Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The K10D Arrives

It’s been anticipated for months and now the news is finally out.

Pentax has unveiled their 10MP DSLR camera today, the Pentax K10D, which replaces the *ist D as their top of the line model. It has a new 22-bit 10MP sensor (aka. PRIME, for “Pentax Real IMage Engine”), patented shake reduction technology, dust removal, improved professional features, and really rugged weatherproofing. It’s the third K series camera released this year, alongside the K100D and K110D, and it’s easily the most astonishing. It’s a return to old form for Pentax – they’ve engineered another solid workman camera that has design finesse, first-rate technology and obvious respect for experienced photographers. It’s not going to please absolutely everyone, but it should regain some footing for Pentax in the upcoming months when it competes against the new cameras from Canon, Nikon and Sony, especially considering that the K10D has surprised many people by arriving with all its new features at retail price tag under $900 US for the body.

You can read all the specs here. Essentially, it has all the important features of the K100D (11 point AF, Shake Reduction, beautiful ergonomics) and takes it to a professional level.

Here’s a breakdown of why it's an important camera for Pentax this fall and a pivotal camera for many enthusiasts who will be upgrading from 35mm, an *ist D series, or the K100 series.

What’s New

The new 10.2MP sensor boasts 22-bit analog to digital conversion, which is an incredible sample bit depth for improved color fidelity and detail. Pentax says this is “the highest resolving power among all existing digital cameras,” which is a good boast to make. “The K10D incorporates a high-performance A/D converter… 1,024 times greater than conventional 12-bit, 4,096 gradation A/D converters.” They’re calling their new CCD sensor software PRIME, which is a bold name as far as acronyms go, and probably a contender to fight the Canon DIGIC branding that’s been so successful. There’s DDR2 memory to improve the buffer transfer, and so the drive mode rates have increased to a 3fps with no slowdown for writing JPEGS and up to 9 images for RAW (PEF or DNG!). There’s even a quick switch button to change from JPEG to RAW without tearing yourself away from the viewfinder to scroll though the LCD menus, and it can simultaneously write both. It’s likely that the Pentax team for the K10D has been carefully learning how to do 10MP correctly after looking at the other camps who’ve waded into this water first with lackluster results (I’m looking at you Sony). Importantly, the ISO range is now 100 to 1600, which trades some speed for better noise reduction. Pentax is famous for their low noise levels compared to other cameras, and this model is no exception, so we should expect a new level of silky smooth quality if they were willing to accept this trade-off.

Pentaprism of the new K10D

The Shake-Reduction technology Pentax announced in May 2006 and which they brought out in the K100D is here, now for first time with the Pentaprism viewfinder system that made the *ist D and DS so popular. The SR function is rated to save almost 4 stops of exposure latitude for jittery shots, so this is a good compensation for the ISO adjustment. You don’t see the saving grace when gazing through the viewfinder because the inside sensor is magnetically lifted in the appropriate direction to compensate for shake, much like moving the film plane (as opposed to lens-based systems that optically compensate). But the good news is that the bright Pentaprism is back, with its gorgeous .95 magnification. You won’t find it in the K100D. And neither will you find Dust Removal efforts such as vibrating the sensor to shake off dust and a special SP coating applied “through a vapor deposition process of a fluorine compound” that helps to repel the little mites from sticking.

The exposure modes are also more sophisticated than ever. Besides having the usual routine of Aperture and Shutter Priority, there is again a user-customizable Program mode that you can save your favorite settings in. A new Hyper Program function also allows you to switch quickly between the Av and Tv modes while still in Program mode by using one of the two command dials on the camera (for the right hand’s thumb and index finger), and there’s a green Auto mode button to help you out of sticky situations when you’re metering manually (and it has other functions based on what mode you're in). A big welcome addition to modes is an ISO Sensitivity Priority mode that features an auto exposure calculation that the user can adjust in 1/3 or 1/2 steps without returning to the menu or blindly hoping Auto ISO will do good enough. In light of that last part, most interestingly, another advancement is perfectly new mode that has no anolog in traditional 35mm, a new Aperture & Shutter Priority mode that balances the two modes perfectly by only changing the ISO, “selecting the most appropriate sensitivity for a user-selected shutter speed and aperture combination.”. Brilliant stuff. There are also new Black and White filters in-camera (4 types) and Sepia tones (3) that users can apply to their images.

The K10D has the Pentax standard 11-point AF system, but it also has a command dial to switch from auto to point modes. There’s also a similar metering mode switch from spot to wide to full (there’s a little rocker dial under the Mode dial). You’ll also find improved exposure compensation (up to +- 3), which is a step over the K100D. The *ist D AF button is back. The built-in pop-up flash unit is the same as on the K100D, so it’s likely that the P-TTL hotshoe and flash functions will be similar, except there are a few new tricks. The user can now select front or rear curtain sync with the in-camera for the flash mode, in addition to +- compensation.

Let’s not forget to mention that the K10D body is just fractionally larger than the K100D by a few millimeters, but it has a new weather protected seal system to protect it from rain and splashes, or dust and sand. The SD (or SDHC) card slot is now protected and less likely to cause frustration opening and closing (thank you!). So, no more Pentax DSLR in a baggie when you go to the beach: this camera is built rugged and tough, but light and small. The Lithium-Ion batteries add a bit less weight than AAs, but they also power the camera for at least over 500 shots between charges, and there’s a new optional battery grip to extend the shooting time for your camera by a lot more, much like the previous *ist D’s. The battery grip also includes spare room for an additional SD card.

Finally, there’s power zoom support built in to the mount apparatus (just like the venerable Pentax flagship 35mm MZ-S from 2001) and which has been AWOL ever since, so perhaps Pentax will be rolling out some power zoom lenses soon.

What’s Gone

Along with no more need for AA batteries, *ist D users will be sad to learn that Pentax has bid adieu to the Compact Flash format and now fully embraces SD and SDHC, or high capacity SD cards that can now go up to 8GB. People stepping up from entry-level models like the *ist DL will not find any easy scene modes on this camera. ISO 3200 will be missed (but not that much until its totally noise free). It also remains to be seen how well this camera plays with older TTL flashes, or if it's just P-TTL like the K100D, and similarly without a PC sync socket.

This Is Going To Be A Hot Camera

When it ships in October, the product matrix for Pentax’s DSLR line-up will have been completely refreshed with new kits, with the K110D kit on the lowest rung at $599 (6MP, without shake reduction), the K100D kit on the middle rung at $699 (6MP, with shake reduction), and the K10D kit at the top ($999).

Link: Pentax K10D

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