Pentax K-30 Review

Design & Features

The Pentax K-30 is a mid-sized digital SLR with a sturdy, weather-sealed body. The design of the K-30 is a little less traditional than typical D-SLRs, but it affect ergonomics in any way. The outer shell of the body is composite, with an inner chassis of stainless steel. The K-30 feels solid in your hands, with a large rubberized grip for your right hand. Most of the moving parts are of decent quality, with the plasticky mode dial being the only real exception. The K-30 has large, well-placed buttons that generally handle just one function.

Image courtesy of Pentax

As I mentioned earlier, the K-30 is available in black, white, and a rather nice blue. Pentax poured some water on two of the cameras above just to prove they're water-resistant.

Now, here's a look at how the K-30 compares to the same group of D-SLRs and ILCs that I used in the battery life table:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS Rebel T4i 5.2 x 3.9 x 3.1 in. 62.9 cu in. 520 g
Nikon D5100 5.0 x 3.8 x 3.1 in. 58.9 cu in. 510 g
Olympus E-P3 4.8 x 2.7 x 1.4 in. 18.1 cu in. 321 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 4.7 x 3.3 x 2.8 in. 43.4 cu in. 346 g
Pentax K-30 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8 in. 54.3 cu in. 590 g
Samsung NX20 4.8 x 3.5 x 1.6 in. 26.9 cu in. 341 g
Sony Alpha SLT-A57 5.3 x 3.9 x 3.3 in. 68.2 cu in. 539 g

It goes without saying that the K-30 and its fellow D-SLRs are going to be substantially larger than their mirrorless counterparts. If you ignore the ILCs you'll find that the K-30 is the smallest (but not the lightest) D-SLR in the bunch.

Let's begin our tour of the K-30, using our tabbed interface:

Front of the Pentax K-01

The first thing to point out here is the K-30's lens mount. This K-mount supports Pentax's huge selection of lenses -- even the really old screw-mount ones. As I mentioned earlier, the usual 1.5X APS-C crop factor applies here. To release an attached lens, simply press the button to the lower-left of the mount.

In the middle of the mount is the K-30's 16.3 effective Megapixel CMOS sensor, which is similar to the one used in the K-01 mirrorless camera. The K-01's sensor was capable of producing some very high quality photos, and we'll see how the one here shapes up later in the review.

This sensor is mounted on a movable plate, which is used for both image stabilization and dust removal. The stabilizer will provide up to 4 stops of shake correction on nearly every Pentax lens. In addition to reducing the likelihood of blurry photos, the shake reduction system smooths out your movies, as well. You can also have the camera "shake off" the dust when its powered on or off, though you need to turn that feature on in the setup menu.

Straight above the word "Pentax" is the K-30's pop-up flash, which is released manually. This flash as a guide number of 12 meters at ISO 100, which is typical for a digital SLR. The flash pops up quite far from the lens mount, which gives me hope that redeye won't be an issue. If you want more flash power, you can either attach an external flash to the hot shoe, or cut the cord entirely and go wireless.

The final things to see in this view can be found on and around the grip. At the bottom of the grip is the receiver for the optional wireless remote control. Straight above that is the camera's front dial. If you head east from there, you'll discover the AF-assist lamp.

Back of the Pentax K-01

The K-30's backside is fairly standard. The main event here is a 3-inch LCD display with 921,000 pixels. As you'd expect, everything is nice and sharp. I found outdoor visibility to be quite good.

Straight above the LCD is the K-30's large optical viewfinder. This viewfinder has magnification of 0.92X, which makes it the largest OVF in our group (the Sony SLT-A57 has a larger viewfinder, but it's electronic). Something else nice about this viewfinder is that it displays 100% of the frame. Under the field-of-view is a line of green-colored shooting data, which just so happens to also include the electronic level. If you want to adjust the focus on the OVF, just use the diopter correction slider on the top of the eye-cup.

Now let's talk buttons and dials. To the left of the viewfinder we have the button that activates the K-30's live view feature (more on that after the tour). Jumping to the opposite side, you'll find the camera's rear dial. The front and rear dials are used for adjusting exposure, among other things.

To the right of the LCD we have buttons for AE/AF lock, entering playback mode or the menu system, and toggling the info shown on the LCD.

