Pentax K-7 Review

 
Camera Reviews / Pentax Cameras / Pentax SLR i Full Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Pentax K-7
Resolution: 14.60 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
Kit Lens: n/a
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
ISO: 100-6400
Shutter: 30-1/8000
Max Aperture: n/a
Dimensions: 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.9 in.
(130 x 97 x 74 mm)
Weight: 26.7 oz (758 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $1,300
Availability: 07/2009
Manufacturer: Pentax
Full specs: Pentax K-7 specifications
14.60
Megapixels
Pentax K (KA/KAF/KAF2) APS-C
size sensor
image of Pentax K-7
Front side of Pentax K-7 digital camera Back side of Pentax K-7 digital camera Top side of Pentax K-7 digital camera Left side of Pentax K-7 digital camera Right side of Pentax K-7 digital camera
Imaging Resource rating

4.5 out of 5.0

Pentax K-7 Overview

Reviewed by Dave Etchells, Mike Tomkins,
Shawn Barnett, and Zig Weidelich
Preview Date: 05/20/09
Full Review: 08/20/09

The Pentax K-7 incorporates all of what was great about their long-underrated line of digital SLRs with a slew of upgrades and enhancements that should make camera buyers stand up and take notice.

Indeed, the launch of the Pentax K-7 could be a defining moment for Pentax, whose camera business dates back to 1952. Announced in 2003, Pentax's early digital SLRs were advanced for their day, but were plagued by an odd naming convention that kept them out of the mainstream unjustly, until recently, when cameras like the K100D, K10D, and their successors invoked the name of the legendary K1000 film camera whose life spanned 30 years of Pentax history.

Though the Pentax K-7's predecessor, the K20D, is a capable and advanced digital SLR, the K-7 makes a quantum leap, meeting the needs of a wide range of photographers who don't even know they need what the K7 offers. The Pentax K7 also stands to earn praise from the Pentax fan base thanks to its new body design. Where the K20D was big and bulky, the K-7 is small and tight -- something many Pentaxians missed from the early days of the *ist D.

The list of enhancements in the Pentax K-7 defies our ability to neatly summarize them with a few paragraphs or phrases, so we suggest that you read the whole review to grasp the breadth of what the K-7 offers. Enhancements include a reinforced chassis and body design, a completely redesigned sensor, an improved frame rate of 5.2 frames per second, the ability to capture HD movies at 30 frames per second, and an HDMI port to match. The Pentax K-7's 77-segment metering system replaces the old 16-segment design, and a 3-inch LCD with 921,000 pixels will sincerely please long-time Pentax fans, matching the best technology in recent competing designs.

Other, more revolutionary features include an Electronic Level function, which uses the Pentax K7's unique image stabilization system to actually rotate the sensor by plus or minus one degree to keep horizon lines straight. You can even shift the sensor left, right, up, and down to fine-tune your image with the Pentax K7 mounted on a tripod with the Composition Adjustment feature, a unique use of sensor-shift image stabilization technology.

As I say, there's a lot of detail that defies easy encapsulation into a few marketing slogans, so our only concern for Pentax is that once again their excellent digital SLRs and superb-quality lenses will be missed by the masses who won't take the time to do their research into why a Pentax camera might be a good alternative. But you're here now, so let's get down to the business of telling you why you might consider the impressive new Pentax K-7.

Body-only pricing for the Pentax K-7 is set at $1,299.95, with availability starting July 2009. Be sure to check our shopping links above and at the end of each page for current prices.

 

Pentax K7 User Report

by Shawn Barnett and Dave Etchells

With the introduction of the K-7, Pentax appears to be positioning itself as a leader in the rugged camera category, making a smaller camera that is better sealed against the elements, with 77 seals that deliver "weather, dust, and cold resistance." That latter point is perhaps the most unique, with no other digital SLR of this class offering a promise of durability down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Pentax K-7 is a little smaller than the K20D, and a little lighter as well. Built with a steel chassis and a magnesium alloy body, the Pentax K-7 feels tight and solid. Despite its sturdy build, the new camera's body weighs less, just 26.5 ounces (751g) with battery and card. Compared to the K20D's 28.3 ounces (802g) with battery and card, the K-7 has lost about 1.8 ounces (51g). Dimensions are 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.9 inches (129.5 x 96.5 x 73.6mm), while the K20D was 5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 inches (142 x 102 x 70mm).

At first blush, the Pentax K-7 seems very similar to the K20D, but a closer look reveals a complete redesign. First, the grip is recut, with a nice finger slot to improve grip acquisition. The shutter button seems a little higher on the grip top as well, and just to the right is an AF illumination lamp that wasn't on the K20D, which lights green when the Pentax K7 has difficulty focusing. The IR remote sensor is a little further down on the grip. And the wide strap loops are replaced by more traditional lugs, which usually require D-rings to accommodate a strap. Pentax provides leather-like pads to minimize scratching, but it's the rattle potential that still concerns me, especially while you're recording video.

