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Pentax K-30 Review

by Shawn Barnett, and Zig Weidelich
Hands-on Preview: May 21, 2012
Full Review:

Two factors stand out to make the Pentax K-30 worth a closer look: One: it's weather resistant so you can take the K-30 out on your next adventure without concern for water, dust, or cold damage. Two: you won't have to guess how much extra image area you're going to capture, because Pentax says the pentaprism optical viewfinder is close to 100% accurate. You won't find either on the competition for US$849 body-only. Granted, to make it fully water-resistant, you have to buy one of Pentax's WR lenses, like the US$530 waterproof lens shown at right if you don't already have one, and that raises the price a bit. (Although you can get that lens in a kit with the K-30 body for only $350; an 18-55mm WR sells separately for around US$200.)

And yes, I did say the Pentax K-30 has a pentaprism viewfinder, not merely a pentamirror. So not only is the view nearly 100%--it's also bright and clear.

Before I started looking at pictures of the Pentax K30, I didn't notice its more aggressive graphical treatment, particularly in the front. I only noticed its good, rubbery front grip, its nicely ramped thumbgrip, and its resemblance to the K5 in terms of feel and operation. The K-5, of course, is metal, and the Pentax K30 is polycarbonate. Controls are also fewer on the K30, and there's no Status LCD on the top, so by design its major competition is the Canon Rebel and Nikon D3200.

Dimensions are only slightly smaller than the K5, measuring 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8 inches, but it's a fair bit lighter. With battery, the K-30 body weighs 23 ounces (1.44 pounds; 652g). With the 18-135mm lens (shown above) attached, the Pentax K-30 is still well-balanced, but a good bit heavier, weighing 38.4 ounces (2.4 pounds; 1088g). Overall feel is substantial, if not as rock-solid as the K5 or K7.

Pentax is also offering a white model, pictured above with the 18-55mm kit lens (although a water-resistant version is available, Pentax has chosen to bundle a non-WR version), as well as a Crystal blue model, for those into a different look. The unique styling stands out more in these latter two colors, but is hardly noticeable in the black version. The black grip area is soft to the touch, and the inner grip and left side grip are softer, slicker rubber.

Unlike the K5, the Pentax K-30 has only the one infrared port embedded into the grip; a red lamp also flashes from the top of this window while the self-timer ticks down. Just beneath the shutter button is the front command dial, but surprisingly it's not the only command dial on this consumer-oriented digital SLR camera--there's another on the rear panel. Under the arch between the grip and pentaprism housing lies a green lamp that shines when needed for AF assist.

Shown here in Crystal blue, again with the 18-55mm kit lens, the left side of the Pentax K30 shows the mechanical flash pop-up button, RAW/Function button, and the AF mode switch. Between the latter two is a unique grip area; I joked with Pentax that this and the one on the other side were the ram-jet air intakes, being the smart-aleck that I am, but we agreed that they could serve as a finger grip while changing lenses in certain circumstances.

The main reason I included this shot, though, was to bring up the unusual overhang, covering the Pentax logo. I've heard that it's designed to serve as a grip of sorts. I have found myself grabbing SLRs by the pentaprism housing for some reason, and while I haven't found the overhang more useful for this purpose than many others, it does provide more to grip than does the company's flagship K-5. Sadly, it doesn't raise the Pentax K-30's flash higher, as that doesn't start until about 5/8-inch down from the top of the flash where there's more room for the width of the strobe.

Getting back to basic black, also with the 18-135mm lens, the Pentax K-30's top-deck features are few. I love their choice of wide strap lugs for a cloth-to-metal interface, preferred over the noisy metal D-rings for video. Two holes atop the pentaprism mark the position of the monaural mic, and though it's difficult to see, a cluster of seven holes on the right of the pentaprism housing mark the location of the speaker. A burly Mode dial offers a good amount of stiffness to resist accidental changes, and the Shutter button is ringed by the Power switch. Again we see the front command dial, and the Exposure compensation and Green "re-center" button, great for bringing EV and other exposure adjustments back to what the camera would choose.

The Live View button on the top left shoulder is positioned oddly--it's more typical to find them on the right side of the camera--but it works just fine. What the K30 has that most cameras at this price point don't is an additional control dial, allowing users to make adjustments to both aperture (front dial) and shutter speed (rear dial) when in Manual mode. Even in Program mode, the camera will adjust these two parameters, highlighting each as you turn either dial. Controls are about the same as on the K-r, though they've moved around a bit, and the navigation cluster is a little larger than on the K-r, thankfully.

To the right you can see the SD card door, quite obviously sealed against water (see photo below), and below that is a rubber door, also well-sealed, for the remote control unit. Overall, the Pentax K-30 looks like the K-r all grown up.

 

Pentax K-30 Technical Info

The Pentax K-30 is based around much the same APS-C CMOS image sensor seen in the K-01 compact system camera, itself a development of that in the flagship K-5 DSLR.

Resolution is 16 megapixels, and ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 12,800 equivalents, expandable to ISO 25,600.