At the center of all those buttons is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, adjusting exposure or the focus point, and replaying photos. These are also direct buttons for adjusting the ISO, flash setting, drive mode, and white balance.

Top of the Pentax K-01

The first item of note on the top of the K-30 is its hot shoe. It'll work best with the Pentax flashes I mentioned back in the accessory section of the review. These flashes will work with the camera's TTL metering system, and you'll be able to use high speed flash sync. Everyone else will have to set the flash exposure manually, and is limited to an 1/180 sec x-sync speed.

Just above the hot shoe is a monaural microphone. The K-30 doesn't support an external stereo microphone, which is surprising given its other credentials.

Moving to the right, we have the mode dial, which is chock full of options (to be discussed later).

At the top right of the photo is the power switch / shutter release combo (with the front dial just above it), as well as the exposure compensation and "green" buttons. The famous Pentax green button resets the setting you're adjusting to its default value, but it can be redefined to handle other tasks, as well.

Left side of the Pentax K-01

On this side of the camera you'll spot the flash release button, RAW/Fx (function) button, and the focus mode switch. The RAW/Fx button can be used to quickly switch from JPEG to RAW shooting, or you can redefine its function to do things like a DOF preview.

While its difficult to see here, under the rubber cover on the right you'll find the camera's USB + A/V out port. For some bizarre reason, the K-30 lacks an HDMI port.

The 18 - 55 mm kit lens is at the wide-angle position here.

Right side of the Pentax K-01

On the right side of the K-30 is its SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot, which is protected by a plastic door of good quality. Underneath that is the port for the optional wired remote control.

The kit lens is at full telephoto here.

Bottom of the Pentax K-01

The bottom view of the K-30 shows a metal tripod mount that is in-line with the lens. There's also that great battery compartment, which supports both AA and lithium-ion batteries (with the included D-LI109 shown at lower right). The sealed door that protects this compartment is of average quality.

I'd now like to go over camera features that are controlled by the various buttons and dials on the K-30. I'll begin with the somewhat plasticky mode dial. Here's what you'll find on it:

Option Function
Scene mode You select the scenario and the camera uses the proper settings. Choose from portrait, landscape, macro, moving object, night scene portrait, sunset, blue sky, forest, night scene, night scene HDR, night snap, food, pet, kids, surf & snow, backlight silhouette, candlelight, stage lighting, and museum.
Auto Picture mode Point-and-shoot operation, with automatic scene selection (the camera has eight to choose from). Some menu options are locked up.
Movie mode If you want to record Full HD movies, this is where you want the mode dial to be. Much more on this later.
Program (P) mode Still point-and-shoot, but with full menu access. Using the front and rear dials quickly jumps you into Tv or Av mode. Press the Green Button to snap out of it.
Sensitivity Priority (Sv) mode You choose the ISO sensitivity (range of 100 - 12800)8, and the camera will use the appropriate shutter speed and aperture. This mode is only found on Pentax cameras.
Shutter Priority (Tv) mode You select the shutter speed, and the camera selects the appropriate aperture. The shutter speed range is 30 - 1/6000 sec.
Aperture Priority (Av) mode You set the aperture, and the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The aperture range will depend on the attached lens.
Shutter and aperture priority (TAv) mode Another mode unique to Pentax, here you can set the shutter speed and aperture, with the camera selecting the ISO sensitivity that results in proper exposure.
Full manual (M) mode Here you adjust everything yourself: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Same ranges as above.
Bulb mode The camera will keep the shutter open for as long as the shutter release is held down. An option in the custom settings menu lets you use the shutter release as a toggle, which gives your finger a break. The optional AC adapter and remote control are very helpful here.
U1/U2 modes Store your favorite camera settings to these two spots on the mode dial.

As you can see from the table above, the K-30 has a shooting mode for everyone. The point-and-shoot crowd will get by just fine with Auto Picture mode, while enthusiasts have a large selection of "priority" modes to choose from, plus a lot of yet-to-be-mentioned manual controls.

