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DCRP Review: Pentax K20D  
   

Front of the Pentax K20D

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 5, 2008
Last Updated: April 9, 2012

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The K20D ($1199, body only) is the flagship model in Pentax's digital SLR lineup. While it has the features of a midrange SLR (most notably its 14.6 Megapixel sensor and weatherproof body), the K20D costs several hundred dollars less than the competition.

Other features on the K20D include sensor-shift image stabilization, live view on a 2.7" LCD, two different RAW formats, unique sensitivity and aperture/shutter speed priority modes, and support for essentially every Pentax lens ever made.

I should mention that the K20D has a twin: the Samsung GX-20. The cameras aren't 100% identical, with the GX20 having different menus and, reportedly, different image processing.

Ready to learn more about the K20D, and how it compares to some pretty tough competition? Then read on -- our review starts right now!

What's in the Box?

The K20D is sold in a body only kit (no lens included). Here's what you'll find inside its box:

  • The 14.6 effective Megapixel Pentax K20D camera body
  • D-L150 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Viewfinder cap
  • Body cap (installed)
  • Hot shoe cover (installed)
  • Eyecup (installed)
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Pentax Photo Browser and Photo Laboratory
  • 282 page camera manual (printed)

As I mentioned, no lens is included with the K20D. The good news is that Pentax has plenty available, and if you have any old Pentax glass laying around, they'll work just fine on the camera. And, since the camera has built-in shake reduction, you get image stabilization on all of these lenses.

Something else you won't find in the box is a memory card, which is normal for a digital SLR. The K20D supports both SD and SDHC memory cards, and I recommend picking up a 2GB card to start with (or perhaps even 4GB). It's definitely worth picking up a high speed card, for maximum camera performance.

The K20D uses the same D-LI50 lithium-ion rechargeable battery as its predecessor. 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, live view off
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS-40D 800 shots BP-511A
Nikon D90 850 shots EN-EL3e
Olympus E-520 * 650 shots BLM-1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 * 450 shots DMW-BLA13
Pentax K10D * 480 shots D-LI50
Pentax K20D * 530 shots D-LI50
Sony Alpha DSLR-A350 * 730 shots NP-FM500H

* Built-in image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

Though noticeably better than on the K10D, the K20D's battery life numbers are actually 20% below the group average. Thus, picking up a spare battery isn't a bad idea. Keep in mind that these batteries are pricey -- an extra will set you back at least $45. In addition, when your D-LI50 runs out of juice, you can't pop in some off-the-shelf batteries to get you through the day.

Pentax K20D with optional battery grip
Camera with optional battery grip

If you want longer battery life and a comfortable grip for portrait shooting, then you might want to check out the D-BG2 battery grip (priced from $130). This grip holds an additional D-LI50 battery, giving you double the battery life. It also has additional buttons and control dials, perfect for shooting vertically.

Pentax K20D and battery charger

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

Since it's a digital SLR, you shouldn't be too surprised to hear that the K20D has a wealth of accessories available. I've compiled the most notable ones into the chart below:

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 $173
From $315
Get more flash power and less chance of redeye with these two flashes
Wireless remote control Remote F From $25 Take photos wirelessly...
Wired remote control CS-205 From $32 ... or via a 1.6 foot cable
Magnifier eyecup O-ME53 $35 Increases the magnification of the viewfinder from 0.95x to 1.12x.
Battery grip D-BG2 From $130 Doubles your battery life while adding a grip for shooting portraits
AC adapter D-AC50 From $50 Power your camera without draining the battery
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

There are more accessories available, ranging from focusing screens to camera bags, but these are the most common and easiest to find.


Pentax Photo Browser

Pentax includes three different software applications with the K20D. The first is Photo Browser 3.5 which, as its name implies, is for taking photos off the camera, and then organizing them. My first impression wasn't terribly positive: the software wouldn't install on my Mac, so I had to dive into the "package contents" to find the actual installer. Once I got it up and running, I formed my second impression: this software is slow.

On the main screen, you'll have the usual thumbnail view of your photos, with all the shooting data you could possibly want at the bottom. There's not much you can do in terms of editing photos in this software: you can rotate photos, crop them, or perform a "quick fix" -- and that's about it. Photo Browser can open RAW files (in both supported formats) and save them as JPEGs.


Pentax Photo Laboratory

For more "hardcore" RAW editing, you'll want to open up Pentax Photo Laboratory. This lets you edit virtually every RAW property, ranging from exposure to white balance to the tone curve. Other tools are your disposal include noise reduction, highlight adjustment, and lens aberration and distortion correction.

What's the deal with RAW, anyway? RAW files contain unprocessed data from the K20D's image sensor. This allows you to edit the various properties that I just mentioned, without affecting the quality of the image. Choose the wrong white balance setting? Just fix it in software. Shooting RAW gives you a chance to retake a photo from your desk chair.

