Pentax K-r Review

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Pentax K-r Exposure

As with most SLRs, three metering methods are available on the Pentax K-r: Multi-segment, Center-Weighted, and Spot. All are accessed through either the Control Panel display on the LCD panel, or through page one of the Record menu.

In Multi-segment mode, the camera takes an exposure reading from 16 segments and chooses the best exposure based on brightness and contrast across much of the scene. The K-r gives you the option to link the AF points to autoexposure in Multi-segment mode, via Custom Function 6, "Link AE to AF Point", but the default is to determine exposure without considering AF point location.

Metering Zones. The Pentax K-r uses the same 16-segment metering sensor as in the K-x, a major point of differentiation from the flagship K-5, which uses much finer-grained 77-segment metering.

Center-Weighted metering reads from the center of the frame, but from a fairly large area. Center-Weighted mode is automatically selected instead of Multi-segment mode, if a lens other than a DA, DA L, D FA, FA J, FA, F, or A lens is mounted, or when the lens aperture ring is set at other than "A."

Spot metering simply reads the exposure from the very center of the image, so you can pinpoint the specific area of the photograph you want properly exposed. (Spot metering is very handy when you have a subject that's backlit, or that has a very different brightness, either lighter or darker, than the background.)

By default, the AF / AE Lock button triggers autofocus, but you can program it to lock the current exposure settings whenever pressed.  (AE Lock is useful when you want to base your exposure on an off-center subject. Point the camera at the subject, lock the exposure, then recompose your shot however you like. Your subject will be correctly exposed, regardless of what might be in the center of the frame when you finally snap the shutter.) Through screen four of the Record menu, you can designate the function of the AF / AE Lock button, and how it works in conjunction with the Shutter button and Autofocus system.

In situations where exposure compensation is necessary, simply press the top panel Exposure Compensation button and turn the e-dial (in all exposure modes except Manual) and the exposure value (EV) will display in the viewfinder and on the LCDs. EV compensation ranges from -3 to +3 EV in increments of 1/3 or 1/2 EV, or you can use the Auto Exposure Bracketing function to automatically capture a bracketed exposure with three frames, varying the exposure between shots by as much as 3.0EV in either 1/2 or 1/3 EV increments. You can control the bracketing order for AEB sequences using Custom Function 7. AEB is handy for those times when you want to make sure you get just the right exposure for a critical subject.

It's worth noting that the effects of exposure compensation and auto exposure bracketing are additive -- that is to say, if you dial in 3.0EV of exposure compensation, and shoot bracketed exposure, it's possible for one frame to vary as much as 6.0EV from the metered exposure.

White Balance
White balance options include Auto (which ranges from about 4,000K to 8,000K), Daylight (5,200K), Shade (8,000K), Cloudy (6,000K), Fluorescent Daylight Color (6,500K), Fluorescent Daylight White (5,000K), Fluorescent Cool White (4,200K), Fluorescent Warm White (3,000K), Tungsten (2,850K), Flash (5,400K), Color Temperature Enhancement (CTE; used to retain and strengthen the color tone of the light source), and Manual.

Pressing the AWB (left arrow) button brings up the White Balance menu. The Manual setting is useful for basing the white balance on a white card. You can also adjust the K-r in any white balance mode so as to control the amount of amber, green, blue, and magenta in the color balance using a 2D grid. This ability to "tweak" the white balance, called White Balance Fine Tuning, is very helpful when dealing with difficult light sources.

When using the K-r's Cross Processing function, white balance cannot be adjusted.

ISO Sensitivity
The Pentax K-r lets you adjust its light sensitivity, in 1, 1/2, or 1/3 EV steps, with options ranging from 200, to 12,800 ISO equivalents. An Expanded Sensitivity Custom menu option allows you to extend this range from ISO 100 to 25,600.

An Auto ISO mode in which the camera selects an ISO appropriate to the subject's brightness is also provided. The default range for Auto ISO is from the base ISO sensitivity to 3,200, but you can set maximum ISO limit manually . Higher ISO settings are helpful when you want faster shutter speeds under normal lighting, to help freeze fast action.

Noise Reduction
Of course, as with all digital cameras, the higher ISO settings produce photos with more image noise, in much the same way that higher-ISO films show more film grain. To combat this problem, the K-r offers a High-ISO Noise Reduction option through the Record menu, which reduces the amount of image noise at high ISOs. Options consist of Auto, Off, Low, Medium, High, and Custom, with a default of Auto.

The Auto and Custom options are both new for the Pentax K-r, and the latter provides an unusually fine-grained degree of control over the camera's high ISO noise reduction behavior. When the Custom mode is enabled, a different setting (Off, Low, Medium, or High) can be configured for every full-stop ISO sensitivity available, including those in the expanded range. If the sensitivity step size is configured to match an exposure compensation step size of either 1/3 or 1/2 EV, the additional sensitivities share a noise reduction setting with the full-stop sensitivity below them, but that's still an unusually fine level of control over high ISO NR -- at most there are three sensitivities required to share any individual NR setting.

