Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Comparing the Pentax *ist DL and the *ist DL2


The Pentax *ist DL2 was announced at the end of January, 2006, as a follow-up to the *ist DL, which itself was only released about 6 months prior (July, 2005). Intriguingly, the DL2 is territory specific, available just in Canada and Asia, with the original DL continuing to be offered for sale in the U.S. and elsewhere. However, because Pentax partnered with Samsung (who consequently markets rebadged Pentax SLR products), the DL2 features may be available in an upcoming GX-1L (the Samsung twin of the DL2 which still hasn't been released). Presently in May 2006, the DL line is the entry level in Pentax's *ist digital product matrix, with the DS line in the mid-range, and the D at the top. Pentax has been busy working on major refreshment of that matrix for later this year, but the DL2 update news was received with little insight at DP Review, which annoyed me a little, and then the DL2 wasn't even finally reviewed there, probably because the rendered image quality from the 6.1 MP sensor should still be the same as the first DL.

The DL2 has some new silver trim coloring ("a couple of bits of silver plastic," to quote DP Review), but it's also become a pretty robust competitor to the DS2 thanks to the addition of new features, some of which you can't find in any DS model. Looking closely at the two DL camera models being sold concurrently by Pentax in different territories, one notices that the upgrade in features is not very progressive, but substantial enough in fixes and additions to perhaps have warranted the discontinuation of the DL entirely. The firmware upgrade Pentax made available for the original DS, to give it all the qualities of the DS2 revision (minus the 2.5" LCD), is probably something that won't be possible to do again for the first DL because of the nature of the special features.

After some initial feedback, I've gone over these notes to keep them more inline with what people are experiencing day to day.*

DL2 Features You Won't Find In the Original DL

1) Digital preview. Instead of just the optical viewfinder, users can preview a shot with the LCD screen to confirm depth of field, exposure, and flash settings. You just turn the shutter dial as to activate the aperture, like you would to iris down meter with a non "A" K-mount lens. It's not a live preview (it's an SLR, remember), but this is a pretty nice feature to have when you're low on SD card space. And although using the display like that is a battery hog, it can make Hail Mary shots a bit easier. Plus, it can help you when you need to stay aware of more than just taking a picture, particularly when keeping an eye on kids. This is a feature the DS2 probably should have acquired also, but didn't.

Above images copyright 2006, Pentax Corporation.

2) 5 Point AF instead of 3. One of the best changes is the addition of upper and lower autofocus points in the viewfinder. Considering that AF points aren't just useful for focusing, but for spot metering, the more the merrier. By shifting the AF point area around when you've linked spot meter with the AF points (under custom settings), you can gauge the varying exposure possibilities inside of the frame while on a tripod. The upper and lower points now make it more useful to control difficult outdoor subjects that may have backlighting that you want to take more care exposing. Not as good as the DS's 11 points, but better than 3.

3) 8 Additional Scene Modes: Night Scene, Surf & Snow, Text, Sunset, Kids, Pet, Candlelight, and Museum. Reviewers like to refer to these settings as "idiot modes," and real idiots condescend to people who use them. However, these happen to be some of the most useful program settings a pro would likely set up on their DSLR for common solutions that resolve different lighting and contrast problems. These modes' names won't show up while in the Auto Picture mode, though. The best thing about a DSLR with these settings is that an amateur can easily crib the settings the camera suggests for later use in manual mode, once they have more experience. Again, not as many modes can be found in the DS2 either, but keep in mind that the scene modes use "Bright" color, not "Natural" color, for increased saturation and contrast - which is a taste issue.

4) Flash White Balance Setting. Flash light is pretty much consistently the same temperature, and if you're using an off-camera flash for lighting under different temperatures, you'll probably want this. It brings the DL line up to the white balance settings level of the DS.

5) Continuous autofocus is available in extra Scene modes: Kids and Pets. Now CF is outside of Moving Object mode (in addition to Program, AV, TV, and Manual modes), while the camera will still automatically choose CF or AF when you're in Auto Picture Mode. This is something that the DS never had originally and finally got in its firmware update and the DL got right the first time. Most novice users seem to anticipate that continuous AF is a given, and it's nice to see Pentax make it an entry level feature in more scenes.

6) Day-by-Day file storage folders. Not just by number, the DL2 will pre-sort your saved JPGs or RAW files into dated folders, which helps you sort them in a pinch. Again, not in the DS2.

Also, Comparing the DL to the DS line: 96% frame coverage in the viewfinder. The DS and DS2 are 95%. The DL magnification is still 0.85X compared to the DS's 0.95X, but hey, every little bit helps. Conversely, it's also been remarked that the DL line's viewfinder, a Penta-Mirror, may not be as bright as the Penta-Prism in the DS, which is one of the features which has made the DS something still worth seeking out for some people.

Everything else is pretty much the same, but taken on the whole, the DL2 really does offer enough fixes and new firmware features to warrant at least a second look on DP Review, instead of getting shut out. In fact, the DL2 probably ought to have been made available everywhere this year, but it's hard to speculate why not. For now, hopefully you'll be able to find one in Japan, or in Canada at a retailer like London Drugs, or local shops like McBain and Henry's.

Links: Pentax *ist DL2 at Pentax Japan, DP Review's announcement, Samsung GX-1L Peek, and the Pentax *ist DL

*Updated with corrections on May 19th, 2006. Thanks for the feedback! Comments have been reset for new responses to this edit.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Really insightful comparison with some honest, real world opinions, thank you. I've ordered mine in the UK as it is going for a crazy low price at the moment in Jessops. I never liked the d50 (viewfinder and physical size) and the 350d is out of my budget. Can't wait to start using my first DSLR!

OK-1K said...

As noted above, I've moderated some comments so that what was pointed out (insights about the viewfinder and scene modes) could be researched and fixed into the text. I appreciate the feedback.

Anonymous said...

I also got one in the UK (succumbed to the Jessops offer) and now have my first DSLR, and old Pentax lenses to go with it Very pleased with it after my first week!

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