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Pentax K-30 Review: Great Price, Great Features
by Jim Keenan -  3/11/2013

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The K-30 offers a 16.3 megapixel APS-C sized sensor, 1080p HD video, 3 inch LCD monitor and, in a nice touch, can make use of either the supplied lithium-ion rechargeable battery or standard AA batteries (using an optional AA battery holder). The normal range of DSLR manual shooting modes is supplemented by automatic and 19 scene-specific shooting modes as well. There is in-body stabilization which Pentax claims offers up to four stops of shake reduction and the camera is compatible with every Pentax lens ever made: all K mount lenses install directly on the camera while the earlier screw mount and 647or 67 series lenses require adapters. The camera accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media and Pentax includes a lithium-ion battery and charger, USB and A/V cables, camera strap, printed manual and CD-ROM software with each camera. Fashionistas take note: the K-30 body is available in Crystal White or Crystal Blue "...brilliant, glossy finishes reminiscent of the finish of an exclusive sports car ..."  along with Henry Ford's favorite (and only) color for his model T - black.

On its announcement date back in May 2012 the K-30 was listed with an $850 MSRP for the body only; it can currently (mid-February 2013) be purchased off the Pentax Americas website for $800 while reputable NY area internet vendors have it as low as $619. The camera is also available in kit form matched with Pentax18-55 or 18-135mm zoom lenses.

Build and Design
The K-30 fits the modern template for a DSLR, featuring a pronounced and sculpted handgrip on the right front of the body, which is topped with an elongated housing containing the viewfinder and built-in flash. Dimensionally, the K-30 body comes in towards the smaller end of the DSLR scale at 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8 inches and 20.8 ounces without a battery or memory media. Our black review unit in shooting configuration (battery, memory media, camera strap, 18-135mm lens and hood) weighed in at 39.2 ounces. The camera is assembled in the Philippines with materials, fit and finish appropriate to its price point.

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Ergonomics and Controls
The dimensions of the K-30 body might prove somewhat annoying to users with larger hands - the little finger of my right hand curled under the camera body and the second pad of my index finger fell squarely across the shutter button. Pulling the index finger back in order to activate the shutter with the tip of the finger produced a slightly uncomfortable grip. The grip on the camera body itself and the materials covering it are excellent; the camera was just a bit too small for my average size hands. The weather sealing on the memory card cover made for a tight squeeze trying to remove the card from the camera.

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The lens unlock button is located at the lower right corner of the lens mount and took a little getting used to for someone who generally deals with that button on the left side of their camera body. With a bit of practice I quickly adopted a one-handed grip that allowed me to remove lenses with the right hand while cradling the camera body from below and activating the unlock button with the left hand.

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Otherwise, control placement on the K-30 presented no real concerns, and offers the user quick external access to many shooting settings one might choose to change on the fly. The mode dial sits atop the camera body adjacent to the handgrip, which offers easy access for changes via the right thumb of the shooting hand while retaining the shooting grip on the camera. The front and rear e-dials are easily accessed by the forefinger and thumb, respectively, and may be used to change shutter and aperture settings along with exposure compensation, menus and menu items along with other camera settings depending on the individual shooting mode the camera is in at any particular time. Other external controls offer quick access to ISO, white balance, flash, single or continuous shooting, the self-timer and exposure bracketing. All these controls are positioned in such a way that inadvertent activations of them would be rare during shooting.

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Menus and Modes
The K-30 has five main menus: record mode, movie, playback, set up and custom setting. I found the menus to be fairly simple and intuitive to use without reference to the camera user's manual. The record menu consists of 4 pages; movie, 1 page; playback, 1 page; set up, 3 pages and custom setting, 4 pages.

Upon pressing the menu button on the camera back you're taken to page 1 of the record mode menu. From this point you can scroll vertically through the items on the first page; horizontal scrolling brings up other pages of the record mode menu before moving on to the other main menus. If you scroll vertically through all of the items on any individual menu page you are then returned to that page number.

