Friday, 2 September 2011

My two weeks with the Pentax K-7

The various products that were used with the Pentax K7 DSLR to produce the final images taken to complete this product review were:

various polarizer filters and neutral density filters
Photoshop CS4 editing software
4GB SanDisk Ultra II compact flash memory card that writes at 15MB/s
Pentax-DA 18-55mm F3.5 -5.6 AL WR lens
Pentax-DA 50-200mm F4-F5.6 ED WR lens

Pentax K7 specifications:

Resolution 14.6MP
APS sensor size of 23.4x15.6mmSensor type: CMOS
Image size: 4672x3104
Focus system: TTL phase detection
Focus points: 11
Crop factor: 1.5x
Lens mount: Pentax KAF2 bayonet
File type: RAW (.DNG and .PEF), JPEG
Sensitivity: ISO 100-6400
Storage: SD, SDHC
Focus types: Auto single, continuous, manual, point select
Metering system: TTL open aperture 77 segment metering
Metering types: Multi, centre-weighted, spot
Exposure compensation: +/- 5EV
Shutter speed: 30sec-1/8000sec & bulb
Frames per second: 5.2fps
Flash: Built-in (Guide no. 13), external
Flash metering: P-TTL
Flash sync speed: 1/180sec
Image stabilisation: In body image sensor shift mechanism (Shake Reduction) max. 4 stops
Integrated cleaning: Image sensor cleaning function by supersonic vibration
Live view: Yes
Viewfinder: Pentaprism type (100% field of view)
Monitor: 3in TFT LCD, AR coated (921,000dot)
Interface: USB 2.0
Power: Li-Ion battery
Size: 130.5x96.5x72.5mm
Weight: 670g (excl. battery and card)

First Impressions

In the summer of 2009 Pentax launched a new flagship DSLR, the 14.6Mp, K-7, and it is full of features set to excite the novices and advanced semi-pro photographers alike. Some of these features include live monitor view, HD video and in-camera HDR capture.

Pentax has never been known for holding significant market share of the DSLR market currently enjoyed by rivals Canon, Nikon and more recently Sony. What Pentax can hang their hat on is their solid reputation for innovation and quality, producing many classic cameras over the years, such as the K1000 and the LX. The K7 has a number of styling cues that are reminiscent of Pentax's classic pro 35mm SLR camera. It even has the leatherette textured rubber covering most of the lower art of the body. The similarities are not just cosmetic; the K-7 has the same robust professional build quality, with a tough lightweight magnesium alloy body over a steel chassis, full weatherproof environmental sealing allowing it to operate at colder temperatures than many of its rivals, and more importantly it has that classic camera look and feel, with advanced ergonomic handling. Also in common with those classic Pentax cameras, the K-7 is smaller and lighter than any of its immediate competitors.

Using the Pentax K7

I had the camera for only three weeks and many times in the extreme cold… and here are my impressions so far. At first glance, the K7 looks like a small, inexpensive DSLR camera. It has more weight to it than you would expect and that is when you realize that it’s made of metal, not plastic. The build quality seems good, a drop on the ground would have proved the durability… but I am not about to be on the hook for $1600 for the sake of this review.

Pentax claims the camera is weather proof, and I can attest to that. On a recent photo shoot one morning I got hit hard by a rogue wave and the camera and I got quite wet… later that day that camera was still working great with no signs of damage. My real concern when I got the camera was going to be how it performed in the cold Canadian winter. The K7 is the only digital camera that claims to have an operating temperature below 32 degrees F. Of course, most camera’s can perform far below 0 degrees F, but no other camera manufacturer has dared to claim that their camera cannot only work, but perform at its full potential below freezing, and a night in Chicago at -6 degrees Fahrenheit proved their claims in spades.

If a camera can’t produce publishable images for me, then it really doesn’t matter what features it has and how durable it is. Now I am about to say something you will not hear many people admit. Any of the current pro or semi-pro cameras (even most consumer model point and shoots) being produced today can create double page, magazine quality images. There I said it. Now you can all quit comparing the different camera models and running those ultra technical sensors tests that really mean nothing, and go outside and start taking photos with your point and shoots… So now we can attest that the image quality of the K7 can produce magazine, book and fine art quality images. However, each camera does have its strengths and weaknesses and a “look” that is unique to each manufacturer. So l will talk briefly about the “feel” or “quality of the quality” of the K7 images that I produced.

The K7 has 14.6 MPs crammed into an APS-C sensor. This of course, means two things: an unforgiving sensor and poor high ISO performance. While it exceeded my expectations in controlled indoor situations, outside taking landscape photos with vast DOF requirements was a tad disappointing because of the softness of the images it produced. Nothing Adobe RAW editing could not help fix, but a starting point further down the sharpness scale would have been more preferable. In saying this though, my impression is that the detail for any advanced amateur is superb and the files show no signs of any aberrations. In fact, the files from the K7 are some of the most artefact free images I have ever seen. I give much of the credit to the superb DA Limited lenses. Being able to shoot in DNG is great. I wasn’t forced to upgrade to CS4 just because I bought a new camera.

I rarely shoot over ISO 400. 90% of my images are shot at ISO 100. So honestly, I could care less about the camera’s ability to shoot at ISO 1,600! I tested it and pushed the limits but that was more for my reader’s sake than mine. There is some noise present even in files shot at ISO 400 and above, but they did clean up, just like the sharpness, very nicely in ACR. If you really need high ISO performance, then you should be reading a full frame camera review instead.

The In-depth Reviews can be viewed here

Company website

Photos from current K7 users

Some images that I took with the Pentax K7