Review: Pentax K-7 DSLR

In a time when people are tightening their belts like Christian Bale in The Machinist and scrutinizing each purchase, Pentax introduces a pocketbook-friendly prosumer DSLR body that’s bursting with useful features, some only found on cameras costing two or more times its $1300 price tag.

Demonstrating that it’s serious about making a run at the top-end offerings from Canon and Nikon, the K-7 bows with a spankin’ new 14.6 megapixel, 28.1mm (diagonal) CMOS image sensor and an updated Prime II processor that enables HD-video capture, built-in high dynamic range shooting, a 77-segment metering system, pre- and post production filtering and distortion correction all in a form factor more than 10 percent smaller (and actually easier to handle) than its predecessor, the K20D.

Pentax prides itself on rugged cameras and the K-7 makes no deviation from that heritage. The magnesium-alloy clad body has more than 70 weather seals that fairly ensure you’ll be able to keep firing away in some soppy conditions.

Beyond its unimpeachable durability Pentax has gamely tackled one of digital imaging’s biggest bugaboos — white balance. At times even the highest end pro models struggle, especially with fluorescent lighting. In our testing, the K-7 gives those heavyweights a lesson when it comes to getting the color right. Even in the toughest mixed-lighting conditions, the Pentax achieved excellent color reproduction. Plus the K-7 includes four unique fluorescent light presets and postsets, so you can tune the color temperate to either your eye or the temp of the bulbs.

Speaking of settings, the K-7 has a raft of in-camera digital filters so you can overlay multiple effects like monochrome, Holga-like softness and vignetting, fisheye, star bursting, color. Even tastier, your in-camera adjustments are saved as a new file, so you won’t lose the original image. High dynamic range (HDR in shutterbug parlance) image making as a post-production effect has become quite popular.

The K-7’s new processor allows you to make HDR images in the camera by snapping off three frames in fast succession and then merges them for you, eliminating the need to own costly post-production software. Our results were not as refined as Photoshop or Photomatix can produce, but the savings in time and money make a big difference. It’s good to note that if you intend to use the HDR feature a lot, keeping things steady with a tripod will certainly enhance your results.

High-definition video is probably the buzziest of buzzwords in DSLRs today and Pentax has jumped into the deep end with the K-7, which records 720p at 30 frames-per-second, something none of its more expensive competitors can claim. With selectable video output through the on-board HDMI port you can see your movies in 1080i, 720p or 480p depending on how you’ll watch it. Our results with the video were very good, but we’re still not totally sold on video from a DSLR no matter who’s selling it.

Finally, one area where superior Japanese engineering doesn’t always translate in the American market is with a camera’s user interface, and the K-7 is no exception. By and large, it’s a super quick focusing compact image-maker — once you learn how the menu system works. But it’s just a step or two behind Nikon and Canon in ease of use. In spite of that, Pentax has nearly hit a home run with the K-7. It’s svelte, sturdy, fairly easy to operate, has a great range of available lenses and a feature set that’s unmatched at this price. Think of it as a solid double with an RBI.

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