Much of the weight savings must have come from the grip, which is tighter, and the camera's design is more angular. Instead of creating the illusion of flow with all the curves you see on the K20D, the Pentax K-7's design expresses efficiency. Control placement, while similar to the K20D, is also more efficient. The EV adjustment makes more sense up here next to the status display, and the new ISO button does too, for the same reason.

In addition to the usual unusual Pentax capture modes, the Mode dial has a new icon for the Pentax K-7's Movie mode. The Status display glows a very bright green, and several of the icons on the rear Status display come very close to matching this green.

Were it not for all the controls packed tightly on the right side, I'd call this look on the Pentax K-7's back panel minimalist. No-nonsense comes to mind as a good description for the complete lack of flair in comparison to the K20D. I like it. Just give me the view, the controls I need, and a nice big LCD to see my photographs. Playback and trash make sense together. Pentax separated the AF mode switch and Four-way navigator for an easier interface, and they nested the AF button itself in the center of the switch, a logical move.

Trim: It's clear from these comparison shots that the Pentax K7 body has trimmed down noticeably from the K20D design.

The Live View button is easy to reach, yet hard to press accidentally; at least for me -- Dave found himself pressing it too often. I'm also pleased to see the rear IR remote window still on the back of the camera, where it makes more sense for just about any kind of photography when taking a shake-free photograph is the goal, rather than getting into your own shots, a decidedly more consumer use for a remote release like the one still used on the battery door.

The Pentax K-7's SD card door opens differently from the K20D, with a simple pull to the rear, instead of the more elaborate mechanical release. The remote release socket has found a new home on the right side of the Pentax K-7, just below the SD card door.

More features are on the left side of the camera, including the mechanical flash release button, the RAW toggle button, and the AF switch, but the PC Sync has moved to just below the flash release button. New components include the Microphone jack and the HDMI jack, both concealed under rubber doors. Much as we liked the plastic door on the K20D, the Pentax K-7 returns to a rubber door for the majority of its ports.

Battery. A new battery comes with the Pentax K-7, a 7.2v 1,860mAh lithium-ion battery that also has a new pin-out and a new charger: the corded D-BC90. The new battery is rated at 980 images per charge, or 740 images with 50% flash usage.

You release the battery by raising a small, flat hasp from the bottom of the camera, then turn it counter-clockwise. Inside, a gray, springloaded retention latch prevents the battery from falling free. A small protrusion lets you open the latch with a fingernail.

Battery grip. The D-BG4 battery grip for the Pentax K7 comes with two trays, one for six AA batteries, and one for a single D-BC90 battery. The Pentax K7's battery door is not removable, so you can leave a battery in the camera to double the battery life. While this design is nice mainly because you don't have to worry about the cumbersome tower that goes up into the battery compartments of other camera designs, you will have to remove the entire grip to change the Pentax K7's internal battery.

The D-BG4 duplicates several controls from the camera's main interface, including the shutter release, front and rear e-dials, the AE-Lock, and the AF button.


Sensor. Inside the Pentax K-7 is a brand new 14.6-megapixel CMOS image sensor manufactured by partner company Samsung, yielding images at 4,672 x 3,104 pixels or below. With dimensions of 23.4 x 15.6mm (APS-C), the Pentax K-7's sensor has a Bayer RGB filter, and is said to offer improved on-chip noise control as compared to that of the K20D. Four-channel readout coupled with a newly designed PRIME II image processor allow the Pentax K-7 to achieve 5.2 frames-per-second shooting -- the fastest of any Pentax digital SLR to date.

The Pentax K-7 can store 12-bit RAW sensor data in either Pentax's proprietary .PEF format, or Adobe's DNG (digital negative) format. Burst depth at the maximum framerate is limited to 40 JPEG compressed, 15 PEF RAW, or 14 DNG RAW files. At a reduced framerate of 3.3 fps, this increases to 17 RAW files of either format, with JPEG bursts at this speed limited only by available battery and memory card capacity.

Shake Reduction. Pentax has mounted the K-7's image sensor on a ball-bearing supported moveable platter, allowing for sensor-shift image stabilization -- which Pentax brands Shake Reduction -- compatible with all Pentax interchangeable lenses produced to date. For the first time, the sensor-shift mechanism can correct not only for horizontal and vertical motion, but also for rotation around the axis of the lens barrel (though we've reported that this was a feature of Shake Reduction back to the K100D, Pentax informs us that this was a result of a translation error back in 2006). One degree of rotational correction on either side of the central position is possible, and Pentax is claiming 2.5 to 4 stops of correction can be derived from its sensor shift system.

The drawback to Pentax's Shake Reduction technology is that you can't see its effects as you look through the optical viewfinder, as you can with Canon and Nikon's lens-based stabilization systems. But thanks to the Pentax K7's Live View mode, you can indeed see the effect on the LCD, and SR seems to be pretty solid and effective.

