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DCRP Review: Pentax K100D  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: August 31, 2006
Last Updated: February 4, 2008

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On the outside, the new Pentax K100D ($599 body only, $699 with lens) looks a lot like its predecessor, the *ist DS2. Pentax didn't just change the name, though (but I'm glad they did) -- inside the K100D is a CCD-shift image stabilization system. This system, which Pentax calls Shake Reduction, lets you take sharper photos at slower shutter speeds than on an unstabilized camera -- and with ANY Pentax lens ever made.

Other features on the K100D include a 6.1 Megapixel CCD, full manual controls, a 2.5" LCD display, and all the expandability you'd expect from a digital SLR. And did I mention that it uses AA batteries?

To save $100 you can also check out the K110D model, which is the same as the K100D, except that it lacks Shake Reduction.

The entry-level D-SLR field is very competitive. Read our review to see how the K100D compares!

Since the two cameras have much in common, I will be reusing portions of my Samsung GX-1S review here.

What's in the Box?

Like many D-SLRs, there are two "kits" available for the K100D. One has just the body and bundled accessories, while the other includes all that plus a lens. Here's what you'll find in the box for each kit:

  • The 6.1 effective Megapixel K100D camera body
  • Pentax F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm autofocus lens [lens kit only]
  • Four AA alkaline batteries
  • Eyecup
  • Viewfinder cap
  • Hot shoe cover
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Pentax Photo Browser and Photo Laboratory
  • 212 page camera manual (printed)

As is the case with all D-SLRs, Pentax does not include a memory card with the K100D, so you'll have to factor that into the total purchase price. The camera uses Secure Digital (SD) and MultiMediaCards, and if you're using firmware version 1.01 or later you can use the new SD High Capacity (SDHC) cards as well. I'd suggest picking up a 512MB card for use with the camera, and a "high speed" card will be worth the extra dollars.

If you get the lens kit then you'll find a Pentax F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm lens in the box. This lens can be purchased separately for a little over $100. The 18-55 is a good, but not great, lens that is good for everyday shooting, though it does have a bit of a problem with vignetting. More on this subject later.

The K100D is one of a select few D-SLRs that uses AA batteries without needing an expensive adapter. Pentax gives you four alkaline batteries in the box, which will quickly find their way into your trash can. To save money and the environment, do yourself a favor and pick up a set or two of NiMH rechargeable batteries (2500 mAh or higher) and a fast charger.

Since most manufacturers don't publish battery life statistics about their D-SLRs, it's hard to compare the K100D against the competition. Pentax says that you can take 300 shots per charge (with 50% flash use, CIPA standard) using 2500 mAh batteries. Canon's new Digital Rebel XTi can take 370 shots per charge, the old Pentax *ist DS2 took around 500 shots, while the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 can take a whopping 750 photos under the same conditions. I don't have CIPA numbers for Nikon's cameras, unfortunately.

There is no battery grip available for this or any Pentax D-SLR.

However, there are plenty of other accessories. Naturally you can choose from Pentax's large assortment of lenses, and the new Samsung-branded models will work too. If you want more flash power the you can choose from two external flashes (from Pentax -- third party models work too): the AF360FGZ and AF540FGZ. If you want to use the camera without laying a hand on it, you can pick up the CS-205 remote shutter release or the Remote Control F. To power the K100D without draining your batteries then you'll need the K-AC10 AC adapter. There are other items out there -- too many to list here -- but they include various viewfinder and hot shoe accessories.

Pentax Photo Browser 3

Pentax includes two pieces of software with the K100D: Photo Browser and Photo Laboratory. There are Mac and Windows versions of each.

Photo Browser 3 is a fairly typical photo organizer. It'll download the images off of the camera and put them into the usual thumbnail view. As you'd expect, the thumbnail size can be adjusted. Information about the currently selected image is shown below the thumbnails.

If you double-click on a thumbnail you'll arrive at the above screen. Here you can rotate and crop images, as well as print them. While there is an auto enhance feature, I was surprised to see that there was no redeye removal tool.

