DCRP

Pentax K-r Review

Look and Feel

The Pentax K-r is a compact digital SLR that looks a whole lot like the K-x that came before it. The only differences on the body itself is the larger LCD and dedicated AF-assist lamp on the K-r. Otherwise, same camera!

The K-r has a plastic exterior shell over a stainless steel chassis, and it feels solid in your hands. The right hand grip is a lot larger than what you'll find on most compact D-SLRs, making it easy to securely hold the camera. The important controls are within easy reach of your fingers, as well. About the only thing missing here is a dedicated movie recording button.


The K-r has a relatively small color selection by Pentax standards -- at least for now
Images courtesy of Pentax

Pentax really went crazy with color choices on the old K-x, but they've been a bit more conservative with the K-r (at least for now). There are three colors available: white, red, and traditional black.

Alright, now let's see how the Pentax K-r compares to other cameras in its class in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS Rebel T2i 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0 in. 58.1 cu in. 475 g
Nikon D3100 4.9 x 3.8 x 2.9 in. 54.0 cu in. 455 g
Olympus E-620 5.1 x 3.7 x 2.4 in. 45.3 cu in. 475 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 4.9 x 3.3 x 2.9 in. 46.9 cu in. 371 g
Pentax K-r 4.9 x 3.8 x 2.7 in. 50.3 cu in. 544 g
Samsung NX10 4.2 x 3.4 x 1.6 in. 22.8 cu in. 349 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A560 5.4 x 4.1 x 3.3 in. 73.1 cu in. 599 g

Ignoring the two mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras for a moment, you'll see that the K-r is above average in terms of both size and weight. It's both a tiny bit larger and heavier than its predecessor, as well.

Let's begin our tour of the K-r now, shall we?

Front of the Pentax K-r

Here's the front of the K-r, without a lens attached. The camera supports all Pentax K-mount lenses -- even the old screw-mount type (though an adapter is required for those). All but the oldest lenses should support autofocus, and most will work with the camera's image stabilizer right out of the box. The more modern DA, DA L, and D FA lenses support automatic aberration and distortion correction, as well. To release a lens, simply press the button to the lower-left of the mount.

The K-r features a sensor-shift image stabilization system, like all Pentax D-SLRs. The camera detects the tiny movements of your hands that can blur your photos, especially in low light, or when using a telephoto lens. The K-r physically moves the sensor to compensate for this motion. Pentax says that the IS system allows you to use up to 4 stops worth of shutter speeds that would be blurry otherwise. Here's an example of the IS system in action:


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on

Both of the above photos were taken at a shutter speed of 1/5th of a second. As you can see, the IS system did its job, producing a much sharper photo (the buttons near the top of the photo are blurry because of the short depth-of-field). You can also use the IS system in movie mode (see example), though note that the microphone may pick up the sound of the sensor moving around.

The camera also uses the shake reduction system to remove dust from the sensor, though this feature is not turned on by default. When you do turn it on, the camera will rapidly shake the sensor when it's powered on (and you'll hear it when it does), and you can also run the system manually at any time.

Directly above the lens mount is the K-r's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. This flash has the typical guide number of 12 meters at ISO 100, which is the same as on the K-x. Should you want more flash power, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment, or cut the cord entirely and go wireless, using the built-in flash as the master.

To the lower-left of the Pentax logo is the camera's pinhole microphone. Just to the left of that is the new dedicated AF-assist lamp. On the K-x you had to pop up the flash in order to use that feature.

The last thing to see here is the receiver for the optional wireless remote control, which is located on the grip.

Back of the Pentax K-r

The LCD has been improved on the K-r, in terms of both size and resolution. Where the K-x had a 2.7" screen with 230,000 pixels, the K-r's display is 3 inches in size, with 921,000 pixels. As you'd expect, the screen is very sharp. Outdoor visibility is good, as is the screen's overall viewing angle.

The view in live view mode. You can position the focus point anywhere in the frame. The rather noisy enlarged view (4X)

As with all D-SLRs these days, the LCD isn't just used for menus and reviewing photos -- you can also use it for taking photos and videos, too. The live view feature on the K-r is well implemented, with all the usual bells and whistles. That means 100% frame coverage, exposure and white balance preview, frame enlargement for manual focus, grid lines and a live histogram, and face detection. In low light, the view on the LCD brightens automatically, so you can still see you subject. One unique thing that the K-r does when it's focusing is enlarge the focus point on the LCD, so you can make sure that your subject is properly focused. While this last feature is handy, I kind of wish that there was an option to turn it off (I guess I'm a traditionalist).

