Pentax K-30 Review

Construction and Handling

While it's no K-5, the Pentax K-30 is a very well-built camera. The polycarbonate body is made of very tough stuff indeed; when you tap on it or hold it by the grip, it's evident that there's a real density to it. Other mid-range cameras can sometimes feel like little more than hollow plastic shells, but aside from the telltale thunk of the shake reduction mechanism sloshing around inside, the K-30 feels like it's cut from a single piece. While our rational minds wish it had the same underlying magnesium body as the K-5, the truth is that we never noticed its absence in actual use.

Aesthetics

Though it retains a typical dSLR silhouette, in the little details the K-30 looks unlike any Pentax SLR that's come before. The raked nameplate under the forward-jutting viewfinder hump; the angular top edges; and curves, dimpled faux-leather, and decorative accents everywhere. Some have suggested it looks like it was designed by a German gun manufacturer, while others have (more quietly) suggested a German sex toy company. However you choose to interpret it, the K-30 looks fresh. And with our FA Limited lenses mounted, we have to say it even looks sexy.

Like the K-r, K-x, and K-01, the K-30 is available in several colors. In Japan, buyers can choose from a veritable rainbow of hues, while in other markets choices seem to be more limited. Our review copy came in standard black, but the glossy blue model seems to be an immediate hit among Pentaxforums readers, and the white model is also quite the looker.

Internals

Like the K-5 and K-01 before it, the K-30 uses a 16.28-megapixel (effective) APS-C sized CMOS sensor manufactured by Sony. The unit in the K-30 seems to be identical to the one found in the K-01, with the same physical dimensions, same ISO range, and same color depth. As with most other APS-C sensors, this one has an anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor, and the outermost glass surface is coated to repel dust.

When the coating can't keep up, a dust removal feature can shake the sensor to dislodge any perisistent particles. Dust removal can be initiated manually, or set to activate each time the camera is powered up, down, or both. The K-30 uses the same noisy dust removal system as was used on the K-x, K-r, and earlier DSLRs. We believe that it is less effective than that of the K-7 and K-5, based on user reports and our own experience with those cameras.

The K-30's sensor has a color depth of 12 bits in DNG RAW and 8 bits in JPEG. The image size is 4928 x 3264 pixels when set to its highest resolution (with a 3:2 aspect ratio). The physical size of the sensor is 23.7 x 15.7mm, which gives a "crop factor" of 1.5. For example, a 20mm lens on the K-30 has the same field of view as a 30mm lens on a 24 x 36 mm (full-frame) camera.

The K-30 features Pentax's signature in-body shake reduction system (SR). This system works by mounting the sensor on a plate that floats within a magnetic field. The SR system is very effective here, easily on par with the K-5's. SR works with all lenses that can be mounted on the camera, whether they're digital or film era, Pentax-branded or third-party. When using legacy lenses you have to manually select the closest focal length from a menu that pops up on startup. Doing so calibrates the SR system to the selected focal length. Pentax F-series and newer lenses transfer this information to the camera automatically.

Lens Mount

The K-30 utilizes a variant of the KAF2 lens mount, which is itself a variant of the original circa-1975 K-mount. The KAF2 mount on the K-30 has some restrictions, but even so it is compatible with all Pentax bayonet lenses that were made for the APS-C or 35mm film format. With the appropriate adapter, M42 screwmount lenses can be used, and so can lenses made for the 6x7 and 645 formats. Check out the PentaxForums lens database for lens availability.

kaf2mount

Compared to the original KAF2 mount, the mount on the K-30 has two restrictions:

  • No support for power zoom lenses, even though the mount has the required power contacts. The power contacts are only used to provide power to lenses with built-in autofocus motors.
  • No aperture simulator lever, as with all other digital K-mount cameras (and some Pentax film SLRs). This means that lenses without lens information contacts can only be used in M exposure mode and with stop-down metering.

Viewfinder

Like the K-5, and very much unlike the K-01, the K-30 is equipped with a 100% coverage, 0.92x magnification pentaprism viewfinder.

A 100% coverage viewfinder is a bit of a rarity in a non-"pro" machine, and we're very excited to see one included here. The K-30's viewfinder is indistinguishable from the one used in the K-5 (presumably thanks to economies of scale), and in everyday use we like it just as much as we did in that camera. It's relatively big, bright, and clear, and the display along the bottom edge is very easy to read and packed with useful information. 