While Photo Browser can view RAW images, it can't edit any of the properties that make the format useful. For that, you'll want to use...

Pentax Photo Laboratory 3

... Photo Laboratory! This is a pretty hardcore product, letting you adjust almost every RAW property imaginable. It's got basics like exposure, saturation, contrast, and sharpness covered. There are nice white balance controls, plus you can reduce noise, chromatic aberrations, and lens distortion as well. If that's still not enough, you can play with tone curves to your heart's desire.

By the way, at the time this review was written the K100D's RAW files could not be read by Photoshop CS2.

What's the big deal about RAW anyway, you ask? RAW images contain unprocessed image data from the camera, which must be converted on your computer into more common formats like JPEG. Since the image data is untouched, you can edit the properties mentioned above without reducing the quality of the image. So if you screwed up the white balance, RAW gives you a second chance.

A complex camera requires a pretty hefty manual, and Pentax gives you one. The layout of the manual isn't terribly user friendly, though the information you're looking for is there. The large font size is a nice change from the usual manual which requires a magnifying glass to read.

Look and Feel

Put the K100D next to the *ist DS2 and you'll have an awfully hard time telling them apart. The two things that give away the difference (besides the labeling) are the Shake Reduction button on the back of the K100D, and the fact that the new camera is a little larger than the old one.

The K100D feels like a much more expensive camera with its in your hands, aside from a few cheap plastic doors. It's got a stainless steel core with solid plastic shell, and it's very well put together. The large right hand grip makes the camera easy to hold, and the important controls are right where they should be.

Now let's see how the K100D compares to other entry-level D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon Digital Rebel XTi 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6 in. 48.1 cu in. 510 g
Nikon D50 5.2 x 4.0 x 3.0 in. 62.4 cu in. 540 g
Nikon D80 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in. 64 cu in. 585 g
Olympus EVOLT E-500 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6 in. 48.1 cu in. 435 g
Pentax *ist DS2 4.9 x 3.6 x 2.6 in. 45.9 cu in. 505 g
Pentax K100D 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.8 in. 51.4 cu in. 560 g
Pentax K110D 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.8 in. 51.4 cu in. 560 g
Samsung Digimax GX-1L 4.9 x 3.6 x 2.6 in. 45.9 cu in. 505 g
Samsung Digimax GX-1S 4.9 x 3.6 x 2.6 in. 45.9 cu in. 505 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 5.3 x 3.8 x 2.9 in. 58.4 cu in. 545 g

As you can see, the K100D is right in the middle of the entry-level pack in terms of size. It's right about right, in my opinion, since some of the smaller D-SLRs are a little too small for me.

Okay, let's start our tour of the camera now, beginning (as always) with the front.

Here's the front of the K100D without a lens. The K100D works with ANY Pentax KA-mount lens ever made, and there are plenty to choose from. Due to the difference in size between the K100D's sensor and 35 mm film there is a 1.5X focal length conversion, so a 35 mm lens actually has the field-of-view of 52.5 mm.

Deep inside the lens barrel, behind the mirror you can see, is the K100D's 6.1 Megapixel CCD sensor, which is probably the same as the one on the *ist models. The sensor is mounted on a plate which can be shifted by the Shake Reduction system. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of the camera (which can really blur your pictures), and the CCD is moved to compensate for this. What this all means is that you can take photos at shutter speeds that would be unusable on non-stabilized cameras. And, since the SR system is built into the camera, you don't need to buy expensive stabilized lenses to get this useful feature.

Want to see how well Pentax's SR system works? Have a look at this:

Shake Reduction Off

Shake Reduction On

Both of the above photos were taken at a very slow 1/4 second, a speed at which you'll almost always get a blurry photo (assuming that the camera is not on a tripod). As you can see, the Shake Reduction feature was able to produce a sharp photo at that speed. Now, it won't work miracles: it can't stop a moving subject, nor will it work at really slow shutter speeds (like what you'd use for night shots like the one later in this review), but it does let you use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise.