The K-30 uses the same Pentax PRIME M image processor as the K-01. Compared to the PRIME II chip in the K-5, PRIME M allows a faster live view refresh rate of 60 fps, and H.264 compression instead of Motion JPEG for high-def video. Burst shooting is slightly slower than the K-5, at six frames per second for 8 raw or 30 JPEG frames.

As you'd expect, the K-30 retains Pentax's KAF2 bayonet lens mount, and is compatible with a vast selection of KA, KAF, and KAF3 lenses.

While SDM autofocus is supported, power zoom--a feature of a few older Pentax lenses--is not.

Of course, you can also use third-party K-mount lenses and various mount adapters for an even wider range of lens options.

The K-30 also includes a sensor shift-type Shake Reduction system with rotational compensation capability. Where recent Pentax SLRs were rated for a four-stop correction, the K-30 is said to be good for three stops.

The SR system is also used for dust reduction, instead of a dedicated piezoelectric element. In concert with the K-30's dual-axis level, it can also automatically correct tilted horizons at capture time.

A new iteration of Pentax's SAFOX autofocus module debuts in the K-30, now called SAFOX IXi+. Compared to the SAFOX IX+ chip in the K-5, this is said to offer better accuracy and efficiency, thanks to new algorithms and a diffraction lens that better corrects for chromatic aberration. Working range is EV -1 to 18 at ISO 100.

A dedicated LED lamp nestled next to the lens mount provides for autofocus assist, when trying to focus on nearby subjects in low-light conditions.

In still-image Live View, the K-30 now offers a focus peaking function, for more accurate manual focusing.

One of the most impressive points in the K-30's design is its viewfinder. Pretty-much all cameras in this class use pentamirror viewfinders. For the K-30, Pentax has chosen a brighter, more accurate pentaprism design.

With 0.92x magnification, ~100% coverage, and an interchangeable Natural-Bright-Matte III focusing screen, it's basically the same as that in the K-5.

Nestled beneath the viewfinder is an LCD panel, which is similar to that in the K-5, but brighter and less warm. The wide-angle display has a 4:3 aspect ratio, a diagonal of 3.0 inches, and an anti-reflective coating.

Total resolution is approximately 921,000 dots, which roughly equates to a VGA array with each pixel comprised of separate red, green, and blue dots.

As you'd expect, the K-30 includes a built-in popup flash strobe with 28mm coverage. The guide number of 12 meters at ISO 100 is just slightly lower than that of the K-5. X-sync is still at 1/180 second.

For external flash strobes, there's both a P-TTL compatible hot shoe, and support for wireless off-camera flash.

Unlike the K-5, the K-30 doesn't include a PC socket for studio strobes, however.

The K-30 offers a rich selection of exposure modes, typical of a Pentax digital SLR. These go beyond the ubiquitous PASM modes to include more unusual options such as sensitivity priority, shutter and aperture priority (which lets you set both variables and have the camera set the exposure with the sensitivity), and Hyper Program / Hyper Manual. There's also a Scene mode, and two user modes.

Exposures are metered with a 77-segment metering system as in the K-5, with a working range of EV0 to 22 (ISO 100, 50mm, f/1.4). Metering modes include 77-segment multiple, center-weighted, and spot, and a healthy +- 5.0 EV of exposure compensation is available, in 1/3 or 12 EV steps.

Shutter speeds range from 1/6,000 to 30 seconds, plus bulb. White balance options include Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent (D, N, W, L), Tungsten, Flash, Color Temperature Enhancement, plus 3 Kelvin and 3 Manual positions. A 15 step amber/blue and green/magenta adjustment is available.

Creative options include in-camera HDR imaging with microalignment, three-frame bracketing, interval, and multi-exposure, as well as a healthy selection of Custom Image settings and digital filter effects.

One of the main areas where the Pentax K-30 offers a significant advantage over the company's flagship model is in its video capture capabilities. The wide selection of frame rates contrasts with the K-5, which had a fixed rate of 25 fps for Full HD, and a choice of 25 or 30 fps at lower resolutions. The K-30 provides a selection of 24, 25, or 30 fps at Full HD and VGA resolutions, and adds 50 or 60 fps modes for 720p from matching sensor data rates. Movies are also recorded in .MOV containers using H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC compression, rather than the inefficient (but high-quality) Motion JPEG of the K-5. There's also an audio gain control. All that's really missing versus the flagship camera is an external microphone jack.

The other main selling point of the Pentax K-30 compared to cameras in its price bracket is its extensive weather sealing. 81 seals throughout plus a coldproof design allow use in damp, dusty, or sub-freezing conditions.

In this shot of the K-30's flash card compartment door--it accepts SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards--you can see the large rubber seal on the door itself, designed to prevent ingress of dust and water.

The Pentax K-30 includes a USB 2.0 High Speed data port, standard definition composite NTSC / PAL video output, and a connector for a wired remote release. (There's also an infrared wireless remote receiver in the hand grip.) Unlike the K-5, there's no high-def video output or external microphone jack.

