Pentax K-7 DSLR

I was supposed to be out for a photoshoot this morning, but my model got called up for an F1-related event. Fortunately, I got the Pentax K-7 to keep me occupied. I am reviewing for T3 Magazine Singapore, and the review will be published in the following month's (October) edition. But seriously, I can't wait to talk about this camera. And blogging about it gives me more freedom as this is my blog so I don't have to write in a magazine-friendly manner. Quite often, when you receive a review set and tried for a while, you find nothing good to talk about it. Then you had to spend days to find good things to mention. Not for K-7.

This is the first time I am using a Pentax DSLR. Having being used to a Nikon all my life, I can't help but make comparisons, and it's understandable to be biased. But surprisingly, I quite like the new Pentax makeover, and personally I feel it's easier for a freshie to get accustomed to K-7 than to a Canon. On its own, the K-7 doesn't look that small. But when put side-by-side with the competitors, you realise how hard Pentax worked to reduce the footprint without sacrificing handling comfort.

Here are some published specs about the camera:

- 14.6 megapixels CMOS sensor
- 720p/1080i HD video recording
- 3 inch 921,000 pixels LCD monitor
- 5.2 fps
- 100% optical viewfinder coverage

Here's a list of what I like about the K-7:

- Solid build, feels like Nikon. After all, I've been so used to the magnesium alloy body.

- Fantastic grip and button placements. All the controls, including the 2 commander dials that are literally under my fingertips.

- Shutter sound is more muted, especially when in live view, you don't feel that the camera is doing a lot of work to grab that frame. It's less obtrusive to use the K-7 in a quiet environment, something that I wish I could do with my Nikon.

- The LCD monitor is sharp enough for me to achieve manual focus accurately when using live view and when doing video recording.

- The kit lens 18-55mm is weather sealed and feels more solid. The zoom rings and focus rings has the right tension without feeling too loose.

- The shake reduction (SR) is quite well done, but you can only see it working when you shoot in live view mode because it's built in the sensor instead of the lens. Besides horizontal and vertical adjustment, the sensor can also compensate rotational shake (tilt), which, although rare, could happen, for instance, on a boat.

- The additional exposure modes like sensor priority, shutter and apperture priority (ISO will be auto-adjusted) and the USER mode allows user to access then conveniently. The Flash-sync X-mode, however, is really old-school.

There is also a myraid of unique firmware features (some of them I must say are the first ever found on a DSLR) that I'm going to spend some time talking about it here, because I've never seen them on my Nikon (yet). No doubt these features are, to a traditional photographer, gimmicky. But I think that's the trend that allows manufacturers to differentiate from one another, apart from the hardware advancements of faster frame-per-second and low-noise sensors.

- Composition compensation. You can actually tilt and shift the sensor to fine-tune your framing, if your camera is on a tripod, for instance.

- HDR. Having a high dynamic range function in K-7 means no longer do you need to do manual post-processing on your PC. Although that doesn't offer much controls, it's cool to have the DSLR do all the work. Perhaps, you might want to use the HDR function as a draft before doing your own exposure-compensation multi-frame capture.

- Effects preview. Although many DSLRs and compact cameras have software filters or image tone controls, K-7's implementation is more intuitive. Firstly, when you select any filters or tones, the camera will use the last-shot image as a preview, or you can choose to take a new preview snapshot by turning the on/off switch to the right. With the preview image on-screen, you can then make adjustments to each effect/tone until you are satisfied. At that point, you may also choose to save the new effect by pressing the AE-L button. What impresses me is that if you already selected one of the effects for shooting, you can still change your last-shot image to other effects during playback, or even revert to the normal non-filter image losslessly. Obviously the K-7 saves the original image in the buffer for this purpose. The available digital filters are: toy camera, retro, high contrast, extract colour (aka duotone), soft, starburst, fisheye.

During playback, it is also possible to apply multiple filters over an image. Some additional filters are available here, like monochrome, pastel, water colour, slim, miniature, HDR.

Like most DSLRs out there, the K-7 also allows a fair bit of customisation on the buttons and controls. And to keep up with the technology, the K-7 also has the electronic leveling sensor, lens correction for distortion and vignetting.

And here's what I dislike about the K-7:

- The design of the hardware switches are left to be desired. This includes the AF mode switch, AF point selection, metering dial, and the exposure mode dial. Basically, the switches are hard to turn. In particular, I cannot understand why Pentax designs a lock for the mode dial. This practically defeats the purpose of having a quick dial when it cannot be operated quickly with one finger.

- The camera takes considerable time to process buffered images before you can play them back on the monitor. For instance, after a series of continuous-shot images, or images that need to apply filters, the hour glass will appear when you try to playback images. Not to worry, though, for you can still continue taking photos.

- The buttons do not respond to quick sequential presses. It is rather annoying when you want to set some controls quickly when in action.

- To change the 11-point AF sensor, I need to press the OK button to activate first. It's a workflow that one probably could get used to.

I really enjoy using the Pentax K-7 DSLR, especially with the in-camera photo processing functions and the usable video recording. The hardware buttons make sense and do not confuse the user. The only thing that reminds me that it's still a conventional DSLR is the slow auto-focusing during live view. I am also discouraged by the wait time for the camera to do post-processing, say, when I elect to shoot with software filters.

I should be getting busy over the next few months reviewing more digital cameras. Nikon's D300s and D3000 should be out anytime in Singapore. Sony has already announced the latest series of DSLRs to replace their existing. Canon's EOS 7D finally gives Nikon its well-deserved contest. And Panasonic latest Micro Four-Thirds camera, the Lumix's GF1, is a head-on against Olympus E-P1.

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