Back to the tour now. To the lower-left of the lens mount is the lens release button. Moving toward the grip now we find self-timer lamp and remote control receiver.

Directly above the lens mount is the pop-up flash, which is released electronically. This flash has a guide number of 15.6 at ISO 200, which translates to a range of roughly 0.8 - 3.9 meters. The flash is also used as the AF-assist lamp when light levels are low. Normally this results in a flash photo being taken as well, but you can close the flash after focus is locked to avoid that.

On the back of the camera you'll find a large 2.5" LCD display, which is nice and sharp with a resolution of 210,000 pixels. Do note that the LCD is only used for reviewing photos and navigating menus -- you cannot compose photos on it. If you want a camera that does that then you should be looking at the Olympus EVOLT E-330 (or the Panasonic DMC-L1 if you're really loaded).

Directly above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is a penta-mirror design. The viewfinder is big and bright, and it shows 96% of the frame. Below the field of view there's an line of information which shows things like shutter speed, aperture, shots remaining, flash setting, and more. You can adjust the focus of the viewfinder by using the diopter correction slider on top of the eyecup.

To the left of the viewfinder is the release button for the pop-up flash. On the opposite side is the command dial, which is used for choosing manual settings in record mode, and for the playback zoom when you're reviewing your pictures. Next up is the AE-Lock button, which doubles as the Image Protect button in playback mode.

This screen is shown when you press the Info button while taking pictures

Moving to the left of the LCD now, we find these four buttons:

  • Menu
  • Delete Photo
  • Info - shows the screen above in record mode, and toggles between info screens in playback mode
  • Playback mode

Jumping to the right side of the LCD we find the four-way controller (used for menu navigation, the Function button, and the Shake Reduction on/off switch.

Function Menu

Pressing the Function button opens the function menu, which has the following options:

  • Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous, self-timer (2 or 10 secs), remote control (0 or 3 secs), bracketing) - see below
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, fluorescent [daylight, neutral, and white], tungsten, flash, manual) - see below
  • ISO (Auto, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
  • Flash mode (Auto, flash on, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on w/redeye reduction)

I want to explain a few of those things before we continue. First up, the continuous shooting mode. I took some action shots recently with the K100D and the Nikon D80, and let me tell you, the Nikon won easily. The K100D's buffer filled up quickly, while the D80 just kept shooting. Here in the DCRP lab the K100D took just five "best" quality JPEGs and three RAW images before the burst rate slowed down. During those first few shots the camera was shooting at a respectable 2.6 frames/second -- too bad it doesn't last very long.

When you use the bracketing feature the camera will take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure. You can select the interval between shots as well as the order of shooting in the record menu, which I'll describe later in the review.

The manual white balance feature lets you use a white or gray card to ensure accurate colors even under the most unusual light. There's no way to set the color temperature on the K100D, nor can you fine-tune a chosen WB setting.

The Shake Reduction button turns the anti-shake feature on and off. Why would you turn Shake Reduction off? Well, sometimes it can be more harm than good, like when your camera is on a tripod.

There's more to see on the top of the K100D. Let's start with the mode dial on the left, which has these options:

Option Function
Flash off Does just as it sounds; also disables the AF-assist functionality
Night scene portrait These are all scene modes; there are more below, too
Moving object
Auto picture Fully automatic, with some menu options locked up
Scene mode You choose the situation and the camera uses the right settings. Choose from night scene, surf & snow, text, sunset, kids, pet, candlelight, and museum
Program mode Still automatic, but with full menu access. Surprisingly there's no program shift feature on the K100D
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose shutter speed, camera picks aperture. Shutter speed range is 30 - 1/4000 sec
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose aperture, camera picks appropriate shutter speed. Range depends on lens used; for the kit lens it is F3.5 - F38
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself; same ranges as above
Bulb mode Keeps the shutter open for as long as the shutter release is held down; remote control and AC adapter are recommended

As you can probably tell, there are plenty of automatic and manual modes on the K100D.

