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Conclusion - Pros

  • Responsive in use, good buffering feels faster than other 'budget D-SLR' models
  • Compact and lightweight, yet still has good ergonomics
  • Good auto focus, relatively quick, accurate
  • Large viewfinder view provides an 'eye full' of the scene (x0.95 magnification)
  • Excellent resolution as long as you shoot RAW, average otherwise
  • Relatively low noise levels throughout the sensitivity range (similar to Nikon D70)
  • Wide range of image parameter adjustment (color, tone, sharpness)
  • Quite customizable, range of custom functions
  • Selectable color space (sRGB / Adobe RGB), although hidden away on custom menu
  • Effective long exposure noise reduction
  • RAW mode provides the 'digital negative'
  • Good SD card write performance (2.4 - 3 MB/sec with fast card)
  • Customizable exposure steps (1/3 or 1/2 EV)
  • Bright, detailed and 'smooth' (not pixelated looking) 2.0" LCD monitor
  • Faster flash X-sync than *ist D at 1/180 sec
  • Mirror lock-up implemented as part of the self-timer
  • Supplied software works well, easy to use, Photo Laboratory has been improved
  • Playback magnification up to 12x, can customize the initial magnification 'jump'
  • Accepts standard AA batteries as well as CR-2 Lithium
  • USB 2.0 Hi-Speed interface (verified)
  • Good value for money

Conclusion - Cons

  • Average resolution in JPEG mode, images can look over-processed, better to use RAW
  • Over-saturated default color setting, can lead to channel clipping
  • Natural Image tone setting should have had at least some sharpening included
  • Edge demosaic artifacts on RAW images converted through Photo Laboratory
  • Large RAW files (not losslessly compressed)
  • No display of white balance or ISO setting on Control Panel LCD or viewfinder LCD
  • Noise tends have the appearance of color mottle not 'film like' grain
  • Continuous AF only available in 'Action mode' (scene mode)
  • No Program Shift in Program AE mode
  • Flash must be raised for AF assist
  • Potential to lose images if SD door is opened during write

Overall conclusion

The *ist DS is one of those cameras which grows on you, it's certainly compact and well put together but when you first pick it up you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a bit basic. In actual fact it packs more features and controls than most other budget SLR's and has some impressive performance to back that up. In use we found the *ist DS a very nice 'photographic tool', it always does the job, auto focus is reliable, that big viewfinder is a welcome change from some of the 'tunnel like' viewfinders found on other digital SLR's. Put it this way you're never left thinking you bought the second-best Pentax digital SLR.

With the *ist DS Pentax is clearly targeting the first time SLR user, this becomes clear when you see the 'AUTO PICT' exposure mode, the way the camera describes each exposure mode and the fact that the 'normal' image tone is fairly contrasty and highly saturated. In my opinion they could have done better by making the 'Natural' setting (with a little bit of sharpening) the default and provided 'Bright' as an option, either that or tone down the color saturation of that mode. Users upgrading from a consumer digital camera however will find the *ist DS less of a leap in what they expect an 'out of the camera JPEG' to look like.

On the downside we were very disappointed that such a good camera appears to be let down by an average image processor which is very clearly not extracting all that's being delivered to it by the sensor. The difference in detail rendition between JPEG and RAW is stark, a much bigger difference than we're used to seeing. If you're happy shooting RAW and processing all your images (and have a copy of Adobe Photoshop CS) then the *ist DS could indeed be an excellent proposition. Unfortunately this camera's average buyer will most likely shoot JPEG, and not get the most out of the camera, which in our eyes would have taken it one step higher.

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