Camera Test: Pentax K100D Super

The newest DSLR from Pentax is a whole lot like its 6.1MP K100D, but with some special powers.

Camera-Test-Pentax-K100D-Super

Camera-Test-Pentax-K100D-Super

Here's the Pentax K100D Super ($520, street, body only; $600 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Pentax DA lens), which represents a major upgrade for the Pentax line.

Notice we didn't say it was a major upgrade to the previous camera, the 6.1MP K100D. The new model adds three things: a self-cleaning sensor (nice, but hardly earth-shattering), a slot for high-capacity SDHC cards (ditto), and the ability to exploit the new SDM lenses -- the real news. These lenses have built-in ultrasonic motors for faster and dramatically quieter autofocusing, plus manual focusing that can be touched up at any time. So Pentax finally joins other manufacturers (notably Nikon) in going to motorized lenses.

But first, the camera: The K100D Super is the latest in a slowly evolving line that goes back to the *ist DS of 2004, and as such feels like an old friend. The ergonomics are excellent, the body is pleasantly light but very solid-feeling, and the pentamirror viewfinder is bright, with both Excellent tested accuracy and Excellent (though just barely) tested magnification.

We ran the full battery of Pop Photo Lab tests on the camera, this time using RAW capture, and got results nearly the same as those of its predecessor. Resolution went up a notch, to 1590 average lines from 1520, maintaining an Extremely High rating. Color accuracy improved just enough to get an Excellent rating. And noise numbers were virtually unchanged -- and they were good numbers to start. At ISO 1600, for example, the camera produced Moderately Low noise, but still managed to maintain Extremely High resolution.

Back when all consumer DSLRs were 6MP, imaging performance like this would have garnered raves. But consumer DSLRs have gone beyond 6MP, even in this price range (consider the 8MP Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT). The K100D Super does have sensor-shift image stabilization, which will work with any lens that mounts on the camera. This gives it something of a price advantage over equivalent models from Canon (the Rebel XT) and Nikon (the D40), which use lens-based image stabilization. But 6.1MP is still pretty skimpy.

In tests using our DxO Analyzer 2.0 software, the Pentax Shake Reduction system produced an advantage of up to 2 stops, with the shakiest shooters gaining the most advantage. A good result, to be sure, but we have found that quite a few stabilized lenses can beat that.

The SR system also serves to self-clean the sensor: The camera's low-pass filter is coated with a fluorine compound that helps keep dust from sticking to its surface. When the camera is turned on, or on demand, the sensor vibrates at high speed to knock loose any dust, which is collected on an adhesive strip below.

The K100D Super's firmware allows the body to electronically signal focusing information to an SDM lens, which uses its own internal motor to focus rather than the camera's AF drive shaft. To its credit, Pentax also equipped SDM lenses with a drive-shaft coupling, so they can be used on any older Pentax AF body, albeit with the noisy, old-style AF. (The firmware on another recent Pentax model, the 10MP K10D, can be upgraded to use the SDM focusing.)

We had a chance to use this camera with the new 16-50mm f/2.8 SMPC-DA* ED AL IF SDM zoom ($900, street), and what a difference the built-in motor makes! We were particularly impressed with the manual focusing, which is nearly as well damped as on a classic manual lens. Pentax has also introduced a 50-135mm f/2.8 SMPC-DA* ED IF SDM zoom ($1,000, street). More are sure to follow.

While we've criticized the K100D in the past for relegating most controls to the menus, we've accepted that such cameras aren't meant for control freaks like us. With the K100D Super set to Program, it's a simple pleasure to use -- a point-and-shoot with great viewing. The basic controls are accessed easily enough using the function button, and the autofocus finds the subject readily, with little fuss.

Still, the economics here are questionable. The Canon Rebel XT is similarly priced, and 10MP DSLRs like the Sony Alpha 100 aren't that far up the price scale.

And if you have a bagful of Pentax lenses? Well, there's a sensational 10MP model that can use them all, and it's only a couple hundred dollars more than the K100D Super. It's called the Pentax K10D.

Imaging: 6.1MP (effective) CCD sensor captures 6MP images (3008x2000 pixels) with 12 bits/color in RAW mode.
Storage: SD and SDHC cards. Stores JPEG or RAW files.
Burst rate: Up to 5 JPEGs at 2.8 fps.
AF system: 11 selectable AF zones with red activation lights. Single-shot and continuous AF with fore-aft and across-the-frame tracking. Sensitive down to EV -1 (at ISO 100, f/1.4).
Shutter speeds: 1/4000 to 30 sec plus B (1/3- or 1/2-EV increments).
Image stabilization: Sensor-based, works with all lenses.
Metering: TTL metering with 16-zone evaluative metering, centerweighted, and spotmetering (approx. 4% of viewfinder). EV 1-21.5 (at ISO 200).
ISO range: 200-3200 (in 1-EV increments).
Flash: Built-in pop-up unit with P-TTL autoflash, GN 51 (ISO 200, feet), covers 18mm lens. Flash sync at 1/180 sec. Dedicated hot-shoe.
Viewfinder: Eye-level, fixed pentamirror.
LCD: 2.5-in. TFT with 210,000-pixel resolution.
Output: Hi-Speed USB 2.0 and video. PictBridge compatible.
Batteries: Four AAs or two CRV3 lithiums.
Size/weight: 5.1x3.7x3.2 in., 1.48 lb with card and batteries.
Street price: $520, body only; $600 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Pentax DA lens.
For info: www.pentax.com.

