Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pre-PMA Announcements Galore From Pentax

(Updated at 10pm 1/23/08) Well, the longstanding rumors can finally be put to bed. Today, Pentax announced the upcoming spring release of 2 new DSLR cameras, the K20D (advanced user) and K200D (beginner user), and, making me particularly happy, a number of new lenses, a new DA 18-55 (II), the DA 35mm Macro Limited, the DA 55-300mm zoom, the DA* 200mm and the DA* 300mm.

This is one of the heftiest announcements on record from Pentax's SLR division and there's a lot to get excited about. A lot of people were wondering if Pentax would choose this year's PMA to announce a digital Medium Format camera, or a full-frame sensor camera, like the Nikon D3, however, it looks like Pentax is trying to play to their strengths first, which is to deliver exciting advanced amateur cameras at competitive prices, and to produce really fine lenses. The biggest news is that Pentax will have an advanced 14MP SLR camera on the market for about $1299, which is outstanding, but that's not all the fun announced today.

So, let's review the goodies.

The 2 new cameras are the official updates to the landmark K10D and K100D models from 2006, showing that Pentax really is sticking with the sequential numbers it recently began using in homage to the classic K1000 legacy that lasted over 20 years. The K20D, which will ship in April for $1299.95 (body only), boasts plenty of new features previously unseen in Pentax models, making it more competitive with recent cameras such as Canon's 40D and Nikon's D300, so let's take a look at it first.

What's Different about the K20D?

- 14.6 MP CMOS sensor, developed in conjunction with Samsung (almost 50% resolution increase over 10MP sensor). You'll be hearing a lot about how the new CMOS sensor design is what they needed for Live View and less noise, allowing for a manual ISO of 6400. What's particularly interesting is that the scale is the same as previous Pentax DSLR sensors, so the lens relativity is still 1.5x greater than 35mm scale.

- It appears the same PRIME D-A converter is there, but with tweaks for new picture modes and for more customization of the RAW conversion application in-camera. Not only can you now save your previews (previously destined for auto deletion on the K10D), you can save to TIFF files as well as 12-bit RAW, DNG or JPG. There are also functions to apply changes to color space and picture modes when converting from RAW in-camera.

- 2.7" LCD Display (slightly bigger), and it allows for special color corrections as well as the usual brightness settings. Also, menus have larger type.

- 4 levels of Noise Reduction

- The return of the PC Sync socket, with weather sealed glory. Also, it includes over-voltage protection circuitry.

- ISO 100 to 3200, expanded range to 6400

- Sensitivity Priority Mode, a refinement of the two sensitivity modes, SAv mode and TAv mode, which the K10D pioneered. By default, it's the same as SAv mode in the K10D, which allows you to use the e-dials to adjust Aperture and ISO range quickly. The older SAv and TAv modes are still here, but now as an option you enable through menu settings as extended modes.

- Live View, essentially letting you get a WYSWYG point-and-shoot experience like on so many digital compact cameras. What's a delight about this is that the image you see on the LCD display will be 100% full frame, not 95% like the viewfinder. There's a grid overlay that's available, as well as 4X zoom and 8x zoom. Will it drain the battery faster? Well, sure, but the CMOS sensor was designed to be used like this and the drain isn't as bad as you'd think. I'll be anxious to hear more about it.

- Dust Alert, a function that will let you know where a particular piece of dust is stuck on the sensor. Not much is known yet, but it's a value added bonus for anyone who's ever had to clean their sensor. Apparently, it takes a picture and analyzes it for dust to warn you if and where it is.

- New picture Modes now include Bright, Natural, Portrait, Landscape, Vibrant, and B&W. What's very cool is that the user can customize these in their user settings (for example, making B&W have a slightly warm cast, or increasing the saturation in Portrait mode).

- Enhanced Dynamic Range mode (200%) (limits minimum ISO to 200 and has more visible noise). It remains to be seen how this works.

- Color Extract, Illustration, and HDR digital filters (think of quick photo effects, not a replacement for Photoshop).

- New JPEG Quality Setting for Premium ****, along with the regular ***, **, and *

- 3FPS up to 14 continuous RAW photos, 38 JPGs (burst mode for 20FPS at 1.6MP JPG)

- RAW button is now customizable.

- Interval shooting customization, to do time lapse.

- You can set file name prefixes for multiple cameras.

Everything else is a lot like the older K10D that we've come to know and love. Same 11-point Auto-focus system, 16 segment matrix metering, weather sealing, Shake Reduction, SD cards, custom WB fine tuning and adjustment, RAW developing in-camera, and even the same Li-On battery. This is going to be one amazing camera.

