Pentax launches K-r to take on the Canon T2i

Pentax follows up its value standout K-x dSLR with a modestly enhanced step-up model, the K-r.

Pentax K-r
Pentax USA

Pentax K-r
Pentax USA

The Pentax K-x was in many ways a breakout product for the company; it delivered exceptionally fast performance, low-noise images, and a robust feature set in a rainbow of colors, all for such a low price that it couldn't help but make waves in a market heretofore locked up by Canon and Nikon. In some ways it's easy to beat them, since they don't release new models at the bottom of the food chain--they just tend to let older models sink in price.

So what's an underdog to do for an encore in the murky step-up market? There you have to compete with Canon and Nikon's current-generation products, plus you have to offer obvious advantages over your cheaper product, but without incurring significant cost increases. Pentax seems to play it safe with its new K-r, basically preserving what's good about the K-x with just enough improvements to attract the more price-elastic buyer.

Pentax K-r
Pentax USA

That amounts to using the same body and sensor, but incorporating an enhanced version of its autofocus system, a larger and higher-resolution LCD, and support for a dual lithium ion/AA battery design. In addition, Pentax has updated the viewfinder to display the focus points (yay), implemented the now-popular multishot Night Scene HDR mode, bumped the maximum shutter speed to 1/6,000 second, and will provide SDXC support via a firmware update later in the year. And, naturally, it still comes in colors, albeit a smaller selection of black; black and white; and red and black.

But the real key will be how the K-r stacks up against the competition. Here's how it fares compared with some current models:

  Canon EOS T2i Nikon D5000 Pentax K-r Pentax K-x
Sensor (effective resolution) 18-megapixel CMOS 12.3-megapixel CMOS 12.4-megapixel CMOS 12.4-megapixel CMOS
22.3mm x 14.9mm 23.6mm x 15.8mm 23.6mm x 15.8mm 23.6mm x 15.8mm
Color depth 14 bit 12 bit 12 bit 12 bit
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6,400/25,600 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6,400/12,800 (expanded)
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Continuous shooting 3.7fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
7 raw/25 JPEG (medium/fine)
n/a raw/25 JPEG
5 raw/17 JPEG
magnification/effective magnification
95% coverage
95% coverage
96% coverage
96% coverage
Autofocus 9-pt AF
center cross-type
11-pt AF
center cross-type
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
Shutter speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/6,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/6,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync
Metering 63 zone 420-pixel 3D color matrix 16 segment 16 segment
Image stabilization Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift
Live view Yes Yes Yes Yes
Video 1080/30p/25p/24p; 720/60p/50p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
720/24p Motion JPEG AVI
720/25p Motion JPEG AVI
(I think this should also be 24p, but Pentax would only confirm 25p)
720/24p Motion JPEG AVI
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes No n/a Aperture
Mic input Yes No No No
LCD size 3 inches fixed
1.04 million dots
2.7 inches articulated
230,000 dots
3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
2.7 inches fixed
230,000 dots
Wireless flash No No Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 550 shots 510 shots 560 shots (NiMH batteries) 1,100 shots (lithium batteries)
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0 5.0 x 4.1 x 3.1 4.8 x 3.6 x 2.7 4.8 x 3.6 x 2.7
Body operating weight (ounces) 18.6 21.6 20.4 20.4
Mfr. price $799.99 (body only, est.) $629.95 (body only) $799.95 (body only) $599 (body only, est.)
$899.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $700 (with 18-55mm lens, est.) $849.95 (with 18-55mm lens) $649.95 (with 18-55mm lens)
    $899.95 (with 18-55mm and 50-200mm lenses)  
    $999.95 (with 18-55mm and 50-300mm lenses)  
Ship date February 2010 April 2009 October 2010 October 2009

It's worth noting that there aren't a lot of competitors at the same price; most, like the Nikon D5000, are at least $100 less. Sony's line is in a bit of a muddle; the A550 is roughly in the same ballpark, but its successor the A560 was announced, then disappeared. Compared with the T2i, the K-r faces Canon's superior video capture capabilities, but the K-r also has potentially better burst performance, if the improved autofocus system can keep up. But it will likely take more than that to dislodge the incumbent T2i. Complicating matters, it also faces competition from smaller ILC models, including the Sony Alpha SLT-A55, a quite competent burst shooter.


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