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Pentax K100D Digital SLR - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 16/12/2006
Rating: Highly Recommended

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Introduction:
Announced on the 22nd of May 2006, the Pentax K100D is a 6.1 megapixel digital SLR camera with a 2.5" screen and built in Shake Reduction sensor - it will accept any Pentax K-Series mount lens and is named after the popular Pentax K1000 film SLR released in the 70s. The SMC Pentax DA 18-55mm lens I tested it with is equivalent to 27-82mm on a 35mm camera. The Pentax K100D is available from around £370 with lens kit making it excellent value for money for a 6 megapixel digital SLR camera with anti-shake sensor. The camera is enclosed in a sturdy body and is available in black. This SLR digital camera does not record video. It is about average size for a digital SLR - the body measures: 129.5mm x 92.5mm x 70mm (without protruding parts), and weighs approx. 560g excluding lens, batteries and media.
Nb. the Pentax K110D is identical, but lacks Shake Reduction.

Pentax have this to say about the camera:

"Developed as a popular-class digital SLR camera, the K100D packs an array of advanced, user-friendly features — including a PENTAX-developed Shake Reduction (SR) system, high-precision autofocus and auto sensitivity control — into a compact, well-balanced body to accommodate a wide range of shooting and playback requirements. Its outstanding overall performance makes high-quality digital SLR photography effortless, fun and exciting for all users in all situations — from casual travel snapshots and memorable family pictures to highly specialized applications. All together, the K100D is a versatile all-around performer for all levels of photographers — from current digital-compact users who want to step up to digital SLR photography, to more experienced, discriminating photographers."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Fujifilm FinePix S9600 / S9100).


Pentax K100D with Pentax strap.


Front - Camera off, lens off. MF / AF switch on right.


Front view - Pentax kit lens on, infra-red reciever, shutter release.


Back - Pop-up flash button, Menu, Delete, Info, Playback, Optical viewfinder, 2.5" screen, zoom, AE-L, 4-way controller, OK middle button, Function button, SD access light, and Shake Reduction On/Off switch.


Top: Power button, reset, shutter release. Av, exposure button, LCD display. Optical viewfinder has a diopter corrector.


Right: SD card slot open. Strap loop.


Bottom - battery compartment, metal tripod mount.


Side view - kit lens: SMC Pentax DA 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 AL - Right: MF/AF switch, Remote link, PC/Video USB link, DC in. Strap loop.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Compared to the Fujifilm FinePix S9600 - a 9 megapixel digital camera with 10.7x optical zoom lens.


Size comparison, compared to the Olympus EVOLT E-400. Another view here.


Compared with the Olympus EVOLT E-400 again but from the back.

Specifications / Features:

  • 6.1 million pixel CCD (23.5mm x 15.7mm)
  • 2.5" TFT screen - 210,000 pixels
  • 11 Point SAFOX VIII autofocus
  • SD memory card compatibility
  • Auto picture mode, scene modes plus shutter and aperture priority modes
  • Shutter speed: 1/4000 - 30 sec. and bulb
  • High speed 2.8 (fps) consecutive shooting
  • ISO: Auto: 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
  • Compatible with pentax lenses
  • High-accuracy AF sensors (Single, continuous or manual focusing)
  • High-precision 16 segment multi-pattern metering

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Pentax Strap
  • Viewfinder Cap
  • USB cable
  • Audio/video cable
  • 4x AA Alkaline Batteries
  • Image viewing and manipulation software CD-ROM
  • Manual on CD-ROM

Average box contents - There is no memory card provided with the camera. Some kind of case would be very useful.

Battery usage: Battery life seemed good, using Lithium AA batteries, I was able to take roughly 400 pictures before the camera displayed a half-battery / battery running low symbol. With high powered (2500mAh) rechargable batteries, battery life is rated at 430 shots. The camera can also be used with a mains supply.

Camera Operation and OptionsThe on/off dial on the right also has the shutter release button and a preview aperture setting. The top left dial selects the camera mode. This allows the choice of the following picture taking modes: Auto PICT, Bulb, Manual, Aperture priority (Av), Shutter priority (Tv), Program, Scene modes (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Moving Object, Night Scene Portrait, flash off, Night scene, Surf and Snow, Text, Sunset, Kids, Pet, Candlelight, Museum).

Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen(s) as shown below:

Record Mode Menu Custom Settings

Rec. Mode menu (above, left) - Image Tone (bright or natural), Recorded Pixels (6M, 4M, 1.5M), Quality Level (***,**,*), Saturation (-2,-1,0,+1,+2), Sharpness (-2..+2), Contrast (-2..+2), Auto Bracket, AE Metering (all, center priority, spot), "Swtch dst msr pt" selects the part of the screen to set focus to, AF mode (single, continuous), Flash exposure compensation, Shake Reduction (sets focal length when using a non-recognised lens).

Custom settings menu (above, right) - Setting, Noise Reduction, exposure setting steps, iso correction in auto, iso sensitivity warning display, link af point and ae, meter operating time, ae-l with af locked, recordable image no, ok button when shooting, ael-button on m exposure, superimpose AF area, af in remote control, FI with S lens used, using aperture ring, release when charging, Preview method, magnification to start zoom playback, man wb measurement, colour space, reset custom function.

Optical viewfinder, display Detailed information - photo mode

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. Detailed information - photo mode (above, right) - shows you current photo settings

Photo Function menu Scene modes

Scene modes: As well as the scene modes on the dial: Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Moving object mode, Night scene portrait, Flash off mode; there are further scene modes available in the SCN position, these are: Night scene, Surf and Snow, Text, Sunset, Kids, Pets (with the choice of taking a picture of a dog or a cat! the manual says "the function is the same, regardless of which icon you choose"), Candlelight, Museum.

The FUNCTION button brings up the option screen as shown above, left, and give you the following options:

Left: White balance (Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent lights - D/N/W, Tungsten, flash, Manual)
Up: Drive (Single frame shooting, Continuous, Self timer: 12, 2 seconds, remote control, remote control 3second delay, Bracket)
Right: ISO (auto, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
Down: Flash mode (auto, manual, autoflash with redeye reduction, manual flash with redeye reduction)

Playback (Review) mode/menu:

Playback mode - some of the screens Playback edit menu (accessed through the function 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, right) - Pressing the function button lets you select between slide show, DPOF and filter options.  Filter options include black and white, sepia, colour, soften, slim (which alters the ratio of width to height), and brightness.  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.

Playback menu Setup menu

Playback menu (above, left) - Playback display method (images, image + histogram, image + detailed info, last memory), Instant review, Preview Display, Digital filter (details above), Slideshow (delay: 3, 5, 10, 30 seconds)

Set-up menu (above, right) - Format, Beep, Date adjust, World time, Language, Guide display, brightness level, video out, transfer mode, auto power off, folder name, file number, sensor cleaning, reset.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures:

Image Size:
Number Stored (128meg SD) / Quality
RAW
Best (***)
Better (**)
Good (*)
6m (3008 x 2008)
11
34
70
117
4m (2400 x 1600)
n/a
51
96
161
1.5m (1536 x 1024)
n/a
106
173
271

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 K100D:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £6.54, 512mb: £7.49, 1gb (1000mb): £14.32, 2gb (2000mb): £24.99
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in less than 1 second (excluding auto-focus time). Focusing is precise and rapid, although slower in low-light.  As expected from a camera of this class, you can take the photo the instant you push the button and then take another in less than a second.  In rapid shot mode (continuous shooting mode) it takes nearly 3 frames per second and will take 5 shots in a row before slowing down.  Flash recharge time is pretty impressive too, taking just over 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 and make it very easy for a beginner to use.  The menus are easy to read and although some are slightly cryptic and a quick read of the manual is required to find out what the option does.  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.  Overall, the camera is well laid out, and logical, which makes using it really straightforward and enjoyable, with some of the more advanced features requiring use of the manual.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc.) 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. The buttons don't seem overly small. 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, thanks to the analog manual focus ring on the kit lens.

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 K100D Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO200) Group photo (ISO200)

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. Exposure was good, however, the flash photos had a tendancy to be slightly under-exposed, I suspect the camera is setup this way to make sure that there are no blown-highlights in areas of white colour. This can be altered using exposure compensation or altering the flash strength.

ISO Noise Test - Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos, and you may use higher ISO settings as light levels get lower, particularly indoors. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200).

Below you'll find the noise test image (taken indoors in low light without the flash, unless otherwise stated), plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 6 megapixel, Fujifilm FinePix F30, (which is currently the benchmark compact camera for noise tests due to it's excellent high ISO performance), and the 10 megapixel Olympus E-400 in order to show the difference between the Pentax K100D Digital SLR and other current digital cameras.

