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DCRP Review: Pentax K10D  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 8, 2007
Last Updated: April 9, 2012

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The K10D is the flagship camera in Pentax's digital SLR lineup. It arguably has more bang for the buck than any other camera in its class, with a 10 Megapixel CCD, optical image stabilization, dust removal system, support for two RAW formats, and a solid, weather resistant body. The K10D sells for under $1000 with an 18 - 55 mm kit lens.

The K10D has a "twin" in the Samsung GX-10. They are the identical except for minor cosmetic differences and no support for the PEF RAW format on the GX-10 (it still supports the DNG format). For more on the GX-10, check out its mini-review.

Is the Pentax K10D the ultimate midrange D-SLR? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

There are two kits available for the K10D: body only, and with an 18 - 55 mm lens. Here's what you'll find in the box for both of these kits:

  • The 10.2 effective Megapixel K10D camera body
  • Pentax F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm autofocus lens [lens kit only]
  • D-L150 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Eyecup
  • Viewfinder cap
  • Hot shoe cover
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Pentax Photo Browser and Photo Laboratory
  • 234 page camera manual (printed)

As is the case with all D-SLRs, Pentax does not include a memory card with the K10D. So, unless you already have some SD cards laying around, you'll need to buy one. The camera supports SD, MMC, and the new high capacity SDHC cards, and I'd recommend buying a 1GB card to start with. A high speed card is recommended for getting the best performance out of the camera.

If you get the lens kit then you'll find a Pentax F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm lens in the box. This lens can be purchased separately for a little over $100. The 18-55 is a decent lens that is good for everyday shooting, though it does have a bit of a problem with vignetting that I'll illustrate later.

The K10D uses the D-LI50 lithium-ion rechargeable battery for power. This battery packs a whopping 12 Wh of energy, which is about as high as you'll find these days. How does that translate into battery life? Have a look:

Camera Battery life, 50% flash use
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon Digital Rebel XTi 360 shots NB-2LH
Canon EOS-30D 750 shots BP-511A
Nikon D40x 520 shots EN-EL9
Nikon D80 600 shots * EN-EL3e
Olympus E-410 500 shots ** BLS-1
Olympus E-510 650 shots ** BLM-1
Pentax K10D 480 shots D-LI50
Pentax K100D 300 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Samsung GX-10 480 shots SLB-1674 ***
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 750 shots NP-FM55H

* Not officially calculated using the CIPA standard, but same methodology used
** With live view turned off
*** Same as the D-LI50

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The K10D's battery life is a bit below average, but not by much. If you want more juice, then you'll need this:


K10D with optional battery grip and F2.4L, 70 mm lens

Yes, it's a battery grip, known as the D-BG2 (priced from $144). It takes a second D-LI50 battery, effectively doubling your battery life. It also offers a few additional buttons, which come in handy when you're shooting in the vertical orientation.

I suppose I should mention the usual downsides about proprietary batteries like the D-LI50. They're expensive (priced from $50), and you can't use off-the-shelf batteries when you run out of juice. That said, only the "old" Pentax K100D supports AA batteries straight out of the box. A few others let you use them in their optional battery grips.

When it's time to charge that D-LI50, just pop it into the included charger. It takes about three hours to fully charge the battery. This isn't one of those handy chargers that plug directly into the wall -- you must use a power cable.

Let's talk about accessories now. Being a D-SLR, the K10D supports just about every thing you can imagine. I've compiled some of them into this handy table for you:

Accessory Model # Price * Why you want it
Lenses Varies Varies Supports all K-mount lenses (even really old ones) with a 1.5X crop factor
External flash

AF360FGZ
AF540FGZ

From $200
$330
Get more flash power and less chance of redeye
Wireless remote control Remote F $20 Take photos wirelessly...
Wired remote control CS-205 $35 ... or while tethered to the camera
Battery grip D-BG2 From $144 Doubles your battery life while adding a grip for shooting portraits
AC adapter D-AC50 $70 Power your camera without draining the battery
Camera case O-CC55 $55 Protect your camera from the elements
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

There are a few other accessories out there not on the list, most of them related to the optical viewfinder.


Pentax Photo Browser 3

Pentax includes two pieces of software with the K10D: Photo Browser and Photo Laboratory. There are Mac and Windows versions of each, and the former is Universal, meaning that it runs at full speed on Intel-based Macs.

