Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Conclusion - Pros
- Good detail at low sensitivities (even better in RAW)
- Very good high ISO image quality, good detail up to high sensitivities
- Exceptionally low shadow noise in RAW files at low ISOs
- Responsive operation
- 6 fps and good burst size in continuous shooting
- Good build-quality with weather-sealed body
- Thought-out user interface with useful TAv and SV modes
- Large, bright viewfinder with 100% coverage
- Good feature set with HDR mode, digital filters and time-lapse movies
- Per-lens AF fine-adjustment
- Good customization options including adjustable NR for each ISO
- Fast contrast detect Auto Focus in Live View
- Optional use of AA-batteries (with optional adapter)
Conclusion - Cons
- Lower JPEG highlight DR than competitors (without Highlight Correction activated)
- Live view exposure simulation has very limited range
- No external mic-socket
- No dedicated video button
- No stills capture in video mode
- Focus-peaking not available in video mode
- No HDMI port
- Poor battery life compared to its peers
We really liked the Pentax K-5 when we reviewed the camera in December 2010 and the K-30 comes with a sensor and imaging pipeline that are very similar to its bigger brother's and many of its features - at a considerably more attractive price point. However, at a RRP of $899 (and at the time of writing a significantly lower street price) the K-30 looks like a good deal not only in comparison to the K-5 but also against the competiton from other manufacturers.
Weather-sealing is a unique feature in this class and the K-30's 100% viewfinder is bigger and brighter than those of its most direct competitors such as the Canon EOS 650D or the Nikon D5100. At 6 frames per second it also offers faster continous shooting and the option to use AA batteries - should you ever lack access to a power-outlet.
Only in the video capture section does the K-30's spec-sheet not look too impressive next to its peers. The Pentax lacks a dedicated video button, an external microphone socket and HDMI-output which means it's not the weapon of choice for the more ambitious video shooter. Canon's EOS 650D and Sony's SLT-cameras offer better control over video and audio capture and the ability to directly connect to output devices via HDMI.
However, price and specification are one thing, performance is another and with its snappy operation, good image quality and extremely flexible Raw output the K-30 does not disappoint in the field. Its feature set, image quality and performance make it an obvious recommendation for anyone who is looking for a capable DSLR without breaking the bank and can do without a more advanced video mode.
We shot thousands of frames with the Pentax K-30 in both controlled studio and real-life conditions and when looking through these images it is very difficult to find any fault with them. The camera's 16MP output by now represents the lower end of the image size spectrum in this class of camera and if you are planning on printing your images at very large sizes this could be a disadvantage. However, for most users the slightly lower sensor resolution will be pretty much irrelevant as the K-30 still produces very good detail and makes up for it with arguably the best high ISO performance in its class and extremely malleable raw files.
At higher sensitivities The K-30 produces images that compare favorably to its direct competitors in terms of both image noise and low contrast detail. In addition the Raw files' extremely low noise floor means you've got a lot of flexibility in post processing, allowing for exposure and shadow adjustments that on other cameras would make intrusive amounts of shadow noise appear. Default sharpening on JPEGs can look a little crude and Raw conversion can also help to squeeze maximum details out of your files. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the K-30s JPEG images but working with the Raw files is a pleasure and will get you even better results.
Thanks to its excellent 16MP sensor, the Pentax K-30 offers detailed and clean image output across the ISO range in both Raw and JPEG modes, with at default settings a quite 'punchy' color response for a camera in its class. The steep JPEG tone curve can lead to highlight clipping which is why we'd recommend keeping highlight protection switched on by default. The increase in mid-tone and shadow noise is academic at the most commonly used ISO settings. Overall the Pentax's image output is very unproblematic in all shooting situations and among the best in its class.
Despite the slightly unusual styling the Pentax K-30 handles very well. The cameras dimensions are relatively compact but thanks to its reassuring weight and solidity it looks and feels like a quality product, only shooters with larger hands might wish for a slightly more beefy grip. All of the major controls are sensibly placed and, considering the K-30's complexity and feature set, the menu system is intuitively organized, allowing you to get to grips with the camera in very little time, even if you are new to the Pentax system.
The camera offers a good range of customization options, allowing you to tailor the user interface to your needs and thanks to a fast contrast-detect AF with four different modes live view is a real alternative to viewfinder shooting in certain situations. The dedicated live view button allows a seamless transition between the two modes.
Like on the K-30's bigger brother, the K-5, our only real gripe with the user interface is the lack of a direct movie button. This means you cannot record a video as spontaneously as you can capture a still-image. Ideally, a button would be customizable to be the video button but there is no such option. That said, the lack of an external microphone socket and an HDMI port indicates that serious videographers are not the K-30s target buyers and stills-only photographers can live with the omission of a video button.
Overall the K-30 is a solid camera with nice handling and ergonomics. The weather-sealing and the option to use AA-batteries are unusual features in this price bracket and make the Pentax a good choice for photographers who frequently venture off the beaten path to capture their images.
The Final Word
If you are predominantly a stills shooter it is very hard to not recommend the Pentax K-30. It handles well, comes with an intuitive and thought-out user interface, has an excellent feature set for its price point, including weather-sealing and a fast 6 fps continuous shooting mode, and offers excellent image quality across the ISO range which can be further improved by shooting and processing Raw files.
As you can see most of the bullet points in the 'Cons' list at the top of this page are related to the K-30's video mode and if you are planning to regularly use the K-30 for capturing video the story is a slightly different one. While it records smooth and detailed 1080p video footage with no dedicated movie button, no external microphone socket and no HDMI output the K-30 is not the obvious choice for any photographers who are thinking about venturing into more serious videography. Competitors such as Canon with the EOS 650D/Rebel T4i or Sony with the SLT-A65 offer more compelling products for this type of user.
For anyone else the Pentax K-30 is a very easy recommendation. It's at the top of its class in terms of feature set and high ISO performance, with Raw files that offer more processing flexibility than any other camera in its class. You'll have to decide for yourself if the K-30 is good enough to make you switch from another system but for existing Pentax shooters or new DSLR users focus on stills photography the Pentax K-30 is an excellent choice and easily earns itself our sliver award.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
Stills photographers who want a weather-sealed camera with good customizability and great low light performance without breaking the bank
Not so good for
The Pentax K-30 offers a comprehensive feature set, excellent high-ISO performance, and very flexible raw files at an attractive price point, and is therefore an easy recommendation for any stills photographer. However, if you are looking for a DSLR to shoot video with, the competition offers better alternatives.
- Canon EOS 650D/Rebel T4i In-depth Review
- Nikon D5100 In-depth Review
- Sony SLT-A65 In-depth Review
- Pentax K-5 In-depth Review