Originally Posted: September 16, 2012
Last Updated: September 16, 2012
The Pentax K-30 (priced from $849) is a midrange digital SLR with features found on cameras costing hundreds more. Those features include a fully weather-sealed body (with both front and rear control dials), tons of manual controls, focus peaking, a large optical viewfinder, 6 frame/second continuous shooting, an HDR mode, and support for both AA and lithium-ion batteries. The K-30 captures photos and Full HD video with its 16 Megapixel CMOS sensor, and image blur is reduced via a sensor-shift image stabilization system.
There are plenty of entry-level D-SLRs out there. How does the Pentax K-30 compare? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The K-30 is available in five kits, with your choice of black, white, or blue bodies for most of them. You can buy just the body alone ($849), the body plus an 18 - 55 mm ($899) or 18 - 135 mm WR lens ($1199), or a dual lens kit with the 18-55 and either the 50-200 ($1050) or 55-300 ($1150) lenses. Here's what you'll find inside the box for all of those kits:
- The 16.3 effective Megapixel Pentax K-30 camera body
- F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm Pentax DA lens [18-55 kit only]
- F3.5-5.6, 18 - 135 mm Pentax DA WR lens [18 - 135 kit only]
- F4.0-5.6, 50 - 200 mm Pentax DA lens [50-200 dual lens kit only]
- F4.0-5.8, 55 - 300 mm Pentax DA lens [55-300 dual lens kit only]
- D-LI109 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Body cap
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- CD-ROM featuring SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0
- 290 page Operating Manual (printed)
As you can see above, there are four lenses that can come with the K-30 (and I may have missed some). One of them is the standard Pentax 18-55 kit lens, which I've had a lot of trouble with in the past due to lackluster quality control. While I didn't use it much, the 18-55 that came with my K-30 was average. The lens I used for all of the sample photos is the F3.5-5.6, 18 - 135 mm WR (weather-resistant) model, which was generally good, though prone to vignetting and blurring near the edges of the frame. Whichever lens you end up with, you'll get shake reduction, courtesy of the K-30's sensor-shift IS system. There is a 1.5X crop factor to keep in mind, so the 18 - 55 mm kit lens has a field-of-view equivalent to 27 - 82.5 mm.
Digital SLRs (and their mirrorless counterparts) like the K-30 never come with memory cards. So, if you don't have one already, you'll need to pick one up. The K-30 supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC media, and I'd recommend picking up a 4GB if you'll be taking mostly still photos, and 8 - 16 GB if you'll be recording a lot of Full HD videos.
Something I really like about the K-30 is that it supports both proprietary lithium-ion and traditional AA batteries. You'll find the D-LI109 li-ion battery in the box with the camera, which contains 7.8 Wh of energy. If you want the convenience of AA batteries, you'll first need to pick up the D-BH109 adapter, which holds four NiMH, lithium, or alkaline cells. Here's what kind of battery life you can expect:
As you'd expect, the K-30 easily tops the live view only mirrorless cameras. Compared to other D-SLRs, however, it's at the bottom of the heap, though if you use disposable lithium AA batteries, you can take 1000 shots per charge. Pentax doesn't say how many photos you can take with NiMH rechargeables, but I imagine it's about the same as the D-LI109 (~500 shots).
When it's time to charge the D-LI109, just pop it into the included charger (which does not plug directly into the wall). Then go out to dinner, as it takes a whopping 240 minutes to fully charge the battery.
Being a D-SLR, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that the K-30 has a ton of accessories available. Some of the more interesting ones include:
I'm sure there are plenty more, though Pentax doesn't actually list everything in the manual or on their website. As you can see above, though, they've got the basics covered.
Pentax includes SilkyPix Developer Studio for Pentax version 3.0 with the K-30. SilkyPix is included by many manufacturers (most notably Panasonic), so there's a good chance that you've used it before. SilkyPix is a capable editor for both JPEG and RAW images, though it's interface is clunky, with some poor Japanese to English translations. That said, it will edit all kinds of RAW (DNG) properties, including exposure, dynamic range, white balance, noise reduction, sharpness, and color. If you'd rather use Photoshop, just make sure that you have version 7.2 RC or newer of the Camera Raw plug-in.
Pentax doesn't provide anything for editing movies, though the software that comes with Mac OS or Windows should be fine for basic edits.
