Small, light, and Fun Digital SLR
Feb 21, 2010
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Yes, I know I said fun. Fun is the word for a Digital SLR camera which not only comes in black, but is also available in brilliant red, white, and navy blue with a matching 18mm-55mm zoom lens And it actually is easy to use, with controls similar enough to small point and shoot cameras to make a beginner's transition to SLR cameras comprehensible.
Recommend this product?
The Decision to get a Pentax K-x was side effect a watershed where I had decided on 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 just isn't producing anything to replace the Maxxum 7D I would be migrating from. The Pentax K-7 is, and the amount of commonality it has turned out to have with the spirit of the venerable Maxxum 7D has been enabling.
The K-x came up as a second camera, and again it wasn't clear cut where to go since I had both Minolta/ Sony compatible gear and Pentax Lenses. This was to be a camera for my wife to use with the kids. We had already had incidents where my wife had grabbed the K-7 for a photo of the kids and pressed the shutter button only to find it was set for a 30 second astronomical photo.
The features we wanted for a second SLR included:
Live-view focus on the actual camera detector. It has turned out to be useful on the K-7, especially in situations where the camera is being held away from where your eye can get to the viewfinder.
Camera based image stabilization- this works quite well on the Pentax K-7, especially for shots done without a flash to keep the kids from closing their eyes or holding up their hands. In the case of the K-7, it has turned out to be possible to get handheld photos down to 1/4 second, so this is definitely a bonus.
Movie Mode: Get good video through a good lens and have one camera. More importantly, we have found we never want to give up high quality photo capability. Whenever we are forced to choose, the video camera stays home.
Quick mode selection- should be able to do something immediately as a point and click or whatever is necessary.
Conventional batteries: Not another charger for a custom battery nothing else can use. Ideally, if you're on the road and can just get AA batteries, this should keep you in business.
I had earlier started by 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. Even when going to a lower end SLR, I wanted to keep that feature.
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, and divided lens sets to support them. The quality at Pentax is really good, and the Pentax K-7 had turned out to be a star performer so we looked at the data for the Pentax k-x decided to take the chance and try out.
The red Pentax K-x looks and feels surprisingly tight. The body is remarkably compact, and even smaller than the already unusually compact Pentax K-7. The body smooth plastic, with a rubber grip on the handle. The camera is light feeling, even at its small volume, so it is very comfortable when carried on a neck strap.
The material the body is made from is actually white for all of the k-x variants, and is painted for colors. So, for example, the red camera is a very bright (nearly fluorescent) red which looks slightly pink to me, but opening the door to the memory card shows the interior color of the camera is white. Like the K-7, the door slides out then pops open, and the camera just uses SD and SDHC memory.
The bottom of the camera opens up to hold four AA sized batteries. While it can use Alkaline batteries, the longest life is with lithium batteries. The camera doesn't have a power port, so it can't be run off an AC adapter. On the other hand, the life with AA lithiums is quite long, and there is no threat of being stuck with no way to recharge a reusable battery which has suddenly given up the ghost.
The camera has a USB data port as well as a shutter control. There is no output for HDMI, so you can't see video from the camera in full quality in real time. You need to shoot video then download the file to see it in the maximum 720p mode. The USB port can put out NTSC or PAL video.
The camera switches on with a turn-switch around the shutter button. Unlike the K-7, the K-X does not have a depth of field preview on this same switch. The K-X has a bright blue power LED right behind the on switch, which is on the entire time the camera is powered up. I mention this because it is bright enough to be somewhat distracting in dim light.
The interface has popular functions on the top level, including putting the exposure lock on an integrated thumb button with the auto exposure lock. There is a single selection roller on the back of the Pentax k-x, which handles ISO speed changes, shutter speed changes, and aperture changes, depending on the mode.
The Pentax "Green button" 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-x 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-x, though.
The kit lens with the Pentax K-x is a lightweight 18-55mm zoom. This lens has its outer bezel painted to match the camera, so the kit is very unique among DSLRs, with cheery color. No other lenses are available matching the camera, even in the version of the K-x kit with a telephoto. The kit lens is lightly built and has a plastic bayonet flange. Although I am not personally a fan of the plastic structural interface, I have never seen one actually get broken. Like the rest of the camera, this is light weight, and not a prohibition on mobility.
