It's best in class on a number of specification fronts, but does this entry-level DSLR deserve its 'Super' moniker?...
When we reviewed the almost identical predecessor the K100D a year ago we commented on its small size, but in the wake of new models from rivals it’s now the biggest and heaviest of the entry-level DSLRS, thanks in part to its stainless steel chassis. This isn’t a criticism – you couldn’t call it a ‘big’ camera, and I find it a good fit in my hands, but this illustrates the trend among most manufacturers for increasingly compact entry-level DSLRs (perhaps to address the rapidly growing female DSLR user-base).
Pentax has chosen to keep the number of external buttons to a minimum. Consequently it doesn’t look intimidating to the novice, though experienced DSLR owners may wonder where some of the major functions are hidden. Chances are they’re behind the Function (‘Fn’) button. Pressing this reveals a compass point interface on the LCD screen directing you to the ISO, White Balance, Drive Mode and Flash Mode controls. On more-advanced cameras some or all of these controls would be individual buttons on the body, for quicker access, so this method effectively adds two button presses to the process of changing these settings. Since these are settings you’ll usually adjust at the beginning of a shoot and then leave alone, this is unlikely to be an issue for most buyers, and at least they aren’t buried in the menu, like the metering mode selector, focus point selector and auto bracket functions.
The menu itself is ugly but generally self-explanatory. I say generally, because there are a few strange entries that seem to have been added by a phone-texting teenager. For example, under ‘Swtch dst msr pt’ you’ll find the option to select just the central focus point. You soon get used to what these headings mean but to me this is poor interface design. I’m surprised Pentax didn’t revisit it before launching the Super, because it was also universally criticised on the K100D.
The top-mounted data LCD panel displays the basic shooting info (aperture, shutter speed, battery status, frame counter, flash/drive modes). More detailed data (ISO, file format, quality setting, metering/focusing modes etc) is displayed on the rear colour screen when you press the Info button. (In playback mode this button scrolls between data, histogram and highlight warning displays.) Changing the shooting settings, such as aperture or shutter speed, is achieved via the command dial on the back of the camera, while in manual mode you have to press and hold the exposure compensation button to change the aperture. Settings can be made in one-third or halfstop increments (selectable in the custom menu). Sadly the top-plate LCD lacks a backlight, making it hard to see in low light. Conversely, the viewfinder display is quite difficult to view in bright light.
There’s no traditional Depth of Field preview button on the K100D Super, and this would be a major black mark were it not for the fact that it has something arguably better. The preview feature (shown as an aperture ring icon on the collar around the shutter release) takes a picture and displays it on the LCD screen but doesn’t save it. This enables you to check the depth of field on screen before taking a picture to see how your shot will look. While a bit slower in operation it’s arguably more user-friendly than a traditional DoF button, where you have to scrutinise a darkened viewfinder to see if your relevant parts are in focus, and quicker than taking an actual picture and then deleting it.