While other camera companies skimp on their documentation, usually providing them in PDF format, Pentax still spends the money on a full, printed manual. The manual is lengthy, detailed, and fairly user-friendly. Glad somebody still cares! Instructions for using the included software will be installed onto your Mac or PC.
Design & Features
The Pentax K-30 is a mid-sized digital SLR with a sturdy, weather-sealed body. The design of the K-30 is a little less traditional than typical D-SLRs, but it affect ergonomics in any way. The outer shell of the body is composite, with an inner chassis of stainless steel. The K-30 feels solid in your hands, with a large rubberized grip for your right hand. Most of the moving parts are of decent quality, with the plasticky mode dial being the only real exception. The K-30 has large, well-placed buttons that generally handle just one function.
Image courtesy of Pentax
As I mentioned earlier, the K-30 is available in black, white, and a rather nice blue. Pentax poured some water on two of the cameras above just to prove they're water-resistant.
Now, here's a look at how the K-30 compares to the same group of D-SLRs and ILCs that I used in the battery life table:
It goes without saying that the K-30 and its fellow D-SLRs are going to be substantially larger than their mirrorless counterparts. If you ignore the ILCs you'll find that the K-30 is the smallest (but not the lightest) D-SLR in the bunch.
Let's begin our tour of the K-30, using our tabbed interface:
The first thing to point out here is the K-30's lens mount. This K-mount supports Pentax's huge selection of lenses -- even the really old screw-mount ones. As I mentioned earlier, the usual 1.5X APS-C crop factor applies here. To release an attached lens, simply press the button to the lower-left of the mount.
In the middle of the mount is the K-30's 16.3 effective Megapixel CMOS sensor, which is similar to the one used in the K-01 mirrorless camera. The K-01's sensor was capable of producing some very high quality photos, and we'll see how the one here shapes up later in the review.
This sensor is mounted on a movable plate, which is used for both image stabilization and dust removal. The stabilizer will provide up to 4 stops of shake correction on nearly every Pentax lens. In addition to reducing the likelihood of blurry photos, the shake reduction system smooths out your movies, as well. You can also have the camera "shake off" the dust when its powered on or off, though you need to turn that feature on in the setup menu.
Straight above the word "Pentax" is the K-30's pop-up flash, which is released manually. This flash as a guide number of 12 meters at ISO 100, which is typical for a digital SLR. The flash pops up quite far from the lens mount, which gives me hope that redeye won't be an issue. If you want more flash power, you can either attach an external flash to the hot shoe, or cut the cord entirely and go wireless.
The final things to see in this view can be found on and around the grip. At the bottom of the grip is the receiver for the optional wireless remote control. Straight above that is the camera's front dial. If you head east from there, you'll discover the AF-assist lamp.
The K-30's backside is fairly standard. The main event here is a 3-inch LCD display with 921,000 pixels. As you'd expect, everything is nice and sharp. I found outdoor visibility to be quite good.
Straight above the LCD is the K-30's large optical viewfinder. This viewfinder has magnification of 0.92X, which makes it the largest OVF in our group (the Sony SLT-A57 has a larger viewfinder, but it's electronic). Something else nice about this viewfinder is that it displays 100% of the frame. Under the field-of-view is a line of green-colored shooting data, which just so happens to also include the electronic level. If you want to adjust the focus on the OVF, just use the diopter correction slider on the top of the eye-cup.
Now let's talk buttons and dials. To the left of the viewfinder we have the button that activates the K-30's live view feature (more on that after the tour). Jumping to the opposite side, you'll find the camera's rear dial. The front and rear dials are used for adjusting exposure, among other things.
To the right of the LCD we have buttons for AE/AF lock, entering playback mode or the menu system, and toggling the info shown on the LCD.
At the center of all those buttons is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, adjusting exposure or the focus point, and replaying photos. These are also direct buttons for adjusting the ISO, flash setting, drive mode, and white balance.
The first item of note on the top of the K-30 is its hot shoe. It'll work best with the Pentax flashes I mentioned back in the accessory section of the review. These flashes will work with the camera's TTL metering system, and you'll be able to use high speed flash sync. Everyone else will have to set the flash exposure manually, and is limited to an 1/180 sec x-sync speed.