Photo Browser 3 is a fairly typical photo organizer. It'll download the images off of the camera and put them into the usual thumbnail view. As you'd expect, the thumbnail size can be adjusted, and there are various ways of sorting through your photos. Information about the currently selected image is shown below the thumbnails. The software can displays selected photos in a slideshow, if you wish.

Photo Browser can open RAW images and convert them to JPEG or DNG format. It cannot, however, edit the RAW properties -- you'll need the Photo Laboratory software described below for that.

If you double-click on a thumbnail you'll arrive at the above screen. Here you can rotate and crop your photos, as well as print them. While there is an auto enhance feature, I was surprised to see that there was no redeye removal tool.


Pentax Photo Laboratory 3

Pentax includes their Photo Laboratory software (which is based on SilkyPix) for all your RAW editing needs. It lets you adjust things like exposure, saturation, contrast, and sharpness covered. There are nice white balance controls, plus you can reduce noise, chromatic aberrations, and lens distortion as well. If that's still not enough, you can play with tone curves to your heart's desire.

If you don't want to use Photo Laboratory, you can also import the RAW files directly into Photoshop using the latest Camera Raw plug-in.

What's the big deal about RAW anyway, you ask? RAW images contain unprocessed image data from the camera, which must be converted on your computer into more common formats like JPEG. Since the image data hasn't been touched, you can edit the properties mentioned above without reducing the quality of the image. So if you screwed up the white balance, RAW lets you redeem yourself.

The K10D is very unique in that it supports two RAW formats. Naturally, it supports Pentax's own proprietary PEF format, but it also allows you to use Adobe's open standard called DNG. While the photo quality will be the same with either format (since they're both RAW), there are some differences in performance that I'll detail later in the review.

Being a pretty complicated camera, it's not too surprising that Pentax includes a pretty thick manual in the box with the K10D. It's in-depth and covers all the camera features. Extra points to Pentax for using a font size that doesn't require a magnifying glass.

Look and Feel

The K10D is an exceptionally well-built, midsize digital SLR. It's just the right size (at least for me) -- not too small, not too big. There's a large grip for your right hand, so you never feel like the K10D is about to fall out of your hands. The camera has a sturdy plastic shell over a metal frame, and it feels really solid in your hands. The various buttons, dials, and ports on the camera are dust and weather resistant, so the camera can be out in the elements without a problem. Speaking of buttons, while the K10D has many of them, it's still fairly easy to just pick up and use.

Now let's see how the K10D compares to other entry-level D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon Digital Rebel XTi 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6 in. 48.1 cu in. 510 g
Canon EOS-30D 5.7 x 4.2 x 2.9 in. 69.4 cu in. 700 g
Nikon D40x 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in. 46.3 cu in. 482 g
Nikon D80 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in. 64 cu in. 585 g
Olympus EVOLT E-410 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.1 in. 38.6 cu in. 375 g
Olympus EVOLT E-510 5.4 x 3.6 x 2.7 in. 52.5 cu in. 470 g
Pentax K100D 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.8 in. 51.4 cu in. 560 g
Pentax K10D 5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in. 62.7 cu in. 710 g
Samsung GX-10 5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in. 62.7 cu in. 710 g

As you can see, the K10D has more in common with the EOS-30D and D80 than it does with smaller cameras like the D40, E-410, and Rebel XTi. And that's not a bad thing, in this reviewers' opinion.

Alright, let's tour the K10D now, starting with the front of the camera.

Here's the front of the K10D without a lens. Like the K100D before it, the K10D works with any Pentax KAF2, KAF, or KA lens out there, and there are plenty to choose from. Due to the difference in size between the K10D's sensor and 35 mm film there is a 1.5X focal length conversion, so the 18 - 55 mm lens that comes in the lens kit bundle has a field-of-view of 27 - 82.5 mm.

Deep inside the camera is the camera's 10.2 Megapixel CCD sensor. This sensor has two important features attached to it: image stabilization and dust removal. First, the image stabilization, which Pentax calls Shake Reduction. Gyroscopic sensors inside the camera detect the effects of "camera shake" (caused by tiny movements of your hands), and the K10D can move the CCD itself to compensate for this motion. It won't stop a moving subject, and it won't work miracles, but it will allow you to use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. Here's an example of what the Shake Reduction system can do:


Shake reduction off


Shake reduction on

Both of the above photos were taken with a shutter speed of 1/4 second, and unless you have hands of stone, getting a sharp photo without image stabilization is near impossible. But the K10D has image stabilization, which gives you the sharp photo you can see on the bottom.`

The same system that is used to shift the CCD for stabilization is also used for removing annoying dust from the camera's CCD sensor. When the camera is turned on, or when you manually select the dust removal option, the camera "shakes" off the dust. As an owner of a camera without dust reduction, I can tell you that this is a very nice feature.

