Monday, May 22, 2006

Pentax Announces New K100D and K110D Digital SLR Cameras

Pentax has a new line of DSLR cameras that will replace the *ist DS2, DL and DL2 this summer: the K100D and the K110D. Shake Reduction is now an option for the Pentax Digital SLR, 11 point autofocus is standard, and the famous SILKYPIX software is now bundled with the new Pentax Digital Photo Lab 3 (more on that later).

K100D: Click image for more views. Copyright 2006, Pentax Corp.

Essentially, Pentax has repurposed the most popular specifications of its DL and DS series into an even more rigid body, unveiled internal Shake Reduction, and reduced kit prices considerably. It's pretty good news. To introduce this milestone (that coincides with another this year, the 30th anniversary of the venerable K1000!), Pentax formally announced today the new consumer 6MP DSLR line-up that's going to be available this summer of 2006: The Pentax K100D (in July, $699 with kit SMC 18-55mm AL lens), the first Pentax DSLR with internal Shake Reduction (SR, for short), and the K110D (in August, $599 with kit SMC 18-55mm AL lens), offered without SR.

Quick breakdown of specifications can be found here.

How will these cameras compare to previous models and will Pentax be getting more competitive? Let's take a look.

Shake Reduction

Pentax has been developing its own Shake Reduction technology akin to the Konica-Minolta series with anti-shake, and it's finally here. The mechanism is lens independent so that it can be effective with any attached lens. This is pretty ideal, and a breath of relief for those of us still using a collection of older lenses. It works by using magnetic control to oscillate the CCD chip in correlation with the amount of sensor-detected shake. The internal apparatus should save up to 2 stops of light, good for longer exposures that wouldn't have been recommended without a tripod. For example, you should be able to hand-hold and get a relatively focused picture at 1/10 or 1/15 of a second when it might have blurred otherwise. Anyone who compares a fast prime lens with a slower zoom will appreciate that both lenses are now going to be useful in low-light situations, and the fast lens even more so. And, of course, it's going to be really useful for telephoto zooms. (Update: SR works with older prime lenses like M42s and K primes by letting you program the focal length of the lens in-camera, more on that here in Japanese). It's only available in the K100D, and it appears to be the $100 option that separates it from the K110D. Otherwise, both cameras are identical.

Click to enlarge. Copyright 2006, Pentax Corp.

Still 6MP, For Now

Pentax clearly wants its uniquely small and light DSLRs to stay competitive in the market of consumers looking to make the leap from point & shoots to a "user friendly" SLR, or to replace an older SLR. First, they listened to consumers for what the most popular attributes were in the *ist DS and DL lines and consolidated them into a new model to be available worldwide (not just territory specific like the DL2). Second, they took advantage what was working right and tried not to ruin a good thing. Some people, however, are going to feel that Pentax should have moved right away to 8MP. Instead, choosing to stay with a 6MP CCD in its entry level DSLR models, it makes Pentax an easy target for pundits charting the megapixel progress. But while megapixel specs have been largely touted as more is better, by and large the compelling average is still 6MP for most consumer cameras. As such, the memory market price of SD cards and home inkjets capable of good 4"x6" to 8"x10" borderless prints are just now at a saturation point that makes it a no brainer to offer a camera both affordable in cost AND for the average person's needs. I should also mention it seems to be the best way to manufacture an inexpensive SLR at this time to stay competitive with Nikon and Canon in pricing. Pentax will get there when the market gets there.

What's In A New Name

Moving away from the *ist name to something easily identifiable with Pentax sounds like a carefully planned decision. These cameras start this year's replacement of the entire Pentax *ist lineup that has been available since 2003, introducing a new retro-naming scheme that intentionally harkens back to the halcion days of the K1000. As always, the Pentax DSLRs can be used with almost every lens manufactured by Pentax or for Pentax in the last 50 years, and by reintroducing the 'K' in front, Pentax is finally making a point of advertising that your K-mount lenses will work. Granted, the older the lens is, the more the DSLR behaves much like an old manual camera, but the compatibility attribute is one of the most unique advantages you won't find with any other manufacturer. And although the K100D superficially sounds like the D100 or D200 from Nikon, it's most similar to the D50 and D70, albeit the Pentax is much smaller, more rigid, and has a more comfortable viewfinder.

