Pentax *ist-DPentax's first d-SLR is a winner, with good color, low noise, and excellent "hand feel," all in a compact body.
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Page 2:Executive OverviewReview First Posted: 03/30/2004
After much success with their Optio line of consumer digicams, Pentax has now ventured into the high end of the prosumer digicam market, releasing a true digital SLR, the *ist D. Surprisingly compact and light weight for a digital SLR, the *ist D looks a lot like a traditional 35mm SLR, and ought to make current Pentax film camera owners feel quite at home with its familiar styling. Featuring a Pentax K lens mount, the *ist D accepts a wide range of Pentax lenses, which should make the transition from film to digital even easier for current Pentax users. The *ist D features a 6.31-megapixel (6.10 effective) CCD, which delivers high quality images as large as 3,008 x 2,008 pixels. Though built around a stainless steel chassis, the *ist D has plastic (yet rugged) outer panels, which help keep the weight down, while retaining a pleasant heft. Without the lens, the body weighs about 24.7 ounces (701 grams) with memory card and batteries installed, which is fairly light weight by d-SLR standards. The camera is also pretty compact, at only 5.1 x 3.7 x 2.4 inches (129 x 95 x 60 millimeters). In fact, Pentax boasts that the *ist D is one of the world's smallest, lightest camera bodies for its class.
Like most digital SLRs, the *ist D's 1.8-inch color LCD monitor is reserved for image playback and menu display. For framing, the camera offers an accurate TTL optical viewfinder, complete with information display so you can quickly check on the exposure settings. (There's also a top status display panel which reports more detailed camera information.) A dioptric adjustment adjusts the eyepiece for eyeglass wearers, and a soft, rubbery cup provides some cushion when peering through the viewfinder. The *ist D features Pentax's newly-developed SAFOX VIII phase-matching autofocus system, which uses 11 AF points across the image area. (And which our tests indicate provides exceptional low-light focusing ability.) You can manually set the AF area, or leave it up to the camera. Focal ranges will vary depending on the lens in use, but you can select Single or Continuous AF modes, or switch over to manual focus.
When it comes to exposure, the *ist D offers "Green" Program AE (full Auto exposure), Hyper Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, and Bulb exposure modes. The main difference between the two Program modes is that Hyper Program AE mode lets you rotate the camera's command dials to select from a range of equivalent exposure settings, while the Green Program mode acts like a full automatic exposure mode. The Mode dial on top of the camera quickly sets the exposure mode, and provides quick access to the White Balance, ISO, and Resolution/Quality settings as well. Exposure settings are easily changed by using a combination of control buttons and dials, and most can be made without delving into the LCD menu system. An extensive Custom Settings menu adjusts a larger range of camera settings, and lets you save as many as three complete sets of adjustments which can be quickly returned to just by selecting a different Custom Settings group. Shutter speeds on the *ist D range from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds, with the Bulb exposure mode available for even longer exposures (as long as the Shutter button or remote control shutter button is held down, and the camera has power). A Noise Reduction option helps reduce the amount of image noise resulting from longer exposures and higher sensitivity settings. You can adjust the overall exposure from -3 to +3 exposure equivalents (EV) in either one-third or one-half step increments, and choose between 16-segment Multi, Center-Weighted, and Spot exposure metering modes. Light sensitivity ranges from 200 to 3,200 ISO equivalent settings, while White Balance options include Auto, Manual, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent (white, neutral, or daylight), Tungsten, and Flash options.
The *ist D's Drive setting offers Auto Exposure Bracketing, Consecutive Shooting, Self-Timer, and Remote Control modes. The auto bracketing feature takes three consecutive exposures of the same subject at different exposure settings (the variation of which either you or the camera can control). Consecutive Shooting mode lets you capture a rapid series of images at short frame intervals (about five consecutive frames at intervals of 0.41 seconds in my testing). The total number of frames and the shooting speed depends on exposure, resolution and quality settings, and the amount of available memory card space. Self-Timer mode offers a 12-second countdown before firing the shutter, while the Remote Control mode enables the camera to work with the optional IR remote unit. There's also a Multiple Exposure mode, which lets you combine as many as nine separate exposures to create one image. You can also manually adjust Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation settings. Built into the *ist D is a pop-up flash unit, which operates in Auto, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, On, Off, and Red-Eye Reduction modes. For a more powerful flash or more control over the flash exposure, the *ist D also has a top-mounted hot shoe for connecting Pentax dedicated external flash units, as well as a secondary X-sync terminal for connection to off-camera strobe systems.
Three main image resolutions are available (3,008 x 2,008; 2,400 x 1,600; and 1,536 x 1,024 pixels), with an option to access two smaller resolutions if needed. Image quality options include Good, Better, and Best JPEG compression levels, as well as uncompressed TIFF and RAW data formats. Image storage is on CompactFlash Type I or II, and the *ist D supports MicroDrives for huge on-the-go storage capacity. The camera utilizes either four AA-type batteries or two CR-V3 battery packs for power, or an optional AC adapter. A set of CR-V3 battery packs comes with the camera, but I strongly recommend purchasing a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH AA batteries and a good charger, and keeping a spare set of batteries charged at all times. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite.
The *ist D has a nice selection of exposure controls, which combined with the 6.31-megapixel CCD and Pentax K lens mount, make it a good option for experienced amateurs and Pentax enthusiasts.