Pentax K20D Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Pentax K20D
Resolution: 14.60 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
Kit Lens: n/a
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
ISO: 100-6400
Shutter: 30-1/4000
Max Aperture: n/a
Dimensions: 5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in.
(142 x 102 x 70 mm)
Weight: 28.3 oz (802 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $800
Availability: 04/2008
Manufacturer: Pentax
14.60
Megapixels
PENTAX KAF2 (KAF2, KAF, KA) APS-C
size sensor
image of Pentax K20D
Front side of Pentax K20D digital camera Back side of Pentax K20D digital camera Top side of Pentax K20D digital camera Left side of Pentax K20D digital camera Right side of Pentax K20D digital camera

Pentax K20D Overview

by Andrew Alexander
and Zig Weidelich

Review Posted: 02/16/09

The Pentax K20D digital SLR follows in the footsteps of the company's well-received K10D model. The hallmark of the new camera is a newly developed 14.6-megapixel CMOS sensor, made in conjunction with Samsung, Pentax's partner in digital SLR development.

The K20D continues to employ Pentax's venerable K-mount, making the camera compatible with an impressive array of K-, KA-, KAF- and KAF2 lenses, as well as screw-mount / 645-system / 67-system lenses with an adapter. The K20D reaches optimum performance when coupled with the company's latest generation of SDM ultrasonic lenses. The Pentax K20D has a dust-proof, weather resistant body with a stainless steel chassis and some 72 seals that allow the camera to be used in dusty and/or rainy environments. With its shake reduction system, the Pentax K20D's sensor sits on a free-floating, electromagnetically-controlled platter that can move horizontally, vertically, and even rotationally to combat user-induced camera blur.

The Pentax K20D continues to employ both of the dust-reduction strategies used in the previous K10D and K100D cameras, namely, vibrating the sensor to dislodge dust particles. Pentax has also added a "dust alert" function which assists more conventional cleaning methods, by showing exactly where on the sensor stubborn dust particles reside.

Transitioning to a CMOS sensor from previous CCD technology has allowed Pentax to implement an increasingly popular feature in SLR cameras: Live View. The camera is also capable of higher ISO performance, increasing from the ISO 1,600 maximum found in the K10D to 6,400 in the K20D. A wealth of custom image processing options is available, including an implementation of high dynamic range processing, which seeks to pull more detail from brightly-exposed areas of an image.

The Pentax K20D offers eight white balance options, from completely automatic, to preset scene modes (Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Tungsten, and Flash) as well as a Custom preset and direct Kelvin input. A built-in five-mode pop-up flash has a guide number of 13 (ISO 100/m) and covers up to a 28mm (35mm equivalent) angle of view; there's also a hot shoe for mounting an external flash. Flash sync speed is 1/180 second. Burst shooting is possible for around 36 JPEG images at three frames per second. A low-speed continuous mode offers 2.3 frames per second with unlimited burst depth in JPEG mode.

Images are stored on SD or SDHC cards. In addition to JPEG compression, the K20D can store images in RAW format -- either in Pentax's proprietary PEF format, or Adobe's DNG format. Connectivity includes USB 2.0 High Speed data, and NTSC / PAL video connections, and power comes courtesy of a proprietary D-LI50 lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

 

Pentax K20D User Report

by Andrew Alexander

Because the Pentax K20D is so similar to the K10D in its form and function, I'd suggest reading our review of the Pentax K10D, if you haven't already, to get a sense of how this camera works. The rest of this review will examine the differences between the two camera models.

The K20D's new sync terminal.

Family resemblance. Users of the K10D should feel right at home using a K20D. Generally, the K20D uses the same frame as the K10D -- the size, shape and placement of every button and dial is identical. There are three changes of note. The LCD screen is bigger, having been expanded from 2.5-inches to 2.7-inches, and increased in resolution from 210,000 to 230,000 pixels. Next, the addition of a sync terminal for external strobes, located on the right hand side of the camera beside the terminal cover. Finally, the release tabs for the memory card slot and battery cover have been lengthened to make them easier to use.


The Canon 40D, Pentax K20D, and Nikon D300.

Build Quality. In Shawn's review of the K10D he compared the K10D in shape and size to the Canon 30D; I'll agree with that assessment and add that it's about the same size as a Nikon D300 as well, giving some indication of Pentax's target market for this camera. Shawn gave good marks to the K10D's grip, and given that Pentax hasn't redesigned it, the grip of the Pentax K20D is just as comfortable. The camera rests well in smaller hands, with larger-handed shooters finding their pinkie fingers trailing beneath the camera -- the battery grip accessory rounds this out nicely. The left side of the Pentax K20D maintains its grip, which is very useful for holding the camera extended from the body with two hands when framing with Live view mode.