Just above the hot shoe is a monaural microphone. The K-30 doesn't support an external stereo microphone, which is surprising given its other credentials.
Moving to the right, we have the mode dial, which is chock full of options (to be discussed later).
At the top right of the photo is the power switch / shutter release combo (with the front dial just above it), as well as the exposure compensation and "green" buttons. The famous Pentax green button resets the setting you're adjusting to its default value, but it can be redefined to handle other tasks, as well.
On this side of the camera you'll spot the flash release button, RAW/Fx (function) button, and the focus mode switch. The RAW/Fx button can be used to quickly switch from JPEG to RAW shooting, or you can redefine its function to do things like a DOF preview.
While its difficult to see here, under the rubber cover on the right you'll find the camera's USB + A/V out port. For some bizarre reason, the K-30 lacks an HDMI port.
The 18 - 55 mm kit lens is at the wide-angle position here.
On the right side of the K-30 is its SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot, which is protected by a plastic door of good quality. Underneath that is the port for the optional wired remote control.
The kit lens is at full telephoto here.
The bottom view of the K-30 shows a metal tripod mount that is in-line with the lens. There's also that great battery compartment, which supports both AA and lithium-ion batteries (with the included D-LI109 shown at lower right). The sealed door that protects this compartment is of average quality.
I'd now like to go over camera features that are controlled by the various buttons and dials on the K-30. I'll begin with the somewhat plasticky mode dial. Here's what you'll find on it:
As you can see from the table above, the K-30 has a shooting mode for everyone. The point-and-shoot crowd will get by just fine with Auto Picture mode, while enthusiasts have a large selection of "priority" modes to choose from, plus a lot of yet-to-be-mentioned manual controls.
White balance fine-tuning
As I mentioned in the tour, the four-way controller handles four important functions which are not available in the menus. They include:
- ISO sensitivity: crank it up manually from 100 to 12800 (expandable to 25600), or choose an automatic range like 100-800
- Flash mode: the usual suspects are all here (including 1st and 2nd-curtain slow sync), and here's where you turn on wireless flash control, as well
- Drive: you'll find continuous, self-timer, remote control, and AE bracketing options here
- White balance: the usual presets are all here (including four fluorescent options), plus color temperature enhancement (which strengthens the color tone of the light source), the ability to set the color temperature, and three custom spots; you can fine-tune white balance using the tool shown above; the K-30 unfortunately lacks a white balance bracketing feature
The "view" when using live view. Note the live histogram and electronic level (top right)
A rather significant feature activated by the "LV" button on the back of the camera is the K-30's live view system. This lets you use the LCD to compose your photos, just like you can on a mirrorless or compact camera. You get contrast detect autofocus with face detection, a live histogram, grid-lines, and an electronic level. Manual focusing is a snap, with frame enlargement and focus peaking, which sharpens the edges of the subject in focus. The image screen was viewable both outdoors and in low light.
Typically, live view autofocus speeds on D-SLRs border on awful. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how the K-30 performed (in good light). It's not as fast as a mirrorless camera or a point-and-shoot, but as D-SLRs go, it's pretty good. I'll have actual numbers for you later in this article.
Something I was less excited about is how the camera throws you out of live view whenever you change a setting via the main or shortcut menus. You have to press the LV button every time, which gets old after a while.
When you're shooting with the optical viewfinder, the LCD displays the info screen you see above. It shows you all of the important camera settings, and also illustrates what pressing the four-way controller in various directions does.
The K-30's shortcut menu
By pressing the Info button (regardless of how you're composing your photos), you'll get to the handy shortcut menu you see above. From here, you can adjust every important setting on the camera, without having to dive into the main menu. Just use the four-way controller and the front/rear dials and you're done!
