Pentax K-r Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: February 13, 2011

Last Updated: April 18, 2011

My original review of this camera used an older version of the 18 - 55 mm lens that was not comparable to what is included in the K-r kit. I have reshot all of the sample photos as well as the distortion test with the correct lens. I apologize for the error.

The Pentax K-r (priced from $599) is a compact, entry-level digital SLR that doesn't skimp on features. Some of the highlights include a 12.4 Megapixel CMOS sensor, sensor-shift image stabilization, a 3-inch LCD with live view, 6 fps continuous shooting, plenty of manual controls, 720p movie recording, and more.

The K-r replaces the K-x, which was introduced back in 2009. I put together this chart so you can compare the two models:

  Pentax K-x Pentax K-r
Sensor 12.4 Megapixel CMOS 12.4 Megapixel CMOS
LCD size / resolution 2.7" / 230,000 px 3.0" / 921,000 px
Viewfinder mag / coverage 0.85x / 96% 0.85x / 96%
Focus pt shown in viewfinder No Yes
Burst rate 4.7 frames/sec 6.0 frames/sec
ISO range (expanded) 100 - 12800 100 - 25600
Dedicated AF-assist lamp No Yes
One Push File Format No Yes
Night Scene HDR mode No Yes
Interval shooting No Yes
Cross processing / digital filters in movie mode No Yes
IrSimple support No Yes
Max movie resolutions 1280 x 720 (24p) 1280 x 720 (25p)
Battery used AA D-LI109, AA *
Battery life ** 420 shots 400 shots
Supported memory cards SD, SDHC SD, SDHC, SDXC ***
Dimensions 4.8 x 3.6 x 2.7 in. 4.9 x 3.8 x 2.7 in.
Weight (body only, empty) 515 g 544 g

* D-BH109 adapter required for AA use
** With NiMH AA batteries
*** Requires firmware v 1.01

As you can see, the K-r has modest, but not ground-breaking changes compared to its predecessor.

The Pentax K-r faces some tough competition from virtually every camera manufacturer. How does it compare? Find out now in our review!

Due to their similarities, I'll be reusing portions of the Pentax K-x review here.

What's in the Box?

The K-r comes in a ton of different configurations. You can buy it as a body only kit ($599 street price) in black, white, or red. You can also get the camera in those same colors, along with an F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm lens, for $708. If you're sticking to the black body, then you can also find kits that include an F2.4, 35 mm lens ($799), 18-55 and 50-200 mm lenses ($748), or 18-55 and 55-300 mm lenses ($820). Here's what you'll find in the box for each of those:

  • The 12.4 effective Megapixel Pentax K-r camera body
  • F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm Pentax DA L lens [body + lens kits only]
  • F2.4, 35 mm Pentax DA lens [35 mm kit only]
  • F4.0-5.6, 50 - 200 mm Pentax DA lens [50-200 kit only]
  • F4.0-5.8, 55 - 300 mm Pentax DA lens [55-300 kit only]
  • D-LI109 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Pentax Digital Camera Utility 4
  • 350 page camera manual (printed)

As you can see, you have quite a few lens kits to choose from! None of the kit lenses are spectacular, but they will get the job done for the K-r's target audience. The 18 - 55 mm DA L lens that comes with most of the kits is improved over its predecessor in terms of sharpness, though it has a plastic mount and no focus distance markings. If you already have a collection of Pentax lenses, they'll work just fine with the K-r -- even the really old ones. And, since the camera has built-in image stabilization, every lens you attach (with a few exceptions) will have shake reduction built right in. Whichever lens you use, there will be a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio to keep in mind, so that 18 - 55 mm kit lens will have a field-of-view of 27 - 82.5 mm.

As with all D-SLRs, Pentax does not include a memory card in the box with the K-r. So, unless you already have one, you're going to need to pick up an SD, SDHC, or SDXC memory card right away. I'd recommend a 2GB or 4GB card to start with, and it's worth getting a card rated as "Class 6" or higher for best performance, especially if you'll be using the continuous shooting mode frequently or taking a lot of HD movies. It's worth mentioning that I could not get my Eye-Fi Pro X2 card working reliably with the K-r.

The optional D-BH109 AA battery adapter (shown with the white K-r)

One thing that made the K-r's predecessor (the K-x) appealing was that it used AA batteries. The K-r now uses a proprietary lithium-ion battery, but Pentax didn't leave the AA-lovers out in the cold. By purchasing the D-BH109 adapter ($35), you can use four AA batteries in the K-r, just like you could in the old days. Pentax recommends lithium and NiMH batteries, saying that alkaline batteries are best saved for emergencies.