Dust removal. The Pentax K-7 also includes a new DR II dust removal system. Where past models relied on the sensor shift mechanism to remove dust from the sensor -- rather ineffectively according to our tests -- the K-7 now includes a piezo-ceramic element to vibrate the low-pass filter. A dust alert system can check for the presence of dust on the low-pass filter, at the user's prompting.

New shutter mechanism. A newly designed shutter unit is capable of a maximum 1/8,000 second shutter speed, and a rated lifetime of 100,000 cycles. To prevent vibration issues in long exposures, the Pentax K7 offers a mirror lockup function that also functions during continuous shooting in Live View mode. A full 5.0EV of exposure compensation is available in either 1/3 or 1/2EV steps, and the Pentax K-7 also includes a 2 and 12-second self-timer.

Prime II processor. A new processor design also graces the Pentax K7, called PRIME II. The new design allows faster image processing, again contributing to the faster frame rate, as well as the ability to record and play movies.

Lens mount. On its front panel, the Pentax K-7 features a KAF2 Lens mount, which is also compatible with KAF3, KAF, and KA mount lenses. Pentax K mount, 35mm screwmount, and 645/67 medium format lenses can also be attached, although there may be restrictions including the use of an adapter.

Metering. Automatic exposure is achieved courtesy of a new 77-segment metering sensor, which replaces the company's 16-segment metering system. Options include Matrix, Center-weighted, and Spot metering, selectable via the switch beneath the Mode dial.

Sensitivity. The combination of sensor and processor in the Pentax K-7 combine to yield sensitivity ranging from ISO 100 to 3,200 equivalents by default. This can be expanded to a maximum of ISO 6,400 if required. When shooting bulb exposures, the K-7 is limited to a maximum sensitivity of ISO 1,600 equivalent.

White balance. The K-7 offers a wide range of white balance settings: as well as Automatic and Manual modes, there are no less than ten white balance presets (Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Daylight Color Fluorescent, Daylight White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Tungsten, Flash, and Color Temperature Enhancement). This last option is used to retain and enhance the lighting tone - for example, to enhance a sunset. Finally, three specific color temperatures can be manually stored in-camera for later recall. We're pleased to report that the Pentax K7's Auto White Balance is excellent, easily compensating for tungsten lighting, something that has eluded the entire line of Pentax digital SLRs previously.

Modes. Exposure modes in the Pentax K-7 include Green (fully automatic), Manual, Bulb, Shutter- and Aperture-priority, and a Hyper Program mode which allows shutter and aperture to be simultaneously adjusted around a predetermined Program exposure. There's also Sensitivity Priority, plus Shutter-and-Aperture Priority where the user defines both shutter speed and aperture, and the camera selects an appropriate sensitivity.

Same points, improved function. The Pentax K7 uses the same 11 AF points as its predecessor, but incorporates multiple enhancements in algorithms and speed.

11-point AF. The Pentax K-7's autofocus system is also upgraded, based around a SAFOX VIII Plus AF sensor and a secondary light color sensor. The wide 11-point AF sensor has nine central cross-type elements, and the light color sensor allows the camera to take account of the light source when determining microfocus. The autofocus algorithms have also been reworked for improved AF responsiveness, and a dedicated AF-assist lamp means that the camera's internal flash needn't be raised when focusing in poor ambient lighting conditions.

LCD. The Pentax K-7's design includes a 3.0-inch LCD display with 921,000 dots of resolution, which is essentially 640 x 480 in real-world terms. The display is an in-plane switching TFT type, which offers wide 170 degree horizontal and vertical viewing angles, and includes an anti-reflective coating. Depth-of-field preview is possible in both the optical viewfinder and on the LCD display.

Live View. Focusing in Live View mode has also been improved: the Pentax K-7 offers both contrast detection AF, and face detection capable of recognizing up to 16 individual faces in a scene. When in live view mode, the display can be magnified from two to six times if using autofocus, up to a maximum of 10x magnification in manual focus mode. Optional histogram, grid overlay, and over / underexposure highlight displays are also available in live view mode.

Viewfinder. Another area in which Pentax has upgraded the K-7 is the glass prism-type TTL optical viewfinder, which offers a 100% field of view and 0.92x magnification. Four interchangeable focusing screens are available, including a new Natural-Bright-Matte III screen, and the viewfinder offers -2.5 to +1.5 diopter adjustment to cater for eyeglass wearers.

1 Degree is more than you think Horizon Correction is limited to +/-1 degree, but that's a very useful amount of leveling, as can be seen here in this animation.
Move the sensor, not the camera Here's another really unexpected consequence of a body-based IS system: Use the IS actuators to shift the sensor for fine-tuning your composition when on a tripod!

