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After the takeover of Pentax’s camera business by Ricoh there was a lot of speculation about what might emerge from the new entity. Ricoh expressly stated that it wanted Pentax for its expertise in D-SLRs with the implication being that it wanted its own brand in the category. However, the first D-SLR to emerge from Pentax Ricoh Imaging is badged a Pentax, and it’s most definitely a Pentax D-SLR in spirit… but the body is a different matter altogether.

The K-30 is quite a dramatic departure from what we’ve seen before from Pentax which has mostly been very competent on the inside, but conservative on the outside. The K-30’s styling is all sharp edges and exaggerated angles including the faceplate for the name badge which slopes backwards like the rear window of a Ford Anglia (Google it, if you’re too young to remember).

The handgrip is quite deep and heavily sculpted, and there’s even a protrusion housing the AF assist lamp, but the really big deal is that polycarbonate bodyshell is sealed against the intrusion of dust and moisture. This is the first time such protection has been provided on a sub-$1000 D-SLR, but it’s probably not so surprising that Pentax – the real socialists of camera world – should make it available to buyers on a tighter budget. And it appears to be the full works too, with all joints, control junctions and openings sealed with gaskets or guard lips. Underneath all this is a stainless steel chassis so the K-30 is also very solidly built for an entry-level model. Size wise, the K-30 isn’t especially compact – in fact, there isn’t much difference in overall bulk between it and the K-5 – so it’s marginally bigger than rivals such as the Canon’s EOS 650D and Nikon’s D3200. The length of the handgrip and the built-in flash unit’s long overhang contribute to the visual impressions of increased size, but the Pentax is pretty much par-for-the-course in terms of its weight.

There’s a choice of black, white and blue body colours with the blue being a mid-shade that really compliments the styling as it shows off the angles in a more pronounced way. The control layout is centred on a main mode dial with front and rear input wheels, a four-way key cluster for various navigation duties, a small number of function buttons and a fixed 7.62 cm LCD monitor screen (but no top-deck read-out panel). The pentaprism-based optical viewfinder is the same as that in the K-5 so it provides close to 100 percent coverage at 0.92x magnification... another luxury on a sub-$1000 D-SLR.

Sharp Shooting
The K-30 actually borrows from both the K-5 and Pentax’s K-01 compact system camera (CSC) to come up with a pretty appetising combination of features and specifications.

Also from the K-5 comes the 11-point autofocusing system – albeit slightly upgraded – while the 16.49 megapixels, ‘APS-C’ size CMOS sensor is the same imager as is used in the K-01, as is the ‘PRIME M’ processor (but obviously tweaked for the K-30). Consequently, the K-30 also has a quoted top continuous shooting speed of 6.0 fps which makes it the fastest in this class except for Sony’s fixed-mirror SLT-series models. And, as with the K-01, video clips are recorded in Full HD resolution with H.264 compression.

The sensor’s imaging area is 15.7x23.7 mm and the effective pixel count is 16.28 million which gives a maximum image size of 4928x3264 pixels. Three smaller image sizes and a choice three compression levels – Best, Better and Good – are available for JPEG capture. As with all Pentax D-SLRs RAW files are captured in the Adobe DNG format and the RAW+JPEG mode can be configured to append any size or quality level of JPEG.

The sensitivity range is equivalent to ISO 100 to 12,800 with a one-stop push to ISO 25,600. Image stabilisation is body-based and provided via sensor shifting which Pentax calls ‘Shake Reduction’. It’s claimed to give up to three stops of correction, depending on the focal length of the attached lens. Of course, it works with any lens and, where the focal length isn’t automatically relayed to the camera body, this information can be input manually. The image stabiliser’s shift system is also used to provide active sensor cleaning.

The phase-difference detection autofocusing module is designated SAFOX IXi+, with the upgrades being a revised microlens design to more effectively eliminate the influences of chromatic aberrations and new processing algorithms. Nine of the 11 focusing points are cross-type arrays and there’s a choice of four ‘AF Active Area’ modes for point selection – manual, spot or auto using either the five central points or the full set.