Power comes courtesy of a bundled D-LI109 lithium ion rechargeable battery, or the same D-BH109 battery holder used by the Pentax K-r. This continues the company's lengthy run as the only manufacturer still providing for standard AA batteries in the camera body itself, rather than in a separate battery grip.

The Pentax K-30 went on sale in the US market from July 2012. Pricing is set at around US$850 body-only, or US$900 with a DA L 18-55mm kit zoom lens. (That puts the latter at a premium of only $50, impressive even given that it's a DA L lens with plastic mount.) Kits with the DA 18-135mm ED AL (IF) DC WR lens retail for about US$1,200.

Three body colors are available: the typical black version akin to most any SLR, as well as eye-catching Crystal Blue and Crystal White versions. The latter options ship with a standard black lens in their kit forms.

Pentax K-30 Shooter's Report

by

The Pentax K-30's images generally have pleasing color and good exposure. I did have to dial in a little negative exposure compensation for this particular shot to match my memory, but that's to be expected given the shady subject.

Ever since it was announced last May, I've been excited to get my hands on the brand-new Pentax K-30. The company's entry-level models may occasionally have stumbled, but Pentax has consistently turned out some really great mid-range and enthusiast cameras over the last several years. Although the K-30 is currently Pentax's most affordable SLR, its pricing places it in the mid-range market, competing with cameras like the Canon T4i, Nikon D5100, and Sony A65. (Body-only, the Canon sells for the exact same price, while the Nikon is about $50 cheaper, and the Sony some $50 more expensive.)

On paper at least, the Pentax K-30 shows great promise, with a weather-sealed body, a pentaprism viewfinder with ~100% coverage, and twin control dials. These are all features that Pentax's rivals reserve for their more expensive cameras. To get a similar feature set, you have to step up to a Canon 60D, Nikon D7000, or Sony A77, cameras which sell for about US$250-550 more than Pentax's model. That makes the K-30 rather a bargain, and I was keen to see if it lived up to the promise.

I was also curious to see how it compared to Pentax's existing enthusiast camera, the K-5, which has just recently been replaced by the closely-related K-5 II. (It helps that I own the K-5 myself, as well as a copy of the same 18-135mm WR lens provided with our K-30 review sample.) We've also heard from readers trying to decide between the K-5 and K-30, with their decision complicated by the fact that street pricing for the two cameras is currently pretty similar. So you'll excuse me if I return to comparisons against my K-5 quite a bit throughout my shooter's report: it's for good reason.

Handling. In-hand, while it's clear from the polycarbonate build and lesser number of external controls that this isn't a flagship model, the K-30 certainly feels a step above more affordable cameras. It's pretty comfortable in-hand, and quite well balanced with the lithium ion rechargeable battery. (I didn't have one of the clever D-BH109 AA battery holders with my review sample, so couldn't try out AA shooting, but I'm pleased that Pentax continues to cater to fans of both battery types in-body, something no other company does any more.)

I was happy shooting the K-30 single-handed with everything from my tiny 40mm F2.8 Limited pancake up to my old full-frame FA 100mm F2.8 Macro, which at around 21 ounces (600 g) is the heaviest lens I own. I did find myself wishing that the handgrip was a little thicker though. Compared to the thicker grip on my K-5, the K-30's slimmer grip puts more strain on my fingers with heavier lenses, although that's easily resolved by taking up the weight with my left hand.

I did find myself missing the K-5's profusion of external controls, but then I'm not really the target customer for the K-30. Things like the K-5's physical Metering mode and focus point selection levers, and its locking Mode dial, are all great for experienced shooters who've become one with their camera body, but they're an invitation to confusion for a mid-range model. And as I've said, it does at least have dual control dials, something its nearest competitors lack. Perhaps more of a shame is the lack of a top-deck LCD status panel. Of course, none of the K-30's competitors have one either, but I find myself using this all the time on the K-5, and it consumes far less power than the rear panel display would, so that certainly saves me some battery life.

Display. The K-30's main LCD is pretty nice, incidentally, even if most assumed it was the same display used in the earlier flagship camera. Compared side by side, it offers a definite step forward over the display in my K-5, with a much brighter backlight, higher saturation, and a more neutral color temperature. I've asked Pentax about this, and they tell me it doesn't have a gapless design that features in the newer K-5 II and K-5 IIs. Presumably it's just from a different panel supplier, or a slightly improved model, but either way it's a welcome change.

I've heard the calls from Pentaxians for an articulated main LCD, and while I do agree it would add to the K-30's versatility, I'd only want one were it not to reduce the reliability of the camera's weather sealing. The fully-sealed system available in both of Pentax's current SLRs--well, with the exception of a sealed flash strobe, anyway--is a big selling point of the system for me.

I'm a belt-and-suspenders kind of person, and bought into the Pentax line several years ago expecting to seldom if ever actually take advantage of the weather sealing. It turns out, the opposite is true: I've used it in rain more than a few times, and while once or twice I've gotten completely drenched myself, the camera still got me the shots without issue. The K-30 has a similar level of sealing to my K-5, and although there wasn't much rain in my time with the K-30, that knowledge inspires confidence in me. While other photographers leave their camera at home or have to fiddle with clumsy covers, you'll have no such worries with the Pentax K-30.

