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DCRP Review: Pentax K20D
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 5, 2008
Last Updated: October 11, 2008
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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: