Pentax has long been known for making solid entry-level DSLRs. Its latest, the K-r ($710, street, with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens), shows a noticeable improvement over the popular K-x it replaces, and continues a newer Pentaxian trend: colorful DSLRs. It is available in red, white, and the traditional black.
Of course, with style must also come performance, and during its time in the Popular Photography Test Lab and out in the ﬁeld, the K-r proved that it's got plenty of substance to back up its fashion sense.
In the Lab
With its overall Image Quality rating of Extremely High from ISO 100 through ISO 800, the K-r goes the distance against heavy hitters such as Nikon's D3100 ($580, street, with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens). In fact, the 12.4MP K-r delivers only 80 fewer lines per picture height in our resolution test than the 14.2MP Nikon. The K-r got 2270 lines, compared to the Nikon's 2350.
What's more impressive: The K-r held that resolution ﬁrm up to ISO 3200. Canon's EOS Rebel T2i offers stiffer competition with 2555 lines, but it also costs more ($780, street, with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens) and uses an 18MP sensor.
The K-r receives top honors in Color Accuracy, with an Excellent rating, thanks to an average Delta E of 7.4 from 8-bit or 16-bit TIFF ﬁles. Both the D3100 and T2i also scored Excellent in this test, as do most DSLRs these days.
Given these different pixel counts, noise is a salient topic. The K-r keeps it Low or better up to ISO 800, as do the Canon and Nikon. Above that, the Pentax bests them both: At ISO 3200 noise from the K-r remains at a Moderate rating with a 2.5, while the D3100 and T2i rated Unacceptable.
And at ISO 6400 and above, all three received Unacceptable scores in our tests, though the Pentax remains at least a half-point ahead at each stop—and its sensitivity reaches ISO 25,600, a level that neither the Canon nor Nikon offer.
Autofocus is a similar story. The K-r includes Pentax’s new SAFOX IX AF system. Although it has the same 11-point array as its predecessor, it performed better in our lab tests, focusing in less than a second all the way down to EV 1; the K-x did so only down to EV 2. Furthermore, the new Pentax either beats Nikon’s D3100 or remains within two hundredths of a second at all light levels in our tests except EV –1 , the dimmest light in which the two cameras were able to focus.
The K-r is faster than the Canon in bright light and slower in dim light. From EV 12, the brightest level in our test and tantamount to full midday sun, through EV 6 the equivalent of a well-lit interior, the K-r focuses faster. At EV 4 and below, though, the Canon locks on its target ﬁrst, and it can focus in the darkness of EV -2, while the Pentax (like the Nikon) fails to focus in such dim environs. In this case Canon's extra cost gets you something useful.
In the Field
A very comfortable grip, with a particularly well-deﬁned notch for your middle ﬁnger, makes the Pentax K-r a pleasure to hold. Despite the solid feel of its stainless-steel chassis, it's not extensively weathersealed.
Pentax makes good use of the relatively few buttons on the K-r's body. Menu-navigation buttons serve double duty for access to drive mode, ISO, white balance, and ﬂash settings. As usual with Pentax, the ﬂash menu screen lets you change output in addition to ﬂash mode.
Then there's the LCD-based control panel, accessed by pressing the Info button. Its icons let you change any setting you'll need during regular shooting situations, such as sensor-shift image stabilization or AF or metering modes.
Burst shooters, take note: The K-r ups the ante for entry-level cameras with its 6-fps burst shooting. It captures up to 25 JPEGs or 12 RAW shots at that pace.