Saturday, February 4, 2012

Review: Pentax K-x

Mountain Forest Road - Tehachapi, California
Canon and Nikon own the DSLR market--they are kings. But other camera makers have excellent products that should not be overlooked.

Floor Lines - Scottsdale, Arizona
Pentax is one of those companies. They've been in business since 1919, so they're not exactly new to this whole photography thing.
Tree At Last Light - Tehachapi, California
The Pentax K-x DSLR is classified as an "entry-level" single-lens reflex, but it performs more like a "semi-pro" camera. The majority of my photographs are taken with a K-x.
The Journey Home - Surprise, Arizona
A bit of caution: don't get caught up in useless titles like "entry-level", "semi-pro", "prosumer" or anything similar. They mean nothing, other than as a marketing tool to get you to spend more money. Some on message boards might also use them to make themselves sound smarter.
Green Triangles - Phoenix, Arizona
A Closer Look

The Pentax K-x has 12.4 megapixels on an APS-C sized back lit CMOS sensor made by Sony. That's a pretty good sensor and certainly more than adequate for most people. Pentax's built-in software is a mixed bag, but good overall.
Road Through Foggy Mountain - Tehachapi, California
Pentax kit lenses are adequate, which means they are not great, but not terrible either. You can get by using them, but you may want to consider something better. The K-x accepts any K-Mount lens, so good second-hand options can be found for reasonable prices.
Moon Over Desert Sunrise - Mojave, California
Another bit of caution: lens sharpness is overrated. Using Pentax kit lenses, I have had photographs published in a book and displayed in a gallery. The difference in sharpness between a kit lens and an expensive lens is barely noticeable without a close, side-by-side study.
Nevada Time - Hoover Dam, Nevada/Arizona
Aside from the ability of the photographer, the largest factors in determining image quality in digital cameras are sensor, software and lens in combination. Regarding this, the K-x is decent overall, and excellent for it's price.
Train And Truck - Tehachapi, California
Something else that should be discussed is that Pentax no longer manufactures the K-x. It can still be found brand new, but by year's end you'll likely only find it second hand. Pentax replaced the camera with the nearly identical K-r, which has the same body, same sensor, same software, and same kit lens as the K-x--the improvements are very minor.
Ducks In The Water - Goodyear, Arizona

The Pentax K-x operates in a similar fashion to every other DSLR cameras. Most functions are a one or two step process. Other functions require digging through menus. No highly-used functions are difficult to find or adjust. The user's manual should be read through at least once.
Automated Railway - Tehachapi, California
The K-x can be operated in Automatic mode, a handful of semi-automatic modes, or Manual mode. I've never used the Automatic mode, but the semi-automatic and manual modes work like one would expect.
Keep Out Of The House - Mojave, California
The built-in software can do quite a lot of post-processing, more than most DSLRs. There are a number of interesting "effects" available. This is great if you don't own a computer or have the desire to use Photoshop. Otherwise, it eats through battery life.
Hazy Hills And River - Grand Canyon, Arizona
This photograph was post-processed using the K-x's built-in software.
When I first purchased the camera I often used the built-in post-processing features. After a while I stopped, realizing that it cost too much time and money (more on this in a minute). Still, it's nice to know that if you don't have access to your home computer (say, on a trip) you can still post-process if you need to.
Burnt Tree - Tehachapi, California
Something interesting is that the K-x uses AA batteries instead of a rechargeable battery. This is both good and bad. It's good because when the battery runs dead, you can find replacements almost anywhere--no need to worry about chargers. It's bad because batteries (especially lithium batteries, which is what you want) are not cheap--after a while the cost adds up. It is what it is, and you learn to deal with the "bad".
Southern Sierras At Sundown - Bodfish, California
The one big change between the K-x and the K-r is that the latter has a rechargeable lithium battery instead of AAs.
Greg Flesch - Phoenix, Arizona
Actual Image Quality

This is where the rubber meets the road. Does the camera produce quality images?
Monolith - Tehachapi, California
When the camera was first released two years ago, you could not find better image quality for the $750 price tag (which included a kit lens). I found mine on sale for $490, which made it a significantly better bargain. In fact, the K-x's quality was comparable to other DSLR cameras in the $1,200 through $1,500 range!
Cebu - Rainbow Valley, Arizona
Over the last few months camera manufacturers have been releasing very high quality cameras for reasonable prices. The Sony NEX-7 has 24 megapixels for only $1,200. Canon will be releasing the G1-X, which is supposed to be equivalent to Fuji's $1,200 X-100, for only $799. Even the newer point-and-shoot cameras, such as the Nikon S8100, have image quality almost as good as lower-end DSLRs, but for much less money.
Golden Field - Tehachapi, California
The point is, digital technology changes very quickly, becoming both better and cheaper at the same time. Two years ago the K-x was a steal-of-a-deal, especially if you found it discounted. I wouldn't pay full price for it today, but if you can find it on sale, it is still be a very good value.
Man Walking Downtown - Tehachapi, California
As far as digital noise is concerned, ISO 100 and 200 are excellent, 400 is good, 800 is OK, and ISO 1600 is usable. ISO 3200 is sometimes usable (depending on the image) and anything above that is typically not usable, unless you purposely want very noisy images. This is what one should expect from this sensor size and type. 
Guitar And Amp - Phoenix, Arizona
This is an example of ISO 3200
I'm not including any sort of controlled tests in this review with 100% crops and side-by-side comparisons, because those are pointless and worthless. Real-world use of the camera is the only test that matters. With this camera I have had photographs published in a book and hung in a gallery. I have done weddings and portraits and commercial work. Any camera is capable of taking great photographs, and the K-x is no exception. If the photographer has the ability, there is no limit on what photographs he or she can make.
Trees And River - Avondale, Arizona
I've included a large number of photographs in this review (all taken with the K-x), so you can see and judge for yourself the image quality (be aware, I reduced the resolution of these images--some more than others--so that they wouldn't take a long time to display). You can also explore this Blog to find many, many more examples.
Tractor In Fog - Tehachapi, California
Who Is This Camera For?

When introduced two years ago, the Pentax K-x was for those who wanted a digital camera with an APS-C sized sensor, but didn't want to drop over a grand for it. Two years later, the choices are limited, but there are now some other options. 
Tree In Mountain Fog - Tehachapi, California
The K-x is still a good deal, especially if you can find it discounted to $600 or less (for body and lens). I found mine for $490, and that included shipping to my door. For that price, there is not a better camera on the market and probably won't be for another two years.
Lightning Over Lake - Goodyear, Arizona
If you have a "first-generation" DSLR and are looking for something new, or don't own a DSLR and are looking for your first, I would strongly consider the K-x (or the nearly identical K-r). Or if you are looking for a back-up DSLR, the K-x serves well in that role, as well.
Road And Hills - Goodyear, Arizona
As I said earlier, there are other options to consider. First, any higher-end digital point-and-shoot camera will produce image quality reasonably close to the K-x, but for typically hundreds of dollars less. The Sony NEX-7 will produce image quality much higher than the K-x for only $450 more. When Canon releases the G1-X, it will have a little better image quality for $50 more. Canon and Nikon (and other camera manufacturers) offer DSLR cameras in the same price range as the K-x, but with smaller sensors (you might as well just get a point-and-shoot and save yourself some money).
Oak Tree In Early Winter - Tehachapi, California
In conclusion, the Pentax K-x is a camera for those who want value--getting the most quality for least dollars. It's certainly not the best camera on the market, but it is very much a good camera and it has a nice price tag that won't break the bank.
Mist Triangles - Peoria, Arizona

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