A Strong Comeback!

The name Asahi Pentax spelt magic for photographers right from the 50’s to the late 80’s. With the autofocus revolution, Pentax, along with several others, lost their way. The brand has, however, made a strong comeback under the ownership of Ricoh, and is now in India with its full range of high quality products. All of Pentax’s D-SLR models start with the initials «K» to represent the «K» mount which has been used by Pentax since the mid 70’s. On the SP test bench this month is the Pentax K30, a mid level D-SLR aimed at enthusiasts, and competing with the likes of Canon’s EOS 60D and Nikon’s D7000.

Design & Build Quality

Though designed with mid-level photographers in mind, the Pentax K30 is stylish and cold resistant to -100 Celsius. The polycarbonate body is weather-sealed (81 seals), and is built around a steel chassis. Though not as sturdy-looking as some competitive models, considering its price point and the fact that it is meant for mid level photographers who are generally more careful with their equipment as compared to professionals, I would say that it has a good build quality. There is no LCD on the top plate. The thumbrest and the deep hand-grip — which has a grip-notch for the middle finger -together assure you of a steady non-slip grip. The On/Off switch surrounds the shutter release button (a la Nikon style). The built-in pop-up flash rises high enough to avoid the possibility of the flash light being obstructed by the kit lens (but you should still take off the lens hood when using the flash). Oddly, the dedicated flash-shoe has one blank contact point. Filter size on the 1855mm kit lens is 52mm but the thread is plastic (like with most mid-range lenses these days). The lens is marked at 18,

24, 35, 45 and 55mm settings. The lens we received was also water resistant (marked WR). The zoom ring appeared well-damped but the focus ring was overly smooth. The body is made in Philippines and the lens is assembled in Vietnam. The camera weighs approximately 900g (with the supplied kit lens, battery and hood).

Key Features

The Pentax K30 is a 16.28 megapixel, APS-C size CMOS sensor D-SLR sporting a high performance PRIME M imaging processor. It features an in-body Shake Reduction (SR) system. This means that any lens attached to the K30 body becomes a stabilised lens. Its optical viewfinder offers almost a 100% field of view and uses a glass pentaprism instead of the pentamirror that is used in many low-cost bodies. Dioptre adjustment is available to suit individual eyesight. In spite of the K30 being aimed at mid-level photographers, its focussing screen can be changed for specific applications or for individual preferences, a feature that is generally found only in top-of-the-line D-SLRs. (Pentax does not mention whether the camera needs to be sent to a service facility for a change of focussing screen or whether the user can do it himself). The K30 uses a 3″

LCD monitor with a screen resolution of 921,000 dots. The LCD has +/- 7 brightness levels and a provision for fine-tuning the colours. On the left of the camera is a dedicated RAW/

Fx button that can be assigned one of the following functions: One Push File Format, Exposure Bracketing, Optical Preview, Composition Adjust, or AF Active Area (Please see page 165 of the Operating Manual for details).

The K30’s AF system utilises a newly designed SAFOX IXi+ autofocus module with 11 AF points, out of which 9 in the middle are cross-type for quick and accurate autofocusing. A refraction lens is added to the module to minimize chromatic aberrations while a light source sensor compensates for minute focussing errors caused by different wavelengths of light from differing sources. In Continuous AF mode (AF.C), focus tracking is possible; if the subject moves out of the pre-selected sensor, the adjoining AF sensors assist in latching on to the subject. Three types of exposure metering are on offer: 77-segment Multi-segment metering, Centre-weighted and Spot. Exposure modes are aplenty — Auto, Scene (SCN), Program (P), Sensitivity Priority (Sv), Shutter Priority (Tv), Aperture Priority (Av), Shutter & Aperture Priority (TAv), Manual (M), and Bulb (B). Additionally, you have the Movie mode and User Set 1 & 2.

The Pentax K30 is feature rich. By pressing the INFO button twice, the user can opt between Status Screen, Electronic Level, or Display Off. The INFO button at the back simplifies selection and adjustment of the various parameters. The Scene mode (SCN) can be accessed by turning the exposure mode dial to SCN and then pressing the INFO button. Sceen mode includes Portrait, Digital Filter (Extract Colour, Toy Camera, Retro, High-Contrast, Shading,

Invert Colour, Colour, or Off), HDR Capture (Auto, HDR 1, 2, 3 or Off), AF Active Area (5 AF Points, 11 AF points), Distortion Correction, Lateral Chromatic Aberration correction, Highlight correction, Shadow correction, AE metering (Multi-segment, Centre-weighted, or Spot), File Format [JPEG, Raw (DNG), Raw (DNG)+JPEG], JPEG Recorded Pixels [4928×3264 (16MP), 4224×2816 (12MP), 3456×2304 (8MP) or 2688×1792 (5MP)],JPEG Quality (Good, Better or Best), and Shake Reduction.

The 4-way Controller on the rear of the camera has dedicated buttons for ISO, Shooting Mode (single frame, continuous, self-timer, remote control, and exposure bracketing), White Balance (AWB, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy Fluorescent, Tungsten, Flash, CTE (Colour Temperature Enhancement), Manual White Balance and Colour temperature setting) and Flash (Flash On, Flash On + Red-eye Reduction, Slow-sync, Slow sync + Red-eye reduction, Trailing Curtain Sync and Wireless mode).

