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...

Product Overview

Overall rating:

88%

Pentax K-7

Features:95%
Overall score:88%
Value:90%
Performance:85%
Image Quality:85%
Design:85%

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

Product:

Pentax K-7 Review

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£1,230.00

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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

Pentax K-7 full production version reviewThe 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 1536×1024 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.

PentaxK7-sampleimage-hills.jpg

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 ‘720×1080′ 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 1536×1080 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.

 

More info:

Pentax K-7 – performance page 1

Pentax K-7 – performance page 2

Pentax K-7 – image quality and value

Pentax K-7 -verdict

Pentax K-7 – specifications

Compare the Pentax K-7 with other products

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Performance page 1

Pentax K-7 review – Performance

Pentax K-7 review – AF system

With an 11-point AF system, as per the K20D, the onus isn’t on throwing additional focus points at the K-7’s system. Instead Pentax has improved the focus algorithms over previous generation K-series cameras with the introduction of the SAFOX VIII+ system. The result, at least in continuous focusing mode, is a significant improvement on previous performance. However, that’s Pentax vs Pentax, and the Nikon D300 or Canon 50D certainly both offer more advanced autofocus and AF-C performance. On the one hand the improvement is pleasing, and yet it’s just a little below the bar, which may come as a disappointment to many users.

There’s also a new AF illuminator lamp, though in some cases it fails to deploy to assist with focus. Furthermore, flat surfaces or single colour planes can cause difficulty with the camera’s ability to attain focus. For single shot however, the AF is more than ample and does its job well; the focus points light up red in-camera when focus is attained – this is also particularly handy when manually focusing too.

Pentax K-7 review – Continuous shooting:

 

From a faster autofocusing system to a faster continuous burst rate, the Pentax K-7 can whirr off a bundle of shots inside a single second – 5.2 to be exact. This works up to 15 shots when shooting Raw files, or 40 frames when shooting JPEG, using a Panasonic 4GB silver class SD. Once you’ve hit that wall the buffer does clog up though, and you’ll be waiting a number of seconds before it’s totally free to shoot again. You can interrupt after a few seconds and continue to shoot, though not at the same speed. When the on-camera flash is deployed it’s possible to shoot between 2-3 frames per second, given the time taken for the power to juice the flash back up to full.

Pentax K-7 review – Shake Reduction / Image Stabilisation

 

The in-camera Shake Reduction is one of the key sell points for the K-7. Without getting into the argument of whether sensor-based or lens-based stabilisation is better, given the backwards compatibility with old K-mount lenses in-camera sensor-based is sensible option. Not only does this offer stabilisation for lenses of old, but crucially keeps the costs down upon purchasing new glass too. For those on a more sensible budget this should really speak volumes when considering which system to adopt. Were you to opt for, say, the Nikon D300 then you’d need to fork out considerably more money to buy into stabilised lenses, whereas Pentax equivalents will be more sparing on your purse. Should you intend to use or buy into a number of lenses then it’s always worth considering the additional cost these will bring over time.

PentaxK7sampleimage-lizard.jpg

In action the Shake Reduction really does stabilise your images. With a claim to four stops, it seems actively effective to two – at least, that is, if you want to keep a sharp frame. In testing at around 1/15th second handheld there was a minor difference, though with longer exposures of 1/8th second and beyond there was notable retention of detail. Certainly a thumbs up. However, disappointingly, there are no options to specify horizontal or vertical shake reduction only – it’s either ‘off or on’, which may be a little disappointing for those who intend to pan fast-moving subjects.

Pentax K-7 review – movie mode

The K-7 was the first DSLR in its class to introduce a movie function, which was quickly followed by the recent announcement of the Nikon D300s and, daresay, Canon is more than likely to be hot on the heels soon after. But Pentax has come through with a first – offering 720p HD recording (termed as ‘0.9M 16:9’ in the menu) plus a higher resolution 1536×1080 mode (termed as ‘1.6M 3:2’ in the menu – though note this isn’t ‘Full HD’) which can be upscaled to conform to a 16:9 output at 1080i.

