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Pentax K-r review

Verdict

The price has come down considerably since its original launch, and at £400 this impressive all-rounder is now an unbeatable bargain

Review Date: 15 Nov 2011

Reviewed By: Ben Pitt

Price when reviewed: £333 (£400 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
6 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
6 stars out of 6

Performance
6 stars out of 6

Image Quality
5 stars out of 6

The Pentax K-r isn’t the most handsome of cameras, and the choice of eight colours (including pink and yellow) doesn’t really help. It’s what’s inside that counts, though. While its price puts it in direct competition with the Canon EOS 1100D and Nikon D3100, some of its features are more in line with much pricier cameras.

For starters, the 3in screen’s 921k resolution is a big improvement over the 230k screens of the Canon and Nikon-branded rivals. Live view works extremely well, with fast contrast-detect autofocus and a temporary magnification while focusing that inspires confidence. The ISO speed goes up to 25,600, enabling fast shutter speeds in extremely low light. There’s automatic HDR capture and a range of customisable filters. It can correct lens distortion and chromatic aberration, although this takes a heavy toll on the camera’s continuous performance.

Pentax K-r - back

If you can live without these corrections, however, continuous performance is truly astounding for the price, running at 6fps and slowing to 3.7fps after 30 frames in our tests. The drop off was sharper and came sooner in RAW continuous mode, falling to 2.2fps after 14 frames, but that’s still seriously fast.

The K-r is quick in general use, too. There are dedicated buttons for the most important controls, and hitting the Info button brings up a grid of 15 further options. It isn’t so different to rival cameras’ control systems, but we found it slightly quicker to operate. For example, hitting the ISO button doesn’t only reveal the manual setting, but also lets the user adjust the automatic ISO range from 100-400 to 100-25600. Nikon’s automatic ISO mode is more flexible, but its options are badly presented.

The K-r’s performance is helped by its relatively modest 12-megapixel resolution. However, we have no reservations about this sensor in the face of 14-, 16- and 18-megapixel competition. There was slightly less detail in the centre of frames, but the 18-55mm kit lens’ sharp focus means the K-r beats many of its higher-resolution rivals for detail levels in the corners.

Pentax K-r - top

That relatively low resolution also helped keep noise levels down at high ISO speeds. There isn’t much to separate Pentax, Canon, Nikon and Sony’s consumer DSLRs in this respect, but the K-r sits towards the top of the pack, producing print-worthy photos with excellent detail retention at ISO 6400. JPEG output was a little gaudy at the default Bright picture preset, but switching to Natural gave much better results.

The video mode is basic, capturing 720p in Motion JPEG format without autofocus and for a maximum of 11mins 30secs, but video quality was otherwise up to scratch. The lack of an HDMI output is disappointing, though.

The choice of lenses isn’t as wide as for Canon and Nikon mounts, and there’s a notable lack of cheap fast primes. However, with stabilisation built into the sensor rather than lenses, telephoto lenses tend to be cheaper. A Canon or Nikon DSLR might feel like a safer bet, but the K-r’s competitive image quality, excellent controls, abundant features and outstanding performance make it a more than worthy alternative.

Author: Ben Pitt

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User comments

Pentax actually has the best support for older lenses out of all the manufactuers. The K-R will stabilise a 40 year old K lens or a 50 year old M42 without a problem and it will also offer a baseline iso / speed option using a lens with its aperture set manually. The DOF Preview button will also give a live exposure reading.
Don't know about you but I think a K or M or A 50 f/1.4 with full metal build and precise focussing ring will more than make up for lack of AF and will deliver a gorgeous image.

By RobbieC on 20 Nov 2011

I was on the brink of buying this camera the other day, but I found out (thankfully) that apparently there is a well-documented issue with Autofocus in tungsten (incandescent) lighting which causes the camera to Front Focus. It seems that Pentax have known about this problem for well over a year now and have not released a patch for it. This may be because the K-r has been discontinued, but it still stinks of a lack of customer care.
I would say that if you're contemplating a K-r, which is obviously an excellent camera, you would do well to consider whether the problem with autofocus might affect you, and also whether you want to buy from a company which clearly doesn't care for its customers. Your call.

By TobsterA on 6 Jun 2012

Really...

Firstly, how can you group the broad spectrum of cameras into compact and DSLR, are you negating bridge and CSC?

Furthermore, the difference between a Canon 550D and a Canon 5D is significant. I'm sure Nikon and other manufacturers would agree with their models.

Almost makes this category pointless.

By Gogster on 5 Jul 2012

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