Ergonomics. Two design choices did bother me a little, though. The positions of the Playback and Live View buttons are transposed, as compared not only to other recent Pentax cameras, but also to just about every other camera I've used lately. Also, the Green button sits on the top deck, where the dedicated ISO sensitivity button is on the K-5; the back seems a more natural position to me. Neither would likely be an issue once you'd spent some time with the Pentax K-30, so long as it was your only DSLR. If you're considering picking up a K-30 as a second body, though, you'll want to be aware of it because you'll need to consciously pay attention so as to prevent yourself starting live view every time you want to play back an image, and vice versa. (I'm more sensitive to this than most would be, just because I handle so many cameras in the process of reviewing them.)

User interface. In other areas, though, the Pentax K-30 has some nice benefits over my K-5. I've mentioned the improved LCD panel, and it's accompanied by some nice tweaks to the graphical user interface over recent Pentax DSLRs. Among other changes, menus have a subtle halftoned background, while the status screen has more colorful graduated backgrounds and squared-off corners on some elements, where the K-5 and K-r had flatter backgrounds and rounded corners. The difference isn't huge, but the net result is an interface that feels a bit less dated. Still not as modern as on some rivals, sure, but it's mostly an improvement.

Pentax K-30 menus
Pentax K-r menus

More importantly, menu options have been significantly reorganized in a much more sensible manner, making it easier to find the items you're looking for. Perhaps the key change here is a new Movie menu tab, where previously movie options were unintuitively clustered in a sub-menu off the still image menu. Options related to image capture, autofocus, connectivity, and LCD display are also grouped in their own pages. Add in some better English translations--for example Disable / Enable instead of Prohibited / Permitted--and the menu system is a noticeably more pleasant affair without having required a huge investment in programming. I'd love to see some of these changes ported back to the K-5 firmware, as well!

I found myself using live view more often with the K-30 than with my K-5, thanks largely to the snappier autofocus. For this shot, it was a must: there was a wall right behind me, and I didn't have a wider lens handy, so there was no room to fit myself behind the camera to frame!

Live view. Pentax has put quite a lot of work into its live view mode in the K-30, and it shows. (The improvement is also in part thanks to the new PRIME M image processor, which doubles the refresh rate for live view.) To be quite honest, I've seldom used live view with my K-5, other than with static scenes such as shooting tabletop studio shots.

While I still mostly preferred to use the viewfinder on the Pentax K-30, I did find myself using live view quite a bit more often too. That's largely due to the improvement in autofocus speed. Our lab testing found contrast detection autofocus in live view to be about a third faster, and there was a similar margin for prefocused live view shooting. My experience in the field bore this out, and so did an informal comparison of my K-5 and the K-30 review sample side by side, with the same lens and subject. The K-30 had often finished focusing in live view mode when the K-5 had barely started to do so, and it failed to lock focus less often as well.

You can no longer opt for phase-detect AF in live view mode, but contrast-detect was fast enough that I really didn't mind. Also, the K-30 now lets you disable the AF autozoom function, which I'd found helpful and frustrating in about equal measures with the K-5, depending on whether the subject was moving or not.

You have to pay attention to shutter speeds for moving subjects. Even in bright sunlight, the K-30's Program autoexposure often doesn't freeze the action. Out of seven bracketed shots of my hyperactive three year old with this flower sculpture, only one was fairly sharp.

Another very worthwhile addition to live view mode was the focus peaking function, even if I'm not a fan of Pentax's implementation. What focus peaking does is indicate the areas of highest microcontrast on the LCD display. These are typically the areas that are closest to being in focus, and so the function makes it easy to see where the point of focus is as you manually rack through the focus range. Where Pentax's implementation stumbles is that the indication isn't in color. Instead, high contrast edges are given a white glow. That's great on dark subjects, but white is a fairly common color in real-world subjects, so it means that for bright, light subjects, the peaking overlay can be hard to see--particularly when shooting outdoors where you have to deal with reflections and glare on the LCD panel. I'd like to see either an optional user selection of the peaking color, or at least to see Pentax use a color that doesn't appear in real-world subjects so often--a vivid pink, yellow, or something of the sort.

Viewfinder. I'm a bit old-school though, and I do still prefer a TTL optical viewfinder. I feel closer to my subject with the camera to my eye, and I think it helps my shooting. I was thrilled, then, to learn that the K-30 shared the same viewfinder with my K-5. Or at least, largely so--I did notice the K-30's autofocus point indications weren't as good as those on the K-5. They were more like those of my K-7, a little unevenly lit and dimmer. It could be that this is simply down to a poorly-adjusted component, though, as the basic style of the point indications is the same on all three cameras.

Noise levels are similar to my K-5. At ISO 1,600, grain is fine and quite film-like...

