Pentax K10D SLR Review
By Movable Type Admin
The K10D digital SLR camera takes all of the best features found in the K100D and raises the resolution to 10.2 megapixels, improves the body-integral Shake Reduction (SR) system, adds a new Dust Removal system, incorporates the newly-developed Pentax Real IMage Engine (PRIME) processor and 22-bit D/A converter as well as many other advanced technologies and wraps it all up in a dust-proof and weather-resistant body. Where the K100D was designed for first-time users and those moving up from consumer digicams, the K10D is a solid competitor in the advanced to semi-pro dSLR category. It delivers high-quality, high resolution digital images while offering the more responsive operation and accessories required by serious photo enthusiasts.
The Shake Reduction (SR) feature found in the K100D has been further improved, Pentax now claims a 2.5 - 4 stop advantage. We did see a slight improvement but noticeably sharp, blur- free images were more consistently seen within a maximum of 2.5 stops. The SR feature is effective for still subjects and is quite cost effective when compared to the expense of the lens-integral blur reduction solutions offered by Canon and Nikon. The downside is that the SR does not function well when you are panning with a moving subject. Pentax recommends turning the SR off for panning shots as well as whenever the camera is mounted on a tripod.
Keeping the CCD imager free of dust is always a challenge when changing lenses out in the field so Pentax has taken steps to help ensure cleaner images. The Dust Removal (DR) system incorporates PENTAX-original Special Protect (SP) coating on the imager's low pass filter and uses the SR shift mechanism to literally shake any accumulated dust off of it. This feature is not readily apparent to the user but it will be appreciated later when you examine your images and realize there aren't any dust spots that need retouching. Other additions that help eliminate problems is the dust-proof and weather-resistant body with its 72 seals throughout that allow you to continue shooting in the rain or in very dusty conditions.
The large 2.5-inch color LCD monitor offers approximately 210,000 pixels of resolution and is a delight to use. Like most other DSLRs, the LCD is used to review images, display capture parameters and navigate the menu system, 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 the Digital Preview option set in the Custom Function menu. The LCD was usable even on the sunniest of days, and the menu text was very easy to read, thanks to its large text size. The brightness and contrast as well as the colors used for the menu display are user selectable. 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 20x magnification for critical examination of the image. Its wide-view design allows you to see the monitor image from 140 degrees both vertically and horizontally, ensuring effortless image viewing even from a diagonal position.
Unlike the K100D, the K10D employs a true glass pentaprism which gives you a larger and brighter viewfinder. Looking through the viewfinder you'll find all the information vital to the exposure on the digital status display underneath the image area. It includes the flash status, Picture mode, shutter speed, aperture, focus indicator, EV compensation, remaining shot capacity of the 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 in the viewfinder, ready to release the shutter at the right moment. Similar to the K100D, we found that this information can be difficult to read in some outdoor settings. The sophisticated SAFOX VIII autofocus system features 11 sensor points (with nine cross-type sensors positioned in the middle) to automatically focus on the subject with precision, even when it's off-center. The chosen focus point is superimposed in red for "at-a-glance" confirmation but can often be difficult to see when focused on a bright or heavily backlit subject.
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 information and the number of remaining shots. The selected focus point information is not viewable on the top panel but is available on the color LCD by depressing the INFO button. In addition to reproducing the monochrome LCD's information, you'll also 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.
Depressing the Function "Fn" button makes changing the ISO sensitivity, White Balance, Flash settings and the Drive Mode very quick and easy as does the dedicated RAW button on the front of the camera.
The K10D is a responsive performer, taking only 4/10 second from power on until the first shot was captured. Shutter lag was short, less than 1/10 second pre-focused and between 2/10 and 6/10 second including single autofocus of the attached 18-55mm DA lens, depending on subject distance. Using continuous AF kept AF lag time at a consistent 2/10 second, but in this mode the camera operates in release priority, and your first image may be out of focus. The shot-to-shot capture interval in single drive mode measured 4/10 second, although the shutter sometimes failed to release when re-depressing the shutter button too rapidly. The interval between flash shots was between 9/10 and 4 seconds depending on subject distance, and shutter lag when using red eye reduction mode of the internal flash measured 6/10 second.
The K10D's continuous shooting mode allows the photographer to capture a series of images at a maximum speed of approximately 3 images per second; continuous shooting depth varies with the speed of the installed SD or SDHC memory card. In RAW mode Pentax claims it can capture up to 9 images at 3.0 fps before the buffer is filled; we were able to achieve that with an ATP PRO MAX 4GB SDHC Class 6 card installed, but depth fell to 8 shots with either a Sandisk Ultra II 4GB SDHC or ULTRA 4GB SDHC Class 6 card. Buffer clearing time also varies with speed, the ATP taking 7 seconds versus 7.5 for the ULTRA and 10 seconds for the Sandisk. The interval between shots with a full buffer improved with card speed as well, the ATP at 9/10 second, ULTRA at 1 second and the Sandisk at 1.3 seconds.