Back to the tour now. To the lower-left of the lens mount is the lens release button. Moving toward the grip now we find self-timer lamp and remote control receiver. Above that is one of the two command dials on the camera.

At the top of the photo is the K10D's built-in flash. The flash, which is released mechanically, has a guide number of 11 meters at ISO 100. The biggest competitors to the K10D are probably the Olympus E-510 and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100, and they both have guide numbers of 12 meters. If you need more flash power than the on-board flash provides, then you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe you'll see later in the review.

The flash isn't just for brightening up your subject. It also doubles as the AF-assist lamp, firing several times in succession in order to help the camera lock focus. This method works a lot better than a more traditional AF-assist lamp, resulting in shorter focus times. If you don't want to actually take a flash photo, you can lower the flash after the focus is locked.

Now we're on the back of the camera, which is where you'll find the vast majority of its controls. The main thing to see here is the camera's 2.5" LCD display, which has 210,000 pixels. As you'd expect, the screen is sharp -- and it's bright as well. As is the case with most D-SLRs, the LCD is only used for menus and reviewing photos after they are taken. If you want to actually compose photos on the LCD you'll need to consider a camera like the Olympus E-510.

Directly above the LCD is a large and bright optical viewfinder. The viewfinder shows 95% of the frame, and has a 0.95x magnification. It's a pleasure to use. If your vision isn't perfect you can adjust the focus by using the diopter slider on top of the viewfinder. When you put your eye to the viewfinder you'll see a line of shooting information below the field-of-view. This green text shows aperture, shutter speed, shots remaining, focus lock, and more.

To the immediate left of the viewfinder is the button for auto exposure bracketing. This will take three or five shots in a row, each with a different exposure. You can set the interval between shots in 1/2EV or 1/3EV increments, with a range of ±0.3EV to ±2.0EV.


This screen is shown when you press the Info button while taking pictures

Below that button are four more, which include:
  • Menu
  • Delete photo
  • Info - shows record mode settings and toggles photo info in playback mode
  • Playback mode

Moving over to the opposite side of the LCD now, I'll start from the top and work my way down. First up we have the second of the two command dials on the K10D -- you'll use both for adjusting manual settings. Below that is the exposure compensation button, which has a range of either -3EV to +3EV in 1/2EV steps, or -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV steps. If you quickly press this button it will also turn on the backlight on the LCD info display.

Right below that is the AF button, which is another way for you to focus the lens (besides halfway pressing the shutter release). Under that is the four-way controller, which is surrounded by a dial that selects the focus mode. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation. The focus mode dial lets you choose from automatic, center, or manual focus point selection. This last option lets you select one of the eleven available focus points yourself.


Function menu

Below that is the function button, which brings up the -- guess what -- function menu. It has these options:

  • Up - Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous, 2 or 10 sec self-timer, 0 or 3 sec remote control)
  • Down - Flash setting (Flash on, flash on w/redeye reduction, slow sync, slow sync w/redeye reduction, trailing curtain sync, wireless mode)
  • Left - White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, fluorescent, tungsten, flash, manual, color temperature)
  • Right - ISO sensitivity (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)

Lots to talk about here. I'll start with the K10D's continuous shooting mode. In JPEG mode, the camera kept shooting at 3 frames/second until I ran out of memory (using a Sandisk Extreme III SD card). In RAW (PEF) mode the camera took ten photos at the same rate before it started slowing down. When shooting in the DNG format the camera took thirteen photos (once again at 3 fps) before slowing down. That extends to RAW+JPEG mode as well, where the K10D took six PEF+JPEG or eight DNG+JPEG photos before hitting the buffer limit. I'm guessing that the added overhead of compressing those PEF files is what causes the speed difference here (DNG files are uncompressed).


White balance fine-tuning

The K10D has some pretty advanced white balance options. You've got the usual presets, two manual modes, and a fine-tuning feature. One lets you use a white or gray card as the "white point", so you can get accurate color even under unusual lighting. The other manual mode lets you set the color temperature manually from a range of 2500K to 10000K, in steps of 100K or 1000K. If that's still not enough for you, then you can take advantage of a WB fine-tuning feature, shown in the screenshot above. You can adjust the color in the green/magenta and blue/amber directions. What I'm getting at here is that it's practically impossible to screw up the white balance on the K10D.


