Archive: SLR, Micro 4/3 and Interchangeable Lens Camera Reviews 2008-2010

REVIEW / Pentax K-x

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Franck Mée Published on December 7, 2009
Updated on December 7, 2009
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SPECIFICATIONS

  • Sensor CMOS 12 Mpx, APS-C
  • Lens 18-55 mm f/3.5-f/5.6 DAL
  • Optical stabilisation Yes - sensor movement
  • Internal/external memory / SD - SDHC
  • Sensitivity (ISO range) 200 - 6400 (extension: 100 - 12800) ISO
  • Video mode 1280 x 720 pixels / 30 fps
A year after its highly rated K-m, Pentax is back with a new entry-level digital SLR, the K-x. There aren't a lot of changes, but there is one big development: the old faithful 10 Megapixel CCD sensor is out, in favor of a 12 Mpx CMOS (see inset). So, what we're expecting is a comfortable, pleasant-to-use little SLR, with greatly improved sensitivity. Are we right?

Handling

The K-x uses the same body as the K-m. We only spotted two changes - the delete button has been moved to make way for the Live View button; and the '?' button has been replaced by the green button Pentax likes so much. So the K-m's guide is gone, but the interface is still exemplary, with quick access to the most common settings and well-designed menus. The construction is as light as ever and the display still only has 230 000 pixels, but the handling qualities are amazingly good for a body this size thanks to the deep handgrip.


On the negative side, despite the return of 11 point autofocus as used on the K200D and preceding models, there's still no display of the focusing points in the viewfinder! So in multi-zone mode, it's impossible to know what's being focused on, and - as with the K-m - we advise you to use the center AF point only.?

Some rather kitsch details are also annoying, like the chrome strip around the top of the body and the extremely aggressive power indicator (fortunately, a custom function lets you turn it off). Finally, although we appreciated the K-7's discretion, unfortunately the K-x fails in that department - the shutter makes an unpleasant clacking noise.

Responsiveness

Among SLRs, the K-x is up there with the best of the moment. Start-up is instantaneous, focusing is fast (but noisy with the kit 18-55 mm DA L lens), and so is saving images... provided you don't enable the optical correction functions, which cause a delay of approximately three seconds when saving files! But then since the same corrections exist in photo-retouching software, it may be better to leave them up to the computer. Burst mode is fairly fast, at 4.5 frames per second for nine JPEG images - an excellent result for an entry-level camera.

In Live View, as on nearly all SLRs (Sony being the exception), it's much slower. Focusing is far from having the reactivity of a micro four-thirds camera, and in practice the mode is unusable on moving subject

Image Quality

The K-x is the first Pentax to use the excellent 12 Megapixel CMOS sensor produced by Sony — undoubtedly a sign of chillier relations with Samsung, who supplied the sensors for the K20D and K-7. We expected spectacular progress, and we weren't disappointed!


Up to 1600 ISO, results were impeccable. At 3200 ISO, noise is visible in dark areas, but it's well contained and not a problem. Only at 6400 ISO does the quality really drop off, with noise visible on a 13 x 18 cm print. Those results compare with the Nikon D5000, the current benchmark for cameras using APS sensors, and will come as a real shock to anyone who's tested Pentax's production in the last two years.??

The 18-55 mm DA L is a decent kit lens, with good performance at the centre and some loss of sharpness in the corners of the frame. It will be adequate in many situations, but the most demanding users will want to replace it with a more high-end model.


Compare the Pentax K-x to other digital cameras in our Product Face-Off

Video

At least the K-x has a video mode, an advantage that isn't enjoyed by the Canon EOS 1000D, nor the NIkon D3000, nor the Sony Alpha 2 and 3 series. However it's still in the embryonic stage, since the autofocus is still too slow in live preview. In fact it's disabled during recording, leaving you with manual focusing... with lenses that allow focus touch-up, that is, which is not true of the kit 18-55 mm DA L. There's simply no focusing at all, unless you switch to MF using the focus mode lever at the left of the lens mount.??So we won't complain about the poor quality mono sound recording or the use of the Mjpeg codec, which produces large files...
Sensors
It's the big difference between the K-m and the K-x - the move from a 10 Megapixel CCD to a 12 Megapixel CMOS, both from Sony. It seems like a small change, but it completely changes the camera.



The "old faithful" CCD used in the K-m dates back to 2005 with the Nikon D200. Lightweight versions quickly showed up in other cameras (the D80, the Alpha 100 and family) and it's still used in three Sony and Nikon models.


Highly praised in its day, the sensor is now showing its age. Quality drops above 1600 ISO and it's not capable of continuous imaging, meaning no possibility of Live View (the Alpha 330 "cheats" by using a second sensor for that).

The CMOS used in the K-x is similar to the one in the D300 and Alpha 700, introduced in 2007. Highly appreciated from its introduction for its efficiency in continuous imaging (making Live View possible, but also bursts of up to 8 fps on the D300), it made its mark above all for its sensitivity, the like of which had never been seen at the time on a "small" APS sensor. This is the characteristic Pentax has taken advantage of and which lets the K-x put to shame, in low light, not only its predecessor but also the high-end K-7.

PROS

  • Clean, simple design
  • Excellent management of sensitivity
  • Remote flash function
  • Comfortable viewfinder
  • Built-in stabilization

CONS

  • No display of focusing points in the viewfinder
  • Slow Live View
  • Embryonic video mode
  • Noisy shutter and focusing

CONCLUSION 4/5

The Pentax K-x is an ambitious new entry-level SLR. While the video function won't appeal to anyone in their right mind, it's a very pleasant camera to use and the image quality easily equals, and sometimes beats, cameras costing twice as much.
4 Pentax K-x DigitalVersus 2009-12-07 00:00:00
Compare: Pentax K-x to its competitors
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