Do note that RAW images have much higher file sizes than their JPEG counterparts, which limits how many photos you can take in continuous shooting mode. They must also be processed on your Mac or PC before you can save them into more common formats like JPEG.

The K20D is a rather unique SLR in that it supports two different RAW formats. You can choose from Pentax's proprietary PEF format, or Adobe's DNG (digital negative specification) file format.


Pentax Remote Assistant

The last piece in the software trio is Pentax Remote Assistant 3. This allows you to control the camera from your computer, with the images being saved directly to your hard disk. You don't need to lay a finger on the camera, as all of its settings can be controlled from the software. Do note that live view is not available in Remote Assistant.

Remote Assistant can also be used for adjusting the setup and custom settings on the K20D. You can save current settings to your hard drive, so you can swap them around if you need to (or just save them as a backup).

Digital SLRs are complicated cameras, and thus they need detailed manuals. Pentax delivers in that department, providing a thick manual with plenty of details, with a font size that won't require your reading glasses. The manual does have its share of confusing charts and "notes", but I guess that comes with the territory.

Look and Feel

I was really impressed with the build quality of the "old" K10D, and things haven't changed a bit on the K20D. It's a very sturdy camera, with a stainless steel frame on the inside, and a "fiber-reinforced polycarbonate" shell on the outside. The camera is protected against dust and moisture, with seals in seventy-two locations. The bottom line here is that the K20D can handle the elements with ease.

Ergonomics and usability are a mixed bag. I found the K20D easy to hold, with a good-sized grip for your right hand, which has a "sticky" feel to it. The K20D has more than its share of buttons and dials -- especially on its rear -- so it may take a while before you get used to it. While I'll go into much more detail about the camera's menu system later in the review, I will say now that they feel quite dated.

Alright, now let's see how the K20D compares to other midrange D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS-40D 5.7 x 4.2 x 2.9 in. 69.4 cu in. 740 g
Nikon D90 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in. 64 cu in. 620 g
Olympus E-520 5.4 x 3.6 x 2.7 in. 52.5 cu in. 475 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 5.3 x 3.8 x 3.1 in. 62.4 cu in. 480 g
Pentax K10D 5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in. 62.7 cu in. 710 g
Pentax K20D 5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in. 62.7 cu in. 714 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A350 5.1 x 3.9 x 2.9 in. 57.7 cu in. 582 g

The K20D has the same dimensions and nearly the same weight as its predecessor, which shouldn't come as a huge surprise -- they're the same design. Amongst its peers, the K20D is on the large side, with only the Canon EOS-40D coming in higher.

Alright, let's tour the K20D now, starting with the front of the camera.

Front of the Pentax K20D

Here's the front of the K20D, without a lens attached. As I mentioned earlier, you can attach any K-AF2, K-AF, or KA-a lens to the camera, which means that if you own a Pentax lens (of any vintage), it'll most likely work. There is a 1.5X crop factor, so the effective field-of-view of a 50mm lens is 75mm. You can release an attached lens by pressing the button to the lower-left of the mount.

The K20D features a newly designed 14.6 Megapixel CMOS sensor, which was developed by Samsung, who sells their own version of this camera, known as the GX-20. The sensor uses the camera's image stabilization system (described below) to literally shake dust off the camera, and you'll hear when this process is running. I'll tell you about some other dust reduction tools the camera offers a bit later in the review.

The K20D features a sensor-shift image stabilization system. Motion sensors inside the camera detect the "shake" that can blur your photos, especially in low light, or when you're using a telephoto lens. The camera's CMOS sensor is then "shifted" to compensate for this motion, making a sharp photo a lot more likely. Image stabilization systems won't freeze a moving subject, nor will they allow for multi-second handheld exposures, but they do give you 3-4 stops of shutter speeds that would otherwise be unusable. Since the IS system is built into the camera, all lenses will have shake reduction as soon as they're attached.

So, want to see how well the image stabilizer works in the real world? Have a look at this:


Shake reduction off


Shake reduction on

I took both of those photos at a shutter speed of 1/6 second. Without shake reduction, the calculator and camera manual are totally blurry, but with it, they're tack sharp.

Getting back to the tour, now. Directly above the lens mount is the K20's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The flash has a guide number of 13 meters (at ISO 100), which is tied with the Canon EOS-40D for the best-in-class. Should you want additional flash power, you can attach external flash via the K20D's hot shoe or flash sync port. The K20D also supports wireless flashes straight out of the box, should you want to cut the cord entirely.

The camera uses its built-in flash as focusing aid in low light situations. Flash-based AF-assist systems work very well, though the light can be blinding to your subject. If you don't want to take a flash picture, just close the flash after focus is locked.