Adjusting the Auto ISO range

By default, the K10D lets you adjust the ISO in 1EV increments. If you venture into the custom settings menu you can have it use the exposure compensation interval, which is either 1/3EV or 1/2EV. You can set the range used by the Auto ISO function (see screenshot), which is a good way to avoid high noise at higher sensitivities.

Right next to the function button is the Shake Reduction on/off switch. Why would you want to turn off image stabilization? I'll give you a great example: when you're using a tripod, as the shake reduction can actually end up blurring your photos.

The last thing to see here is the release for the door over the memory card slot, which you'll see in a bit.

There's more to see on the top of the K10D. Let's start with the mode dial on the left, which has some really unique options. They include:

Option Function
Green (auto) mode Fully automatic, with some menu options locked up
Hyper-program (P) mode Still automatic, but with full menu access. A Program Shift feature lets you use the command dials to move through sets of aperture/shutter speed combinations
Sensitivity priority (Sv) mode You choose the ISO you want to use, and the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed and aperture
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose the shutter speed, and the camera picks aperture. Shutter speed range is 30 - 1/4000 sec
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose aperture, camera picks appropriate shutter speed. Range depends on lens used; for the kit lens it is F3.5 - F38
Shutter & aperture priority (TAv) mode You choose both the aperture and shutter speed and the camera adjusts the ISO in order to get a proper exposure
Hyper-manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself; same ranges as above
Bulb mode Keeps the shutter open for as long as the shutter release is held down; remote control and AC adapter are recommended
Flash X-sync mode Locks the shutter speed at 1/180 sec; for use with external flashes that don't automatically
User settings mode Your favorite camera settings, easy to access

The K10D has some one-of-a-kind shooting modes. The sensitivity priority mode lets you choose an ISO, and the camera will pick the shutter speed and aperture that give you a nice exposure (though to be honest, I don't see the point of this particular option). More useful is the shutter and aperture priority mode, which lets you set both of those settings, with the camera manipulating the ISO to obtain the right exposure. There user settings mode is also handy, letting you store your favorite shooting mode and options in an easy to reach location. One thing you won't find on the K10D: scene modes.

Under the mode dial is a switch for selecting the metering mode. You can choose from multi-pattern, center-weighted, or spot metering.

To the right of the mode dial is the camera's hot shoe. It works best with the two Pentax flashes I mentioned earlier, as they integrate with the camera, which allows you to use P-TTL metering, high speed sync (uses shutter speeds faster than 1/180 sec), and wireless connectivity (poor word choice, I know) to an off-camera flash. Third party flashes will work with the camera too, though you'll have to use manual settings on both the camera and the flash. As you've probably gathered by now, the maximum flash sync speed is 1/180 sec.

Continuing to the right, we find the camera's LCD info display. This shows things like aperture, shutter speed, shots remaining, flash setting, and battery charge level. By pressing the exposure compensation button on the back of the camera you can turn on a extremely bright backlight for the screen.

Above that is the "green button", with the shutter release button and power switch next to that. The green button resets the exposure settings (like when you're using the hyper-program / program shift feature), and it will also automatically set the shutter speed and aperture when you're in hyper-manual mode (though this function can be redefined). The shutter release button doesn't have as much "play" as I would've liked.

There's an extra option on the power switch besides just on and off: optical or digital preview. If you choose the former, you'll get a depth-of-field preview when you look through the optical viewfinder. The digital option actually takes a photo (but doesn't save it), giving you a preview of exposure, white balance, focus, and composition.

On this side of the camera we find the auto/manual focus switch, the RAW button, and the I/O ports.

The focus switch moves the camera between single and continuous autofocus and manual focus. Single AF locks the focus when you halfway press the shutter release, while continuous AF keeps focusing even after that has been done. Manual focus should be self-explanatory.

What's the deal with the RAW button? Simply put, it's a quick way to take a RAW or RAW+JPEG photo, without having to trudge through the menu system. By default you're in RAW mode for one shot, though you can change this in the custom settings menu that I'll discuss later.

The I/O ports are protected by a sealed plastic door (which keeps water and dust outside) of average quality. They include:

  • Remote control
  • USB + Video out (one port for both)
  • DC-in (for optional AC adapter)

Like most D-SLRs, the K10D supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

On the other side of the camera you'll find the memory card slot, which also has a plastic door of average quality. The K10D supports SD, SDHC, and MMC memory cards.