There are three autofocus modes available in live view mode: face detection, contrast detect, and phase difference AF. The first two both use the camera's CMOS sensor for focusing, which can be quite slow. When using face detection, the camera will locate up to sixteen faces in the frame, making sure they're properly focused and exposed. The regular contrast detect option allows you to position the focus point anywhere in the frame, save for a margin around the edges. In either case, the focus times can be anywhere from 1 - 2 seconds, and sometimes longer in low light. The mode I prefer using is phase difference, which turns off live view momentarily while it uses the camera's built-in AF sensor to focus. It's worth losing the live for a moment, though, as focus times are much faster than the contrast detect system, nearly rivaling those of shooting with the viewfinder.

Info display, with a virtual four-way controller Press the Info button again to get to this screen, where you can quickly change camera settings

When the LCD isn't being used for live view, it can be turned into an information display, which shows the current camera settings. An additional screen (accessed by pressing the Info button) lets you adjust numerous camera settings (see screenshot). These settings include:

  • Custom image
  • Cross processing
  • Digital filters
  • HDR capture
  • Shake reduction
  • AE metering
  • AF mode
  • Select AF point
  • Highlight correction
  • Shadow correction
  • File format
  • JPEG recorded pixels
  • JPEG quality
  • Distortion correction
  • Lateral chromatic aberration adjustment

I'll explain all of those in detail when I get to the menu section of this review.

Getting back to the tour now, let's talk about the K-r's optical viewfinder, which has one big change compared to the one on the K-x. The K-x's viewfinder did not show which of the 11 focus points was being used, which was pretty frustrating. Pentax took care of that problem on the K-r, with the active focus points lighting up in red, just as they do on every other D-SLR. Everything else is unchanged. The K-r's viewfinder has a magnification of 0.85X and 96% coverage, and a line of shooting data is shown below the field of view. You can adjust the focus of the viewfinder by using the diopter correction slider on the top of it.

To the left of the viewfinder is a button which releases the built-in flash, and it also is used for deleting photos. On the opposite side you'll find the camera's one and only command dial (known as the E-dial), which is used for adjusting manual settings, navigating menus, and enlarging photos. I had trouble with this dial on two different K-r review units. On both occasions, the dial was sluggish and sometimes unpredictable. On my original K-r, turning the dial one way would produce the opposite result, so I had to return it for another camera. Guess what -- a few weeks into using K-r number two, the same thing started to happen. I spoke with Pentax about this, and they said that they've had a very small amount of cameras with this issue (I guess I got two of them), and that the issue will be covered under warranty.

Just to the right of the command dial is the camera's AF/AE lock button.

Now let's talk about the four buttons located to the right of the LCD. They include:

  • Playback mode
  • Live view - turns this on and off
  • Info - toggles what's shown on the LCD
  • Menu

To the right of those is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, selecting a focus point, moving through photos you've taken, and also:

  • Up - Drive (Single shot, continuous lo/hi, 2 or 12 sec self-timer, 0 or 3 sec remote control, exposure bracketing)
  • Down - Flash setting (Flash on, flash on + redeye reduction, slow sync, slow sync + redeye reduction, trailing curtain slow sync, wireless mode) + flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +1EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Left - White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, fluorescent x 4, tungsten, flash, color temperature enhancement, manual)
  • Right - ISO sensitivity (Auto, 200 - 6400)
  • Center - OK + focus point select (in 11-point or live view mode only)

There's plenty to talk about before we can continue the tour. Let's start with the drive options, specifically the two continuous shooting choices. There are low and high speed continuous modes, and here's what kind of performance you can expect from the K-r:

Quality setting Low speed High speed
RAW+ JPEG (12M/Best) 19 shots @ 2.2 fps 10 shots @ 4.4 fps
RAW 45 shots @ 2.2 fps 14 shots @ 4.6 fps
JPEG (12M/Best) Unlimited @ 2.3 fps 33 shots @ 5.8 fps
Tested with a SanDisk Class 10 SDHC card

Even though I couldn't quite reach the advertised burst rate, the K-x still has the best continuous shooting mode of any entry-level digital SLR. The frame rate is fast, and the sizable amount of buffer memory lets you take quite a few shots before things start to slow down. You don't have to wait for the buffer to clear after a burst, either (at least with a fast memory card). If you're in live view mode, the screen will go dark after the first photo is taken, so this feature is best used with the viewfinder.

The drive menu also contains the camera's AE bracketing feature. With this turned on, the camera will take three photos in a row, each with a different exposure compensation setting. The interval between each of the shots can be as little as 1/3EV, or as much as 3EV.