As more manufacturers allow the ability for autofocus in movie modes, this is a notably lacking from the K-7’s functionality. It’s entirely possible that at a later stage, by a future firmware update, that this level of functionality could be introduced. Cross your fingers as it seems this camera can only get better over time. Manual focus whilst recording is smooth, but the format of a DSLR camera makes it tricky to adjust the lens whilst holding the body at the same time – an unavoidable conflict.<!–

Pentax K-7 review pages:

- Page 1: Pentax K-7 review – Features & Design
- Page 2: Pentax K-7 review – Performance
– Page 3: Pentax K-7 review – Performance (cont.)
– Page 4: Pentax K-7 review – Image Quality & Value
– Page 5: Pentax K-7 review specifications / specs
– Page 6: Pentax K-7 review verdict

Pentax K-7 review – other What Digital Camera links:

- Compare the Pentax K-7 with other DSLR cameras
– Pentax K-7 review – product images
– Pentax K-7 review – sample test image gallery

–>

Performance page 2

Pentax K-7 review – Performance page 2

Pentax K-7 review – Live View

Pentax K-7 review test sample image firmware 1.01Live View offers a number of info options – it’s possible to shoot with a histogram, grid, info overlay and bright/dark area display. Autofocus consists of Face Detection AF, which recognises faces with relative ease but can struggle to focus unless the subject is still. While Contrast Detect AF is also slow, the faster option of Phase Difference AF drops out of live view, attain focus, then jumps back into live view mode accurately re-focused.

Manual focus is by far the best way to use live view, and for landscape, architectural and still life work you wont need to worry about autofocusing. The info button on the back of the camera provides up to 6x magnification to assist with pin-point fine focusing, though the visible noise on the screen at such a magnification can be a little distracting.

At the time of writing there is also an issue in using live view and flash together. Using two separate camera bodies to verify the issue, when the battery is half depleted and the flash deployed, it may on occasion show ‘battery depleted’ on the LCD and automatically turn the camera off. However, upon turning the camera back on it is possible to continue shooting as normal, albeit not in live view with flash, with the battery still showing as half full.

Pentax K-7 review – Virtual Horizon

 

One of the K-7’s quirks is the way it pulls in many more subtle features that enhance its use. The virtual horizon, which acts as a kind of spirit level to assist you with holding the camera dead straight, is one such feature. Whether using landscape or portrait orientation through the viewfinder or in live view, it’s a nice touch that can even move the sensor itself by up to one degree as a means to compensate. Very clever stuff.

PentaxK7-sampleimage-symm.jpg

Pentax K-7 review – Kit lens:

 

The standard 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens that comes boxed with the K-7 provides ample performance. As with most standard kit lenses across the board you’ll likely feel somewhat restricted by its limitations, namely that images are a little less than sharp, despite the success of the sensor’s resolution. In accordance with the K-7’s rugged makeup the lens does tick all the dust and weather sealing boxes, perhaps a gesture to where some future lenses may be headed from camp Pentax.

Attach one of many other lenses – new or old – and that’s where the fun starts. Using an old 100mm macro it was possible to take some interesting close-up shots, though there was notable chromatic aberration from this lens in particular, and not just to the edges. This is where the lateral chromatic aberration adjustment option comes to the rescue, which, once switched on from inside the camera’s menu, very successfully removes purple fringing.

Pentax K-7 review – In-camera HDR effects & filters

 

Perhaps less in keeping with the ‘pro’ title is the inclusion of a variety of in-camera modes – much like those found in current Olympus DSLRs. Amid the usual Black & White, Sepia and colour modes, there are others such as pseudo Fish Eye, Toy Camera and Retro that apply various colour, vignetting, distortion or other effects. In moderation there are a number that are useful, plus their very presence further extends the K-7’s appeal to an even broader market.