With the 18-55mm Pentax lens attached, the camera and battery weighs 2.2 pounds (1,015g). The pairing is light and agile, not completely effortless to hold, but substantial enough to feel very solid. We were provided with several lenses in order to test the Pentax K20D: the standard "kit" lens (18-55mm f/3.5-5.6), a telephoto zoom (50-200mm f/4-5.6), a fisheye zoom (10-17mm f/3.5-4.5) and a macro (100mm f/2.8). The 18-55mm and 50-200mm are lighter, mostly plastic-bodied lenses, making the Pentax K20D a very light and easy-to-shoot camera platform. The fisheye zoom was slightly heavier, and the 100mm macro heavier still; but even so, the camera was still very easy to hand-hold and well-balanced. Using the camera with Live view mode was greatly improved by using the camera's left-hand grip.

Depth-of-field. Pentax has improved on its unique depth-of-field preview system that was first introduced in the K10D. The on/off switch surrounding the shutter release button has a third, temporary position, which activates Preview Mode. The K10D offered two options for this mode: either a standard depth-of-field preview, visible through the viewfinder; or a digital depth-of-field preview, which is essentially a regular exposure, sent to the LCD screen immediately. The Pentax K20D supplements this feature with an extra command to allow you to use the Fn button to save the image to the memory card. The K20D has a third option, though, and perhaps the most useful implementation of this feature: Live View. We'll look at Live View a bit further on in this review.

The K20D's 114 weather seals.

Seals. Again, Pentax hasn't changed anything from the K10D, so the K20D is protected by 76 weather seals on the body, and 38 weather seals on the battery grip. The most obvious example of a weather seal is seen in the memory card access, where an edge protrudes from the inside of the memory card door, and seats into a rubber gasket on the body. All of the accessible ports in the camera are protected in this way, including the USB and power ports, battery slot, and memory card access.

Autofocus. The Pentax K20D maintains the same focusing system as found in the K10D -- the SAFOX VIII. This system provides 11 phase-matching autofocus points: a grid of three-by-three in the center of the frame, and then an extra point on the extreme left and right of the center. The Pentax SAFOX VIII is a tenacious, if not especially fast, autofocus system. Generally, the Pentax K20D focused quickly and accurately, focusing in quick increments that seem to find the general area rapidly, and then refine the focus until the camera determines it is properly focused. The camera can hunt for focus: but where other manufacturers' cameras would give up, the K20D will keep on hunting, taking several seconds until it finds focus. There were only a few cases where it didn't find focus, and I had to present it with some pretty challenging low-light and low-contrast situations. The Pentax K20D doesn't come equipped with a focus lamp to assist focus, but the pop-up flash can be employed to give the same effect, with the camera sending out several strobing pulses to assist the autofocus sensors.

However, the site's founder, Dave Etchells, had occasion to use the Pentax K20D while shooting an outdoor sporting event and had a terrible time, prompting him to write this brief report:

Autofocus report, by Dave Etchells
In our testing, the K20D revealed itself to be a very capable camera, delivering good image quality overall, with excellent fine detail, and it performed quite well in the lab. Outside the lab, we found that its autofocus performance was severely lacking in a sports shooting environment. While it's not part of our normal test procedure, I had the occasion to take the K20D and the fairly high-end Pentax 200mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM SMC DA* prime telephoto lens to shoot one of my son's rugby games. It turned out to be an exercise in frustration, despite the fact that Pentax's SDM ultrasonic motor should have made the lens pretty fast to focus. Shot after shot, the camera just would not find the proper focal point, despite my being careful to use the center focus point and keep it on the player I was most interested in. Even when the action didn't seem terribly fast, the camera frequently misfocused, to the point that only about 50% of my shots were usable. In frustration, I switched to my Nikon D80, which had only its 18-135mm kit lens mounted. This didn't give me the reach I really wanted, but the improvement in AF performance was little short of startling: Suddenly, 90-95% of my shots were sharply focused.

Bottom line, while the K20D is an excellent camera in many respects, we really can't recommend it for capturing fast-paced action.