Composition correction. One of the more unusual features of the Pentax K-7 relies on its sensor-shift image stabilization mechanism. When shooting on a tripod, it is possible to fine-tune your framing by manually controlling the position and rotation of the image sensor. A total of two degrees rotation and two millimeters of horizontal or vertical adjustment (one degree and 1mm on either side of the centered position) are available.

Electronic leveling. Thanks to an internal leveling sensor, the K-7 also offers an electronic level function that actually rotates the sensor to a level position when enabled, correcting for errors of one degree in either direction. The Pentax K7 performs this unique trick whether held horizontal or vertical.

Lens distortion correction. The Pentax K-7 can correct for lens distortion and lateral chromatic aberration in-camera when using DA and DFA lenses, another feature usually found on more expensive camera models.

Time-lapse. Pentax has also included a time lapse mode in the K-7, and the camera can also shoot multiple exposures with an overlay of the previous image on the LCD to assist in alignment.

HDR. A high-dynamic-range function automatically combines three shots with differing exposures in-camera, yielding a single image with increased dynamic range. There are two modes, HDR1 and HDR2, which apply Standard and Strong amounts of compensation for different effects.

A bagful of filters built-in. Another area where Pentax helps those who want to avoid their computer is in the K-7's wide range of digital filter effects. There are six Custom Image presets -- Bright, Natural, Portrait, Landscape, Vibrant, and Muted -- each of which offers -4 to +4 steps of fine-tuning for saturation, hue, brightness, contrast, and sharpness.

A further Monochrome mode includes the same range of adjustment over brightness, contrast and sharpness, and adds -4 to +4 steps of image toning, plus the ability to specify either a green, yellow, orange, red, magenta, blue, cyan, or infrared color filter if desired. Other post-capture filters include Toy Camera, Retro, High Contrast, Extract Color, Soft Focus, Starburst, Fisheye, Monochrome, Color, Water Color, Pastel, Slim, Miniature, HDR, Base Parameter Adjust, and Custom Filter.

The Base Parameter Adjust function allows the user to specify a brightness, saturation, hue, contrast, and sharpness adjustment for a specific image. The custom filter meanwhile allows a filter to be created and saved for future use, with the user selecting from a combination of color, contrast, sharpness, shading and distortion effects.

Copyright. You can now specify a copyright holder for storage in the EXIF header of photographs via the camera's menu system, rather than setting this via an attached computer.

Flash. As well as a hot shoe and PC socket for external flash and studio lighting connection, the Pentax K-7 includes a built-in popup flash. Rated at 13 meters / ISO 100, the K-7's onboard flash offers 28mm coverage and red-eye removal capability. The K-7 has X-sync at 1/180 second, offers -2 to +1EV of flash exposure compensation, and can offer both first- and second-curtain flash.

Movie mode. Thanks again to its high-speed image processor and four-channel sensor readout, Pentax has been able to offer a high definition movie capture mode for the Pentax K-7. Movies are recorded at a full 30 frames per second with 1536 x 1024, 1280 x 720, or 640 x 416 pixel options available. Movies are stored as MotionJPEG compressed AVI files. The Pentax K-7 includes a mono microphone and a 3.5mm stereo jack through which an external microphone can be connected; Pentax is recommending the use of an external microphone for optimal sound quality.

It is possible to lock exposure during video capture if required, and unusually the Pentax K-7 offers the ability to explicitly specify the desired aperture prior to capture starting. Contrast detection autofocus is not possible during video shooting (it was on the prototype, but that feature has been dropped for production); rather the user must trigger the autofocus to operate before recording starts. Finally, the image stabilization functionality of the Pentax K-7 can be used during video capture.

For a full writeup, complete with samples and crops of the Pentax K-7's video capability, click here for the Video tab.

Storage and interface. The Pentax K-7 stores images on Secure Digital cards, including the newer Secure Digital High Capacity types. Interface options include high definition HDMI and standard definition NTSC / PAL video outputs, as well as USB 2.0 high speed data connectivity The Pentax K-7 comes bundled with Pentax Digital Camera Utility 4 software, based on Ichikawa Soft Laboratory's popular Silkypix application.

New lenses. Alongside the launch of the camera, Pentax has also announced two new lenses which bring the company's weather-resistance to a new, lower pricepoint. The SMC DA 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 AL WR has pricing of $200, while the SMC DA 50-200mm F4-5.6 ED WR is priced at $250.

 

Pentax K7 Image Quality

Pentax K7 versus Nikon D5000 at ISO 1,600

Pentax K7 at ISO 1,600

Nikon D5000 at ISO 1,600

Up against the Nikon D5000, the Pentax K7 does pretty well at ISO 1,600 with the default Medium noise reduction applied. Some detail appears soft, but these images print very well. The only major failing is the red leaf fabric, a very difficult challenge for any camera.