Fujifilm FinePix F30 (6mp) Daylight Pentax K100D (6mp) (Tungsten WB) Olympus E-400 (10mp) (Tungsten WB)

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Pentax K100D in the middle, Fujifilm FinePix F30 on the left, and the 10 megapixel Olympus E-400 on the right. The colour difference is due to automatic white balance unless otherwise stated.

Fujifilm FinePix F30 (6mp) Pentax K100D (6mp) Olympus E-400 (10mp)
 
ISO100 - Actual Pixels (1/4 f3.2) ISO100 - N/A ISO100 - Actual Pixels (1.3s F5.6)
ISO200 - Actual Pixels (1/4 f3.2) ISO200 - Actual Pixels (1.5s F5.6) ISO200 - Actual Pixels (0.62s F5.6)
ISO400 - Actual Pixels (1/8 f3.2) ISO400 - Actual Pixels (0.7s F5.6) ISO400 - Actual Pixels (1/3 F5.6)
ISO800 - Actual Pixels (1/17 f3.2) ISO800 - Actual Pixels (1/3 F5.6) ISO800 - Actual Pixels (1/6 5.6)
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels (1/32 f3.2) ISO1600 - Actual Pixels (1/6 F5.6) ISO1600 - Actual Pixels (1/13 5.6)
 
ISO3200 - Actual Pixels (1/62 f3.2) ISO3200 - Actual Pixels (1/10 F5.6) ISO3200 - N/A

The Pentax K100D has very low noise in the test photos taken at ISO200 to ISO800. Noise is low at ISO1600, and acceptable at ISO3200. Noise is lower than the Olympus E-400, and lower than the Fujifilm FinePix F30. You'll also notice that whilst the F30 displays quite low noise, the K100D's edges are much smoother than the F30's, most likely due to the high levels of image processing applied to the F30 images. The camera has excellent abilities, however choosing the highest 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.

Image Stabilisation: This is the first Pentax Digital SLR to feature in camera image stabilisation, Pentax have implemented an anti-shake CCD sensor, a feature they call "Shake Reduction", this works by moving the CCD sensor to counter any camera shake. The same method of anti-shake is used very successfully in the Konica Minolta 5D, 7D, Sony Alpha A100, and Pentax K10D. It's also used in a number of compact point and shoot cameras, such as the Ricoh Caplio R5. Shake Reduction helps reduce image blur due to low light or long zoom photography. Here are some test photos taken with Shake Reductrion on and off - these photos were taken without flash in low light.

Shake Reduction On Shake Reduction Off
Shake Reduction On (Actual Pixels) Shake Reduction Off (Actual Pixels)

As you can see - image stabilisation can be very effective for low-light / high zoom, slow shutter speed photography helping acheive blur free photos in situations where you normally wouldn't be able to get a sharp image without the aid of a tripod. Both shots were taken at ISO200, with the same shutter and aperture settings, in a room with average indoor lighting. Shake Reduction didn't always work, for example, if the shutter speed was too low and when I introduced too much camera shake.

Outside:

Liverpool shops (ISO200) Red berries (ISO800)

Outside: The camera has rich colour, with good saturation and contrast. There was good detail, and noise was low upto ISO800. The quality was set to maximum to minimise any jpeg artefacts.

Zoom (and lenses): The first kit lens provides a 3x optical zoom starting at wide-angle 18mm (27mm equivalent), zooming to 55mm (82mm equivalent) - it is great for 'normal' everyday photography, but if you want a camera suitable for every situation from wide-angle use to ultra zoom use, then the double zoom kit is worth going for, unless you already have some lenses. The twin lens kit fromis available from £642 - and gives you 27mm - 300mm equivalent. Below you'll find test photos taken with the kit lens. As with all Digital SLRs, digital zoom is not available in camera.

Wide-angle Telephoto Actual pixels

Exposure / metering - The photos of the clock tower seem a little dark in the shadows, because of the very blue sky and lighting, however this can be either compensated for (using EV compensation) or by selecting a different metering mode, the metering can be weighted toward the center of the image. Overall exposure and metering was very good, and was slightly biased towards under-exposure.

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. The shutter sound is quite noticable, and makes a "clack" type of sound. It is slightly louder the the Olympus E-400, and may be a shock to people upgrading from a silent point and shoot digital camera.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing was difficult to detect in the majority of normal photos. In some extreme test cases, by looking closely at the images some fringing might be noticed, for example in the wide-angle clock tower photo.

