The Pentax K2000 might just be the ideal digital SLR for 2009. If you're looking for a small, affordable, full-featured camera that is capable of producing fantastic images, then the K2000 seems like a good choice. Although other Pentax cameras like the K20D and K200D proved to be exceptional digital cameras, most shutterbugs consider those cameras to be too big and heavy for travel. Not so with the pint-sized K2000. Is this camera the perfect travel companion for vacationing photographers? Let's take a closer look and find out.
Pentax has been missing something from their DSLR lineup since the introduction of the K20D and the K200D at the beginning of 2008. That "something" was a small and light entry-level DSLR. The K200D, while affordable, was too large and heavy to compete side-by-side with cameras like the Canon Rebel XS and Olympus E-420. The new K2000 not only proves to be smaller and lighter than the K200D, it even manages to offer a few new features...like ISO 3200 and faster continuous shooting than its larger sibling.
For those who just want to read the basics about this camera, the K2000 is a 10.2 megapixel DSLR using sensor technology borrowed from the company's previous-generation advanced cameras. Packaged as a kit with Pentax's redesigned 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DA L lens and AF-200FG external flash, the K2000 – with its AA power and SD memory – is aimed at entry-level shooters looking for compact, easy-to-use, low-priced interchangeable-lens camera. Custom color modes, a multi-point AF system, in-body image stabilization and dust removal, and impressive battery life numbers summarize the main reasons the K2000 might end up on your shopping list. As for the shooting modes:
Auto Picture Mode
The K2000 features an Auto Picture (a.k.a. "AUTO PICT") mode that Pentax describes as "...an automatic point-and-shoot mode in which the majority of settings are controlled by the camera in response to shooting conditions." The camera will let you choose from a couple of flash options, image size and quality, ISO/sensitivity, and AF/MF modes if you desire, but the camera handles the rest of the settings. If you're content to go with default settings, the K2000 can come out of the box and the inexperienced shutterbug need never worry about anything other than composing and capturing images.
Auto Picture mode does a pretty good job across a range of subjects, but the entire point of a DSLR is that it is NOT a point-and-shoot camera. DSLRs are for photographer who wants to take control over their images.
Picture and Scene Modes
In addition to Auto Picture mode, the K2000 provides six programmed picture modes for specific scenes: portrait, landscape, macro, action, night scene portrait, and flash off. The camera optimizes settings for the various scenes, and just like the full auto mode, the user has the ability to set some image parameters depending on the scene selected. The K2000 also offers eight additional scene modes: night scene, surf and snow, text, sunset, kids, pet, candlelight, and museum.
Program, Priority, and Manual Modes
Finally, the camera also has program auto, shutter priority (Tv), aperture priority (Av), sensitivity priority (Sv), and manual exposure modes that are the standard features of any Pentax DSLR.
The K2000 carries over much of the same technology from the K200D (which inherited much of its technology from the K10D) to create a no-nonsense, high-performance camera for amateur DSLR users. The specs sheet, with a burst speed of 3.5 fps (5 JPEG, 4 RAW), the K10D's sensor, in-body image stabilization, and a 5-point AF system makes the K2000 a solid choice in the entry-level pack. While from a functional standpoint there's essentially no new technology, the fact that the K2000 crams a sizeable chunk of features from a semi-pro DSLR into a smaller, more budget-friendly package has our attention.
For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.
Styling and Build Quality
The K2000 is a compact DSLR, and the body material is matte black composite polymer (plastic) surrounding a rugged stainless steel internal frame, which contributes to a correspondingly light weight. The material quality, fit and finish are excellent – even more impressive given the low price.
In terms of size, the K2000 is the smallest and lightest DSLR Pentax has produced since the *ist DL back in 2005. What this means for Pentax users is that we finally have a nice travel camera that doesn't weigh almost as much as the top-of-the-line Pentax. Although the K2000 body is clearly a plastic composite construction, this camera feels like a precision photographic tool. Unlike some of the compact entry-level DSLRs that feel hollow from other manufactures, the K2000 feels "dense," as if Pentax engineers used every square millimeter of space to pack as much technology inside this camera as possible.
Despite the small size, balance with the kit lens is quite nice. Thanks to the comfortable grip even larger and heavier lenses were easy to manage – I carried the K2000 for four hours straight during a holiday party, and the camera was easy to manage even with a much heavier Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 lens installed.
One of the little features I've always liked about the Pentax K-bayonet series of lens mounts is that the lens release is located on same side of the camera as the shutter release. This means that you can use your little finger on your right hand to press the release button.
Ergonomics and Interface
As someone who has used Pentax cameras for many years, I immediately felt right at home with the K2000's controls. Still, using the K2000 took some getting used to since Pentax removed the status display from the top of the camera (a decision made to keep the camera as small and light as possible).
Now, if you want to see things like exposure compensation, aperture, or shutter speed you have to look at the LCD on the back of the camera or look through the viewfinder.
This isn't much of a problem since every camera company now does this with entry-level DSLRs, but it does take some time to get used to if you are a Pentax shooter.
The rear display on the K2000 is a 2.7 inch LCD with 230,000 dots and adjustable brightness levels. The monitor itself is a "wide view" type with a viewing angle of more than 140 degrees both vertically and horizontally. You can easily show images to multiple people using the camera's monitor, and images can be magnified up to 12x magnification. The monitor does not provide live view functionality – you can't compose shots with it.
The K2000 has a bright and reasonably large penta-mirror viewfinder with 0.85x magnification and 96 percent accuracy...above average for many entry level DSLRs. The viewfinder's diopter adjustment goes from -2.5 to 1.5, so most eyeglass wearers should be able to adjust the view according to their needs.
Timings and Shutter Lag
As mentioned previously, the K2000 is pretty snappy for an entry-level Pentax camera, keeping pace with its direct competitors in both shutter lag and AF speed.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Canon Rebel XS
|Sony Alpha DSLR-A200||0.05|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Alpha DSLR-A200
|Canon Rebel XS
|Olympus E-420||10||3.4 fps|
|Pentax K2000||5||3.4 fps|
|Canon Rebel XS||∞||3.0 fps|
|Nikon D60||6||3.0 fps|
|Sony Alpha DSLR-A200
Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Our own laboratory tests show that the K2000 doesn't quite deliver on those continuous shooting claims of 3.5 fps, but it comes very close.
The K2000 uses a 5-point autofocus mechanism, and the user can select the focus area for automatic or center focus. In addition to the AF/MF switch located next to the lens mount, the autofocus modes can be controlled by the camera's menu. The three autofocus mode choices are single mode (AF-S), continuous mode (AF-C), or auto (AF-A). AF-S is for stationary objects and locks focus when the shutter release is depressed halfway; AF-C is for moving objects and focuses continuously while the shutter button is depressed halfway.
The K2000 acquired focus quickly across the range of autofocus lenses I shot with it (18-55mm, 40mm, 70mm, 24-70mm, 24-200mm, and 50mm). However, autofocus speed and accuracy did vary slightly depending on which lens was used. The K2000 isn't the fastest body in the Pentax lineup, but it did perform almost as well as the top-of-the-line K20D. The AF sensor can also recognize when a manual focus lens was correctly focused...though it relies on the photographer to turn the lens's focus mechanism.
Using a variant of the maker's classic K mount, the K2000 is designed for "legacy" lens support, handling nearly any Pentax K-mount lens (as well as many screw-mount and medium-format lens) with comparatively little hassle or fuss. And with in-camera IS, every lens is a stabilized lens. While you won't get the huge lens selection – and particularly, the range of fast zooms and longer telephotos – offered by Canon and Nikon, if you like shooting primes, Pentax makes currently makes some of the best, most interesting ones on the market. In fact, our staff is so impressed with the Pentax Limited series of prime lenses that we were sad to see that Pentax didn't offer a K2000 kit with the Pentax DA 40mm f/2.8 Limited prime lens. As you can see from the image below, the K2000 and the DA 40mm make one impressive compact camera.
A built-in flash pops up from the top of the camera body when you press the flash release button located on the back of the camera. The built-in flash has a guide number of 11 at ISO 100, working out to an effective range of about 13 feet depending on lens and ISO settings.