Switching between single-shot or continuous operation can be done manually or automatically by the camera when subject movement is detected. With the continuous mode there’s a choice of switching between focus-priority or fps-priority while in the single-shot mode the choice is focus-priority or release-priority. Automatic subject tracking is provided with the K-30’s ‘Expanded Area AF’ mode, using what Pentax calls the “back-up” points (i.e. those surrounded the originally selected point). These are shown in pink in the K-30’s status screen display while the manually selected point is in red.


Working The Light
For live view and video recording, the K-30 employs the same contrast-detection autofocusing functionality as the K-01. Based on the imaging sensor, there are 100 focusing points arranged in a 10x10 pattern with the option of employing more selective groupings of four, 16 or 36 points... which can then be moved around the frame. Auto tracking, face detection and spot modes are available.


Manual focusing in live view is assisted by a magnified image in the monitor screen (2x, 4x or 6x) – except in the tracking mode – and this is also available for checking the sharpness with autofocusing. Manual focus is also assisted by a ‘Focus Peaking’ display which indicates the plane of sharpest focus by highlighting the areas of maximum contrast (and this is also available for video recording).

Exposure control is based on the 77-segment metering sensor Pentax has been using in its D-SLRs for a while now, with the option of centre-weighted and spot measurements. Like the K-5, the K-30 supplements the standard set of ‘PASM’ exposure control modes with a sensitivity-priority auto mode and it returns to the shutter-and-aperture-priority auto mode which hasn’t been seen since the earlier K-7. In the sensitivity-priority mode – marked as ‘Sv’ on the main mode dial (the initials stand for ‘sensitivity value’) – the ISO setting can be changed on-the-fly via the rear input wheel and the aperture/speed combination is changed accordingly. The shutter-and-aperture priority mode – marked ‘TAv’ on the mode dial – does the opposite, so the ISO setting is automatically changed in order to maintain an aperture/speed combination regardless of changes in the light level.

The various exposure control overrides include program shift (either shutter or aperture priority), an AE lock, up to +/-5.0 EV of compensation – set in either ½- or 1/3-stop increments – and auto bracketing. Exposure bracketing is over three frames with variable sequencing and adjustments of up to +/-3.0 EV. The AEB can be combined with the exposure compensation facility so the bracketing point can shifted, but there’s no bracketing extension beyond the compensation range (unlike on Canon’s D-SLRs). The K-30 also lacks any other bracketing functions so, white balance in particular, is a notable omission.

The shutter speed range is 30-1/6000 second with flash sync up to 1/180 second. The K-30’s built-in flash has metric guide number of 12 (at ISO 100) and coverage equivalent to the 28mm focal length’s angle-of-view. The ‘onboard’ modes include red-eye reduction, slow speed sync and second curtain sync plus, commendably, wireless control for compatible off-camera flash units. Flash compensation is available over a range of -2.0 to +1.0 EV. Auxiliary flash units sync via an ISO-standard hotshoe and Pentax’s P-TTL flash metering enables advanced control functions such as balanced fill-in flash.

Although bracketing is missing, the K-30’s white balance control options are still pretty extensive and include nine presets (four for different types of fluorescent lighting types), provisions for storing three custom settings, manual colour temperature setting and
fine-tuning.

The K-30 also has Pentax’s ‘Colour Temperature Enhancement’ (CTE) which boosts whatever the prevailing colour cast may be in order to exaggerate that colouration in the image. The obvious application is with sunsets where the prevailing warmth will be boosted, but it will work in any situation where there’s a predominant colour in the lighting. Variations of this feature are now appearing on the D-SLRs of other  brands.

Taking Effect
Like all its recent predecessors, the K-30 continues Pentax’s policy of providing a huge choice of picture effects and digital filters, applicable either at the point of capture or post-capture as an editing function (which retains the original image file).

