Pentax K100D digital SLR

At first glance, it’s tempting to write off the Pentax K100D as a low-priced, underpowered beginner’s DSLR. Packing a 6.1-megapixel sensor, the K100D lags a little behind the current state-of-the-art in terms of resolution, while its $699 price tag puts it at the low end of the entry-level digital SLR market. But a lot of thought went into the K100D. The camera has a feature set ideally suited to beginning shooters, but with a lot of room to grow, making it a good alternative for intermediate photographers as well.

The K100D is small, about the same size as Canon’s Digital Rebel XTi (   ), but the K100D is better balanced than the XTi, and provides a larger hand grip, making it feel more stable while shooting and more comfortable to hold.

For an entry-level camera, the K100D doesn’t skimp on interface features. Sporting a bright 2.5-inch rear-mounted LCD, the K100D also provides a top-mounted LCD status display--something that a lot of entry-level cameras eschew, but which is especially welcome in this market. Overall, I was very pleased with the K100D’s design. The camera provides a full complement of easily accessible controls that are simple to understand.

Unfortunately, one feature that is not up to par is the battery life. The Pentax ships with four alkaline AA batteries, not rechargeable batteries. While these are easier to replace if you run out or lose the batteries, they don’t last nearly as long as rechargeables. While comparable cameras could take at least 500 shots on a single charge, the Pentax took only 265 before dying. You can, however purchase Lithium or rechargeable NiMH batteries to substitute for the AA alkalines, if you want.

Image stabilization

The K100D features Pentax’s own sensor-based image stabilization technology, which tries to minimize the effect of camera shake by moving the sensor to compensate for jittery hand vibrations. The advantage of a sensor-based mechanism (as opposed to lens-based stabilization) is that it works with any lens.

Pentax says there are two stops worth of stabilization, but in my shooting I found the camera’s stabilization fell somewhere between one and one-and-a-half stops. In other words, it works, but not as well as the stabilization you get from lens-based systems, which consistently offer three to four stops. Still, it’s a welcome feature, and one that makes Pentax’s excellent, large lens selection even more appealing. And, the K100D employs its sensor-shaking technology as a dust removal mechanism, always a handy addition in a camera with removable lenses.

Comfortable shooting

The K100D is a comfortable camera to shoot with, thanks to its good physical design and the ease with which you can get to essential shooting features. The K100D provides a full assortment of shooting modes including program, shutter, and aperture priority; full manual; and bulb. Scene modes are provided for specific shooting situations, but the K100D adds extra flexibility to these features by letting you adjust ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation, something many cameras—point and shoots and SLRs—can’t do. The camera also provides an Auto Picture mode, which automatically selects one of these custom program modes after analyzing your current scene.

An 11-point autofocus system works well, and metering on the camera is also very good, though you won’t find the K100D particularly speedy. Powering up and waking from sleep both take about a second, while the camera’s burst speed maxes out at 1.5 frames per second for JPEG images.

The K100D lacks a program shift feature for automatically cycling through reciprocal exposures (adjusting the camera’s aperture and shutter speed to get a certain amount of light), but because the camera provides a full complement of manual modes, you’ll still have all of the manual controls you need.

Image quality

The K100D takes very good pictures for a six-megapixel camera. If you don’t intend to enlarge much beyond 8-by-10 inches, or you do a lot of zooming or cropping, then 6.1 megapixels is plenty.

The K100D shoots three levels of JPEGs, as well as Raw images for users who want more editing control. By default, the camera’s JPEG output is a little soft, so you might want to adjust the sharpening parameter within the camera, unless you plan on sharpening images yourself with an image editor. Though the K100D offers ISOs up to 3,200, the images get substantially noisier at ISO 800 and above.

Performance

Image Quality Very Good
Battery Life Poor

Scale = Superior, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor

specifications

Resolution 6.1
Zoom/Focal Length (35mm equivalent) 27-82.5mm
Battery Type AA
Media Slots Secure Digital (1)
Size (wxhxd) 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.8
Weight with battery and lens (oz.) 30.3 oz

The image-quality rating of the camera is based upon a panel of judges’ opinions in five categories: exposure, color, sharpness, distortion, and overall. Battery life testers follow a precise script, including shots with and without flash, until the battery dies.—Tested in conjunction with the PC World Test Center

Macworld’s buying advice

Because of its 6.1-megapixel sensor, you won’t be able to enlarge the K100D’s images as much as you could with a higher resolution camera, but for users who want a DSLR, and all of the flexibility that it provides, the K100D is a great entry-level camera at an unmatched price. Pentax’s extensive lens selection is made more attractive by the camera’s effective vibration reduction, while the camera’s interface and design make for a comfortable shoot. If you want a full-featured SLR with fairly advanced features, it’s hard to beat the price and performance of the K100D.

[ Ben Long is the author of Complete Digital Photography, 3rd Edition (Charles River Books, 2004). ]

Pentax K100D

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