The Pentax K7 is a new approach to high end Digital SLRs camera from Pentax. It is an eager-to-perform no-nonsense workhorse which is compact, capable, and weather resistant. I predict this camera will be a benchmark for when the DSLR became less like an electronic toy and more like the rugged SLRs of the past.
Recommend this product?
The Decision to get a Pentax K-7 was a watershed for me since it meant leaving the Minolta Maxxum heritage system I had been using since 1985. The decision came down to what was available in features today, and the Sony SLR unit's tiny gradations of the low-end DSLR isn't producing anything to replace the Maxxum 7D I would be migrating from.
The features I wanted include:
Live-view focus on the actual camera detector. I do astrophotography; good focus is an extremely difficult task.
Camera based image stabilization- this worked quite well on the Maxxum 7D, and holds the costs of lenses down.
A set of good lenses from the camera OEM. Why get a Nikon D300S to use with Sigma and Tamron glass?
Movie Mode: Get good video through a good lens and have one camera.
I started considering Canon and Nikon cameras, but the cost of the hardware seemed quite high, and lenses with vibration reduction were much more expensive. I was concerned about how no two stabilized lenses appear to behave the same way. Learning some basic steadying technique with the Maxxum 7D had enabled me to reliably take photos at 1/6 second exposure.
Pentax has standardized on the APS (28mm) sized chip format, and issued a large set of lenses for this size alone. This is a break from Canon and Nikon who have two tiers of cameras with smaller and larger sensors, divided lens sets to support them. The PDF of the K-7 manual looked promising, and I had heard the build quality at Pentax is really good, so I decided to take the chance and try it out.
The Pentax K-7 looks and feels like a "Real Camera." The body isn't blobby with blended features expanding its size. Instead, the housing is compact and straight edged, and obviously smaller than its Nikon and Canon competitors. The body is rubber armored, and all doors and access panels have seals. The camera feels dense and solid thanks to its small volume, but the overall weight is less than its competitors, so it is more comfortable when carried on a neck strap.
The camera interface strikes a balance between scads of buttons and endless surfing through menus. Any function needed in everyday life is quickly accessed by its own button or knob. e.g. the drive control button governs self timer (and the delay), continuous, or wireless remote modes- and it's only one level deep.
Critical functions like autofocus zones have their own switched control to immediately change mode. Note, features other cameras have you surfing menus for, like switching to take a RAW image, have their own button- when you realize you need the best quality for what you are about to shoot, you get it, instantly.
The Pentax "Green button" is a new feature to me; it resets the camera to an immediate automatic mode. So, for example, if you have just been playing with exposures to photograph the landscape and notice the kids are doing something you have to get a picture of, the green button will override and make a best guess to get the shot quickly.
The lens situation is somewhat interesting because the Pentax K-7 supports both mechanically driven autofocus lenses and self-driven ultrasonic motor lenses. The camera does not support lenses with a mechanical iris drive. All Pentax K compatible lenses will attach to the K-7, though.
Since I have large hands, I was concerned the K-7 would be difficult to handle given its small size. However, the molded grip aligns well in my hand, and the lack of a "Left grip" has been a bonus since it means the lens barrel is easier to grasp.
The K-7 is built around automatic features with intelligent ways to keep them under control. It has a setting on the function dial with a green block for auto with a jpeg image format. So, if you see a hummingbird out the window and have no idea what the camera was set for last, set it here. When turned on, it boots up instantly. The main constraints on the basic green mode are:
-It assumes JPEG images.
-The green mode will NOT select a lens aperture faster than f/4. So if you are using the excellent Pentax 16mm-50mm f/2.8 lens to get good pictures indoors, you can't use its full performance in green mode.
-Green mode will wait for autofocus success before allowing you to take a photo. This can be a problem in dim light, and the camera has a green LED illuminator to help focus. However, the only way to ensure the camera will shoot is to go to manual focus.
The camera has what Pentax calls "Hyper mode" adjacent to the green mode, denoted by a white P. When first selected, this actually is the green mode, and behaves the same way. Hyper mode allows the photographer to push a setting and have the rest adapt. So, for example, when the automatic f/stop selection bottoms out at f/4 on your nice f/2.8 lens, use the thumb roller to select f/3.2 or f/2.8, and automatically get the shutter speed to get an image. This works so well, the aperture priority and shutter priority modes are only rarely required.
The hyper mode also allows full control of the K-7's amazing white balance capabilities. Besides presets for auto, tungsten lighting, daylight, and so on, the K-7 has a full 3 axis color control. White balance lets you select a parent balance, say Tungsten lighting, and then push that color in any direction, say more green or blue, magenta, or cyan. The white balance button also has immediate access to special effects, like black and white, vivid color, and so on. The automatic white balance on this camera works far better than any I have previously used, with it automatically making tungsten lit scenes look white instead of orange tinted.
The movie mode is automatic up to when recording starts. I have had more success using manual focus, since autofocus cuts off after recording starts. The camera has two ways to compensate for scene lighting in movie mode. First, the thumb roller can select an f/# before starting filming. Second, an internal menu item allows activating automatic brightness control, which has worked better for me. Image stabilization is also available in movie mode, but must be activated through a menu. For example, filming with the Tamron 18mm-200mm zoom, I have found handheld video is extremely difficult with large amounts of zoom without the image stabilization feature ON.
The image stabilization on the Pentax K-7 is a background task the photographer doesn't have to think about. I selected it in its menu, and turned on the rotation correction feature (it ships with this off), so the camera uses its sensor movement capability to stabilize the image and drive out small errors to holding the body level (something optical stabilizations systems can't do). Subject moving are now my main source of blur.
The camera separates its manual and bulb modes with the master selector switch. Using the bulb setting doesn't affect the Manual setting. Or to put it another way, between the manual, bulb, and saved USER modes, the K-7 provides plenty of ways to store a custom shooting setup for use later. The camera's high dynamic range option is stored under the USER menu, and the camera automatically take three exposures with bracketing to extend the dynamic range. Expect to take several photos to get the range you want.
The camera has a built in 3"montor with 920,000 pixels, so images shown on it look crisp and bright. The info button zooms in Live View; the rear thumb roller in playback.
Image quality acts more like film grain in this camera in low light. Note, the K-7 does less internal noise reduction than many other cameras, so the camera is preserving the original information in exchange for smoothness, though more smoothing can be selected.
I am also seeing the image grain because I am shooting in regimes I didn't used to use, thanks to the Pentax K-7's near silent opertion. The K-7 is substantively quieter than any SLR I have used, and because of this, I have been taking photos of my kids at close range than I could reach without alerting them with camera sounds. Combined with a fast lens, I have been pushing the K-7 to its performance limits without a flash. And that is this camera's trademark- it works so well, it gets used in situations were other cameras wouldn't be used at all.
The Pentax K-7 is a potent DSLR camera in a very small form factor. The wide breadth of control the K-7 offers makes it a real contender for semi-pro, if not professional photography. The large set of features would be daunting if the user interface didn't offer the ability to take them in a bit at a time and the green over-ride button to get out of trouble. Its system commonality with the smaller and lighter Pentax K-x allows for an inexpensive backup with most of the K-7's important functions. The Pentax K-7 offers a massive range of features and presents them in a controllable package at half the price of its closest competitors.
Amount Paid (US$): 1200
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Solid Enough for a Professional