The K-30 inherits the K-01’s massive selection – seven effects available at capture (each with a huge variety of adjustments) and 18 for post-capture processing (again with seemingly endless adjustment possibilities). Additionally, up to 20 filter effects can be combined in the same image and, to enhance the look of a particular filter, there’s a ‘Base Parameter Adjust’ function which enables the image’s base brightness, saturation, hue, contrast and sharpness to be additionally fine-tuned. Plus there’s a ‘Recreating Filter Effects’ function so a combination of filters and settings can be retrieved from a captured image and applied to others. The now ‘standard’ creative effects such as Toy Camera, Miniature, Retro and Fish-Eye are all here along with more extreme manipulations such as Water Colour, Sketch, Pastel, Posterisation and Invert Colour. The ‘mix and match’ variations are virtually endless. It’s also worth noting that the post-capture filter effects can be applied to RAW files, but not the at-capture effects.

But wait, there’s more. Pentax has also provided some creative effects in the K-30’s ‘Custom Image’ menu of picture presets. There are 11 ‘Custom Image’ presets in all which includes the more familiar ones – Bright, Natural, Portrait, Landscape and Vibrant – plus more exotic ones called Radiant, Muted, Bleach Bypass, Reversal Film, Monochrome and Cross Processing. Each has what Pentax calls ‘Image Finishing Tone’ which is essentially a fancy term for the picture processing parameters except, of course, there’s a wider choice than in the case on most entry-level, or even mid-level, D-SLRs. Each of the main colour presets have adjustments for saturation, hue, sharpness or fine sharpness, contrast and high/low key which varies the image brightness over a range of plus/minus four steps.

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 A selection of the K-30’s in-camera special effects as applied post-capture; Posterisation (set to level three)Water Colour (Intensity set to level three and Saturation set to three), Tone Expansion (set to maximum effect),

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Another selection of the K-30’s in-camera special effects as applied post-capture; 1. Toy Camera (with Shading level 1, Blur set to 2 and yellow Tone Break)  Invert Colour and Miniature (with a vertical in-focus plane)

Adjustments to both colour saturation and hue are plotted within a RGBCMY colour hexagon which shows the variations in colour space terms. The Muted and Bleach Bypass presets replace the hue adjustment with colour toning options as does the Monochrome mode which also replaces the saturation adjustment with B&W filter effects – green, yellow, orange, red, magenta, blue, cyan and infrared. The Cross Processing mode shifts colours randomly so obviously there’s little point in having adjustable parameters. Instead, it’s possible to store up to three favourite effects to they can be repeated, although the K-30’s menu also provides three presets which, of course, are repeatable.

Corrective Services
Like the K-01, the K-30 has both a multi-shot HDR capture mode and dynamic range expansion processing. The three HDR frames can be captured with the exposures adjusted between +/-1.0 to 3.0 EV with the option of ‘Auto Align’ correction (which relies on the image  stabilisation). The processing options are ‘HDR Auto’ and ‘HDR 1 to 3’. Only the final merged image is saved so the individual frames in the HDR sequences aren’t available for post-camera processing.

The dynamic range expansion – or D-Range – processing provides separate adjustments for the highlights (Auto, On or Off) and the shadows (with Off, Auto, Low, Medium or High settings), but the two can be combined. The ‘D-Range’ corrections are performed via a combination of exposure adjustments for the highlights and tweaking of the tone curve for the shadows.

Noise reduction is provided for both high ISO and long exposure (or “Slow Shutter Speed” as Pentax prefers to call it) shooting with the range of former expanded to comprise Auto, Low, Medium, High and Custom settings. This last setting allows for adjustments to be applied to each ISO level individually (100 to 25,600); either levels one to three or switched off entirely.


 


The K-30 also has built-in lens correction for distortion and/or lateral chromatic aberrations which is performed with most Pentax lenses that relay the focal length and other data to the camera body (i.e. DA, DA L, D FA and some FA series models). It also inherits the ‘Composition Adjustment’ corrections originally reserved for the top-end Pentax D-SLRs. Based on the image stabiliser, this function generates a live view image and then the four-way navigation keys are used to apply left/right or up/down shifts, and the rear input wheel to apply rotation. The shifts are made in up to 16 steps which represent approximately plus/minus one millimetre (on the sensor) while the rotation is up to eight steps which represent approximately plus/minus one degree.