ISO sensitivity can be set to Auto, or 100-12,800, but can be expanded to 25,600. Shutter speeds range from 30sec -1/6000sec, plus Bulb. Exposure can be compensated by +/- 5EV (in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps). AF mode can be set to AF.S (Single), AF.C (Continuous), or AF.A (Auto switch-over, depending on whether the subject is stationary or moving). The camera can fire bursts at a maximum of 6fps at full resolution when shooting in JPEG. Interval shooting (maximum of 999 shots) is possible. When shooting in high contrast lighting, the K30’s HDR function can provide adequate details in shadows as well as the highlights. A ‘D-range’ feature extends the dynamic range during lighting with strong contrast. Multiple exposures of 2-9 frames can be selected for creative effects. An optional GPS unit (O-GPS1) can record the latitude, longitude and the altitude on captured images. A ‘digital level’, if used, ensures that the camera is not tilted or inclined. In-camera development of Raw files is possible wherein you can adjust the certain parameters — like White Balance, ISO, Chromatic Aberrations etc. -and save the resultant file as a JPEG image.

A feature that some nature/ wildlife lovers will really appreciate is the Trap-focus (Pentax calls it Catch-in Focus). When using a manual focus lens or DA or FA lens that has both AF and MF settings, you can pre-focus (manually) on an area where the subject is expected to pass and press the shutter release all the way down. If Catch-in Focus is enabled, the camera will fire as soon as the subject gets to the prefocussed spot.

Full HD movie recording (1920×1080), along with special effect filters, is possible at 30 frames per second in MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 format. HD (1280×720, 16:9, 60/50/30/25/24 fps) and VGA (640×480, 4:3, 30/25/24 fps) is also available. During movies, aperture, shutter speed and ISO can be set as required. An interval movie mode allows you to capture a series of movie clips at a fixed interval and then edit them into a single movie. Using this feature, you can, for example, record the growth of a plant or movement of clouds over an extended period.

The built-in pop up flash has a Guide Number of 12m at ISO 100 and the X-sync speed is up to 1/180 sec. Dedicated external Pentax flashguns (AF540FGZ, AF360FGZ, AF200FG or AF160FC) can be attached to the accessory shoe. The K30 operates using a rechargeable lithium battery (D-LI 109), but an optional battery holder is available for 4 AA size pencil cells that could be used in an emergency should the main battery run out of power.

Ergonomics

The first thing that you’ll notice when you put the camera ‘On’ is some vibrations and a slight noise. Don’t be alarmed, for that is the Dust Removal feature doing its work! (If you set the feature ‘Off’, then this won’t happen). The camera grip is excellent and you may even consider shooting with just one hand — something that we do not advocate!

Performance

The Pentax K30 is feature-filled. We decided to take advantage of certain features which would ease our workflow and provide better results -after all, when special features are provided, why not take their advantage? We adjusted the following settings in the Shooting Menu before performing the tests:

Lens Distortion Correction and Lateral Chromatic Aberration Correction: ‘On’ Custom Image: ‘Landscape’.

Highlight and Shadow Corrections: ‘Auto’.

High ISO Noise Reduction: ‘Medium’. Slow shutter speed NR: ‘Off’.

Shake Reduction: ‘On’ (except when tripod mounted)

AF/AE-L button was assigned to autofocus the camera using ‘Enable AF2’. This disengages the shutter release button from focussing.

We also upgraded the firmware from the Company’s website (Normally this would not be done but in this case we just happened to notice that a firmware upgrade was available).

Autofocus: Autofocus was fast in good light, but in low light it was somewhat slower due to the absence of an inbuilt AF motor in the lens. Also, autofocus was noisy.

Metering: All three metering modes -Multi-segmented, Centre-weighted and Spot — performed to our satisfaction. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated button to quickly change the metering method.

Noise Control: The native image size from the K30 is 16.4 x 10.8 inches at 300 ppi. At 16.7% screen size, noise was not visible all the way up to ISO 12,800. At 25% screen size, again, no noise was visible all the way through, but the very high ISOs did show slight softening, which may be due to noise reduction. At 50% screen size, slight noise was visible after ISO 3200, but we had to look for it. At 100% screen size, noise was visible after ISO 1600, but I would consider the overall noise control as excellent, in spite of the slight softening of images at very high ISOs.

Sharpness/Corner Darkening: The overall sharpness, using the supplied 18-55mm kit lens, was good. Wide open, as expected, corners were not as sharp as the center. Darkening of corners at a wide open aperture was very prominent throughout the aperture range; the left side of the images showed greater darkening. Barrel and moustache distortion was observed at all focal lengths except at 55mm. We were not able to ascertain lens flare and chromatic aberrations due to the inclement weather during the testing days. The in-body sensor-shift type image stabilisation obviously helped at low shutter speeds, but we have no means of saying by how many stops.

LCD/VF: The LCD is fixed. Images on the LCD were crisp and with good colour. The viewfinder shows almost 100% field of view but images were slightly soft towards the edges.

AWB: White Balance performance was good (though we could not check the WB in sunlight due to the rainy season). Colours were bright and punchy. The Presets and AWB for Cloudy, Flash and Incandescent (except for preset Incandescent) was perfect. The preset for Incandescent light gave a slight cyan cast, but again, as I often mention, it is incorrect to check for accuracy of White Balance in a room with bulbs of varying wattages. Note that the K30 has an option for colour correction (subtle or strong) with incandescent lighting.

Video quality was at par with the best we have seen. Unfortunately, there is no continuous autofocus, and when the AF/AE-L button (which was assigned to AF) is pressed, the camera picks up the motor noise. Also, you cannot capture still images during video operation.

Value for Money

The Pentax K30 is available at an MRP of Rs.55,695 along with the 18-55mm f/3.55.6 kit lens (Water Resistant). At this price and performance, we consider the K30 good value for money.

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