To the right of the mode dial is the camera's hot shoe. It works best with the two Pentax flashes I mentioned earlier, as they integrate with the camera, which allows you to use P-TTL metering, high speed sync (uses shutter speeds faster than 1/180 sec), and wireless flashes. Third party flashes will work with the camera too, though you'll have to use manual settings on both the camera and the flash.

Continuing to the right, we find the LCD info display, which displays virtually any setting you can think of (except for exposure while in manual mode). Unfortunately there's no backlight for the screen, so it's quite difficult to see in low light.

Above the LCD info display is the exposure compensation button, which is also used to adjust the aperture in the manual and bulb modes. The exposure compensation range is the usual -2EV to +2EV, with your choice of intervals (1/2 or 1/3 EV).

Above that is the shutter release button, which has the power switch wrapped around it. If you move the power switch past on (to that shutter icon), this will activate the depth-of-field preview (which is usually found on the front of an SLR). You can also turn on a "digital preview" feature instead, which actually takes the photo, saving it in the buffer memory for up to a minute. This allows you to see how the exposure and colors look without actually saving the photo, though how hard is it to delete a photo you took in the first place?

On this side of the camera we find the auto/manual focus switch plus the I/O ports. The ports, which are protected by a plastic cover of average quality, are for:

  • Remote control
  • USB + Video out (one port for both)
  • DC-in (for optional AC adapter)

Like most D-SLRs, the K100D supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

On the other side of the camera is the SD memory card slot, which is protected by a plastic door of average quality.

On the bottom of the K100D you'll find its metal tripod mount, plus the battery compartment. As I mentioned at the start of the review, the K100D uses four AA batteries, and it can take two CR-V3 batteries as well. The lockable plastic door over the battery compartment is on the flimsy side.

Using the Pentax K100D

Record Mode

It takes just under a second for the K100D to "warm up" before you can start taking pictures, which is on the slow side for a D-SLR.

Focus times on the K100D were very good, though maybe a bit slower than on some other entry-level D-SLRs. Typically it took the camera between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds to lock focus, with longer delays at the telephoto end of the lens, or if the camera had to "hunt" a bit. Low light focusing was on the slow side (even when the flash assist is used), though the camera did lock focus eventually.

As you'd expect on a digital SLR, shutter lag is not an issue.

Shot-to-shot speeds are very good, though the K100D's memory buffer fills up quickly. The camera will pause after three RAW or five best quality JPEG shots to finish writing them to the memory card.

After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to send the shot you just took to the trash.

Now let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the K100D. Pentax uses a "star system" for image quality, with one star being good, two being better, and three being best. Here's what you find on a decent-sized memory card:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 512MB card
3008 x 2008
RAW 11.1 MB 46
3008 x 2000
Best 3.1 MB 167
Better 1.6 MB 311
Good 1.0 MB 498
2400 x 1600
Best 2.2 MB 234
Better 1.2 MB 415
Good 760 KB 674
1536 x 1024
Best 1.1 MB 453
Better 610 KB 722
Good 460 KB 1115

As I mentioned back in the software section of the review, the K100D supports the RAW image format. RAW images are taken alone -- not along with a JPEG like on some D-SLRs.

Images are named using the following convention: IMGP####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the file numbering even if you switch memory cards.

Let's move on to the menus now.

