Pentax K2000 First Thoughts

by Reads (256)

The Pentax K2000 was invented for me. Well, to be perfectly clear, the K2000 was invented for photographers like me. What I mean by that is I shoot with several Pentax DSLRs and lenses but I still happen to use an old Pentax *ist DL camera (the smallest and lightest DSLR Pentax ever produced) when I’m traveling. Although cameras like the K10D, K100D, K20D, and K200D each proved to be exceptional digital cameras, many Pentax shooters held onto the old *ist DL simply because it was so small and light. This is where the all new Pentax K2000 comes in.

Pentax K2000

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 XSi 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.

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 the K2000 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.

Pentax K2000

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.

Pentax K2000

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.

Pentax K2000

As an additional weight-saving measure, Pentax decided to make the new 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DAL 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 initial tests suggest it lacks the edge sharpness of the new 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DA II lens. We’ll have more in-depth analysis and sample images in the full review.

Pentax K2000

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. In fact, the K2000 might be the smallest and lightest DSLR with built-in image stabilization (at the time of this writing).

Pentax K2000

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.

There may not be a lot that’s earth-shattering here (about the only things worth calling out besides the size and weight are the ISO 3200 setting and faster burst shooting than the K200D), but if you don’t mind the K2000’s slight lack of live view compared to its competition, this camera has a lot going for it for shooters looking to develop skills and buy a camera with a great lineup of lenses.

Pentax K2000

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.

Pentax K2000

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.

Pentax K2000

One minor annoyance with the K2000 kit is the inclusion of the AF-200FG flash. 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 no more control over the direction of your 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? Well, basically it’s 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.

Pentax K2000
Direct flash

Pentax K2000
Bounce flash

If there is one area where I’m a little disappointed in the K2000 it’s the fact that Pentax seems to have crippled several functions/features for little or no reason. First, The K2000 lacks a DOF preview button. Yes, 90 percent (or more) of photographers don’t use the DOF preview function, but the ones who do really care about it. Next, Pentax removed the wired cable release from the side of the K2000. Why? I seriously doubt the plug for a cable release would have added that much weight or cost. Lastly, although I am glad to see faster burst performance in the K2000, why are we limited to 5 JPEG or 4 RAW? Pentax could have easily made this camera capable of unlimited (or nearly unlimited) continuous shooting at 3.5fps in JPEG mode.

Some initial frustrations and quirks not withstanding, the K2000 is a great entry-level DSLR and travel camera. As someone who still uses an old *ist DL when I’m on vacation, this camera will very likely become my new travel camera of choice. At the moment, I simply need more time with this tiny titan to see whether it will become my personal travel companion. At the MSRP of $699.95 ($599.95 street price) for the camera, lens, and flash, the K2000 seems like a great deal.

Detailed analysis of the K2000’s performance and many, many more sample images will be coming later in our full review, so be sure to check back in for that.

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