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Pentax *ist-D

Pentax'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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ISTD Sample Images

Review First Posted: 03/30/2004

Digital Cameras - Pentax *ist D Test Images

 

I've begun including links in our reviews to a Thumber-generated index page for the test shots. The Thumber data includes a host of information on the images, including shutter speed, ISOsetting, compression setting, etc. Rather than clutter the page below with *all*that detail, we're posting the Thumber index so only those interested inthe information need wade through it!

 

Outdoor Portrait:

High resolution, though details are a little soft. Good color, although skin tones are a little pale, and default contrast is high (but excellent performance with the low contrast option).

The extreme tonal range of this image makes it a tough shot for many digicams, which is precisely why I set it up this way, and why I shoot it with no fill flash or reflector to open the shadows. The object is to hold both highlight and shadow detail without producing a "flat" picture with muddy colors, and the *ist D did a pretty good job, although the default image is a bit more contrasty than I'd like.

The shot at right was taken with a +0.2 EV exposure compensation adjustment, which results in bright highlights and somewhat dark midtones. Because the deliberately harsh lighting of this scene produces such high contrast, I shot it with the camera's low contrast setting. This did a nice job of boosting midtone detail without over-brightening the image. (See below for a side-by-side comparison.) I chose the Auto white balance as the most accurate overall, though the Daylight setting produced nearly identical results.

The overall color is good. It's a bit less saturated than most consumer-level digicams, but I think in the process is more faithful to the original subjects. My main complaint here is that Marti's skin tones look a little pale and yellowish here. The blue flowers in the bouquet are a little darker than in real life, and with somewhat more purple in them, but are overall fairly accurately rendered. (This is a troublesome blue for many digicams, and the *ist D does show a bit more purple than is in the flowers themselves.) Although the skin tones are a little flat, saturation in the strong reds, yellows, and greens is pretty good. Resolution is high, with good shadow detail, but it looks like the camera focused primarily on the flower bouquet, rather than Marti's face, leaving details in her face and hair a little soft. Image noise is quite low, even in the dark shadows.

Contrast Adjustment
The *ist D has a contrast adjustment option on its shooting menu, so I tried the low-contrast setting on this subject. As you can see below, the results were quite good. The low contrast option opened the shadows a fair bit, while at the same time pulling in the strong highlights a little. - All this without affecting overall brightness, exactly what a contrast control should do.

Image Contrast Adjustment
Contrast is high with the camera's default contrast setting, under the deliberately harsh lighting of this test. The *ist D's low contrast adjustment did a very good job of evening-out the exposure, opening the shadows without over-brightening the entire image.



To view the entire exposure series from zero to +1.0 EV, see files ISTOUTAP0.HTM through ISTOUTAP3.HTM on the thumbnail index page.



 

Closer Portrait:

Higher resolution and detail, low-contrast setting helps handle the lighting.

Exposure and color are similar to the wider shot above, with high contrast again from the harsh lighting. The shot at right was taken with a +0.3 EV exposure compensation adjustment at the low contrast setting. (See the comparison below for another side-by-side showing the effect of the contrast adjustment.) Some distortion is noticeable in Marti's face from the 16-35mm lens I shot this with. (Keep in mind though, that the *ist D features a standard Pentax K lens mount, for attaching a wide range of lenses.) Resolution and detail are much better in this close-up shot, with Marti's face and hair showing a lot of fine detail.

Image Contrast Adjustment
Again, contrast is high with the camera's default contrast setting, thanks to the deliberately harsh lighting of this test. As I noticed in the wider Outdoor Portrait, the *ist D's low contrast adjustment does a nice job of making the exposure a little more even.

To view the entire exposure series from zero to +1.0 EV, see files ISTFACP0.HTM through ISTFACAP3.HTM on the thumbnail index page.



 

Indoor Portrait, Flash:
Normal Flash
+1.7 EV
External Flash
+2.0 EV

A lot of exposure compensation required with the built-in flash, but good color.

The *ist D's built-in flash produced a very dark image at its default exposure setting, requiring a +1.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment for a reasonably bright shot. Coverage is pretty even across Marti's features, but the direct flash exposure is somewhat harsh. Color is pretty good, if a little flat, with a very good blue in the flower bouquet. The background incandescent lighting results in only a faint orange cast at the top of the back wall, and in the shadow areas on the wall. I also shot with an external flash unit, bouncing the flash for more even lighting. I found the best exposure with a +2.0 EV exposure compensation boost, although the image still came out somewhat underexposed. The orange cast is a little stronger here, affecting the color balance throughout the frame.