The K100D's menu system isn't pretty, but it gets the job done. Pentax definitely needs to simply their menus a bit, as most people probably don't know what "Swtch dst msr pt" does (yes, that's an actual menu option). Anyhow, the menu is divided into four tabs: record, playback, setup, and custom. Here's what you'll find in each of those:

  • Record menu
    • Image tone (Natural, bright)
    • Recorded pixels (see chart)
    • Quality level (see chart)
    • Saturation (Low, normal, high)
    • Sharpness (Low, normal, high)
    • Contrast (Low, normal, high)
    • Auto bracket
      • Bracketing amount [interval] (1/2EV, 1/3EV)
      • Shooting images [order] (Normal/under/over, under/normal/over, over/normal/under)
    • AE metering (Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot)
    • AF point (Auto, select, center) - the second option lets you manually select one of eleven focus points
    • AF mode (Single, continuous) - the second option tells the camera to keep focusing while the shutter release is halfway-pressed
    • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/2 or 1/3EV increments)
    • Shake reduction (8 to 800, with many stops in-between) - if you're using an old Pentax lens you'll need to enter its focal length here
  • Playback menu
    • Playback display method (Standard, histogram, detailed info, no info display, last memory)
    • Instant review (Off, 1, 3, 5 secs)
    • Preview display (Off, histogram, brighten areas) - shows a histogram and/or overexposure while reviewing photos
    • Digital filter (Black & white, sepia, color, soft, slimming, brightness) - see below
    • Slideshow

  • Setup menu
    • Format card
    • Beep (on/off)
    • Date adjust
    • World time - choose home and travel time zones
    • Language
    • Guide display (on/off) - shows you what mode you're in when you turn on the camera or use the mode dial
    • Brightness level (-7 to +7 in 1-step increments)
    • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
    • Transfer mode (PC, PictBridge, PC-F)
    • Auto power off (Off, 1, 3, 5, 10, 30 mins)
    • Folder name (Standard, date)
    • File numbering (Serial number, reset)
    • Sensor cleaning
    • Reset

  • Custom menu
    • Noise reduction (on/off) - for long exposures
    • Exposure setting steps (1/2EV, 1/3EV)
    • ISO correction in Auto mode (200 - 800, 200 - 400, 200 - 1600, 200 - 3200) - ISO range used when setting is Auto
    • ISO sensitivity warning display (Off, 400, 800, 1600, 3200) - a warning turns on when this value is exceeded
    • Link AF and AE points (on/off)
    • Metering operating time (3, 10, 30 secs)
    • AE lock when AF locked (on/off) - whether metering locks when focus does
    • Recordable image number (Recordable images, number continuous shooting recordable images) - what's shown on the LCD info display and viewfinder
    • OK button when shooting (Confirm sensitivity, center AF point, enable AF, cancel AF)
    • AE lock button in M mode (Program line, Tv shift, Av shift)
    • Superimpose AF area (on/off) - in viewfinder
    • AF with remote control (on/off) - whether camera autofocuses when using the wireless remote
    • Focus indicator with S lens (Unavailable, available) - for use with screw mount lenses
    • Using aperture ring (Prohibited, permitted) - your guess is as good as mine
    • Release when charging (on/off) - whether you can take a photo while the flash is charging
    • Preview method (Digital preview, optical preview) - see below
    • Starting magnification in playback zoom (1.2X, 2X, 4X, 8X, 12X)
    • Manual white balance measurement (Entire screen, spot metering area)
    • Color Space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
    • Reset custom functions

There are two things in the menu that I want to explain before we continue (I hope you can figure out everything else). First up are those digital filter option, which you typically find on point-and-shoot cameras instead of D-SLRs. In addition to the usual black and white, sepia, and soft filters, you'll also find color filters and brightness adjustments. The color filters let you apply red, orange, yellow, yellow-green, green, cyan, blue, indigo, and purple filters to a photo that you've already taken. The brightness tool just does as it sounds, adjusting the brightness of a photo from -8 to +8 (in 1-step increments).

The other option I want to talk about is buried deep within the custom settings menu, and it's called "preview method". Basically it defines what that extra spot on the power switch does. By default it does the DOF preview, but you can also have the camera take a "test image" which isn't saved to the computer, so you can adjust exposure and color.

Okay, let's move on to our test photos now. With the exception of the night shot, all of the photos were taken with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. The night shot was taken with the Pentax F4-5.6 50 - 200 mm lens.