Focusing. Autofocus is said to be improved for regular, non-live view shooting too, but I must admit I didn't notice the difference here as much as for contrast-detect AF. The SAFOX IXi+ phase detection autofocus module has since been bested by the SAFOX X module in the K-5 II and IIs, but compared to the K-5's SAFOX IX+ was said to have better accuracy and efficiency. Subjectively I felt it hunted slightly less, and refused to focus less often, but didn't seem to focus in lower light conditions than did my K-5. Our lab testing suggested it was also a little less responsive than the PDAF in the K-5, so perhaps the improvements came at the expense of a little speed.

One improvement I really did like, though: the new Expanded Area AF option, available in continuous AF.C or automatic AF.A servo modes. When enabled, this considers the autofocus distance data of AF points surrounding that you've manually selected, and will let the focus point roam to any point that has similar distance data to your manually selected point. The assumption is that these point are likely seeing the same subject, and you've simply slipped your selected point off the subject momentarily. It's a good assumption, and one that makes a noticeable improvement to autofocus. I'd really like to see this ported back to the K-5 firmware too, although it's a bigger change than those made to the user interface, and so quite likely not possible. Speaking of the AF.A mode, by the way, this is a nice addition for the advanced amateurs who might be stepping up to the K-30 from a compact or older Pentax SLR. This simply selects between continuous and single autofocus modes automatically, as the camera deems necessary.

...but by ISO 3,200 it does begin to get a little splotchy, especially in areas of otherwise-smooth bokeh. Still plenty of fine detail in the instrument panel cluster, though--this is a very usable ISO 3,200.

Movies. Another area in which the Pentax K-30 has really been improved quite a bit is in its video capture capabilities. For the full story, you'll want to look at our video page, but let's briefly hit the high and low points. Perhaps most importantly, video is now stored with modern H.264 compression, rather than Motion JPEG. That means much more sensible file sizes for any given video clip, but it also means quite a bit higher processing requirements for editing. You can also now record movies with manual exposure, not just aperture-priority--but shutter priority and control over ISO sensitivity are still sadly unavailable. You can, however, record interval movies as you could in the Pentax Q and K-01 mirrorless cameras, something the K-5 couldn't do. There are more frame rate options (although the 50/60p modes significantly reduce image quality), and there's also a coarse-grained audio levels control, but the built-in speaker is decidedly weak and there's no longer an external microphone jack.

Even ISO 6,400 has a fair bit of detail -- the tartan in the sign, for example -- although the color starts to get a little muted, and there's quite a bit of noise if you pixel peep. It cleans up in post processing pretty well. This was as far as I was generally willing to go, though. You can see an ISO 12,800 shot in the gallery, but a lot of detail is lost to noise.

K-30 versus the flagships. Were there some things I really missed from my K-5 in shooting with the K-30, though? For sure. I've already mentioned the lesser selection of external controls, and the status LCD panel. While the K-30 feels fairly comfortable and solid, the K-5's mag-alloy body definitely feels even more so. There are several other things that would sway me towards the K-5, though. The K-5 also has piezoelectric dust reduction, rather than the sensor-shift type of the K-30. Subjectively we've found piezo systems to perform better than ones which rely on shaking the sensor, and that's backed up by the fact that in 18 months of owning my K-5 I've never yet needed to manually clean the sensor. (Although that's also in part because I'm very careful about avoiding dust when I change lenses.)

The K-5 also has an exceptionally quiet shutter release by DSLR standards. The K-30's shutter release sound is quite a bit louder, and harsher-sounding as well. While it doesn't sound as refined as that in Pentax's enthusiast flagship cameras, that's not to say it's uncommonly loud for a DSLR. It's certainly more likely to startle nearby, skittish animal subjects than that in the K-5 though.

With the K-30, you lack a PC flash sync socket and an HDMI output. You also get a little less performance for burst shooting (5.5 vs. 6.5 fps in our lab testing), and for the fastest shutter speed (1/6,000 vs. 1/8,000). There's also a greater level of control available over the Pentax K-5: functions such as the program line, the ramp-up speed for Auto ISO sensitivity, and extended bracketing aren't available in the K-30. Basically all of these would also apply to the newer K-5 II, and that camera is also said to have better low-light AF, although we've not yet had a chance to test that in our lab.

Auto white balance also sometimes struggled in low light. This available light shot (1/50th sec., ISO 3,200) has a bit of a color cast, but it's easily fixed in post.

Power. Battery life is also quite significantly lower. Where the K-5 was much better than average when compared to consumer cameras, the K-30 is decidedly below average even when shooting with the optical viewfinder, managing barely over half as many shots as its older sibling. That's largely because it uses a much smaller battery pack, and it should be noted that we're solely discussing battery life with the bundled, proprietary battery here. Battery life with AA batteries will depend entirely on the battery type you choose, and will likely vary quite radically between brands and formulations. If you shoot with the bundled battery though, you will definitely want a second one, especially if you shoot video or in live view mode very much.