Four flash modes are available: on, off, red-eye reduction, and wireless control (for triggering compatible Pentax flashes). Flash exposure compensation is between -2 to 1 EV in half-stop steps.
In addition to the built-in flash, Pentax also includes an AF-200FG external flash that can be mounted in the camera's hot shoe in the basic K2000 kit. While on the surface it seems like a great idea to include an external flash with a DSLR, the AF-200FG lacks either a bounce or swivel flash head...meaning you have little more control over light than you do with the camera's built-in flash. If the AF-200FG had a bounce head, or if Pentax included an off-camera shoe cord with the kit, then photographers who purchase the K2000 kit would be able to enjoy bounce flash rather than direct flash.
What's wrong with direct flash? Basically three things: hot spots/blow highlights, hard shadows, and red eye. Bounce flash provides more natural lighting that gives your images a more pleasing look. Below are two perfect examples of the difference between direct flash and bounce flash.
One of the major benefits to sensor-shifting in-body image stabilization – or Shake Reduction as Pentax calls it – is that every lens you use becomes a stabilized lens. One of the key points to remember about the K2000 is that it is fully compatible with basically every Pentax lens ever produced. There is no other camera manufacturer that can make the same claim. With Pentax, even a 40-year-old lens has 21st-century shake reduction. Bottom line: your images will look sharper than ever.
I was consistently able to use the kit lens to capture crisp images at a shutter speed of 1/13 – much too slow for shooting without a tripod without the aid of Shake Reduction. However, thanks to the built-in image stabilization system you can still see fine details in the images. Try this without Shake Reduction and the images would be so blurred from hand tremor that no one would be able to identify the subjects in your photos.
Pentax is one of the few camera manufacturers offering DSLRs that use AA batteries. The biggest benefit of using AA batteries is that you can use rechargeable batteries or standard non-rechargeable batteries that can be easily found at convenience stores at home or abroad. The K2000 can also accept CR-V3 lithium long-life batteries and AA lithium long-life batteries.
During my review I used AA lithium batteries. I expected between 500 and 1000 exposures with the lithium batteries. However, much to my surprise, the camera still indicated the batteries had a nearly full charge after 1500 shots! My shooting was mostly done with autofocus, Shake Reduction on, dust removal upon each startup, and a mixture of flash and non-flash shots using both the built-in flash and an external hot shoe flash.
In terms of the image quality: I've tested the K2000 with the kit lens as well as several other Pentax lenses (most notably the DA 40mm Limited) and I've been pleasantly surprised by the camera's ability to produce excellent out-of-camera JPEGs that look as good as any RAW-to-JPEG conversion from my K10D. The K2000 has the standard complement of metering options (multi-segment, center-weighted, and spot), and while I tend to prefer controlling the process a little more, the camera's multi-segment metering seemed to do just fine preserving both shadows and highlights – particularly with the new extended dynamic range setting.
As for the included kit lens, this was something of a mixed bag. As an additional weight-saving measure, Pentax decided to make the new 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DA L lens lighter by replacing the metal lens mount with a plastic mount. This shaves an ounce or two off the lens, and no doubt makes the kit lens much cheaper to produce, but it certainly gives the kit lens a cheaper, lower-quality feel. Image quality from the new kit lens seems to be in line with the original 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DA lens and while it's still sharper than Canon's kit lens, for instance, our tests suggest it lacks the edge sharpness of either the Nikon 18-55mm VR kit lens or the Pentax 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DA II lens used on Pentax's higher-end bodies.
Exposure, Processing, and Color
The K2000's default Bright image tone puts the Pentax's saturation and overall color rendering a little more in line with the bottom rung of DSLRs from other makers, producing images that are more readily printable straight from the camera. Changing the color mode to Natural dials the saturation back nicely for those who prefer a slightly smoother response. There are also options for Portrait, Landscape, Vibrant, and Monochrome (Black and White) color modes as well so that you can get exactly the look that you want. Personally, I enjoy shooting in Landscape color mode because it boosts the contrast and sharpness straight out of the camera so I don't have to increase those when post processing.
