Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pentax K10D DSLR Hands-on Review

I had been waiting a long time to try out the Pentax K10D digital SLR camera and finally got some hands-on time with one. I owe it to you to first say that I'm not a big Pentax fan, having played with the *ist D, *ist DS, K100, K110, and a slew of their Optio point and shoots. I have yet to be really impressed by any of their cameras, including this one. That said, if I was going to buy a Pentax DSLR, this would be the one, hands down.

Weather sealing.

I'm the kind of photographer who probably beats on his camera more than most. I like to throw my camera over my shoulder and rock out with it, not worry about it. The weather sealing was the main reason I wanted to check out this camera. You get most cameras in its class even a little moist and they'll choke on you. I've got to say, the K10D is pretty rugged for its price. It's got a nice big feel to it unlike its brothers who feel too light and plastic-y. It's much beefier and has many more features. I'm convinced that the K100D/K110D are far too stripped down and babyish to be useful. The K10D feels like a real camera with plenty of settings right up front via a switch or dial.

The battery door, memory card door, and cable connection door all have rubber seals to keep water out. The cable port door doesn't have a positive lock, meaning it can be flipped open pretty easily. All in all I was hoping the weather sealing would be a little more substantial. The rubber seals are only about 1mm wide and don't seem to be very soft. I was expecting the rubber to "give" like a common o-ring would.
All of the buttons and switches on the K10D are supposedly sealed behind the body too.

Controls layout.

In a word, the K10D made me a little uncomfortable. Barring the shutter, every button, dial, and switch on the entire camera was tougher to push, twist, and click that I expected. I do like the color-coding they've used on this camera a lot though. More on that in a minute.

The mode dial is actually one of the better ones for cameras in this class. Most of the time you've got like portrait mode, landscape, sports--stuff like that right on the mode dial. Not on the K10D. Instead there's "user" mode which takes care of those. There's sensitivity-priority which is a welcome mode. You set the sensitivity ad the camera automatically sets the aperture and shutter speed. Then there's "green mode" which is something Pentax has been doing for a while. This is sort of like a combination of program and automatic modes. There's also a "green button" to the left of the top display screen, I couldn't really figure out what it was for. Exposure, focus, and stabilization all have a green setting too so you can whack any setting into "auto" at a glance. You can click over to bulb exposure or 'X' mode on the dial too. I didn't really experiment with these other than to find out that the camera will fire without a lens attached.

AF and exposure-compensation buttons are within thumb reach on the back. I really like it whenever any camera has an alternative to auto-focusing other than just half-pressing the shutter button. You can customize the AF button's job in the menus. Moving your thumb from the back scroll wheel to these buttons takes an extra second to get used to, but I like how they're separated by a ridge of plastic.

Around the mode knob you'll find the exposure mode dial. As with the other controls, its pretty sticky. If you change between full frame, center-weighted, and spot metering a lot you might wish this option were more readily dialed in like on the Nikon D200. On the other hand I can understand that this is probably the least-used dial on the camera so putting it out of the way on the top left is probably okay for the casual shooter.

Drive mode button: my favorite control.

Thank goodness they put a drive mode button on the back to the left of the viewfinder. I've come to expect this button on DSLRs because I shoot a lot more bracketed shots with digital. Pressing it pulls up an on-screen menu to change between drive continuous shooting options, bracketing, and self-timers. I regret not having tested the K10D's bracketing options more thoroughly but I like having the control at the touch of a button.

The Menu, Trash, Info, and Playback buttons are all what you'd expect. Pentax DSLRs make use of the Fn (function) button on the bottom right side of the screen. In the cheaper models, this has been your go-to button for making adjustments to common options. If you're coming from one of those, it's probably right where you expect it. If not, you might think its dwarfed by the nearby D-pad and stabilizer switch. If you ask me, the Fn button is too small and too out-of-the-way for such a powerful control. If all of the buttons were the same size (1/4" diameter) as the AF and exposure compensation buttons, I would have been a lot more comfortable. Since the K10D is a competitor to cameras like the Nikon D200/D300 and Canon 30D/40D, I really would have liked Pentax to make the periphery buttons a little bigger.

My shooting style doesn't use an auto-focus lock to often but if I did, I'd feel cramped. The AF-L button is pretty out of the way at the top right corner. It feels like this was the last button they designed into the camera and didn't give it at much thought. If you have different hands maybe this will be more comfortable. It's still fine for occasional use since they put it on the corner of the body.

Image stabilization.