The last items of note on the front of the K20D can be found on its grip. At the top is the front command dial, with the self-timer lamp / remote control receiver below that.

Back of the Pentax K20D

The first thing to see on the back of the K20D is its 2.7" LCD display, which is a bit larger than the one on the K10D (but still smaller than what you'll find on most of the competition). The screen has 230,000 pixels, which is pretty standard these days. Naturally, you can adjust the screen brightness via the setup menu. Another, rather unique, feature is the ability to adjust the color balance of the screen -- but more on that later.


Live view, with composition grid and focus points turned on

The LCD is used for one of the biggest new features on the K20D: live view. This allows you to compose photos on the screen, just like you can on your compact camera. The K20D doesn't support contrast detect AF like some of its peers, instead relying on its built-in AF sensor. This requires the camera to flip its mirror down, lock focus, flip the mirror back up, and turn live view back on. This is still faster than contrast detect AF, though the LCD will be blacked out for a second or more while the camera focuses.


The poor quality of the enlarged live view image makes it difficult to verify proper focus

In live view mode, the only information displayed on the LCD are composition grids. Current camera settings aren't shown and, in fact, you can't even adjust exposure settings while using live view. If you want to change settings, the camera will exit live view, and you'll have to press the power switch again to return to it. While you can enlarge the frame (which is handy for manual focusing), the resulting image isn't very sharp.

Outdoors, the LCD has average visibility -- good, but not great. Low light visibility is fair in dim light, but any darker and you probably won't see anything.

The live view switch can also be used to activate two other preview methods. One is a good old depth-of-field preview (through the viewfinder, of course), while the digital preview takes a photo, but doesn't write it the memory card.

When the LCD is not in use, an info screen is available for viewing (you may need to press the Info button to see it). It takes up two screens, and gives you nearly all camera settings in one place.

Right above the LCD is the K20D's optical viewfinder. With a magnification of 0.95x, the viewfinder is on the large side, and it covers 95% of the frame. Under the field-of-view is a line of green text that displays current shooting information, including shutter speed, aperture, focus lock, and shots remaining / ISO setting (you can't have both of those at the same time). As I mentioned back in the accessory section, you can purchase focusing screens, magnifiers, and right-angle adapters for the viewfinder.

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. In the record menu you can turn on "extended bracketing", which allows you to bracket for white balance, saturation, hue, contrast, and sharpness.

Jumping to the opposite side of the viewfinder, we find the camera's rear command dial. Like the one on the front of the camera, the dial is used for adjusting the exposure. The dial is also used for playback zoom and thumbnail mode, and also for enlarging the frame when using live view. Continuing to the right, we find the AE lock button, which is used for protecting images in playback mode.

Just below the rear command dial are buttons for exposure compensation and autofocus. The exposure compensation range is -3EV to +3EV when using 0.5EV steps, and +2EV to -2EV when using 0.3EV steps. This exposure compensation button is also used to turn the backlight on for the LCD info display on the top of the camera. The AF button activates the autofocus system, and this is what you'll need to press to focus in live view mode.

Continuing downward, we find the four-way controller, which is surrounded by the focus mode dial. The focus modes here are auto (11-point), manual selection, and center-point. You'll use the four-way controller for navigating the camera's menu system and playing back photos.


Function menu

Under that you'll find the Function button and the on/off switch for the image stabilizer (hint: you may want to turn it off when you're using a tripod). Further to the right is the release for the memory card slot. Pressing the function button opens up the camera's shortcut (function) menu, which has the following options:

  • Up - Drive (Single-frame, continuous high/low, burst, 2 or 10 sec self-timer, remote control [instant, 3 sec delay, continuous])
  • Down - Flash mode (Flash on, flash on w/redeye reduction, slow sync, slow sync w/redeye reduction, trailing curtain sync, wireless)
  • Left - White balance (Auto, sunlight, shade, cloudy, fluorescent [daylight, neutral, white], tungsten, flash, manual, color temperature)
  • Right - Sensitivity (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400) + Dynamic range expansion (on/off)
  • Center - Custom image (Bright, natural, portrait, landscape, vibrant, monochrome)

There's a lot to talk about before we can move on. Let's start with the cameras continuous shooting modes. The two continuous modes are full resolution, and can be used in RAW or JPEG mode. The burst mode lowers the resolution to 1.6MP and is JPEG only. Here's a summary of the camera's continuous shooting performance:

  High speed continuous Low speed continuous Burst
RAW+JPEG 7 shots @ 2.9 fps 8 shots @ 2.2 fps N/A
RAW 15 shots @ 2.9 fps 17 shots @ 2.2 fps N/A
JPEG (highest quality) 38 shots @ 2.9 fps Unlimited @ 2.2 fps Unlimited @ 22 fps

While the K20D's continuous shooting rate is considerably slower than most of the competition, it does have a pretty sizable buffer, as you can see from those RAW numbers. I should also point out that live view is disabled as soon as continuous shooting begins.


