Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: Pentax K-30

Intro: The Pentax K-30

The most important part of any digital camera is the sensor. There are four outstanding APS-C sized sensors out there: a 16 megapixel Sony sensor, a 24 megapixel Sony sensor, Fuji's16 megapixel X-Trans sensor, and Sigma's Foveon X3 sensor. Each have there own advantages and disadvantages, but they are each great in their own way.
Pentax K-30
The 16 megapixel Sony sensor has appeared in many cameras. The Pentax K-5 has this sensor, and DxOMark claims that it has the highest overall image quality of any digital camera with an APS-C sized sensor (and 11th highest image quality out of all digital cameras!). The Nikon D7000 and D5100 both have this sensor. The Sony Alpha 580 and NEX-5N both have this sensor. The Pentax K-30 also has this same sensor.
Back of The Camera
There are some minor variances in image quality between all of the different cameras that share this same Sony-made 16 megapixel sensor. The software that processes the data from the sensor is slightly different in each camera model, and especially with each camera manufacturer. Nikon can squeeze just a little better image quality out of the sensor than Sony can. And Pentax can squeeze just a little better image quality out of the sensor than Nikon can. But no matter the camera, image quality is great whenever this sensor is used. The differences from one camera to the next are really minor.
Two Trains - Tehachapi, California
After the sensor, the next most important part of a digital camera is the lens. Pentax makes some excellent lenses, and any k-mount lens can be used with the K-30 without an adapter. The f3.5/5.6 18-55mm kit lens that came with my camera really is great for a kit lens. At some point you will want a prime lens or two, but in the interim the kit lens will suffice and perform perfectly fine for most photographers and most situations. It's not a throw-away lens.
Autumn Fence - Tehachapi, California
After the sensor and lens, the next most important part of a digital camera is the built-in software (or firmware). This is less of a factor (although still a factor) if you save in RAW instead of JPEG. Pentax put some great and versatile software in the K-30, giving the photographer plenty of creative tools.
Rainbow - Tehachapi, California
After the sensor, lens and software, the next most important part of a digital camera is the processor. This determines the speed that the camera works at. The K-30 is fairly fast, capturing six frames-per-second for five straight seconds when saved as JPEGs or for just over a second if saved as RAW. The camera goes from off to on-and-image-captured in just over one second (and that is with the dust removal set to "Startup Action"). Auto-focus in normal or bright light is almost instantaneous.
Alpaca Eye - Mojave, California
Everything else comes after that. People get caught up in design, build quality, electronic viewfinders and all sorts of other nonsense. Those things may be important, but never as important as image quality. The photograph is what matters, and no one viewing that image will ever care about the many things that photographers get unnecessary heartburn over.
BNSF Intermodel Train #1 - Tehachapi, California
Using The Camera

The Pentax K-30 DSLR is easy to use. While I certainly recommend reading the manual, the camera is set  up logically and no functions are difficult to find or adjust. Besides that, the camera gives a short explanation of most function right on the screen. The majority of people should have no problem figuring out the camera on their own just playing around with it.
As The Crow Flies - Tehachapi, California
All commonly used functions are easy to adjust with a one or two step process. Some less commonly used functions are found in the menu, but are only a two-to-four step process to adjust or select. The camera is very user friendly and does a great job of "getting out of the way" of the photographer.
Wet Flower - Tehachapi, California
Many of the auto features work great. I'm not one to use a lot of auto anything. Auto-white-balance was spot-on under many different light sources, and it's difficult to throw it off. Auto-focus is accurate and fast. In very dim-light, the auto-focus will fish a little, but it's still accurate after a second or so of trying. I used the fully auto mode just to check it out, and I was happy with the settings the camera picked and the resulting photographs.
Six Crows - Bakersfield, California
The light meter is right on the money in normal or bright light, but the camera tends to underexpose in dim-light situations. Adjusting the exposure is easy, so that is not a real big deal. 
Ties That Bind - Tehachapi, California
The camera has a "U1" and "U2" option for custom settings. It's good to set these up. I set one up for landscapes with vibrant colors and another for portraits with softer colors. You can set them up however you want, just be sure to set them up because it will speed up your process when changing from one situation to the next.
Tree In Autumn - Tehachapi, California
A few other settings you will find are lens distortion correction, chromatic aberration correction, highlight correction and shadow correction. I recommend at a minimum using the highlight correction. The K-30 has a tendency to clip the highlights. What highlight correction does is underexpose the image a little and then increase the brightness of everything except the highlights. Problem solved. I personally use all four of these features.
Country Road Less Traveled - Tehachapi, California
A couple of additional features are "electronic level display" and "automatic horizon correction." Having a level built into the camera, which is displayed in the viewfinder and on the rear screen during "Live View," is genius. This is something that should be on every digital camera. I'm not sure if the horizon correction really works, but if you have a hard time keeping a level horizon, supposedly the camera can fix this for you.
Property of Autumn - Tehachapi, California
The "Live View" rear screen looks and works good. It does slow down the camera some and drains the battery. Since the viewfinder uses a pentaprism and has 100% coverage, you'll find yourself very happy to use it instead of the rear screen. Most low and mid level DSLRs have a pentamirror, but the K-30 has a pentaprism, which is most often found on high-end DSLRs. The difference between a pentamirror and a pentaprism is significant.
Tehachapi Mountains In October - Tehachapi, California
The K-30's battery life is pretty small. You'll want to purchase a second battery or purchase the adapter for AA batteries and get yourself some ultimate-lithiums. A work-around is to keep the charger handy and any chance you get charge the battery. This is one of the disadvantages of the K-30. 
Buffalo Horn - Mojave, California
Image Quality