And there are quite a few other differences, but by and large they won't matter to many--perhaps most--of the K-30's target customers. As I said at the start of my shooter's report, I wanted to answer the question of which camera was the better buy: the K-5, or the K-30. (And then Pentax threw the new K-5 II and IIs into the mix.) The answer, not surprisingly, is that each will meet different needs. The good news is that image quality is fairly similar between the K-5 and K-30, which is not surprising given that they share nearly the same image sensor, and are only separated by one generation in their image processors.

Image quality comparison. Below, you can find a number of samples shot side by side at the same time with manual ISO sensitivity, using the same lens model, similar focal length, and with the cameras' largely at their default settings. The lens model used was a DA 18-135mm ED AL (IF) DC WR, the only weather-sealed kit lens option offered with the K-30. (And coincidentally, the only lens I had access to two copies of, saving me switching back and forth between bodies all afternoon! The lens used on the K-5, like the body itself, was my own.) I'd intended to shoot with the same aperture on both bodies, but unfortunately in trying to replicate the same framing, I wasn't paying enough attention to maintaining precisely the same apertures. (Sorry!) Still, to my eye the two cameras provided very similar image quality, although the K-30 looks to use higher default sharpening and noise reduction than does the K-5, if only slightly so.

Pentax K-30
Pentax K-5
Cameras used default settings, except Raw+JPEG and bracketed exposure.
Each camera used a separate DA 18-135mm ED AL (IF) DC WR lens.
ISO 100
ISO 400
ISO 400
ISO 400
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1,600
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
ISO 12,800

Overall. All of which is to say that both cameras are pretty darned close in terms of basic image quality, and so you can let the feature set of each camera tell you which belongs on your shopping list. If you need the K-5 or K-5 II, you probably already know why. For the rest of you, the K-30 offers a heck of a camera for the money, with some worthwhile improvements even when compared to Pentax's enthusiast flagship cameras. For my money, I'd probably buy the K-5, and I'd expect most experienced shooters will do the same. Enthusiastic amateurs will find a more approachable package in the K-30. It's a shame that it isn't quite as small as the earlier Pentax K-r, but it manages to pack in a surprising amount of the K-5's DNA into a friendly design that provides loads of room to learn, and a lot of fun in a day's shooting.

 

Pentax K-30 Image Quality

Below are crops comparing the Pentax K-30 with the Pentax K-5, Canon 60D, Nikon D7000, Olympus E-M5, and the Sony A65. We're starting with the base ISO to show the best each camera can do, then moving onto ISO 1600, 3200, and then more details with ISO 6400 below.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.


Pentax K-30 versus Pentax K-5 at ISO 100

Pentax K-30 at ISO 100
Pentax K-5 at ISO 100

The differences we see between the K-30 and K-5 may come down to point of focus or else noise processing and sharpening. The K-30's images seem a tad sharper, but they also have more noticeable halos around dark subjects, something we'd expect to see from a more consumer-focused SLR. Note that the Pink swatch below the red leaf swatch is more magenta than pink. And the red leaf swatch itself has less detail than the K5, which suggests more aggressive noise processing is at work in the K-30.


Pentax K-30 versus Canon 60D at ISO 100

Pentax K-30 at ISO 100
Canon 60D at ISO 100

Despite its lower, 16-megapixel resolution, the Pentax K-30 does pretty well against the Canon 60D's 18 megapixels. The 60D captures a little more detail in the mosaic image, but doesn't do as well with the red leaf swatch in terms of detail. The pink is closer to pink, though.


Pentax K-30 versus Nikon D7000 at ISO 100

Pentax K-30 at ISO 100
Nikon D7000 at ISO 100

More aggressive sharpening really makes the Pentax K-30's image look crisper than the Nikon D7000. Both offer good detail, but the D7000's version of pink is truer.


Pentax K-30 versus Olympus E-M5 at base ISO

Pentax K-30 at ISO 100
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 200

The Olympus E-M5 takes a similar approach to image processing, resulting in a little more detail in key areas, like the mosaic swatch and the pink fabric, where you can see threads. The red leaf swatch is a little sharper from the K30, however.


Pentax K-30 versus Sony A65 at ISO 100

Pentax K-30 at ISO 100
Sony A65 at ISO 100

The 24-megapixel Sony A65 puts a whole lot more pixels on the area, showing noticeably more detail, but that detail is a little soft in its final rendering. A simple sharpening operation would fix it, of course. Note the pink swatch with hints of a thread pattern.


Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1,600, 3,200, and 6,400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.


Pentax K-30 versus Pentax K-5 at ISO 1,600

Pentax K-30 at ISO 1,600
Pentax K-5 at ISO 1,600

The Pentax K-30's stronger noise suppression shows in the shadows and red leaf swatch, obliterating detail in dramatic fashion at ISO 1,600. Sharpening is likewise aggressive in high-contrast areas, while the Pentax K-5 took a more balanced approach.


Pentax K-30 versus Canon 60D at ISO 1,600

Pentax K-30 at ISO 1,600
Canon 60D at ISO 1,600

Although both cameras ramp up their noise suppression, the Canon 60D takes a more even approach, leaving a little more noise, but also more detail. It retains at least some of the flavor of the red leaf swatch.


