighting, 3008x2000 JPEG/Fine. We also tested with a MyFlash 4GB 150x Turbo SD card (not a SDHC type), achieving similar results. The K100D is also compatible with the latest SDHC type SD cards as well.
Shooting in RAW mode slows things down a bit. The Continuous burst mode captured 3 images in 8/10 second, with subsequent shots at 3.6 second intervals as buffer contents were processed; it took about 10 seconds to empty a buffer full of RAW images.
The autofocus system is accurate and flexible. It has available settings that allow the camera to select the optimum focus point from the 11 available, use the center AF point, or allow the photographer to select any of the 11 points. The Superimpose AF Area Custom Setting allows the display of the chosen AF point in the viewfinder. In Continuous shooting mode, the setting of Single or Continuous Autofocus determines whether the K100D is in shooting priority or focus priority; Single AF causes the camera to refocus each time the shutter is released, while Continuous AF will allow the shutter to release even if the subject is not in focus. Low-light AF performance is exceptional even without the use of focus-assist lamps, but the K100D will fire bursts from internal flash to achieve precise focus even in complete darkness.
The K100D provides 19 user-adjustable custom functions to personalize important camera functions and suit individual preferences. The custom functions are enabled or disabled as a set. You can set EV step magnitude (1/2 or 1/3 EV), Noise reduction (Off or On for long exposures), Automatic Sensitivity Correction, ISO Sensitivity Warning, linkage of AF and AE points, exposure meter operating time, and color space (sRGB or Adobe RGB), among others.
The camera can be powered by four AA or two CR-V3 type batteries so the user is free to choose from a wide variety of power sources. Using a set of 2900mAh rechargeable NiMH AA batteries, the K100D captured more than 500 images before a low battery warning. CR-V3 type batteries are excellent for the occasional user or for use as backups, they have a terrific shelf life and run time but are a little expensive. And if you're caught out in the field with dead batteries you can even pop in a set of one-use alkalines, just don't expect more than 50 frames from them. Pentax advises against the use of rechargeable CR-V3's.
The Pentax 18-55mm kit lens produced good results and is well-worth its ~$100 street price. It provides a useful focal length range of 27-82mm in 35mm equivalence, and is fairly well-matched to the K100D image sensor, showing only slight vignetting at full wide angle with wide apertures. There's noticeable barrel distortion at full wide angle, and a bit of pin cushioning at telephoto, but chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is essentially absent throughout its zoom and aperture range.
Pentax provided its new DA 21mm F3.2 AL Limited for our test. It is a fixed focal length wide angle lens offering a field of view of 68-degrees, equivalent to a 32mm lens on a 35mm film camera. It produces very good sharpness from corner to corner, and is essentially distortion-free. The DA 21mm is very small, so small that it could be mistaken for a body cap from a distance; the K100D's size coupled with the DA 21mm makes for an extremely small package. Please see our Sample Photos to see what this compact little gem is capable of producing.
The K100D's default Image Tone setting of Bright produced well-saturated images right out of the camera; Natural Image Tone produced more subdued colors, suitable for post-processing. The normal sharpness setting produced images that some would call soft; most users will prefer a hard sharpness setting, or the application of an image editor's unsharp mask filter. The image noise was practically non-existent at ISO 200, at ISO 400 it's still very clean, and at ISO 800 shadow noise becomes noticeable. At ISO 1600 noise becomes noticeable in highlights, but the images are quite usable. ISO 3200 introduced noise and loss of image detail to the extent that you'll only use it if it made the difference between capturing an image or not; use of the Shake Reduction feature should enable the use of lower shutter speeds at lower ISO settings. While noise is present at the higher ISO settings, the K100D compares favorably in this respect with the high-end prosumer digicams that overlap its price range.
While it's true that the K100D's 6-megapixel resolution lags that of entry-level models by competing manufacturers, the addition of Shake Reduction (SR) to a set of mature and useful camera features makes for an attractive consumer dSLR. With an under-$700 MSRP and street price hovering around $600 with 18-55mm kit lens, the SR-equipped K100D is a very good value. With a price point that overlaps into consumer digicam territory, the K100D offers a compelling choice to upgraders, providing dSLR versatility, Shake Reduction and high ISO image quality in a lightweight and compact package. Point-n-shoot upgraders can make the jump to a dSLR without a steep learning curve thanks to the array of automatic and scene modes, while learning how to use the camera's more advanced shooting modes and features at their own pace. Users of Pentax film SLR's will be tempted to make the jump to digital, their inventory of K-mount lenses compatible with the K100D and its integral Shake Reduction feature.
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