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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.