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 T2iNikon D5000 Pentax K-r Pentax K-x
Sensor (effective resolution)18-megapixel CMOS12.3-megapixel CMOS12.4-megapixel CMOS12.4-megapixel CMOS
22.3mm x 14.9mm23.6mm x 15.8mm23.6mm x 15.8mm23.6mm x 15.8mm
Color depth14 bit12 bit12 bit12 bit
Sensitivity rangeISO 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 multiplier1.6x1.5x1.5x1.5x
Continuous shooting3.7fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
4fps
7 raw/25 JPEG (medium/fine)
6fps
n/a raw/25 JPEG
4.7fps
5 raw/17 JPEG
Viewfinder
magnification/effective magnification
95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
95% coverage
0.78x/0.52x
96% coverage
0.85x/0.57x
96% coverage
0.85x/0.57x
Autofocus9-pt AF
center cross-type
11-pt AF
center cross-type
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX IX)
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX VIII)
Shutter speed1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync1/6,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync1/6,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync
Metering63 zone420-pixel 3D color matrix16 segment16 segment
Image stabilizationOpticalOpticalSensor shiftSensor shift
Live viewYesYesYesYes
Video1080/30p/25p/24p; 720/60p/50p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
Monaural
720/24p Motion JPEG AVI
Monaural
720/25p Motion JPEG AVI
(I think this should also be 24p, but Pentax would only confirm 25p)
Monaural
720/24p Motion JPEG AVI
Monoaural
Manual aperture and shutter in videoYesNon/aAperture
Mic inputYesNoNoNo
LCD size3 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 flashNoNoYesYes
Battery life (CIPA rating)550 shots510 shots560 shots (NiMH batteries)1,100 shots (lithium batteries)
Dimensions (inches, WHD)5.1 x 3.8 x 3.05.0 x 4.1 x 3.14.8 x 3.6 x 2.74.8 x 3.6 x 2.7
Body operating weight (ounces)18.621.620.420.4
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 dateFebruary 2010April 2009October 2010October 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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