The K100D did a fine job with our 3" tall macro subject. The colors are nice and saturated (in fact, the red cloak is a little over the top)\, the subject is super-sharp, and noise is not an issue. I used the custom white balance feature here, which handled my studio lamps without a problem. If I was to come up with a negative point about this shot it would be that the background's a little dark.

The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. Pentax makes two lenses specifically for macro photography, if that's your thing.

When I first started taking the night shots with the K100D I noticed that I was getting the same orange cast that I got on the similar Samsung GX-1S. After fooling around with the white balance settings I got results that were a lot closer to reality (using the tungsten setting).

Anyhow, the K100D did a great job with the night test shot. The camera took in plenty of light (having manual shutter speed control sure helps with that), and the buildings are nice and sharp. Noise levels are very low, as you'd expect. Purple fringing can be found in several areas of the photo, and you can reduce that by closing down the aperture more.

I have two high ISO tests in this review. The first one uses the same night scene you see above. Here we go:

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

Things look pretty good at ISO 200 and 400, with a noticeable increase in noise at ISO 800. Despite that, you should be able to make a small to midsize print at that setting. At ISO 1600 noise levels rise dramatically, while details disappear. ISO 3200 is probably not usable, at least for long exposures like this.

There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. What isn't so mild is the vignetting, or dark corners. You'll see it not only in this test chart, but also in some real world photos as well. Hey, there's a reason why this lens sells for a little over $100!

I wouldn't expect redeye to be a problem on a digital SLR, and sure enough, there's not at all in our flash test shot.

Now it's time for our second ISO test. This one is taken in the studio, and is comparable between cameras. While the crops give you a quick idea about the noise levels at each ISO setting, viewing the full size images is always a good idea.

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

You need a sharp eye to see the difference between the ISO 200, 400, and 800 shots. All three are very clean, so making large prints at these settings is a piece of cake. At ISO 1600 things still look very good -- almost as good as what Canon's CMOS sensors produce. Strangely enough it seems like the K100D has less noise than the Samsung GX-1S, which I think uses the same sensor. The ISO 3200 setting isn't great -- there's a fair amount of noise as well as a reduction in color saturation -- but you could probably get a small print out of photos taken at that sensitivity.

Overall the K100D's photo quality was excellent, which is just what you'd expect from a digital SLR. The camera took well-exposed photos, save for one underexposure here. Both color saturation and sharpness are set pretty high, which is what consumers moving up from point-and-shoot cameras seem to want. Noise levels are nice and low through ISO 800, as the previous test illustrates. I didn't find purple fringing to be much of an issue, but keep in mind that your choice of lens has a lot to do with this.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our extensive photo gallery, and print a few photos if you can. Then and only then can you decide if the K100D's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

No digital SLRs have movie modes at this time.

Playback Mode

The K100D has a pretty basic playback mode. You've got slideshows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, image protection, and "zoom and scroll". This last feature, also known as playback zoom, lets you enlarge a photo by up to 12X, and then move around in the enlarged area. This comes in handy when you're trying to verify proper focus of a photo.

The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.

While you can't resize or crop photos on the camera, you can rotate them. A digital filter feature lets you turn a picture into black and white or sepia, soften things up a bit, increase image brightness, or make your subject slimmer (seriously).

By default the camera doesn't tell you much about your photos in playback mode. You can turn on an option in the menu that will "flash" the overexposed areas of the picture, if you'd like. Press the Info button and a histogram will be shown, and pressing it again gets the very detailed screen shown above right.

The K100D moves through photos instantly.

How Does it Compare?

Going into this review I was sort of lukewarm about the Pentax K100D. But this entry-level digital SLR won me over with its excellent photo quality, built-in image stabilizer, and low price. It's not great for sports/action shooters, but for everyone else, it's absolutely worth a look.

