Pentax K-x review: Impressive features meet portability in Pentax's latest DSLR
While the K-7 is pitched at enthusiasts, the (now discontinued) K-m catered for novices. Accordingly, the K-x sits somewhere between the two and is described as an upper-class entry-level model. Using the K-m as a template, it has some impressive additional functionality built in, including a video facility first seen on the K-7. But against some warmly received competitors, what advantages does it offer?
Pentax K-x review – Features
Given its positioning, competitors to the K-x include the Canon EOS 500D and Nikon D5000. It features a CMOS sensor of APS-C dimensions, with an effective pixel count of 12.4MP - this produces images at a maximum resolution of 4288 x 2848 pixels. As with previous Pentax DSLRs, RAW recording is offered in both PEF and DNG formats – the latter instantly compatible with Adobe’s suite of editing programs – with JPEG capture offered alongside.
The sensor itself is fitted with a Shake Reduction system that claims to compensate for up to a maximum four stops of exposure. So an image that would ordinarily require a shutter speed of 1/60sec could possibly be captured sharp as low as 1/4sec. This also works during movie capture, where the camera is capable of recording 24fps footage at a resolution of 1280 x 720p, which meets the minimum requirements for High Definition capture. It’s not quite as highly specified as on the K-7 – there’s no input for external microphones, for example, which confines audio recording to mono capture – but at this price this isn’t exactly unexpected.
With movie recording comes live view, which offers both phase- and contrast-detection autofocus, together with face detection which recognises up to 16 faces in a scene before adjusting its settings accordingly. It’s also possible to set a live histogram over the feed, as well as a grid overlay to help with composition.
Also on offer is a full selection of exposure modes, the scope of which is unlikely to disappoint either novice or advanced users.
PASM controls feature as standard, and are joined by Sensitivity-Priority, Bulb and Auto options, along with a range of scene presets. Complementing these are a range of effects and shooting modes, such as the 16 Digital Filters which allow the user to apply effects such as Toy Camera, Soft and High-Contrast styles to images, prior to their capture. There’s also an effect to mimic the look of cross-processed film, though should you want to get even more creative, a HDR mode is on hand which captures three varying exposures of the same scene, before blending them into a single composite image.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that these features mean the K-x is geared purely for fun, but certain other features show a more sober side, and a competent one too. Continuous shooting, for example, is possible at a maximum rate of 4.7fps – eclipsing the frame rates of the Canon 500D and Nikon D5000 – while the SAFOX VIII 11-point AF system includes nine cross-type sensors in its centre. Furthermore, when using DA and D FA optics, the camera can be set to compensate for both distortion and lateral chromatic aberration.
Pentax is also said to have made improvements with the camera’s circuit design to maximise battery performance, going so far as to claim that with lithium batteries the camera can last for up to 1,900 shots. The fact that it uses AA cells as opposed to a single rechargeable lithium type is an issue which tends to divide opinion. I find it slightly more inconvenient to charge and load four small batteries than one larger one, but this wouldn’t dissuade me from buying a camera. The advantage of AA cells being available almost anywhere shouldn’t be underestimated either.
Using the 100mm macro lens at its widest aperture, it is possible to obtain very limited depth of field. 1/160sec @ f/2.8, Pentax smc 100mm Macro f/2.8, ISO 160, Evaluative metering, +1EV, AWB
Design and Value for Money
Pentax K-x review – Design
Pentax describes the K-x as a compact and lightweight camera with user-friendly operation – and this much is certainly true. Being based on the previous K-m model, both are almost equal in size and weight, which is perhaps why it gives the impression of high functionality. The body is constructed from a stainless steel chassis and plastic covering and the grip is lined with rubber, but sadly there’s no rubberised thumb rest on the rear, which is immediately noticeable when picking up the camera for the first time. There is, however, plenty of thumb space on the back of the camera, and all controls are clearly labelled.
The menu system closely follows those of previous Pentax cameras, which means it is functional rather than attractive. While the company has been accused of using slightly obscure abbreviations in its previous models, the majority of options are clearly spelled out on the K-x and easy to understand. Even the Custom Functions menu, which comprises 22 options for noise reduction, focusing and exposure among others, has each function explained by a clear sentence. This is matched by a friendly ‘info’ screen, which rounds up 15 current functions and allows you to quickly access and change them as required.
The camera handles perfectly well, though the menu pad buttons are a little small and lack much travel. Also, while I’ve no reason to believe that the camera would fall apart in the hands of anyone who knew what they were doing, the slight creaking of the body when subjected to a firm grip suggests its build quality isn’t quite up to the standard of similar models, such as the Nikon D5000. This is a minor point, but perhaps one to bear in mind if you anticipate it facing a few knocks and scrapes.