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the K10D. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount (in line with the lens, of course), the connector for the battery grip, and the battery compartment. To get at the battery grip connector you must remove the rubber cover that protects it from the elements. The battery door itself is sturdy, sealed, and has a locking mechanism.

The included D-LI50 battery is shown at right.

Using the Pentax K10D

Record Mode

The K10D's startup times depend on whether or not you have it set to "shake off" dust at startup. If you don't, it's ready to go instantly. If you are using dust reduction than the delay is a half second, tops.

While autofocus speeds will vary a bit depending on your choice of lens, overall they were very impressive. Typical focus times were 0.2 to 0.4 seconds, with slightly longer delays in more difficult focusing situations. Low light focusing times can be sluggish if you don't use the flash-based AF-assist lamp, but if you do, you'll achieve focus lock a lot quicker. In either case, the camera focused accurately.

As you'd expect on a digital SLR, shutter lag is not an issue.

With a fast image processor and plenty of buffer memory, you'd be hard pressed to notice any delays between shots. You really can shoot as fast as you can compose on the K10D.

After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to send the shot you just took to the trash.

Now let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the K10D. Pentax uses a "star system" for image quality, with one star being good, two being better, and three being best. Here's what you find on a decent-sized memory card:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 1GB card
(optional)
10M
3872 x 2592
RAW 16.9 MB 60
*** 4.8 MB 208
** 2.8 MB 356
* 1.7 MB 612
6M
3008 x 2000
*** 2.9 MB 348
** 1.7 MB 594
* 1.0 MB 1024
2M
1824 x 1216
*** 1.1 MB 948
** 625 KB 1604
* 370 KB 2720

As I mentioned back in the software section of the review, the K10D supports the RAW image format. In fact, it supports two of them -- Pentax's own PEF format, and the DNG format that Adobe is trying to make into a standard. You can take a RAW image alone, or along with a JPEG.

While Pentax lists the same file size for both RAW formats, I found that to not be true in practice. The PEF files were consistently smaller (usually by a third) than the DNG files, with our test scene (shown later) taking up 16MB in DNG format and just under 11MB in PEF format. The PEF files are compressed, which slows down continuous shooting a bit, but the files take up less space on your memory card in the end.

Images are named using the following convention: IMGP####.JPG (or .DNG or .PEF), where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the file numbering even if you switch memory cards.

Let's move on to the menus now.

While not terribly attractive, the K10D's menus will get the job done. The menu is divided into four tabs, covering record, playback, setup, and custom settings. Here is the complete menu list:

Record menu

  • Exposure mode (same as on mode dial) - for use in "user" mode only
  • JPEG recorded pixels (10M, 6M, 2M)
  • JPEG quality (***, **, *)
  • Image tone (Natural, bright) - the latter cranks up the contrast and sharpness
  • Saturation (Low, normal, high)
  • Sharpness (Low, normal, high)
  • Contrast (Low, normal, high)
  • File format (JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG)
  • RAW file format (PEF, DNG)
  • Extended bracket (Off, white balance, saturation, sharpness, contrast) - just like exposure bracketing but for the items listed; camera takes three shots in a row
  • Multi-exposure - lets you take a bunch of photos which are combined into one
    • Number of shots (2-9)
    • Auto EV adjust (on/off)
  • Memory (Flash, drive, white balance, sensitivity, exposure compensation, auto bracket, display style, file number) - what settings are saved when the camera is turned off
  • Shake reduction (8 - 800 mm) - only shown when using a lens that doesn't transmit focal length to the camera
Playback menu
  • Playback display method (Standard, histogram, detailed info, no info display) - what is shown when viewing images in playback mode
  • Instant review - post-shot review
    • Display time (Off, 1, 3, 5 secs)
    • Histogram (on/off)
    • Bright/dark areas (on/off)
  • Digital preview - what is shown when you use the preview feature
    • Histogram (on/off)
    • Bright/dark areas (on/off)
  • Digital filter (Black & white, sepia, color, soft, slim, brightness) - discussed later
  • Slideshow
Setup menu
  • User - registers current settings to the user spot on the mode dial
  • Format card
  • Beep (on/off)
  • Date adjust
  • World time - choose home and travel time zones
  • Language
  • Guide display (on/off) - shows you what mode you're in when you turn on the camera or use the mode dial
  • Brightness level (-7 to +7 in 1-step increments)
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • Transfer mode (PC, PictBridge, PC-F) - I have no idea what this last option is for
  • Auto power off (Off, 1, 3, 5, 10, 30 mins)
  • Folder name (Standard, date) - the latter organizes your photos in date-based folders
  • Select battery (Camera, grip) - which battery is used first when using the battery grip
  • Dust removal - shakes off the dust
  • Sensor cleaning - locks the mirror in the up position so you can manually clean the sensor
  • Reset - returns camera to default settings
Custom menu
  • Setting (on/off) - whether or not to use custom settings
  • Program line (Normal, high speed, depth-of-field, MTF) - for use in auto and hyper-program mode
  • EV steps (1/2EV, 1/3EV)
  • ISO warning (Off, 400, 800, 1600) - a warning in the viewfinder turns on when this value is exceeded
  • Metering operating time (3, 10, 30 secs)
  • AE lock when AF locked (on/off) - whether metering locks when focus does
  • Link AF and AE points (on/off)
  • Auto bracketing order (Normal->Under->Over, Under->Normal->Over, Over->Normal->Under)
  • Auto EV compensation (on/off) - whether to compensate automatically when proper exposure cannot be determined
  • WB when using flash (on/off) - whether to fix white balance when using the flash
  • Fine-tune when auto WB (on/off)
  • AF button function (Enable AF, cancel AF, center of AF point) - what this button does
  • AF by press halfway (on/off) - whether halfway pressing the shutter release locks the focus
  • Superimpose AF area (on/off) - whether selected focus point is shown in the viewfinder
  • AF in remote control (on/off) - whether autofocus is used when shooting with a remote control
  • Noise reduction (on/off) - for long exposures
  • Color space (sRGB, AdobeRGB)
  • Color temp steps (Kelvin, mired) - that's 100K or 20K increments
  • e-dial in program mode (Tv/Av, Av/Tv, exposure comp/program shift, program shift, exposure comp, off) - what the front and rear dials do in hyper-program mode
  • e-dial in Sv mode (None/ISO, program shift/ISO, ISO/program shift) - same idea
  • e-dial in Tv mode (Tv/none, Tv/exposure comp, exposure comp/Tv, Tv/ISO, ISO/Tv) - and here too
  • e-dial in Av mode (None/Av, exposure comp/Av, Av/exposure comp, ISO/Av, Av, ISO) - and one more time
  • Green button in TAv and M (Program line, Tv shift, Av shift)
  • One touch RAW+JPEG (One-time, continuous) - how the RAW button on the side of the camera works
  • Illuminate LCD panel
  • Release shutter when charging
  • Preview method (Optical, digital) - discussed earlier
  • Recordable image number
  • Initial zoom display (1.2X, 2X, 4X, 8X, 16X) - initial setting for the playback zoom feature
  • Auto image rotation (on/off)
  • Save rotation info (on/off)
  • Using aperture ring
  • Reset custom functions

Okay, let's move on to our test photos now. I used various lenses for each test, so be sure to read the text under the photos to find out.

The K10D did a great job with our standard macro test shot. The colors are spot-on (thank you custom white balance), there's plenty of detail captured, and the subject has the "smooth" look that you'd expect to see on a digital SLR. This photo was taken with the Pentax F2.4L, 70mm lens.

The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. For the kit lens it's just 25 cm, so if you want to get closer, you'll need to buy a macro lens.

The night shot also turned out nicely, though I prefer the sharper RAW version myself. The camera took in plenty of light thanks to its manual shutter speed controls. The camera captured plenty of detail, and there are no noise or noise reduction artifacts to be found. There is a bit of purple fringing here, though. I used the F4.0-5.6, 50 - 200 mm lens for this test.

There are two ISO tests in this review. The first uses the same scene you see above. Here goes:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

Both the ISO 100 and 200 shots are very clean, with a slight up tick in noise at ISO 400. At ISO 800 you start to notice detail loss, caused by both noise and noise reduction (though the image is still very usable), and things just get worse at ISO 1600. Shooting in RAW mode at ISO 1600 gets you some detail back, but with a lot more noise.

While there's no much barrel distortion with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens, there is vignetting (dark corners), something which you'll find in real world images as well. Yeah, it's not the greatest lens.

I wouldn't expect redeye to be a problem on a digital SLR, and sure enough, there's not at all in our flash test shot.

Now it's time for our second ISO test. This one is taken in the studio, and is comparable between cameras. While the crops give you a quick idea about the noise levels at each ISO setting, viewing the full size images is always a good idea.


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

There are minimal differences between the first four crops -- there's very little noise to speak of. At ISO 1600 there's a tiny bit of noise and noise reduction artifacting, but still, making a large print at this setting should not be a problem. That is why you're buying a D-SLR, right?