A second type of Noise Reduction called Slow Shutter Speed NR subtracts a second, dark frame to remove noise and hot-pixels depending on the conditions, such as shutter speed, sensitivity, and internal temperature. Settings for that option are Auto, On, or Off, where the K-x simply offered On and Off settings. The On setting applies noise reduction on all exposures longer than one second, while the Auto option applies NR only when the camera deems necessary, taking into consideration the shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, and the camera's internal temperature level.

Expanded Dynamic Range
The Pentax K-r offers expanded dynamic range functionality, which attempts to preserve highlights and/or shadows in high-contrast situations. Like the K-x, the Pentax K-r offers separate Highlight Correction and Shadow Correction options. Highlight Correction has On / Off settings, and when enabled, the minimum sensitivity is ISO 400 (or ISO 200, if the expanded ISO range is enabled). It applies to both Raw and JPEG files, but unlike Shadow Correction, it must be applied before exposure even when shooting Raws. Shadow Correction can be enabled after the fact for Raws, and regardless of file type, it offers three strengths (Low, Medium, and High), or can be switched Off.

HDR Capture
The K-r also offers High Dynamic Range imaging, which Pentax first introduced on the K-x, but the functionality has been greatly expanded in the newer camera. As in the K-x, the K-r's HDR mode captures three images in quick succession: one properly exposed, one underexposed by 3.0 EV, and one overexposed by 3.0 EV. These are then combined in-camera into a single output image with increased dynamic range, capturing the best highlight detail from the underexposed image, and the maximal shadow detail from the overexposed image. One notable difference between the HDR functionality of the K-r and its predecessor is the level of control available over the effect. Where the K-x offered only three settings (Off, Standard, and Strong), the K-r provides an Auto mode, plus four presets (Standard, Strong 1, Strong 2, and Strong 3).

Another difference has perhaps even greater implications for real-world usage. In the K-x, HDR imaging was only useful when shooting on a tripod, as even slight movement between capture of the source images would otherwise lead to artifacts in the final image. The K-r can now automatically align the images before combining them, and so is usable handheld, so long as your subject is reasonably static, and your hand somewhat steady.

When enabled, the HDR mode precludes the use of Raw file format, bulb shutter speed, multi exposure, interval shooting, cross processing, and digital filters. Also, drive modes except single-frame, self-timer, remote control, and remote w/ timer are disabled. Each HDR capture requires a brief processing time to create the final image, and the three source images can't be saved -- they're discarded when processing is complete, which is something we'd love to see changed in future firmware. (On those occasions where the in-camera HDR merge isn't optimal, it might be possible to do a better job manually on a PC, or it might still be desirable to have a copy of the standard exposure image).

Multiple Exposure
The Pentax K-r's Multiple Exposure feature allows you to combine 2 to 9 images into a single image as they are being captured. If shooting in Live View mode on the LCD display, the previous image(s) are shown as a semi-transparent ("onion skin") overlay on the live view image, as an aid to precise alignment of subsequent images. ISO sensitivity, shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, focus mode, and AF point can all be adjusted and the AE lock / Green buttons used between shots, and the flash can be popped up or closed to use it only on some frames. It's also possible to frame some images using the optical viewfinder, and others in Live View mode. Pressing the Play, Menu, or Info buttons or powering the camera off saves the multi-exposure image (even if not all shots have been captured), as does adjusting drive mode, flash mode, or white balance. Multi-exposure mode is disabled when exposure bracketing, interval shooting, lens correction, cross processing, digital filters or HDR capture are set, and when the camera is in Night Scene HDR or Movie mode. Interestingly, it *is* possible to save multi-exposure images as a single Raw file, though!

An option called Auto EV Adjustment can average the exposure of each individual shot so that the combined image has the same brightness as a normally exposed individual shot. When disabled, the process is additive, just like shooting multi-exposures on film. To understand the difference, imagine a two-frame exposure where the same point is mid-grey in one image, and near-white in the other image. With auto EV adjust disabled, the same point in the final image will be completely white (clipped in every channel). With the adjustment enabled, the same area will have a brightness halfway between that of the same point in the brighter and darker images. An interesting usage of this feature is that multiple frames can be combined in-camera with averaged exposure to yield a single image with reduced noise / an effective exposure longer than would ordinarily be the case without the use of a neutral density filter.

Custom Image
The Pentax K-r offers users the ability to apply and modify pre-existing image profiles for use on JPEG images. (Raw files are also tagged with the image parameters, but most Raw processing software other than Pentax's bundled Digital Camera Utility 4 will not obey the tags.) The camera offers seven image style settings: Bright, Natural, Portrait, Landscape,Vibrant, Muted, Bleach Bypass, Reversal Film, and Monochrome. The following image parameters can be adjusted for each profile: Saturation (-4 to +4), Hue (-4 to +4), High/Low Key (-4 to +4), Contrast (-4 to +4), Contrast Highlight (-4 to +4), Contrast Shadow (-4 to +4), Sharpness (-4 to +4), Fine Sharpness (-4 to +4), and Fine Sharpness 2 (-4 to +4). Hue can't be adjusted when Monochrome, Bleach Bypass, and Reversal Film are selected, while Saturation isn't available for Monochome or Reversal Film, and High / Low Key Adjust and Contrast aren't available with Reversal Film. When using Monochrome, instead of Saturation and Hue, Filter Effects and Toning options are provided. Filter effects consist of Green, Yellow, Orange, Red, Magenta, Blue, Cyan, and Infrared Color. Monochrome 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). The various sharpness options use different algorithms that are suited to varying image types.