Now let's see how the K-r compares to other compact D-SLRs and interchangeable lens cameras in terms of battery life:

Camera Battery life, live view off
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS Rebel T2i 470 shots LP-E8
Nikon D3100 550 shots EN-EL14
Olympus E-620 500 shots BLS-1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 * 360 shots DMW-BLB13
Pentax K-r 470 shots D-LI109
Samsung NX10 * 400 shots BP1310
Sony Alpha DSLR-A560 1050 shots NP-FM500H

* Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, thus live view only

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The incredible battery life of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A560 definitely throws things off, doesn't it? Regardless of whether you throw out the two live view-only cameras, the K-r's battery life falls below average. However, if you pick up the AA adapter, you'll be able to get an estimated 550 shots using 2600 mAh NiMH batteries, or a whopping 1000 shots with disposable lithium batteries. By the way, an extra D-LI109 battery will set you back $50, so buying the adapter and using AAs isn't a bad idea.

If you're using live view most of the time, expect greatly reduced battery life. Pentax doesn't publish any live view battery battery life numbers, but it'll be at least 50% less than what you get using the viewfinder.

Pentax didn't offer a battery grip for the K-x, and the same is true on the K-r.

When it's time to charge the D-LI109 battery, just snap it into the included charger. And then grab a cup or coffee (or two), as it'll take upwards of four hours to fully charge the battery. The charger doesn't plug directly into the wall, as I prefer -- you must use a power cord.

Digital SLRs always have plenty of accessories available, and the K-r is no exception. Here are the most interesting accessories that you can pick up for it:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The K-r supports all Pentax K-mount lenses with a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio
External flash AF200FG
From $121
From $407
First one is pretty basic (doesn't bounce) and has a GN of 20. The other two are more powerful, can bounce, and support high speed sync and wireless.
Off-camera shoe adapter 31022 $25 Gives you a flash sync port and keeps the hot shoe available
Wireless remote control 37377 From $20 Take photos without touching the camera.
39892 $30 A waterproof remote with a few more buttons than the one above
A/V cable I-AVC7 $10 Since Pentax doesn't include one, you'll need to buy this (or an HDMI cable) to connect the camera to a television
AA battery holder D-BH109 From $40 Allows you to use four AA batteries in addition to the D-LI109.
AC adapter K-AC109 $80 Power the camera without draining your battery
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

There are plenty of other accessories available, including viewfinder adapters, a macro ring flash, camera cases, and a sensor cleaning strap.

Let's talk about the software bundle now!

Pentax Digital Camera Utility 4 for Mac

Pentax includes a single software product with the K-r, and that's version 4 of their Digital Camera Utility. This software -- for Mac and Windows -- is based on SilkyPix, which is often bundled with many other RAW-capable cameras. Thankfully, the interface in the Pentax Utility is a lot cleaner than in regular SilkyPix, and it can be customized, as well.

This software can be used in a few ways: for acquiring images from your camera, for managing them in a lightbox-style interface, and for performing some pretty heavy-duty edits (for RAW images, specifically). The editing tools are quite powerful, and can be used for both JPEG and RAW images. Here are some of the things that you can do:

  • Crop, rotate and "shift" an image
  • Change the Custom Image setting (more on this later)
  • Adjust and fine-tune white balance
  • Adjust exposure and image tone
  • Select amount and type of noise reduction applied
  • Correction for distortion and chromatic aberration
  • Adjust coloring of highlight areas
  • Expand dynamic range
  • Fine-tune color in a given range

In other words, this software covers just about anything you can possibility imagine.

If you want to use Adobe Photoshop CS5 instead, just make sure you're using version 6.3 or newer of their Camera Raw plug-in.

What's the deal with RAW images anyway? These files contain unprocessed data straight from the camera's sensor. The benefit of this is that you can tweak many camera settings (white balance, exposure, color) without reducing the quality of the image. It's almost like getting a second chance to take a photo. The downsides are the need to post-process the images on your computer, and the huge file sizes, which reduce camera performance and quickly fill up your memory card. The K-r is somewhat unique in that it supports two RAW formats. You can use Pentax's own PEF format, or Adobe's open standard known as DNG.

Pentax always does a pretty good job with their manuals, and that remains the case on the K-r. The manual is thick and detailed, and even the font size is large enough to read without a magnifying glass. There are still a decent amount of "notes" on each page, but overall, the manual should answer any question you may have about the camera. Documentation for the included software is installed onto your Mac or PC.