Everything can be quickly zeroed via the camera’s ‘Green’ button which is actually used for this purpose in any application. Alternatively, automatic horizon correction can be engaged and, to round things off, the image stabiliser also generates a dual-axis electronic level display which is shown in both the optical viewfinder and the live view screen using bar-scale type indicators. Additionally, the monitor screen can be set to display an artificial horizon to accompany the bar scales. Colour coding indicates the degree of displacement – red for extreme, yellow for moderate and green for when the camera is level. Usefully too, the K-30’s level displays work whether the camera is held horizontally or vertically. When the optional GPS receiver is connected, the main monitor can be set to function as an electronic compass display.

On Display
While on the subject of displays, the K-30 has a status screen which includes a replication of the main short-cut keys on its back panel, but doesn’t actually serve as a direct control panel. However, the four-way navigation keys provide short-cuts to the ISO, white balance, flash and drive settings (which includes the auto exposure bracketing set-up). As noted earlier, it’s on this screen that manual focus point selection can also be made via the navigator’s central ‘OK’ key.

However, the K-30 does have a separate control screen which provides direct access to a swag of functions and features, including the ‘Custom Image’ presets, the filter effects, the AF area and operation modes, the HDR and dynamic range expansion settings, the metering modes and the image quality settings. This eliminates many trips to the menu system which is unchanged in layout and navigation from previous Pentax D-SLRs. This means the curious system of checking and unchecking some items remains and, with it, the potential to trip up the uninitiated. This is because pressing the right navigation key checks an item while the left key unchecks it... rather than just leaving this to the ‘OK’ button (which still does the job anyway). Anybody accustomed to using the left/right menu keys solely for navigation purposes and the ‘OK’ button merely to enter settings could end up mis-setting something. However, once this idiosyncrasy is understood, the Pentax’s menus are pretty straightforward.

The live view image can also be configured to include a wide variety of information, including a real-time histogram, highlight and shadow warnings, the level indicators and an exposure compensation scale.

As on the earlier Pentax D-SLRs, there’s a digital preview function which operates outside live view and displays the image with the highlight and/or shadow warnings and luminance or RGB histograms. It can also be configured to show a magnified image to check focus and the option of either saving or cancelling the file. This ‘Digital Preview’ function is one of a number of functions that can be assigned to a button marked ‘RAW/Fx’ which is located at the top of the lens mount binnacle. Again curiously, this customisation is performed via the Record Mode menu and not the Custom menu. The other options for this button are one-touch format switching to RAW+JPEG capture, exposure bracketing, depth-of-field preview (via the optical viewfinder), ‘Composition Adjust’ and enabling/disabling manual AF point selection.

Play Time
The image review/playback screens are selected via an ‘Info’ menu and the options include a luminance histogram superimposed over the image, a thumbnail with a full set of brightness and RGB histograms (with the choice of adding both highlight and shadow warnings), or a smaller thumbnail accompanied by an extensive set of capture details.

Pentax separates the playback and processing functions – so the former includes the slide show and thumbnails while the latter includes the digital filters plus cropping, resizing and an ‘Index’ function which allows a number of images – 12, 24 or 36 – to be combined into proof sheets in a variety of designs... including randomly!

‘Straight’ thumbnails can be displayed in groups of four, nine, 16, 36 or 81 images and, at the other end of the size scale, the zoom playback allows for a magnification of up to 16x. Copyright information can be added to the Exif data, namely the photographer’s name and details up to 63 characters in length.

Like most of its predecessors, the K-30 has in-camera processing of RAW files which are converted to JPEGs. A host of processing parameters can be adjusted including the ‘Custom Image’ preset, the white balance, sensitivity (or brightness), high ISO noise reduction, the lens aberration corrections, the shadow correction setting and the colour space. At times it’s necessary to stop and remember that this is essentially
an entry-level D-SLR and not a higher-end model.

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At The Movies
Video hasn’t actually been a massive priority for Pentax – nor, coincidentally, with parent Ricoh – but its D-SLRs are gradually coming up to speed in this department... well, nearly. The K-30 records with MPEG-4/H.264 compression in either the Full HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels at either 25 fps (PAL standard) or the ‘movie’ speed of 24 fps. HD footage can be recorded at 50, 25 or 24 fps.