A slight oddity is the inclusion of an in-camera HDR (high dynamic range) mode. When switched on, the mode takes three photos (underexposed, correct exposure and overexposed) and processes them into one image in camera, at your choice of ‘standard’ or ‘strong’. Processing isn’t immediate and takes a few seconds. Don’t expect to get successful use from this when handheld – the images wont align and the technology isn’t quite advanced enough to match up frame to frame. As it’s only possible to press or use a remote to fire the shutter, there may be some slight camera movement and a tripod is an essential. Successful results will appear very ‘pronounced’ in HDR terms when using strong, and whilst ‘standard’ is certainly milder, the general lack of user-defined control should keep this as something for post-process rather than in-camera. <!–

Pentax K-7 review pages:

- Page 1: Pentax K-7 review – Features & Design
– Page 2: Pentax K-7 review – Performance
– Page 3: Pentax K-7 review – Performance (cont.)
– Page 4: Pentax K-7 review – Image Quality & Value
– Page 5: Pentax K-7 review specifications / specs
– Page 6: Pentax K-7 review verdict

Pentax K-7 review – other What Digital Camera links:

- Compare the Pentax K-7 with other DSLR cameras
– Pentax K-7 review – product images
– Pentax K-7 review – sample test image gallery

–>

Image Quality & Value

Pentax K-7 review – Image Quality

Pentax K-7 review – Tone & Exposure

The K-7 comes equipped with a 77 segment metering system, which is a significant rise compared to the K20D’s 16-segment version. As such images are better exposed, though there can be cases of underexposure. Granted this is not a huge problem and is generally better than overexposing. When shooting Raw on a low ISO more detail can be pulled back from the shadows, whereas blown highlights tend to be irretrievable. To the K-7’s credit there is also a D-Range Setting in the menu, which allows for Highlight Correction to be switched on or off, plus a three-step Shadow Correction function too. Both these are relatively subtle, but do work – particularly the highlight correction which pulls in additional detail; notable in skies or similar exposure areas.

PentaxK7-sampleimage-station.jpg

On the camera’s LCD screen images may appear better exposed than when they reach your computer. For this reason it’s a good idea to review histograms when shooting so you can recognise the correct level of detail in an image.

Pentax K-7 review – RAW/JPEG

 

The K-7 offers simultaneous Raw & JPEG shooting, with a choice of Pentax PEF format or the universal Adobe DNG. The difference between the two is negligible, but against JPEG there is a notable difference. Whilst Raw files come from camera with more realistic, albeit flatter tones and less notable noise, JPEGs appear sharpened, noisier and even a little brighter. It’s possible to get a more pleasing result from Raw file in post production if you have the time on your hands, that’s certainly the best way to get the most out of the K-7.

Pentax K-7 review – Image Noise

PentaxK7-sampleimage-checks ISO.jpg

Image noise is inevitable from all cameras, and the K-7’s images are very clean through ISO 100-400 thanks to the PRIME II image processing engine. Noise begins to noticeably creep in from ISO 800, though 1600 to 6400 are considerably grainy. However, as the image retains its definition in the detail, down to small pixel areas, it’s not particularly destructive noise, but that’s not to ignore its presence. ISO 6400 certainly has pronounced grain and isn’t an option you’ll want to use often. Overall very good, though not class-leading.

Pentax K-7 review – Sharpness & Detail

 

Use the K-7 18-55mm kit lens and expect a little less than sharp images, though chromatic aberration is kept to a minimum throughout its focal range. Additional lenses will perform considerably better, even old prime lenses like the 77mm (roughly 115mm when mounted on the K-7) f1.8 can produce some fantastic results. In terms of resolution, the 14.6MP CMOS sensor performs well, with undeniably resolute images.

