DCRP

Pentax K-7 Review

How Does it Compare?

The Pentax K-7 isn't just an excellent midrange digital SLR -- it's also an incredible value. It may not have the fastest burst rate or lowest noise in its class, but it offers more features per dollar than anything else out there. It has very good image quality, stellar build quality, snappy performance (in most situations), more manual controls than you'll need, unique exposure modes, an HD movie mode, and lots more. Downsides are few. The camera tends to underexpose, and its image are on the soft side. The movie mode could use some work, contrast detect autofocus is slow (when using live view), and the menu system looks like a relic of the last century. Ultimately, the K-7 is a high-end camera at a midrange price, and it's a great choice for Pentax owners looking to upgrade, or first time D-SLR buyers who want something more capable than an entry-level model.

The K-7 is a compact digital SLR with a very solid magnesium alloy body. Not only is it incredibly sturdy, it's also sealed against dust and moisture (as is the optional battery grip and the two new WR lenses). I found the camera very easy to hold, with a large, rubberized grip for my right hand. The K-7 definitely suffers from what I call "button clutter", so expect to read the manual a bit in order to understand what everything does. The only real design-related thing that I didn't care for is the placement of the control dials -- I often found myself adjusting the exposure when I had no intention of doing so. The K-7 uses a Samsung-designed 14.6 Megapixel CMOS sensor that is mounted to a movable plate. This sensor-shift plate serves several purposes: to clean dust off of the sensor (by rapidly vibrating), as an image stabilizer (that works on nearly every Pentax lens ever made), and to allow you to slightly recompose photos when the camera is on a tripod. The image stabilizer is somewhat unique in that it not only corrects for shake on the X and Y axis, but rotationally as well. On the back of the camera you'll find a large and very sharp 3-inch LCD display. You'll use this for live view, displaying menus and camera settings, and reviewing photos you've taken. Pentax has done a nice job with the live view experience on the K-7, with my only complaints being the sluggish contrast detect AF (typical for a D-SLR) and the poor quality of the image enlargement feature (when using manual focus). Don't worry though, there's a phase difference option too. The camera has a good-sized optical viewfinder as well that shows 100% of the frame.

I could spend about five more paragraphs talking about all the features on the K-7, so I'll have to restrain myself. In short, the K-7 has the kitchen sink, and then some. It has no point-and-shoot controls, but if you're a power user, you'll be smitten. You've got full manual controls, lots of white balance options, bracketing for everything imaginable, and shadow and highlight compensation. Want more? The K-7 has unique sensitivity priority and aperture+shutter priority modes, 37 custom functions, and a Custom Image feature that lets you tweak various image quality properties. If that's still not enough, there's also an electronic level, automatic horizon correction, and a high dynamic range feature. And did I mention that the K-7 supports two RAW formats, and can convert those images into JPEGs or TIFFs in playback mode? There's also an HD movie mode that records at two unusual resolutions (1536 x 1024, 640 x 416) plus the more conventional 1280 x 720. The movie quality isn't great at the highest resolution, the recording time limit arrives quickly (due to the HUGE file sizes), and there's no continuous AF, but it's still decent by D-SLR standards. It's a shame that most of these features are accessed by an outdated user interface that looks like it came off a Pentax Optio point-and-shoot from the late 1990s. Still, I'd rather have a great camera and an ugly menu system than the opposite.

The K-7 is a very capable performer. It may start with a bit of a whine (presumably due to the dust reduction cycle running), but it's ready to go right away. When shooting with the viewfinder, the camera focuses very quickly, at both the wide and telephoto ends of the lenses (at least those that I used). Low light focus times generally stayed at one second or less. If you're using live view with contrast detect AF, the news isn't as good. The camera can take one, two, or even three seconds to lock focus -- and that's in normal lighting. For better results, use phase difference AF -- you'll lose the live view for a moment and there's a bit of lag involved, but it's much faster. The shot-to-shot delays on the K-7 are minimal, as you'd expect. While it doesn't have the fastest burst rate out there, the K-7's sizable amount of buffer memory allows it to shoot for quite a while at over 5 frames/second. While not best in class, battery life was still excellent, and you can do even better with the optional battery grip (which can use AAs, by the way).

Photo quality is very good on the K-7, though you may need to tweak a few things to get to that point. The K-7's two biggest image quality issues are its tendency to underexpose by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop, and the overall softness of its photos. The former is easy enough to deal with -- bracket your shots, or just crank the exposure compensation up 1/3 EV. If you too agree that the photos are a bit soft, then you may want to visit the Custom Image menu, and crank up the in-camera sharpening a notch or two. The rest of the news is more positive: the K-7 has pleasing, vivid colors. Noise levels are low through ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 1600 in good light. Purple fringing has a lot to do with what lens you're using, and it was moderate at times with the 18-55 and 55-200 mm WR lenses I used. Redeye was not a problem.

Despite a few flaws -- most of them being easy to work-around -- the Pentax K-7 is an excellent digital SLR, offering features normally found on cameras two or three times its price. Heck, some of the K-7's features won't be found on any other camera. While I doubt that folks with a lot of money invested in other D-SLR systems will be jumping ship for the K-7, owners of Pentax cameras or those just starting out will be lining up to get their hands on this camera, and well they should. The K-7 is a great camera for enthusiasts, and it easily earns my recommendation.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
  • Compact, very well built, weather-sealed body
  • Great value for the money
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization, even works for rotational motion
  • Dust reduction system
  • Super high resolution 3-inch LCD display, with (generally) well implemented live view
  • Full manual controls, including unique Sv and TAv exposure modes
  • Tons of bracketing modes, tweakable image parameters, two RAW formats supported
  • Good-sized buffer allows for long continuous shooting bursts at over 5 fps
  • Insanely customizable
  • Shadow and highlight adjustment, high dynamic range tool, and unique composition adjustment feature
  • Distortion, chromatic aberration, and horizon correction
  • Multiple exposure and time-lapse photo features
  • Handy electronic level
  • Built-in wireless flash support
  • HD movie mode with image stabilization and input for stereo microphone
  • Redeye not a problem
  • Good battery life; optional grip doubles battery life, supports AAs
  • HDMI output
  • Very good manual

What I didn't care for:

  • Camera tends to underexpose; images are soft straight out of the camera
  • Slow contrast detect AF in live view mode; manual focus image enlargement not very sharp
  • Archaic menu system
  • Movie mode issues: huge file sizes, limited recording time, no continuous AF, needs a wind cut filter
  • Easy to accidentally turn the control dials; large number of buttons, switches, and dials make camera a bit intimidating

The only other D-SLRs in the K-7's class are the Canon EOS-7D, Nikon D300s, and the Olympus E-3.

As usual, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Pentax K-7 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out our gallery to see how the K-7's photo quality looks!

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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.