Macro:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO800)

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, and best results are acheived using this as auto white balance can be a bit hit and miss. The kit lens allows you to be quite close to the subject.

Video mode: The camera does not feature a video mode (as with all current Digital SLRs).

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is excellent, the images have very good colour, with good contrast and detail, with low noise except at the highest ISO settings (ISO1600 and ISO3200). Images were slightly smoothed but this is adjustable within the camera, and detail was very good. Purple fringing was very low with the kit lens, and red-eye was not a problem. The camera was very competent at focusing (except on very plain or dark surfaces). Vignetting in photos was very mild and I did not notice barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a good range of image sizes, and the compression options include a RAW mode. Auto white balance, metering, and exposure seemed to be good to very good, although auto-white balance did struggle in doors (as with most DSLRs). The camera gives very good control over image quality - pressing the menu button lets you change saturation, sharpness, contrast, gamma curve etc. Shake Reduction adds image stabilisation to every lens attached to the camera, and helps acheive blure free photos in low light meaning that the camera has a very good photo success rate. (9/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is stylish with a black body. The camera has good 2.5" screen, with good resolution. The camera feels sturdy and is very comfortable to hold, although it could be considered slightly bulky compared to some of the smaller DSLRs. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a good layout of buttons and controls, although some of the more advanced options may take a little time to get to through the menu system - it is recommended that you spend more time with the manual to ensure you gain the most benefit from these features. The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, rapid focusing time, excellent shutter response, rapid flash recharge time, quick playback mode, quick menus, and good continuous shooting. The camera has a large range of features, including RAW support, bulb-mode, night photography and some playback photo manipulation features. Built in Shake Reduction is a very useful addition. Battery life is good but dependant on your choice of batteries and how much you use the flash. (9/10)

Value for Money: The Pentax K100D from around £369 including lens kit, is excellent value for money - cheaper than nearly every other digital SLR available, it also includes an anti-shake sensor, meaning that every lens you use with this camera will benefit from anti-shake. The Pentax K100D will accept any Pentax mount lenses, new and old, including old M42 mount lenses (with an adapter). The Pentax K110D lacks built in shake-reduction and should be available for less than the K100D, however, the savings are likely to be so small, that in my opinion you would be better sticking with the K100D. Other digital SLR cameras offering similar features and controls are available for slightly more money, include the Nikon D40 and Nikon D50 with lens available for around £450, and £400 respectively. Slightly more expensive again is the 10 megapixel Canon EOS 400D / Digital Rebel XTi,  Olympus EVOLT E-400, Nikon D80, Sony Alpha A100 and Pentax K10D, however only the Sony Alpha A100and Pentax K10D feature an anti-shake sensor. (9/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Pentax K100D 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 good battery life, with very good controls and good build quality. The addition of Shake Reduction through an anti-shake CCD sensor means more photos are likely to come out blur free - image stabilisation is an excellent feature to have and is especially useful indoors in low light. Professional photographers might want to compare the camera with other DSLR cameras before purchase, as some may find the camera's features and options slightly limiting. The K100D with kit lens is available for around £369 making this camera excellent value for money and definitely one of the best budget Digital SLRs available today!

Pentax K100D DSLR Rating: Highly Recommended (9/10)
Available for £500 or Get the best price below!

What I like:

  • Built in Shake Reduction Anti-Shake Sensor for blur free low-light photos
  • Low noise at all ISO settings (apart from the highest ISO settings)
  • Easy to use - AUTO mode, Scene modes especially useful for beginners
  • Excellent image quality - difficult to detect any artefacts
  • Sturdy, compact body
  • Good exposure options
  • Good kit lens
  • Good colour (highly saturated with good options)
  • Good handling - comfortable hand grip
  • Excellent value for money - one of the cheapest 6 megapixel Digital SLRs available

What I don't like:

  • Does not feature anti-dust sensor, having an anti-shake sensor normally means it can be implemented easily into the camera (eg Sony A100, etc).
  • Meaningless menu items such as "Swtch dst msr pt", and unexplained icons (Image Tone looks like you are choosing between having a colourful image or a black and white image, whereas you are really choosing between high contrast / sharpness and natural colour) - you have to read the manual to get the most out of the camera.
  • Limited flash options - does not feature "Flash slow" mode like other cameras
  • Auto White Balance poor indoors, and option to choose one of the presets unavailable in Auto modes.

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Pentax K100D Sample Photo Gallery.

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