Pentax debuts adventure-ready, $850 dSLR

The K-30 has the promise of speed and great photos, plus it's dust-and-weather sealed and ready for sub-freezing temperatures.

Pentax

I have to admit: the $900 Pentax K-30 dSLR sounds like a pretty promising replacement for the K-r. Rugged on the outside with the potential for the same excellent photo quality as the K-01 mirrorless ILC, claimed faster autofocus performance than the already fast K-5, and a 100 percent coverage viewfinder that you usually only see in more expensive models all add up to a possibly great start to the Pentax-Ricoh era.

Though it's not "durable" in the same sense as bodies like the Nikon D4 or Canon EOS-1D X, with parts designed to withstand heavy photographic abuse, the K-30 offers weather-and-dust resistance, with claims of usability down to 14 degrees (most cameras only guarantee down to 32 degrees); that said, Pentax makes no claims about battery life at those temperatures. The next least-expensive camera making similar claims is the Olympus E-5 at $1,699. And none of them come in Pentax's selection of colors, which include white and blue in addition to standard black. It has a rubber grip for improved security in adverse conditions.

On the inside, the camera has the same sensor and image-processing engine as the K-01, which has great photo quality for a camera under $1,000. According to Pentax, the new autofocus sensor has a better grade of glass on the phase-detection array for improved performance. It offers peaking (edge enhancement) in Live View for easier manual focusing, a camcorder carryover feature that I consider essential in all still cameras today, and retains the Pentax tradition of an interval shooting feature, another capability that I think should be in more cameras. And AA-battery devotees will be pleased to know that you can still buy an optional AA holder; given how poor the rated battery life is with the provided Lithium Ion battery, it looks like it might be imperative.

Here's how it compares to its predecessor and its linemate:

  Pentax K-r Pentax K-30 Pentax K-5
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.4mp CMOS 16.3mp CMOS 16.3mp CMOS
23.6 x 15.8mm 23.7 x 15.7mm 23.7 x 15.7mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (expanded)/ 200 - ISO 6400/25,600 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 12,800/25,600 (expanded) ISO 80 (expanded)/100 - ISO 12,800/51,200 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 6 fps
n/a raw/25 JPEG
6fps
8 raw/30 JPEG
7 fps
n/a raw/22 JPEG
Viewfinder (magnification/ effective magnification) Optical
96% coverage
0.85x/0.57x
Optical
100% coverage
0.92x/0.61x
Optical
100% coverage
0.92x/0.61x
Autofocus 11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX IX)
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX IX+)
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX IX+)
AF sensitivity n/a -1 to 18 EV n/a
Shutter speed 1/6000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/6000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/8000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync
Metering 16 segment 77 segment 77 segment
Metering sensitivity 1 to 21.5 EV 0 to 22 EV 0 to 22 EV
Video 720/25p Motion JPEG AVI
H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p/ 25p/30p; 720/50p/60p 1080/25p; 720/30p/25p Motion JPEG AVI
Audio Mono Mono Mono; mic input
Manual aperture and shutter in video No n/a No
Maximum best-quality recording time 4GB/25 min 4GB/25 minutes 4GB/25 min
Image stabilization Sensor shift Sensor shift Sensor shift
LCD size 3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC/SDHC
(SDXC requires firmware upgrade)
1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC/SDHC
(SDXC requires firmware upgrade)
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 560 shots (NiMH batteries) 480 (Lithium Ion); 1600 (Lithium) 980 shots
(not CIPA spec)
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 4.8 x 3.6 x 2.7 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8 5.2 x 3.8 x 2.9
Body operating weight (ounces) 20.4 (est) 22.9 (est) 26.1 (est)
Mfr. price n/a $849.95 (body only) $1,099.95 (body only)
$749.95 (with 18-55mm lens) $899.95 (with 18-55mm lens) $1,249 (with 18-55mm WR lens)
n/a n/a n/a
Release date October 2010 July 2012 October 2010

Given how much the K-30 encroaches on the K-5's territory, and with its superior video capabilities (though it's not clear whether it has manual exposure in video), I'd say there isn't much reason for the K-5 to exist. Perhaps a replacement is imminent. And it definitely looks like an improvement over the K-r. The one bewildering choice is that it's not shipping in a kit with the water-resistant version of the 18-55mm lens. That would likely bump the price over $999, but it's something buyers should be aware of.

Here's how the K-30 compares to its closest competitors:

  Canon EOS 60D Nikon D5100 Pentax K-30 Sony Alpha SLT-A65V
Sensor (effective resolution) 18mp CMOS 16.2mp CMOS 16.3mp CMOS 24.3mp Exmor HD CMOS
22.3 x 14.9mm 23.6 x 15.6mm 23.7 x 15.7mm 23.5 x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6400/25,600 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 12,800/25,600 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 16,000
Continuous shooting 5.3fps
16 raw/58 JPEG
4 fps
n/a raw/100 JPEG
6fps
8 raw/30 JPEG
8fps (10fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/17 JPEG
Viewfinder (magnification/ effective magnification) 96% coverage
0.95x/0.59x
Optical
95% coverage
0.78x/0.63x
Optical
100% coverage
0.92x/0.61x
Electronic OLED
0.5 inches/2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Autofocus 9-pt AF all cross-type; center cross to f2.8 11-pt AF
center cross-type to f5.6
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX IX+)
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
AF sensitivity 0 to 20 EV -1 to 19 EV -1 to 18 EV -1 to 18 EV
Shutter Speed 1/8000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/6000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 63-zone iFCL 420-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 77 segment 1200 zone
Metering sensitivity 0 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 to 22 EV -2 to 17 EV
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/25p/24p; 720/60p/50p 1080/30p/ 24p; 720/30p/ 25p/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p/ 25p/30p; 720/50p/60p AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Mono; mic input Mono; mic input Mono Stereo; mic input
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes n/a Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 4GB/12 min 20 min 4GB/25 minutes 2GB/29 min
Image stabilization Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift
LCD size 3 inches articulated
1.04 megapixels
3 inches articulated
921,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 1100 shots 660 shots 480 (Lithium Ion); 1600 (Lithium) 510 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 5.7 x 4.1 x 3.1 5.0 x 3.8 x 3.1 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8 5.3 x 3.9 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 27 19.6 22.9 (est) 22 (est)
Mfr. price $999 (body only) $799.95 (body only) $849.95 (body only) $899.99 (body only)
n/a $899.95 (with 18-55mm VR lens) $899.95 (with 18-55mm lens) $999.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
n/a n/a n/a n/a
Release date November 2010 April 2011 July 2012 October 2011

I think the rugged design fills an underserved niche in the sub-$1,000 dSLR market. The 60D is pretty old at this point, but that's the reason its price puts it in the same competitive space -- if/when Canon replaces it, the new model will likely cost around $1,299 based on history. The D5100 is also ready for upgrading, but I don't think Nikon will bring out anything as compelling as this to replace it. The A65, however, offers some real competition. It has better video options and an articulating LCD; the K-30's construction might trump both of those if you're an outdoorsy type, though.

 

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