Pentax K20D review: Pentax K20D

If you plan on adding one of Pentax's accessory flashes to your bag of gear, you'll like the fact that the K20D includes wireless flash control. The K200D lets you use the built-in flash to trigger either the AF540FGZ or AF360FGZ flash units. You can't group flashes or set ratios between flashes, but you can control the flash output with the camera's flash compensation setting, which is conveniently changed in the flash setting part of the Fn menu. Also, you can set the camera to use the built-in flash along with one or multiple wireless flashes, or you can set the built-in flash to just control the wireless flashes and not fire when the picture is taken. In case you're wondering, the wireless flash works with Pentax's P-TTL flash metering.

Its performance proved impressive, though the K20D's burst mode just can't keep up with other cameras in this price range. However, it was quite fast out of the gate, clocking a scant 0.2 second to start up and capture its first JPEG. Subsequent JPEGs took 0.4 second between shots with the flash turned off, rising to 0.8 second with the flash turned on. RAW shots took 0.4 second between shots, also without flash. Shutter lag measured 0.4 second in our high-contrast test and 1 second in our low-contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively.

Image quality is also impressive. The switch to CMOS not only gave Pentax the capability to add Live View shooting, it also let them get better control over noise at higher ISOs. Strangely, you'll still notice a fair amount of speckles at ISO 3,200 and ISO 6,400 on the K20D, but that's partially because the camera defaults to minimal noise reduction. You can turn that up if you like, but I preferred it low because that let the images retain a large amount of finer detail that becomes blurred away on a lot of other cameras. The sensor-shift Shake Reduction certainly helps to keep images blur-free to an extent, but it could probably be more effective. I was able to get more than one stop of leeway--meaning I could shoot at a shutter speed less than half as fast as I normally would.

Colors aren't technically as accurate as they could be, though they're not very far off compared with other cameras in this price range and tend to look pleasing nonetheless. The automatic color balance does a good job of neutralizing colors, though it leaves a slight warm cast when shooting in incandescent lighting. That's not uncommon among higher-end SLRs, and given that this is Pentax's flagship model, I'm not surprised to see this here. The meter tends to underexpose when faced with a tricky situation, but typically did a good job of delivering the right exposure for a given shot. I do have to say that I prefer Nikon's 3D Color Matrix Metering II for trickier shots, but I like that the K20D errs on the side of caution by underexposing rather than overexposing and blowing out highlights.

Overall, the K20D is a very good camera for the price. Pentax users looking to step up should feel comfortable doing so. If you're brand agnostic and looking for a solid midrange SLR, the K20D is a safe bet. It has an extra stop of sensitivity compared with the Canon EOS 40D, which tops out at ISO 3,200 compared with the K20D's ISO 6,400. Plus, if you think you'll use the Pentax's wireless flash control, you should note that Canon forces you to buy a separate controller, or its priciest flash unit, if you want that. Nikon's D90 offers a tempting alternative, though it has 12MP compared with the K20D's 14MP, and neither that Nikon nor Canon has the K20D's weather sealing.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim light)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Nikon D90
0.2 
0.6 
0.9 
0.4 
Pentax K20D
0.2 
0.4 
1 
0.4 
Canon EOS 40D
0.3 
0.4 
1.2 
0.4 
Nikon D80
0.1 
0.3 
0.9 
0.5 
Sony Alpha DSLR-A700
0.5 
0.6 
1.2 
0.5 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Nikon D90
4 
Nikon D80
3.3