About 30 years ago, Pentax released the K1000, a film SLR that would become legendary as an inexpensive workhorse camera with which countless students would--and still do--learn the finer aspects of photography. It's no longer in production, though you can find plenty of them on eBay. Now, Pentax has brought the K back, ditching the perplexingly unpronounceable *istD moniker in favor of its new K100D and K110D 6.1-megapixel digital SLRs.
In true contrarian style, the K100D is the more expensive of the two, thanks to Pentax's own sensor-shifting optical image stabilization. Aside from that, the two SLRs are identical. Both feature 2.5-inch LCD screens, 11-point autofocus, and sensitivity as high as ISO 3,200; and they accept the legions of Pentax lenses, including fully manual lenses dating back further than the K1000. The unwashed, pixel-obsessed masses will no doubt complain about the 6.1-megapixel CCD sensor, but it's still more than enough for letter-size prints, which should be plenty for most casual shooters. Plus, at this price, it's one of the best bargains in the dSLR market. Based on the body of the *ist DS2, the K100D will feel familiar to current Pentax dSLR owners. Frequently accessed features, including ISO, flash, white balance, and drive mode can be found by pressing the function button, while you can access setup functions with the menu button. A mode dial on the left of the camera top lets you switch shooting modes or select from six scene modes. A choice marked SCN on the dial offers access to another eight scene modes, each with its own explanation.
Only one other dial adorns the body and is used to adjust exposure compensation or aperture or shutter speed in their respective priority modes. That means you have to hold a small button next to the shutter to change the aperture when shooting in full manual mode. This isn't as convenient as some cameras, which include two such dials: one for aperture and one for shutter speed. The same small button doubles as exposure-compensation access when shooting in any of the other modes.
A slider switch on the bottom-right of the camera back lets you turn image stabilization on or off and joins the menu button, four navigation buttons, and a function button to the right of the 2.5-inch 210,000-pixel LCD screen. The only other change from the *istDS2 is the eye cup, which is more squared, more difficult to remove, and thus less-prone to loss. It's a minor but welcome change.
Four AA or two CR-V3 batteries power the camera and load into the grip from below. Images are stored to SD cards. With a nice combination of auto and manual features, the Pentax K100D offers enough features to quench both experienced and amateur photographers. For the inexperienced, the Auto Pict. mode takes care of everything for you, while a healthy array of scene modes let you tackled specialized situations as you would with a digital compact or point-and-shoot. Program, aperture- and shutter-priority, manual, and bulb modes offer all the options experienced shooters want.
Possibly the biggest new feature in the K100D is its sensor-shifting shake reduction system. Sensors inside the camera detect any shake in the camera body, such as that caused by your caffeine-addled hands, and move the CCD sensor to compensate for those vibrations. Pentax claims its shake reduction will give you approximately 2 stops leeway in exposure, meaning you should be able to halve your shutter speed twice below your typical slowest comfortable shutter speed and still shoot reasonably sharp images. In our field tests, we found that the shake reduction in the K100D gave us between 1.5 and 2 stops leeway.
Pentax's 11-point through-the-lens (TTL) autofocus system is the same as that of the *ist DS2. It defaults to auto, but you can also manually select a point, or set it to center spot. Plus, you can choose from single, which locks and holds when you hold the shutter down halfway, or continuous, which keeps adjusting focus on your subject until you trip the shutter. The latter comes in handy when shooting skittish children or pets. The camera has a 16-segment TTL metering system with multipattern, center-weighted, or spot options and can be set to lock with focus or continue to meter until you shoot. Exposure compensation provides as much as plus or minus 2EV of leeway to tweak the camera's automatic exposure decisions.