The Pentax K-30's image quality is excellent. DxOMark ranks it the same as the Canon 5D Mark II and Sony Alpha 850, just ahead of the Hasselblad H3DII 50 and Sony SLT Alpha 77, and just behind the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III and the Nikon D700. Each of those cameras are significantly more expensive than the K-30 and have been used by many professional photographers.
Two Bulls - Tehachapi, California
When in ISO 100 or 200, the K-30 has excellent color, excellent noise control, excellent sharpness and excellent dynamic range. The image quality dips very slightly at ISO 400 (but not significantly or even noticeably without a very close side-by-side study of 100% crops). There is another very slight dip at ISO 800, but it still has great image quality. At ISO 1600 we see another slight dip in image quality, but this time it is noticeable, especially when compared to images captured in ISOs 100-400. The K-30 produces very nice images when in ISO 1600 or below, and exceptional images ISO 400 and below.
Autumn Leaves - Tehachapi, California
There is a significant drop in image quality at ISO 3200, where noise control, sharpness and color are significantly degraded. ISOs 6400 and 12800 are not really usable, except if you want a soft and noisy image that will be converted to black-and-white.
Serious Look of Fake - Tehachapi, California
JPEGs from the K-30 look great. I prefer JPEG over RAW because it saves me time. By spending a handful of seconds in the field making sure everything is correct, I save several minutes in front of a computer fiddling with the image later. After a few hundred photographs, those minutes add up to many hours. Time is important to me. 
Another Brick In The Wall - Tehachapi, California
You can squeeze a little better image quality (particularly noise at high ISO and dynamic range) out of the K-30 by saving in RAW and using software like Lightroom and/or Photoshop. At ISO 400 and below, you won't gain a whole lot by saving in RAW, and you'd be hard pressed to tell the differences without a very close side-by-side study of 100% crops. But by ISO 1600 there is some noticeable improvements in image quality by saving in RAW instead of JPEG.
Blue Bugs - Tehachapi, California
You can change between saving in JPEG and saving in RAW by pushing one button, so you may find it useful to stick to JPEG in low ISO and switch to RAW in high ISO. Also, the camera will often let you save an image in RAW that was captured as a JPEG, if the raw data is still in the camera's temporary memory. This can be useful if something (white balance, for example) isn't exactly as you wanted it, and the image was a one-chance type of situation.
Yearning For Life - Tehachapi, California
A quick note about RAW while we are talking about it: the K-30 saves RAW in DNG format. This could be a big deal if you are an Adobe user. Long-term storage (or, more importantly, the ability to open and use files that have been stored for many years) benefit from this, as well. As far as I know, Pentax and Leica are the only two camera manufacturers that save RAW in DNG.
Pumpkin Top #1 - Tehachapi, California
One last note about image quality is that the K-30 has a very weak anti-aliasing filter. This filter prevents moire pattern distortion, but at the expense of sharpness. Almost every digital camera has an anti-aliasing filter. Because this camera has a weak anti-aliasing filter, you'll find some moire pattern distortion here and there; however, each and every image is sharper because the filter is weak. I think it is a great compromise, but if you have a photograph ruined by moire pattern distortion, you may not agree.
Metal Door - Tehachapi, California
Note the moire pattern distortion from the K-30's weak anti-aliasing filter.