Shutter Response comparison: K10D / K20D
Camera K10D K20D
Lag Time, pre-focused 0.107 sec 0.089 sec
Lag Time, manual focus 0.181 sec 0.090 sec

Shutter. There's no information available regarding the shutter life of the Pentax K20D, but the K10D was rated for 100,000 activations and I can't imagine the K20D rated for fewer. Quite the contrary: as our test results are showing the camera to have a shorter lag time, I'm guessing the K20D sports a new shutter / mirror mechanism that has sped things up considerably. The camera's top continuous shooting speed is 2.8 frames per second, and the buffer can hold the equivalent of 15 RAW files. The shutter isn't especially quiet when shooting, with a noticeable "spring" sound. Shooting modes available for the Pentax K20D are almost unchanged from the K10D: single-shot, high-speed continuous, low-speed continuous (around 1 frame per second), self-timer (12 seconds, or 2 seconds with mirror lock-up), remote control, and three- or five-shot auto bracketing (1/3EV to 2EV). The Pentax K20D, with its new CMOS sensor, supports a new Burst Shooting mode, which we will discuss a bit later on.

Shooting Modes. With 10 shooting modes selectable from the top-mounted selector dial, the Pentax K20D maintains and doesn't change any of the modes originally found on the K10D. The K20D also maintains the unique Green button, which is generally used to reset metering results to a camera-determined optimal setting. As well, the RAW button is maintained, forming an effective toggle between regular JPEG shooting and RAW mode shooting. Pentax has also embraced the Digital Negative format (DNG) since the K10D, supported by Adobe.

Shooting Speed comparison: K10D / K20D
Camera K10D K20D
RAW File size 17.4MB 24.9MB
Frames per second 3.11 2.82
Frames until buffer filled 10 15
Seconds until buffer cleared 7 15

With the increased resolution of the 14.6-megapixel sensor, the Pentax K20D's overall shooting speed suffers slightly; however, it makes up for this slight reduction in shooting speed with a larger buffer to accept the larger image size.

Live view. The Pentax K20D is now able to deliver a Live view mode by channelling the raw data captured by the sensor directly to the LCD. As with most cameras equipped with this function, to allow this operation the reflex mirror must swing out of the way to allow direct access to the sensor, meaning that while live view is operating, the user is unable to use the optical viewfinder.

Live view on the K20D. The blackouts occur when the K20D resets the mirror to autofocus.

Activating Live view mode is done by swivelling the power switch past the "on" position (the default setting of the depth-of-field preview switch is set to Live view mode, but can also be changed via a custom function setting to either standard digital or optical preview modes). It takes about a second for the mirror to swing out of the way and the mode to be activated. By default Live view mode shows the scene with an overlay of composition grid lines and autofocus area points, either of which can be enabled or disabled in the setup menu.

Activating Live view mode is useful for critical fine-detail manual focus, as the zoom dial can be used to enable 4x or 8x magnification. Using the system in the field, however, I found it was no substitute for using the K20D's optical viewfinder for several reasons. While Live view mode is enabled, it is impossible to change aperture, shutter speed or ISO settings. Regular autofocus is also disabled, but the camera can slip quickly out and back into live view by pressing the "AF" button. Only a few settings can be changed without causing the camera to exit Live view mode. Finally, actually taking a photo in Live view mode operates a bit differently than you'd expect: after pressing the shutter release button the camera swings the mirror back into position, meters and autofocuses, takes the exposure, and then returns to Live view mode.

Live view mode is particularly taxing on the camera's sensor, so Pentax has gone to some lengths to ensure that its prolonged usage does not damage the sensor. Live view mode will automatically shut off after three minutes. In addition, a temperature sensor will monitor the sensor, and turn off Live view mode if the sensor gets too hot.

So while Live view mode can act as a very effective compositional and focusing aid, in practice on the Pentax K20D, it isn't nearly as useful for regular shooting.

Burst shooting. Live view mode made possible another shooting mode which is new to the Pentax K20D, Burst Shooting. This mode allows the user to shoot a continuous series of smaller images at a very fast speed of just over 22 frames per second. This is accomplished by saving the output provided by the Live view mode as individual frames. A maximum of 115 frames can be captured, which at 22 frames per second equates to about 5.3 seconds of continuous shooting. After this, the camera takes a fairly significant time to write all the images to the memory card, locking up the camera in the process. During the acquisition of these images, the images are shown on the LCD. Similar to Live view mode, this shooting mode has very limited application. Exposure settings (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO) are locked during shooting. There's also a significant lag between pressing the shutter button and the commencement of shooting, though it's less obvious if the camera is set to Live view mode.