White balance fine-tuning

As I mentioned in the tour, the four-way controller handles four important functions which are not available in the menus. They include:

  • ISO sensitivity: crank it up manually from 100 to 12800 (expandable to 25600), or choose an automatic range like 100-800
  • Flash mode: the usual suspects are all here (including 1st and 2nd-curtain slow sync), and here's where you turn on wireless flash control, as well
  • Drive: you'll find continuous, self-timer, remote control, and AE bracketing options here
  • White balance: the usual presets are all here (including four fluorescent options), plus color temperature enhancement (which strengthens the color tone of the light source), the ability to set the color temperature, and three custom spots; you can fine-tune white balance using the tool shown above; the K-30 unfortunately lacks a white balance bracketing feature

The "view" when using live view. Note the live histogram and electronic level (top right)

A rather significant feature activated by the "LV" button on the back of the camera is the K-30's live view system. This lets you use the LCD to compose your photos, just like you can on a mirrorless or compact camera. You get contrast detect autofocus with face detection, a live histogram, grid-lines, and an electronic level. Manual focusing is a snap, with frame enlargement and focus peaking, which sharpens the edges of the subject in focus. The image screen was viewable both outdoors and in low light.

Typically, live view autofocus speeds on D-SLRs border on awful. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how the K-30 performed (in good light). It's not as fast as a mirrorless camera or a point-and-shoot, but as D-SLRs go, it's pretty good. I'll have actual numbers for you later in this article.

Something I was less excited about is how the camera throws you out of live view whenever you change a setting via the main or shortcut menus. You have to press the LV button every time, which gets old after a while.

When you're shooting with the optical viewfinder, the LCD displays the info screen you see above. It shows you all of the important camera settings, and also illustrates what pressing the four-way controller in various directions does.

The K-30's shortcut menu

By pressing the Info button (regardless of how you're composing your photos), you'll get to the handy shortcut menu you see above. From here, you can adjust every important setting on the camera, without having to dive into the main menu. Just use the four-way controller and the front/rear dials and you're done!

Let's leave buttons behind and talk about what you'll find in the K-30's menu system. Like all Pentax cameras, the menus have a dated design and lack useful features like help screens. Still, it gets the job done. Here are the most interesting items found in the menu system:

  • Custom image: these are sets of image parameters that allow you to adjust saturation, hue, high/low key, contrast, and sharpness; there are several presets available, including bright (default), natural, portrait, landscape, bleach bypass, reversal film, black and white (with available color filters), and cross-process
  • Digital filter: special effects like extract (selective) color, toy camera, retro, and high contrast can be found here
  • HDR capture: the camera takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure, and combines them into a single image with dramatically improved contrast; you can let the camera pick the exposure interval, or choose from ±1, 2, or 3 EV yourself
  • Image capture setting: here you can adjust the file format (JPEG, RAW, or both), resolution, quality, and color space; a RAW image takes up roughly 26.3 MB, while a 16 Megapixel (***) JPEG is around 9.3 MB
  • AF settings: turn on AF-A mode (automatically switches between AF-S and AF-C focusing), expanded area AF (continues tracking a subject if they move out of the selected focus area), AF area mode (5 or 11-point auto, select, or spot), and whether the AF-assist lamp is used
  • Lens correction: here you can turn on distortion correction (see example a bit later) and chromatic aberration correction (which is on by default)
  • Multi-exposure: the K-30 can combine up to nine exposures into a single image, with auto EV adjustment
  • Interval (time-lapse) shooting: the camera can take up to 999 images at intervals ranging from 3 seconds to 24 hours; you can set a start time, if you wish; tripod and AC adapter are essentially required for this; the K-30 can also do the same kind of things, but save the results as a Full HD movie instead of a bunch of stills
  • D-Range setting: home of highlight and shadow correction; see below for examples of both
  • Noise reduction: high ISO noise reduction has some preset options, plus the ability to fine-tune how much NR is applied to each ISO setting (!); slow shutter speed NR is auto/on/off
  • Composition adjust: uses the sensor-shift mechanism to slightly adjust the composition of your photo; this Pentax-only feature comes in handy when using a tripod
  • Horizon correction: uses the electronic level to automatically straighten your photos
  • Live view: choose the AF type (face detect, tracking, selectable, center) and turn on AF auto-zoom (enlarges the frame after focus lock), focus peaking, grid lines, the live histogram, shooting info, and bright/dark areas
  • E-Dial programming: define how the front and rear dials function in the various manual shooting modes
  • Button customization: define what the RAW/Fx button does and how the AF/AE-Lock button works
  • Memory: choose what settings are stored when the camera is turned off
  • Dust removal: remove dust now, or when the camera is turned on or off

