Is Pentax on to a winner with its first K mount DSLR featuring a shake-reduction system?....
The K100D features a Pentax K-mount, though now with Auto Focus, and will accept all lenses in the mount, as well as other Pentax optics, such as the 645 lenses, if used with an adaptor.
The most striking thing about the K100D is the camera’s shake-reduction system. This was the first Pentax to feature it, followed by the K10D. Like Minolta and Sony cameras, the K100D uses a moving CCD to reduce camera shake. In this case, the CCD is floating in air, positioned between a pair of electromagnets. Like the Japanese bullet train, this allows fast movements to be made because the gyros in the camera detect the direction of the movement and change the position of the sensor in the opposite direction.
As an entry-level model, the K100D doesn’t have the new dust-reduction system of the K10D, which shakes dust free at start-up. The shake reduction is also what separates this camera from the other new model, the K110D, which has a fixed sensor.
Pentax has improved its autofocus system, by using a new module, the SAFOX III, with 11 individually selectable points, which can also be tied in to the metering. Pentax DSLRs have always offered plenty of metering and exposure options and the K100D continues this. For the novice the camera has an Auto Picture mode. This feature is similar to Auto mode on other cameras, and then some. It will also automatically select a scene mode by recognising the type of subject. It picks from Portrait, Landscape, Sport and Macro modes. You can choose these scene settings individually on the mode dial, along with Night Portrait. A further eight scene modes are available via the SCN position on the dial. This allows you to access, via the Function button and LCD monitor, scenes such as Snow, Fireworks, Museum and so on.
More advanced modes are available for the more knowledgeable, including a Program mode, as well as Shutter priority AE, Aperture priority AE and Manual. A Bulb setting also allows long exposure.
Metering options are fairly standard, with centreweighted and spot metering alongside the Multi-segment favourite. There’s also ±2EV exposure compensation and auto-exposure bracketing should you feel a little unsure, or need a safeguard. There’s also a reasonably fast drive speed of 2.8fps in continuous drive mode.
On top of all that, the camera offers sensitivity from ISO 200-3200. Pentax claims that this is the highest top speed in its class, though the actual levels are the same as several other cameras – then again, the Pentax starts at a higher sensitivity to begin with. The K100D also features a selectable Noise Reduction function within the menu.
Some of the other key specifications of the camera include a bright 2.5inch LCD, with 210,000 pixels for sharpness, and up to 12x magnification for checking detail and sharpness. The LCD can also be viewed at up to 140° viewing angles horizontally and vertically. For composition the camera viewfinder has 0.85x magnification and offers 96% viewing.
No less than 19 custom functions allow personalisation. For example, you have the option of switching AF start to the OK button instead of the shutter release button. This allows you to use manual focus, while giving an AF option should you need it. There are many other similar customisation options – well, 18 more.
The camera uses SD for storage, with the option to set up day-to-day folders, for easier browsing or picture organisation, and images can be stored as JPEG or RAW but not, alas, as both. The images can be quickly downloaded via USB 2.0, and of course the K100D is PictBridge-enabled for optimised direct printing with compatible printers.
If you want to use your PC less, the Pentax K100D comes complete with digital filter effects including black & white, sepia, colour, soft focus, slimming and brightness. The last four can be adjusted using the rear command dial, and a new image is saved, leaving the original unchanged.
Finally the camera is supplied with Pentax Photo Browser 3.0, incorporating Ichikawa Soft Laboratory’s SilkyPix engine for RAW conversion.
Previous *ist owners will instantly feel comfortable with the camera, as it follows the form and design of other recent Pentax DSLRs very closely. Unlike the recent *ists though, this model is black only
The body is small – one of Pentax’s USPs is the size of its cameras – but feels robust and there’s plenty of purchase around the grip for long-fingered hands. The strength comes from a new stainless steel chassis surrounded by a fibre-reinforced engineering plastic housing, which Pentax claims provides rigidity and durability
Despite weighing just 560g, the camera does have a feel of toughness and quality. The port covers and battery compartment flap are secure and tough, too.
For this model, Pentax is sticking to normal batteries, as the camera takes 4xAA or 2 CR-V3 lithium cells.
The overall camera layout follows previous models, with a rear command dial for changing aperture and shutter, as well as other functions, and a limited number of buttons on the outside. Common functions can be found in a quick-access menu, via the function button and four-way controller. From here you can change white balance, ISO, drive modes and flash functions.
Several other functions need to be changed in the menu, which we found time-consuming and we’d like to have quicker access to metering patterns and AF point selection modes.
As this is an entry-level model, Pentax could add a help menu, as Nikon does, to help people along. For example, the Image Tone option offers two tones: Vivid and Natural. However, it uses a graphic to badly illustrate this, which doesn’t tell you anything. Other manufacturers manage to fit more into smaller screens; why can’t Pentax?
Other features fare better. The buttons are easily reached when you use the camera and, in AF-point selection mode, the four-way controller fairly easily allows the AF-point selection, which is nice.
The first thing to point out is the camera’s robustness. The camera survived a drop of about three feet to a concrete floor quite easily. This isn’t a standard procedure of WDC’s tests obviously, but accidents happen.
The AF is much improved over the *ist series. It’s more responsive and locks onto the subject quickly. Similarly, the shake reduction works quite well, but the Sony system probably has the edge at present. The K100D starts quickly, being ready to shoot in a second or so. In high speed mode though, the camera only manages a few seconds at full burst before slowing down to 1fps, which is disappointing, especially when the competition (such as the D70s or Canon 350D) do so much better. Pentax needs to improve the processing speed and up the buffer to fix this.
Overall, the K100D seems to have a tendency to underexpose. This can be seen on the histogram on the camera, as well as when images are checked in levels. Depending on the subject, this can be anything from ½ stop to two stops, using Pattern Metering. I’d expect this to a degree with any camera, which is why we need exposure compensation and brains (to recognise when you need to use it). However, the camera does fail consistently, even on average subjects.
Once the images are corrected in levels, though, they look nice: displaying good sharpness and contrast, and plenty of detail. Noise is well controlled within the real world images too, and even ISO 3200 produces the goods.
This is all reflected in the lab results too, with most of the colour noise staying within acceptable limits. There are only occasional spikes in shadow areas, but little to cause serious concern.
Colour noise stays close to luminance noise levels, which is good. White balance and saturation are pretty nifty too. There’s a slight rise in the saturation towards warmth – that is, the reds and yellows are more saturated than natural. White balance, too, shows an increase in colour temperature of between 20 and 30 degrees K across the measurements. This is pretty close to natural and a good overall performance.
Value For Money
At launch, the price was a little high, but deals are to be had. Shortly after launch, I found the camera available for £480 and this price is more competitive, especially considering that other cameras – such as the 10MP Sony Alpha 100 – are around £599. Nevertheless, there are flaws with this camera, notably the tendency to under-exposure, so unless you’re a Pentax user already, then I’d compare it against other cameras.
There’s a lot to recommend the Pentax. I like the camera’s design, if not the menu, and it can produce the goods if you treat it with care. Certainly image quality is potentially excellent, but there is an issue with the camera’s metering system.
If you’re a keen Pentax user then the camera doesn’t offer that much more over previous models, other than the stabilisation, which may be a big saleable point. However, for upgraders, the forthcoming Pentax K10D is bound to be a more attractive option.