Pro Review: Pentax K100D

200609bc_pentk100d By Ron Eggers

Pentax has spent the last 80 years building its reputation in photography. The first 35mm camera I bought, which I got in 1971 at a PX while in the service, was a Honeywell Pentax SP500, a less expensive version of the popular Spotmatic. Over the years I added other bodies and lenses. I shot the heck out of those cameras for the next five or six years. After that, I used them as my back-up system for another decade or so. While I don't use it anymore, I still have the SP500 and it still works.

I'm not sure if any company is producing camera equipment that would last that long nowadays, but I've shot extensively with all of Pentax's digital single lens reflex cameras, and they hold up very well.

The Pentax K100D, is a compact, light-weight DSLR camera with a 6.1 megapixel CCD that's targeted at consumers, but would do well for certain professional applications. It includes a number of advanced features, most notably, a proprietary Shake Reduction (SR) image-stabilization system.

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Caption: 1/250 second at f/13, ISO 200, aperture priority, pattern metering. ©2006 Ron Eggers
Right-click the image and Save Link As or Download Image File (or similar command) to download the full-size file (5.26MB).

The SR system oscillates the CCD at very high speeds to counter any camera shake. When the system is on, it's possible to shoot movement up to two stops slower without significantly degrading image quality. Shake reduction is particularly helpful when shooting action, using longer telephoto lenses or in low-light situations. It can be turned on or off without having to dig through multiple levels of menus. There's a switch on the back of the body that activates it. Since the SR mechanism is sensor-based, rather than lens-based, there are no expensive image stabilization lenses to buy.

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Caption: 1/500 second at f/9.5, ISO 200, auto exposure/normal, pattern metering. ©2006 Ron Eggers
Right-click the image and Save Link As or Download Image File (or similar command) to download the full-size file (3.9MB).

Almost all existing Pentax lenses work with the K100D (but some of the lenses, such as the screw-mount and medium-format lenses, require special adapters to fit). I used it with the smc-Pentax-DA f/3.5-5.6 18-55mm, which comes as part of the kit, and the smc DA 21mm f/3.2 AL Limited, which was also recently introduced. I also played with some of my old screw mount lenses, just for the fun of it.

The K100D's rated speed is 2.8 frames per second. That's pretty close to what it actually is. I was consistently able to fire off 1 to 2 frames per second, as long as there wasn't a focusing change involved.

One of the things that photographers complain about with consumer cameras being used for professional applications is that they don't have the sensor sensitivity for low-light shooting. That's not the case with the K100D. The new body includes auto-sensitivity sensor control up to an ISO equivalent of 3200. A special option in the menu lets you set the auto-range of the ISO when shooting with auto ISO on, so that the ISO doesn't exceed 400, 800 or 1600, whichever is preferred. Like the SR system, the high ISO increases low-light shooting capabilities.

Another unexpected advanced capability is the high shutter speed. It goes up to 1/4,000 second. That's more like a pro camera than a consumer model. It has a built in pop-up flash and a hot shoe, but it's missing a PC sync cord connector. One way of getting around that is by using a wireless radio trigger. The maximum flash synchronization speed is 1/180 second.

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Caption: 1/250 second at f/13, ISO 200, aperture priority, pattern metering. ©2006 Ron Eggers
Right-click the image and Save Link As or Download Image File (or similar command) to download the full-size file (5.26MB).

The K100D also features a sophisticated Safox VIII autofocus system with 11 sensor points. The autofocus system focuses precisely, even when the primary subject is somewhat off center. The sensor point that's in focus is superimposed in red for focus confirmation. Focusing response was the one area where the camera was a little on the sluggish side. The motors in the lenses reacted a little too slowly when repositioning the internal lens elements, particularly when the lens didn't lock onto focusing right away.

Besides the expected program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual and bulb shooting modes, the new camera has an Auto Picture Mode, which automatically selects one of the four shooting modes. The Auto Picture Mode takes into account the various photographic considerations that would result in the best quality images possible for that type of photography. Adjustments including aperture, shutter speed, white balance, saturation, contrast and sharpness, are set automatically.

Special filter settings make it easy to capture monochrome, sepia and several other types of specialty effects. The camera can capture RAW files, which is important for some professional applications. 

I really like the feel of the K100D. The body is just a little bit larger than the previous generation of Pentax DSLR, the *ist-DL, but it's enough of a size difference to effect how it handles. Even though I have a relatively large hand, I had no problem working with it, adjusting settings and accessing menus. I'll probably take it as my primary camera on my next excursion.

The oversized 2.5-inch color LCD displays a viewable image under most lighting conditions. There's a separate monochrome data LCD on the top of the body, and some of the shooting information, such as focusing confirmation and exposure data, is also available in the optically corrected viewfinder.

The K100D is powered by four 1.5-volt AA batteries. Using standard batteries has its advantages; AAs are available just about anywhere in the world. It's also possible to use rechargeable NiMH double-As. They work fine when freshly charged. I was able to shoot several hundred frames with new 2300 mAh rechargeables. The disadvantage to NiMH is that they don't hold their power very well when not used for several weeks or months.

Pentax also makes the K110D, which has all the features and capabilities of the K100D, but doesn't have the shake reduction system. Both models ship with the DA 18-55mm f/4-5.6 lens. The K100D has a suggested retail price of $699.95 while the K110D lists for $599.95. The new smc DA 21mm f/3.2 AL Limited lens costs $549.95.

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Caption: 1/350 second at f/11, ISO 200, auto exposure/landscape, pattern metering. ©2006 Ron Eggers
Right-click the image and Save Link As or Download Image File (or similar command) to download the full-size file (4.85MB).

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Comments (1)

Ajay Kumar:

Dear Ron
The review is to the point and definitely gives a photographor's point of view rather that nit-picking. I was all confused for which one to buy among E500/K100D/RebelXT but now have ordered K100D. Initially I was too concerned by Megapixel count but now I believe that more than count, the quality of pixel is important. One has to trade off either dynamic range or resolution (which anyway largely depends on lenses also. Most of which are beyond the reach for economy class.)

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