The images captured during Burst Shooting mode are comparatively small: 1,536 x 1,024 pixels. Adjusting the quality setting has no effect on the maximum number of photographs taken: 116 seems to be the maximum. Just for fun, we've assembled some of the bursts into some short movies.

Marching Ant, 100mm, f/5.6, 1/200Seagull, 200mm, f/5.6, 1/500

In practice, I found burst mode to be more of a gimmick than a practical shooting mode. Pentax should be applauded for taking the first step towards what has become a video mode in digital SLR cameras, but in the K20D, the implementation of burst shooting doesn't quite come together. The lag between pressing the shutter button and the acquisition of images, the 115-image limit and the lengthy write-out time for images to be saved makes it difficult to use the mode effectively. So while it's neat that it's available as a shooting mode, just be aware that it can be somewhat tricky to use effectively.

Pop-up Flash. The guide number on the Pentax K20D's pop-up flash has increased from 11 to 13, a slight increase in light output (for those unfamiliar with guide numbers, it's a representation of the power of the flash; in this case, with the camera set to ISO 100, at a distance of 1 meter, the subject can be well-exposed with an aperture of f/13). The Pentax K20D offers a number of flash modes to control how the flash functions, including red-eye reduction, slow-sync and "Trailing curtain" modes: however, notably absent is the ability to select a manual level of flash output. The Pentax K20D offers flash exposure compensation, up to two stops in negative compensation or one stop in positive compensation. The flash covers a field of view of 28mm in 35mm film terms, which means that when using the Pentax K20D, it will fill the field of view produced by using an 18mm lens. A custom setting allows the camera to automatically set its white balance mode to "Flash" when the pop-up flash is used, or remain with whatever white balance mode has been selected by the user. Flash recycling has been improved: in the K10D, it took 3.75 seconds to recycle the flash. In the K20D, it only takes 3.05 seconds.

Flash options on the K20D.

Wireless flash. The pop-up flash of the Pentax K20D can now be used as a wireless commander, activating compatible Pentax flashes remotely. In our tests with the Pentax AF-360FGZ flash, we found that in an outdoor setting we could reliably trigger the flash wirelessly at a range of about 19 feet. Indoors, with the light of the pop-up flash being reflected off of interior walls, we could trigger the flash at a range of 40 feet (and possibly further, but that was the extent of our testing area). Wireless flash operation is interesting and more than occasionally useful, and we could do a whole separate review of it. The Pentax wireless flash system works, it's just perhaps not subject to the same level of fine-tuning that's possible with similar systems from other manufacturers.

Oddly, shake reduction is not available when wireless flash operation is selected.

Automatic ISO Selection. The Pentax K20D can also automatically regulate the ISO setting used to ensure a reasonable shutter speed is available when metering a scene. The Auto ISO system seems to adhere to the "shutter speed as focal length" rule, meaning if the focal length is 200mm, the camera will seek to select a shutter speed of 1/200 second and choose a corresponding ISO speed. When selecting Auto ISO, by rotating the rear command dial the user can establish the "ceiling" of automatic ISO selection, ensuring the ISO selected doesn't go beyond a certain level. Rotating the front command dial establishes a similar "floor" of ISO selection. In other modes where ISO selection is the prerogative of the camera, the "shutter speed as focal length" rule is also maintained as a guide.

ISO performance. The new sensor of the K20D has allowed for an increase in maximum ISO from 1,600 to 6,400. Image noise is quite well-controlled between ISO 100 and 400, and our review of 13x19-inch prints at these sensitivities showed excellent performance. If you peep very closely you can see some digital grain in shadow areas at ISO 400, but it's not objectionable. At ISO 800, we note some noise and color issues in both shadow and color areas of the image. Shadow areas show purple and green mottling, but edge detail is still quite well preserved. 8x10-inch prints are still excellent at ISO 800. ISO 1,600 however, shows quite substantial issues with both grain and color noise, and edge detail is affected. That said, we have seen much worse performance at ISO 1,600 on other cameras, and 8x10-inch prints are still quite good, even at ISO 1,600. Images shot at ISO 3,200 and 6,400 have an impressive amount of chroma noise throughout the image, which noise reduction does little to remove.

The following comparison series shows the difference between various ISO settings, and the effect of high-ISO Noise Reduction (NR) at ISO settings 800 and higher.