Pentax K7 versus Canon T1i at ISO 1,600

Pentax K7 at ISO 1,600

Canon T1i at ISO 1,600

Pentax K7 does well against the T1i in some of the more challenging parts of the target. Grain is a little more coarse in the shadows, but contrast seems to be better in the mosaic crop. The Pentax K-7 has more trouble with the red cloth than the T1i, but not by much.


Pentax K7 versus Olympus E-P1 at ISO 1,600

Pentax K7 at ISO 1,600

Olympus E-P1 at ISO 1,600

Detail is of higher contrast with the Olympus E-P1 among contrasty objects, but the K7's rendering of the fine detail in the Mosaic is better defined. Again, though, the leaf pattern challenges the K-7 more than the E-P1.


Pentax K7 versus Panasonic GH1 at ISO 1,600

Pentax K7 at ISO 1,600

Panasonic GH1 at ISO 1,600

The Pentax K-7's sensor renders the scene with more vibrant color, a not-uncommon outcome against the GH1. As such, I prefer the K-7's rendering of the scene. The mosaic image from the GH1 probably has more detail, but the exposure makes that harder to determine.


Addendum: At the request of a reader who wanted to see some more comparably priced SLRs up against the ~$1,300 Pentax K7, I'm adding in a few more crops from the Nikon D90, D300, Canon 50D, and Nikon D700. They were left out not because they are better, as our reader thought, but because they represent the older versions of each company's respective noise suppression technology. Since each didn't do quite as well as the Canon T1i, they fell out of the running, but they may fare a little better here against the K7. He is right, though, that they should have been included for a clearer understanding, so here they are. I'll let you be the judge.

Pentax K7 versus Nikon D90 at ISO 1,600

Pentax K7 at ISO 1,600

Nikon D90 at ISO 1,600

Placed here against the 12.3-megapixel Nikon D90, the Pentax cuts it close again in the first two images. The Pentax K7's slightly higher resolution makes the overall image larger, meaning there are more pixels to describe detail. Though the Nikon image of the mosaic bottle looks more "photographic" I think the K7 image would probably print better without sharpening. However, the Nikon still outdoes the K7 with the Leaf fabric (you're getting tired of reading that by now, I'm sure).


Pentax K7 versus Nikon D300 at ISO 1,600

Pentax K7 at ISO 1,600

Nikon D300 at ISO 1,600

The Nikon D300 does do quite well against the K7 at ISO 1,600, though it also drops contrast on the way up the scale, while the Pentax K7 works to maintain contrast and saturation as ISO rises. I'll let you be the judge of which approach you prefer.


Pentax K7 versus Canon 50D at ISO 1,600

Pentax K7 at ISO 1,600

Canon 50D at ISO 1,600

The Pentax K7 does pretty well against the Canon 50D, despite its slightly lower resolution. Results look very similar to the T1i, but the 50D sharpens less, and has fewer luminance artifacts than either the T1i or the K7. These grainy artifacts, without much color, actually help with printed results, for some reason. Either way, both cameras again do well at ISO 1,600, with neither really besting the other, except in that red leaf fabric. It's also interesting to note that the mosaic label more closely resembles the K7 than the D300 or 50D: it's very sharp and contrasty.


Pentax K7 versus Nikon D700 at ISO 1,600

Pentax K7 at ISO 1,600

Nikon D700 at ISO 1,600

Put up against the $2,700 Nikon D700, the Pentax K7 is finally bested noticeably. But again, this is a very expensive, full-frame digital SLR, one with bigger pixels. The $1,299 does well nonetheless for less than half the price. But see the detail shots in the second table below to see how comparable they are at a difficult black and white subject.


Detail: Pentax K-7, Olympus E-P1, Panasonic GH1, Canon T1i, and Nikon D5000

Pentax K-7
ISO 100
ISO 3,200

Olympus E-P1
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
GH1
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Canon T1i
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Nikon D5000
ISO 100
ISO 3,200

Detail comparison. The Pentax K7's detail is pretty good at both ISO 100 and 3,200, shown above. Detail is a little soft, but not over-sharpened. Looking at the horizontal lines in the Pure Brewed letters, however, there is some chrominance error, where the lines appear with alternating colors, as opposed to clean, black lines. Though the E-P1 and T1i show more detail, both also show signs of oversharpening. While it doesn't look as solid as some of the others at ISO 3,200, this image prints very well.

 

Detail: Pentax K-7, Nikon D90, D300, Canon 50D, Nikon D700

Pentax K-7
ISO 100
ISO 3,200

Nikon D90
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Nikon D300
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Canon 50D
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Nikon D700
ISO 100
ISO 3,200

Detail comparison. Here up against more comparably priced -- and one much higher-priced D700 -- the K7 does reasonably well. Not stellar, but neither are any but the 50D quite excellent at this challenging target; and the 50D's 15.1-megapixel image shows sharpening artifacts at ISO 100. So while none of them is perfect, none also stand out as significantly better than the others here in pixel-peeper land. All of these companies are getting quite good at maintaining detail at high ISO, though each has a different approach.


