DigitalCameraReview.com
Pentax K100D Super Review
by JerryJ -  9/18/2007

Last year when Pentax introduced the K100D, they advertised it as "an affordable, full featured, user friendly digital SLR." This year when the Pentax K100D Super was announced, they advertised it as "an affordable, full featured, user friendly digital SLR." What’s the difference? Well, if you look closely you’ll notice the new K100D Super adds Pentax’s new Dust Removal system and compatibility with Pentax’s new SDM lenses offering faster and quieter autofocus.

Beyond these two new additions, the K100D Super features the same compact size, ease-of-use, high ISO performance, and shake reduction system for blur-free images. Although the original K100D and the new K100D Super use a 6 megapixel image sensor compared to other DSLRs using 10 megapixel sensors, the low price of $519 and impressive feature set make it an amazing value. Let’s see what Pentax’s newest entry level DSLR brings to the photographer’s tool kit.

pentax k100d super
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A CLOSER LOOK

Despite the low price, it’s important to keep in mind that we’re not talking about a point-and-shoot (P&S) camera here. The K100D Super is an entry-level digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR) … meaning it’s designed for people who want (and understand) advanced photographic controls and want to use a wide selection of lenses. That said, Pentax has a reputation for making user friendly and capable cameras that can easily be used by shutterbugs moving up from their point-and-shoot cameras.

Aside from generally higher performance across the spectrum of camera functions, the ability to interchange lenses is probably the most striking dissimilarity between the DSLR and the P&S. The K100D Super used for this review came packaged with Pentax’s 18-55mm f3.5/5.6 AL lens, but the camera is also available as a body only, which allows the user to combine the camera with a wide range of lenses. One of the biggest benefits to using a Pentax SLR rather than a Canon or Nikon SLR is that Pentax cameras offer 100 percent compatibility with every Pentax lens ever produced. You can use everything from old manual focus lenses to new autofocus lenses thanks to the KAF2 lens mount on the K100D Super. In fact, you can even use old Pentax "screw mount" lenses and medium format film lenses with adapters. Bottom line, no other camera manufacturer is as "backward compatible" as Pentax. Pentax recently introduced a new line of lenses with SDM supersonic motors built into the lenses for faster and quieter autofocus … and the K100D Super is compatible with these lenses. Below are a few sample images showing a range of focal lengths for 18mm wide angle to 210mm telephoto:

pentax K100D super sample image
18-55mm lens at 18mm (view medium image) (view large image)

pentax K100d super review
18-55mm at 55mm (view medium image) (view large image)

pentax K100D super sample image
24-70mm lens at 24mm (view medium image) (view large image)

pentax K100d super review
70-210mm lens at 70mm (view medium image) (view large image)

pentax K100d super review
70-210mm lens at 210mm (view medium image) (view large image)

Again, one of the key points to remember about the K100D Super is that it is fully compatible with every Pentax lens ever produced. There is no other camera manufacturer that can make the same claim. What is even more amazing is that thanks to the camera’s built-in shake reduction system every lens benefits from modern image stabilization technology. Other camera makers such as Canon and Nikon sell image-stabilized lenses for a hefty premium compared to standard lenses. With Pentax, even a 40-year-old lens has 21st-century shake reduction. Bottom line … your images will look sharper than ever. For example, the image of the water fountain below was taken at a shutter speed of 1/13th second … much too slow for shooting without a tripod. However, thanks to the built-in shake reduction system you can still see fine details in the fountain. Try this same shot without shake reduction and the image would have been so blurred from hand tremor that no one would be able to identify it as a water fountain.

pentax K100d super review
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During the course of this review I shot the K100D Super with six different lenses (18-55mm, 70-210, 24-70, 50mm, 85mm and 135mm). Camera performance with all lenses was flawless and as advertised.

Camera body dimensions are approximately 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.8 inches; shooting weight (battery and memory card installed) with the kit lens installed is about 22.8 ounces.

The K100D Super will capture still images at any of four quality levels: uncompressed RAW and Fine (three stars), Normal (two stars) or Basic (one star) JPEGS.

Image size may also be selected from three pixel counts: 6M (3008 x 2000), 4M (2400 x 1600), and 1.5M (1536 x 1024). The K100D Super accepts SD and SDHC memory cards as well.

Pentax includes the DA 18-55mm lens (if you purchase the "kit" with lens), USB cable, video cable, camera strap, hotshoe cover, eyecup (already attached to camera), body mount cover, viewfinder cap ME, four AA Alkaline batteries, and a software CD-ROM.