When using Cross Processing, the Custom Image mode is fixed to Bright. You also can't control the Custom Image mode when the K-r's Mode dial is set to any position other than P, Sv, Tv, Av, or M. The adjustment interface allows you to take a sample image with the 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. Of course, you can also select between sRGB and Adobe RGB color spaces in another menu.

Digital Filters
The Pentax K-r offers seven canned, pre-exposure digital filter effects, plus a Custom setting that allows you to select the amount of each effect to your liking. The seven predefined filter effects are: Toy Camera, Retro, High Contrast, Extract Color, Soft, Starburst, and Fish-eye. Parameters for each filter can be adjusted. The Custom Filter option allows you to adjust a wide variety of parameters: High Contrast (Off, +1 to +5), Soft Focus (Off, +1 to +3), Tone Break (Off, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow), Shading Type (6 types), Shading Level (-3 to +3), Distortion Type (3 types), Distortion Level (Off, Weak, Medium, Strong), and Invert Color (On, Off).

The pre-capture filters are almost identical to those in the previous K-x model, with two small exceptions. The Extract Color filter can now extract two colors, rather than one, and the Starburst filter adds four new effect shapes. In addition to these pre-capture filters, the K-r offers ten more in playback mode (Sketch Filter, Water Color, Pastel, Posterization, Miniature, Base Parameter Adjust, Monochrome, Color, Slim, and HDR), and up to 20 filters can be combined in playback mode.

Cross Processing
The Pentax K-r offers an updated version of the Cross Processing mode that first appeared on Pentax's consumer K-x digital SLR, which aims to replicate a film technique known as cross-processing. For film photography, the method is to deliberately process one type of film using chemicals intended for a different type, with often surprising effects. The K-r's Cross Processing mode replicates this by adjusting the image after capture, and you can preview the result before capture if you're shooting in Live View mode. You can either apply a random effect that will change its results even if the scene doesn't change, or one of three presets whose results are predictable, once you're familiar with them. There are also three Favorite presets in which you can store settings from favorite images created with the Random mode. (You can also duplicate the existing presets, although we can't think of any good reason to do so.)

Use of the cross-processing mode isn't possible while shooting Raw images, multi-exposures, extended bracketing, or high dynamic range captures. With cross-processing enabled, access to the custom image and white balance settings are also disabled.

Drive Modes
Like most SLRs, the Pentax K-r offers a number of Drive Modes. Modes include Single Frame (where one image is captured when the shutter release button is pressed, even if held), Continuous, Self-timer, Remote, and Exposure Bracketing. There are two Continuous modes, which differ only in terms of frame rate and burst depth. We tested the Continuous Hi mode, which Pentax lists as capable of six frames per second, and found it came close, at around 5.6 to 5.7 frames per second. Burst depth was slightly better than specified despite our hard-to-compress test target, yielding 30 Large / Best quality JPEG frames, 13 Raw frames, or 10 Raw+JPEG frames at Large / Best quality. We didn't test the Continuous Lo mode, rated at a rather sedate two frames per second, but according to Pentax it is capable of some 36 Raw frames, and will shoot JPEGs until there's no free flash card space, presuming the card is capable of writing data quickly enough.

The Pentax K-r also offers two Self-Timer modes for self-portraits or those occasions when you don't want to risk camera shake on a long exposure by pressing the Shutter button to trip the shutter. You can choose between a two- or 12-second countdown. The two-second countdown is useful for times when you're taking a long exposure with the camera on a tripod, and you want to minimize any camera shake from pressing the Shutter button. In this mode, the mirror is raised immediately after pressing the shutter, giving time vibrations to dampen before the exposure. The Remote Control modes offered are immediate release, or 3-second delayed release. The Pentax K-r has an IR receiver for wireless remotes in the front, but none in the back, so you'll need to stand in front of the camera, or reach in front of the hand grip before tripping the remote. Finally, an Exposure Bracketing mode is also provided, where 3 frames can be capture with as much as 2.0 EV steps between frames, and this allows the bracketing order to be changed.

Interval Shooting
The K-r also offers an Interval Shooting mode where the camera can take pictures by itself on a regular basis, used for time-lapse photography. The interval can be programmed between 1 second and 24 hours, the number of shots between 1 and 999 (up from 99 in the K-x), and the starting time can be immediate or at a set time. The increase in interval shooting depth is something we occasionally heard requested by K-x owners, but watch out not to accidentally set the interval depth higher than needed. We're not aware of an official shutter life rating for the K-r, but it's unlikely to exceed that of the prosumer K-5 model, which has a rated shutter life of 100,000 shots, so each 999 frame burst likely uses up at least 1% of the available shutter lifetime.

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Pentax K-r Photo Gallery.

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Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Pentax K-r with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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