Shooting with the Pentax K-7

The Pentax K-7 is enjoyable to use, more so as I continue to shoot with it. Though it's not the first small Pentax I've shot, the K7 is easily the most refined. The grip is shorter and closer to the lens, which really helps keep the camera balanced. The K20D's grip, on the other hand, is wide, moving the center of gravity too far from the grip, which makes bringing the camera up to your left hand more of a chore.

Small mag-alloy: As a camera prepared for back-woods work, the Pentax K7 has plenty of rivals in the size category. Though it's just a little wider, the Pentax K7 fits right into the Rebel T1i/D5000 category, and its weather-sealed magnesium-alloy construction puts it at the head of the column for outdoor durability.

Most small cameras of this size are plastic. They feel hollow. The Pentax K-7 feels more like a hunk of metal, which is just how a semi-pro camera should feel. It feels a lot like a Canon Rebel XSi in size, but with greater heft in the body, making for a better balance between the lens and the body. It's actually remarkable how close the two are in size and feel, even their very presence.

Great design. So many of the K-7's features are just right for a day out shooting. While sticking to JPEGs for most shots, I reached for the RAW button when I wanted to be sure that I'd be able to post-process if the shot was one I really liked. No matter how good an LCD is, it can't tell you what your monitor and printer will ultimately tell you when you get back home, so having a quick way to turn on RAW mode for the next shot is good. A menu option allows you to turn the RAW button into a toggle between JPEG and RAW+JPEG.

I also like the Green button, now on the back of the Pentax K7. It's great when you're experimenting with settings like Program shift, because it allows you to "re-center" the exposure to the camera's default choice. In Manual mode, it also takes a quick meter reading to give you an approximate starting point to work from, rather than having to turn the front and rear dials until the scene starts to register on the EV scale. It even works when using the Composition Adjustment tool, literally re-centering the sensor behind the lens.

The EV scale on the Pentax K7's Rear Status display covers a wider range than the top deck and viewfinder displays, from -5 to +5, which is great for more creative assignments.

Bracketing options are staggering, with White Balance, Saturation, Hue, High/Low key, Contrast, and Sharpness bracketing options in addition to simple Exposure bracketing. In the Custom menu, you can set the One-Push Bracketing option, which will make the Pentax K7 shoot all three bracketed images at once, rather than requiring you to squeeze off each shot. This increases the likelihood that you'll remember to shoot all three, and that they'll all look about the same.

I also turned on the Leveling indicators, since slanted horizon lines are common in my pictures, as they are for most of us. When out shooting landscape shots, I turn on the Automatic Horizon Correction option as well, eliminating any remaining slop from my pictures. What a cool feature to include.

Finally. Above is the K20D's auto white balance shot in tungsten lighting. The second shot is the Pentax K7's handling of the same scene with the Strong AWB in Tungsten setting. This is remarkable improvement that takes away one of the biggest problems with all preceding Pentax SLRs.

Auto white balance: Check. Key to my budding relationship with the K-7 is Pentax's improved auto white balance setting. It was the first thing I tested when I placed hands on the camera while we were being briefed. First I took a shot of my white paper pad with a K20D, which turned out yellow as expected. Next I took the same shot with the Pentax K7, and the paper turned out white. It was a mixed lighting situation, with cooler window light coming in from one angle, and tungsten from overhead, but the K-7 handled it just about right, making the paper white; certainly a whole lot better than the K20D. As I've mentioned in past reviews, the K20D and its predecessors were designed with the goal of emulating film's behavior so that photographers moving from film would get the results they would expect from a roll of daylight-balanced film. The Pentax K7's auto white balance system changes all that, recognizing what an auto white balance system is supposed to do: adjust for the light source as it changes.

Another sign that Pentax has made a thoughtful change to the auto white balance system based strongly on its tungsten lighting performance is found in Custom function 12: "AWB in Tungsten Light." Here you can set whether the Pentax K7 applies the default "Subtle correction" or "Strong correction" to tungsten lighting. Guess which I've chosen.

Stealth. Perhaps most surprising is the Pentax K7's demeanor: It's not just gentlemanly, it's downright smooth. Past Pentax SLR shutter designs made some unique noises, some good, others a little much. There were lots of odd winding sounds that lasted a little too long and made the cameras sound almost broken. Not the Pentax K7. It's quieter than any digital SLR I've used. The sound has no winding or even clicking sounds. It's more like rubbing a nickel about an inch across the surface of a desk, then drawing it back quickly; or maybe an SD card. Try it. (I should note that some mechanically coupled lenses still buzz quite a bit, but that's not the K7's fault, and doesn't happen with the SDM lenses, which are whisper quiet.)

