The Pentax K-30 is the latest addition in the company's DSLR range. With stiff competition in the mid-range DSLR market, does it do enough to stand out from the crowd? We find out in our Pentax K-30 review.
A few examples of the features we’ve seen filter down to mid-price models from more advanced DSLR’s in recent years include HD video, Vari-angle displays, and support for attaching an external microphone to enhance audio recording.
Pentax is no exception to the idea of introducing higher-spec features within its lower-spec models. For their latest mid-price DSLR, the Pentax K-30, they’ve turned to the K-5 for inspiration. Interestingly, the Pentax K-30 adopts weather sealing and the intension of this is to target a wider audience that desire a camera which can shoot in any weather condition. This, combined with innards from the K-01 and K5 creates a DSLR that has plenty of potential on paper.
Pentax K30 Review – Features
Earlier we mentioned the Pentax K-30 shares similar internals to that of Pentax’s K-01. The APS-C CMOS sensor as found within Pentax K-30 has been lifted from the K-01, which was previously pinched out of the Pentax K5.
While the design of the Pentax K-01 may have caused controversy, we applauded the way the CMOS sensor retained minute, hairline detail when we reviewed it earlier this year so there’s no reason to suggest the Pentax K-30 should perform any differently. The same can be said for ISO response and with an ISO range of 100-12800 (expandable to 25,600) we’re expecting comparable results.
Rather than adopting the Prime II image processing engine as used within the K-5, the Pentax K-30 uses a Prime M image processing engine that has been optimized for HD video capture, smooth live view, low chromatic noise and low energy consumption. Pentax has always been known for producing fast performing DSLR’s and the Pentax K-30 is no exception.
It can’t quite match the K-5’s impressive 7fps continuous burst rate, but the Pentax K-30 remains a strong candidate for shooting high-speed sequences with the ability of rattling out a burst at 6fps. This makes it faster than two of its closest rivals – Nikon’s D3200 (4fps) and the Canon 650D (5fps) and puts it in the same speed league as many semi-pro DSLR’s such as Canon’s EOS 5D Mark III.
The SAFOX IXi+ autofocus system the Pentax K-30 uses is also a new development. It now features improved optical components, including a diffraction lens that’s intended to improve AF responsiveness in low light situations.
As for the arrangement of AF targets, nothing has changed over the K5. It features Pentax’s tried and tested 11-point (nine cross type) array and as well as AF.A (auto), AF.S (single), AF.C (continuous) and Manual, there’s a bright green AF assist lamp to aid focusing in dark conditions.
Advancing on previous entry-level Pentax models such as the K-x and K-r, which are still available to buy but are no longer in production, the Pentax K-30 features a pentaprism viewfinder that offers a 100% optical field of view for the most accurate framing you can get. Directly beneath this lies a fixed 3in LCD screen that boasts a 921k-dot resolution. Much like the sensor this is the same as the type found on the K-01.
The issue of dust adhering to the surface of the sensor has always remained a threat for photographers who frequently swap lenses. To prevent the issue Pentax has fitted the Pentax K-30 with a shake/dust reduction system. Unlike some cameras that run their dust systems at the time the camera is shut down, the Pentax K30 runs it as the camera is switched on. This is the default setting and as we found there’s the option to change this from within the menu system or switch it off altogether if you so wish.
As for video, the Pentax K-30 provides full 1080p HD movie capture at 30, 25 and 24 frames per second. Unfortunately the Pentax K-30 doesn’t feature a 3.5mm mic port built into the body for attaching an external microphone, but you will find five settings to take independent control of audio levels from inside the movie menu.
Powered by a rechargeable D-BH109 Li-ion battery that is claimed to be good for approximately 480 frames, Pentax has continued with their tradition of making an AA battery holder so that it can be powered by AA batteries when required.
The only real disadvantage of this is that it takes up quite a lot of room where a larger Li-ion battery could be inserted, however it does give you the option of using AA’s if you run out of rechargeable battery power or when you’re working in remote areas where there’s no access to mains power.
Pentax K30 Review – Design
To make the K-30 stand out from the crowd, Pentax has strayed away from a smooth, curved design and has produced a DSLR with a much more distinctive, angular shape.
Not only does it appear visually different, the K-30 adopts similar weather sealing to that found on the K5. In total there are 81 weather seals to prevent dust, dirt and moisture creeping past and reaching the internals. Though it’s not intended to be completely waterproof and won’t survive a submerging in water; it can withstand splashes of water and droplets of heavy rain should you be caught out in a typical British shower. Adding to this, the weather seals are made to endure dust and sand that could prove problematic in hotter climates, and for those who want to use their DSLR in colder environments, the K-30 will continue to operate in snowy conditions where temperatures can fall as low as -10 degrees.