Since it is strictly a traditional optical viewfinder, you cannot make use of focus peaking, focus autozoom, or any other advanced features while using it. 

LCD Monitor

The rear LCD screen is a by-now-familiar 3-inch, 921,000-dot VGA unit. The same monitor (or a monitor with very similar specs) has been used on the K-7, K-5, K-r, 645D and K-01. It's very bright, very clear, and provides great color rendition (which can be tweaked from within the main menu system to suit each user's tastes).

By default, the LCD displays an informational status screen when the camera is awake and the shutter release isn't being pressed. This screen provides info on the current shooting mode, custom image profile, focusing mode, metering, shake reduction status, battery charge, shutter speed, aperture, ISO setting, focus point and/or d-pad secondary functions (depending on which AF mode is selected), EV compensation, file format and quality, and shots remaining. It really covers all the bases.

By pressing the INFO button twice when this screen is displayed, you'll get to a submenu that lets you change the default LCD behavior. Here, you can choose to instead have it show an electronic level, turn off completely, or show a compass. The compass, however, is only available when the O-GPS1 unit is installed.

The LCD can of course also be used for Live View focusing and for shooting movies. In bright sunlight, this can become challenging, but various third-party LCD shades are available for purchase if you're dead-set on shooting the camera like a point & shoot in all conditions. Of course, when using a tripod you can use your free hand as a shade.

There are a number of gridline overlays that can be selected through the menu system to aid you in image composition. Floating histograms and a Bright/Dark Area option (which distinctly highlights areas in the frame that are blown out or completely black) are also available.

SD Card Compartment

Like other recent Pentax dSLRs, the K-30 takes SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards. We used a Transcend 8gb Class 10 card during our tests, which was extremely inexpensive and worked perfectly throughout. The 8 gigabytes of storage worked out to about for 853 highest-quality JPEGs and 303 RAW files. Extrapolating from there, a 16gb card would hold approximately 1706 JPEGs and 606 RAWs, while a 32gb card would store 3412 JPEGs and 1212 RAWs.

As on the K-5, the SD card slot is tucked behind a simple sliding, spring-loaded door on the right side of the body. Inside the door is a rubber gasket that fits around the slot itself, providing weather sealing. The SD card slot is snug but not too tight, but the slot's position close to the door hinge makes it a bit challenging to get the card in and out quickly. The card does, however, stick out a bit further when it's fully inserted than on the K-5.

Battery and Tripod Mount

In the tradition of the K-r, the K-30 allows the user to choose between the proprietary Lithium Ion battery pack (D-LI90) and AA batteries. The battery compartment, at the bottom left corner of the camera, is cleverly designed to fit the Li-Ion battery in the space where three of the four AA batteries would go. If the user wants to use AA batteries (be they alkalines, rechargeable NiMH cells, or even more exotic NiZn batteries), they'll need to purchase the optional AA Battery Holder (D-BH109).

While this is a neat trick, we can't help but wish that Pentax had foregone the AA capability in exchange for a bigger/higher-capacity Li-Ion pack—there's a lot of wasted space in there when the D-LI90 is installed. Others will no doubt disagree; this debate isn't new in the Pentax community.

The tripod mount is pretty standard. It's made of metal and centered on the axis of the lens, as you'd want it to be. Because of its location far from the battery compartment, there's room to insert or remove a battery while the camera is mounted on some simpler tripods.

Ports and Connections

The K-30 offers only two external ports: a micro-USB jack and a cable release terminal. The former is behind a small rubber flap on the left side of the camera, while the latter is in a compartment on the right side, just below the SD card slot. The rubber flaps concealing these compartments can be a bit finnicky to put back in place, but it's one annoyance we're happy to endure, since it ensures water won't sneak in and fry our gear.

Unlike the K-5, the K-30 doesn't provide a DC power jack or a HDMI connection.

Body Ergonomics

Let's start with the grip, which is of course your primary physical interface with the camera. The good news is that it's very similar to the one found on the K-5 and K-7 before it, a grip renowned by many as one of the best ever designed. The bad news is that it's just a little thinner and a tiny bit deeper than the K-5's, which makes it just a small sliver away from perfection in our minds (and our hands). That said, it's still very, very good, and those with smaller hands may actually prefer it. The rubberized coating is easy to hold on to, and the rear grip element, while it lacks a rubberized coating of its own, is contoured just about perfectly to prevent your thumb from sliding around.