White balance fine-tuning

If you like white balance controls, then you'll love the K20D. It offers the usual presets plus a custom mode (which lets you use a white or gray card as a reference), manual color temperature adjustment, and fine-tuning (see above). The color temperature can be adjusted in small steps (100K) with the front command dial, and large steps (1000K) with the rear dial.

The K20D has the usual ISO adjustments, plus the ability to easily set the Auto ISO range (see screenshot). Also in this menu is a dynamic range expansion function, which lets you increase the DR by 200%. Does it work? Take a look:

Expanded DR off Expanded DR on

I tested the DR expansion feature in a number of different situations, and found that it does indeed help a little. It doesn't do much in terms of brightening shadows, but it did make the sky a more natural color in the shot above.


Custom Image adjustment

The last option in the function menu is called Custom Image, which is similar to Picture Styles and Picture Controls on Canon and Nikon SLRs, respectively. There are several presets available, including bright (the default), natural, portrait, landscape, vibrant, and monochrome. Each of these has a number of properties that can be "tweaked", including saturation, hue, filter effect (think B&W color filter), toning, contrast, and saturation.

Let's get back to our tour now, here are the details on the four buttons to the left of the LCD:

  • Menu
  • Delete photo
  • Info - toggles what's on the LCD
  • Playback mode

Those should all be self-explanatory, so let's continue to the next view of the K20D.

Top of the Pentax K20D

The first item of note on the top of the camera is the mode dial, which has the metering switch beneath it. The available metering modes are multi-segment, center-weighted, and spot. The mode dial itself has some unique options:

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 the aperture. Shutter speed range is 30 - 1/4000 sec.
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose the aperture, and the camera picks appropriate shutter speed. Range depends on lens used.
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 change the shutter speed.
User settings mode Your favorite camera settings, easy to access

The K20D's shooting modes are unchanged since the K10D, and many of them remain one-of-a-kind. The sensitivity priority mode lets you choose a desired ISO value, and the camera will choose the shutter speed and aperture combination that results in proper exposure. Perhaps more useful is the shutter & aperture priority mode, which lets you set both of those settings, with the camera manipulating the ISO to obtain the right exposure. There's also a user settings mode which holds your favorite camera settings, for easy access at any time.

One thing you won't find on the K20D: scene modes. If you want those, you'll have to step down to the K200D.

To the right of the mode dial is the camera's hot shoe. The camera works best with Pentax's own flashes (described earlier), which allows them to tap into the camera's metering system. These flashes also allow you to use high shutter speeds, instead of being limited to 1/180 sec as you would with non-Pentax units. If you're using a third party flash you may also have to set its settings manually.

Continuing to the right, we find the camera's LCD info display. This shows things like aperture, shutter speed, shots remaining or ISO, flash setting, and battery charge level. By pressing the exposure compensation button on the back of the camera you can turn on a green 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 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 power switch not only turns on the camera, but it's also how you activate live view, or one of the other preview modes. The shutter release still bugs me in the same way as it did on the K10D: it doesn't travel very far, so it's really sensitive.

Side of the Pentax K20D

Right in the center of the photo is the K20D's unique RAW button. Press it and the camera switches to either RAW or RAW+JPEG mode. By default it only lasts for one shot, but you can change that if you wish. Straight above the RAW button is the release for the pop-up flash.

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.

Continuing to the right, we find the flash sync port, which is new to the K20D. Normally it's covered by a screw-on plastic cap. Next to that are the camera's I/O ports, which are protected by a weather-sealed plastic door of decent quality. The ports here include:

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

As you'd expect, the K20D supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to a Mac or PC.

Side of the Pentax K20D

The only thing on this side of the camera is its memory card slot, which supports SD and SDHC media. The door covering the slot is sealed from the elements, and fairly sturdy.

Bottom of the Pentax K20D

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the K20D. 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 K20D

Record Mode

The K20D'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, naturally, focus speeds will vary depending on what lens you're using, they were generally very quick. In the best case scenarios you'll wait for 0.1 to 0.2 seconds, while in slower situations focus times will approach, but rarely exceed one second. The one exception comes in low light, when the flash is closed, where focus delays can be more than a second. Using the flash-based AF-assist lamp helps considerably.

Not surprisingly, shutter lag wasn't an issue on this digital SLR. Same goes for shot-to-shot speeds: you can keep firing away as quickly as you can compose the next shot.