Pentax K-x review – Value for Money
Considering that the K-x impresses with both its hardware and firmware, the current street price of £600 with its kit lens seems reasonable. Those using video, or even live view, may prefer the vari-angle LCD of Nikon’s D5000, or the higher-resolution LCD of Canon’s 500D; as these models have already been on the market for a while, they are also both a little cheaper than the K-x.
The Portrait mode is sympathetic to skin tones, with accurate tone. 1/100sec @ f/2.8, Pentax smc 100mm Macro f/2.8, ISO 400, Evaluative metering, AWB
Pentax K-x review – Performance
If you’ve no previous experience of using a Pentax DSLR, it’s unlikely that you’d find the K-x‘s controls and functions difficult to navigate. The only issue which may disappoint some is the lack of illumination over the camera’s 11 focusing points. Although you have a number of options for setting the focusing pattern, the camera will only beep at you when it considers focus has been achieved, with no visual indication of exactly where it has found it.
Of course, as long as your dipotre correction is set to the appropriate level and you can see through the viewfinder clearly this isn’t necessarily insurmountable, but it’s something many will nevertheless find inconvenient. Otherwise, focusing itself is impressively quick. The camera didn’t seem to struggle in any particular area, although some of the lenses I used during this test, such as the smc 18-55mm DA-L kit lens and smc 100mm f/2.8 D FA macro lens, are a little on the noisy side when attempting to find focus.
I enjoyed using the range of digital filters, particularly the Toy Camera and Soft Focus effects. As with a few of Olympus’s Art Filters, some can take a few seconds to apply, meaning continuous shooting is out of the question. What’s particularly helpful, however, is the ability to view an effect over an existing picture, meaning you can quickly zoom through the options to find the most appropriate before taking the shot. Equally as convenient is the memory function that can be used to ensure certain functions remain on a particular setting every time the camera is turned off and on again. So, if you want the camera to make sure it always uses the same drive mode and white balance, but not sensitivity, you can customise it this way.
The LCD screen is perhaps a little underwhelming, being 2.7in in size with a resolution of 230,000 dots, though I wouldn’t necessarily expect a high-resolution screen on this sort of camera. Even so, Canon’s 500D has already delivered it at this price point and hopefully Pentax (and everyone else) will shortly follow suit. The viewfinder, meanwhile, is clear and ample in size, with key exposure information lining its base.
Images take a little while to display on the LCD screen after they have been shot, which can be a little inconvenient if shooting a number of images in a row that require you to check and adjust any settings in between. Unfortunately, this seemed to be the case regardless of the memory card‘s speed.
The K-x offers a range of Digital Filters, such as the Soft filter which gives images a hazy glow. 1/200sec @ f/8, Pentax smc 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL II, ISO 200, Evaluative metering, AWB, Soft Filter
Pentax K-x review – Image Quality
Pentax K-x – Tone & Exposure
Pentax models have something of a reputation for slight underexposure, and that trait shows on the K-x in certain situations. Typically this will be when faced with highlight detail in a scene, though setting the camera to one of the Shadow Correction settings does a good job to counter this, lifting darker areas while keeping them detailed and free from noise.
Pentax K-x – White Balance & Colour
verall, the various colour settings are sympathetic with the intended subjects, with images straight from the camera displaying a pleasing neutrality. The default colour setting is Bright, which produces lovely colour without being too vibrant. Likewise the Vibrant mode does well to lift the greens of foliage, without oversaturating skin tones should any people also be
in the shot.
Pentax K-x – Image Noise
There’s a slight texture in images typically from around ISO 400, though I was pleased to see images at ISO 1600 with just a little noise. Noise itself is finely textured and not too destructive. At ISO 3200 and above, images are quite soft as the camera attempts to smooth out noise.
Pentax K-x – RAW/JPEG
JPEG images show slightly less chroma noise than RAW files, though sharpness doesn’t seem to suffer because of this. Chromatic aberrations are also effectively removed from JPEGs, and there’s also a slight but noticeable boost in terms of exposure and vibrancy in comparison with Raw images.
Chromatic aberrations are well controlled in the cameras JPEGs, while exposure and vibrancy also receive a boost over unprocessed Raw files. 1/800sec @ f/4, Pentax smc 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL II, ISO 200, Evaluative metering, AWB
The Pentax K-x manages to offer plenty of functionality in a small package, and produces images of a high standard. As a beginner’s camera it provides plenty to explore, while equally it wouldn’t be out of place as backup to a more expensive model, given its portability. The lack of AF-point illumination and the low-resolution LCD screen may put some off, but for such foibles it makes up in other areas such as the impressive focusing system. It might not be for everyone, but as a contender to Canon and Nikon’s alternatives it puts up a mighty good fight.