Probably the best thing about Pentax's SLR line is that you can take any K-mount lens ever made and it becomes an image stabilized lens on this body. Of course you know it comes with an 18-55mm kit lens. The image stabilization on the K10D is pretty good. I don't think I would even consider buying this camera if it didn't have it. It makes a nice competitor to the Sony A100 and A700, which have sensor-shift image stabilization also. Probably Sony lets you shoot a fraction of a stop slower though. The anti-shake on/off switch looks like lever-type power switches I've seen on Canon and other lately. For some reason I have to wrestle with these angled levers once in a while. Personally I like the K100D/K110D IS up-and-down slider switch better.

Power to the depth of field.

For whatever reason, Pentax has a differet approach to the depth of field preview (DOFP). The shutter button is surrounded by an on (left)/off (center) switch like many other cameras. But unlike others, this one includes a DOF preview when you pull the power switch right. There's a little stopped-aperture icon to remind you. I think I like this DOF preview method button better than having a button anywhere else on the body--all too often they are positioned too strangely for me.

The other thing about the DOFP on the K10D is that it really works! Strange to say right? Well if you've used the K100D/K110D, you know they use a really weird method. In those cameras, pulling the DOFP actually takes a picture and shows it to you on-screen, not through the viewfinder. This image is just for previewing; it is not stored. The problem is this is incredibly slow and distracting. You set your aperture, pull the DOFP, it clicks a picture, and shows it on the screen so you have to pull your eye away from the viewfinder. The K10D doesn't do any of that nonsense; the DOFP stops down the aperture so you can preview your image through the viewfinder like any other SLR.

Focus area dial: my least favorite control.

Take a glance at the back of the K10D. There's a directional pad like you expect. Around it there's a grippy ring that you'd hope would be a scroll dial. It's not. It's the focus area selector. You've got auto focus point selection (in green), manual selection, and center. I found this ring to be pretty difficult to twist. The tactile feedback is poor because it doesn't have a nice "clicking into place" feeling. After about 10 times changing auto focusing modes I decided this dial is pretty inconvenient. Of course it beats going into a menu though!

Auto-focus mode switch: more sticky, less clicky.

The camera feels like it focuses significantly faster than its more inexpensive brothers. The focus switch offers you AF-S, AF-C, and MF focusing options. I could not figure out how to manually override the auto-focus (i.e. autofocus then defocus the lens manually). As with most of the other controls, the focus switch has a nice shape but it's tougher to move than I'd like. If you compare the focus mode switch to the Sony A700, you'll like Pentax's more. The K10D has more of a "lever"-type switch where the A700 has more of a "dial"-type. When holding the camera up to my eye and changing focusing modes, I found I had to push it fairly hard and double-check to make sure it was where I wanted it. The focus mode switch on many cameras has a positive feel when clicking between modes--that way you know it's changed without looking. This switch was definitely quiet, but at a cost of tactile feedback.

Battery & card compartments: load and lock.

The K100D and K110D both use 4 AA batteries, which is think is awesome. You can pick up a set of batteries at any convenience store in a pinch. But the battery doors on those cameras stink, in my opinion. Plus their battery life blows. The K10D uses a rechargeable battery pack which is probably unavoidable for a camera of this caliber. I had a tough time with the battery door because it has a different opening method than most of its competitors. To open the battery compartment, there is a tab that you have to lift up with your fingernail and then twist to open. If you have small fingers or no fingernails, you will be frustrated. The memory card slot opens in the same way, with the lock on the bottom back right.

Also on the bottom of the camera is a port for connecting the optional D-BG2 battery grip. The port is covered with a removable rubber "plug." I would have preferred to see this connectivity go through the bottom of the battery compartment. The plug is an extra thing to lose and an extra place for moisture to get in (it took me a few tries to push it all the way in for a full seal). By the way, the battery grip also uses this "lift tab, twist to open" method. So there's a total of three spots where you'll see this. I have small hands and reasonable fingernails and these little twisting locks drove me nuts. If you change memory cards often, I'm worried you might miss some shots messing with the card slot door.

The bottom line.

The Pentax K10D has the features (image stabilization and weather sealing among them) and ruggedness to compete in the sub-$1000 DSLR category. If you already have Pentax lenses, get this camera. If you are entering the DSLR market, consider other options--you might be frustrated by the way Pentax handles certain features.


Ryan S said...

Very detailed and extensive review. I'm sure people who are more into cameras would really appreciate it.

Eric V said...

Fixed wikimedia commons hotlinking...