Let's leave buttons behind and talk about what you'll find in the K-30's menu system. Like all Pentax cameras, the menus have a dated design and lack useful features like help screens. Still, it gets the job done. Here are the most interesting items found in the menu system:
- Custom image: these are sets of image parameters that allow you to adjust saturation, hue, high/low key, contrast, and sharpness; there are several presets available, including bright (default), natural, portrait, landscape, bleach bypass, reversal film, black and white (with available color filters), and cross-process
- Digital filter: special effects like extract (selective) color, toy camera, retro, and high contrast can be found here
- HDR capture: the camera takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure, and combines them into a single image with dramatically improved contrast; you can let the camera pick the exposure interval, or choose from ±1, 2, or 3 EV yourself
- Image capture setting: here you can adjust the file format (JPEG, RAW, or both), resolution, quality, and color space; a RAW image takes up roughly 26.3 MB, while a 16 Megapixel (***) JPEG is around 9.3 MB
- AF settings: turn on AF-A mode (automatically switches between AF-S and AF-C focusing), expanded area AF (continues tracking a subject if they move out of the selected focus area), AF area mode (5 or 11-point auto, select, or spot), and whether the AF-assist lamp is used
- Lens correction: here you can turn on distortion correction (see example a bit later) and chromatic aberration correction (which is on by default)
- Multi-exposure: the K-30 can combine up to nine exposures into a single image, with auto EV adjustment
- Interval (time-lapse) shooting: the camera can take up to 999 images at intervals ranging from 3 seconds to 24 hours; you can set a start time, if you wish; tripod and AC adapter are essentially required for this; the K-30 can also do the same kind of things, but save the results as a Full HD movie instead of a bunch of stills
- D-Range setting: home of highlight and shadow correction; see below for examples of both
- Noise reduction: high ISO noise reduction has some preset options, plus the ability to fine-tune how much NR is applied to each ISO setting (!); slow shutter speed NR is auto/on/off
- Composition adjust: uses the sensor-shift mechanism to slightly adjust the composition of your photo; this Pentax-only feature comes in handy when using a tripod
- Horizon correction: uses the electronic level to automatically straighten your photos
- Live view: choose the AF type (face detect, tracking, selectable, center) and turn on AF auto-zoom (enlarges the frame after focus lock), focus peaking, grid lines, the live histogram, shooting info, and bright/dark areas
- E-Dial programming: define how the front and rear dials function in the various manual shooting modes
- Button customization: define what the RAW/Fx button does and how the AF/AE-Lock button works
- Memory: choose what settings are stored when the camera is turned off
- Dust removal: remove dust now, or when the camera is turned on or off
The K-30 also offers twenty-three custom functions. I'm not going to list them all here, but here are some of the notable options:
- Expanded sensitivity: opens up the ISO 25600 option
- Bulb mode options: allows you to use the shutter release as a toggle in bulb mode (so you don't have to hold it down)
- Catch-in focus: when using a manual focus lens, this will release the shutter when your subject comes into focus
- AF fine adjustment: lets you fine-tune the focus on up to twenty lenses
I'd like to illustrate some of the features I mentioned above, and I'll begin with HDR. There are four HDR modes to choose from: auto, and HDR 1/2/3. The 1/2/3 relate to the exposure interval, according to the manual. Below you can see what kind of image you'll get with each of those:
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There's not a gigantic difference when using HDR Auto (at least in this situation), with just a slight reduction in highlight clipping. The HDR 1 photo is much more appealing, with much brighter shadows. The HDR 2 and especially the HDR 3 settings are too fake looking for me to recommend using -- unless that's the effect you desire.
There are two D-Range adjustment settings, covering both shadow and highlight detail. You use them separately, or together. For shadow adjustment, you can select from auto, low, medium, and high options, or turn the whole thing off. Here's the shadow recovery feature in action:
|Shadow corr auto
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|Shadow corr low
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|Shadow corr med
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|Shadow corr high
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As you can see, the shadow brightening effect is pretty subtle -- you don't really notice it until you get to the "high" setting, at least in this situation.
The other half of the dynamic range correction tool is for highlight clipping. Unlike the "levels" available for shadow brightening, there's only auto, on, and off for highlights. To make this feature work, the camera has to boost the ISO to 200, so you need to be set to that (or higher) or be using Auto ISO. Let's use the same scene as above to see if we can't reduce that highlight clipping.
|Highlight corr off
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|Highlight corr auto
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|Highlight corr on
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While there's not a huge change at the "auto" setting, there's definitely a reduction in clipped highlights when the correction feature is set to "on". Thus, if you're in a situation where highlight clipping is a problem, set the ISO to 200 and turn this feature "on".
