Pentax K-30

We love new tech here at Pocket-lint, but sometimes companies can get a little carried away. Take Pentax: its Q system confounded and the K-01, despite its great image quality, just lacked sense. What with so many decent competitor cameras making it to the market it’s about time the Ricoh-acquired company made its return to form.

On paper the Pentax K-30 - the company’s first DSLR camera since 2010’s excellent K-5 - looks to be that exact product.

It’s affordable, weather-sealed, has a 100 per cent field of view optical viewfinder and a 16-megapixel APS-C sized sensor that’s already proven itself in the Pentax K-5 and a whole host of other DSLR cameras.

In short it’s got features that, for the most part, surpass pricier competitors, and we haven’t even revealed the full spec yet.

Is the hard-wearing K-30 as good in the flesh as it reads on paper?

Design

The K-30 looks a fair amount like the K-5, although a new, protruding viewfinder area does give the camera a bit of a "frown". But it also gives it attitude, and given that this water resistant beast can be used in a torrential downpour thanks to its 81 weather-seals, we think the overall look is rather fitting.

But it’s not just water that the K-30 repels: this DSLR can also be used in snow-capped mountains, as it will still operate in conditions as low as -10C; even a sandstorm in a desert won’t penetrate the tough seals. Impressive stuff, though we would advise against changing lenses when in the thick of it!

The kit we have on test includes the weather resistant lens, but it’s possible to buy a kit with the standard 18-55mm lens, which will cost around £30 less but, obviously, doesn’t continue the weather-resistance to the lens itself.

There are currently four "WR"-designated water-resistant lenses - a 50-200mm f/4-5.6, 100mm f/2.8 macro, 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 and the 18-55mm kit lens - alongside a selection of sealed DA* lenses and dozens of other non-sealed options.

In the hand the K-30 is comfortable and the almost pin-pricked textured grip ensures it adheres to the hand.

The menu systems are typically Pentax. If you’re a newbie then that doesn’t mean they’re difficult to use, though unlike some entry-level DSLR cameras, such as the Nikon D3200’s "guide mode", short of its auto mode the K-30 isn’t going to tell you what to do.

The rear LCD displays the major settings, and the four-way d-pad deals with ISO, white balance, flash and burst shooting, while the info button brings up a lengthier list of quick-to-change settings. We’re particularly fond of the traditional style double thumbwheel - one top-front, the other to the rear - to aid rapid jumps through the settings.

The rechargeable li-ion battery is capable of 410-480 shots per charge, which isn’t bad but we would like to see improved. Purchase an adapter and it’s possible to use 4xAA batteries in the camera too - a great feature if you’re in need of a quick back-up power source, but just a shame the design can’t accommodate both battery types without that optional adapter.

Performance

In use one of the K-30’s standout features is the optical viewfinder. Its 100 per cent field of view means that what you see is what you get, and we can’t name a DSLR camera that costs less with this field of view. For the price it’s outstanding, equal to the experience the K-5 offers.

The 11-point autofocus system may sound the same as that in the K-5, and while positionally the points are the same, the K-30’s latest SAFOX IXi+ sensor module has nine cross-type sensors for heightened sensitivity. Pentax says it "assures responsive, high-precision autofocus operation" and, while it’s pretty good all round, it’s just not always as quick as you’ll find in some, admittedly slightly more expensive, competitor cameras.

We found that daylight conditions were rarely, if ever, a problem for the camera. When the sun dips, however, it sure does slow things down. Low-light is the K-30’s biggest enemy in use, though it only slows it down rather than debilitate the system. An AF-assist lamp can help focus, should you choose to switch it on via the menus.

The continuous autofocus mode, which is activated using the AF-S/AF-C/MF switch to the left side of the body, did impress us however. It’s quick to adjust, and shows constant updates through the viewfinder. Good stuff.

Autofocus in live view - the live preview mode that uses the rear LCD screen instead of the viewfinder - is well-paced too. It’s not as fast as when shooting through the viewfinder, but it equals its nearest competitors in speed terms. Other quirks, such as an option to show edge highlights when focused is achieved, add to the experience.

Sadly we were unable to test the K-30 with any other lenses apart from the 18-55mm WR kit lens. As this isn’t the most "premium" of those Pentax has on offer, we suspect that there’s more to be had from the camera when paired with faster, more capable lenses.

Whichever lens you do choose, the K-30’s sensor has built-in image stabilisation to help keep shots sharp. It won’t help steady your viewfinder composure if you’re using a long lens, but as so many Pentax lenses are a good few years old, this sensor-enabled technology is an essential. It can be deactivated in the menus should you want to accentuate blur or shoot from a tripod.

Another top feature is the six frames per second (6fps) continuous burst mode. With a Class 10 SD card loaded up in the camera it was possible to whirr off eight raw + JPEG shots in a single bout. It takes around 17 seconds to clear the buffer, but that doesn’t mean the camera is inoperable during this period - we were able to fire off another couple of shots after just a second or so.

Image Quality

The quality of images is a significant reason to consider purchasing a DSLR. And K-30 doesn’t disappoint in this department. It’s built upon the K-5’s and K-01’s strengths, using the same 16-megapixel APS-C sensor to shoot from ISO 100 through to 12,800 (25,600 extended). It might not have the output size of the Nikon D3200, for example, but that won’t be an issue for most.

Whether shooting raw, JPEG, or both file types simultaneously, the universal DNG raw format is read by Adobe software without issue.

Quality impresses. Results from ISO 100-400 are the best of the bunch, but ISO 800-3200 sustain plenty of detail too and image noise is shown as a grain-like quality rather than a disruptive nuisance.

ISO 6400-12,800 suffer more from image processing, and colours dip, but such sensitivities are still of acceptable quality.

There are in-camera options to auto-correct distortion and lateral chromatic aberration, plus a huge variety of digital filter and custom colour presets too. High ISO and long shutter noise reduction severity adjustment, as well as dynamic range optimisation show that the K-30 isn’t mucking around when it comes to the fine details. There’s even the option for the camera to auto correct the horizon by up to one degree by moving the sensor itself.

Ignore the numbers and it’s the images that’ll speak for themselves. Colours are realistic, while exposure errs on the Pentax-typical conservative side to avoid highlight overexposure. The only thing that may be an issue is chromatic aberration - those green and purple fringes that can linger around subject's edges - towards the edge of the frame, particularly when there's a strong backlight.

For those interested in moving images the K-30 can also capture 1080p files, though it lags behind the competition in this department. There's no continuous autofocus and, while the AF/AE-L button can adjust focus during recording it's slow and noisy, plus there's no 3.5mm microphone input. If moving images are you thing, then best look elsewhere.

Verdict

The Pentax K-30 shows off what a DSLR can do without blowing the budget. But that doesn’t mean this DSLR scrimps on its features. Far from it, it blows most of the competition out of the water.

Not that most of its peers can survive a blast of the wet stuff. The weather-sealed body is a great feature to have, and something that would usually only be found in a pricier camera, but that doesn't detract from the K-30’s ability to produce great images too.

Add a 100 per cent optical viewfinder, 6fps burst mode matched with a decent buffer and capable continuous autofocus and there’s not much missing.

Of all features it’s the autofocus system that’s the only slight letdown. It’s good, but it’s not as fast, particularly in dim light, compared to some of the (slightly pricier) competition. If that one thing was improved it’s hard to see how this wouldn’t be a 10/10 star product. It’s great stuff.