Another bit of less-than-great news is the absence of an add-on grip connector port. This omission means that we'll never see an external battery grip for the K-30, though we suppose it's possible that a third-party company could make a grip solely for ergonomic purposes. This is definitely one difference that sets the K-30 apart from the K-5, as some users have said that the D-BG4 grip makes the K-5 a "complete camera."

Button Layout

The K-30's button layout is an interesting hybrid of the ones used by the K-5 and K-r. As usual, the essential shooting controls are clustered on the right-hand side of the body, within easy reach of your thumb and forefinger.

On the top, the on-off switch surrounds the shutter release and sits above the front e-dial. Behind the shutter release are the EV compensation and Green buttons, set in little teardrop-shaped dimples. Also up top on the right is the shooting mode dial (which has a nicely balanced turning action that's not too loose and not too resistive).

On the rear at the very top edge is the rear e-dial, while immediately below it is the AF/AE-L button. This one can be set to either activate the autofocus system, disable autofocus, or lock the exposure value. This behavior is set in the Button Customization submenu on the 4th page of the Record menu. The playback button is set below the AF/AE-L button, and under that is the standard four-way control pad.

However, this four-way pad has several distinct differences from the one found on the K-5. First, the directional buttons themselves are contoured differently, with sharp "lips" at their outer edges. These give you a better feel when blindly pressing the buttons, but coming from the K-5 they felt pretty strange at first—almost tacky. Second, the secondary functions for each of the directional buttons have changed. One of the secondary functions was not on the four-way pad at all on the K-5 (ISO), and the other three are scrambled in terms of position. All four were present on the K-r's directional pad, but none remains in the same place. These changes seem a bit arbitrary, and make us wish Pentax would just pick a layout and stick to it, if only for continuity's sake.

The OK button at the center of the pad can, as usual, be used for both navigation and for switching between secondary function access and focus point selection (when shooting in AF Select mode). Below the four-way pad are the INFO and MENU buttons.

Off to the left of the viewfinder, all on its own, is the Live View button, which also doubles as the Trash button when in Playback mode. Due to its position, turning on Live View becomes a two-handed affair, but in our testing this wasn't a big deal.

On the left side are the flash release, a customizable RAW/Fx button, and the AF mode selector switch. The latter allows you to choose between AF.S (Single), AF.C (Continuous), and MF (Manual) focusing modes. Your choice here can be overridden within the menu system by checking the AF.A option under AF Settings on page 2 of the Record menu.

There are a few controls that are flat out missing vs. the K-5. The focus point and metering mode selectors are both gone, and those functions require diving into the INFO menu. There's no mode dial lock button, which will make some happy and annoy others. Finally, the ISO control, which was a standalone button on the K-5, has to do double-duty as the up button on the d-pad, which means you might have to take a couple extra steps to access it at times.

Flash

The K-30 is equipped with a built-in flash, and also offers a standard hot shoe compatible with the Pentax line of flashes and extension cords. With an F-series or newer lens and a flash with a zoom head (AF360FGZ or AF540FGZ), the flash will adapt the angle of light output to the focal length of the lens.

In Auto exposure mode (and in some of the scene modes), the built-in flash pops up automatically, when the camera decides it's needed. In other modes, the user must choose when to manually activate it by pressing the flash release button. Even though the flash is raised some distance from the optical axis, there is a risk of red eye effect, and the lens hood on longer lenses may cast a shadow if left attached.

Depending on the shooting mode currently in use, the on-board flash options available when pressing the left d-pad button will change. In Av mode, for example, the flash can be set to Flash On, Flash On + Red-eye Reduction, Slow-speed Sync, Slow-speed Sync + Red-eye Reduction, Trailing Curtain Sync, and Wireless Mode. You can also adjust the flash exposure compensation from this menu.

The Bottom Line on Handling

Pentax has a long history of designing great-handling cameras, and the K-30 proudly carries on that tradition. The sculpted grip feels great in the hand, the button placement is logical and very ergonomic, and the heft and size are just about perfect for our hands. Of course, there are little things to nitpick—the grip could perhaps be slightly chunkier, the d-pad secondary functions could maybe stay in the same places from generation to generation, and it would be nice if the Live View button didn't require two hands to operate—but these are all really minor concerns in everyday use. This one's a winner.


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