Summarizing my feelings about the K10D's image quality is not easy. When shooting JPEGs with the camera at its default settings, the K10D's photo quality was somewhat disappointing by D-SLR standards. Photos are soft (which is, admittedly, common on midrange SLRs) and colors are fairly dull. When I started taking RAW and JPEG images at the same time, I was floored by the differences: the RAW images were significantly better, and truly show what the camera is capable of.


JPEGs are unsaturated colors and an overall soft feel when taken at the camera's default settings

2
RAW images (converted here with Adobe Camera Raw) are much sharper and colorful

The crops above illustrate what I'm talking about. The JPEG image is soft, with fuzzy details, and dull colors. The RAW image, on the other hand, is much better: it's sharp, vivid, and there's no noise reduction to muck up the details. There are several more examples of this in the gallery that I recommend you look at.

But you shouldn't be required to go through the fuss of RAW conversion in order to get the best output possible from the K10D, right? So what else can you do?

One simple way to get better JPEG quality is to change the "image tone" option from natural to bright.


JPEG with natural image tone setting

JPEG with bright image tone setting

RAW conversion

Here you get a small improvement in sharpness and big changes in color -- perhaps a little too much in my opinion. Another option: why not just adjust the sharpening, saturation, and contrast settings manually instead? Look at this:


JPEG at default sharpness

JPEG at +2 sharpness, +1 contrast

RAW conversion

The crop in the middle up there is probably where I'd leave things if I owned the K10D. It's much sharper than the default output, with better contrast too (black actually looks black). If you want the punchier color in the RAW photo you can turn up the saturation as well.

So what's the bottom line here? Shooting JPEGs straight out of the box isn't a good idea, as they'll be soft and dull in color. You can resolve this by shooting RAW, increasing in-camera sharpening/contrast/saturation, or just using the bright image tone setting. Once you do I think you'll be more than pleased with the K10's output.

Okay that was a lot of reading -- so switch to the other side of your brain and have a look at our K10D photo gallery. View the images as if they were your own, printing them if possible, and then you should be able to decide if the K10D's photo quality meets your needs.

Movie Mode

No digital SLRs have movie modes at this time.

Playback Mode

The K10D's playback mode is pretty nice by D-SLR standards. Basic features include DPOF print marking, slideshows, image protection, image rotation, and zoom and scroll. This last feature, AKA playback zoom, lets you enlarge a photo by as much as twenty times, and them move around in the blown-up area. When you're zoomed in you can use the back command dial to move from photo to photo (while keeping the zoom and location intact), which is handy for doing A/B comparisons.


Virtual color filter

The camera has built-in special effects that you wouldn't expect to find on a digital SLR. You can convert images to black and white or sepia, add color or softening filters, "slim" down a person (oh brother), and adjust a photo's brightness.


RAW development

The K10D also lets you "develop" RAW images right in the camera, bypassing the need for a computer. You can adjust image size and quality, white balance, ISO, image tone, saturation, sharpness, and contrast before saving the file as a JPEG. Cool.

By default the camera doesn't tell you much about your photos in playback mode. Press the info button and you can see two different types of histograms. Press it again and you'll see a screen full of details (and I mean it). There's also an option to show over and under exposed areas of your photos.

The K10D moves through photos instantly.

How Does it Compare?

Although I'm not thrilled with its straight-out-of-the-box photo quality, Pentax K10D is an exceptional digital SLR, and one that I can recommend easily. It offers superb build quality, great performance, tons of features (many of them unique to the K10D) -- and it's not too hard on the wallet, either. As for the photo quality, there are easy workarounds that let you get much better results than what the camera gives you at its default settings.

The K10D is a midsize digital SLR that's built like a tank. It's very solid, and all the "openings" (like the I/O port cover) are sealed for weather and dust resistance. The camera has a large right hand grip, so it's easy to hold. The camera has its fair share of buttons, though they are well-labeled and sensibly placed. The K10D has a 2.5" LCD that's typical of cameras in its class. Something not-so-typical anymore is the LCD info display on the top of the camera, which has a super-bright backlight for easy nighttime viewing. The camera supports basically all Pentax KAF mount lenses, and the K10D's Shake Reduction system means that every lens you attach will have image stabilization. The SR system serves another purpose on the K10D, and that's dust removal. When you turn on the camera you can have the SR system actually "shake" dust right off the sensor -- a very handy feature on a D-SLR (and I speak from experience here). Being a D-SLR, it shouldn't come as a surprise that tons of accessories are available, including lenses, flashes, remote controls, viewfinder enhancements, and a battery grip.