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 K20D. Pentax uses a "star system" for image quality, with one star being basic and four stars being excellent. Here's more:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB card
(optional)
14.6M
4672 x 3104
RAW+JPEG 38.5 MB 52
RAW 24.4 MB 82
**** 14.5 MB 138
*** 8.4 MB 239
** 4.7 MB 429
* 2.4 MB 830
10M
3872 x 2592
**** 9.7 MB 206
*** 5.8 MB 343
** 3.3 MB 602
* 1.6 MB 1254
6M
3008 x 2008
**** 5.6 MB 359
*** 3.5 MB 579
** 2.0 MB 991
* 1.1 MB 1862
2M
1824 x 1216
**** 2.1 MB 931
*** 1.3 MB 1499
** 810 KB 2458
* 450 KB 4390

As I mentioned back in the software section of the review, the K20D supports two different RAW formats -- PEF and DNG. PEF files are considerably smaller than DNG files, since they are compressed. RAW images can be saved alone, or along with a JPEG of the size of your choosing.

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 talk about menus now. The K20D's menu system feels a bit antiquated, looking like something from a Pentax Optio camera several years ago. Navigating it is fairly easy, though I don't like how the OK button quits the menu system instead of selecting the item and going back a level. The menu has four tabs, covering recording, playback, setup, and custom settings. Here's what you'll find in each of those:

Record menu

  • Exposure mode (same as on mode dial) - for use in "user" mode only
  • JPEG recorded pixels (see chart above)
  • JPEG quality (see chart above)
  • File format (JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG)
  • RAW file format (PEF, DNG)
  • Extended bracket (Off, white balance, saturation, hue, sharpness, contrast) - just like exposure bracketing but for the items listed; interval ranges from 1 to 4 steps
  • Multi-exposure - lets you take a bunch of photos which are combined into one
    • Number of shots (2-9)
    • Auto EV adjust (on/off)
  • Interval shooting - for taking time-lapse photos
    • Interval (1 sec - 24 hrs)
    • Number of shots (1-99)
    • Start trigger (Now, set time)
  • Color space (sRGB, AdobeRGB)
  • RAW button
    • Cancel each time (yes/no)
    • Function (JPEG->RAW+JPEG, RAW->RAW+JPEG, RAW+JPEG->RAW)
  • Memory (Flash, drive, white balance, sensitivity, exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation, auto bracket, playback display, file number) - what settings are saved when the camera is turned off
  • Input focal length - for use with old Pentax lenses
Playback menu
  • Playback display
    • Bright/dark area (on/off)
    • Quick zoom (Off, 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x, 32x) - initial magnification when zooming into photos
  • Instant review - post-shot review
    • Display time (Off, 1, 3, 5 secs)
    • Histogram (on/off)
    • Bright/dark areas (on/off)
  • Live view - why this is in the playback menu is beyond me
    • Show grid (on/off)
    • AF frame display (on/off)
  • Digital preview - what is shown when you use the preview feature
    • Histogram (on/off)
    • Bright/dark area (on/off
  • Slideshow
    • Interval (3, 5, 10, 30 secs)
    • Repeat playback (on/off)
Setup menu
  • User - registers current settings to the user spot on the mode dial
  • Format card
  • Beep tone (on/off)
  • Date adjust
  • World time - choose home and travel time zones
  • Language
  • Text size (Standard, large) - change the font size in the menus
  • Guide display (Off, 3, 10, 30 secs) - 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)
  • LCD color tuning - see below
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • USB mode (PC, PictBridge)
  • Auto power off (Off, 1, 3, 5, 10, 30 mins)
  • Folder name (Standard, date) - the latter organizes your photos in date-based folders
  • File name - change the first half of the file numbering scheme
  • Select battery (Camera, grip) - which battery is used first when using the battery grip
  • Pixel mapping - maps out bad pixels on the sensor
  • Dust alert - see below
  • Dust removal - shakes dust off of the sensor
    • Remove now
    • Start-up action (on/off)
  • Sensor cleaning - locks the mirror in the up position so you can manually clean the sensor
  • Reset - returns camera to default settings
  • Reset User setting - erases the settings store at the User position of the mode dial
Custom menu
  1. Program line (Normal, high speed, depth-of-field, MTF) - for use in auto and hyper-program mode
  2. EV steps (1/2EV, 1/3EV)
  3. Sensitivity steps (1EV, same as EV steps)
  4. Expand sensitivity (on/off) - allows for ISO 6400
  5. Metering operating time (3, 10, 30 secs)
  6. AE lock when AF locked (on/off) - whether metering locks when focus does
  7. Link AF and AE points (on/off)
  8. One-push bracketing (on/off) - whether the bracketing sequence is taken all at once
  9. Auto bracketing order (0 - +, - 0 +, + 0 -, 0 + -)
  10. Auto EV compensation (on/off) - whether to compensate automatically when proper exposure cannot be determined
  11. WB when using flash (Auto, unchanged, flash)
  12. WB adjustable range (Auto adjustment, fixed) - whether the camera tweaks WB automatically
  13. AF button function (Enable AF, cancel AF, center of AF point) - what this button does
  14. AF by press halfway (on/off) - whether halfway pressing the shutter release locks the focus
  15. Superimpose AF area (on/off) - whether selected focus point is shown in the viewfinder
  16. AF in remote control (on/off) - whether autofocus is used when shooting with a remote control
  17. Slow shutter speed NR (Auto, on)
  18. High ISO noise reduction (Off, weakest, weak, strong)
  19. Color temp steps (Kelvin, mired) - that's 100K or 20K increments
  20. 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
  21. e-dial in Sv mode (None/ISO, program shift/ISO, ISO/program shift) - same idea
  22. e-dial in Tv mode (Tv/none, Tv/exposure comp, exposure comp/Tv, Tv/ISO, ISO/Tv)
  23. e-dial in Av mode (None/Av, exposure comp/Av, Av/exposure comp, ISO/Av, Av, ISO)
  24. e-dial in TAv & M (Tv/Av, Av/Tv)
  25. e-dial in B & X (None/Av, Av/None)
  26. Green button in TAv and M (Program line, Tv shift, Av shift)
  27. Illuminate LCD panel (on/off)
  28. Release shutter when charging flash (on/off)
  29. Flash in wireless mode (on/off)
  30. Preview method (Live view, optical, digital) - discussed earlier
  31. Display sensitivity (on/off) - swap shots remaining for ISO sensitivity on the LCD info display and in the viewfinder
  32. Save rotation info (on/off)
  33. Auto image rotation (on/off)
  34. Catch-in focus (on/off) - this lets you take a picture when a subject comes into focus; works with manual focus lenses only
  35. AF adjustment (Off, on/adjust) - allows you to tweak the focus for up to 20 lenses
  36. Using aperture ring (Prohibited, permitted)
    Reset custom functions

