A Viewfinder Darkly

Photography tips and tutorials

Pentax K30 is a Small DSLR with Big Image Quality

October 18 2012

by Philip Northeast

The new Pentax K30 is a rugged compact DSLR and, according to DXO mark tests, is capable of taking high quality images under a range of conditions.

Wet Pentax K30

Pentax K30 can handle adverse conditions

The K30 offers a real alternative to the mirrorless cameras that promise DSLR quality at a “fraction of the size and weight” according to Mike Kahn from Sony Electronics.  However, not all DSLRs are the bulky high end cameras used by professional photojournalists. The shapes are similar as DSLRs have evolved over years of use into an ergonomic form.  This means that compact DLSRs often look a similar size in product photos without any context to provide realistic size comparison.

The Nikon D4   is an example of a top end photojournalist’s DSLR and is 40% wider than the K30, and double the height and weight. The size of the Pentax K30 is comparable to a typical mirrorless camera from Sony and not as wide.  While the bodies of the mirrorless cameras appear compact any slight advantage is often rendered insignificant when photographers attach a lens.

In the DxOMark Lab 

Putting the K30’s  DxOMark sensor test results in context we compare them to equivalent DSLRs from Nikon and Canon,

 

Lab test comparison

The summary of test scores from the DxOMark lab

 

The Nikon D7000 and Canon 60D are mid range DLSRs offering a slightly different mix of features      and performance making them alternatives to the Pentax K30.

 

Pentax K30 NIkon D7000 Canon 60D
Price (Adorama) $US800 $US997 $US900
Megapixels 16.3 16.2 18
ISO range 100 – 25600 100 -25600 (100-6400) 100-12800  (100 – 6400)
Battery life 480 (CIPA) 1050 (CIPA) 1050
Shake Reduction Yes No No
Sensor Size  mm 23.7×15.7 23.6×15.6 22.3 x 14.9
Size  (W x H x D)  mm 121.9 x 78.7 x 58.4 132 x 103 x 77 145.5 x 105.8 x 78.6
Focal Length Conversion Factor 1.5 1.5 1.6
Weight (grams) 587 690  body only 675
Weather Sealing Yes Yes No
Card Type SD, SDHC, SDXC SD, SDHC, SDXC SD, SDHC, SDXC
Shooting Speed 6 FPS 6 FPS 5.3 FPS
Card Slots 1 2 1
Built in Flash Yes Yes Yes
External Microphone jack No Yes Yes
Audio Level Control Yes Yes Yes
Viewfinder Optical Pentaprism Optical Pentaprism Optical Pentaprism
Movie Mode Autofocus Continuous No Yes No

 

 The overall DxOMark sensor test scores of the K30 and the Nikon are almost identical, with the biggest difference showing in the low light score. This is surprising as both cameras probably use the same Sony CMOS sensor.  The detailed ISO and image noise graph of the DxOMark results shows identical readings, except for the high ISO area, where the Pentax appears to have an edge over the Nikon. DxOMark tests are conducted with all camera noise reduction processing set to zero. Some of the Pentax digital noise reduction is applied so early in the processing that it is still active and helps the K30 achieve lower image noise than the Nikon at higher ISO settings.

The Pentax and the Nikon digital cameras have slightly less noise than the Canon 60D, as well as  higher ISO settings available to photographers.

 

DxOMark noise tests

The full image noise tests from DxOMark for the Pentax K30, Nikon D7000 and Canon 60D

The detailed DxOMark results graph confirms the overall test scores for dynamic range. The Nikon D7000 has an advantage over the Pentax K30 in dynamic range in the critical area of low ISO settings, while the Canon lags noticeably in this area.

Photographers normally use  the lowest possible ISO setting to minimise digital noise in photographs and exposure problems due dynamic range limitations.  Dynamic range limitations are apparent when bright light creates deep shadows and the sensor cannot capture both extremes of light levels.  This results in losing fine detail in the highlights or the darker areas of the photo, depending on the choice of the photographer.  In some cases if the photographer relies  on automatic exposure systems both may lose detail.

 

Dynamic range comparison

The full Dynamic Range tests from DxOMark for the Pentax K30, Nikon D7000 and Canon 60D

 

Size 

The range of camera styles and capabilities reflects the variety of photographers and their needs. Professional photographers carry large DSLRs and Medium Format cameras because their main purpose is taking pictures, and the price is often less important than image quality. Other photographers look for a more convenient camera system to carry everywhere yet is still capable of producing high quality photos under a range of difficult physical and lighting conditions.

