With a design based on its previous starter model in the Pentax K-m, and some trickle down features from the higher end K7, the new K-x in offering 12.4 effective megapixels from a 12.9-megapixel CMOS sensor should in theory offer a best of both worlds’ solution, providing potential owners trading up from a point-and-shoot compact a pretty sound investment for their cash.
With conventional looks and control layout the K-x shouldn’t prove cause for operational confusion either; its auto picture option the most prominent setting found on the 14-strong shooting mode dial. This also includes the regulars of program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual settings along with an increasingly ubiquitous video shooting option. As an answer of sorts to the Art Filters on Olympus E-series DSLRs, Pentax here offers its own user selectable creative digital filters: toy camera, high contrast, soft, star burst, retro, extract colour, fish eye, custom.
Pick the camera up and, feeling deceptively lightweight and plasticy out of the box, added sturdiness is leant to the K-x via the insertion of the four alkaline AAs required for power into the base of the grip. At this point the camera, with 18-55mm equivalent test lens attached, immediately feels rock solid. The combo is not so weighty or huge however at 615g that carrying it around all day taking pictures will result in neck or back injury.
And, while the slots for AAs, readily indicative of a budget model, is initially a disappointment – for the overall price we’d expect a rechargeable lithium-ion cell – Pentax claims if using NiMH batteries up to 640 images can be captured as opposed to the so-so 210 using bog standard alkalines.
Flick the on/off switch encircling the K-x’s shutter release button and you’re up and shooting instantly, rear LCD displaying essential shooting information in a clear and colourful format and a cool Samsung-like blue light illuminating on the top plate. Unlike Sony’s rival Alpha DSLR models the display information doesn’t flip through 90 degree if you turn the K-x on its side. However, in common with that range, the camera does feature in-body anti-shake, here Pentax’s own sensor-shifting Shake Reduction (SR) mechanism compatible with most of the manufacturer’s K-mount based lenses, old and new. And the K-x’s grip is of sufficient size to achieve a reassuringly firm hold.
Usefully, a dedicated "LV" (Live View) button in the middle of the back plate means that it’s easy to switch between optical viewfinder and screen below when composing shots, the internal mirror flipping out of the way and viewfinder itself blanking out when doing so. With rivals such as Canon’s DSLR range the user has to first wade through many menu settings to first enable the feature.
More unusually still at this level, the K-x’s light sensitivity settings can be boosted to a semi-pro equivalent ISO 12,800 for flash free photography in the near dark and 16:9 widescreen format HD video recording – at 1280 x 720 pixels, 24fps, rather than Full HD 1920 x 1080 – marking this out as an affordable all-in-one device.
However, there’s not the HDMI port we might also expect to find in attendance; just a combined AV/USB out hidden under a small plastic flap on the DSLR’s left flank (when viewing the camera from the back).
For those looking to shoot in lower light and achieve the best results possible, non-expanded light sensitivity settings otherwise run from ISO 200 to ISO 6400; pretty much what we’d expect to find at this level. We also get a pop-up flash and top-mounted hotshoe for the addition of supplementary flash if required, and the regulars of shooting JPEG, RAW and both file formats in tandem.
Examining results straight out of the camera, even exposures are the norm, colours a little cool but realistically so with the camera left on its default settings. Unadulterated images benefit from the application of Unsharp Mask and we did notice some obvious pixel fringing in evidence when enlarging sections of an image in Photoshop to check detail. In the main though, the camera and basic kit lens configuration performs very well.
Ultimately the K-x is a camera that will endeavour to provide both beginners and more experienced users with their, er, kicks. It’s an affordable, well-featured all-in-one device and very capable with it too, making it a tempting proposition for those not already wedded to a rival system due to ownership of pre-existing lenses.