Since I have large hands, I was concerned the K-x 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. But when I say the K-x is small, I mean its obvious competitors in the Nikon D5000 and Canon 500D seem extremely large and bulky in comparison. As a result, the K-x has been seeing itself tucked into small bags and even the car center compartment on minor trips, because it always fits.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the K-x is how close its feature set really is to the flagship K-7. While the Canon series of lower end digital SLRs have famously been "Software upgraded" by hackers for years (due to Canon essentially turning off features the hardware is capable of to fit their concepts of marketing), Pentax has apparently had a completely different way of looking at things. The K-x has nearly all of the functions of the more expensive K-7, and apparently only deletes them when they really aren't feasible in the smaller camera. So, for example, the K-x doesn't have a dedicated preview switch (as noted above)- but if you want this function, you can program the green button to be a depth of field preview, either electronically on the screen, or through the viewfinder.
The K-x 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. You can override this, but this is where it will start, next time.
-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 can strobe its flash 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-x's amazing white balance capabilities, which it shares with the high end K-7. Besides presets for auto, tungsten lighting, daylight, and so on, the K-x 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 camera interface is clearly designed for people who aren't used to making arcane selections on DSLR cameras with scads of buttons and endless surfing through menus. All major functions needed in everyday life appear on the mode selector knob, up to an including flash-free photos. The drive control button governs self timer (and the delay), continuous, or wireless remote modes- and it's only one level deep.
The image stabilization on the Pentax K-x 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 movement is usually the main source of blur.
The K-x viewfinder is easy to use, and nice and bright. In order to save cost, it does not have the in-view illuminated selection LEDs the K-7 has. As a result, you just see a green light come on in the data block and here a "brrt" for focus, rather than the K-7's indication of what the camera just focused on.
The camera has a built in 2.7"montor with 230,000 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-x images look a bit different from the K-7's, apparently more because of the modes it tends to get used in, rather than the change in resolution. The camera is very willing to go to high ISO settings, and gets very good results. I am left with the impression if you are willing to back off your pixel count these days, you can get a heck of a good sensor.
The kit lens is well chosen for this camera, with a very compact form factor on the camera and a very useful zoom range from .51X to 1.57X, or a 3X change in magnification. The camera's lens correction for all Pentax DA lenses means its photos look really, really, sharp. The lens quickly forcuses using the camera drive motor, or it can be manually focused if you disconnect the drive- this is the method I recommend for movies and for critical focus situations (since it may not be immediately obvious what the camera actually focused on in the viewfinder).
The K-x has a feel of being an extremely quick and nimble camera. Somehow, writing that description just doesn't describe what using this camera is like. Leave it on the green mode. If you want to take a photo, you pick up the camera, take off the lens cap, turn it on, and press the button and it does whatever it needs to without you thinking about it. That's it. Compared to even the prosumer class digital cameras, this gives a strong sense of imaging freedom and removal of fear from shutter lag. The camera is so fast, I would recommend it to someone who was transitioning from film- it's fast and willing.
The unusual thing is how it contains just about every function ever devised for a Digital SLR in such an inexpensive camera. It does High Dynamic Range images automatically onboard the camera. It corrects for barrel distortion and chromatic aberration in Pentax DA series lenses automatically. As a result, people who never wanted to hear about any of this can pick up the camera and get a great picture, and it doesn't appear to be black magic.
The Pentax K-x is a potent DSLR camera in a very small form factor. The wide breadth of control the K-x offers makes it a real contender for being all the camera many photographers will ever need. 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. For this camera, I would suggest mastering the potent capabilities of interchangeable lenses in automatic modes, and then explore what photography really can do. The Pentax K-x offers a massive range of features and presents them in a controllable package which simply isn't available from its closest competitors.
Read more product reviews on Pentax K Series K-x 12.4 MP Digital SLR Camera - Red (Kit w/ AL 18-55mm Lens)
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Amount Paid (US$): 649
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Easy Enough for Anyone to Use
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