The DxOMark lab test shows the potential of K30 for image quality. The specification comparison reveals the K30 is smaller overall than its immediate compact DSLR rivals from Nikon and Canon.

 

W x H x D
K30 112 x 76.2 x 48.3 mm
Canon G1X 116.8 x 81.3 x 63.5 mm
Sony NEX – F3 119.9 x 66.9 x 42.6 mm

The K30 is a similar size to other quality compact cameras, although size comparisons are complicated by the lens choice of photographers.  The Canon G1X compact has a fixed zoom lens that telescopes keeping a compact camera and lens package.  The Sony and the Pentax with their larger interchangeable lenses have an overall depth of around of 110 mm with the kit zoom (focal length 18-55mm) attached. The trade off is the higher image quality of the Pentax K30 indicated by the DxOMark tests.

Weather Sealed

There is more to the Pentax K30 than the image quality advantage.  The body has over 70 weather seals to keep out dust and water.

“No detail was overlooked when designing the dynamic new K-30 to be weather resistant,” explains John Carlson, Sr. Manager of Sales and Marketing, PENTAX.  “Every seam, every button, every hinge has been weather sealed for adventure-proof creative photography.”

The big Pentax plus is the number of weather sealed lenses available to photographers so they can carry their cameras and continue shooting in rain or dusty conditions.  All the Pentax premium DA* lenses are weather sealed and there are increasing numbers of weather sealed everyday lenses, just look for the WR in the Pentax lens name.

Optical Viewfinder

pentaprism

DSLR pentaprism

Pentax designers kept the height of the K30 to a minimum while including a full high quality DSLR optical viewfinder system.  Apart from providing the cameras lens view for photographers via the Reflex mirror and the pentaprism, there are other important benefits from this system.

Some entry level DSLRs skimp in this area and use a cheaper mirror structure rather than the solid glass prism used in top end DSLRs.

The pentaprism houses the sensor array for the phase detection autofocus system. Phase detection is faster than the contrast detection system commonly used in the Live View mode.  Fast autofocus enables the minimal shutter lag and high frame rates that helps make DSLRs the ideal cameras for sports and action photography.

The indirect benefit of using the optical viewfinder is sharper photos because partially supporting the camera with the forehead provides a more stable platform than trying to hold the camera still in mid air.  Even though the K30 has a stabilisation system, holding the camera securely gives photographers more flexibility in choosing shutter speeds without blurring due to camera shake.

 Improved Autofocus

This is one area where Pentax DSLRs have always seem to lag but the autofocus has improved in their recent DSLR models. The K30 gets a new system with the  SAFOX IXi+ AF sensor module. According to Pentax one of the main areas of improvement is in tracking moving subjects.

Other Features 

The Pentax K30 comes with an array of goodies that are the usual fare in this class of camera. It has Live View with precise contrast detect autofocus that is ideal for shooting when the camera is mounted on a tripod, in this case I prefer it to the optical viewfinder.

Live View incorporates focus peaking technology that shows on the LCD screen exactly what is in focus and is helpful for shallow depth of field close ups shots.

Pentax K30 rear view

Pentax K30 rear view

The K30 has exposure modes ranging from fully automatic with the obligatory exposure settings for different scenes through to full manual control.

Of course the K30 has HD video capability for high quality movies  in 1080p resolution (1920×1080 pixels). The h.264 compression format allows photographers to choose from frame rates of 30, 25 or 24 frames per second at 1080p, or up to 60 FPS at 720p. The K30 is limited to the internal monaural microphone with a five step sound level adjustment.

The Pentax K30 has video and still image editing tools in the camera so travellers can choose to leave the laptop at home and still process their images. Included in the tools is the ability to save a movie frame as a JPEG still image.

Battery System

This is where the compromises to achieve the K30’s balance of compact size and high image quality have an effect.  The specification summary reveals the K30 can only take approximately half the photos of the other DSLRs with 480 shots under a standard lab test from a fully charged battery.

While this may seem low it is as good, or better than, most compact cameras. The mirrorless Sony NEX-F3 typically can take around 360 photos from a fully charged battery.  The Pentax has a similar shooting capacity to the Sony Translucent Mirror cameras that utilise an electronic viewfinder rather than the K30’s optical viewfinder.

Pentax offer an accessory holder so photographers can use AA batteries instead of the standard battery.

 

Coloured K30 DSLR

The Pentax K30 DSLR comes in a range of colours

 

Price

The Pentax K30 body only in black, blue or white is available from Adorama for under $US800.

 

 

 

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