DCRP

Pentax K-30 Review

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:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 1.0 sec Average
Autofocus
(Normal light)
0.1 - 0.3 sec (W)
0.4 - 0.6 sec (T)
Average
Autofocus
(Low light)
0.5 - 1.0 secs Average
Autofocus
(Live view)
0.5 - 2.0 secs * Above average
Shutter lag Not noticeable Average
Shot-to-shot
(JPEG, no flash)
~ 1 sec Average
Shot-to-shot
(RAW, no flash)
~ 1.5 secs Average
Shot-to-shot
(with flash)
~ 2 sec Average

* Speeds depend on lighting conditions

Focus speeds timed with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens

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:

Image quality Lo speed Hi speed
RAW + Large/*** JPEG 8 shots @ 3.1 fps N/A
RAW 13 shots @ 3.2 fps
Large/*** JPEG Unlimited @ 3.1 fps 40 shots @ 5.9 fps
Tested with a SanDisk Class 10 SDHC card

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:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

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:

ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

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:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

ISO 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!

ISO 12800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 25600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

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!

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