Eager to test the weather seals we emptied the contents of a large bottle of water over the K-30. Once dry we then went one step further and put it in the freezer with the thermostat set to -10 degrees. Neither of these tests proved to be a problem for the K-30 and after switching it back on we were impressed by the way it continued to perform just as well as it did out of the box.
It should be pointed out that the K-30 is one of a kind – it’s the only current mid-price DSLR on the market to feature weather sealing. It’s a feature we’re more accustomed to seeing on more expensive, semi-pro models so it’s certainly a welcomed addition to this type of camera. Whether any other companies jump on board with the idea of taking weather sealing from their more advanced models and introducing it into lower spec models remains to be seen. Who knows this could become the next trend just like HD video and Vari-angle screens were.
In the hand the K-30 feels solid, robust and highly durable. This is in part thanks to its stainless steel chassis, which is different to the K-5’s magnesium alloy chassis. The deep grip gives you plenty to wrap your fingers around and your index finger is left to rest comfortably on the shutter button. The only qualm we have about the shutter button is the lack or feel. Where on most other DSLR’s you know where you are when you half depress the shutter, the K-30’s shutter button feels slightly less positive and unrefined. At the rear, there’s a large resting area for your thumb and just to the left of this is a command dial to adjust aperture. Unlike some cheaper DSLR’s, the K-30 provides two separate command dials for controlling aperture and shutter speed independently. All of the buttons except the Live View button are in easy each of the right thumb, or index finger, making it a relatively easy camera to operate single handedly when your left hand is preoccupied.
As for the internal menu system there’s no great changes so existing Pentax users will be able to familiarize themselves with the K-30 very quickly. The only aspect that’s changed slightly is the status screen where Shutter Speed and Aperture values as well as a host of other variables are displayed. This is more colourful than before and behind the shutter and aperture settings is a subtle green to blue gradient. ISO and exposure compensation both have a darker blue backgrounds, with all numbers appearing in bright white. To access the K-30’s electronic level function you’re required to double tap the info button from the heads up menu screen.
On the side of the body beneath the pop up flash button is a RAW/Fx button that’s designed to save you a few seconds searching through the menu system to switch the file format from RAW to JPEG and vice versa. Beneath this is a focus lever to control the focusing modes. Perfectly positioned at the lower front corner of the body, it’s easily operated with the thumb when your left hand is being used to support the lens. In the furthest up most position the focusing mode is set to AF.S and one click down from this is the K30’s continuous focusing mode that’s labeled C on the body.
Testing both the single and continuous focusing modes in bright daylight conditions between near and far subjects at the maximum focal length on the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL WR lens revealed a snappy AF performance. The camera manages to lock onto subjects with little fuss or hesitation but what is noticeable is a high frequency whir as the lens operates. This isn’t obvious when you’re focusing on subjects that lie at the same distance from one another, but if say for example you focus on something very close to you and then want to focus on a subject in the distance, the noise of the AF can clearly be heard.
If you’re wondering if this rather noisy AF operation will ruin audio when recording HD video, it won’t. The K30 relies on manual focus only when creating movies and the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL WR lens that we used for a majority of our testing purposes offered a pleasingly quiet and smooth motion throughout its range. Reviewing AF performance in fading lighting conditions is always a good solid test for any camera. The good news is that the K30 performs admirably in low light and just like in bright lighting conditions it locked on swiftly, offering a reassuring beep to confirm correct focus. For those hard of hearing there’s the option to increase AF beep volume from within the sound effects menu or you can switch it off altogether when you’d like to work as discreetly as possible. The only area in which the K30 lets itself down when it comes to focusing is in Live View mode. With the mirror swung out of the way to provide a constant feed to the screen, the K-30 relies on a contrast detect system that is fairly sluggish. It’s a long way from being as fast as compact system cameras such as Panasonic’s G5 which can focus within 0.09sec and is appropriately better known as Light Speed AF. On numerous occasions the K30 struggled to lock focus first time in Live View mode and the hunting of the lens back and forth did become somewhat frustrating over time, especially when we know the technology is out there.
Loaded with a SanDisk Extreme Pro 8GB SDHC card we performed a series of speed tests to find out just how quickly a 6 frame per second burst can be recorded. Set to RAW, the K30 is capable of shooting and recording 8 frames before it requires a brief respite for the buffer to clear. With the format switched over to RAW+JPEG it rattled out 7 frames. As for shooting JPEG’s, a total of 47 frames were taken at 6fps before the K30 showed signs of slowing down. In all, it’s a respectable performance by the K30 but as we found out in our testing, a faster Live View AF performance would be gratefully received in a future edition.
