Review: Pentax K-30 is a great choice for outdoor and adventure shooting
At a Glance
Pentax has created an ecosystem of rugged, weather-resistant DSLRs and lenses. The new Pentax K-30 fills a particular niche, as an affordable, versatile camera that you can take just about anywhere. With its weather-sealed, dustproof, coldproof construction, you might actually wait until the rain starts before you go outside to take pictures.
All of that ruggedness comes at a reasonable price, too: The current street price for the K-30 is around $750. And just as important, the accompanying weather-resistant (WR) lenses won’t break the bank either. The 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL WR and 50-200mm f/4-5.6 ED WR zoom lenses each sell for less than $200. The lens we tested with the K-30 is the latest 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 ED AL (IF) DC WR, which is selling in the neighborhood of $530.
Performance on the inside
The K-30 is built around a 16-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor that produces JPEGs and DNG files. Exposure accuracy is good, assisted by the 77-segment metering system. Burst mode tops out at 6 frames per second, which is plenty fast for most action situations. And when it’s time to review your images, they appear on a 3-inch, 921,000-dot fixed-back LCD.
The glass pentaprism viewfinder is bright and provides a 100 percent field of view—a feature you don’t often see in sub-$1000 DSLRs. The 11-point phase-detection autofocus system includes nine cross sensors. And to help keep those images sharp, image stabilization is sensor-based, providing the benefits of IS with any lens you mount on the camera.
The K-30 records 1080p video too (using H.264 compression), but moviemaking is not its strongest suit. More on that in a bit.
Cool new features
As you dig deeper into the K-30 feature set, you’ll discover some delightful surprises. Here are my favorites.
Built-in HDR: Four levels of in-camera HDR processing range from subtle recovery of highlights and shadows to exaggerated HDR effects.
Interval timer: Programmable time-lapse movies are a snap with the built-in interval timer. It’s even easier to use in movie mode, where the K-30 produces the final video file for your sequence. No computer required.
Multiple exposure: Another in-camera special effect, this one lets you combine up to nine frames into one final image.
AA batteries: The K-30 ships with a lithium power cell. Look inside the battery chamber, however, and you'll notice that it’s also designed to hold four AA batteries. All you need is an inexpensive adapter to make the switch. Then, in the menu, you can select the type of AA battery you want to use (lithium, nickel-metal hydride, or alkaline). It's a great feature for extended adventures away from power outlets.
RAW/Fx button: Located on the left side of the camera, the RAW/Fx button allows you to quickly switch to raw format for the next shot. So when you see a composition that might require a little extra work, you can go from JPEG to raw with just a single press. You can also set this button to stay in raw mode until you toggle it off.
Green (reset) button: When you’ve used Program Shift to modify the basic Program mode, you can reset the K-30 to default by pressing the green button on the top of the camera. I would like to be able to customize the green button for other functions also, but I could not find a setting to do so.
The K-30 feels solid in the hand and has a comfortable rubberized grip. You'll find plenty of physical controls on the top and back of the camera that provide access to commonly used settings without your delving into the menu system. Assisting those controls is a comprehensive status screen on the back LCD that displays a colorful overview of the essentials, including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, exposure compensation, selected AF point(s), metering pattern, and file format.
It’s easy enough to configure the K-30 to your shooting style without spending much time digging through the owner’s manual.
One button you won’t find on the body is a dedicated movie-record control. That omission, combined with the lack of an external mic socket or HDMI connectivity, makes it clear that the focus of the K-30 is still photography, not video. That doesn’t mean you can’t record perfectly good movies with the K-30—the camera just doesn’t make it easy to do so.
The K-30 produces excellent raw files that are very friendly to post-processing in Adobe Lightroom and Apple’s Aperture software. It produces good detail and well-controlled image noise, even at high ISOs. You can shoot comfortably with this camera at ISO 1600 or 3200. Compromises do begin to appear in files at extreme ISOs (12800 to 25600), so those settings should be reserved for “when you have to get the shot” situations.
Overall resolution is 4928 by 3264 pixels, produced by a 16-megapixel sensor. In this class of DSLRs, we commonly see 18 megapixels and higher. The sensor size isn’t something that I'm concerned about for most enthusiast photographers, but you should be aware of it nonetheless.
JPEG quality is good. And if you’re not a raw shooter, you most likely will be pleased with the results. You might see some highlight clipping in contrasty situations, but Pentax provides a highlight-protection setting in the menu system to help control this effect. Overall, JPEGs are crisp and colorful.
This is a camera that’s hard to find fault with, especially for still photography. I did accidentally nudge the Focus Mode Switch on the left side of the camera, changing the lens to manual focus without realizing it for a few frames. I would prefer that the switch lock into place more securely.
I also encountered a slow wake from sleep. If you’re in a situation where you might need to pick up the camera and shoot quickly, adjust the sleep setting to keep the K-30 awake. I missed a few shots waiting for it to return to life.
The Pentax K-30 is an excellent DSLR choice for adventure photographers and creatives who will appreciate its in-camera effects. For most outdoor situations, the 18-135mm zoom provides plenty of width and reach, yet doesn’t add much weight to the overall compact package.
Image quality for still images is very good, both for raw and JPEG formats, although we like the raws a bit better. And the assortment of in-camera effects, such as HDR and multiple exposure, encourages experimentation.
The Pentax K-30 is a particularly good fit for outdoor explorers and those who prefer not to worry about their camera when shooting in adverse conditions.
Original photos by Derrick Story. All rights reserved.