Fine-tuning white balance

Next up is white balance, for which there are quite a few options. There are the usual presets that we all know and love, and each of them can be tweaked, as you shown above. You can also use a white or gray card for accurate color in mixed or unusual lighting. There's also a unique Color Temperature Enhancement (CTE) option, which Pentax says "keeps and strengthens the color tone of the light source in the image". If you're not in live view mode, you can get a preview of the current white balance setting by pressing the exposure compensation button. The only things you can't do are set the color temperature or bracket for white balance.


Adjusting the ISO sensitivity

In the ISO menu, you have a choice of auto or manual adjustment. The Auto mode lets you select a range of sensitivities that the camera will use (the whole range is available). The manual mode lets you select from sensitivities between ISO 200 and 12,800, and by using a custom setting in the menu you can expand that to ISO 100 - 25,600.

And that's it for the back of the camera!

Top of the Pentax K-r

The first thing to see on the top of the K-r is its speaker, located to the right of the "strap lug" on the left-hand side of the photo.

In the center of the photo is the K-r's hot shoe. You'll get the best results by using a Pentax flash, as they'll sync up with the camera's metering system. The two top-end Pentax flashes (the AF360FGZ and AF540FGZ) also support high speed flash sync, use of their AF-assist lamps, and they can also be used wirelessly. If you're using a non-Pentax flash, you may have to set the exposure on both the camera and flash manually. Unless you're using high speed flash sync, the maximum shutter speed you can use with an external flash is 1/180 sec.

Continuing to the right, we find the K-r's mode dial, which is packed with options. Here's the full list:

Option Function
Auto Picture mode Point-and-shoot, with auto scene selection. Most menu options locked up.
Scene (SCN) mode You pick the situation, and the camera selects the proper settings. Choose from night scene, surf & snow, food, sunset, stage lighting, night scene HDR, kids, pet, candlelight, museum, and night snap.
Movie mode More on this later
Program mode Automatic, with full menu access. You can move through various shutter speed/aperture combinations by using the command dial (Program Shift).
Sensitivity priority (Sv) mode You set the desired ISO sensitivity, and the camera will select the appropriate shutter speed and aperture to obtain an accurate exposure.
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose the shutter speed, and the camera picks the appropriate aperture. Shutter speed range is 30 - 1/6000 sec.
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose the aperture, and camera picks the shutter speed. Range depends on lens used. For the 18 - 55 mm kit lens, it's F3.5 - F40.
Manual (M) mode You select the shutter speed and aperture yourself. A bulb mode is also available, allowing for exposures as long as you hold down the shutter release is held down.
Flash off Turns off the flash entirely.
Night scene portrait The most commonly used scene modes have dedicated spots on the dial.
Moving object
Macro
Landscape
Portrait


Scene menu

The K-r has both automatic and manual controls, which should satisfy just about everyone. On the point-and-shoot side, there's the Auto Picture mode, which selects one of six scenes automatically (two more are available when using live view). You can also select a scene mode yourself, and there are eleven to choose from. One of the new ones is Night Scene HDR, which combines three exposures into a single image for better contrast in low light. Using a tripod is recommended for this, and several of the other low light scene modes.

As for manual controls, you've got the usual suspects: program, shutter priority, aperture priority, and full manual (which includes a bulb mode). There's also the unique sensitivity priority mode, where you select the ISO and let the camera figure out the rest. The K-r does not have the TAv mode that's found on the more expensive K-5, nor is there a dedicated spot on the dial for your favorite camera settings.

Above the mode dial are the exposure compensation and "green" buttons. The former does just as it sounds, with an available range of -3EV to +3EV. It'll also let you adjust the aperture when you're in full manual mode. The green button is customizable, and by default it returns the exposure (or other settings) back to defaults. The green button can also be assigned to perform a depth-of-field preview, or quickly switch between JPEG and RAW formats. I'll list what else it can do later in the menu section of this review.

Just north of those buttons is the power switch, which has the shutter release button inside of it.

Side of the Pentax K-r

There are just two things to point out on this side of the Pentax K-r. The first is the switch between auto and manual focus, with the second being the camera's single I/O port, which is under a rubber cover. This port is for USB and A/V output. Unfortunately, the K-r lacks an HDMI port.

Side of the Pentax K-r

On the other side of the camera you'll find its SD/SDHC memory card slot, which has a plastic door of decent quality protecting it.

Bottom of the Pentax K-r

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the K-r. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount, as well as the camera's uniquely shaped battery compartment. By default the camera uses the D-LI109 lithium-ion battery at right, though you can stuff four AAs in as well, with the appropriate adapter.

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