DCRP

Pentax K-7 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: September 29, 2009

Last Updated: March 5, 2010

The Pentax K-7 ($1299, body only) is a midrange D-SLR offering build quality and features usually found on cameras often costing hundreds of dollars more. Here are the highlights:

  • 14.6 Megapixel CMOS sensor
  • Compact, rugged magnesium alloy body is weather, dust, and cold resistant
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization; composition can be adjusted slightly using this system
  • 3-inch, 921,000 pixel LCD with live view
  • Optical viewfinder has 100% field of view and 0.92X magnification
  • 5.2 frame/second continuous shooting
  • Top shutter speed of 1/8000 sec
  • Two RAW formats supported (PEF and DNG); dedicated button makes switching between JPEG and RAW easy
  • Unique sensitivity, shutter speed+aperture priority shooting modes
  • Lots of white balance controls
  • Electronic level
  • Dynamic range enhancement for both highlights and shadows
  • Auto HDR image capture
  • Tons of bracketing options
  • 37 custom functions
  • HD movie mode with some manual control

And there's even more neat stuff than the K-7 can do, that I'll touch on throughout this review. The K-7's main competitors are the Canon EOS-7D ($1699), Nikon D300s ($1799), and the Olympus E-3 ($1299), at least in my opinion.

Is the K-7 a powerful camera at a great price point? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The K-7 is currently sold in a body only kit. The contents of the bundle are pretty standard for a digital SLR, and they include:

  • The 14.6 effective Megapixel Pentax K-7 camera body
  • D-LI90 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Viewfinder cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring Pentax Digital Camera Utility
  • Fold-out Quick Guide + 328 page camera manual (both printed)

Since the K-7 does not include a lens, you'll need to supply your own. The camera works with essentially all Pentax K-mount lenses -- even screw-mount and medium format models (though an adapter is required for the latter). The most modern lenses will support things like lens correction and auto focal length info transfer for shake reduction. Whichever lens you end up using, there's a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio, so that 50 mm lens of yours will have a field-of-view equivalent of 75 mm.

As with all D-SLRs, Pentax does not include a memory card in the box with the K-7. So add that to your shopping list too, unless you already have one. The K-7 supports SD and SDHC media, and I'd recommend a 4GB card to start with. It's definitely worth spending a little extra on a high speed card (Class 6 should be perfect), especially if you'll be recording HD movies.

The K-7 uses the brand new D-LI90 lithium-ion battery for power. This is one of the most powerful batteries I've seen in a digital SLR, with a whopping 13.4 Wh of energy. Think that translates into great battery life? Let's have a look:

Camera Battery life, live view off
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS-7D 800 shots LP-E6
Nikon D300s 950 shots EN-EL3e
Olympus E-3 610 shots BLM-1
Pentax K-7 740 shots D-LI90

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

As you can see, the K-7 has some tough competition. Despite putting up 740 shots per charge, it still comes in third place!

I should mention the usual caveats about the proprietary batteries that are used on all of the camera listed above. First, extra batteries are pricey -- a spare D-LI90 will set you back at least $49. Second, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when your rechargeable dies -- well, unless you have this:

Pentax K-7 with optional battery grip

Here you can see the K-7 with its optional D-BG4 battery grip ($229). Like the camera itself, the grip is weather-sealed against dust and moisture. This grip can hold an extra D-LI90 battery (you leave the other in the camera), giving the K-7 the ability to take 1480 shots before you need to recharge. It can also hold three AA batteries for emergencies (or if you just prefer using them). And, of course, the grip features lots of extra buttons that will come in handy when you're shooting in the portrait orientation.

When it's time to charge the D-LI90 battery, you can just pop it into the included charger. It takes this charger a whopping 6.5 hours to fully charge the D-LI90, so you might as well do it overnight. This isn't one of those chargers that plugs right into the wall -- you must use a power cable.

Being a digital SLR, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that there are a ton of accessories available for the K-7. Here are the most interesting ones:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The K-7 supports all Pentax K-mount lenses with a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio
External flash AF200FG
AF360FGZ
AF540FGZ
From $111
From $249
From $399
First one is pretty basic (doesn't bounce) and has a GN of 20. The other two are more powerful, can bounce, and support high speed sync and wireless.
Auto macro flash AF160FC From $429 Ring flash for close-up photography
Wired remote control CS-205 From $37 A shutter release button on a 3.5 foot cable
Wireless remote control Remote control F From $24 Another way to take photos without touching the camera
Right angle finder Ref-Converter A $220 Allows you to use the optical viewfinder from a 90 degree angle, such as from above. Has 1X and 2X magnification settings. Hard to find.
Battery grip D-BG4 $229 Holds another D-LI90 or three AA batteries for double the battery life. Also has additional buttons for shooting portraits.
AC adapter K-AC50 $50 Power the camera without draining your battery
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

Not too shabby!


Pentax Digital Camera Utility 4 for Mac

Pentax includes a single software product with the K-7, and that's their Digital Camera Utility version 4. This software, for Mac and Windows, is based on SilkyPix, which is often bundled with other RAW-capable cameras. Thankfully, the interface in the Pentax Utility is a lot cleaner than in regular SilkyPix.

This software can be used in a few ways: for acquiring images from your camera, for managing them in a lightbox-style interface, and for performing some pretty heavy-duty edits (for RAW images, specifically). The editing tools are quite powerful, and can be used for both JPEG and RAW images. Here are some of the things that you can do:

  • Crop, rotate and "shift" an image
  • Change the Custom Image setting (more on this later)
  • Adjust and fine-tune white balance
  • Adjust exposure and image tone
  • Select amount and type of noise reduction applied
  • Correction for distortion and chromatic aberration
  • Adjust coloring of highlight areas
  • Expand dynamic range
  • Fine-tune color in a given range

In other words, this software covers just about anything you can possibility imagine. I should also add that Pentax Utility supports batch processing, and the whole user interface is quite customizable.

If you want to use Photoshop CS4 or a recent version of Photoshop Elements to work with the K-7's RAW files, you'll just need version 5.4 or newer of the Camera Raw plug-in.

What's the deal with RAW images anyway? These files contain unprocessed data straight from the camera's CMOS sensor. The benefit of this is that you can tweak many camera settings (white balance, exposure, color) without reducing the quality of the image. It's almost like getting a second chance to take a photo. The downsides are the need to post-process the images on your computer, and the huge file sizes, which reduce camera performance and quickly fill up your memory card. The K-7 is somewhat unique in that it supports two RAW formats. You can use Pentax's own PEF format, or Adobe's somewhat-of-an-open-standard DNG.

Pentax includes a enormous manual with the K-7, and you'll need it for this complex camera. As camera manuals go, this one is pretty good. It has large type, helpful tips and tricks, and a minimum of "notes" on each page. Documentation for the included software is installed onto your Mac or PC.

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