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Pentax has a long tradition of making very photographer-focused DSLRs, often eschewing the latest fashions to concentrate on providing cameras with well-sorted ergonomics and a focus on core photographic features such as good viewfinders. This trend appeared to reach its peak with the K-5 - arguably one of the best APS-C DSLR currently on the market. With the mid-range K-30, it looks like the company, now owned by Ricoh, is aiming to bring this capability to a wider audience.

The first thing you're likely to notice is its rather aggressive, angular styling but what's really interesting is what's going on inside. The K-30 is built around the updated 16MP CMOS sensor and processor used in the K-01 - one of the only APS-C cameras we've seen to exceed the K-5's low light performance. And that's promising, even before you venture further into the specifications.

Despite playing second-fiddle to the K-5 and the updated K-5 II, the K-30 borrows a great many of these cameras' flourishes. It's weather sealed. It features the same 0.92x magnification viewfinder with 100% coverage - meaning you can compose your image knowing that you'll get exactly the framing you thought you would. It also sports twin control dials and a not-dissimilar degree of external controls. It doesn't come with the K-5 II's Safox X AF-system which allows you to focus in very dark scenes down to -3EV, but with a starting price of $899 with the 18-55mm kit zoom, the K-30 is significantly more affordable.

Nevertheless the camera's SAFOX IXi+ AF system is an advance over the original K-5 and features 11 AF points, 9 of which are cross-type (sensitive to vertical, as well as horizontal edges). The major difference to the K-5 is that the lenses in front of the AF sensor have been improved - promising more consistent autofocus performance (what Pentax is calling a diffusion lens is designed to prevent chromatic aberrations confusing the AF system). A wide-area AF mode promises to improve focus tracking if the subject strays from a user-selected AF area to a neighboring point. To make use of this AF capability, the K-30 can shoot at up to 6 frames per second (just shy of the the K-5 II's 7fps).

Next to the K-5, you can see how unusual the K-30's styling is. It's a similarly-sized camera, though. Its polycarbonate, rather than magnesium alloy construction also helps keep it a touch lighter. Not visible in this shot is the K-5's top-plate LCD panel, which the K-30 lacks.
From the back you can see that the K-30 has lost a couple of controls, compared to the K-5 (the K-30 doesn't have an AF mode switch or separate AF and AE-L buttons), but has retained a lot, given how much less expensive it is.

There are a few odd quirks in the K-30's feature set. The first is the AA-cell-shaped battery compartment. This is clever in the sense that, once you've bought the optional adapter, you can use AA batteries if you want (a constituency Pentax has long courted), or when the supplied Li-ion battery pack runs out. The downside is that the design only leaves enough room for a 7.8Wh battery, which can only motivate itself to produce 410 shots, using standard CIPA methodology. This puts the K-30 in Canon Rebel territory (The T3i is rated at 440 shots per charge), rather than EOS 60D territory (1100 shots per charge).

The other oddity is that, while the K-30 offers the very fashionable 'focus peaking' manual focus aid that highlights high-contrast edges, it can't do so while shooting video. And, while part of its current popularity comes from its use for focusing manual focus lenses on mirrorless cameras, its original purpose (at which it excels), is focusing in video. Losing a key focus aid just when you need it is a perverse limitation, to say the least.

And this omission, along with the lack of external microphone socket leaves the K-30 looking somewhat lacking when it comes to video capture. But, as a stills camera, its feature set looks very promising. Read on to see how it performed in our studio and real-life testing.

Pentax K-30 specification highlights

  • 16.1MP CMOS sensor
  • In-body image stabilization
  • Weather-sealed polycarbonate body
  • ISO 100-12800 (expandable to 25,600, with user-defined Auto ISO range)
  • 1080p HD movie recording at 24, 25 or 30 frames per second
  • 920,000 dot LCD
  • Per-lens AF fine adjustment