The K-30 has a pretty nice movie mode. It allows you to record Full HD video at 1920 x 1080 with your choice of frame rates: 24, 25, or 30 frames/sec. Much to my disappointment, only monaural sound is recorded -- and the camera doesn't support an external microphone. You can keep recording until the elapsed time reaches 25 minutes, or the file size hits 4 GB. If you're recording 1080p at the highest quality setting, it looks like you'll hit the file size limit in about 16 minutes. If 1080p is overkill for you, the K-30 also supports 720p (at up to 60 fps) and VGA resolutions. At all resolutions, you can choose a quality setting ranging from one to three stars.
Unfortunately, the K-30 does not support continuous autofocus in movie mode. You can activate the AF system while you're recording by pressing the AF/AE-L button, though the refocusing won't be very graceful. The image stabilizer is available and does a nice job of smoothing out the "bumps" in your videos.
The K-30 supports full manual control over exposure while you're taking a movie. You can adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity, along with the microphone level. About the only thing missing here is a wind filter. As I mentioned earlier, the camera can take a serious of photos over time and compile them into a time-lapse movie. The K-30 does not allow you to take stills while simultaneously recording video.
Videos are recorded using the H.264 codec, and saved in QuickTime format. Here's a sample for you, taken at the highest quality setting:
The K-30's video quality isn't the best. There's some moiré here and what looks like a rolling shutter effect, so this camera may not be the best choice for serious videophiles.
|Press "down" on the four-way controller to access the "real" playback menu||RAW editing tool|
The K-30's playback mode is one of the better implementations out there. Some of the highlights here include:
- Quick Zoom: instantly jump to a set magnification when using the playback zoom feature
- Digital Filter: apply any of 22 special effects to photos you've taken
- RAW development: edit RAW images right in the camera; you can adjust white balance, exposure, ISO, lens correction, and more; the results are saved as a JPEG
- Movie editing: divide a movie into two parts, or just extract a segment
By default, the K-30 shows just basic information about your photos. However, press the Info button and you can choose from several other screens, which include tons of details about settings and your choice of histograms.
The camera moves from photo-to-photo without delay.
Performance & Photo Quality
The Pentax K-30 is a competent performer in most areas. The only real slow spot is live view focusing, though the K-30 is actually a bit faster than most of its competition. The table below summarizes the K-30's performance:
Nothing wrong with being average! Something I like about the K-30 is how it can buffer a RAW image with every shot. You can save this RAW image during post-shot review or in playback mode. Once you take another shot or turn off the camera, that option disappears.
Okay, now let's move onto burst mode performance. There are two speeds to choose from, appropriately named "lo" (3 fps) and "hi" (6 fps). Unfortunately, the high speed option is only available for JPEGs. Here are the results of my continuous shooting speed tests:
All-in-all, a pretty good performance for an $850 D-SLR, though I wish you could shoot RAW images at the faster speed. When the camera reaches the limits above, it doesn't stop shooting -- it just slows down (considerably). It clears the buffer quickly, so you won't have to wait more than a few seconds to enter playback mode, or start another burst. If you're following a moving subject, you'll want to use the optical viewfinder, as the images on the LCD will lag a bit.
But enough about that -- let's get into photo quality now. With the exception of the night pictures, I took all of these with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. The night shots were taken with the Pentax 18 - 135 mm lens.
Our macro test subject is looking pretty good here. The colors look good, without any of the color casts that often show up under our studio lamps. The subject has a "smooth" appearance, yet plenty of detail is still captured. I don't see any noise here, nor would I expect to.
The minimum distance to your subject depends on the lens you're using. The 18 - 55 mm kit lens has a minimum distance of 25 cm. If you want a dedicated macro lens, Pentax has four available, ranging from 35 to 100 mm.
The night shot is decent, but would've looked better if I had a higher quality lens than the 18 - 135 mm WR lens that I had on hand. The center of the frame is quite sharp, but things soften as you near the edges of the frame. Once again, colors look good -- hats off to Pentax for their good white balance system. (Speaking of colors, those lines crossing the ferry building are from a passing ship.) I used manual controls to obtain a proper exposure, though you could get similar results using the automatic or scene modes. Highlight clipping is relatively minor (save for the building on the far left), while purple fringing levels are moderate (and are related mostly to the lens).
How about we use this same night scene to see how the K-30 performed at higher sensitivities:
There isn't a huge difference between the ISO 100, 200, and 400 crops. At ISO 800 things start getting mottled, though there's more than enough for a mid-sized or perhaps large print. This trend continues at ISO 1600, with details starting to disappear. When you reach ISO 3200 it's time to stop, or switch over to the RAW format for better results (see below). The highest sensitivities are quite noisy, so there's not much you can do with them.