VIEWFINDER TEST
Accuracy:96% (Excellent)
Magnification: 0.85X (Excellent)

COMPETITIVE SET

• Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT ($550, street, with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens): The older, 8MP Rebel enjoys the advantage of more megapixels: Excellent resolution. Plus, the Reb's color accuracy is a hair better. But it loses on noise -- Unacceptable by ISO 1600 -- and lacks ISO 3200 outright.

• Nikon D40 ($525, street, with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G lens): The littlest Nikon has slightly less tested resolution and about the same color accuracy as the Pentax, but it's the noise champ -- Extremely Low at ISO 1600. It has a faster but more rudimentary 3-point AF system.

CERTIFIED TEST RESULTS

Pentax-K100D-Super-Even-shooting-outside-in-dayli

Pentax-K100D-Super-Even-shooting-outside-in-dayli

Even shooting outside in daylight, it pays to have in-camera stabilization like that in the Pentax K100D Super. When the weather turns dark and gray, just turn on the stabilization.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Pentax-K100D-Super-Shooting-with-the-Pentax-K100D

Pentax-K100D-Super-Shooting-with-the-Pentax-K100D

Shooting with the Pentax K100D Super inside Dylan's Candy Bar, New York City's modern day Willy Wonka Factory, proved nearly as exciting as watching the movie. Slow shutter speeds weren't a problem with in-camera image stabilization.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Pentax-K100D-Super-Using-a-shutter-speed-of-1-6-s

Pentax-K100D-Super-Using-a-shutter-speed-of-1-6-s

Using a shutter speed of 1/6 sec combined with the flash resulted in a slight ghosting effect on people walking around the candy counter.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Pentax-K100D-Super-The-Pentax-did-a-great-job-cap

Pentax-K100D-Super-The-Pentax-did-a-great-job-cap

The Pentax did a great job capturing the bright and saturated colors. 1/6 sec, ISO 400.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Pentax-K100D-Super-The-small-flash-atop-the-Penta

Pentax-K100D-Super-The-small-flash-atop-the-Penta

The small flash atop the Pentax was more than enough to light big lollipops.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Pentax-K100D-Super-Shot-at-ISO-400-with-a-shutter

Pentax-K100D-Super-Shot-at-ISO-400-with-a-shutter

Shot at ISO 400 with a shutter speed of 1/60 sec, the picture shows very little noise.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Pentax-K100D-Super-Every-color-and-every-candy-im

Pentax-K100D-Super-Every-color-and-every-candy-im

Every color and every candy imaginable. 1/100 sec at f/5.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Pentax-K100D-Super-Every-flavor-from-Jelly-Belly

Pentax-K100D-Super-Every-flavor-from-Jelly-Belly

Every flavor, from Jelly Belly to Pina Colada and Chocolate Pudding to Dr. Pepper. 1/5 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Pentax-K100D-Super-Take-a-seat-at-the-candy-bar-f

Pentax-K100D-Super-Take-a-seat-at-the-candy-bar-f

Take a seat at the candy bar for some ice cream. With image stabilization, we could use a shutter speed of 1/13 sec for good depth of field at f/11.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Pentax-K100D-Super-It-got-darker-and-darker-as-th

Pentax-K100D-Super-It-got-darker-and-darker-as-th

It got darker and darker as the day wore on, but we just switched on the stabilization and slowed down the shutter speed to 1/13 sec.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Pentax-K100D-Super-No-extra-light-needed-with-ima

Pentax-K100D-Super-No-extra-light-needed-with-ima

No extra light needed with image stabilization. 1/13 sec at f/5, ISO 400.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Pentax-K100D-Super-One-of-the-coolest-things-in-t

Pentax-K100D-Super-One-of-the-coolest-things-in-t

One of the coolest things in this store wasn't edible -- a multi-colored bike made by Ed Haas in Austria.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Pentax-K100D-Super-Dylan-s-chocolate-bars-at-Dyla

Pentax-K100D-Super-Dylan-s-chocolate-bars-at-Dyla

Dylan's chocolate bars at Dylan's Candy Bar. 1/13 sec at f/4.5, ISO 400.Photo By Linzee Karasik
Pentax-K100D-Super-Pre-packaged-and-wrapped-bags

Pentax-K100D-Super-Pre-packaged-and-wrapped-bags

Pre-packaged and wrapped bags of goodies for those on the run. 1/13 sec at f/8, ISO 400.Photo By Linzee Karasik
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