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Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent image quality at low ISO settings
  • Image quality still good as ISO 1600
  • Ergonomics up with the best of the best
  • Large and bright Pentaprism viewfinder (0.95x magnification)
  • Robust body with dust and weather seals, high build quality
  • Accurate, reliable auto-focus
  • Sharpening modes give better image control
  • Unique exposure modes; sensitivity, shutter/aperture priority, hyper program
  • Selectable program lines; Normal, Hi speed, Depth and MTF (lens sharpness)
  • Good level of user control over high ISO noise reduction
  • User definable Auto ISO (set in 1/3EV if desired)
  • Good built-in flash metering
  • In-camera Shake Reduction system offers some advantage in low light
  • Dust reduction by anti-static coating and optional sensor 'shake'
  • Dust alert makes sensor cleaning simpler
  • Mirror lock-up implemented as part of the self-timer
  • Function menu for quick access to important settings (although hard buttons are better)
  • First color-adjustable LCD monitor
  • Proper hinged doors covering the connectors (not the cheap rubber bungs)
  • In-camera RAW development with parameter control and batch conversion
  • Interesting modes, such as Interval shooting and multiple exposures
  • Value for money

Conclusion - Cons

  • Continuous shooting rate slow by modern standards
  • Hot pixels can occur and can't be automatically removed
  • Noise reduction cannot be raised as high as the competition
  • Live view mode adds very little to the camera (it is neither seamless nor able to usefully magnify)
  • Autofocus not as fast or consistent in low light as the more expensive competition
  • Menu navigation a little clunky and won't revert to last-used location
  • Would have been nice to have hard buttons for White Balance
  • Average automatic white balance performance, still very poor under incandescent light
  • Flash must be raised for AF assist (although AF works even in very low light)

Overall conclusion

The Pentax K20D could be seen as a K10D Mk2, a camera that attempts to move on while putting right the minor flaws in its predecessor. And in that respect, it's a huge success. The K20D builds on the strengths of its forebear and corrects for the issue that plagued us most. It offers a great on-paper specification that is backed-up by a level of customization that allow you to tailor the camera to the way you want to shoot.

There are a couple of black marks against it, which should direct photographers with specific needs away to look at more specialized models. The live view mode is neither as seamless as Sony's implementation nor as useful for tripod-based work as Olympus's and consequently feels like a feature that has been added purely to make the camera more marketable. But, before deciding whether this puts you off, it's worth thinking hard about what you'd use it for. Likewise, the continuous shooting rate looks pedestrian by contemporary standards, so sports shooters should look elsewhere.

The autofocus, while never breathtakingly fast, is also never intrusively slow for general shooting. Using enthusiast-level lenses (16-45mm f/4 or 35mm f/2.8 Macro), its performance, even in low light, has been at least comparable with similarly-priced cameras, if not quite up to the standards of the more expensive, similarly-specified cameras from other brands.

The Samsung co-developed sensor may well prove to be a turning point for Pentax, giving the company a little more control over sensors it uses and, in general terms, it delivers high resolution images with noise levels that are comparable with its competitors (and presented with a commendably hands-off approach to noise reduction that allows the user to decide how they wish to deal with noise, rather than smearing it all away). However, the hot pixel problems, combined with the sample-to-sample variability (in this instance ISO 3200 banding), represent the sorts of problems we haven't seen in DSLRs launched in the past few years. Which makes us wonder whether Samsung has over-reached itself with such an ambitious design. This is reflected in our image quality score that without these niggles would have been even higher.

In short, the K20D is a great stab at making a photographers' camera - a camera for people who love taking images, are happy to invest in lenses (perhaps the primes that can make the most of those 14.6 million pixels), but aren't going to be recouping the cost of their equipment through regularly selling images. It offers a very pleasant, near pro-level, photographic experience at a reasonable cost and in a body that feels solid, well built and as if it was designed by someone who used one themselves.

Because the K20D offers so much that the enthusiast photographer would enjoy, it would be churlish to let the sensor-based flaws, which have little impact in real-world shooting, prevent us giving the camera our highest award. This isn't to say it's a faultless camera or one that's suited to everybody but one with only minor drawbacks that should only dissuade a small number of potential buyers.

Detail (D-SLR) Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 9.0
Ergonomics & handling 8.5
Features 9.5
Image quality 8.5
Performance (speed) 8.0
Value 9.0

Highly Recommended

Highly Recommended

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