ISO Comparison series

Test Scene

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800 (No High-ISO NR)

ISO 800 (Med High-ISO NR)

ISO 800 (Strong High-ISO NR)

ISO 1,600 (No High-ISO NR)

ISO 1,600 (Med High-ISO NR)

ISO 1,600 (Strong High-ISO NR)

ISO 3,200 (No High-ISO NR)

ISO 3,200 (Med High-ISO NR)

ISO 3,200 (Strong High-ISO NR)

ISO 6,400 (No High-ISO NR)

ISO 6,400 (Med High-ISO NR)

ISO 6,400 (Strong High-ISO NR)

Noise reduction. The K10D had only a single "Noise Reduction" custom setting to contend with noise produced in images. The Pentax K20D now offers two separate options for contending with noise: slow shutter noise reduction, and high ISO noise reduction. Slow shutter noise reduction (hereinafter, "SSNR") is available with a custom setting, and only activates when the shutter speed is set to 1/8 second or slower. SSNR is presumably dark frame reduction, as the camera takes as long as the frame you just shot to process the results through the noise reduction process: thus, a fifteen-second exposure will take thirty seconds before you can see the results. In the custom setting, the K20D allows you to choose between Auto and On -- the help text available with the Auto selection indicates that "Noise Reduction will be automatically activated according to the situation." On the K20D, there is no Off setting for SSNR.

SSNR is effective at dealing with hot pixels that tend to show up in long exposures. "Hot pixels" are defective photosites on the camera's sensor that don't properly register the light that hits them (for more information on this topic, see our article on Hot Pixels). The Pentax K20D comes equipped with a set-up function to deal with the issue of hot pixels ("Pixel mapping"), and you shouldn't hesitate to employ it if you are noting an excess of hot pixels in your exposures.

High ISO Noise Reduction is available to reduce the amount of noise produced in images captured at ISO settings of 800 or higher. At ISO 6,400, strong noise reduction is enabled regardless of the setting chosen. Three levels of high-ISO noise reduction are available: weakest, weak, and strong. The above ISO comparison series shows the effectiveness of these settings.

D-Range. The K20D offers a system that attempts to capture more highlight detail in photographs than the sensor would produce at its default settings. Called "D-Range" (Expanded Dynamic Range), the feature "makes it more difficult for bright areas to occur in the image" (adapted from Pentax user manual). When employed, ISO 100 becomes unavailable, making 200 the base ISO option. In practice, the system preserves highlight detail that would otherwise be blown out if the scene is significantly overexposed. It's worth noting that the Pentax K20D is relatively conservative when metering for exposure, so blown highlights are relatively rare anyway; you'd have to have a suitably challenging scene to see the effects of D-Range, or use exposure compensation. When D-Range is active, it affects images captured in either RAW or JPEG format, so be aware of this when using the setting. D-Range does seem to work as advertised, though the actual range of highlight detail that is maintained could be a subject for long discussion (Pentax seems to claim a figure of 200%, but it's not clear what this figure refers to).

Shadows and sun - a recipe that will challenge any digital sensor. Intentionally over-exposed to bring out the detail in the shadows, the highlights typically suffer. In this example, D-Range was employed, preserving about 1.5 stops of highlights on the horizon.

White Balance. We faulted the K10D for its warmer-than-natural indoor and outdoor automatic white balance: with its default settings, the K20D offers the same warm color cast in both situations. Fortunately, Pentax doesn't lock you into its vision of what certain color settings should be: you can fine-tune each of its eight white balance settings to your preference. The K20D offers not only a red-blue adjustment to warm-up or cool-down a given white balance, but also offers the option to move the color point between Green and Magenta points. Helpfully, the Pentax K20D will provide you with a reference image so you can see the effect of your adjustment: usually, this is the last image shot, but you can check it at any time to update your sample image. This system provides an exceptional level of fine-tuned control over white balance selection, perhaps one of the better implementations we've seen across manufacturers.

Shake Reduction. Pentax doesn't mention any changes with regard to its Shake Reduction technology as implemented in the K20D. Pentax advertises the effectiveness of its shake reduction system as allowing the user to shoot up to four stops below what would normally be required to secure a sharp image in handheld shooting (the classic rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed more or less equal to the focal length being used). Thus, for a focal length of 200mm, a shutter speed of 1/200s should be used, and using SR should allow the user to get away with a shutter speed of 1/13 of a second (1/100, 1/50, 1/25, 1/13) and still get a sharp image. Shake reduction systems only augment the ability of the shooter, so if you are shooting with a sloppy technique, you won't see amazing results. But in some casual shooting, being very strict with my technique, I can attest to the four stops of additional range, if not more: in using the camera I was able to get crisp shots at shutter speeds as slow as 1/5 of a second.