 

Indoor Portrait, No Flash:
Auto White Balance
Incandescent White Balance
Manual White Balance

Good color with the Manual white balance setting, but a *lot* of exposure compensation required.

This shot is always a very tough test of a camera's white balance capability, given the strong, yellowish color cast of the household incandescent bulbs used for the lighting. The *ist D's Auto white balance setting trouble with this difficult light source, though the Incandescent and Manual settings performed pretty well. I chose the Manual setting for the main selection here, because overall color looked more realistic than the warm tone of the Incandescent setting. Skin tone looks good, though the blue flowers of the bouquet have a dark, purplish tint. (Probably to be expected, given the light source.) The shots at right were taken with a +1.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment, which is higher than average for this shot.

ISO Series:
The *ist D very well in the image noise department, as noise levels are pretty low at the 200 and 400 ISO settings. Even at ISO 1,600, the noise was much lower than I'd have expected. - Thoroughly acceptable, in my book.

ISO Series
ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1,600



 

House Shot:
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Manual White Balance

High resolution, although details are quite soft, but good color.

I chose the *ist D's Auto white balance setting for this shot, as it produced the best overall color and white value on the house trim. The Daylight setting resulted in a warm cast, while the Manual setting was a bit cool and reddish. Resolution is quite high, even though details are rather soft throughout the frame. A lot of fine detail is visible in the house front and shrubbery, however, and comes out if you apply a fairly strong unsharp masking operator to the image in Photoshop(tm). (Try 250-300% at a radius of 0.4 pixel.)



 

Far-Field Test

High resolution, though details are again soft. Good color, but somewhat overexposed with the default camera setting.

(Apologies for the tilted image!)

This image is shot at infinity to test far-field lens performance. NOTE that this image cannot be directly compared to the other "house" shot, which is a poster, shot in the studio. The rendering of detail in the poster will be very different than in this shot, and color values (and even the presence or absence of leaves on the trees!) will vary in this subject as the seasons progress. In general though, you can evaluate detail in the bricks, shingles and window detail, and in the tree branches against the sky. Compression artifacts are most likely to show in the trim along the edge of the roof, in the bricks, or in the relatively "flat" areas in the windows.

This is my ultimate "resolution shot," given the infinite range of detail in a natural scene like this. The *ist D captures a lot of fine detail, but details are again quite soft throughout the frame. (Once again though, they respond well to strong unsharp masking in Photoshop.) The tree limbs over the roof and fine foliage in front of the house show strong detail, though leaf patterns aren't as clearly defined as they could be. The camera loses virtually all detail in the bright white paint surrounding the bay window, a trouble spot for many digicams, but perhaps as a result there's a lot of detail visible in the shadow area above the front door. Overall color looks just about perfect, despite the slightly over-bright exposure. The table below shows a standard resolution and quality series, followed by ISO, sharpness, contrast, and saturation series.

Resolution Series:

Wide Angle "Fine"
JPEG
"Normal"
JPEG
"Economy"
JPEG
3,008 x 2,008
ISTFARLF
ISTFARLN
ISTFARLE
2,400 x 1,600
ISTFARMF
-
1,536 x 1,024
ISTFARSF
-


ISO Series:

ISO Series
ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1,600 ISO 3,200

Sharpness Series:

Sharpness Series
Soft
Normal
Sharp


Contrast Series:
I've commented above on how well the *ist D's contrast adjustment works, so no need to belabor the point here. - But it does do just exactly what you'd want it to. (I'd like to see a wider range of effect though - Maybe the same size steps or slightly smaller, but 5 steps instead of only 3.)

Contrast Series

Low


Normal


High


Saturation Series:
Just like the contrast adjustment, the *ist D's saturation control does exactly what it should, delivering a useful range of saturation adjustment. (Although, as with the contrast control, I wouldn't mind seeing five slightly smaller steps, covering a slightly greater range.)

Saturation Series

Low


Normal


High




 

Lens Zoom Range

A 27-53 mm effective zoom range with the "standard" 18-35mm lens.

I routinely shoot this series of images to show the field of view for each camera, with the lens at full wide angle, at maximum telephoto, and at full telephoto with the digital zoom enabled. However, the *ist D doesn't offer any digital zoom, and the actual zoom range will be entirely a function of the lens in use, as the *ist D accommodates a range of Pentax K mount lenses. For that reason, I don't bother with these shots, but with the *ist D, the 18-35mm lens is likely to be a common companion to the camera, so I shot this series with it 18-35mm so readers could see what its zoom range looked like. Following are the results at the two ends of the zoom range.

