Pentax K-7 Review

Look and Feel

The Pentax K-7 is a midsize digital SLR with excellent build quality for its price. The body is made of magnesium alloy, and it has numerous seals to protect the camera's innards from moisture and dust. I should add that the battery grip and the 18-55 and 55-200 WR lenses I used with the K-7 are also sealed. The K-7 can be used in cold temperatures (as low as 14F/-10C) -- the Canon 7D and Nikon D300s are not rated below 32F/0C.

The camera has a large, rubberized grip that gives it a secure feel in your hands. The K-7 does have more than its share of buttons, switches, and dials, and it can be a little intimidating at first. I also wasn't a huge fan of how the dual control dials are placed -- your fingers sit right on them, making it quite easy to accidentally adjust the exposure.

Now let's see how the K-7 compares to other D-SLRs in its class, in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS-7D 5.8 x 4.4 x 2.9 in. 74 cu in. 820 g
Nikon D300s 5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9 in. 75.7 cu in. 840 g
Olympus E-3 5.6 x 4.6 x 2.9 in. 74.7 cu in. 810 g
Pentax K-7 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.9 in. 56.2 cu in. 670 g

As you can see, the K-7 is both the smallest and lightest camera in the group. That doesn't mean that it'll be traveling in any of your pockets, though. It will, however, fit comfortably on your shoulder, or in a camera bag.

Enough chit-chat, let's get to the tour of the camera now!

Front of the Pentax K-7

Here's the front of the K-7 without a lens attached. The camera supports all Pentax K-mount lenses, plus old screw-mount and 645/67 medium format lenses (adapter 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.

Inside the lens mount, behind the mirror, you'll find the K-7's 14.6 Megapixel CMOS sensor, which is manufactured by Samsung. The sensor is mounted on a movable plate, which is used for both image stabilization and composition adjustment (discussed later). 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-7 shifts the sensor to compensate for this motion. The image stabilizer not only compensates for the up and down / side-to-side motion that can cause blurry photos -- it now handles rotational motion as well. Want to see the IS system in action? Here, have a look:

Image stabilization off

Image stabilization on

I took both of the photos you see above a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second. As you can probably tell, the photo taken with IS is noticeable sharper than the one without. Some of the stuff toward the back of the photo still looks blurry, but that's just a depth-of-field issue. You can also use image stabilization in movie mode, and you can see a quick sample of how well that works in this video clip.

Straight above the lens mount is the K-7's pop-up flash. As you can see, it pops up pretty far from the lens, which is good news for both redeye and vignetting with certain lenses. The K-7's flash is one of the most powerful you'll find built into a digital SLR, with a guide number of 13 meters at ISO 100. The built-in flash can also control two or more wireless flashes, which allows for some creative lighting setups. If you want to physically connect an external flash to the camera, I'll show you how in a moment.

Moving over to the left side of the body, you'll find the AF-assist lamp, front control dial, and the self-timer lamp/remote control receiver combo. The camera uses the AF-assist lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations. It's nice to see that Pentax used a dedicated lamp here, instead of relying on the flash like on some other D-SLRs.

Back of the Pentax K-7

The first thing to see on the K-7's busy backside is its large 3-inch LCD display. Pentax spared no expense on this screen -- it has 921,000 pixels, so everything is razor sharp. Outdoor visibility is pretty good, though I've seen better. The screen is used for menu navigation, displaying current camera settings, reviewing photos you've taken and, of course, live view.

The live view shows a histogram (lower right), electronic level (top left, hard to see), and more

The live view experience on the K-7 is quite nice. You've got two AF modes to choose from (contrast detection and phase difference, with face detection available for the former) plus a live histogram, composition grid, and an electronic level. The electronic level is quite handy, helping reduce the likelihood of one of my biggest problems: crooked horizons. The image on the screen is sharp and bright, and motion is quite fluid. The screen brightens up nicely in low light, so you can still see your subject. To begin the live view experience, simply press the dedicated LV button on the back of the camera.