Pentax Digital Photo Lab 3, with SILKYPIX

Astoundingly, Pentax has licensed SILKYPIX to be included with the bundled software Digital Photo Lab 3. Even if Lab 3 doesn't offer much improvement over the last version (2.1), new users should be happy that one of the most popular RAW finishing applications is additionally being thrown in for free. I know plenty of people who swear by Silky Pix's sharpening ability. The sharpness of both in-camera JPEG rendering and Photo Lab 2.1's RAW rendering has been criticized as a weakness that Pentax seems to addressing with aplomb. Way to go!

K110D: Click image for more views. Copyright 2006, Pentax Corp.

Slightly New Body

The chassis and case for the K100D and K110D has been rebuilt with a stronger stainless steel and a special "fiber-reinforced engineering plastic housing." That's not to say the *ist wasn't durable, but this camera will be more so. There's a new right side grip plastic and the button for exposure adjustment is now a square bevel. The Shake Reduction mode is set by an on-off toggle switch next to the function button, not on the front near the AF-MF switch, to avoid any unnecessary confusion. It's also cool to note that there's a nice silver finishing touch on the K110D's mode dial. And, as always, the cameras have IR and cable support for remotes, and no proprietary battery (they still use Lithium CV2s or rechargeable AAs, which last about 900 to 1200 shots).

What's The Same

The Pentax DSLR casing is nearly the same as the first *ist DS, which means famously ergonomic, easy to hold, exceptionally small, and very light. The 11 point autofocus of the *ist DS line is now a part of the K100D and K110D, but now at a price point that matches the prior *ist DL series. The autofocus points should all be user selectable, too, which was only in the prior DS models. Similarly, the 8 scene modes, digital preview, and Day-by-Day file folder sorting introduced for the *ist DL2 are now a part of both new digital K models. The flash and sync are the same as the *ist DL (P-TTL). There are 19 user customizable settings, which we'll understand better when the camera is for sale. Until the cameras are tested, the JPEG finishing options of "Natural" or "Bright" color should be considered the same, too. "Bright" offers increased saturation and contrast, and is the finishing model used with the scene modes (otherwise, if you don't like it, shoot RAW). And, there's the standard 2.5" 210,000 color LCD display

What's Gone

The brighter pentaprism and 0.95X maginfication of the *ist DS models' viewfinder seem to have faced the chopping block to keep things priced as low as possible. This means that users will also no longer have an option to replace the focus screen with a Pentax alternative, although it may be possible from a third-party. The new models use the *ist DL series pentamirror design and 0.85X magnification. Granted, it represents a loss for some users, but the digital K series viewfinder is still the best for the money: bright and big.

Conclusion: Are You Going to Replace Your *ist?

Unless you really want Shake Reduction, you'll probably be set with your *ist model, or even one of the remaindered *ist cameras later this summer. But if you're looking for a new DSLR, this is the year to hop on board. I can imagine the deals for the phased out models (which are really close in specs to the new ones) will be great. Prices for new models have never been low like this before, and the advantage of Shake Reduction is going to be something many people will want. This is a camera worth convincing people to try for themselves over the D50 and 350D. If you're still holding out for more megapixels or a pentaprism, the good news with this announcement is that the professional 10MP digital shown at PMA this year can't be too far away now, and the 18MP 645D must be right around the corner, too. Ideally, they'll both incorporate Shake Reduction as well, and it's already been noted that they're going to be compatible with all prior Pentax lenses, just as always. I expect them later this year, before December.

Link: PentaxSLR.com, Pentax News Release

4 comments:

ShadZee said...

Great informative website. Can't wait for the K10D ;-)
www.shadzee.com

Anonymous said...

the image quality it's good as KM dynax 5D??

kimg said...

Best info on the K100D so far! Great blog

Mark said...

This camera is very nice indeed but how well does the mechanical shake mechanism work that is what i would love to know as i have very bad shakes due to arthritis.

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