At 200mm, hand shake is noticeable on the right, but restrained on the left.

The Pentax version of shake reduction, being built into the camera body, offers the very real advantage of turning the entire Pentax lens collection into shake-reduced lenses. For older lenses, the focal length must be entered manually into the camera, so it can properly judge the amount of shake reduction required. The only disadvantage is that one cannot see the effect the shake reduction is having during composition; the system only engages while the shutter is open. A corresponding advantage is that no additional power is consumed, because the system is only active for a moment.

Pentax notes that its shake reduction system doesn't properly address panning subjects, and that the system should be switched off when the camera is attached to a tripod. Further, shake reduction is automatically disabled (even if the switch is set to On) when the camera is set to Bulb mode, Remote control shutter release, Self-timer or when wireless strobes are being used.

Pixelation problem. In Shawn's review of the K10D, he noted issues with hot pixels showing up in certain images with fine lines, like window blinds. To our knowledge, this was never resolved, and incidentally did not show up in the Samsung GX-10. The Pentax K20D arrived at our lab with an even more severe pixelation problem, where dead pixels were showing up in just about any gray and some other solid colors, increasing as the ISO went up. We let Pentax know and they came up with a firmware update (v 1.01) that solved the problem rather neatly. You'll still see the dead pixels from before the firmware update in the FAR shots, and a few others. (To see the new versions, look for our sample images with "V1.01" in the file name.)

Custom Image settings. By pressing the Fn button and then the central OK button, the Pentax K20D offers the user the ability to modify custom image profiles. For example, by default the Portrait image profile has a very neutral placement of saturation, hue, contrast, and sharpness; if you want your portraits to be more saturated, you can override this setting to your preference. The Pentax K20D offers five image style settings by default: Bright, Natural, Portrait, Landscape and Vibrant. A Monochrome (Black and White conversion) option is also available, with the ability to simulate the use of ten different color filters, everything from basic color filters to an infrared filter effect. The filter effects are quite convincing, a natural extension of how the image sensor can be used, and might convince you to leave your filters at home. The Black and White conversion can be further modified with a Toning adjustment which allows you to dial in an amount of either selenium style processing (blues) or sepia style processing (browns). As well, contrast and sharpness can be adjusted with this filter. Helpfully, the interface allows you to take a sample image with the depth-of-field preview button, or shows you the last image shot, to use as a reference image; adjustments made in the interface are simulated in the sample image.

Post-processing modes on the K20D.

Post-processing modes. Pentax has integrated a great deal of functionality into the K20D for reviewing and processing photographs in-camera. By pressing the "Fn" button in Playback mode, the user has a few options available, including the ability to set up DPOF direct printing, play a slideshow, convert from RAW to JPEG, compare photos side-by-side, and add post-processing effects. Post-processing effects include black and white or sepia desaturation, color treatments, a softness filter, an intense illustration-like effect, HDR (high dynamic range) processing, brightness modification and a questionable Slimming mode. It's interesting to play around with these functions, and new images can be created with the processing effects added.

Post-processing adjustments are saved as new images, which can take a while if you're working with 14.6-megapixel images. Applying the illustration effect, for example, took 27 seconds to process.

Storage and battery. The Pentax K20D uses SD or SDHC memory cards for image storage. Even though MMC is technically the same format, you won't find mention of it anywhere in the K20D instruction manual, suggesting that Pentax no longer officially supports the standard (you'd be hard-pressed to find MMC cards on store shelves now, at any rate). The largest files you'll be recording on a memory card are images saved with the RAW+DNG quality level, which take up approximately 26.9 megabytes on a card. The Pentax K20D adds a fourth quality level over the K200D ("4-star"), and a 14.6-megapixel JPEG image saved with this quality level runs around 14.8 megabytes. If you're looking to fill your camera with thousands of images, you can shoot at a reduced 2-megapixel level, where the lowest-quality ("1-star") option produces a file of almost 450 kilobytes. Obviously these numbers for JPEGs will change somewhat depending on the complexity of the scene you're shooting. Unlike the K200D, which caps at 999 the number of photos available to be taken in the viewfinder and top LCD, the K20D is not restricted in this manner. This number will change based on the compression factor of the images shot; you may be able to squeeze in more photos than indicated.