Can I make the ISO 3200 and 6400 shots look better by shooting RAW and performing some quick noise reduction in Photoshop? Let's take a look:
As you can see, there's definitely an improvement to be had by using the RAW format. You won't be printing posters of any of these, but they're a lot nicer looking than the original JPEGs.
We'll do this test again in normal light in a moment.
I was pleased to see that the K-30 -- with its tall pop-up flash -- has essentially zero redeye. If you do encounter this annoyance you'll have to fix it on your computer, since there's no removal tool on the camera itself.
|Distortion correction off (default)||Distortion correction on|
The K-30 has a distortion correction feature, and it's off by default. Above you can see how there's moderate barrel distortion (and some vignetting) at the wide end of the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. Turning on distortion reduction flattens things out nicely, though it doesn't help with the vignetting. Don't be surprised if you see some corner blurring with the kit lens, either.
It's time now for our studio comparison, which was taken with the 40 mm kit lens. Since the lighting never changes, you can compare the results from this test with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Remember that the crops below only show a small portion of the scene, so view the full size images too! And with that, let's travel through the fully expanded ISO range, from 100 to 25600:
Everything is as smooth as butter through ISO 800. There's a tiny bit of noise at ISO 1600 and 3200, but it's not nearly enough to concern me. Details start disappearing at ISO 6400, though you could still pull off a fairly large print at this setting. Details get pretty mottled at ISO 12800, so I'd either switch to RAW at this point, or avoid this sensitivity altogether (if you're a JPEG shooter). The ISO 25600 sensitivity isn't available by default, but if you turn on ISO expansion in the custom settings menu, you'll be able to use it. As you can see, it's quite noisy.
I'm going to perform the RAW vs. JPEG comparison again, this time with the top two high sensitivity shots from above. Let's see if a minute of Photoshop work can improve image quality!
There's definitely a huge improvement in image quality here, making RAW a "must" for high ISO shooting. Colors get a lot more saturated too -- perhaps a bit too much so (though I used a beta of the Camera Raw plug-in for these).
Overall, the Pentax K-30 produces very good quality photos. Exposure was generally very accurate, so most of my auto bracketing was in vain (that's a good thing). Highlight clipping is not a big issue on the K-30, but if it does show up, try using the highlight correction feature I covered earlier. Colors are quite punchy at the default "bright" setting, and you can tone them down by using the natural Custom Image setting instead. Sharpness depends mostly on your choice of lens, and I had mixed results with the 18-135 WR. While the center of the frame had average sharpness, things often got noticeably softer as you neared the edges of the frame (apparently I have very bad luck when it comes to Pentax lenses). Assuming that your lenses are better than mine, I think you'll be pretty satisfied with both resolution and sharpness. As the test scenes above illustrated, Pentax has done a good job of keeping noise at bay through ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 3200 in good light. Shooting RAW will allow you to get nice results at even higher sensitivities. Purple fringing is also lens-dependent, and I rarely bumped into it with the 18 - 135 mm lens that I used for my sample photos.
Don't just take my word for all of this! Have a look at our extensive K-30 photo gallery -- perhaps printing a few of the photos at your preferred size -- and then decide if the camera's image quality meets your expectations!
The Pentax K-30 is a very capable digital SLR that arguably offers more bang for the buck -- including a weather-sealed body -- than any other camera in its price range. The K-30's design is a bit more angular than your typical D-SLR, and its composite body doesn't mind getting a little wet (just make sure you're using a WR lens, too). The body is easy to hold, thanks to a large, rubberized grip, and the most important controls are within easy reach of your fingers. Like all Pentax D-SLRs, the K-30 supports decades worth of K-mount lenses, and the sensor-shift image stabilization system means that nearly all of them will have shake reduction available. Flip to the back of the camera and you'll find a sharp 3" LCD, with offers good outdoor visibility. The K-30's optical viewfinder is larger than what you'd find on most D-SLRs in this price range, and the 100% coverage doesn't hurt, either. Naturally, the K-30 supports an external flash (via its hot shoe), and the built-in flash also has wireless control capabilities. Two things that are strangely missing on the camera are a stereo microphone (or support for an external one) and an HDMI port.
