The latest addition to the bustling entry-level market the Pentax K-m, but just what does it offer that the K200D doesn’t?
The main reason for this variety, from the manufacturers’ perspective, is that if they can lure you into their system at the start, and get you to buy their lenses as your skill develops, then you’ll be ‘tied’ to their system for the rest of your shooting days. Just ask yourself how many times you’ve heard an experienced snapper postulate, ‘It’s just too difficult to change systems’.
However, the desire of the manufacturers to hook you in early can also be beneficial to you as a consumer. If you are new to the world of DSLRs, then it’s highly likely that you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer variety of cameras you can pick up for under £400. Whether you want AF live view or not, in-camera or in-lens image stabilisation, or just the plain cheapest, there’s something for you.
So, with such a crowded and competitive market place, what exactly does the Pentax K-m bring to the party to get you hooked on the Pentax system? How does it compare with its sub-£400 peers, what differentiates it from its predecessor, and what exactly makes it the right entry-level DSLR for you?
Pentax has built up something of a reputation for releasing high-quality entry-level DSLRs.
Its K range is now in its fifth generation of entry-level models with the addition of the K-m, a model which picks up almost directly from its predecessor – the K200D. Pentax has yet to confirm whether the K200D is to be discontinued in the UK, but this has already occurred in Japan. Given how remarkably similar the two cameras are, it would come as little surprise if the UK were to follow suit.
The K-m follows the recent trend set by both entry-level DSLRs and the new Micro Four Thirds type interchangeable-lens cameras, in so far as the main focus is the reduction of size. Measuring 122 x 92 x 68mm, the K-m is around 92% of the size of the K200D and weighs in at 575g compared to the K200D’s 630g. It’s fair to say that there has been a fair reduction in bulk between the two models.
Aside from this reduction in size, the majority of the inner workings remain the same. The K-m sports the same 23.5 x 15.7mm CCD sensor, which outputs 10.75MP and an effective resolution of 10.2MP, producing a maximum image size of 3872 x 2592 pixels – the same as the K200D. Files are stored in either Pentax’s linguistically quirky three-stage ‘Good, Better, Best’ JPEG compression, or in 12-bit Raw.
While it is becoming more common for manufacturers to ‘update’ their cameras without actually changing a great deal, one area that is normally improved upon is the LCD screen. With the K-m, however, Pentax has chosen to leave it alone – as with the K200D, the K-m sports a 2.7in, 230k-dot LCD screen, the size of which is still slightly larger than a few of its big name competitors.
As with the K200D before, the K-m features Pentax’s proprietary in-camera shake reduction system. With it, any K-mount lens attached to the body of the K-m automatically benefits from shake reduction. It’s not all identical between the K-m and its K200D predecessor with regards to the inner workings of the camera, however. The K-m features an extended ISO range that now offers a high ISO of 3200 (compared to 1600) that will be of benefit for those looking to shoot in low light and don’t mind a small amount of image noise. What may be seen as a loss for some from the K200D on the K-m is the reduction of AF points, which now number just five from 11. All of this technology is powered, as before in the K200D, with four AA batteries.
As mentioned previously, the major change between the K-m and the K200D is in size, with the K-m being noticeably smaller. When you consider that very few, if any, sacrifices have had to be made to the specification of the K200D to fit it into the body of the K-m, it’s quite some achievement.
To say that sacrifices have been made to design and button layout would be inaccurate, as any views on the changes made would be far more subjective than objective. That said, a reduction in the size of the body calls for either smaller buttons or the removal of excess buttons and features. Pentax has wisely opted for the latter option. The top of the K-m sees the removal of the top-plate LCD, with the mode dial shifted from the left over to the right to sit where the LCD used to be. Shooting settings are now displayed on the camera’s rear LCD, as is often the preference with current entry-level DSLRs. To fit in with the reduction in width, the LCD screen now runs flush to the left of the camera’s back, with operating buttons moving over to the right of the screen. This means all of the function buttons, including the D-pad, command dial, menu, info buttons and the like are closely grouped, which certainly aids the camera’s usability.
On the matter of functionality, the focus on the entry-level aspect of the K-m has led to a few nice design features. Not only does the D-pad on the camera’s rear now double as a quick access point to ISO, white balance, drive mode and flash control, but the top of the camera sees the introduction of a ‘?’, or help, button. Upon pressing the help button for the first time, the camera’s LCD will display a full explanation of the current shooting mode selected. One further press of the button will take you into a button explanation help mode, allowing the user to access a full explanation of any button of the camera – a small and quirky feature, but one that will no doubt prove useful for beginners.
The cosmetics of the K-m further differ from the K200D with the addition of a stainless steel flash of piping along the base of the camera’s top-plate. While this isn’t a massive change, it does serve to mark the camera out from the crowd, and adds a further element of class to the camera’s already impressive build quality.