The K20D uses a proprietary battery, the D-LI50, for power. Depending on the temperature where the camera is operating, Pentax suggests you can get between 320-420 shots with 100% flash use, and 700-740 shots without. Using the CIPA standard (50% flash use at 23°C), the K20D is rated at 530 shots per charge.

The Dust Alert image.

More options for dust reduction. The K20D uses the same suite of tools available in the K200D for contending with dust: a special coating on the sensor to reduce the chances of dust adhering to the sensor, a vibrating sensor carriage to shake loose any attached dust, and finally, a new dust alert system that takes a high-contrast photo to show the user where any stubborn dust particles remain on the sensor, to aid more traditional cleaning methods.

Appraisal. We were impressed with the K10D, and thankfully, Pentax hasn't re-invented the wheel so much as they've improved it. Most of the changes to the K20D are under the hood, so to speak, with slight changes to the interface to accommodate new modes such as Live View and Burst shooting. But for the most part the shooting experience is unchanged, which is a good thing, as the K10D was a fairly easy camera to "get into." Pentax has recognized that the K20D occupies a increasingly competitive field, and has recently made the K20D a more attractive option by announcing some price incentives, dropping its MSRP from $1,299.95 to $799.95 for the body only.

While it's not without its foibles, the Pentax K20D consistently performs.

 

Pentax K20D Basic Features

  • 14.6-megapixel CMOS APS-C imager with 1.5x crop factor
  • Pentax KAF2 bayonet lens mount compatible with the full range of Pentax K lenses, plus M-series lenses via an adapter
  • 11-point SAFOX VIII autofocus system with 9 cross-type AF sensors
  • 2.8 frames-per-second continuous shooting
  • Pentaprism optical viewfinder with 95% coverage, 0.95x magnification
  • 2.7-inch, 230,000 pixel color LCD monitor with wide viewing angle
  • Illuminated top panel status LCD
  • Full P.A.S.M. exposure modes
  • Shutter speeds from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds, plus a Bulb setting for long exposures
  • Spot, Center-Weighted, and Multi-Metering modes
  • ISO from 100 to 3,200 equivalent, with expansion to 6,400
  • Automatic exposure bracketing (3 or 5 frames)
  • Built-in P-TTL flash with eight modes and flash exposure compensation
  • Self-timer for 12- or 2-second delayed shutter release, with mirror up function
  • Topside external flash hot shoe
  • Adobe RGB and sRGB color space options
  • SD/SDHC memory storage (no card included)
  • USB 2.0 High Speed computer connection
  • NTSC/PAL video out
  • DC input terminal
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility
  • D-LI50 Rechargeable lithium-ion battery and charger
  • Software for Mac and PC

 

Pentax K20D Special Features

  • Shake Reduction technology to minimize blurring from camera movement
  • Dust reduction system, as well as Dust Alert function
  • Live View mode
  • Brightness and color adjustable LCD monitor
  • AF Adjustment (fine-tuning) for body and up to 20 lenses
  • Catch-in focus mode (focus trap)
  • Adjustable high ISO noise reduction
  • Three preview methods: Optical, Digital, and Live View
  • Selectable Program Lines (Normal, Hi-speed priority, DOF priority, MTF priority)
  • USER exposure mode for custom settings
  • Dual control dials with flexible customization options
  • Multiple exposure support (2 to 9 frames)
  • Extended bracketing for white balance, saturation, hue, contrast, sharpness
  • Up to 32x playback magnification with compare mode
  • 22 frames-per-second, 1.6-megapixel high-speed burst mode
  • Dynamic Range Expansion mode
  • Intervalometer for time-lapse photography
  • Optional remote control (wired and infrared)
  • Dual infrared receivers (front and back)
  • Unique Sensitivity Priority (Sv) as well as Shutter & Aperture Priority (TAv) modes
  • Post-capture filters for Color, Black & White, Sepia, Soft, Illustration, Slim, HDR, etc.
  • Pixel remapping function
  • PC-Sync connector
  • Wireless flash support
  • Four quality levels for JPEGs
  • Two RAW file formats (PEF and DNG), plus TIFF
  • In-camera RAW conversion
  • Programmable RAW button
  • 36 Custom Menu settings, including options for non-CPU Pentax lenses
  • Available vertical battery grip with power management
  • Weather-sealed body for splash and dust resistance