If there's one thing you can see about Pentax cameras, it's that they never skimp on features. Those seeking a point-and-shoot experience can use Auto Picture Mode, which will select a scene mode automatically. There are tons of scene modes, as well as an HDR feature that improves contrast (though I don't recommend cranking that feature up too high). Enthusiasts will find full manual controls, RAW (DNG) support, lots of custom functions and buttons, and Pentax's unique TAv and Sv shooting modes. There are also correction tools for highlights and shadows, purple fringing, and distortion. The live view feature on the K-30 is quite good by D-SLR standards, offering focus peaking, a live histogram and electronic level, and better-than-average AF performance. In movie mode you'll be able to record video at 1080p (24, 25, or 30 fps) with full manual controls. What you won't find is continuous autofocus or support for stereo sound recording. Video quality isn't the best, either. One last feature to mention is in playback mode, where you can edit RAW images, and save the results as a JPEG.
Camera performance is average in most respects, with a few exceptions (for better and worse). In terms of overall shooting speed, the K-30 is unremarkable. Startup, autofocus, and shot-to-shot speeds are right where you'd expect them to be. As I mentioned, the camera does focus a bit quicker than the competition when using live view. The K-30's burst mode allows you to shoot at nearly six frames/second, but only for JPEGs. The fastest you can shoot RAW images is at just above three frames/second. While I love how the K-30 supports both lithium-ion and AA batteries, battery life with the included D-LI109 rechargeable is the worst in its class.
Photo quality is definitely one of the K-30's strong suits. It produces photos with accurate exposure, and not a whole lot of highlight clipping (and remember you can reduce this using the d-range correction tools). Colors are quite vivid -- maybe too vivid for some -- though that's easy enough to fix if it bothers you. While some cameras struggle under artificial light (like in our studio), the K-30 handled those situations with ease. Sharpness is very lens dependent, and the lenses I receive with my review units never seem to be great. If you do better than me, then you'll probably be satisfied with both the level of detail and smooth appearance of the subjects in your photos. Pentax has done great things with the 16 Megapixel (Sony-made) sensor on the K-30, keeping noise away until you hit ISO 800 in low light and ISO 3200 in good light. If you're willing to shoot RAW and do some easy post-processing on your computer, you'll get even better results at high sensitivities. Redeye was not a problem, likely due to the fact that the flash pops up so far from the lens. Purple fringing is mostly lens dependent, and it was rarely an issue.
Overall, it's pretty hard not to like the Pentax K-30. For $850 (body only), you get a well-equipped, weather-sealed D-SLR that takes great photos. Sure, I wish it had better battery life, stereo sound recording, and HDMI output, but aside from those issues, there's little to complain about. Whether you're a Pentax enthusiast or someone looking for a first D-SLR, the K-30 is certainly well worth looking at.
What I liked:
- Excellent photo quality, with low noise until the very highest sensitivities
- Solid, weather-sealed body
- Built-in image stabilization means decades worth of Pentax lenses will have shake reduction
- Sharp 3-inch LCD offers good outdoor visibility
- Optical viewfinder is larger and offers more coverage than competitors
- Lots of manual controls and customizable features
- Beginners will appreciate auto scene selection, tons of scene modes and special effects
- Well-implemented live view feature offers live histogram, electronic level, focus peaking, and above average AF speeds
- HDR and highlight correction features improve image contrast (though go easy on the former)
- Time-lapse (still and movie) and multiple exposure features
- In-camera RAW editing
- Redeye not a problem
- Records Full HD video (1080/24p or 30p) with manual exposure controls
- Supports both lithium-ion and AA batteries (though you'll need a $30 adapter for the latter)
- Full, printed manual in the box (a rarity these days)
What I didn't care for:
- Video quality could be better
- Below average battery life
- Can't shoot RAW images at high speed in burst mode
- White balance bracketing would've been nice
- Lacks a stereo microphone, and does not support adding an external one
- No HDMI output
Some other D-SLRs to consider include the Canon EOS Rebel T4i, Nikon D5100, and Sony Alpha SLT-A57. It may be worth looking at the Olympus E-P3, Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5, and Samsung NX20 mirrorless cameras, as well.
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the K-30 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our K-30 photo gallery to see how the image quality looks!