Shutter sound is not as important as mirror performance, though. The viewfinder blackout time on the Pentax K7 is among the fastest in its class. I can't time it, and I haven't heard what it's rated, but it returns the view so much faster than a K20D, or any camera that I own, that I can't help but fall a little deeper for the K7. A fast mirror return means you can keep better contact with your subject. When shooting portraits, I've found that reacquiring my subject quickly helps me better respond to changing expressions; and naturally when shooting sports, fast blackout times are critical for tracking action. The Pentax K7 excels in this respect.

Foibles. On a camera as capable as the Pentax K-7, there are bound to be some difficulties when you're out shooting, too. I tend to hold the camera by the grip and walk with it next to my leg; as I walked, I kept hearing focus confirmation beeps. Sometimes it was my thumb hitting the AF button on the back of the Pentax K-7, other times it was my finger on the actual shutter release button. I had to make some adjustments to how I held the K-7; those who use a camera strap won't have this trouble.

When you first try to explore the Pentax K-7, you can be forgiven if you get a little lost. There are a lot of options, and several buttons that have multiple purposes. That kind of complexity can make getting from the Info menu to the Filters menu a little tricky. The Filters menu is reached by pressing the right navigation button, but if you're in the Info menu, pressing that button navigates right. You have to leave the Info menu first, then move to the next menu. More troublesome is getting stuck in the Filters menu, especially if you get lost in the many adjustment settings for each filter. This happened to me while I was standing in the hot sun sweating bullets just trying to get back to the default settings. The screen was usable enough in this mode, but I'd inadvertently activated a filter I hadn't meant to, and suffered for it.

Customization. The filter mode offers a lot of control, though, with a unique web-like graphic to broaden or contract individual image elements; and as you make changes, you can use the Depth-of-field check integrated into the power switch to capture a sample image. This image remains onscreen as you make changes, which are reflected in the image. Sony's A900 offers a similar function for applying image changes to a small RAW file, but you don't have the option of saving that modified file; with the Pentax K7 you can save that file by pressing the AE-L button. It saves as a JPEG, but that's better than nothing.

Thanks to the locking mode dial, you literally must lock the Pentax K7 into any of the 11 modes; you have to press the center button to change settings. This was a nuisance at first, but now I like it. The locking button is in the center of the dial, raised enough that it's easy to press while turning the mode dial. I've had other camera mode dials turn without authorization enough that having a lock is reassuring.

I was impressed with the many bracketing options on the Pentax K7, but confess that I wouldn't use them often. I did try the HDR modes several times, but was disappointed with the results. HDR is something better applied selectively by a person working in a program like Photoshop, if you use it at all. People use the technique too often, and too dramatically, however, creating unreality, rather than overcoming the limitations of a digital camera's dynamic range. Still, the Pentax K7's HDR modes do give you a quick idea of what a more carefully processed shot could look like.

Analysis. Pentax has it right when they call the K-7 a camera with pro features at a semi-pro price. I'm tempted to warn pure amateurs away from the Pentax K7, as I did with the Nikon D300, so that they don't get lost in its wonderful tangle of fine-tuning options. But the good news is that if you lock the Pentax K7 into Green zone mode it turns off most of the options that can befuddle and just starts using Pentax's years of experience to take well-balanced photographs.

There's no question that in addition to improving the image stabilization system, Pentax also leveraged its capabilities, with the automatic horizon correction and composition adjustment features.

Small, solid, and sealed, the Pentax K7 makes a superb candidate for the outdoor photographer, occupying the space of a small Rebel, but with the ruggedness to handle both wet and cold weather like a pro. When you make the Pentax K7 your daily shooter, the interface becomes second nature, and you can focus on your photography.

 

In the Box

The Pentax K-7 ships with the following items in the box:

  • Pentax K7 body
  • Body cap
  • Camera strap O-ST53
  • Lithium-ion battery D-LI90
  • Battery charger D-BC90
  • Finder cap for ME
  • AC Plug cord D-CO2
  • AV cable I-AVC7
  • USB cable I-USB7
  • Software CD-ROM S-SW90