The achilles heel of live view has always been autofocus performance. The K-7 offers three AF modes: contrast detection, contrast detection w/face detection, and phase difference, and you activate each of them via the AF button on the back of the camera. Contrast detect uses the CMOS sensor to focus, just like a compact camera does. Unlike on a compact camera, contrast detect AF on nearly all D-SLRs (K-7 included) is very slow. Focus times easily exceed one second, and can more often be two or three. The only real benefits of this mode are 1) you don't lose the live view while the camera is focusing, 2) you get face detection, and 3) you can select the exact spot in the frame on which to focus. For tripod use, that may be acceptable.

My favorite AF mode is phase difference, which is easy to turn on via an option in the menu system. When you press the AF button, the K-7 flips the mirror down, focuses using the same AF sensor as it would if you were using the optical viewfinder, flips the mirror back up, and restores live view. That may sound like it takes a long time, but it's really around a second-long delay.

Enlarged frame in manual focus mode

Live view is perhaps most useful when you're focusing manually. There, you can enlarge the frame (from 2X to 10X), which allows for very precise focusing. The image quality is a bit lacking when you're zoomed in, though.

Live view also also the place you'll record movies -- but I'll save that for later.

Info display Quick access to camera settings via the Control Panel

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

  • ISO
  • Program line
  • Highlight correction
  • Shadow correction
  • Distortion correction
  • Extended bracketing
  • Digital filter
  • HDR capture
  • Lateral chromatic aberration adjustment
  • Image size
  • Image quality
  • Shake reduction

Needless to say, I'll explain all of those in detail when I get to the menu section of this review. I should add that you cannot get to that info screen while in live view, which would've been nice.

Enough about the LCD already -- let's get back to our tour now! Directly above the LCD is the K-7's optical viewfinder. While its 0.92X magnification doesn't make it largest viewfinder in its class (the EOS-7D and D300s both have it beat), but it's still pretty good-sized. Like all of its competitors, the K-7's viewfinder displays 100% of the frame. Under the field-of-view is a line of green-colored data. In addition to showing all the usual things (shutter speed, aperture, focus lock, shots remaining), you can also see the same electronic level that I mentioned a moment ago. You can adjust the focus of the viewfinder by using the diopter correction slider located on the top of it.

To the left of the viewfinder are buttons for entering playback mode and deleting a photo. On the opposite side we find that easy to accidentally turn rear command dial, and the AE Lock button.

Moving downward, the next thing you'll encounter is the famous Pentax "green button". In most shooting modes, this button returns the camera to default exposure settings. When pressed in combination with the ISO button (on the top of the camera), you can switch between fixed and auto ISO. If you're in TAv or M mode, the green button will let you select whether you're adjusting the shutter speed, aperture, or both.

Under that is the focus mode dial, with the AF button inside it. You can have the camera select one of the eleven focus points automatically, you can select one yourself, or just use the center point. Normally, pressing the AF button inside that switch activates the AF system, but you can also have it do the opposite, for when you want to focus manually.

Continuing south, we find the Live View button, with the four-way controller next to it. The four-way controller does a whole bunch of things, the least of which is menu navigation. You can use it to select a focus point, moving through photos you've taken, and also:

  • Up - Drive (Single shot, continuous lo/hi, 2 or 12 sec self-timer, remote control [0 sec, 3 sec, continuous], exposure bracketing [standard, self-timer, remote control], mirror lockup [standard, remote])
  • Down - Flash setting (Flash on, flash on + redeye reduction, slow sync, slow sync + redeye reduction, trailing curtain slow sync, wireless mode)
  • Left - White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, fluorescent x 4, tungsten, flash, color temperature enhancement, custom, color temperature)
  • Right - Custom image
  • Center - OK + focus point select

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-7:

Quality setting Low speed High speed
RAW+ JPEG (14M/Premium) 9 shots @ 3.2 fps 9 shots @ 5.6 fps
RAW 15 shots @ 3.3 fps 14 shots @ 5.0 fps
JPEG (14M/Premium) 31 shots @ 3.1 fps 21 shots @ 5.3 fps
Tested with a SanDisk Ultra II (Class 4) SDHC card

While the K-7 doesn't have the fastest burst rate in its class, it still offers very good performance, and a healthy amount of buffer memory. While the JPEG numbers don't look overly impressive, you can keep shooting until the memory card fills up if you lower the quality setting a notch. A couple of other notes: when you reach the buffer limit shown above, the camera doesn't stop shooting -- it just slows down considerably. If you're shooting in live view mode, the screen goes black as soon as the burst starts. When it's done, live view returns. Also, I found no appreciable difference in performance between the PEF and DNG RAW formats.

The drive menu is also where you'll find one of the many bracketing options on the K-7. Here, it's for exposure, and you can take three or five photos in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between shots can be anywhere from ±0.3EV to ±2.0EV. I especially like how you the camera can 1) use the self-timer and bracketing features at the same time and 2) take the whole sequence with only one press of the shutter release button.

Lots of white balance choices Plus the ability to fine-tune

The K-7 has a full set of white balance options. The usual presets like tungsten and sunlight are just the beginning. You can also use a white or gray card for "custom" white balance. Any of those can be fine-tuned, as you can see in the screenshot above. You can also set the color temperature manually, in either Kelvin or mired. If that's still not enough, the K-7 can bracket for white balance, as well. There's also a unique Color Temperature Enhancement (CTE) option, which Pentax describes as the opposite of auto white balance. For example, if the camera is using a high color temperature, CTE will crank it up a little higher, to emphasize the colors in the scene.

All the Custom Image sets Tweaking the sharpness of the "bright" set

The Custom Image feature is similar to Picture Styles on Canon D-SLRs, and Picture Controls on Nikon's cameras. A Custom Image set contains various exposure and color settings, and there are seven presets available: bright (default), natural, portrait, landscape, vibrant, muted, and monochrome. There aren't any "custom" sets, though -- you have to modify one of the presets. For each of these you can adjust the following:

  • Saturation (-4 to +4)
  • Hue (-4 to +4)
  • Brightness [high/low key] (-4 to +4)
  • Contrast (-4 to +4) - you can change this to adjust highlights or shadows via the custom settings menu
  • Sharpness (-4 to +4) - a "fine" sharpness option is also available
  • Filter effect (None, green, yellow, orange, red, magenta, blue, cyan, infrared) - for monochrome modes only
  • Toning (-4 to +4) - lower numbers are "cold", higher numbers are "warm"

Finally, I can point out the last two buttons on the back of the K-7. One toggles the information shown on the LCD, while the other enters the menu system. And we're done!

Top of the Pentax K-7

The first thing to see on the top of the K-7 is its mode dial, which is located with manual exposure options. Under the mode dial is a switch for adjusting the metering mode (multi-segment, center-weighted, spot). The mode dial has a handy locking mechanism to keep you from accidentally turning it -- something that more cameras could use, in my opinion. Here are the options on the mode dial:

Option Function
Auto (green) mode Point-and-shoot, with some menu options locked up.
Hyper program (P) mode Automatic, with full menu access; you can use the front and rear control dials to quickly jump to aperture or shutter priority mode, or use the more traditional Program Shift feature.
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 - 1/8000 sec.
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose the aperture, and camera picks the shutter speed. Range depends on lens used.
Shutter & aperture priority (TAv) mode You select both the aperture and shutter speed and the camera will adjust the ISO in order to obtain a proper exposure.
Hyper manual (M) mode You select the shutter speed and aperture yourself. ISO is manually adjustable as well, which separates it from the mode above.