 

In the Box

Included in the box with the K20D are the following items:

  • Pentax K20D body with body cap, eyepiece cap, eyecup, sync socket cap and hotshoe cover
  • D-LI50 Rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • O-ST53 camera strap
  • I-USB17 USB cable
  • I-VC28 video cable
  • Pentax Software Suite CD-ROM and Pentax Photo Browser/Laboratory 3 manual
  • Operating Manual and Quick Guide
  • Registration kit

 

Recommended Accessories


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Pentax K20D Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Rugged construction with stainless steel chassis and full environmental sealing
  • Nice 2.7-inch, 230,000 pixel LCD that's color adjustable
  • Built-in Shake Reduction works with all lenses
  • Dust reduction and dust alert systems
  • Extremely high resolution with excellent detail
  • Excellent printed results
  • Very good ISO performance, with flexible noise reduction options at high ISO
  • Function menu provides quick access to common functions
  • Very flexible RAW shooting options, with option to save RAW files as DNG (or PEF+DNG)
  • Tenacious 11-point autofocus system that only gives up in poor lighting conditions
  • Focus-trap mode
  • Very intuitive automatic ISO selection
  • Compatible with all Pentax K-mount lenses
  • Digital filters, very flexible custom image profile adjustments
  • Very interesting post-processing image manipulation options
  • Very good exposure accuracy
  • Can wirelessly activate remote Pentax flashes, as well as contributing to final exposure
  • AF adjustment compensates for front and back focusing for up to 20 lenses
  • Expanded Dynamic Range mode works to retain highlights
  • Good low light exposure results
  • Very good flash test results
  • Very fast shutter lag times
  • High-speed continuous mode captures 22 frames per second at 1.6 megapixels
  • Left-hand grip helps when adjusting camera settings or looking at photos
  • Good value for money
  • Live view mode has only limited usefulness
  • Live view mode only covers 98% of image capture area
  • No focus assist lamp, if light conditions are poor, camera relies on annoying strobing flash to achieve focus
  • Flash x-sync only 1/180s
  • Auto white balance handles incandescent lighting poorly
  • No dedicated white balance button
  • Long wait times while data writes-out post-processing effects
  • Stops focusing below 1/4 foot-candle
  • Default color saturation is pumped more than other SLRs in this category
  • Warm skin tones
  • Default sharpening leaves noticeable halo artifacts
  • High contrast in harsh sunlight
  • Full-resolution frame rate is slow for a professional-grade digital SLR at under 3 frames-per-second

 

With its 14.6-megapixel sensor, the Pentax K20D produces some of the highest-resolution photographs in its category. It's a tough job to squeeze that huge number of pixels into an APS-C sized sensor, but the K20D manages it quite well; noise isn't a practical factor until ISO 800, edges are well-preserved, and even at ISO 1,600 8x10-inch prints are excellent. In its default settings, automatic white balance tends to produce overly warm images for our taste, but the Pentax white balance system is heavily adjustable to suit anyone's needs.

There are enough shooting modes to cover just about any shooting situation. Pentax made a bold stride by including Burst Shooting mode, and while it's interesting to play around with, it's limited in just enough ways to be really useful. Shake reduction continues to be excellent, one of the best implementations we've seen, with crisp results at very slow shutter speeds. Live view mode makes an appearance, but without being able to adjust aperture, shutter speed or pretty much any setting while it's activated, it becomes a fair bit about trial and error. In a studio setting, Live view comes in handy, but in the field, it just slows you down.

The Pentax K20D has enough features to appeal to the advanced photographer, and has the rugged construction to appeal to the professional. However, Pentax is only now beginning to provide a few key lenses in its SDM (supersonic drive motor) line. Autofocus performance, while tenacious and effective, isn't as fast as other manufacturers at acquiring lock-on. To its credit, the K20D will hunt for much longer, and in many instances achieve focus, where other systems will give up.

With its high level of customization, both during and after shooting, the Pentax K20D offers a wealth of options for advanced photographers who like to tweak settings to perfection. The K20D does take some getting used to in order to produce excellent images, but Pentax makes it easier to acclimatize to the camera by offering a Green mode, which essentially puts the camera into full automatic. But to achieve the best the camera can offer, you'll have to make the leap at some point to the more advanced modes.

When used properly the Pentax K20D can produce excellent images, making it easy to declare it a Dave's Pick.


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