Pentax K20D Digital SLR Camera
At a Glance
Pentax K20D Digital SLR Camera
Although the K20 does some things well, its slow autofocus frustrates.
Pentax's K20D digital SLR camera impresses with its unique feature set, while still offering a lot of quality for the price. The camera, which sells body only for $750 and packaged in a kit with an 18mm-55mm lens for $1000 (prices as of 12/10/08), is appropriate as a step-up model for users graduating from the realm of point-and-shoot cameras.
The K20D is similar in size to its closest competitors, the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi and the Nikon D90. It feels sturdy and comfortable in the hand, thanks to its remarkably ergonomic grip. The buttons on its back are sensibly laid out for easy navigation, and its battery and card doors lock into place, adding a little extra feeling of security. The K20D accepts either SD or SDHC media, handy for people who are already using those cards in their point-and-shoot camera.
Most of the settings that had dedicated (or dual) function buttons on this model's predecessor, the K10D, have made their way onto the K20D. Controls include metering method, exposure compensation, ISO, bracketing, file type, and image stabilization. The K20D also incorporates a newly developed 14.6-megapixel CMOS sensor, as well as a flash sync socket for shooting with external flash units.
I tried the K20D indoors under tungsten lighting, and the in-camera image stabilization helped, reducing blur on interior shots. That said, the system won't work miracles.
The K20D also features live view, which is now de rigueur on DSLRs. Live view allows you to preview and compose your image via the LCD screen, much as you would with a point-and-shoot camera. While not as responsive or as cool as the tiltable feature on the Sony DSLR-A350, the K20D's live view can be useful, as it comes to you directly from the sensor and allows you to zoom in on your image to check focus.
At 2.7 inches, the K20D's LCD has grown slightly from the K10D's. While the resolution won't astound--as the screen on the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 does--the K20D's display is good enough that you can adjust the LCD's color balance to more accurately match your camera settings.
A smaller LCD that shows basic exposure information, shots remaining, and battery status sits on top of the K20D. The viewfinder on this camera is bright and clear, and provides a 95 percent field of view.
In my field tests with the K20D, I found the camera a little slower than rivals in its autofocus. It lacks an AF-assist lamp, too, so to attain focus under low light, you must raise the flash to use the strobe as an assist. Even when I did so, the camera frequently hunted for focus when I was in the shade, or at sunset. In bright daylight, on the other hand, the camera performed well. The K20D's 3-frames-per-second continuous-shooting mode is slightly slower than that of the competition, but that's still a reasonable starting point (unless you plan on shooting sports).
The K20D has several interesting modes on its dial that are unique to Pentax. One of them, TAv, is for shutter and aperture priority. Like manual mode, it lets you choose your aperture and shutter settings, but with this setting the camera will adjust the ISO automatically for correct exposure. This is a pretty nifty feature for when you want to retain a certain depth of field and freeze or blur action; it also allows you to be creative, but to do so faster. On the dial as well is a convenient custom mode that lets you recall previously used settings. You can double-check or change the settings in the menu using the back LCD.
Pentax has bumped the ISO to 3200 and beefed up the camera's noise-reduction options. Unfortunately, in my tests photos taken at ISO 3200 were full of banding. The ISO is extendable to 6400, but I'd pretend the option didn't exist, because even with the strongest noise reduction applied, the noise was out of control. At lower ISOs, at or below 400, my pictures were acceptably sharp with good tonality and little noise. But once I set the ISO to 800 or higher, the noise began. Though the sensor appeared to capture a good amount of detail, I saw a lot of chromatic noise in flat skies and shadows. Whether you prefer to apply your noise reduction in-camera or outside of it is a personal call.
The K20D delivered very good image quality overall in the PC World Test Center's digital camera tests. Even so, the competition--including models from Canon, Nikon, and Olympus--outperformed this Pentax.
Generally, the Pentax K20D offers good improvements over the K10D. Though its high-ISO image quality doesn't match that of the Canon XSi or the Nikon D90, it isn't far off--not a bad deal for the money, especially for current Pentax owners.