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While the K-30 is designated as a midrange DSLR by Pentax, the shooting modes include a decidedly entry-level DSLR contingent to go along with the more traditional manual exposure modes. Here's a more detailed look at the shooting modes:

Display/Viewfinder
The 3 inch LCD monitor on the K-30 has a 921,000 dot composition and is adjustable for 15 levels of brightness. There are also 15 levels of adjustment for monitor color along the blue/amber and green/magenta axes. The monitor performs fairly well in bright outdoor conditions but can still be overwhelmed at times by sun angles and reflections. Fortunately, the K-30 has a nice viewfinder, offering .92x magnification, 100% coverage and diopter adjustment for varying degrees of eyesight acuity.

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Performance

The K-30 is currently the junior member of the Pentax DSLR lineup, but it doesn't give up too much ground in favor of the heavy-hitter K-5II.

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Shooting Performance
The K-30 starts up a bit slower than the K-5II, which brings up information on its monitor in a bit less than half a second - the K-30 is closer to a second. Single shot to shot times are basically as fast as you can capture an image, reacquire focus and shoot again. Autofocus times seemed just a tick slower than the K-5II in good conditions, and slightly more so in dim light, but K-30 autofocus times are on a par with other entry-level DSLRs in the market. There is an AF assist lamp for dim light conditions, but its range is fairly limited.

The K-30 offers a fairly unique feature for JPEG shooters: one push file format. The default setting for the RAW/Fx button located on the left side of the camera body permits the conversion of single JPEG images into a RAW file at the time they are captured. When shooting single JPEGs, the K-30 saves the RAW data for the JPEG on a separate buffer; before you take the next shot, if you decide the image would better serve your purposes as a RAW image, you can change it. Simply display the last image via the playback button and check to see if an icon depicting the exposure compensation button along with the word RAW and an icon depicting the memory card appear in the upper right corner of the replayed image - if they do, push the exposure compensation button atop the camera body and you will be prompted on the monitor about saving the JPEG as a RAW file. You can use the button customization submenu on page 4 of the record menu to disable this feature if you wish, or assign other functions to the RAW/Fx button.

Continuous high-speed shooting may be accomplished at up to six frames per second, and Pentax advertises the buffer as being good for 30 JPEG images or 8 RAW files before slowing. Using a 32GB Lexar 600x SDHC card our review camera bettered the Pentax figures consistently for JPEGs, and matched them for RAW files. Write times to clear all those JPEGs from the buffer were speedy - consistently around 10 seconds or even a bit less.

Continuous autofocus performance was fairly good, although I found the K-5II did a little better holding focus on moving subjects with the 18-135mm lens at full telephoto than the K-30. If the mover was nearby and filled a fair portion of the frame, both cameras did pretty well; smaller subjects like birds at a distance required pretty precise framing with the active focus point to maintain focus during long high-speed bursts. Like the K-5II, the K-30 with its 11 point AF system seems to require a bit more precision with the AF point than competitive cameras with more numerous focus points, but continuous AF performance it is still in keeping with the K-30 market niche.

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The built-in flash on the K-30 is rated by Pentax for a guide number of about 39.3 feet at 100 ISO. Flash modes include auto, auto/redeye reduction, flash on, flash on/redeye reduction, slow speed sync, slow speed sync/redeye, trailing curtain sync as well is a wireless mode to synchronize an optional external flash without using a sync cord. Removing the lens hood of the 18-55 and 18-135mm lenses during close-up flash photography will help prevent shadows being cast on some images.

Pentax lists battery life for the K-30 rechargeable lithium-ion battery as 480 images without flash usage or 410 images with 50% flash usage. Battery life for four lithium AA batteries is listed as 1600 images without flash and 1000 images with 50% flash usage

Lens Mount/Kit Lens (DSLR)
I reviewed the K-30 concurrent with the Pentax K-5II, and while both cameras are available as a body only they may also be had in kit form with either the DA 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 AL WR or DA 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR zoom lenses; I had an example of each lens available for these reviews. In addition, Pentax was gracious enough to also provide us with the FA 31mm F1.8 Limited and D FA MACRO 100mm F2.8 WR prime lenses. I'll review the performance characteristics of each lens as I observed them, and since both cameras use APS-C sensors this portion of the review will be the same for each camera.