Getting Creative

Photography is art. As such, you probably don't want a stock and standard image. You want your photographs to have some look or pizzazz that sets it apart. The Pentax K-30 can help you with this, using the "Custom Image" and "Digital Filter" settings.
Collapsed Barn #1 - Tehachapi, California
Under "Custom Image" you'll find 11 preset options that can be customized to your liking. The ones that I found most useful are Portrait, Vibrant, Bleach Bypass, Reversal Film, B&W, and Cross Process.
Emu Stare - Mojave, California
The Portrait setting does a great job with skin tones. Bleach Bypass is named after the film development technique that this setting somewhat successfully emulates. B&W allows you to capture images as black-and-white, and has a couple more options that aren't available when converting an image to black-and-white using the camera's built-in post-processing.
Zebu - Tehachapi, California
The Vibrant setting is one that I'm quite impressed with. It reminds me a lot of Kodak Ektachrome E100VS reversal film. Landscape photographs, or really any photograph where you want the colors to pop, look great with this setting. I did bump up saturation and contrast one notch each in this setting.
Autumn Tree - Tehachapi, California
The Reversal Film option doesn't look great set to standard. I bumped the saturation up two notches, changed the hue two notches warmer, and bumped the contrast up one notch, and it looks more like reversal film--maybe like Kodak Kodachrome or Ektachrome 100SW. I do prefer Vibrant over Reversal Film, even after making the adjustments I mentioned above.
Vacancy At The Santa Fe - Tehachapi, California
Finally, the Cross Process setting, which is named after the film development technique that this effect emulates, is very interesting. It comes with three standard options, which aren't particularly good, plus a "Random" option. It's that Random option you want to use because it comes up with some interesting (and not so interesting) effects. You can save up to two effects that you like for use later. 
Camel - Mojave, California
I used the Cross-Process setting for this photograph.

Digital Filter settings can be applied prior to capturing an image or after. The most useful options are Monochrome, Extract Color, Toy Camera, Retro, High Contrast, Shading, Invert Color, Color, and Base Parameter Adjust. There are some other options that may be useful every once in a while, but not often.
Large White Flower - Bealville, California
These settings allow you to post-process your photographs right on the camera--no computer software needed! This is great if you don't own a computer or photo editing software or if you are away from your computer and need to polish your images. I wouldn't use these features all of the time, but in a pinch they really come in handy.
Learning Blocks - Tehachapi, California
Monochrome converts your images to black-and-white, and there are options that emulate red, green and blue filters, as well as infrared. With Extract Color, you can choose up to two colors to keep in color while the rest of the photograph becomes black-and-white.
Camp Site #11 - Tehachapi, California
I used the Extract Color feature to convert this image to black-and-white and keep the blue in color.

Toy Camera emulates lomography. Retro makes the image look like it was from the 1960's, but more importantly it has some options for borders. High Contrast is useful only in its weakest setting and only on low-contrast images. It can turn a dull image into one that excites when used correctly. Shading gives some vignetting options.
Step - Tehachapi, California
I used both the Toy Camera and the Retro effects for the above image.

Invert Color turns an image into a negative. Color is a selection of warming and cooling filter effects. Base Parameter Adjust allows you to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, hue and sharpness--this is particularly useful when editing your photographs.
Negative Energy - Bakersfield, California
I used the Invert Color feature for this image.

Another cool thing the K-30 can do is multiple exposures--up to nine images combined into one photograph. With some creativity, this could be an interesting feature.
Ghost Girl - Tehachapi, California
If you like high-dynamic-range (HDR) photography, the K-30 makes this easy. The camera will combine multiple images into one HDR photograph. You do have some control over the final product, and the camera does a good job overall with HDR (it definitely works), but I think if you are serious about this you'll want to combine the images yourself using software on your home computer and not rely on the camera.
Ranch Shed - Tehachapi, California
This is a hand-held HDR image, and it looks mediocre. Also note the moire pattern distortion.