Wide Angle
Telephoto



 

Musicians Poster
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Manual White Balance

Nearly accurate color with the Daylight white balance, though a little warm. Good detail.

This shot is often a tough test for digicams, as the abundance of blue in the composition frequently tricks white balance systems into producing a warm color balance. The *ist D's Manual white balance setting responded with a cool, magenta cast, while the Auto and Daylight settings resulted in warm color balances. Though it does have a yellow tint, I chose the Daylight setting because of the more natural skin tones. The yellow cast gives the blue background and robe a greenish tint, but overall color is still pretty good. Resolution is very high, with strong detail in the embroidery of the blue robe, as well as in the instrument strings and beaded necklaces.



 

Macro Shot
Standard Macro Shot

The power of interchangeable lenses: A very tiny macro area with the 100mm macro lens.

This is another shot I don't commonly do for d-SLRs, as the results are entirely dependent on the lens employed. In the case of the *ist D though, I couldn't resist the lure of the Pentax 100mm f/2.8 macro lens. As you'd expect, it did an excellent job, capturing a very tiny minimum area of only 0.94 x 0.63 inches (24 x 16 millimeters). Resolution was very high, with a lot of fine detail visible in the dollar bill. However, details were again soft throughout the frame. The camera's flash was pretty completely blocked by the lens when shooting this close, so you'll need a macro ring or alternative lighting for shooting at this close range.



 

"Davebox" Test Target
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Manual White Balance

Some overexposure with the default settings, and difficulty with the more subtle tonal variation, but very good color.

The *ist D's Manual white balance setting produced the most accurate results here, though the Auto setting wasn't too far off the mark. (The Daylight setting was quite warm, however.) On a number of my shots, I found that the *ist D tended to overexpose somewhat at its default settings, and that's what happened again here. As a result, the camera has trouble distinguishing the more subtle tonal variations of the Q60 target, washing out the lighter color blocks. The larger color blocks are also a little washed out from the overexposure, but the color accuracy is good. Detail is moderate in the shadow area of the charcoal briquettes, with low noise.


ISO Series:
Once again, the series of shots below show the excellent noise performance of the *ist D. (Taking the Nikon D100 as a competitive example, the noise levels here at any given ISO level are about midway between that ISO and the next one lower on the D100. - That is, the *ist D's noise at ISO 1600 is about equivalent to that of the D100 at ISO 1200. I found this interesting, as the two cameras apparently use the same sensor chip.)

ISO Series
ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1,600 ISO 3,200



 

Low-Light Tests

Excellent low-light performance, with good color at even the darkest light levels. Excellent low-light focusing ability as well.

The *ist D offers full manual exposure control, with adjustable ISO and a maximum shutter time of 30 seconds. Thus, the camera can capture bright images in very low lighting. The *ist D produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at all five ISO settings. However, some slight color shifts occurred depending on the brightness level. The *ist D's optional Noise Reduction system has a fairly subtle effect on noise levels, but the noise wasn't as bad as I imagined it would be, even at the ISO 3,200 setting. Here are sample images without Noise Reduction enabled at the 200, 400, 800, 1,600, and 3,200 ISO settings. Even though it has no autofocus-assist light, the *ist D can achieve focus lock at very low light levels - While the AF speed slows significantly at low light levels, I found that my test unit of the *ist D could routinely focus at light levels as low as 1/4 foot-candle, and sometimes focus as dark as 1/8 foot-candle, without using its focus-assist illuminator, and with a lens with a maximum aperture of f/4.0. (This is a pretty impressive performance, 1/4 foot-candle corresponds to an exposure time of 8 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 100.) The table below shows the best exposure I was able to obtain for each of a range of illumination levels. Images in this table (like all sample photos) are untouched, exactly as they came from the camera.

(Note: If you'd like to use a light meter to check light levels for subjects you might be interested in shooting, a light level of 1 foot-candle corresponds to a normal exposure of 2 seconds at F/2.8 and ISO 100.)