CAMERA FEATURES AND LAYOUT

The K100D Super 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.

Ergonomically, the K100D Super (like the K100D) is a photographer’s best friend – pick the camera up and every control seems to be in the perfect location.  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

Balance with the kit lens is quite nice. Even larger and heavier lenses were easy to manage thanks to the camera’s light weight and excellent grip – I carried the K100D Super for eight hours during a wedding, and the camera was easy to manage even with a much heavier Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 lens installed.

pentax k100d super
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pentax K100d super
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pentax k100d super
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pentax k100d super
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pentax k100d super
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SHOOTING WITH THE K100D SUPER

Auto Picture Mode

The K100D Super features an "Auto Picture" (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; shooting, 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 K100D Super 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 Pict," the K100D Super 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 K100D Super also offers eight additional scene modes: night scene, surf and snow, text, sunset, kids, pet, candlelight, and museum.

P, Tv, Av, M, and B

Finally, the camera also has the Programmed auto, Shutter priority (Tv), Aperture priority (Av) and Manual exposure modes that are the standard features of any DSLR. In addition, the K100D Super also features a "Bulb" mode (B) which allows you to manually control how long the shutter remains open for extremely long exposures.

P: the camera sets shutter speed and aperture; the user has the option to set a full range of camera settings, including choice of flash modes, exposure compensation, flash compensation, metering mode, AF mode, shooting mode, ISO sensitivity, white balance, image size and quality. These same camera settings may be accessed in the Tv, Av, M and B modes as well.

Tv: shutter speed is set by the user, aperture by the camera.

Av: aperture is set by the user, shutter speed by the camera.

M: both shutter speed and aperture are set by the user.

B: identical to manual except the shutter remains open as long as you press the shutter button.

Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation of +/- 2 EV in 1/3 EV or ½ EV increments is available in P, Tv or Av modes only, and is most effective with the center-weighted or spot metering options. There is also an exposure bracketing feature for taking multiple images at different exposure settings: one under-exposed, one standard exposure, and one overexposure.

Light Metering

Default metering on the K100D Super is Pentax’s 16-segment multi-pattern metering system, with center-weighted and spot options also available. Multi-pattern metering on the K100D Super did a reasonably good job overall, but it did lose highlights on occasion with very bright, high contrast scenes, such as bright skies or ocean shots where sunlight reflecting off the water appears pure white.  That said, these conditions produce similar results among other digital cameras from other manufacturers. High contrast scenes with more consistent light levels produced better results. The sample images below show some examples of "clipped" highlights in high contrast scenes with varying light levels.

pentax k100d super sample image
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pentax k100d super sample image
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Focus

The K100D Super uses an advanced 11-point autofocus mechanism, and the user can also select the focus area for automatic or manual focus. In addition the the AF/MF switch located next to the lens mount, the autofocus modes can be controlled by the camera’s menu. The two autofocus mode choices are single mode (AF-S) or continuous mode (AF-C). AF-S is for stationary objects and locks focus when the shutter is depressed halfway; AF-C is for moving objects and focuses continuously while the shutter button is depressed halfway.

Unlike most DSLRs with multi-point autofocus systems which use only one or two cross-type sensors (capable of detecting both vertical and horizontal focus) the SAFOX VIII autofocus system on the K100D Super uses nine cross-type sensors … meaning greater autofocus accuracy.

The K100D Super acquired focus quickly across the range of autofocus lenses I shot with it (18-55mm, 70-210mm, 24-70mm, and 50mm). The AF sensor also recognized when a manual focus lens was correctly focused … though it relies on the photographer to turn the lens’ focus mechanism. The K100D Super isn’t the fastest body in the Pentax lineup, but it did perform almost as well as the top-of-the-line K10D.

Monitor and Viewfinder

The K100D Super monitor is a 2.5 inch LCD with 210,000 pixels with 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 is not "live view" – you can’t compose shots with it.

pentax k100d super
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The K100D Super has a bright and reasonably large viewfinder with 0.85-times magnification and 96% accuracy … above average for entry level DSLRs.

Flash

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 range is between 0.7m and 4m depending on ISO/aperture settings.

Up to four flash modes are available with the manual shooting modes: auto, manual, auto with red eye reduction, and manual with red eye reduction.

The only negative issue with regards to flash is that the maximum flash sync speed is only 1/180th of a second.  While this is fine for flash photography in low light, daylight fill flash often requires shutter speeds of 1/500th or faster. In order to use the flash in strong daylight I often had to use apertures of f22 or more … not ideal.

