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Pentax *ist DS2 review:Pentax *ist DS2

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The Good Relatively compact; beginner-friendly mix of manual and automatic features.

The Bad Poor high-ISO photo quality; sluggish autofocus in dim lighting.

The Bottom Line The compact and inexpensive Pentax *ist DS2 performs well and blends automation and manual controls into a beginner-friendly dSLR. For those approaching the dSLR market with a bag of Pentax lenses--or no lenses at all--it's worth considering.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

Review Sections

As Pentax's top player in the tightly competitive field of consumer digital SLRs, the *ist DS2 is essentially a slightly upgraded and repackaged version of the company's successful *ist DS. The DS2's only significant difference from its earlier sibling is a larger color LCD, supersized from 2 inches in diameter to 2.5 inches, the new standard in prosumer digital SLRs.

But smart companies know that major overhauls aren't always necessary. Like the DS, the Pentax *ist DS2 is a relatively light but robust and easy-to-navigate digital SLR, with 6- megapixel resolution, an impressively bright viewfinder, responsive 11-point autofocus, and a wide array of advanced automatic and manual features that should please longtime SLR enthusiasts without befuddling newcomers. The picture quality is generally solid, with minimal noise at typical settings and nearly no chromatic aberration. A minor weakness is the DS2's erratic automatic white balance, but overall, the DS2 is a hearty, well-performing, intuitive, and easy-to-handle camera. For those approaching the dSLR market with a bag of Pentax lenses--or no lenses at all--it's a camera to consider. SLRs of both the film and digital varieties are never truly compact, but the Pentax *ist DS2's design is relatively streamlined, with a width of 4.9 inches, a height of 3.6 inches, and a depth of 2.6 inches (not counting a lens). It weighs just more than 1.5 pounds loaded with two CR-V3 lithium batteries and an SD memory card. It's easy to grip, thanks to a nonslip texture for your right hand to wrap around as well as a contoured thumbrest.

Like all modern SLRs, the DS2 has a fair array of buttons and dials spread around its body; with a little use, it's apparent that they're logically arranged. Many basic setup functions are accessed via an all-encompassing menu button on the left-rear side; more frequently adjusted shooting features, such as ISO, drive mode, color balance, and flash modes, are reached via a function button with a four-way control pad and an OK button. A scene-mode dial atop the camera's left side lets you choose automatic scene settings or aperture-priority, shutter-priority, or manual exposures; a dial on the right-hand side allows for aperture, shutter-speed, and exposure-compensation adjustments.

The camera's top also features a standard electronic flash with a slide-out hotshoe cover, a shutter release with a power switch/depth-of-field preview control, a monochrome status LCD, and a button that you use in conjunction with the back-panel command dial to set exposure compensation. On the camera's front, you'll find the lens mount and a switch to move between auto- and manual focus.

The back panel is dominated by the crisp, 210,000-pixel, 2.5-inch color LCD monitor, which you use to review your shots as well as to choose settings using the menu and function buttons. Besides the menu and function buttons, the back panel also features a flash pop-up button, a play button to switch the camera from shooting mode to review mode, a trash button, and an info button that reveals all of your current settings--if you're in shooting mode--or a particular shot's histogram and other settings (if you're reviewing photos). When you're in review mode, the function button also allows you to apply filters to photos you've already shot, set up printing options, or begin a slide show. The Pentax *ist DS2's shooting options are varied enough to satisfy most experienced photographers and include plenty of automatic features to ease newcomers into the world of dSLRs. The camera offers programmed automatic, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, manual, and bulb modes; basic scene modes for Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, and Night portraits; a Normal mode, akin to fully automatic, with a no-flash option; as well as an AutoPict setting that analyzes your composition and automatically selects from the available scene programs.

The autofocus system is a through-the-lens (TTL) phase-matching 11-point wide system. You can also spot-focus on a particular element of your composition or use manual focus. Additionally, the DS2 features continuous autofocus for moving targets, which can be activated in the camera's Action mode.

The exposure system uses TTL 16-segment multipattern evaluative metering complemented by center-weighted and spot options. Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 second to 30 seconds over an ISO range of ISO 200 to ISO 3,200. Exposure can be calculated based on the sharpest focus zone or independently. Exposure compensation can be set to plus or minus two stops, in increments of either a half stop or 1/3 stop.

The camera's built-in, pop-up flash has a guide number of 15.6, with angle-of-view coverage of 28mm. In other words, the built-in flash might not adequately cover a dark, wide-angle scene with a lens open to 27mm or wider.

The Pentax *ist DS2 accepts many of the company's legacy lenses; you can attach K-, KA-, KAF-, and KAF2-mount lenses directly, and you can also use Pentax screw-mount lenses dating back as far as the mid-1960s, as well as bayonet-mount lenses for the Pentax 645 and 67 SLRs by using an appropriate adapter. The DS2 kit comes with the Pentax DA 18mm-to-55mm lens (35mm equivalent), a handy, all-around zoom lens that's slightly hobbled by a slow maximum aperture of f/5.6 at the telephoto end of its range.

When reviewing shots, you can zoom up to an impressive 12X magnification; you can also apply black-and-white, sepia, soft-focus, or slim filters to your existing images, although the last option should be used with caution, unless you're going for a funhouse-mirror effect. The DS2 supports the DPOF and PictBridge technologies printing images.

The DS2 uses an SD memory card. It functions with two CR-V3 lithium batteries or four AA batteries, for convenience when you're far from any specialty camera stores. Like all cameras in its class, the Pentax *ist DS2 is fairly quick on the draw; it takes only 0.5 second from the time you power up until you snap the first photo, and under normal conditions, you can shoot one high-quality JPEG photo every 0.7 second, until you hit the 5-photo limit on the buffer. That falls to once every 0.9 second if you're using a flash, and once every 0.7 second if you're shooting a raw image. These times are in line with other digital SLRS in the sub-$1,000 range.

With its responsive 11-point autofocus system, the DS2 takes only 0.5 second to focus under bright conditions; dimmer conditions, it falls to 1.2 seconds. The autofocus system in general is fast and accurate, even when you're tracking moving objects in the Action mode. You can also focus with any of the individual 11 points in the autofocus system, for challenging focusing situations in which you're not looking for a typical center-focused shot. If you prefer to focus manually, the bright viewfinder is clear, sharp, and easy to use, showing 95 percent of the frame.

The built-in flash is effective at illuminating most dark situations, with the exception of extreme wide-angle shots; the DS2 also has excellent red-eye-reduction capabilities.

Shooting performance
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim light)  
Time to first shot  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT
Canon EOS 30D
Nikon D70s
Pentax *ist DS 2
Olympus Evolt E-330
Nikon D200
Note: Seconds

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Note: Frames per second
The Pentax *ist DS2's image quality was generally excellent, with saturated but not garish colors, crisp--but not too crisp--edges in the in-focus areas, smooth gradations in the not-in-focus areas, and pleasing skin tones.

At the ISO 200 settings, noise was minimal in both shadows and highlights, and it was almost as good at ISO 400. By ISO 800, highlights began to look a bit mottled, and a few multicolored specs showed up in the shadows, but the photos were still usable for prints up to 8x10 inches. At ISO 1,600, grain was very visible, while at ISO 3,200, it was all over the place. Chromatic aberration (fringing around certain edges) was visible in only a few relatively contrasty shots.

Overall, the DS2's images are punchy and pleasing, and the camera offers enough modifications to ensure that a wide variety of users can achieve the aesthetics they want.
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