Sunday, April 20

Brief review: street photography with the Pentax K10D

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 Well, because it has just been "superseded" by the K20D and so is relatively cheap at around £400 for a 10 megapixel SLR that is built like a tank.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

7 comments:

sufilala said...

thanks for this interesting & timely review Paul,
(more comments later if i actually go out and get one!)

Mudflapgypsy said...

Is it smaller than the D70? Is that why you bought it?

Paul Russell said...

Hi there

It's about the same size as the D70 - the height of the K10 is a bit less, but the pentaprism thing (?) juts out a bit more.

One of the main reasons I got it was the availability of quite small Pentax lenses like the 21mm pancake. I have a small lens fetish (the opposite to a lot of photographers, I guess). For £360 for the body, it seemed liked a good buy.

Mudflapgypsy said...

Good price indeed. Small lenses are nothing but a good thing, last lens I bought (Tokina 16-50) is huge.

Mox said...

Interesting, Paul. I'd thought this was much smaller than the D7. Is it bigger than the K100?

I wonder whether they'll address the auto-focus problem in the new version. This is also an issue in the Sigma DP1, I gather.

Paul Russell said...

Hi Mox

The autofocus on the K10D is fine, but a little slower than the Nikon D70, which I found surprising considering the D70 is about 3 years older.

The K10D is a lot faster than the DP-1, according to dpreview

K10D - "fast auto focus"

DP-1 "very slow auto-focus"

The D70 and K10D are about the same size.

Moxette said...

Somehow I got the mistaken idea that the K10D was a P&S (so even though you'd already said it was the same size as the D70 that didn't sink in. I know better now! Thanks