That is quite a list, isn't it. I want to touch on a few menu options before we head into the photo tests.

First, the K20D can bracket for a lot more than just exposure. The choices include white balance, color saturation and hue, sharpness, and contrast. There are also interval (time-lapse) and multi-exposure options available.

The K20D has a rather unique feature that lets you adjust the color of its LCD display. If you think your screen is looking a little blue, you can fix that using the same interface that you use for white balance fine-tuning.


Dust Alert feature; fake dust added for dramatic effect

Way back at the beginning of the camera tour I told you about how the K20D can shake dust off of its sensor. If that doesn't work and you need to bring out the blower, then the Dust Alert feature will certainly come in handy. Point the camera at a white wall and press the shutter release button, and you'll get the screen you see above. This serves as a guide for where to aim your air blower.

Okay, enough about menus already! Let's move onto the photo tests now. Since the K20D doesn't have a kit lens, there's no distortion test in this review.

The K20D and the Pentax F2.8, 35mm macro lens produced a nice photo of our standard close-up test subject. The figurine has the "smooth" look that is a trademark of digital SLRs. Even so, plenty of detail is captured, with specs of dust easily visible. Colors are quite saturated, maybe too much in the case of the reds, which lean a little toward violet. I don't see any signs of noise here, nor would I expect any.

The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. The compact macro lens that I used has a minimum focusing distance of 14 cm.

The night shot turned out fairly well, too. The camera took in plenty of light, and it should -- you've got full control over the shutter speed. The buildings are a little soft, especially on the edges of the frame, though I blame the inexpensive 55 - 300 mm lens that I used for this shot. If you look very hard at the buildings on the left, you can see a tiny bit of noise, which is surprising, given that this is at ISO 100. There is some purple fringing visible here, but again, I think that the lens has much to do with that.

Now, let's use that same scene to see how the K20D performs at high ISO sensitivities in low light situations:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

There's a slight increase in noise at ISO 200 and 400, but the images are still very clean overall. The noise starts to nip away at details when you get to ISO 800, though a midsize print is still very possible at this point (and maybe larger if you shoot RAW). Same thing goes for ISO 1600: there's less detail, though it's still useable for small prints. At ISO 3200 there's a lot of noise and missing detail, so it's probably not a great idea to use it in low light situations. Once you get to ISO 6400 you'll find very little detail, plus some horizontal banding in the black sky.

The closest competitor to the K20D that I've reviewed is probably the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350. While neither camera particularly excels in low light / high ISO situations, I'd say that the K20D retains more detail than the A350 does.

I wouldn't expect redeye to be a problem on a digital SLR, and sure enough, there isn't any.