The K10D is a camera aimed more toward enthusiasts than those upgrading from point-and-shoot cameras. You won't find any scene modes here. Instead, you'll find a full suite of manual controls, and then some. The usual manual shutter speed and aperture controls are just the beginning -- how about a sensitivity priority mode which lets you choose the ISO, and the camera picks the shutter speed and aperture that give you the right exposure. The shutter & aperture priority mode is just the opposite: you select both of those values, and the camera boosts the ISO as high as it needs to in order to get a properly exposed photo. Both of those features are found only on the K10D (and its Samsung equivalent). The camera has a lot of white balance controls too, including the usual custom option (using a white or gray card), manual color temperature selection, and fine-tuning. Continuing with this theme, the K10D not only supports one RAW image format -- it supports two! Photo quality will be the same, whether you use Pentax's PEF or Adobe's DNG format, though there are file size and performance considerations to take into account, which detailed earlier in the review. The include Pentax Photo Laboratory software lets you manipulate the RAW image properties to your heart's content.

Camera performance is excellent. If you've got dust reduction turned off, the K10D is ready to shoot as soon as you hit the power switch. Even if you are doing dust reduction at startup, the wait is minimal. Focus times were very good in most situations. Low light focusing was always accurate, but it's a bit slow if you're not using the flash-based AF-assist lamp. Shutter lag was not an issue, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal, even in RAW mode. The K10D's continuous shooting mode is very good as well, taking an unlimited number of JPEGs, ten PEF-format RAWs, or thirteen DNG-format RAW images at 3 frames/second. When it's time to transfer photos to your Mac or PC you'll appreciate the K10D's support for the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol. If there's any weak spot in this department it's battery life, with numbers that are just a bit below average.

Photo quality varies greatly depending on the settings you're using. If you pull the K10D out of the box, attach the kit lens, and start shooting JPEGs then you might say "wow, my old point-and-shoot took better pictures". However, if you tweak the settings a bit, or shoot in RAW mode then you'll see that the K10D can produce photos of exceptional quality. For whatever reason, the K10D's image processor produces soft images with dull colors, which aren't terribly pleasing to the eye. If you don't want to fuss with RAW, you can change the image tone option to vivid or adjust the in-camera sharpening, contrast, and saturation to your liking. Whatever you end up doing, once you've found that sweet spot, the K10D's photo quality ranks up there with the best of them. Noise levels are quite low on the camera, with even ISO 1600 being usable. As one would expect on a D-SLR with a big pop-up flash, redeye was not an issue on the camera. Purple fringing popped up occasionally, but wasn't a huge problem overall. The 18 - 55 mm kit lens isn't great, with vignetting in several of my real world test photos. hey, it's $100, what do you expect?

All things considered, the Pentax K10D is an excellent midrange digital SLR. It offers a solid, well-designed body, rocket-fast performance, and superb photo quality if you get away from the default settings. It may not be a great choice for those used to live-view and scene modes, but if you're ready to dive into more serious photography, the K10D is a great choice. It earns my highest recommendation.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality, though not at default settings
  • Image stabilization system works with all Pentax lenses
  • Great build quality; easy to hold; weatherproof seals
  • Dust reduction system
  • Large, bright 2.5" LCD display
  • Full manual controls, and then some
  • Unique sensitivity (Sv) and shutter/aperture priority (TAv) modes
  • Very fast performance; great continuous shooting mode
  • Accurate low light focusing (though sluggish if you don't use the AF-assist lamp)
  • LCD info display with super-bright backlight on top of camera
  • Support for two RAW formats; good RAW editing software included; in-camera RAW development feature
  • Handy digital preview option
  • Redeye not a problem
  • Optional battery grip
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • JPEG quality at default settings leaves much to be desired
  • Some vignetting with kit lens
  • Battery life a bit below average

Some other digital SLRs worth considering include the Canon EOS-30D and Rebel XTi, Nikon D40x and D80, Olympus E-410 and E-510 (the latter being the K10D's closest competitor), and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100. There's also the Samsung GX-10, which is the same camera except for minor cosmetic differences and no support for the PEF RAW format (it still does DNG though).

As always, I strongly recommend trying the K10D and its competitors before you drop the big bucks on a digital SLR!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Want another opinion?

You can read more reviews of the K10D at Digital Photography Review, CNET, and Luminous Landscape.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.

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