The K100D looks a whole lot like the *ist models before it, with the biggest changes inside the camera. it's a midsize D-SLR that's very well put-together considering its $600 street price. The camera has a nice, large right hand grip, and it fits well in your hands. Pentax didn't go overboard with buttons and dials -- it's pretty easy to just pick up and use the K100D. The camera supports all Pentax KA-mount lenses ever made, with a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio. In terms of resolution, the K100D is a bit lacking, still using the same 6.1 Megapixel CCD as the original *ist D. The K100D has a large, fairly bright viewfinder as well as a 2.5" LCD display. The camera is also somewhat unique in that it uses AA batteries straight out of the box, instead of expensive proprietary li-ion batteries like most of the competition.

The biggest selling point of the K100D is undoubtedly its Shake Reduction system, which moves the CCD to compensate for "camera shake". While my tests certainly aren't scientific, the SR system did its job, letting me take sharp photos at some pretty slow shutter speeds. The beauty of a CCD-shift image stabilizer is that it works on any lens you use -- there's no need to buy special lenses like with some other D-SLRs.

The K100D has features for beginners and advanced users alike. Those of you moving up from a fixed-lens camera will enjoy the numerous scene modes and digital color filters. The menus aren't terribly user friendly, though. If you're more advanced then you'll get all the usual manual controls and custom settings. The RAW image format is also supported, and Pentax includes some decent software to work with these images.

Camera performance is average (for a D-SLR) in most respects. The K100D starts up in under a second (not that great) and there's no shutter lag to speak of. Focus speeds are decent in good light, but on the slow side in dim light. Despite this sluggishness, the K100D does lock focus consistently in low light. Shot-to-shot speeds are okay, but the buffer fills up quickly. Along those lines, I couldn't help but be disappointed with the continuous shooting mode on the camera: the burst rate (a respectable 2.6 fps) slows down noticeable after just 3 RAW or 5 Best Quality JPEGs -- the competition does a better job here. The K100D's battery life seems to be below average, though I don't have data for every D-SLR in this class.

Photo quality was excellent in most cases. The K100D took well-exposed photos with vivid colors and pleasing sharpness -- this camera is clearly aimed toward the consumer set. Noise levels are nice and low through ISO 800, and ISO 1600 is still usable, with ISO 3200 only for desperate situations. Purple fringing and redeye were not a problem. The 18 - 55 mm kit lens isn't the greatest, with noticeable vignetting in several of my real world photos. Remember: when it comes to lenses, you get what you pay for.

I pretty much covered all the negative points about the K100D in the preceding paragraphs. With a street price of a little over $600 (with the kit lens), the Pentax K100D is quite a bargain. It doesn't have the resolution of most of the competition, but it offers solid build quality, great photo quality, and image stabilization for not much money. If you've got a Pentax lens collection this camera is a no-brainer, and if you're buying your first D-SLR then it's also worth a look. The only people to whom I'd say "stay away!" would be those who take a lot of fast action shots, as the buffer memory fills up way too quickly.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality; low noise through ISO 800
  • Great value
  • Image stabilization system works with all Pentax lenses
  • Solid construction; doesn't feel "cheap" despite the low price
  • Large 2.5" LCD display
  • Full manual controls, as you'd expect
  • Good (but slow) low light focusing
  • Redeye not a problem
  • Decent RAW editing software included
  • Uses AA batteries
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Buffer memory fills up way too quickly; unimpressive continuous shooting mode as a result
  • Performance not quite as good as other D-SLRs
  • Some vignetting with kit lens
  • Menus not terribly user friendly
  • Limited white balance options (no fine-tuning or color temperature setting)
  • No backlight for LCD info display

Some other entry-level D-SLRs worth considering include the Canon Digital Rebel XTi, Nikon D50 and D80, Olympus EVOLT E-330 and E-500, Pentax K110D (same as the K100D, but without Shake Reduction), Samsung GX-1S, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100.

As always, I strongly recommend trying the K100D and its competitors before you drop the big bucks on a digital SLR!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

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 or technical support.

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