Pentax K-7 review
Review Date : Fri, 21 Aug 2009
Author : Mike Lowe
The Pentax K-7 is the company's first pro-grade DSLR, and it's been a long time coming. What Digital Camera tests out the K7...
|Pros:||35 years worth of compatible Pentax lenses, 100% viewfinder, intuitive camera layout, weather-sealing, best Pentax AF system to date|
|Cons:||Kit lens is a let down, underexposure can be an issue, AF isn’t as snappy as it should be, high ISO image noise|
The Pentax K-7 is the new jewel in the company's crown, with a long list of specs well beyond any previous Pentax DSLR. Existing Pentax users will be pleased to finally see a much-wanted pro-level upgrade, whereas those familiar with other manufacturers' systems may also be drawn in thanks to an all-encompassing features list.
Pitting itself against the already well-established Nikon D300 (and the recently announced D300s) and Canon 50D mid-level pro DSLRs it's no doubt that the K-7 has more than one hard act to follow. But with the Pentax name synonymous with photography for so many decades, and with excellent - if underappreciated - performers such as the K20D already under the belt, now is the time for Pentax to go for gold and achieve the kudos that has, in general, been lacking in its digital age. The K-7 looks like the DSLR to really lift the lid, so how does it perform?
Pentax K-7 review - Features
The K-7 has been built from the ground up by Pentax and, unlike the K20D and K10D which had Samsung GX20 and GX10 equivalents, is a standalone venture. The build quality is a key sell; ruggedly made, but following Pentax's ultimately ‘classic' design, the body is made from a magnesium alloy that's both dust and weather-sealed at 77 points. Shooting in sand, getting splashed with rain or other treacherous conditions need not be a bother and, despite this upgrade, the whole camera is even marginally smaller and lighter than the previous K20D. The featured 18-55mm kit lens follows suit, as does the optional D-BG4 battery grip (which offers both AA and li-ion battery options) to complete a fully weather-and-dust-sealed unit in its entirety.
A high-resolution 14.6MP CMOS sensor is at the heart of the K-7's body, which whilst not a step up over the K20D in terms of resolution, does double the number of output channels. The result? More information can speed through the K-7's buffer for faster continuous shooting than ever before - a firm 5.2 frames per second sees the K20D's 3fps barrier officially trounced; ideal for those looking to shoot sports or action photography.
Unlike its key competitors - namely the Nikon D300 and Canon 50D - the K-7, like many Pentax DSLRs before it, incorporates Shake Reduction (SR) into the camera body itself. Crucially this means even old K-mount bayonet-fit lenses can benefit from this function, and new lenses will not cost as much as their (hypothetical) stabilised counterparts.
A notable - and very much ‘flavour of 2009' - feature is the inclusion of a 720p HD movie mode, plus the inclusion of a superior 1536x1024 capture that can be output at 1080i, though this is not ‘Full HD' capture. Mono sound is recorded from the camera's body, or there is the option to use the 3.5mm jack socket to plug in a microphone and record in stereo. Aperture can be set as fixed via the camera body for recording or there's an automatic variable aperture mode, which adjusts the aperture according to the amount of light available throughout recording. Whilst in-camera shake reduction can also be used to full effect, it is not possible to autofocus whilst recording - though it is entirely plausible this will be possible in the future, if the clever bods at Pentax fix up the necessary firmware.
In keeping up with the competition, the K-7 adorns a 920,000 dot high resolution 3in LCD screen. Whilst it's not a tilt and swivel screen as seem to be creeping into a number of camera bodies of late, it does auto-rotate images on the screen itself and, in keeping with orientation, has a virtual horizon level too - a really nice touch when in live view mode.
With customisable white balance settings, a shutter speed up to 1/8000th second, 77 segment metering system, the new SAFOX VIII+ 11-point AF system with AF illuminator lamp, in-camera HDR, and D-Range shadow and highlight adjustment options, the features list is certainly bulging. The K-7's viewfinder has the much-sought after 100% field of view too, ensuring what you see is exactly what you'll capture.
Pentax K-7 review - Design
Anyone familiar with Pentax's DSLR design will be comfortable with the format of the K-7. The marginally smaller K-7 body makes some minor adjustments to the right hand side grip for the AF illuminating light to have enough space to operate. Otherwise it's very much business as usual - and that's no bad thing; the Pentax system, given the company's years in the business, is intuitively laid out and wont spring any nasty surprises.
Pentax K-7 review, sample image - click for full size gallery
In hand the body sits well, though the inclusion of the battery grip makes for extended comfort with additional body to grip for those with larger hands. The 100% viewfinder's eye cup sits comfortably to the eye, even when wearing glasses - there's dioptic correction available which offers an excellent way to adjust viewfinder focus without necessarily removing your spare eyes. Furthermore the K7's light-up display panel is a fetching green colour that's easy to read in all light sources - from bright to total darkness - and displays all the need-to-know key information when not looking through the viewfinder.
For the most part the quick-access ISO, exposure compensation, one-touch Raw and other buttons will thankfully keep you out of menu digging most of the time. The main menu is a less impressive fare given the amount of up/down scrolling you'll find yourself doing to find various options. Some options, such as the movie settings, do not describe themselves in more conventional terms either - for example, whilst most will be familiar with ‘720p' or ‘720x1080' will have to settle for Pentax's ‘0.9M 16:9' listing format instead. It would seem this is to differentiate the 16:9 format ratio from the 1536x1080 which is captured in a 3:2 format.
Overall though, the K-7 is well designed, feels good in the hand, and is easy to use. Whether an existing Pentax user, a convert, or brand new to DSLR photography, it takes no time at all to pick up the system - it's a legacy of intuitive layout, with only the main menu being a letdown.
The K-7 is, without a doubt, the best DSLR that Pentax has ever produced. It'll please existing Pentax users who may be looking for faster performance, better autofocus or even a fairly solid movie mode to add to the fray. Whilst the K10D has held strong for many users, the K20D only marginally brushed up upon this as an upgrade. As a result, many didn't part with their cash so soon for effectively so little - but the K-7 tidies this up once and for all and will see you tempted to reach for the piggy bank. There are downfalls however: Image quality suffers noise in the upper echelons of ISO sensitivity, keeping it from producing class-leading images - though overall images are very good. The kit lens is no better than standard too, with slightly less than sharp images - a shame given the excellent resolution. Slight underexposure is a recurring characteristic here and whilst the K-7's AF system is the best yet, certainly snappier than in previous models, there's still room for improvement before it can be seen as a truly pro-grade system. On the upside though, a huge benefit for the K-7 is its compatibility with older Pentax lenses, especially when coupled with in-camera Shake Reduction. It's entirely possible that Pentax has plugged the mid-range pro-grade lens issue here - all lenses will benefit from the in-camera shake reduction, meaning you wont need to fork out loads of cash on expensive image-stabilised lenses. Whilst there's an argument that lens-based stabilisation is better, there's the significant cost factor which Pentax successfully bridges here, thus bringing pro-grade quality to more of the market. And with further investment in new digital-only DA optics, plus specific accessories, it's clear Pentax is pushing forward and looking to appeal not only to its existing audience, but further afield too. Overall the K-7 is a great camera, one that Pentax users in particular will more than likely flock to the shops to pick up.