Now it's time for our second ISO test, which I took with the Pentax F2.8, 16 - 50 mm lens. 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

ISO 1600 (converted from RAW)

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

Everything is buttery smooth through ISO 400. We such a slight increase in grain-like noise at ISO 800, but very little detail is lost. There's more noise plus some noise reduction artifacting at ISO 1600 though, again, the photo is very usable. I threw in a RAW conversion at that sensitivity so you can see that you do get a bit of detail back by shooting in that format. There certainly isn't a glaring difference like there was on the K10D, which is good news for JPEG shooters. Noise levels continue to increase at ISO 3200, so save that one for small prints only. Photos taken at ISO 6400 are pretty noisy, so I'd avoid using that sensitivity unless you're really desperate.

As I said in the night shot discussion, the K20D's closest competitor (that I've tested) is the Sony A350, and I'd say that the Pentax easily wins the normal light / high ISO competition.

Overall, the K20D produced photos of very good quality. There were two issues that I ran into: underexposure, and corner blurriness. The K20D consistently underexposed photos by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop, so you should keep an eye on your histograms.

The corner blurring is due to what I believe is a sub-par copy of the F2.8, 16 - 50 mm DA* lens, which has a bit of a reputation for having focus problems. At wide-angle, the center of the frame was sharp, but the edges were quite soft. The camera refused to take a properly focused photo of our purple fringing torture tunnel, despite numerous attempts. I'm pretty confident about the lens being at fault, because I took photos with the F2.8, 35mm Limited lens that were sharp from corner to corner. Thus, if you have a good copy of the 16-50 (or use another lens entirely), you shouldn't have these issues.

I sort of jumped right into the negatives about the K20D's photos, so here are the positives. Colors are nice and vivid. Photos have good sharpness for a D-SLR (lens problems aside), with plenty of detail captured. The K10D had dramatic differences between JPEG and RAW in terms of sharpness, but that's not the case on the K20D. The K20D does a good job keeping noise levels low in good light, though it could be better in low light situations. While purple fringing will vary depending on what lens you're using, I saw it with several of the lenses I used with the camera.

I've got two photo galleries to go along with this review. You can see the standard gallery, which has the photos with the soft corners, plus the Sonoma gallery, with sharp photos taken with a prime lens. Have a look at those, remembering what I said about having a bad copy of the 16-50 lens, and then you should be able to decide if the K20D's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The K20D, like most D-SLRs, does not have a movie mode.

Playback Mode

Playback menu Side-by-side comparison tool

The K20D's playback mode is pretty nice by D-SLR standards. Basic features include DPOF print marking, slideshows, image protection, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last feature, also known as playback zoom, lets you enlarge a photo by as much as 32X, 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. Speaking of which, there is also a feature which lets you put two photos side-by-side for comparison purposes.


Preparing to convert a RAW image

While photos can be rotated in playback mode, there's no way to resize or crop them. The K20D lets you convert and even edit RAW files, right on the camera. When converting, you can adjust the resolution and quality, white balance, ISO sensitivity, custom image settings, color space, and high ISO noise reduction level.


Editing a JPEG

The camera has built-in special effects that you wouldn't expect to find on a digital SLR. Features here include black & white and sepia conversion, virtual color filters (there are 18 available), color extraction (turns image to B&W, leaving only the color you selected), soft, illustration, high dynamic range effects, and slimming effects, and brightness adjustment. Phew!

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 histogram, plus the screen you see above right.

The K20D moves through photos very quickly. A lower resolution image is shown instantly, with the full res version following about a half second later.

How Does it Compare?

The Pentax K20D is a very good digital SLR that offers the same resolution, build quality, and feature set of cameras costing hundreds of dollars more. Its highlights include a 14.6 Megapixel CMOS sensor, built-in image stabilization, and a weather-sealed, sturdy body. While the K20D needs work in certain areas, it's a definite improvement over its predecessor, and a D-SLR that I can recommend.

Side-by-side, the K20D looks almost exactly like the K10D that came before it. The only real differences are in terms of LCD size and I/O ports. The K20D is very well put together, with a polycarbonate shell covering a metal frame. The camera has over seventy different seals, so this is one camera you can use in inclement weather without concern. The K20D has a good-sized grip for your right hand, with a "sticky" rubber surface for your fingers. I wasn't a huge fan of the shutter release button, which seemed a little too sensitive. The camera supports every Pentax lens ever made (with a 1.5X focal length conversion), and all of them will have image stabilization courtesy of the K20D's sensor-shift IS system. The camera has a built-in flash, and you can attach an external flash via the hot shoe or flash sync port, or cut the cord entirely with built-in wireless support.

