HandlingThe overall design has changed quite a bit. The decorative chrome-effect line on the front of the K-x has been ditched, as has the on/off light. The K-r also now has the same kind of chiselled edges as the K-5. That said, regular users of the K-x won't have too much trouble finding their way around, as the control layout is identical, with the same comfortable, deep-set handle and little change in the internal menus. Pentax is clearly on to a winning combination and doesn't want to take any risks. After all, if it ain't broke ...
That doesn't mean there haven't been any improvements though. There's a new finish on the handle and left-hand edge of the camera, a VGA screen replaces the previous 230,000-dot model and, above all, the AF focusing points have returned to the viewfinder. In multi-zone autofocus mode, the K-r shows the user which point it has locked on to and therefore shows exactly where the subject will be sharpest. This is an improvement on the K-x, with which you were better off selecting the focusing point manually. The autofocus system is pretty good too, and the K-r even has autofocus points on the rule-of-thirds lines, making it easier to line up shots with subjects to one side of the frame rather than in the middle. In some manufacturers' models, the autofocus points aren't laid out nearly so well.
ResponsivenessThe K-x was already quite a fast camera but the K-r is even quicker, now taking six frames per second in burst mode and with almost instant start-up and turnaround between photos. In phase-detection mode, the autofocus is comparable to the K-5 (the K-r uses Pentax's Safox IX system while the K-5 uses the Safox IX+). It's no faster than in previous models but it's certainly more consistent.
In Live View mode too, the K-r behaves similarly to the K-5, carrying out a fast and approximative pre-focus then taking a little more time to lock onto a subject more precisely. A micro four-thirds camera or one of Sony's NEX can do much better but, on the whole, this function is still perfectly useable. Focusing generally takes les than two seconds, which certainly wasn't the case with the K-x!
Picture QualityThe Pentax K-x did a good job of keeping digital noise under control. However, the latest cameras with the new Sony 14- and 16-Megapixel sensors are a little better than their 12-Megapixel counterparts. This Pentax is no exception to the rule either, as although image processing has been slightly improved since the K-x, the K-r isn't quite as good as the higher-end Pentax K-5. That said, picture quality is still excellent, as it's only at 3200 ISO that noise and smoothing start to appear, and a photo taken at 6400 ISO could easily be used for a slightly grainy but still more than acceptable 8" x 12" print. Note that extending the sensitivity up to 25600 ISO is completely pointless.
The 18-55 mm DAL lens is well-known and made its début with the K-m. It's a decent enough kit lens and is sharp in wide-angle mode but a little less so in telephoto. It's also prone to a touch of chromatic aberration at 18 mm. There are better lenses out there but it's good value for money.