Sub-£500 DSLR group test: Pentax K-r
Pentax's offering isn't the baby of the K-series, as the K-r can be found one step above the entry-level K-x model. This makes the camera a well-specified bit of kit, not least that its low price point means that 18-55mm and 50-200mm lenses can be purchased with the body for £478. The 18-55mm kit option alone is under £400. Quite the bargain - and that's an area where the Pentax certainly wipes the floor with the other two models in this test.
Value is one element, but the camera is also heady in specification. A 12.4MP APS-C CMOS sensor is sensitive from ISO 200-12,800 (100-25,600 extended) and also offers 720p HD movie capture. An 11-point AF system has some nine cross-type sensors out of the full 11-point array. This makes for a far more reactive response when the camera is used in a portrait orientation.
Add a 6fps burst mode and the K-r has a variety of unique and desirable features that make it stand out.
The optical viewfinder has a 96% field of view, and the 0.85x magnification is ever so slightly greater than both the Nikon and Canon models - this makes for a larger image where more of the final capture is previewable during composition.
In a similar fashion to the Canon 1100D the Pentax isn't the most user-friendly for first timers, but more established users will know their way around without issue. The main mode dial does incorporate some Scene modes in addition to Auto and the full array of manual options. There's even an Sv option (Sensitivity Priority) that, like Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, adjusts the ISO sensitivity as its primary purpose - that's a unique Pentax feature.
The camera is the heaviest of the three on test, but that weight feels reassuring and well-built overall.
The 3in screen on the rear has a 921k-dot resolution which makes for far superior playback. Not only this but the viewing angle is very good and reflections are less of an issue by comparison to the other two test models.
A well-rounded camera, the K-r succeeds in offering a decent autofocus system. AF points light up red in the viewfinder itself, and selecting a full 11-point, full 5-point or user-defined individual points provides plenty of control. Although the AF system isn't quite as nippy as the Canon 1100D it still does a sterling job and beats the Nikon D3100 in terms of speed.
Pop the camera into live view mode and performance remain strong: the swift autofocus is the fastest of the three on test and the camera even zooms in to 100% to provide focus feedback. The only letdown in this department is that it's not possible to focus right across the full width and height of the screen - a small ‘border' prevents full edge-to-edge focusing.
While in live view it's also possible to activate the 720p HD movie mode. Although primarily a stills camera, and that's very much how the K-r should be considered, it does lack the same proficiency as the other two test models in the moving image department. The M-JPEG AVI format means larger file sizes that are more compressed than they ought to be, plus there's no form of autofocus available during capture.
For speed shooting the K-r has a 6fps burst mode. That's far faster than any other camera in this price range, and it will successfully reel off six consecutive shots. The only caveat to that is the limited buffer will cause a pause after the sixth Raw + JPEG shot is taken, which can hinder the shooting process.
The headline-grabbing ISO 100-25,600 may make the K-r sound like it's king when it comes to high ISO, but this isn't quite the case at the very top end of the settings. At ISO 6400 a ‘mottled' and grain-like noise can be seen in images that still maintains a reasonable level of detail (considering the sensitivity), but can't quite surpass the other two cameras here.
Use the camera in its lower ISO settings, however, and there's plenty of detail and sharpness to be had. Sharpening sees shots crisper than the Nikon D3100, but not quite to the finery of the 1100D's shots.
In terms of exposure the K-r is, as per most Pentax DSLRs, fond of the darker tones. Shots will often underexpose where bright lighting is met with shadowy areas, whereas more monotone scenes are far more equally exposed overall.
This article has more pages:
- 1. Sub-£500 DSLR group test
- 2. Sub-£500 DSLR group test: Canon EOS 1100D
- 3. Sub-£500 DSLR group test: Nikon D3100
- 4. Sub-£500 DSLR group test: Pentax K-r
- 5. Sub-£500 DSLR group test: Image Quality and Verdict