In the JPEG mode Pentax claims you can capture as many images in succession as needed up to the capacity of the SD card. While we were never able to achieve this, the K10D captured 58 shots before slowing with the ATP card installed, 40 shots with the ULTRA card, and 29 shots with the Sandisk. By reducing the image quality to good, both the ATP and ULTRA cards enabled the K10D to maintain its 3fps capture rate for the entire capacity of the card, while the Sandisk Ultra II (supplied with the camera from Pentax for our review) could capture to a depth of only 58 shots before slowdown. Feedback from our Forum readers indicate the K10D will perform as Pentax claimed when using the Extreme III SDHC or any SDHC card capable of 20MB/s sustained write speed.
There are no pre-programmed "scene" modes on the Mode Dial, however the USER setting allows you to memorize an exposure mode and settings for instant recall. You will find the usual Shutter speed-priority, Aperture-priority, Manual, Bulb and Program exposure modes as well as two unique modes discussed below. Unlike the K100D, the K10D includes a program-shift function, allowing the choice of different combinations of aperture and shutter-speed for the same exposure by rotating one of the menu-selectable e-dials. The K10D provides some help when you're in Manual mode, with a press of the "Green button" the camera automatically sets the aperture and shutter-speed for proper exposure. You can then adjust the shutter-speed and/or aperture for the desired effect while monitoring the viewfinder's readout of the exposure value. This feature makes Manual mode less intimidating, and helps intermediate users improve their skills.
In addition, the K10D provides two unique shooting modes that vary shutter speed, aperture and sensitivity to achieve proper exposure: Shutter and Aperture-Priority mode and Sensitivity mode. Sensitivity mode (Sv) automatically sets the exposure based on the ISO you select with the rear e-dial and lighting conditions; the full range of ISO 100-1600 is available, and is displayed in the viewfinder along with the camera-chosen shutter speed and aperture. Shutter & Aperture Priority mode (TAv) is the converse, allowing you to set both shutter speed and aperture via the front and rear e-dials respectively, and the camera automatically adjust sensitivity (ISO) to achieve good exposure; Shutter speed, aperture and ISO are displayed in the viewfinder. Exposure warnings are displayed in the viewfinder in both modes if good exposure can not be achieved.
The D-BG2 battery grip will be a welcome addition for portrait photographers or telephoto users -- it adds a vertical grip, shutter release and camera controls and its mass helps to offset the weight of heavy lenses. It also doubles the camera's power source with a second Li-ion battery pack. With the D-BG2 mounted on the K10D it does move out of the "small camera" category but its ergonomic qualities are not compromised. The K10D is comfortable to hold and the controls are both logically organized and easy to operate with or without the optional grip. The Setup menu allows you to specify which battery to use first or you can use the default Auto setting and the camera will automatically go to the second battery when the first is depleted. This battery management is an improvement over the dual-battery grips of competitors; rather than charging two half-depleted batteries after an all-day shoot, you'll likely have to charge only one fully-depleted cell from the K10D. The D-BG2 also has a storage space for a SD memory card and the optional wireless Remote Control F, so it provides even more convenience to the user. I would like to see Pentax incorporate a hand strap into the battery grip as it would make it easier and safer to hold.
The ability to post-process images within the camera is a powerful feature. You can apply digital filters such as B&W, Sepia, Color, Soft, Slim, Brightness. One may also process the RAW files before downloading to a computer with a variety of parameters, saving the image as a separate JPEG file of user-specified size and quality. The Printing options menu also allows you to adjust the images prior to printing.
We were happy with the K10D's image quality. Our test images were consistently well exposed and had good color saturation. Sharpness at the K10D's normal setting was what you would expect of a dSLR, a bit on the soft side so that the image had some range for post processing. But at its maximum in-camera setting, the K10D's images were less sharp than the competition. This proved to be true as well when using Pentax Photo Laboratory to process RAW images. I'd be using the unsharp mask filter of my image editor on essentially all of the K10D's images to achieve the level of sharpness I like. The K10D is the first dSLR that we've reviewed that supports Adobe's non-proprietary DNG raw format as well as its own. The latest version of Camera Raw for Adobe Photoshop CS2 can handle either of the K10D's raw image formats.
Image noise was well controlled throughout the K10D's 100-1600 ISO range, essentially noise-free at ISO 100 and 200, barely detectable at ISO 400, detectable in shadow areas at ISO 800, and detectable in highlights at ISO 1600. Noise becomes more noticeable on underexposed images, so image quality will suffer if you "push" the camera's sensitivity. It's a shame that Pentax did not include a sensitivity setting of 3200 on the K10D, a short coming compared to the competition. Pentax did include a useful adjustment of the K10D's Auto ISO; it can be set to a range of 100-200, 100-400 (default setting), 100-800 or 100-1600.
The K10D offers a lot of camera for under $1000.00 USD - with 10.2 megapixels of resolution, body-integral Shake Reduction (SR), automatic dust removal, a weather-proof body, 3fps continuous shooting performance, dual battery grip option and great image quality - it's an easy choice over the K100D for those seeking a more advanced dSLR camera system. Users of Pentax film SLRs will be able to use their existing inventory of K-mount lenses and benefit from its Shake Reduction feature.
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