The K2000 also features a number of digital filters that can be applied to images after you've taken them. The filters include toy camera, high contrast, soft, star burst, retro, extract color, illustration, HDR (high dynamic range), B&W, Sepia, Color (manual color adjustment), slim, brightness, and a custom filter that you can set up on your own.
While we're on the subject of strange filters, I wanted to address some strange behavior that occurred during my testing of the K2000. During two visits to a local aquarium I took a series of photos at a shark exhibit where the K2000 produced images with oversaturated colors that appeared characteristic of sensor bloom. The two images below were shot at the same location under the exact same lighting conditions but it's clear that the K2000 had trouble adjusting to the unusual mixed lighting conditions at the aquarium.
I was unable to reproduce this unusual behavior in our lab and I never encountered the problem again at any other location. The strange images may have simply been the result of very mixed lighting (incandescent lights with blue gels, halogen lights, and florescent lights) but I've used many different cameras under these same lighting conditions at the aquarium and never seen images that looked like this. Bottom line, our staff doesn't believe this is a serious problem, but it's worth mentioning and keeping an eye out for.
Auto white balance is the default setting for all K2000 shooting modes. In P, Tv, Av, M, and B modes the user may select from incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, or a custom setting using a white or gray object as a reference point. Overall, auto white balance performs well under most lighting conditions, but still produced a strong orange cast under incandescent lighting.
Sensitivity and Noise
Auto ISO is the default setting for the auto and scene shooting modes and will set a sensitivity between 100 and 3200 as it deems appropriate. You can also limit the auto ISO range to whatever you choose – ISO 100 to 800, for instance. ISO 100 is the default for the P, Tv, Av and M modes unless you have previously selected a different sensitivity. ISO may also be manually set at 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 or 3200. In addition, the K2000 also features a "D-Range" setting that offers 200 percent dynamic range for better highlight and shadow detail in your images. Selecting the D-Range setting limits the ISO to between 200 and 3200.
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 3200, 100% crop
In terms of noise, the K2000's results are on par with what we've seen from this sensor in the past, with some softness and "frayed" edges at the highest two settings, but generally clean and class-contending performance throughout the rest of the range.
Additional Sample Images
Since my day-to-day cameras are a Pentax K10D and Pentax *ist DL, I was curious how the K2000 would compare. I expected the camera to perform better than the *ist DL but fall short of the K10D. Sure enough, the K2000 performed almost exactly as expected. In short, this is one amazing little camera.
As someone who still uses an old Pentax *ist DL when I'm on vacation, this camera will very likely become my new travel camera of choice. At the MSRP of $699.95 ($599.95 street price) for the camera, lens, and flash, the K2000 offers a solid value compared to other cameras in the same price range.
|Sensor||10.2 megapixel, 23.5x15.7mm CCD|
|Zoom||Pentax KAF3 mount; compatible with all K mount lenses
|LCD/Viewfinder||2.7", 230K-dot TFT LCD; Penta-Mirror optical viewfinder (96% coverage, 0.85x magnification) with diopter adjustment
|Shutter Speed||30-1/4000 seconds|
|Shooting Modes||Auto Picture, Picture, Scene, Program, Sensitivity Priority, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Bulb|
|Scene Presets||Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Action, Night Scene Portrait, Standard Flash-Off, Night Scene, Surf & Snow, Food, Sunset, Kids, Pet, Candlelight, Museum, Stage Lighting, Night Snap
|White Balance Settings||Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent W, Fluorescent D, Fluorescent N, Flash, Color Temperature, Manual|
|Metering Modes||Multi, Center-Weighted, Spot|
|Focus Modes||AF Auto, AF Single, AF Continuous, Manual
|Drive Modes||Single, Continuous High, Continuous Low, Self Timer, Remote, Auto Bracket|
|Flash Modes||On, Off, Red-Eye Reduction, Wireless|
|Self Timer Settings
||10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
|Memory Formats||SD, SDHC
|File Formats||JPEG, RAW (PEF/DNG)
|Max. Image Size||3872x2592
|Max. Video Size
|Zoom During Video||N/A|
|Battery||4 AA batteries
|Connections||USB 2.0, video output
|Additional Features||Shake Reduction, Custom Image Functions, Dust Reduction System, dedicated Help button|
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