Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Conclusion - Pros
- Good detail and color in JPEGs at base ISO
- Good high ISO performance
- Compact dimensions for a DSLR
- ISO range up to ISO 25600
- 6.0 frames per second continuous shooting is class-leading
- Option to use AA batteries (with optional adapter)
- Decent Live View AF
- Good viewfinder
- LCD color fine-tunable
- Good control over high ISO noise reduction
- User-definable Auto ISO
- AF fine adjustment
- Distortion and chromatic aberration correction for DA and DFA lenses (also available in RAW conversion when using supplied software)
- Choice of two RAW formats
- In-camera RAW conversion
- Good bundled RAW converter (based on SilkyPix)
Conclusion - Cons
- Outdated Motion JPEG format produces very large movie files
- No direct movie button
- Tendency to clip highlights in high-contrast scenes
- Relatively little RAW headroom means it is difficult to pull back blown detail even when shooting RAW
- Slightly unreliable auto white balance in overcast conditions and in artificial light (but very good presets and WB fine tuning)
- Shake-reduction not too efficient compared to other systems
- No HDMI-connector
When we reviewed the Pentax K-x in December 2009 we said it was a very capable little camera which only came with one real drawback - the lack of visible AF points in the viewfinder. With the new model Pentax has rectified this, and K-r users can now finally see in the viewfinder where the camera is focusing.
While this is without doubt good news, it's really the only major improvement. There are some minor modifications such as a larger screen and increased continuous shooting speed, but the camera body and imaging pipeline have essentially remained unchanged. At the same time the competition has moved on and the upper entry-level models from other manufacturers offer higher sensor resolutions, better video-capture and similar specifications at a comparable price point. The K-r is still a very good entry-level camera, compared to the current group of competitors, it's just not as good a deal as the K-x was.
The K-r produces, in almost any shooting situation, output that is virtually identical to the K-x's. At base ISO JPEG images show good detail and pleasant colors out of the box. JPEG shooters won't find much need to alter the default image parameters. Shooting RAW gives you hardly any extra detail but allows you to apply your own optimized image parameters and noise reduction in post-processing.
The K-r's performance in low light and at higher sensitivities is very good. However, compared to the K-x the gap to the competition has been reduced and cameras such as the Sony A33 or Nikon D3100 are capable of producing very good high ISO output - at a higher resolution - as well. That said the K-r offers a good balance between noise reduction and the retention of fine detail up to very high sensitivities. Noise reduction is leaning heavily on chroma noise but handles luminance noise in a more lenient way which, at high ISOs, results in grainy but detailed images. The K-r now also offers the option to shoot at ISO 25600, a number that until recently would have been unthinkable on a camera in this class. The results at this setting are predictably not great and should be reserved for emergency use only, but at least you've got the option when you really need it.
As usual there also a few negatives we have to mention. Like the K-x the K-r has a habit to clip highlights which is made worse by a tendency to overexpose high contrast scenes. Shooting RAW can only mitigate the problem to a degree, as the the K-r also only offers relatively little in terms of RAW headroom and you usually won't able to recover a lot of highlight detail by applying negative digital exposure compensation. The best solution is to apply 2/3EV or so of negative exposure compensation when shooting. You can then always lift the shadows in post-processing if necessary. We also weren't totally happy with the camera's Auto White Balance Function. Like most other cameras it doesn't produce great results in artificial light but on the K-r we also got a blueish cast in overcast, slightly misty conditions, something that we hadn't seen on a DSLR for a long time. Thankfully the camera offers manual overrides to correct for this.
Overall, the Pentax K-r delivers decent image output. At base ISO it cannot quite resolve the same amount of detail as some of the competitors with higher nominal resolutions but you would only spot a difference at 100% magnification. In low light, despite using the K-x's imaging pipeline, it's still a very good performer. Just keep an eye on the histogram when shooting high contrast scenes to reduce the risk of clipped highlights.
Like its sister model K-x the Pentax K-r is fairly typical for a entry-level DSLR in so far that it combines compact dimensions with a limited number of external controls. There is no top-LCD and only one dial but nevertheless handling and operation of the camera are straightforward and easy.
Thanks to its decent build quality and reassuring weight the camera always feels stable and solid in your hands. In contrast to many direct competitors the K-r lacks a movie button which means you'll have to turn the mode dial before you can shoot a movie but other than that all important shooting parameters are accessible either via hard buttons or the control panel (after a press of the INFO button). Thanks to the improved contrast detect AF speed Live View is now much more of a usable option in certain shooting situation, although the function would be more useful if the camera had a swivel-screen.
The final word
The K-r is in many ways a very competent upper entry-level camera. It delivers decent image quality across the ISO range and at six frames per second comes with one of the fastest continuous shooting rates in this class of camera. The only reason that we can't get as excited about it as we got about the Pentax K-x is that its imaging pipeline and the largest part of its specification are based on the latter and while the K-x offered an awful lot of bang for the buck when it was launched in 2009 the competition has slightly moved on since then, making the K-r not quite as a good deal as the K-x was.
At the time of writing the Pentax K-r with kit lens is on offer at a street price of approximately $650. For $100 less than that you can bag yourself a Nikon D3100 which comes with a 1080p full HD video mode and a higher sensor resolution but otherwise a more basic specification. Sony's currently most obvious K-r competitor is the translucent mirror SLT-A33 which is available at around $700. It offers 1080p AVCHD video, a 14MP sensor, a swivel-screen and at seven frames per second ever faster continuous shooting than the K-r. The recently announced Canon EOS 600D's (Rebel T3i in the US) launch price is similar to the K-r's. It also comes with a 1080p full HD video mode and a 18MP nominal resolution in combination with a fairly strong feature set. If you can wait for the street price to drop it might be another alternative.
We're not saying you should pick any of these cameras over the K-r. Depending on your specific needs it might be exactly the right camera for you and won't disappoint you. In the current competitive market environment it's just not the easy pick that the K-x was in 2009.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
A very competent upper entry-level camera that delivers decent image quality across the ISO range, and at six frames per second, comes with one of the fastest continuous shooting rates in its class. There's some stiff competition in the upper entry-level bracket of the market but the K-r is definitely worth a look.
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