Weatherproof sharp shooter with HD video
Review Last February we looked at the Pentax K-m, a rather tasty entry-level DSLR. Yet the K-7 is a different kettle of fish from the K-m, it’s a more advanced model aimed at the enthusiast/semi-pro market.
Environment friendly? Pentax's K-7
Measuring up at 96.5 x 130.5 x 72.5mm and weighing 750g with battery and card, the K-7 can be purchased as a body-only or as a kit. We tried the 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 lens option – equivalent to 27.5-84.5mm on a 35mm camera that, curiously, Pentax's on-line shop prices at only £30 more than the body-only listing. A second kit adds a 50-200mm lens – 76.5-306mm in 35mm. The camera has a 23.4mm x 15.6mm CMOS sensor with 14.6Mp (effective) and HD movie recording in two modes: 1536 x 1024i and 1280 x 720p, both at 30fps. The former can be upscaled to 1920 x 1080i from the K-7’s mini HDMI output.
The shutter speeds span 1/8000 to 30secs, plus Bulb, with the normal ISO range 100-3200, expandable to 6400. The K-7 supports JPEG and RAW (PEF and DNG formats) shooting and features an ultrasonic dust cleaning system. The camera utilises a lithium-ion rechargeable battery and SD/SDHC cards.
In terms of handling, the K-7 is very impressive. The first thing you notice is how solid and robust the camera feels. No surprise when you consider that it has a magnesium alloy body designed to be used under rugged conditions. There are 77 dust proof and weather resistant seals dotted around the body – the battery, card and connection port slots are well-protected and you can use the K-7 in -10°C conditions.
Switch on is fast and you can get snapping in under a second. Shutter lag is minimal and the mechanism is built to last through 100,000 cycles – very impressive. The K-7 has a pentaprism-based viewfinder, which offers a 100 per cent field of view. It’s a joy to use, providing great coverage and lots of useful information about the camera settings.
Live view monitoring, but a fixed LCD panel
This also being a video camcorder, there’s Live View in the shape of a 3in LCD screen composed of 920,000 dots. It’s large, bright, clear and has a wide viewing angle. The LCD also incorporates autofocus and face recognition functions. Some users, however, will be disappointed to find that the LCD screen isn’t articulated.
There’s also a secondary monochrome LCD screen on the top, next to the pop-up flash and hotshoe that gives basic operational information. There are two e-dials on the K-7’s body, one at the front and the other at the back, which are used for adjusting the shutter and aperture settings.
Program options include a Sensitivity mode
The large mode dial has a push-button lock, so you can’t accidentally switch modes. There’s a wide selection of modes on offer. User mode gives you fast access to your customised settings; green is another name for auto mode; then there’s hyper program (more on this below), shutter priority, aperture priority, movie and hyper manual.
And there’s more – sensitivity priority automatically selects the optimum shutter speed and aperture for the ISO setting, while shutter and aperture priority does the opposite. Godsend or gimmick? We have to admit to reaching the latter conclusion. You also get a flash sync speed mode. The Hyper modes are so-called because, you can instantly switch from Program or Manual mode, to shutter or aperture priority by simply selecting one of the e-buttons.
Although the K-7 can be used as a point-and-shoot camera, most users are going to want to customise the settings, and the good news is, there are plenty of options. At first sight, the K-7’s menu system is rather daunting – the shooting menu has four tabs offering 26 options, the playback menu has a single tab, the set-up menu four tabs, and the custom menu, six tabs covering everything from e-dial settings in various modes to colour temperature steps to the white balance setting when using a flash.
We’ll just mention a couple of menu settings that caught our eye. A lens correction setting can be used to rectify lens distortion and lateral chromatic aberration, while a copyright option lets you embed your name in the Exif data. Fortunately, adjusting the most commonly used parameters is pretty fast and painless. There are buttons for adjusting ISO speed (you can use the viewfinder, LCD screen or LCD top panel to view your settings) and selecting RAW.
Change file format instantly with the RAW button
An Info button displays parameters such as ISO speed, exposure compensation, file format and image quality. Press the info button again and you can swiftly adjust these and other settings such as digital filters and lens correction. A four-way controller gives you quick access to features such as flash mode, white balance and drive mode.
Video and Sample Shots
High Dynamic Range off
HDR standard - this function enhances exposure in shaded areas
As with most cameras, there are limitations when operating in the video mode, for example, you can’t adjust the aperture once recording has started. Despite all the options available – and we’ve not even scratched the surface when it comes to digital filters and picture effects – the K-7 is a delight to use and we reckon most users would have few problems getting to grips with it.
Robust seals and chassis offer protection against the elements
Albeit sluggish in Live View mode, the 11-point AF system is swift when using the viewfinder and 77-segment matrix metering performs well when it comes to getting the correct exposure. Picture quality was sharp, with rich colours and low noise up to ISO 800. RAW images were slightly cleaner and sharper. The K-7’s shake reduction system worked a treat and Pentax says it’s effective for up to four stops – we wouldn’t disagree.
HDR (High Dynamic Range) takes three images at different exposures and combines their data to extend the dynamic range, and proved very effective at bringing out detail normally lost in some shooting situations. The slow shutter speeds were useful for shooting in low light, less useful were the highest ISO settings – shooting at ISO 6400 was like looking at a snow storm through frosty glass.
The top continuous shooting speed is a nifty 5.2fps and you can shoot up to 40 JPEGs or 15 RAW files – it worked a treat. Video quality was good too, and while the K-7 only offers mono sound, you can plug in a stereo microphone. A full battery charge is claimed to be good for 740 frames and we shot hundreds of frames and lots of video footage, and still had juice to spare.
As an entry level camera we were impressed with the K-m, and remain so with the far more sophisticated K-7. It’s designed to survive challenging environments, yet remains a joy to handle and can even double up as an HD camcorder. Also, noise concerns with JPEGs at higher ISO settings can be alleviated by shooting RAW image instead. Indeed, the Pentax K-7 delivers an impressive performance, bristles with useful features and offers enough customisation to satisfy the most demanding control freak.
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