Pentax K-30 versus Nikon D7000 at ISO 1,600

Pentax K-30 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D7000 at ISO 1,600

The Nikon D7000's approach is even more even-handed. Though its image doesn't pop in high-contrast areas, it looks more photographic, and offers more to work with in post.


Pentax K-30 versus Olympus E-M5 at ISO 1,600

Pentax K-30 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 1,600

The Olympus E-M5 retains more detail as well at ISO 1,600, so less noise suppression is necessary.


Pentax K-30 versus Sony A65 at ISO 1,600

Pentax K-30 at ISO 1,600
Sony A65 at ISO 1,600

Detail in the Sony A65's images starts to suffer at ISO 1,600, noticeably enough in the mosaic swatch that the K-30's image looks a little better. However, the Sony's rendition of the red leaf swatch still looks better.


Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.


Pentax K-30 versus Pentax K-5 at ISO 3,200

Pentax K-30 at ISO 3,200
Pentax K-5 at ISO 3,200

Again, the K-5's noise suppression is less aggressive than the K-30, leaving behind more detail.


Pentax K-30 versus Canon 60D at ISO 3,200

Pentax K-30 at ISO 3,200
Canon 60D at ISO 3,200

The Pentax K-30 does better than the 60D with the mosaic image and the Mas Portel label, but not with the red leaf swatch.


Pentax K-30 versus Nikon D7000 at ISO 3,200

Pentax K-30 at ISO 3,200
Nikon D7000 at ISO 3,200

Here's where Nikon's more even approach begins to bear fruit. Yes, the Nikon has more chroma noise in the shadows, but the payoff in overall image evenness results in a more believable print. The K-30's method leaves the image looking confused with different elements looking either in or out of focus.


Pentax K-30 versus Olympus E-M5 at ISO 3,200

Pentax K-30 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 3,200

The K30 and E-M5 are about evenly matched at ISO 3,200, with perhaps a little better color on the K30, while the E-M5 has boosted its contrast somewhat.


Pentax K-30 versus Sony A65 at ISO 3,200

Pentax K-30 at ISO 3,200
Sony A65 at ISO 3,200

Sony's smaller pixels suffer a bit, offering less color and very mushy detail overall.


Detail: Pentax K-30 versus Pentax K-5, Canon 60D, Nikon D7000, Olympus E-M5, and Sony A65

Pentax
K-30

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Pentax
K-5

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Canon
60D

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Nikon
D7000

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Olympus
E-M5

ISO 160
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony
A65

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Detail comparison. The Pentax K-30 does very well in the high-contrast detail comparison, exceeded mainly by the Olympus OM-D E-M5. The latter's different aspect ratio makes the elements appear larger when viewed pixel-for-pixel, which helps a bit. After that it's the Canon 60D that is the K30's clearest competition. Note how the 60D and D7000 maintain a better red color as ISO rises, however, while the K-30's reds darken noticeably. Overall, a pretty good performance from the K-30 against some very good cameras.

 

Pentax K-30 Print Quality

Impressive 24 x 36 inch prints at ISO 100/200; good 8 x 10s at ISO 3,200; ISO 12,800 makes a good 4 x 6.

ISO 100/200 shots look quite good printed at 24 x 36 inches. Prints look better than the Canon T4i, despite its higher resolution, mostly because the K-30 by default is using less noise suppression at low ISOs.

ISO 400 shots look better at 20 x 30 inches, as the softening is a little too much at 24 x 36.

ISO 800 shots are usable at 20 x 30, but luminance noise shows up in the shadows, and detail in reds is a bit smudgy. As a result, we prefer the 16 x 20 inch prints.

ISO 1,600 images have sufficient detail for 11 x 14 inch prints, all except for our red swatch (a common outcome).

ISO 3,200 images are decent at 11 x 14, but noise is a little strong, so we preferred the 8 x 10 inch prints.

ISO 6,400 shots are good at 5 x 7, with only minor grain apparent in shadowy areas.

ISO 12,800 shots look good at 4 x 6, slightly noisy, but not bad.

ISO 25,600 prints are not usable.

Overall, the Pentax K-30 does a lot with its 16-megapixel sensor. It produces great 8 x 10 inch images at ISO 3,200 and even 12,800 is good for a 4 x 6.

 

In the Box

The Pentax K-30 ships with the following items in the box:

 

Recommended Accessories



 

