The 12.4 effective megapixel K-r is Pentax’s follow-up digital SLR to the entry level K-x, a sound, good value starter option. Incorporating a standard APS-C sized sensor it sits just below the more fully featured K-7 and K-5 digital SLRs in Pentax’s current camera line up.
Competition does currently come from Nikon’s D3100 and Canon’s EOS 550D however, two formidable beginner friendly DSLRs, so Pentax has a mountain to climb in convincing first time DSLR users to choose its system over either of ”the big two”. That said, Pentax does offer the advantage of having sensor shift image stabilisation built into its camera bodies to avoid blur resulting from external shake at longer focal lengths or higher ISOs (here up to ISO 25600), something neither of the others provides. Or rather provides via lens only.
Unsurprisingly in being a new model the K-r offers technology that has trickled down from the K-7, such as that camera’s metering system, digital effects filters and custom image modes, whilst at the same time it has maintained the level of approachability required of any DSLR that is going to tempt an existing digital snapshot camera owner to trade upwards. To take one example there’s the ability to use either the provided rechargeable battery or a handful of easily sourced AAs should juice run out at an inopportune moment. That doesn’t include HDMI output for hooking up directly to a flat panel TV however; just regular AV out and USB 2.0 are offered here sharing the same connection.
First impressions are that with standard 18-55mm zoom lens attached – a sound “jack of all trades” option for anyone starting out – the Pentax K-r is a handful, but in a reassuring rather than annoying way.
Ape-ing the K-7 with a chunky body, sufficiently large handgrip and big, well-spaced controls, overall dimensions measure 125 x 97 x 68mm. The K-r weighs a sturdy yet manageable 544g without lens, battery or SD/SDHC card. For those wanting to break with convention by not only choosing Pentax over its immediate rivals but also a different body shade, white or red alternatives are offered alongside regulation-issue black.
Start playing with the K-r for only a short period and you’ll discover that this is one of those DSLRs on which everything rapidly falls within easy reach. A forward slanting shutter release button sits atop the handgrip encircled by an off/off switch for rapid access. Give this a nudge and the camera powers up instantly, so, with the camera already setup, we were able to start shooting as soon as our forefinger could hit the shutter release.
Although the natural inclination is to compose frames with the optical viewfinder provided, which is sufficiently large and bright for the purpose, the K-r also features Live View. A dedicated “LV” button on the backplate allows for one-touch access to this feature via the 3-inch, high 921k-dot resolution LCD. There’s inevitably a moment’s pause for the camera’s mirror mechanism to flip out of the way before an image appears on screen, but you don’t have to wait long. Using the larger screen rather than viewfinder comes in handy for those otherwise awkward low or high angle shots in the absence of a tilting or twisting screen. Plus, if shooting in auto focus mode, with a half press of the shutter release button in Live View mode the K-r rapidly zooms in on a close detail – providing a magnified view – and, once it has done so, automatically jumps back to show the entirety of frame. This latter functionality comes across as a bit of theatre and feels largely unnecessary in that respect.
With no second top plate LCD display as on the K-7, key shooting options are ranged around a familiar bottle top style mode wheel, sitting behind the shutter release so that it falls under the thumb of your right hand. It’s veritably crammed with options – especially so for an entry model – with 13 selections in total. These include subject specific modes, 1280 x 720p HD video capture and a quintet of creative settings. However the most prominent of all is “Auto Picture”, allowing for the user to point and shoot and let the K-r to do the rest, a task it caries out with precision and aplomb.
Leave the camera on this setting and, thanks to an 11-point auto focus system, with a half press of the shutter release the Pentax K-r is lightning fast to pick out a target and determine focus and exposure, its lens motor whirring satisfyingly noisily as adjustments are made. Take the shot and the shutter firing is similarly loud and definitive by way of reassurance.
For action shooters, up to 6fps burst capture is offered, for up to 25 sequential frames. Also as we’d expect, if first selecting the video shooting option on the dial, widescreen format video can be captured, here at 25fps though this can be boosted to 30fps if dropping down in resolution to the alternative of 640 x 480 pixels. Press the shutter release button down halfway once video mode has been selected, and Live View also automatically kicks in by way of a neat time saver. There’s no alternative of a dedicated video record button that allows video recording to commence no matter which stills mode might be selected at the time.
Just behind the shooting mode dial, at the camera’s back is a thumb-operated command dial, just like the one found on the K-7. A flick of this allows users to zoom into an image being reviewed in order to check detail, or alternatively display a series of thumbnails. There’s no command wheel mirroring this at the front of the handgrip like the K-7 has.
What really stands out in the case of the K-r though is not just how this camera is like a baby K-7, but rather the fact that it delivers very pleasing pictures with the minimum of fuss and/or button pushing frustration. Colours are well saturated straight out of the camera and possess real “pop”, whilst remaining the right side of realistic. Images are sharp too with the aid of the provided lens and the K-r’s sensor shifting ability, so more professional results from the get go is a promise largely fulfilled here.
With the K-r it appears Pentax has merged its entry level and mid range DSLRs into one comprehensive, good value device. And it has done it very well, with little apparent compromise. To pick holes in the K-r’s standalone performance feels like grasping at straws. OK, it lacks a certain sophistication and more experienced users may find the degree of hand holding on offer grates after a while, but for the price we humbly suggest that you can’t go far wrong at the beginner level. Canon and Nikon’s loss might be your gain.