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Pentax K7 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Tight, no-nonsense design and construction
  • Compact body packed with features
  • Weather resistant
  • Dust resistant
  • Cold resistant to 14 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Magnesium body
  • Good grip
  • AF illumination lamp
  • Enhanced Live View mode
  • Infrared Remote Control receivers on front and back
  • Good control placement
  • Long battery life
  • Fast frame rate of 5.2 fps
  • Dust removal technology
  • 100,000-cycle shutter life
  • Advanced Shake Reduction
  • Composition correction uses SR mechanism to fine-tune image framing by moving the sensor
  • Sensor can rotate to compensate for up to 1 degree of horizon offset
  • 77-segment metering sensor
  • ISO 100-6,400 range
  • Improved tungsten white balance performance
  • High-resolution LCD
  • Face recognition can find up to 16 faces
  • 11 autofocus points, 9 cross-type
  • Optical viewfinder delivers 100% field of view
  • Lens distortion correction fixes chromatic aberration and geometric lens distortion
  • Time lapse mode covers up to 24 hours
  • Wide range of saturation adjustments
  • D-Range shadow correction works well to fix harsh lighting
  • High Dynamic Range function combines three shots into one in-camera
  • Customizable filters for various situations and effects
  • Input Copyright info via camera menu item
  • Excellent low light exposure accuracy
  • EV adjustment includes greater range than most (+/-5)
  • Fast viewfinder blackout
  • Videos are noticeably crisper than those from other cameras of similar resolution that we've tested
  • Motion JPEG doesn't introduce compression-related motion artifacts
  • Motion JPEG requires less computer horsepower for smooth playback
  • 720p (HDTV) resolution recording at 30 frames/second
  • 30 fps recording produces less severe rolling shutter artifacts than those in 20 or 24fps cameras
  • Body-based IS provides good stabilization for hand-held video shooting
  • Manual aperture selection for depth of field control in videos
  • Stereo audio input jack for connecting an external mic
  • RAW button allows you to switch between JPEG and RAW with ease
  • Excellent lens compatibility
  • Flexible noise reduction options including starting ISO
  • Very good detail in images, retained as ISO rises (especially with NR turned down)
  • ISO 1,600 images are good printed at 11x14 inches!
  • Good value for the money
  • Complicated interface, easy to get lost
  • Some trouble focusing in low light
  • AF-assist lamp didn't always come on when it should have
  • Camera strap D-rings make noise
  • Noticeable JPEG compression artifacts at all but the highest quality setting
  • JPEG and RAW dynamic range scores below average for an APS-C sensor
  • Image noise higher than K20D at high ISOs
  • Video is prone to blowing strong highlights (much more so than in still shots, where the camera is better than average)
  • Rolling shutter artifacts seem a bit worse than in other 30fps video modes we've tested
  • No control over shutter speed; rapid motion blurs, even under bright sunlight
  • Very large video files
  • IS system can produce a "floating" feeling, sometimes makes it hard to keep subject absolutely stationary
  • Too-rapid panning or excessive jiggling can result in internal mic picking up clacking noises from the IS system
  • No live AF during movie recording
  • High contrast in harsh lighting, with blown highlights and deep shadows
  • Camera often underexposed in outdoor lighting

 

Pentax vaults to center stage with their introduction of the K-7. A few of the former shortcomings have been stripped out of the new camera, and the parts that were right -- the quality build, smart design, and image quality -- have been improved. Pentax couldn't have made a better design for Pentax fans, and it's also the right camera at the right time to attract new users to the platform.

The long list of enhanced features includes a faster frame rate; an HD movie mode; image stabilization that covers not only x and y axes, but rotational as well; electronic leveling and a composition adjustment feature, a new 77-segment metering mode; a high res 921K-pixel LCD; and a 100% coverage optical viewfinder. These are cutting-edge enhancements, many of which you can't find on other SLRs at any price range.

Build is solid and tight, yet small and light. The grip is excellent, and the small size combined with the extensively weather-sealed body makes the Pentax K7 a very good outdoor camera. Our review of the 17-70mm lens on SLRgear.com show that lens to be a particularly good companion for the Pentax K7, a lens whose sharpness is a nice complement to the 14.6-megapixel sensor.

Thoughtful touches like the IR remote sensor on the front and back of the camera make so much sense, it's a wonder others haven't adopted this feature; yet most competing semi-pro digital SLRs don't even have IR sensors built in, requiring an expensive adapter instead. The RAW button should also be adopted by all camera companies, as it's very common to want to switch into RAW mode when it matters, then revert to the more efficient JPEG format when just snapshooting.

AF speed is improved, except in low light situations. Still, unlike most other digital SLRs, the Pentax K7 will eventually find focus where others will fail. AF in Live View mode is quite a bit slower, as can be expected, in both phase-detect and contrast detect modes, but that's true of almost all digital SLRs.

Image quality is superb throughout the ISO range, really very impressive. At ISO 100 you can expect to print quality 13x19-inch prints straight from the camera; larger with just a little sharpening. The crazy part is that you can keep on printing big, 13x19-inch prints at ISO 800, only dropping to 11x14 at 1,600, with only some compromises in detail. It's a quite a leap in quality. See the Image Quality subtab under Exposure for more.

Shooting video on the Pentax K7 wasn't necessarily perfect, producing large files, and suffering from rolling shutter artifacts, but video on SLRs is far from perfect on any current digital SLR. We were impressed with the Pentax K7's video quality, which was noticeably more crisp. See the Video subtab under Operation for more.

Overall, the Pentax K-7 is a very high-quality digital SLR camera, offering a lot for its relatively low price. This is a camera you can learn and love, one that might spoil you forever from using another brand because its special features are so well thought out. We knew when we first held it and took our first pictures with it: the Pentax K7 is a Dave's Pick.


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