The K200D is the heir apparent to the K100D, but it's adopting many of the K10D's popular features and there's so much that's similar with the earlier K10D, that you can consider it the K10D-lite, for beginners. It will be available in March, 2008, for $799.95.

What's different about the new K200D, taken from the K100D, K10D and K20D?

- 10.2MP sensor, weather sealing, lithium battery (and battery grip), WB fine tuning, color modes, and finishing options all inherited from the K10D.

- The Penta-Prism of the K10D is now a Pentamirror, and the viewfinder has 85% magnification. This is a dumbing-down of the K10D, to minimize production expense because it's not a feature most beginners would notice.

- Sensitivity Priority Mode, the ISO sensitivity adjustment mode on the K20D, and other basic Scene mode functions inherited from the K100D. However, simple green mode is not here.

- Similar PRIME enhancements as the K20D

- Customizable RAW button

- The same Extended Dynamic Range, illustration and HDR digital finishing filters and Dust Alert functions as the new K20D. However, the Color Extract filter is not here.

- Four AA, NiMH, or Lithium batteries, like the K100D, but with an optional new Battery Grip with vertical shutter, the BG3. The BG3 will not be compatible with the K100D or K100D Super (it requires a special interface on the bottom of the camera that these models don't have). But the battery grip is a really fine development, because it's something many K100D owners asked about, especially those who admire still being able to use NiMH batteries, so it's great to see that Pentax saw what its consumers wanted and reacted appropriately with this iteration. The camera comes with 4 Energizer lithium batteries to get you started. Nice.

The 5, count 'em five, new lenses

The best features of the DA lenses, besides their sturdy and light engineering, have been their protective coating (anti-glare, anti-dust, and anti- oil) and quick shift focusing (so that you can interrupt auto focus with a manual touch whenever you want). It looks like Pentax wants to re-issue past successes with the latest coatings and engineering advances, so now we'll welcome a new and improved kit lens, the DA 18-55mm, and its companion telephoto zoom, the DA 55-300mm (a big improvement on the DA 50-200mm). These have been refined to offer better MTF resolution with the latest cameras, which is great for all K10D owners, too. They both offer the latest SP coating, which never hurts.

The other new lenses expand the DA lens line-up into much needed realms: Macro and Telephoto. There is a DA Limited "normal" macro lens (the 35mm equivalent to the 50mm f2.8 macros), and two DA* telephoto lenses with SDM (motorized support), the 200mm and 300mm, which are some of the lightest long-distance lenses on the market. Mind you, these lenses come at a premium, but I'm pretty sure that they will be coveted none the less. I'm already drooling over the DA 35mm Limited Macro lens, which is the sweet spot for me, right beside the FA 31mm Limited.

All in all, it's like the holidays all over again, with all these new toys to look forward to at PMA in Las Vegas next week. But the release of these new cameras and lenses is still a few months away from retail. As I write this, there aren't any images from the cameras and lenses to look at. And I'm sure as I look deeper and finally get a look at the camera I'll have some corrections to make here. In the meanwhile, don't wring your hands if you recently bought a new Pentax camera. Keep in mind that the K10D still has the beautiful Penta-Prism that the K200D doesn't have, and that the K100D cost far less than the K200D will, which is priced much like the K10D is now. But I can't stop you from daydreaming about the K20D. That's progress for you!


Drew said...

PC socket AND compatibility with the K10D's batteries and batter grip? I love it. Very, very smart feature set.

My only disappointment is in the apparent abandonment of the DA* 60-250mm f/4 they had announced previously.

Anonymous said...

My guess (I'm sure I'm not the first) is
that the 55-300 is a re-worked 75-300mm.
The 75-300 has a rotating front element.
Anyone know about the 55-300?

Anonymous said...

Overall K200D looks rather like the K10D in a smaller body, and with a lot of extras and improvements as well. Selectable noise removal, dynamic range increase, dust check function, fine control over color balance and so on is all the same as in the K20D.

A neat detail I would have wished for in the K10D is that the "RAW" button is more flexible now. Another new thing is that focus-triggered shutter is now a "real" function; with any manual lens, just set the AF to "AF.S" and it'll trigger the shutter automatically once the subject is in focus.

If I were in the market for a body right now, it'd be a very, very difficult decision between the K200D and K20D I must admit.

Here are some quite interesting video reviews about:
Pentax K20D

Pentax K200D

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