Our AF recommendations? When shooting action, use continuous autofocus with the camera selecting the AF point; use single focus and the center sensor for still scenes (when you can autofocus on the main subject), then recompose while holding the shutter release halfway down. We found the advantages of nine cross sensors most evident in fast-moving action scenes; the crosses locked onto subjects with far greater tenacity than could a mixture of crosses and single-line sensors, or purely single-line sensors. Such an advanced AF system on a camera at this price level is remarkable.
The *ist's exposure system is quite comprehensive, with the traditional program (a smiling face on the mode dial), aperture- and shutter-priority autoexposure, and manual exposure. Unlike many other AF SLRs, evaluative metering, centerweighted, or spot can be had in all modes, but it's too bad that the program mode isn't shiftable. You cannot shift the exposure up or down to take advantage of a different shutter speed or aperture than what the program sets.
We've often written about the subject modes on cameras, which let you set exposure for what the camera considers best for portraits, scenics, close-ups, action, or night pictures; you do better determining your own exposure (except for night shots in which the long exposures with flash do come in handy). The green Auto Picture Mode goes one automatic step further. It picks and sets the subject mode depending upon subject distance and magnification. This process is fascinating to watch as the subject symbols light up differently, according to the picture-taking situation. This auto pic mode is great for tyros who know little about photography and are not interested in learning more. Our opinion, again: make your own exposures.
While some of the Pentax *ist's custom functions have to do with changing the actions of particular switches and buttons, a number of them are of major import. CF 11 allows the film leader to remain out after rewinding-important if you intend to reuse an unfinished roll of film.
Camera shake at slow speeds, caused by rapid-return mirror movement, produces blurry pictures. So we were pleased that Custom Function 12 locks up the mirror when the self-timer is set to two sec instead of the usual 12. Two seconds is enough time to minimize mirror shake before exposure. Autofocus points and proper exposure with evaluative metering are not normally linked, but CF 3 automatically adjusts the exposure to the operating focus point, a useful function.
The built-in databack is both good and bad. While it's a nice feature, the data mechanism is powered by the camera's CR2 batteries. So guess what happens each time you change batteries? You lose date and time, and must set them again.
Databacks with their own slim lithium power cell are preferable, but they add cost, bulk, and weight.