Of course, if you purchase a Pentax hot shoe flash such as the AF360FGZ ($299) or the AF540FGZ ($399) flash units you can use the high-speed sync mode for daylight fill flash at faster shutter speeds. It’s just unfortunate that consumers have to spend an additional $300 for daylight fill flash. It shouldn’t be that way.

pentax k100d super review
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pentax k100d super review
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COLOR

There are two primary image tones available in the K100D Super: Bright and Natural. Bright is the "default" setting for the camera straight out of the box. However, my experience with both the Pentax K10D and Pentax *ist DL has been that the Bright setting actually produces oversaturated colors and sometimes leads to overexposure and "graininess" in images. For this reason I always set my Pentax DLSRs to the Natural image tone setting, and this was the setting used for the sample images in this review.

The K100D Super is capable of using either the sRGB or Adobe RGB color spaces. Although the Adobe RGB color space offers more choices in terms of color range for retouching, sRGB should be used by most amateurs as it will produce much more vivid colors both on screen and in print.

All shots by the K100D Super used in this review were shot in the default sRGB mode color space. The default space provides deeply saturated colors and seems particularly strong in the reds and greens. It reminds me of slide film in terms of needing to deliberately underexpose images with strong reds and greens if you want to saturate those colors without over-saturating them. In fact, I often used a -0.3EV or -0.7EV exposure compensation when shooting with the K100D Super.

The menu system on the K100D Super also allows you to adjust saturation, sharpness, and contrast in order to produce your ideal image straight out of the camera. All of the sample images in this review use the default settings for saturation, sharpness and contrast.

ISO

Auto ISO is the default setting for the auto and scene shooting modes and will set a sensitivity between 200 and 3200 as it deems appropriate. You can also limit the auto ISO range to whatever you choose, such as 200 to 800. ISO 200 is the default for the P, Tv, Av and M modes unless you have previously selected an ISO. ISO may also be manually set at 200, 400, 800, 1600 or 3200.

The blue sky ISO shots below were taken using the various manual ISO settings:


ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200
 

Blue sky shots are essentially a worst case scenario for ISO noise – often "real world" pictures look much better than you’d expect after looking at the blue shots, particularly if the images are not subject to excessive enlargement. Here are shots at ISO 800.

pentax k100d super sample image
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pentax k100d super sample image
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White Balance

Auto white balance is the default setting for all K100D Super 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 reference. I used auto white balance or flash for the shots taken with the K100D Super to illustrate this review.

Battery Performance

Pentax is one of the few camera manufacturers kind enough to offer 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 found anywhere … even a small village drug store in a foreign country. The K100D 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 1480 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.

Lens Performance

The 18-55mm "kit" lens is quite good. The lens showed some minor vignetting (dark corners) at wide angle (18mm), but the lens is reasonably sharp from edge to edge. The 18-55mm lens also has minimal barrel distortion at wide angle or pincushion distortion at telephoto.  Despite the 6 megapixel resolution of  the K100D Super, the images appeared detailed and sharp even at 100% enlargement. There is some purple fringing in the lens (at high contrast boundary layers), but it is not readily apparent below 200% or even 400% magnification. Overall, the entry-level 18-55mm lens is an excellent performer.

Additional Sample Images

pentax k100d super sample image
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pentax k100d super sample image
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pentax k100d super sample image
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pentax k100d super sample image
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CONCLUSION

Since my day-to-day cameras are a Pentax K10D and Pentax *ist DL, I was curious how the K100D Super would compare. I expected the camera to perform better than the *ist DL but fall short of the K10D. What I discovered was that the K100D Super is much more like its big brother the K10D than I expected. In short, this is one amazing little camera.

Focus speed of the K100D Super is about the same as the more professional K10D. The 2.7fps continuous shooting performance is great, but the small image buffer of only 5 JPEGs or 3 RAW images severely limits the camera. Image quality is among the best I’ve seen with a 6 megapixel sensor and ISO noise is kept in check thanks to the lower resolution sensor. The full compatibility with every Pentax lens means almost limitless options for expansion and growth of your photographic skills. Colors are rich even at the "natural" image tone setting. In-camera shake reduction and dust removal means that this entry-level camera is remarkably full-featured. Anyone upgrading from a point-and-shoot camera to a DSLR will feel right at home with the auto and scene program modes.

Bottom line, at the entry level price point, the K100D Super is the best value on the market.

PROS

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