Unlike the K-01 though, the K-30’s built-in microphone is mono – albeit with adjustable levels – and, quite mysteriously, there is no stereo audio input. This, it has to be said, is a major omission and could be the deal-breaker for some buyers contemplating the rival Canon or Nikon models. The K-01 has a stereo input so why not the K-30?

The movie picture quality can be set to ‘Best’, ‘Better’ or ‘Good’.

Video functionality includes the availability of the program, aperture-priority auto and manual exposure modes. It extends to the at-capture special effects and filters, plus all the ‘Custom Image’ presets. Image stabilisation is available as is exposure compensation, but over a smaller range of +/-2.0 EV. Manual focusing control is assisted by with a magnified monitor image. Movie start/stop is via the shutter release.

Movies can be created using an intervalometer to record still images at intervals from three seconds to one hour and over a period of up to 99 hours. These clips are recorded in the Motion JPEG format.

Speed And Performance
Thanks to its deeper handgrip, the K-30 is a very comfortable camera to handle and its external control layout is uncluttered and very straightforward to use, ably assisted by the on-screen control panel. The Pentax 12-24mm wide-angle zoom we opted to use for this test report is quite a lot bulkier than the ‘kit’ 18-55mm, the K-30 still felt nicely balanced. It’s worth noting that the K-30 retains a body-based focusing motor, but is also compatible with Pentax’s motorised SDM-equipped lenses. The optical finder is a reminder that the D-SLR still has
its place even if CSCs are selling like hot cakes.

The phase-difference detection AF system is fast and accurate and the 77-segment metering, already well-proven elsewhere, does a fine job even in very contrasty situations. There was little requirement to run any exposure compensation for corrective purposes. In very bright situations there is a tendency to underexpose a little, but this isn’t really problematic as it helps preserve some tonality in the highlights.

With a Panasonic 16 GB UHS-1 SDHC memory card loaded, the K-30 fired off a sequence of 20 JPEG/large/best frames in 3.246 seconds which represents a continuous shooting speed of 6.16 fps... easily confirming the quoted spec (but with all additional imaging processing turned off). The buffer very quickly transferred the 20 images to the card, but the camera will go on shooting while this is happening, albeit at a slightly slower rate.

Pentax’s 16.5 megapixels CMOS imager is among the better-performing ‘APS-C’ format sensors in D-SLRs and it continues its good work in the K-30. The best quality JPEGs deliver plenty of nicely defined detailing, smooth tonal gradations and a reasonably wide dynamic range at the low to mid sensitivity settings. Noise levels are commendably low up to ISO 800 and still low enough at ISO 3200 and 6400 does not unduly diminish either contrast or colour saturation. However, both are significantly reduced at ISO 12,800 and at the one-stop push to ISO 25,600. Of course, the K-30 provides extensive scope for fine-tuning the look of images in terms of colour saturation, contrast, sharpness and tonality so it’s worth experimenting with everything that’s available to determine preferences. Importantly, though, all the starting points for these adjustments are at the upper end of the performances expected in this class of D-SLR.

The Verdict
Anybody looking for an affordable D-SLR primarily for still photography will find it hard to go past Pentax’s K-30. It offers an unrivalled range of features and functions in its price category topped by the weather-proofed body and ‘big camera’ items such as the pentaprism viewfinder with its 100 percent coverage. An additional outlay is needed for one of Pentax’s ‘WR’ weather-proofed lenses, but even with this taken into the account, the K-30 is still stunning value for money. It simply doesn’t look or feel like a sub-$1000 model and it certainly doesn’t perform like one. The absence of a couple of key features lets the side down in the video recording department, but this may not trouble many potential purchasers, especially those who prefer a D-SLR with the more traditional characteristics.
While a steady and solid performer in D-SLRs, Pentax still hasn’t really challenged the front-runners, but the K-30 has the potential to make more of an impression on the sales charts... and points to equally competitive models at the higher price points.

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The ‘Shake Reduction’ image stabilisation system generates a level display (via its gyro sensors) and allows for manual corrections via small shifts and rotational adjustments. The main monitor’s display screens include an artificial horizon with colour-coded dual-axis level displays. Pentax continues to be the most generous when it comes to providing in-camera filters and special effects… the K-30 has a wide choice for both at-capture and post-capture application.