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The 18-55 mm zoom is assembled in Vietnam and appears to be well constructed - it is weather resistant. Rotating the zoom ring approximately 90° is required to go from one extreme focal length to the other and I found this action smooth and consistent. Manual focus from close focus to infinity requires about 100° of rotation of the focus ring - this action is light, and the front element of the lens does not rotate during focus so any filters attached to the front element are not compromised. Minimum focus distance is 9.84 inches from the subject to the focal plane of the sensor (both camera bodies have focal plane marks on their exterior to help determine close focus distance). This lens displayed a slight amount of pincushion distortion at 55 mm and a slight amount of barrel distortion at 18 mm; zooming the lens to the vicinity of 26 to 28 mm eliminated the barrel distortion, with pincushion distortion starting to become apparent at about 35 mm. The 18-55 displayed good sharpness across the frame at 18 mm; there was a slight amount of light falloff in the corners, as well as a slight amount of softness. At 55mm there was some softness in the corners but otherwise the lens looked uniformly sharp across the frame. There was a bit of longitudinal chromatic aberration (purple fringing) at both the wide and telephoto ends of this lens, but the effect was relatively benign and really required pixel peeping at 400x enlargement to become apparent - 100x was not an issue for my eyes. Pentax has a lateral chromatic aberration adjustment feature in both the K-5II and K-30, but that defect (uncolored fringing around subjects with  high contrast borders) was not a major issue with this lens in the samples that I observed.

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The 18-135mm zoom did not display an assembly point but also appeared well constructed and is weather resistant. Approximately 90° of rotation of the zoom ring is required to go from one extreme focal length to the other, and this action, while a bit heavier than that of the 18-55mm was smooth and consistent. Manual focus required rotation of the focus ring through about 90° of travel and the front element of the lens does not rotate during focus - minimum focus distance is 15.72 inches. This lens displayed a slight amount of barrel distortion at 18 mm and a slight amount of pincushion at 135 mm. Zooming the lens to around 22 mm eliminated the barrel distortion, but by about 28 mm pincushion distortion was beginning to become apparent. There was slight softness and light falloff in the corners at 18mm, and the vertical edges of the frame appeared slightly soft as well - the horizontal edges appeared consistent with the rest of the frame. At 135mm the corners appeared a bit soft and the edges slightly soft. Longitudinal chromatic aberration (purple fringing) was present to a slightly greater degree at both ends of the zoom in this lens than in the 18-55 mm, but again this was during 400x pixel peeping.

The 31mm prime was made in Japan and appears robust and well-constructed thanks to its metal barrel, but unlike the other three lenses is not labeled as being weather resistant. Approximately 90° rotation of the focus ring is required for the full range of focus, and this action is light and consistent. Minimum focus distance is 12 inches. Distortion was not apparent in this lens, and sharpness appeared quite good across the frame. There were small areas of purple fringing observed in some high contrast boundary areas, but this required magnifications in the 400x range and was fairly benign even at that enlargement level. At 100x magnification images from this lens are quite nice - it was my favorite walking around lens of the four I had at my disposal. Here are four shots with the 31mm:

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The 100mm macro prime was assembled in Vietnam, is weather resistant and appears robust and well-constructed with a metal barrel like the 31mm. Rotation of the focus ring through approximately 270° of travel is required for the full range of focus, and minimum focus distance is 11.88 inches; the lens features a 1:1 image magnification ratio (1X, life size). The focus ring displays focus distances throughout its range of travel and the lens barrel is imprinted with a handy depth of field indicator for f/16 and f/32 aperture settings. Distortion was not apparent in this lens and sharpness was very good and consistent across the frame. The 100mm macro threw me a curve when it came to chromatic aberration - both of them. With lateral chromatic aberration adjustment disabled in the camera, images with high contrast boundary areas showed fairly distinct colorless fringing at 400x enlargements (but not really objectionable or noticeable at 100x). Enabling the lateral chromatic aberration adjustment (more on this later) really dampened down the colorless fringing, but seemed to produce a bit more longitudinal chromic aberration (purple fringing), which had been very slight with the adjustment disabled. Either way the 100 macro produced very fine images.

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While macro suggests a lens used primarily for close-up work, there's no reason a macro can't be used for normal photography, assuming the focal length fits your needs. Here's a shot of our local theater lobby from about 150 feet across the street, and then three shots moving into the usual realm of macro.

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While the four lenses provided by Pentax for this review all provided good to excellent distortion and chromatic aberration performance, both the K-30 and K5II feature a lens correction feature accessible via internal menus. The cameras can correct for both distortion and lateral chromatic aberration, although these corrections can only be made when using DA, DA L, D FA or some FA lenses. Using the distortion correction setting may result in slower continuous shooting speeds. Here?s a look at distortion correction at work on barrel distortion with the 18-55 mm lens.

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18-55                                                                                         18-55 CORRECTED

Video Quality
Full HD video quality in the K-30 is pretty good, and can be captured at 30, 25 or 24 fps. What's not so good is the lack of continuous autofocus, just as with the K-5II. Once you establish the initial focus distance for your subject and initiate video capture the camera holds the focus at that distance; you can get it to select a new focus point while continuing to capture video by pressing the AF/AE-L button on the camera back, but the K-30 is very slow to acquire focus in this fashion. The camera is also not particularly quick to transition into movie mode, taking about three seconds to go to live view after switching the mode dial to movie. From this point you need to acquire focus and then you can begin movie capture. The K-30 external microphone is susceptible to wind noise and there is no wind cut feature; it can also record camera noise during movie capture. The CMOS sensor of the K-30 makes it susceptible to rolling shutter effect during exaggeratedly high speed panning - vertical lines or structures can take on a skewed effect if pan speed is sufficiently fast. The effect was not a concern during normal or reasonable speed panning.

While Pentax advertises 25 minutes or 4 GB recording capacity per video clip, that 25 minute figure is approached at less than optimal capture quality - full HD at maximum quality is good for about 16.5 minutes. Pentax also warns that internal camera temperatures may cause recording capture to cease before the advertised time or file size limits are reached.

Image Quality
Default image quality out of the K-30 provided pleasant, accurate colors with the camera set in the "natural" custom image mode, and, at first blush appeared to be satisfactorily sharp. Closer examination disclosed the images were a bit soft for my taste. This is not an indictment of the K-30 but rather just an observation that would be equally applicable to a wide variety of digital cameras, including my personal equipment, at default settings. The K-30 has sharpness settings that are accessed via the custom image menu and these are twofold: the first permits selection from a range of nine sharpening settings (4 softer and 4 sharper than the default setting) via the four-way controller. However, rotation of the rear e-dial brings up a "fine sharpness" level that also permits the same range of nine settings - "fine sharpness" at its base level provides additional sharpening over and above the default value, "sharpness." As a practical matter, I found that the "fine sharpness" level set for maximum sharpness provided fairly pleasant JPEG images - in fact, these images appeared to display more artifacts if I attempted to add any additional post processing sharpening. Here's a look at the default setting, the default setting with sharpening maximized and the "fine sharpness" level with sharpening maximized.

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DEFAULT

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DEFAULT+4

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FINE SHARP+4

The K-30 offers a custom effects palette consisting of 10 additional color options in addition to the "natural" setting I used for most of the images in this review. These choices include bright, portrait, landscape, vibrant, radiant, muted, bleach bypass, reversal film, monochrome and cross processing. Here's a look at the bright, natural, landscape and monochrome versions.