Pentax K-7 review – Value

Pound for pound the K-7 offers a near class-leading features list and, for the £1230 asking price, pits itself squarely against the Nikon D300 and Canon 50D. However, with the current weak Japanese Yen, a lot of imported electronics products are suffering from rising prices – the Canon 50D’s body only SRP is now £1370, though shop around and over £500 can quickly be shaved from this. Considering the new Nikon D300s has a body only SRP of £1500, the K-7 just manages to undercut these competitors in the price war. That said, it doesn’t feel like a particularly savvy asking price. Whilst Pentax has a core of avid users, the company would benefit from encouraging other photographers to planet Pentax – but the price doesn’t boldly undercut competition. That’s not to devalue what is an excellent product, but a ‘more kit for your money’ approach would surely speak volumes in stores. As it stands it’s relative good value when positioned against its competitors, but whether that’ll be enough to convince the general public is another matter. <!–

Pentax K-7 review pages:

- Page 1: Pentax K-7 review – Features & Design
– Page 2: Pentax K-7 review – Performance
– Page 3: Pentax K-7 review – Performance (cont.)
– Page 4: Pentax K-7 review – Image Quality & Value
– Page 5: Pentax K-7 review specifications / specs
– Page 6: Pentax K-7 review verdict

Pentax K-7 review – other What Digital Camera links:

- Compare the Pentax K-7 with other DSLR cameras
– Pentax K-7 review – product images
– Pentax K-7 review – sample test image gallery

–>

Verdict

Pentax K-7 full production version reviewThe 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.

Verdict

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.

Full Specification

PC Socket:
Yes

Cable Release:
Yes
AF Points:
11-area AF (SAFOX VIII+)

Max Flash Sync:
180th second sync, x-sync also available

Built-in Flash:
Yes, GN 13 (ISO 100)
DoF Prview:
Yes

Colour Temp Control:
2500 ? 10000 Kelvin
White Balance Bracket:
Yes

Colour Space:
sRGB, Adobe RGB
Shutter Type:
Vertical-run focal-plane shutter

Exposure Comp:
+/- 0.3-5.0
Focusing Modes:
AF-S (plus AE-L), AF-C, Manual

Built-in Image Stabilisation:
Yes, in-camera sensor shift
Dust Reduction:
Yes, supersonic vibration DRII system

Other:
720p video (1280×720), HDV (1536 x 1024) upped to output at 1080i, magnesium steel alloy body, 77 weather seals (dust & weather resistant), Pentax PRIME II Image processor, in-camera HDR (strong, standard) takes 3 consecutive shots, in-camera colour filters (B&W, sepia, colour, soft), Dynamic range expansion (highlight correction, 3x levels of shadow correction)
Weight:
754g (with battery & card)

Dimensions:
131 x 97 x 73mm
Connectivity:
HDMI, USB 2.0, Video Out, DC-IN

Live Mode:
Yes, with autofocusing (fixed or continuous aperture available)
Power:
Lithium-Ion D-LI90 rechargeable battery, (optional battery grip)

Memory Card:
SD / SDHC / SDXC
Drive Mode:
Single, Continuous 5.2 fps to 40 Fine JPEG frames or 15 RAW

White Balance:
Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent (Daylight Colour/White/Cool White/Warm White), Tungsten, Flash, CTE, Manual x3 (K)
Viewfinder Type:
Optical eye-level pentaprism, 100% field of view

Field of View:
100%
ISO:
100-6400

Exposure Modes:
Auto, P, Sv (shutter priority), Av (aperture priority), TAv (ISO & aperture dual priority), Manual, Bulb, X-sync, USER, Movie
Metering System:
TTL (through the lens) 77-segment sensor

Compression:
4 levels
Shutter Speeds:
30 ? 1/8000th second, plus Bulb

File Format:
RAW (PEF / DNG), JPEG, RAW + JPEG
Lens Mount:
Pentax KA, KAF mount, or K-mount (with manual restrictions)

Focal Length Mag:
1.5x
LCD:
3in 920,000dot TFT

Output Size:
4672 x 3104
Sensor:
APS-C CMOS sensor (23.4 x 15.6 mm 3:2 aspect ratio)

  1. 1. Pentax K-7 review - Features
  2. 2. Performance page 1
  3. 3. Performance page 2
  4. 4. Image Quality & Value
  5. 5. Verdict
Page 1 of 5 - Show Full List