At the beginning of the month I bought the Pentax K10D, and I thought I'd jot down a few notes for the benefit of anyone considering this as a tool for street photography. Why am I reviewing a camera that is a couple of years old? Well, because it has just been "superseded" by the K20D and so is relatively cheap at around £400 for a 10 megapixel SLR that is built like a tank. Although it probably won't be around for too long – apparently stocks are low.
Of course, all the detailed technical data and review can be found at dpreview.com, which, in short says it's a good camera but the jpegs are soft (ignore dpreview's comment about the lack of a hard button for ISO on the Conclusions page – that has been addressed by firmware updates). But how does the K10D perform in the field?
My impressions are based on a couple of afternoons wandering around Bournemouth and a showery Saturday in London, where the camera's weather seals meant that I could just tuck the camera under my arm without worrying about it blowing up.
First off, the only digital SLR that I've used extensively is the 4-year-old Nikon D70, so I was surprised to find that the K10D's autofocus (described as "accurate and fast " by dpreview) is noticeable slower in both good and poor light than my antique Nikon. In practice, having shot several hundred street-style photos with the Pentax, I can't say I came away cursing that I had missed a single shot due to the autofocus performance, so in practice it's fast enough. It's possible that if you were doing really up-close, in-your-face shots it would struggle, but I tend to switch to manual focus for that sort of shot anyway...
Another minus point for the K10D is that the shutter is pretty noisy – pressing the shutter unleashes a loud clack that is much louder than my olde worlde Nikon D70. In London, it was nothing to worry about, but there were a few occasions in quieter locations where the potentially huge thwack of the mirror made me think twice about taking a shot...
On a more positive note, the build quality is excellent. Holding the camera, it immediately feels like it means business, with a nice grip and tactile rubberised surfaces, with the solid weight and feel of metal beneath.
The controls are also excellent; the camera has front and back dials and a large top-panel LCD which can be illuminated by pressing the exposure compensation button. In response to initial criticism that the K10D was missing a hard button for ISO, a firmware update means that the 'OK' button can be used to change ISO by holding the button and turning the front dial. Alternatively, in aperture priority and shutter priority mode, the front and back dials can be set to control different parameters, including ISO, without a button press. As someone who routinely uses aperture priority mode and then changes aperture, ISO and exposure compensation frequently, the ability to change aperture and ISO using just the front and back dials, with the occasional change of exposure compensation using a button at the back while turning a dial is the perfect combination of controls.
An unexpected plus point is that the 18–55mm kit lens is quite compact. Personally, I have a big problem using bulky lenses, so the smallish length and width (filter size just 52mm) of el cheapo kit lens is very welcome. An even smaller 18–35mm lens would be ideal, Pentax. I had intended to buy the tiny 21mm pancake prime but as the kit lens is pretty usable, I'll bide my time until I come across a second-hand one.
As for image quality, when I hooked up the camera to the computer, I was pleased with the results. The colours look very natural, almost film-like.
Samples: In short: Plus points Excellent build quality and controls Large and bright viewfinder Dust and weather seals Small kit lens Price – around £400 including kit lens
Minus points Loud shutter noise Autofocus just off the pace, although rarely a problem Soft-ish jpegs Unpredictable exposure in bright, high contrast conditions
Now on at the Michael Hoppen Gallery, just off the Kings Road, is an exhibition of New York street photography from the 1930s to 1960s. Featured photographers include William Klein, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Lisette Model, Lee Friedlander, Neil Libbert, Sid Grossman, Louis Stettner and Ted Croner.
Details: 17 April 2008 to 7 June 2008 Michael Hoppen Gallery 3 Jubilee Place London SW3 3TD
Opening hours: Tuesday-Friday: 12 noon to 6 pm Saturday: 10.30 am to 4 pm (Closed Sunday and Monday)