  1fc
11lux
1/2fc
5.5lux
1/4fc
2.7lux
1/8fc
1.3lux
1/16fc
0.67lx
1/16fc
No NR
ISO
200
Click to see ISTLL0203.JPG
1/1 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0204.JPG
2 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0205.JPG
4 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0206.JPG
8 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0207.JPG
15 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0207MNR.JPG
15 secs
F2.8
ISO
400
Click to see ISTLL0403.JPG
1/ 2 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0404.JPG
1/1 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0405.JPG
2 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0406.JPG
4 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0407.JPG
8 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0407MNR.JPG
8 secs
F2.8
ISO
800
Click to see ISTLL0803.JPG
1/4 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0804.JPG
1/ 2 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0805.JPG
1/1 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0806.JPG
2 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0807.JPG
4 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL0807MNR.JPG
4 secs
F2.8
ISO
1600
Click to see ISTLL1603.JPG
1/8 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL1604.JPG
1/4 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL1605.JPG
1/ 2 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL1606.JPG
1/1 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL1607.JPG
2 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL1607MNR.JPG
2 secs
F2.8
ISO
3200
Click to see ISTLL3203.JPG
1/15 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL3204.JPG
1/8 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL3205.JPG
1/4 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL3206.JPG
1/ 2 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL3207.JPG
1/1 secs
F2.8
Click to see ISTLL3207MNR.JPG
1/1 secs
F2.8



 

Flash Range Test

A powerful flash, Pentax's guide number of 15.6 meters at ISO 200 seems justified.

Since it's a removable-lens SLR, the *ist D's flash range will depend on the lens you're using. Pentax gives it a guide number of 15.6 meters at ISO 200. The shots below were taken with the 18-35mm f/4.0-5.6 zoom I used for most of my shooting, and most of them were shot with the lens at the 35mm end of its range. With an aperture of f/5.6, the range should thus be 15.6 meters divided by f/5.6, or about 9 feet. My results below seem to support that, with progressive falloff in all the shots, but holding reasonably well to the 9-foot level. With a faster lens or higher ISO setting, the range would be correspondingly greater. Below is the flash range series, with distances from eight to 14 feet from the target.

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see ISTFL08.JPG
1/50 secs
F5.6
Click to see ISTFL09.JPG
1/50 secs
F5.6
Click to see ISTFL10.JPG
1/50 secs
F5.6
Click to see ISTFL11.JPG
1/50 secs
F5.6
Click to see ISTFL12.JPG
1/50 secs
F5.6
Click to see ISTFL13.JPG
1/50 secs
F5.6
Click to see ISTFL14.JPG
1/50 secs
F5.6


 

ISO-12233 (WG-18) Resolution Test

High resolution but a somewhat soft image, 1,350 lines of "strong detail." Average barrel distortion.

The *ist D performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart, with clean lines even as far as 1,000-1,200. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,350 lines (some less conservative judges might argue for 1,400 lines). "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,600 lines. This shot again shows Pentax's conservative approach to in-camera sharpening though, as the image as a whole is somewhat soft-looking. It does respond well to strong unsharp masking in Photoshop (try 250% at an 0.4 pixel radius or 300% at 0.3 pixel). This is arguably the best approach, as it avoids the introduction of any irreversible artifacts from the sharpening process, but many prospective users might pass over the camera if they don't take the time to play with its images a little in an image editor.

Optical distortion on the *ist D will vary with the lens in use. With the 100mm f/2.8 macro lens I used to shoot the res target with showed essentially zero distortion. The 16-35 mm zoom showed about 0.7 percent barrel distortion at its wide angle end. Chromatic aberration was quite low with both lenses, showing only a single pixel of fairly faint coloration around the target lines, and the 16-36mm about three to four pixels of color, also fairly faint. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

Resolution Series, Wide Angle
Wide Angle "Fine"
JPEG
"Normal"
JPEG
"Economy"
JPEG
3,008 x 2,008
ISTRESLF
ISTRESLN
ISTRESLE
2,400 x 1,600
ISTRESMF
-
-
1,536 x 1,024
ISTRESSF
-
-

Sharpness Series

Sharpness Series
Soft
Normal
Sharp


 

Viewfinder Accuracy/Flash Uniformity

A pretty accurate digital SLR.

The *ist D features a digital SLR (single lens reflex) viewfinder design, which shows about 96 percent of the final frame. I like to see SLR viewfinders that are 100 percent accurate, so the *ist D has a little room for improvement. Still, these results are pretty good, as "95%" viewfinders seem to be the norm on d-SLRs. Flash distribution is a little uneven here though, with strong falloff in the corners and at the edges of the frame. (This image was shot with the 16-35mm zoom at the wide angle end of its range, corresponding to a 27mm lens on a 35mm camera.)

 




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