The AF system on the K-m doesn’t seem to suffer from the reduction in AF points from 11 to five. The speed of autofocus is as good as any of its peers, and focus is generally accurate. One feature that takes a bit of getting used to is the audible noise which the focusing system makes.
With the standard kit lens, the lens itself emits a loud buzz and whirr while shifting between focal lengths. Primarily this is just an issue of personal preference, but something you may need to consider more seriously if you’re looking to take up wildlife photography. If that’s the case, then investing in some of Pentax’s more expensive glass could prove worthwhile in the long run.
The metering system of the K-m tends to throw up a variety of results, ranging from shot to shot, but more often than not appearing underexposed. This variety of capture, however, also extends to the camera’s white balance. More often than not, the K-m produces images displaying a white balance erring on the warm side.
There are also a few niggles with the K-m’s interface, in my opinion. For example, the camera sports an Auto Exposure Bracketing function, which is a welcome addition if you’re fond of HDR photography. However, as the AEB function sits under the same selection menu as other drive mode options, combing Auto Exposure Bracketing with a two-second self-timer is impossible. This ultimately means that if you want to completely remove camera shake, you have to manually bracket images using the self-timer – ultimately a trade-off that needn’t have been.
RAW and JPEG
Considering the aforementioned issues in capture with both underexposure, and consequently white balance and colour, I would deem it almost imperative to shoot either solely Raw or at least Raw+JPEG.
more prevalent in Raw, owing to the lack of noise reduction, but detail is more finely preserved and chances are that noise reduction software will do a better job than in-camera.
The Pentax K-m follows on in the grand tradition of Pentax cameras from days gone by in regularly underexposing.
As a guide, shooting with exposure compensation of +5 will provide more accurate results.
However, this tendency to underexpose can prove valuable if you’re prepared to do a bit of work in post-production, because it will maintain detail in potentially blown-out skies.
Noise control is impressive with the K-m, as was the case with the K200D before. There is virtually no loss in image quality up to ISO 400, with ISO 800 still eminently useable. ISO 1600 begins to see a loss in fine
detail owing to noise reduction, though differences between Raw and JPEG are negligible, while at ISO 3200 it’s very noticeable.
Tone And Contrast
The tonal range of the K-m may shed more light on the reason for underexposure, given the fact that highlights blow easily, owing to a narrow dynamic range, though detail is maintained well in the shadows.
Colour And White Balance
Colour rendition on the K-m is generally pleasing. The issues mentioned with underexposure do tend to have a knock-on effect with white balance – for example, when trying to set the correct amount of exposure
compensation, the white balance can shift with each setting, veering from warm to cold. However, if you shoot Raw and get the exposure right, any issues are easily amended in post-processing or the Raw conversion
Sharpness And Detail
Considering that Pentax has stuck with the 10MP sensor rather than increasing the resolution, fine detail remains impressively rendered. The K-m adequately met the task of large-scale landscape work undertaken,though image sharpness was slightly lacking. Again, this is no great problem as a simple sharpening process in post-processing was more than adequate for the task.
Value for Money
Due to the similarities of the K-m and the K200D, it seems fair to draw a comparison between their prices. The K200D launched with a price tag of about £550 back in June 2008. At the time, the K200D was marketed as an ‘entry-level’ camera, but with a host of features from its more advanced K20D stablemate. However, the same camera has now appeared in the shape of the slightly smaller K-m, and this is offered for around £340 for the camera and kit lens.
When you consider the launch list price of each, you can only conclude that the K-m represents fantastic value, even at its RRP. It is not often that you can say that, these days, given that new cameras often start expensive before falling to a more realistic price within weeks of launch. The K-m has already dropped in price by a fair amount since it was launched, and if this continues to happen then it will represent even better value.
Differentiating with a range of DSLRs can often prove problematic for a manufacturer. The manufacturer can either focus on restricting the inner workings of the camera to keep costs down, or simply alter the design and size to the same end.
Pentax has clearly opted for the latter approach with regards to differentiating the K-m from the six-month-old K200D. The latter camera, while debuting at a price point towards the high end of the entry-level market, was acclaimed for featuring facets of its more advanced sibling. It, of course, follows that the K-m also features said facets, owing to the fact that it?s essentially the same camera ? but, of course, over £150 cheaper than the K200D was at launch. What you also have to consider is that the K-m is, in essence, more than an entry-level DSLR. The slight quirks with underexposure, and in turn white balance, mean that shooting Raw is certainly preferable, and as such an understanding of image-editing software needed.
But this is what the K-m offers ? an eminently affordable DSLR that produces good results if you?re willing to put a bit of effort into your shots, a process which will in turn improve your photography.