On the back of the camera is a 2.7" LCD display. While larger than the 2.5" screen on the K10D, it's smaller than the 3-inch displays found on most of the competition these days. The K20D supports live view, though it's arguably the most poorly implemented version of this feature out there now. While the view is sharp and fluid, no information is shown on the screen (aside from a composition grid and focus area map), and if you need to change any settings, live view is turned off. Focusing is accomplished by flipping down the mirror and using the camera's AF sensor, which is fine by me, as contrast detect AF on digital SLRs tends to be very slow. The camera can enlarge the image on the screen (which is handy when manually focusing), but the image isn't remotely sharp, which kind of defeats the purpose. While outdoor visibility was okay, I found it difficult to see what was on the screen in low light situations.

As soon as you pick up the K20D you'll see that it's targeted toward advanced amateurs, rather than beginners. There's not a scene mode to be found. There are, however, plenty of exposure modes to choose from, including the unique sensitivity and aperture+shutter priority modes. The camera's Custom Image feature lets you adjust color and sharpness settings to your heart's content, and white balance can be fine-tuned as well. Even the color of the camera's LCD can be adjusted! The K20D supports the RAW format -- two of them, in fact -- and you can edit the images right on the camera. Like most SLRs these days, the K20D has a dust reduction system, and the unique "dust alert" feature is a handy tool for getting rid of dust that just won't shake off. One other nice feature is the ability to control the camera from your Mac or PC.

Camera performance was very good in most respects. By default, the camera doesn't shake off dust at startup, so the K20D is ready to go as soon as you flip the power switch. If you do choose to use the dust removal feature at startup, the delay is only about half a second. Focusing speeds were very good in nearly all situations, save for low light with the flash closed. By popping the flash up, you can use it as an AF-assist lamp, which noticeably reduces focus times. Shutter lag wasn't a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal. Since the camera has a pretty substantial amount of buffer memory, it can take a lot of RAW shots continuously (up to 17), though the 2.9 fps max frame rate lags behind the competition. The K20D's battery life is about 20% below the average for the group, though the available battery grip takes care of that problem (if you don't mind the added bulk).

As I mentioned in the photo quality discussion, I had problems with the 16-50 mm DA* lens that I used for many of my test photos. Since the other lenses I used did not have the substantial corner blurriness and focusing problems of that lens, I won't be holding those issues against the K20D. The only consistent problem I had with the K20D was with underexposure -- it consistently underexposed by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop. All the other news is good. The camera produced photos with vivid colors and pleasing sharpness, with minimal differences between RAW and JPEG images (unlike the K10D). Purple fringing did pop up here and there, though this is mostly a lens issue. Noise levels are low through ISO 1600 in good light, and 800 in low light. Redeye wasn't a problem on the K20D, nor would I expect it to be.

There are a few other issues that I want to mention before I wrap things up. I did find the camera's interface to be outdated, and sometimes difficult to navigate. I would've preferred direct buttons for the items in the function menu, as well. This may sound petty, but you have to choose between displaying the ISO sensitivity and shots remaining on the LCD info display and viewfinder -- I want both! Finally, the bundled Pentax Photo Browser software is quite slow, as least on my (very modern) Mac.

Despite its flaws, I liked using the Pentax K20D. It offers build quality and features that make you assume that it's in the same price range as the Canon 50D and Nikon D300, but you can pick one up for around $1000 (body only). If live view and a fast burst rate are very important to you, then I'd probably look at something else. But for a sturdy, good all-around D-SLR, then the K20D is worth a look.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Good value for the money
  • Very well built, weatherproof body
  • Image stabilization system works with all Pentax lenses
  • Full manual controls, and then some
  • Unique sensitivity (Sv) and shutter/aperture priority (TAv) modes
  • Large buffer allows for lots of RAW shots in continuous mode
  • Support for two RAW formats; capable RAW editing software included; in-camera RAW development feature
  • Hot shoe and flash sync port; built-in wireless flash support
  • Dust reduction system + handy dust alert feature
  • Optional battery grip
  • Remote capture software included
  • Redeye not a problem

What I didn't care for:

  • Consistently underexposes
  • A little noisy in low light
  • Live view lags behind the competition; LCD smaller as well
  • Below average battery life
  • Burst rate not as fast as other D-SLRs (even cheaper ones)
  • Outdated, clunky user interface
  • Sensitive shutter release button (IMHO)
  • Sluggish Photo Browser software

Some other digital SLRs worth considering include the Canon EOS-40D, Nikon D90, Olympus E-520, Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350. And don't forget about the K20D's twin, the Samsung GX-20.

As always, I strongly recommend trying the K20D and its competitors before you drop the big bucks on a digital SLR!

Photo Gallery

Check out the two photo galleries available for the K20D: the standard gallery (Chinatown/Stanford), plus the bonus Sonoma gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

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.