The only laughable thing about this long-awaited digital SLR from Pentax is its name. The *istD? What was Pentax thinking? Thankfully, the company's engineers had a lot more sense when designing this compact beauty of a camera. While Pentax is displaying the unit--which is slated to ship in July--under glass at PMA, we lucked out and had the chance to snap a few shots with it on the show floor.
The first thing that we noticed about the camera is its weight: it feels like it weighs in at about a pound and a half, which is a pound less than most other digital SLRs. The *istD fit nicely in our hands, with a similar feel to enthusiast cameras such as the Canon PowerShot G3 and the Olympus C-5050. As with its competitors, all of this Pentax's important settings reside on the mode dial. But unlike those models, doesn't force you to shift into aperture- or shutter-priority mode or perform two-handed button/dial tricks since the *istD has one dial located conveniently under your index finger for controlling aperture and another under your thumb for controlling shutter speed. We were able to do it all with a single hand.
On the inside, the Pentax uses a 6.1-megapixel CCD rather than the CMOS chips incorporated by some other SLR manufacturers. We don't know what that means for image quality, but the race looks interesting. In most other respects--for example, button layout, LCD info, and features--the *istD is a typical digital SLR. The autofocus seemed a bit slow, but we're hoping that this early model will see improvements. Meanwhile, the shutter is extremely crisp and responsive.
Pentax hasn't yet set the pricing for this hot SLR, but if it can hit $1,999 (for the body only) and deliver on image quality, the *istD looks like it will be hard to beat. We can't wait to find out.