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Pentax ist DL Digital SLR

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With a street price of around $600 and a basic feature set, the Pentax ist DL offers a good entry-level option for aspiring digital SLR shooters on a budget. The ist DL provides all of the automatic and manual controls that most photographers need, wrapped in a small body with a simple control layout. Unfortunately, the camera suffers from many of the same image quality problems as its predecessor, the ist DS (   ).

Back to basics

The ist DL is a very well designed camera. Offering a compact, yet comfortable body, the camera is small without feeling cramped. The build quality is excellent, with no creaking or flexing parts. A simple top-mounted LCD status display provides basic camera stats, though I wish it included an ISO readout.

You access basic shooting functions by pressing the Function button on the back of the camera. This brings up a menu that allows you to change ISO, white balance, Flash mode, and Drive mode. While the interface is fairly simple, it’s not as speedy as dedicated buttons.

You select the Shooting mode using a top-mounted dial: a control wheel changes parameters within each mode. Fortunately, Pentax retained the external Exposure Compensation button, perhaps the most-often used feature on any camera.

The power on the ist DL is actually on a rocker switch that surrounds the shutter button, making it simple and easy to access. One of Pentax’s nicest interface innovations is the Depth of Field Preview control, which you access by sliding the power switch into a third position. Because the control is right next to the shutter button, it’s easy to reach with your shutter finger.

Image quality

Where the ist DL falls down is on image quality. When shooting in JPEG mode, the camera’s images are soft and occasionally, they are underexposed. Increasing the default sharpening setting helps with the sharpness, and once you’re used to the underexposure, you can compensate for it. We had occasional trouble with JPEG artifacts, however, the ist DL does let you shoot in Raw mode, which eliminates this issue.

Raw shooting requires more storage, though, and can lead to a more complicated workflow, depending on the software that you use for your post-production work.


Image Quality Good
Battery Life Very Good

Scale = Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, Unacceptable


Resolution 6.1 megapixels
Zoom/Focal Length 27-83mm (35mm equivalent)
Maximum Aperture f5.6
Size (wxhxd) 4.9 inches x 3.6 inches x 2.6 inches
Weight 1.2 lbs

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

If you already have lenses with a Pentax K, KA, KAF, or KAF2 mount and are looking to go digital, then the Pentax ist DL is an obvious choice. (Note that you can also use screw mount lenses or 645 and 67 series lenses with a special adapter.) If you’re trying to choose between the DL and its main competitors, the Nikon D50 (   , Nikon D50 ) and the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT (   ), then you’ll find better image quality and more lens options with the competition. In the end, you should get your hands on all three cameras and see which one has the feel and interface that makes the most sense for you.

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

Pentax ist DL Digital SLR
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