The K-30 also offers twenty-three custom functions. I'm not going to list them all here, but here are some of the notable options:

  • Expanded sensitivity: opens up the ISO 25600 option
  • Bulb mode options: allows you to use the shutter release as a toggle in bulb mode (so you don't have to hold it down)
  • Catch-in focus: when using a manual focus lens, this will release the shutter when your subject comes into focus
  • AF fine adjustment: lets you fine-tune the focus on up to twenty lenses

I'd like to illustrate some of the features I mentioned above, and I'll begin with HDR. There are four HDR modes to choose from: auto, and HDR 1/2/3. The 1/2/3 relate to the exposure interval, according to the manual. Below you can see what kind of image you'll get with each of those:

HDR off
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HDR Auto
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There's not a gigantic difference when using HDR Auto (at least in this situation), with just a slight reduction in highlight clipping. The HDR 1 photo is much more appealing, with much brighter shadows. The HDR 2 and especially the HDR 3 settings are too fake looking for me to recommend using -- unless that's the effect you desire.

There are two D-Range adjustment settings, covering both shadow and highlight detail. You use them separately, or together. For shadow adjustment, you can select from auto, low, medium, and high options, or turn the whole thing off. Here's the shadow recovery feature in action:

Shadow corr off
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Shadow corr auto
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Shadow corr low
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Shadow corr med
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Shadow corr high
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As you can see, the shadow brightening effect is pretty subtle -- you don't really notice it until you get to the "high" setting, at least in this situation.

The other half of the dynamic range correction tool is for highlight clipping. Unlike the "levels" available for shadow brightening, there's only auto, on, and off for highlights. To make this feature work, the camera has to boost the ISO to 200, so you need to be set to that (or higher) or be using Auto ISO. Let's use the same scene as above to see if we can't reduce that highlight clipping.

Highlight corr off
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Highlight corr auto
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Highlight corr on
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While there's not a huge change at the "auto" setting, there's definitely a reduction in clipped highlights when the correction feature is set to "on". Thus, if you're in a situation where highlight clipping is a problem, set the ISO to 200 and turn this feature "on".

The K-30 has a pretty nice movie mode. It allows you to record Full HD video at 1920 x 1080 with your choice of frame rates: 24, 25, or 30 frames/sec. Much to my disappointment, only monaural sound is recorded -- and the camera doesn't support an external microphone. You can keep recording until the elapsed time reaches 25 minutes, or the file size hits 4 GB. If you're recording 1080p at the highest quality setting, it looks like you'll hit the file size limit in about 16 minutes. If 1080p is overkill for you, the K-30 also supports 720p (at up to 60 fps) and VGA resolutions. At all resolutions, you can choose a quality setting ranging from one to three stars.

Unfortunately, the K-30 does not support continuous autofocus in movie mode. You can activate the AF system while you're recording by pressing the AF/AE-L button, though the refocusing won't be very graceful. The image stabilizer is available and does a nice job of smoothing out the "bumps" in your videos.

The K-30 supports full manual control over exposure while you're taking a movie. You can adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity, along with the microphone level. About the only thing missing here is a wind filter. As I mentioned earlier, the camera can take a serious of photos over time and compile them into a time-lapse movie. The K-30 does not allow you to take stills while simultaneously recording video.

Videos are recorded using the H.264 codec, and saved in QuickTime format. Here's a sample for you, taken at the highest quality setting:

Click to play movie (1920 x 1080, 30 fps, 44.5 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

The K-30's video quality isn't the best. There's some moiré here and what looks like a rolling shutter effect, so this camera may not be the best choice for serious videophiles.

Press "down" on the four-way controller to access the "real" playback menu RAW editing tool

The K-30's playback mode is one of the better implementations out there. Some of the highlights here include:

  • Quick Zoom: instantly jump to a set magnification when using the playback zoom feature
  • Digital Filter: apply any of 22 special effects to photos you've taken
  • RAW development: edit RAW images right in the camera; you can adjust white balance, exposure, ISO, lens correction, and more; the results are saved as a JPEG
  • Movie editing: divide a movie into two parts, or just extract a segment

By default, the K-30 shows just basic information about your photos. However, press the Info button and you can choose from several other screens, which include tons of details about settings and your choice of histograms.

The camera moves from photo-to-photo without delay.