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Conclusion - Pros

  • At base ISO detailed output that makes good use of the camera's 14.6 megapixel resolution
  • Good JPEG and RAW resolution
  • Semi-pro features and build quality in a compact body
  • Magnesium/steel body with environmental seals
  • Good selection of external controls
  • Comfortable grip and generally well-designed ergonomics
  • Responsive overall performance
  • Reliable flash performance
  • Good quality HD video recording (but hardly any manual control)
  • Improved continuous shooting (but still slower than D300 or EOS 50D)
  • Decent kit lens with environmental seals
  • Excellent high resolution screen with fine-tunable color
  • 100% viewfinder coverage
  • Extensive white balance options
  • User-definable Auto ISO
  • Multi-segment metering can be linked to AF-point
  • Shutter & Aperture Priority Exposure (TAv mode)
  • Distortion and chromatic aberration correction for DA and DFA lenses (also available in RAW conversion when using supplied software)
  • Adjustable dynamic range highlight and shadow correction
  • Three-shot in-camera HDR capture
  • External microphone socket
  • Good battery life (but you don't get too much warning before power runs out)
  • Electronic level indicator
  • Composition adjustment (Uses the SR system to reposition the sensor to fine-tune composition)
  • In-camera RAW conversion tool
  • Alternative focusing screens available
  • Extensive in-camera image adjustment options
  • Very good bundled RAW converter (based on SilkyPix)

Conclusion - Cons

  • Measurably and visibly more noise than competition at high ISOs (JPEG)
  • More RAW noise than predecessor (but in line with competition)
  • AF speed not quite up with the fastest in class
  • Less dynamic range than direct competitors
  • No 'interactive' status display for easy change of parameters
  • HDR and a range of other features only available in JPEG mode
  • Slightly fiddly SD-card slot
  • Contrast detect AF so slow it's useless for most types of photography (not much different on the competitors though)
  • Automatic aperture control in movie mode can cause extreme exposure jumps and audible click sounds in the recording (fix the aperture to avoid this)

Overall conclusion

While the Pentax K-7's predecessor, the K20D, was clearly a competent camera it was never quite up there, either in terms of performance nor from a specification point of view, with the established semi-pro models such as the Canon EOS 40/50D or the Nikon D300. However, with the K-7, Pentax has clearly upped its game and the new model is in many respects on eye level with the competition's enthusiast offerings.

The K-7's build quality and ergonomics are as good as it gets in this class of camera and the wealth of customization options make it an efficient tool for a large variety of photographic tasks. On top of that the spec sheet makes nice reading as well. 14.6 megapixels is still a more than competitive resolution for any APS-C camera. The K-7 also offers the highest resolution video mode amongst its direct competitors (though it's the wrong aspect ratio for playback on most TVs) and comes with a number of interesting and useful features such as in-camera RAW conversion, composition-adjustment or in-camera HDR.

AF- and continuous shooting speed are the two areas where the K-7 lags just a tiny bit behind the competition. While the vast majority of photographers will be more than happy with the Pentax' focusing speed and 5.2 fps continuous shooting, the 'speed freaks' amongst us such as action or sports photographers will probably be leering at the Nikon D300s' 51-point AF and 8 frames per second. Having said that, the Nikon is approximately $500 more expensive than the Pentax which makes the K-7 look like a pretty decent deal.

Image Quality

No reason to complain at base ISO: the K-7 images show good detail and natural colors straight out the box. Compared to the predecessor in-camera sharpening has been reduced which results in slightly softer but also cleaner looking output. Pixel peepers can revert to shooting RAW which, in combination with some careful sharpening during the conversion process, will result in some visible extra image detail. It's advisable though to use quality lenses if you want to make the most of the camera's 14.6 megapixel nominal resolution.

At higher sensitivities the picture doesn't look quite so good. JPEG noise is visibly and measurably higher than on some of the direct competitors. At default settings the K-7 retains relatively good detail up to the highest ISO settings but shows fairly large amounts of both luminance and chroma noise. Increasing the in-camera reduction will add some pretty heavy detail blurring to the mix. Some rivals, especially the Nikon D300, deliver a better balanced mix of noise reduction and detail retention. However, when shooting in RAW the K-7's RAW noise is pretty much on the same level as the competition. Therefore, for maximum image quality in low light situations your best bet is shooting RAW and applying customized noise reduction in post processing.

We found the metering generally to be reliable with the occasional mild over-exposure in bright conditions. This can sometimes be very slightly problematic as at default settings the K-7 delivers less dynamic range than other cameras in this class and you can end up with some clipped highlights. However, a third of a stop negative exposure compensation takes care of the issue and the camera's several dynamic range 'enhancement' features do an effective job as well.

All in all, apart from a slightly different tone curve, weaker default sharpening and slightly higher (!) RAW noise the K-7 output is very similar to the K20D. Purely from an image quality point of view there is therefore no urgent need to upgrade for current K20D users.

Handling

Despite its relatively small dimensions the K-7 handles well and always feels stable in your hands. The excellent build quality gives it a reassuringly solid feel and the well-designed and sized grip makes for comfortable holding, even with larger hands.

The camera's ergonomics are excellent with not only a large number of external controls but also a very sensible button layout. The menu system is, due to the camera's comprehensive feature set, naturally a little more complex but all the options have been grouped and sorted in an intuitive way and after a few days of shooting you'll easily find your way through the menu system and around the camera in general.

The only point of slight criticism in the user interface department is the lack of an 'interactive' status display. While the K-7 shows you most important shooting settings on its rear LCD it is not possible to change them directly on screen (Pressing the INFO button takes you to an interactive screen for some settings though). Considering the K-7's number of external buttons this is not much of a problem but cameras such as the Nikon D300s or EOS 50D simply give you an additional option for changing your settings.

The final word

The Pentax K-7 manages to combine superb build quality, comprehensive customization options, excellent ergonomics and an extensive feature set with (for a camera in this class) very compact dimensions. This makes it a more than viable alternative for those (but not only for those) who like to work with semi-pro equipment that still leaves some space in the gear bag. JPEG output at high sensitivities is not quite on the same level as some of the competitors but if you revert to shooting RAW things are pretty much evened out.

Pentax K-7
Category: Semi-professional Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Anyone wanting a semi pro camera that won't make a hole in your pocket or weigh you down too much.
Not so good for
Low light work, movie makers
Overall score
74%
Semi-pro spec for mid-range money makes the K-7 an incredibly attractive option for the serious photographer wanting something a little less mainstream without compromising performance. Solid as a tank and feature packed--yet surprisingly compact--the K-7's only real weak spot is its high ISO performance.

Original Rating (October 2009): Highly Recommended
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean

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