Finally, the K-30 can do interval shooting. Set the camera on a tripod, decide how often the camera will capture an image, and decide how many images you wish the camera to capture. This is great for creating time-lapse videos or even capturing wildlife photographs where you want to remove yourself from the scene. I'm sure there are other creative uses for this.
MMC Carpet - Tehachapi, California
Build Quality, Etc.

The Pentax K-30 is a solid and sturdy DSLR. It looks and feels serious. It is weather sealed, making it rugged and ready to handle whatever elements you wish to photograph in. One quick note on that: you must have a weather sealed lens for the camera to be completely weather sealed.
Trees In The Morning Mountains - Tehachapi, California
The camera weighs almost a pound and a half, which is somewhat light. It's also fairly small for a DSLR. Size and weight matter because lugging around a large and heavy camera gets uncomfortable after awhile--the K-30 is pretty close to ideal.
Old Wood - Tehachapi, California
There are two control dials plus plenty of buttons to ensure that it is not difficult to adjust whatever you wish. The buttons are smartly placed so that you don't always need to take your eye away from the viewfinder.
Orange Leaf, Blue Sky - Tehachapi, California
The K-30 has 1080p HD video. It definitely works, but it's a little tricky and you want to avoid using the auto-focus. The microphone is mono and there is no jack for an external mic. I shot the very short video below using the K-30, and quickly threw it together for this review.

One disadvantage of the K-30 may be the price. It's not that it's a poor value, because it is a great value. But when you consider that the K-30 (body only) retails for $850, and the Nikon D5100 (body only) retails for $700, and the Nikon D3200 (with a lens!) retails for $700, the Pentax camera doesn't stand out as a bargain. You have to factor in the weather sealing and the pentaprism--that alone is worth $150 in my opinion.
Goodyear Tire - Bodfish, California
Conclusion

The Pentax K-30 has a few issues: short battery life, slow auto-focus in very dim light, and it's not the greatest DSLR for video. But beyond that, it is a great camera that produces excellent images. It's a good value that includes some features (weather sealing and pentaprism) that you find on more expensive cameras. I've had my K-30 for three weeks now, and I couldn't be happier with it.
Ax Blade - Bodfish, California
One final thought: don't worry too much about what equipment you have or don't have. Vision is what's important. Worry more about that and less about your camera.

9 comments:

  1. I just realized that I failed to mention the K-30's excellent image stabilization, which is built into the camera (instead of the lenses). Shutter speeds as slow as 1/8 are quite possible when hand-held.

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  2. I've had mine since July and love it. Coming from the KX the K-30 is amazing. Cold misty day in Cape Cod while whale watching was a non issue for the K-30. I've had it underneath Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska and up in to the Klondike. IQ is amazing and it's the best travel SLR I've owned.

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    1. Thanks for the comment!

      I just got caught out in the rain today with my K-30--and without a weather sealed lens--and the camera survived just fine. I've also been in some dusty situations with this camera and so far the sensor has remained dust free.

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  3. I've had my K- 30 For almost two years. Up until I got it I had been a Strict Nikon user, but after doing some comparing and research I decided to give Pentax a try. I LOVE it, I am hooked. I'm not saying I'll never by another Nikon but it's very doubtful. I love my Pentax and If and when I decide to buy another DSLR I'm going to Pentax first!

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Angela. Pentax has been around a long time and they certainly make good cameras and lenses. Interestingly, I no longer own the K-30. Instead I'm using a Nikon DSLR.

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  4. I'm K-30 owner for 1 years. I bought it new last year for 470 euros, with 2 lens kit.
    IMHO the best bargain i have ever made !

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  5. If i could stick my Sony a6000 into a pentax k-30 body i would.
    I've owned both cameras and the a6000 is superior to the k-30 in just about every way EXCEPT for the rugged toughness and feel of the k-30, not to mention its weather sealing. The "feel" of the k-30 is outstanding.

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    Replies
    1. The K-30 is a tough-feeling DSLR. An excellent choice if you need rugged gear. Thanks for commenting!

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