Bulb mode

Keeps the shutter open for as long as you want. Use of the optional wired or wireless remotes strongly recommended. ISO cannot go above 1600.
Flash x-sync mode Locks the shutter speed at 1/180 sec. For use with external flashes that don't integrate with the camera's metering system.
User settings mode Save up to two sets of your favorite camera settings here
Movie mode I'll get to this later

There's not a scene mode in sight on the K-7's mode dial, which should tell you something about its target market.

You can even select the Program Line on the K-7

The camera has some really unique shooting modes, like hyper program, sensitivity priority, and shutter & aperture priority modes. But wait, there's more -- you can actually select what Program Line is used in many shooting modes. Select from auto, normal, high speed priority, deep DOF priority, shallow DOF priority, and MTF priority. I can't think of another camera that lets you do that.

Moving toward the center of the above photo, you'll find the K-7's hot shoe, as well as its (monaural) microphone. For best results, you'll want to use one of the Pentax external flashes I mentioned back in the accessory section, as they'll integrate with the camera's metering system. Do note that the cheapest flash (AF200FG) doesn't support a whole lot of features, so you'll want to bring out the big guns (AF360FGZ and AF540FGZ) for high speed flash sync, external AF-assist, and wireless support. If you're not using a Pentax flash, you'll probably have to set everything manually. The maximum flash sync speed on the K-7 is 1/180 sec.

Continuing to the right, you'll see the K-7's LCD info display. You name a camera setting, and it'll be on this screen: shutter speed, aperture, shots remaining, whether you're using bracketing, the drive mode, etc, etc. The screen has a very bright green backlight that turns on whenever you press a button on the camera.

Above that are a pair of buttons. The one on the left adjusts the exposure compensation (-5EV to +5EV), while the one on the right lets you select the ISO (100 - 3200, expandable to 6400). You can switch to Auto ISO by holding down the ISO button and pressing the green button. I'll have more on that feature later.

The last thing to see on the top of the K-7 is the shutter release button, which has the power switch wrapped around it. The power switch doesn't just turn the camera on and off -- it's also how you access the preview feature. There two preview options here -- a traditional depth-of-field preview, plus a digital option which takes a test photo but doesn't save it (unless you want to).

Side of the Pentax K-7

There's plenty more to see on the side of the K-7. Starting near the top of the photo, you can see the release for the pop-up flash. Right under that is the flash sync port, which has its plastic cover on in this photo. This is the third way in which you can use an external flash with the K-7, in addition to via the hot shoe or wirelessly.

Continuing down, we find the RAW button. You can press this to switch to quickly switch from JPEG to RAW, RAW to RAW+JPEG, or whatever combination you please.

Under that is the focus mode switch, with options of single, continuous, and manual AF. Single AF locks the focus when you press the shutter release halfway. Continuous AF keeps focusing, even with the shutter release pressed (which is desirable when your subject is moving). Manual focus pretty much speaks for itself.

At the far right of the photo are the camera's I/O ports, which are kept behind sealed rubber covers. Let's peel it back for a closer look:

The ports here include:

  • Microphone input
  • HDMI
  • USB + A/V output
  • DC-in (for optional AC adapter)

Every midrange D-SLR seems to have a mini-HDMI port these days, and the K-7 is no exception. The cable is not included, so you'll need to pick one up if you want to connect to an HDTV.

The K-7 also supports an external stereo microphone, which plugs into the mini-jack at the top of the photo.

Side of the Pentax K-7

On the other side of the camera you'll find its SD/SDHC memory card slot, which has a sealed plastic door of decent quality protecting it. I did find that the gasket that seals this door makes it a bit difficult to extract the memory card (how's that for a petty complaint?).

Bottom of the Pentax K-7

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the K-7. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount (inline with the lens, naturally), the battery grip connector (which has a rubber cover on it here), and the battery compartment itself. The door over the battery compartment has an elaborate locking system that will make sure that you'll never open it by accident.

The included D-LI90 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.