Pentax K-30 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Very good image quality with excellent high ISO performance
  • Flexible noise reduction options
  • Very good dynamic range from raw files
  • Weather-sealed
  • Bright, accurate pentaprism viewfinder
  • Better LCD than K-5 (brighter, less warm)
  • Twin control dials, good ergonomics
  • Fast phase-detect autofocus
  • Contrast detect autofocus significantly improved since K-5
  • Autofocus fine-tuning, manual focus peaking
  • Expanded Area AF is a great addition
  • In-body image stabilization with rotation correction
  • Good burst speed
  • Interval shooting mode
  • Built-in flash can be wireless master
  • Electronic level and Horizon Correction
  • Automatic distortion and chromatic aberration correction
  • Separate highlight and shadow correction
  • HDR modes with auto-align
  • Significantly better menu organization
  • Full HD movies with manual exposure control
  • Uses H.264 instead of Motion JPEG compression
  • Interval movie function
  • Audio levels control (albeit not very fine-grained, and with no levels display)
  • Video-friendly strap lugs, not D-rings
  • Supports AA batteries with optional holder
  • A lot of camera for the money
  • Larger than some recent Pentax mid-range SLRs (but no more so than competition)
  • Reversed Live View / Playback button placements
  • Default saturation, contrast and sharpening a bit high
  • Contrast setting impacts saturation
  • High ISO NR "Off "setting still applies relatively strong noise reduction to red channel
  • Noise reduction applied to raw files above ISO 1,600 that can't be disabled
  • Below average battery life from rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack
  • Buffer depth with raw files is a bit shallow
  • Shutter noticeably louder / harsher than in K-5
  • Focus peaking hard to see on bright subjects
  • No piezoelectric dust reduction, just shakes sensor with SR mechanism
  • 18-135mm kit lens has soft corners, high aberration and distortion
  • 18-55mm kit lens isn't weather-sealed, although WR version is available
  • Inconsistent flash exposures
  • Narrow flash coverage
  • No PC sync socket
  • No high-definition video output
  • No video button; video capture requires separate exposure mode
  • No external mic jack, and only mono mic
  • 50/60 fps 720p video is full of color moire, and much softer than 30p or below

 

With the K-30 digital SLR, Pentax has done something pretty impressive. The company has managed to take several very worthwhile features that its rivals reserve for their enthusiast and pro-oriented cameras, and place them in a mid-range camera. If you don't already have an investment in glass for a competing mount--or if your investment isn't great enough to prevent you jumping ship--then Pentax has given you several very good reasons to consider choosing the K-mount instead of a rival. Perhaps the most significant of these for an SLR user will be the K-30's bright, accurate pentaprism optical viewfinder. It's where you'll be doing most of your image framing, after all, and it's a much more pleasant experience to shoot with than the pentamirror finders of other mid-range SLRs.

The twin-dial control layout is also a great bonus. Adjusting shutter speed and aperture with twin dials quickly becomes second-nature, with single-dial setups feeling positively cumbersome by comparison. And even if shooting in a downpour isn't your thing, the weather-sealed body of the Pentax K-30 provides a very reassuring feeling. It's easy to tell yourself that you won't ever take advantage of weather sealing, but once you're confident in your camera's ability to handle dust and moisture, you quickly find yourself noticing new shooting opportunities. (Shooting only in perfect weather can get boring, after a while!)

We do have to question Pentax's decision to include a non-weather sealed lens in the more affordable of the K-30's two kit bundles, however. It's a bit like selling a sports car, and then bolting on a set of steel rims with basic tires, instead of alloys and some rubber that's up to the occasional day at the track. We have to think that more than a few K-30 buyers aren't going to realize that their 18-55mm lenses aren't sealed, leading to problems down the line. Of course, you can always opt for the 18-135mm WR kit, whose lens is sealed to the same standard as the camera body, but that's rather larger and more expensive than the 18-55mm WR would've been. (And that 18-135mm lens, honestly, isn't able to deliver the same level of image quality that the K-30 body is capable of capturing.)

And then there's the K-30's video feature set. In some respects, it's better than that of the K-5 and K-5 II, with fully manual exposure control, and more space-efficient H.264 compression. In other areas it lags the competition, though. The lack of external microphone connectivity is a shame, and consumer-friendly features such as full-time autofocus and a dedicated video button are also absent. The highest frame rates for 720p video have issues with color moire that rather preclude their use. These issues combine to make the Pentax K-30 less than ideal as a video camera, whether you're a consumer, enthusiast, or pro. Don't get us wrong--you can still manage great videos with the K-30, if you know how to extract the most from it. It's just that Pentax's video feature set is starting to look rather dated compared to the competition.

We're quibbling, though. If your focus is on still shooting, considering its pricetag, the Pentax K-30 is a superb camera. It offers a well thought-out design that in some respects actually betters the enthusiast-grade K-5 and K-5 II, and does so at a noticeably lower list price. (And if the pentaprism viewfinder, dual dials and sealing are on your must-have list, there's simply nothing available from the competition without spending hundreds of dollars more.) Certainly, there are features worth having on enthusiast cameras--including the K-5 II--that aren't available here, too. There's no top-deck info LCD, for example, and the lack of piezoelectric dust reduction and PC sync connectivity is a shame. For many photographers, though, these features would simply be overkill. Shaving them off has doubtless helped Pentax hit its consumer-friendly pricetag, not to mention removing some weight from the camera body. (And Pentax remains the only show in town, if you want to be able to use standard AA batteries in the camera body, something some consumers still desire.)

Unless your focus is on video, or you need an enthusiast-level body, we have absolutely no reservations in recommending the Pentax K-30. It's a clear Dave's Pick, and a camera that really provides a lot of bang for the buck!