Pentax really gets down to business with its first enthusiast-level D-SLR throwing out a huge challenge to its rivals and providing a realistic alternative for anybody in search of a ‘serious’ camera. Paul Burrows tries out the K10D.

Pentax K10DThe K10D is Pentax’s first enthusiast-level D-SLR and the company has gone all out to make it a serious competitor with even semi-professional aspirations. The bodyshell is GRP and fully sealed against the intrusion of dust or moisture. Underneath is a rugged stainless steel chassis and the shutter assembly is rated to 100,000 cycles.

Way back at the 2000 Photokina Pentax showed off a prototype digital SLR that was clearly aimed at the enthusiast user. The unnamed camera was to have a six megapixels sensor with a capture area equivalent to a 35mm frame and the proposed specifications included six-point AF and six-zone metering.

Of course, history records that the digital camera market got a severe case of the wobbles not long after, forcing many companies to rethink their strategies and many projects to be shelved. It would be three years before Pentax eventually launched its first D-SLR, and all its efforts to date have been aimed primarily at the entry-level end of the market. However, Pentax moved up a gear with its new generation K-series models, and the very accomplished K100D has quickly been followed by the rather more high-powered K10D. This is Pentax’s first enthusiast-level D-SLR and, interestingly, there are even some design similarities with the still-born prototype shown in Cologne in late 2000… notably the way in which the pentaprism housing is smoothly integrated into the top plate.

Pentax doesn’t ‘do’ high-end consumer or semi-pro SLRs all that often, but when it does they’re usually very competitive with some distinctive selling points. The 35mm MZ-S – which was also shown in prototype form at Photokina 2000 – is a good recent example and, with the K10D, Pentax also gets down to the business of sticking it to Canon, Nikon and Sony. Bigger than any D-SLR Pentax has built to date, it also packs a load of new technologies and a number of features which help it stand out from the rest of the 10 megapixels pack.

Weighty Matters

Pentax K10DThe main mode dial includes a setting you won’t have seen before. ‘Sv’ is short for Sensitivity Value or, in other words, Sensitivity Priority AE. In this mode, you can instantly change the ISO via the rear input dial and the exposure settings are adjusted accordingly.

Dimensionally, the K10D is mid-sized rather than compact, but with a body-only weight of 710 grams, it’s definitely the beefiest model in its class. And you’ll notice it the moment you pick it up, but frankly this is no bad thing as the extra heft promotes a better balance with longer lenses and, put simply, the camera simply has a more solid feel than, for example, the Nikon D80.

However, this solidness is more than just an impression as the K10D’s GRP bodyshell is fully sealed against the intrusion of moisture and dust. A total of 72 seals are located along the panel joint lines and at the control junction points, while the optional vertical/battery grip boasts 38 seals. Furthermore, the K10D is built around a rigid stainless steel chassis and the shutter unit designed for 100,000 cycles so Pentax clearly expects the camera to be put to work… and in less-than-ideal situations.

On the subject of challenging conditions, Pentax has taken the obvious next step with its ‘Shake Reduction’ (SR) system – introduced in the K100D – and applied it to dust busting. Pentax employs a magnetically-propelled sensorshift arrangement to counter camera shake and it’s logical to conclude that this movement will also dislodge dust. It’s helped along by the application of a special anti-static coating (based on a fluorine compound) to the surface of the low-pass filter (LPF) that’s fitted to the front of the sensor. Similar to Canon’s EOS 400D, a special adhesive strip is located at the base of the sensor assembly to collect the dislodged particles and prevent them from ‘re-offending’. With Pentax recognising the importance of builtin anti-dust measures, this leaves only Nikon – and, by default, Fujifilm – yet to do anything about the problem.

The attraction of body-based image stabilisation is obvious – it can be used with virtually all lenses in a D-SLR system rather than a smaller selection of premium-priced models. Pentax’s Shake Reduction system relies on acquiring the focal length data from the attached lens (primarily to control when it will be automatically activated in relation to the shutter speed being used), but this information can be entered manually. This will be necessary with older lenses which don’t have the data communication connections, and the set-up menu provides a total of 34 focal length settings from 8mm to 800mm.