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Bright                                                                            Natural

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Landscape                                                                    Monochrome

Depending on the individual option chosen, you may have additional user-determined inputs in areas such as saturation, hue, high/low key adjustment, contrast and sharpness. Any changes you make in the individual color options remain set until you change them again.

The K-30 offers an in-camera HDR (high dynamic range) capture mode that fires a burst of three images and then processes them internally before providing a single HDR image. HDR capture is not available with RAW images and there are four settings from which to choose: HDR auto, HDR 1, 2 or 3. Care must be taken to hold the camera steady until the third capture is made, and while this can be done by hand in good lighting conditions a tripod is not a bad idea for use in dimmer light. As a practical matter I found HDR auto was typically very hard to differentiate from a normal image, so here's a look at the normal shot along with HDR 1, 2 and 3.

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Normal

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HDR 1

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HDR 2

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HDR 3

Auto white balance was used for all the images in this review, with the exception of the three close-ups with the macro lens which were shot with the incandescent (tungsten) lighting white balance preset. Auto white balance does a pretty good job across a variety of light sources, but injects just a hint of warmth with incandescent light. In addition to the automatic setting there are daylight, shade, cloudy, fluorescent (4 types), tungsten, flash, CTE (color temperature enhancement), 3 manually-established custom settings that may be saved and a Kelvin color temperature range from 2500 to 10000°, adjustable in 100° increments.

Multi segment exposure metering is the default setting on the K-30, using through the lens open aperture 77 segment metering; the default setting of multi segment metering determines exposure regardless of the AF point - the user has the option to link multi segment metering to the active AF point. Multi segment exposure did a pretty good job across a range of lighting conditions although at times it did have a tendency to clip highlights in some high contrast scenes. My typical "high contrast scene" is a sunny day at the beach shooting surfers, so the dark water of the unbroken wave combined with the white water where the wave is breaking provides a severe test for any camera's metering system. There are also center weighted and spot metering options available.

APS-C sensor equipped cameras for a time were getting left in the dust in the high ISO performance sweepstakes by full frame models, but when I reviewed the Nikon D7000, Canon 60D and Pentax K-01 (a mirrorless model) I was amazed by dramatic gains in high ISO performance achieved over earlier generation cameras. They hadn't caught up to the best full frames at that time, but they had definitely narrowed the gap.

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ISO 100                                                                                     ISO 200

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ISO 400                                                                                     ISO 800

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ISO 1600                                                                                   ISO 3200

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ISO 6400                                                                                   ISO 12800

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ISO 25600

The K-30 features a native ISO range of 100 to 12800; that range may be taken out to 25600 via the expanded sensitivity setting in the custom settings menu. I found ISO 100 and 200 indistinguishable from each other, with 400 in practically a dead heat with the first two settings - 100% enlargement pixel peeping showed just the faintest hint of little texture working into the image. 800 was practically a twin for 400, with the exception of a slight increase in the texture or grain. 1600 displayed just a slight increase in grain over 800; the jump from 1600 to 3200 displayed the greatest change between a single ISO step to this point, with a fairly substantial increase in graininess. I would feel very comfortable shooting at 1600 with the prospect of making large prints from those images if need be; 3200 seems perfectly suitable for e-mail and electronic sharing where image size is not paramount. 6400 and 12800 each increase graininess by about the same degree as the 1600 to 3200 jump, that is to say each is noticeably noisier than its predecessor. On the plus side, color fidelity is holding up pretty well to 12800. Things get really grainy at 25600 and colors are beginning to shift a bit more noticeably, with some color blotches typically associated with random noise becoming more apparent.

All in all, the K-30 does a nice job in the ISO performance department - very clean images at the lower settings with the onset of increased graininess that nicely mimics film grain as sensitivity levels climb into the 3200 to 12800 range. Use 25600 when nothing else will let you capture the image.

Additional Sample Images

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