Will Pentax's K-7 K.O. midrange dSLRs?

The company's new midrange dSLR adds video support speed, and the ability to withstand temperatures down to 14 degrees.

Pentax

Pentaxians on the Web have been abuzz for months about the K-7, Pentax's new midrange dSLR that replaces the now sub-$1,000 K20D. Though it shares a lot in common with its predecessor, there are some notable enhancements that might have Pentax photographers willing to step up, including significantly faster performance and video support, plus some attractive features for the brand-agnostic midrange buyer.

Some basic comparison specs:

 Pentax K20DPentax K-7Canon EOS 50DOlympus E-30
Sensor (effective resolution)14.6-megapixel CMOS14.6-megapixel CMOS15.1-megapixel CMOS12.3-megapixel Live MOS
Color depth12 bits12 bits14 bits12 bits
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 1,600/12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 3,200
Focal-length multiplier1.5x1.5x1.6x2x
Continuous shooting3.0 fps
38 JPEG/16 raw (DNG)
5.2 fps
40 JPEG/15 raw (PEF)
6.3 fps
90 JPEG/16 raw
5 fps
n/a JPEG/12 raw
Viewfinder95% coverage
0.95x magnification
Interchangeable focusing screens
100% coverage
0.92x magnification
Interchangeable focusing screens
95% coverage
0.95x magnification
Interchangeable focusing screen
98% coverage
1.02x magnification
Interchangeable focusing screens
Autofocus11-pt AF
9 cross-type
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
9-pt AF
all cross-type
11-pt AF
all cross-type
Metering16 segment77 segment35 segment49 segment
LCD size2.7-inch fixed3-inch fixed3-inch fixed 2.7-inch articulated
Live ViewYesYesYesYes
VideoNoYesNoNo
Price (body only)$799$1,299.95$1,199$1,199

Though it's the same resolution as the K20D with the same pixel pitch, Pentax says it uses a new sensor with better noise characteristics, as well as an improved 77-segment metering system. It also uses a newer version of the company's PRIME image processor with 4-channel output and 2-channel RAM for theoretically faster performance and better bandwidth, as shown by the jump in continuous-shooting frame rate without sacrificing frames. It also incorporates a new viewfinder with better coverage--the best coverage in its class.

Plus, it's the first Pentax to introduce video capture. While it supports the standard 720p (1280x720 at 30fps), it also supplies a nonstandard photo-aspect ratio of 1536x1024 at 30fps. It's all done using the highly inefficient Motion JPEG codec, though, and I'm interested in seeing how video software reacts to the nonstandard size files.

Like the K20D, the K-7 sports a dust- and weather-resistant body; Pentax adds cold resistance to the mix, for shooting in temperatures as low as 14 degrees F (most cameras are only specced down to 32 degrees). This pairs up with the new weather-resistant lenses Pentax announced Wednesday as well. The magnesium alloy body is also 7 percent smaller than that of its predecessor.

Other notable enhancements include an in-camera HDR mode (brackets three photos and combines them into a single image) and a Live View framing correction function (it uses the sensor-shift image stabilization system to slightly shift the scene coverage).

Parity features include contrast AF in Live View mode, in-camera correction for lens distortion and lateral chromatic aberration, z-axis rotational compensation for the shake reduction system, and supersonic vibration dust reduction on the low-pass filter. Pentax also includes a high-capacity battery, and the new GB-4 battery grip doubles the battery life via six AA batteries.

Though it's probably a bit slower than the 50D for burst shooting and the high ISO sensitivity photo quality is a comparative question mark, the rugged body, video support, better viewfinder and higher-powered AF and metering systems may make this a compelling alternative. However, with significantly cheaper competitors available--albeit not as rugged or fast--like the Nikon D90 and D5000, it will be interesting to see how willing the brand-uncommitted are to fork over the extra cash for those capabilities.

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