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Pentax *ist DL
Digital SLR - Digital Camera Review
Pentax have this to say about the camera:
"The *ist DL is the smallest digital SLR with the
largest LCD in its class offered at a very affordable price.
Anyone seeking simplicity of operation and a large LCD monitor will
appreciate the *ist DL."
You can find more information on their website.
The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Olympus SP-320)
Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.
Specifications / Features:
Average box contents - There is no memory card provided with the camera. Some kind of case would be very useful. Tested with SMC Pentax DA 18 - 55mm F3.5 - 5.6 AL Kit lens, equivalent to ~28 - 90mm in 35mm terms.
Battery usage: Battery life seemed good, using (AA rechargable) batteries, I was able to take about 100 pictures before the camera displayed "battery depleted". With higher powered rechargable batteries, battery life should be even better. The camera can also be used with a mains supply.
Operation and Options:
Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen(s) as shown below:
menu (above, left)
settings menu (above, right)
- photo mode (above, left)
- shows you current photo settings
button brings up the option screen as shown above, left, and give you
the following options:
Optical / Electronic Viewfinder: In common with other digital SLR cameras, there is no electronic viewfinder. The optical viewfinder is clear and has a range of useful indicators located along the bottom which tell you how fast the shutter speed is and whether it agrees with your manual focus.
Playback (Review) mode/menu:
Screen / LCD display in play mode: (shown above, left) The screen resolution with 210,000 pixels is good and pictures look clear on it. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. The camera can display a review of your picture showing the over-exposed regions.
Playback mode: Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is quick. Zooming in is very quick and magnifies the image up to 12x. Zooming out shows 9 images at a time as thumbnails. Pressing the down arrow rotates the image 90 degrees. Further photo information (shown above, right) is available by pressing the info button (histogram and then image information).
Playback function menu (above, left) - Pressing the function button lets you select between slide show, DPOF and filter options. Filter options include black and white, sepia, soften and slim (which alters the ratio of width to height). In playback mode, the trashcan button deletes images and the lock button prevents this. In both cases you need to confirm the action before it happens.
menu (above, right)
Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures:
As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended. Having said that, the larges JPG images recorded by this camera were rarely above 3mb and so hundreds of images can be recorded onto a 512mb card.
A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to be away from a computer for a long time (such as when going on holiday) then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in. This camera takes only secure digital memory. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Pentax *ist DL:
Find the latest
prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £9.11,
1gb (1000mb): £29.99,
2gb (2000mb): £54.49
Speed: The camera is quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in less time than it takes to remember to take the lens cap off - and focusing is precise and rapid. As expected from a camera of this class, you can take the photo the instant you push the button and then take another in about a second. In rapid shot mode it takes two shots per second. Flash recharge time is pretty impressive too, taking about a second. Playback mode is quick, and its easy to zoom in on your last shot and check for blur with the zoom control. Moving from picture to picture is quick but you can also get an overview of 9 shots at a time if you zoom out one more notch. Moving around the different menu options is rapid and clear.
Ease of use: Surprisingly for a camera of this complexity, the camera is easy to get to grips with. The majority of the useful functions are located in logical places and so little use of the manual was required except for advanced functions. The AUTO mode is obviously the most straight-forward and the other scene modes are well explained in the manual. The menus are easy to read and understand and the only complicated section (a list of seldom used overrides) are easily re-set. In addition to the viewfinder display, there is also a helpful LCD display which lets you know how many shots you have left, what the current shutter speed would be, whether the battery is about to die on you. So in summary, the camera is well laid out, and logical, which makes using it really straightforward and enjoyable.
Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc.) Firstly I have to say I was impressed with how easy the camera is to hold, even with only one hand, even in less than ideal conditions - It has a rubber grip for right handed people which meant I could hold it completely securely with one hand. The buttons were easy to reach although advanced users may find changing aperture, overriding compensation and doing a focus lock shot all at once a little tricky (but not impossible). The buttons of use are all within easy reach and in logical positions. Not having to go through menu screens to turn off auto-focus or use the flash makes using the camera so natural. It is possible that you could find some of the buttons on the back a little small, and the shutter release is hard and shiny. I thought the camera felt very good ergonomically, with an excellent size hand-grip. The mode dial is unobtrusive and the shutter release, zoom, focus lock are very well positioned. The camera feels like a solid, robust and well-built camera and I am especially impressed with the ease of use of the manual focus.
Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Pentax *ist DL Sample Photo Gallery!
Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo, and there is none in other group photos. It has a decent flash, and copes well with group photos, and on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept at the lowest setting in these photos. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time even in low-light. Colour is richly saturated.
In outdoor daylight photography where
there is enough light entering the camera it is
not necessary to take photos at slow shutter speeds. As the
amount of light entering the camera is reduced, shutter speed
can be decreased upto a point where it becomes difficult to hold the
camera steady and take a photograph without blur. Higher ISO
settings permit an increase in shutter
speed (hence why it is 'faster film') but this is with an expected
trade-off in quality. For digital cameras this can result in
more noisy picture and possibly other artefacts.
Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 6 megapixel, Fujifilm FinePix F10. Note that all these images are under exposed in order to more easily detect the limitations of the cameras.
ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off . Pentax *ist DL on the left, Fujifilm Finepix F10 on the right. The colour difference is due to automatic white balance.
The lower ISO
photos show that the Fuji camera is better at picking out detail, while
the Pentax has a smoother image, even though the megapixel rating of the
two cameras is approximately comparable. At ISO400 the Fuji camera
is beginnning to show some noise while the Pentax image is still clear.
As we increase the ISO, the Fuji noise becomes even clearer. At
ISO1600 the words MINI COOPER are still visible on the Pentax while this
is illegible on the Fuji. And finally, the Pentax has an even
higher ISO setting, where some of the limitations of high ISO photography
begin to be aparent. Although not obvious, there is loss of sensitivity
and solid areas of colour start to appear blotchy. The camera has
excellent abilities, however choosing the higher ISO settings will
sacrifice some final image quality. At the other end of the spectrum,
it should be obvious that nothing has been sacrificed in terms of quality
by not providing an ISO100 mode. ISO200 shots are at least as good
as the best the Fujifilm F10 can produce.
Outside: The camera has rich colour, with good saturation and contrast. There was good detail. Noise was low in ISO200 photos. The quality was set to maximum to minimise any jpeg artefacts.
The Pentax DA lens provides an excellent zoom
range. Other lenses are available.
Lens noise and zoom: The lens is silent in operation except for motorized focus which is still relatively quiet. The lens gives excellent control over how you frame your subject.
Other Image Quality issues:
Purple fringing was difficult to detect in any normal photos.
In some extreme test cases, by looking closely at the images some
fringing might be noticed but this was not visible in test photos.
The manual focus ring allows you to get very good, close-up, detailed macro photos. Custom white balance is also an option with this camera, but auto white balance does a good job in artificial light situations.
Video mode: The camera does not feature a video mode.
Summary: The Pentax *ist DL Digital SLR is a great digital camera. It feels very comfortable in hand, and produces very natural pictures with little noise and rich pleasing colours. This camera is very easy to use (in auto mode), and would definitely suit a beginner. The camera offers adequate battery life, with very good controls and good build quality. I would recommend this camera to anyone who wants great control without the hassle. Professional photographers might want to compare the camera with other professional DSLR cameras before purchase. If you like SLR cameras but want to stop worrying about film, this is well worth considering.
What I like:
What I don't like:
Additional Test Images are viewable in the Pentax *ist DL Sample Photo Gallery.