Pentax K30 Review – Image Quality
Tone & Exposure
In the past Pentax D-SLR’s have been known to underexpose a touch, however we experienced no such concerns in our tests. Even in tricky situations where the lighting was harsh and the colours were vibrant, the K30 handled situations well. Loading a large selection of RAW files into Photoshop revealed histograms that shared a uniform shape and it was only when we turned the highlight and shadow clipping warnings on that we realised shadows were clipped ever so slightly. In areas where there were extremely bright highlights, the 77-segmented metering system delivered excellent results and retained superb detail, leaving little, if any work to be carried out with the recovery slider in Camera RAW.
RAW vs JPEG
As can be expected, there is a difference between the compressed and uncompressed files the K30 produces. Viewing our selection of shots in Adobe Bridge revealed JPEG’s are far richer than RAW’s in terms of saturation. Red, green and blue tones appear deeper and as an image the RAW file offers a better representation of the scene as it appeared to the eye. JPEG’s also receive a strong level of sharpening which is made more noticeable when images are viewed up against their RAW counterparts.
Pentax K30 RAW example.
Pentax K30 JPEG example.
ISO sensitivity & noise
When we previously tested the K-01 we were extremely impressed by the way the sensor handled noise at its high sensitivity settings. The level of detail the sensor resolved up to ISO 3200 was exceptional and only began to fall away at ISO 6400. In regard to the K30, the ISO performance is nigh on identical, which is no great surprise considering the fact that it features an identical sensor. Ultra fine detail is controlled exceptionally well up to ISO 3200 and it’s only when you push beyond this point that some of the finer details in an image become less distinct. Noise is evident at ISO 6400 and the two highest settings – ISO 12,800 and 25,600 should be avoided as the results at these sensitivities contain strong signs of colour noise.
To view images taken through the K30’s ISO range click here.
Sharpness & detail
As far as sharpness and detail goes you can’t fault the K-30. The 16.3Mp chip that Pentax has made clear is produced by Sony delivers outstanding levels of sharpness. Images are bursting with detail and to view the test images for yourself, make sure you check out our image sample gallery by clicking here.
Pentax K30 Review – Value
The K30 is available in a variety of different bundles, including a body only version that’ll set you back £599. This puts it in the same price league as the Panasonic Lumix G5 and works out at roughly £100 less than Canon’s recently launched EOS 650D. Other rivalry includes Nikon’s D3200 and Sony’s A57, both of which are cheaper alternatives to the K30, costing £489 and £519 respectively in body only form. Bundled with the standard 18-55mm DA L kit lens, the K30 can be picked up for £649. It’s worth noting however that this lens is not designed to be weather resistant so if you’d like to take full advantage of the K30’s weather resistant capabilities you’ll want to choose it with the 18-55mm DA WR lens that is water-resistant, cold-proof and dustproof.
The cost difference between the non-WR and WR lens is £30, which brings the price of the K30 with the 18-55mm DA WR lens up to £679. This does place it at the expensive end of the mid-range DSLR scale, especially when you consider the K5 (Pentax’s current semi-pro model) can be picked up for £693 (body only) or £729 with the 18-55mm WR lens. It doesn’t feel like you’re getting any less on the K30 than on the K5, making it a viable alternative for those who’ve might have thought about purchasing a K5 but have previously been put off by price. With so many crossovers between the K30 and K5 it also suggests that a K5 replacement could well be on the way, possibly at Photokina 2012. If you’d prefer a more versatile focal length than a 18-55mm standard zoom, Pentax has also bundled the K30 with the 18-135mm WR lens. This bundle costs £929 and gives you a focal length that’s equivalent to 27-202mm.
A new Pentax release wouldn’t be complete without a selection of different coloured models being offered. The K30 is available in black white and blue. Prior to this review going live Pentax sent us sample of the blue version as we were curious to find out what it would look like in the flesh. We were very impressed by it and thought the cool colour reflects the cameras water resistant capabilities.
Pentax K30 Review – Verdict
For a mid-price DSLR, the K30 certainly offers a lot. The sensor has been adopted from previous models, but this is a wise move by Pentax as the 16.3Mp CMOS chip certainly delivers impressive results.
The AF system is starting to show its age a little. Though it’s fast at locking onto subjects when you’re composing through the viewfinder, the contrast detect system proved to be a bit sluggish in Live View mode. You do end up having to wait a few seconds at times before it acquires correct focus and this is particularly irritating when we know there are much faster contrast detect AF systems currently being offered by other manufacturers. Add to this the lack of continuous focusing in video mode and there are areas for improvement.
Where the K30 really excels is in its build and handling. The rugged design is backed up by a multitude of weather seals to keep it protected. Offering such a high-end feature within a mid-price model is very commendable. We adore the feel of the K30 in the hand too. It feels solid and should survive a knock here and there. Add to this the 6fps burst rate and K30 is a very well equipped DSLR. It does stand out in the mid-range market and though it’s currently expensive we expect its price to fall over coming months. For anyone looking to advance from a compact, the K30 makes a sensible choice. Best of all it will produce great images and give you all the DSLR control you need to progress your ability to the next level.