Conclusion - Pros

  • Good tonal balance, average resolution, low in-camera sharpening
  • Good metering, very little need for exposure compensation
  • No sharpening artifacts, virtually no moiré artifacts
  • Low noise up to ISO 800, slightly higher than the competition after that
  • Very natural color response, very film like
  • Support for sRGB and Adobe RGB color space (better to be on main menu)
  • Very compact for a 35mm based digital SLR, the smallest yet
  • Solid build quality, feels robust
  • Nice control structure, clear indication of dial function
  • Viewfinder magnification better than competitors, bigger view
  • Program Reset button and selectable program lines
  • Fairly customizable thanks to wide range of custom functions
  • Fairly quick operation, just over a second startup with a good CF card
  • RAW mode provides the 'digital negative', about 1 stop of latitude in over exposed images
  • Excellent battery life with CR-V3 Lithium batteries
  • Onboard PC Sync flash terminal

Conclusion - Cons

  • Soft appearance to images, converted RAW images are sharper
  • Continuous shooting not as fast as competition, image buffer also smaller
  • No histogram on record review (immediately after shot)
  • Image parameters don't offer enough latitude of adjustment
  • Awkward to select WB, Image quality and ISO on mode dial
  • Annoyingly small CF compartment, orientation of CF card
  • Bundled software is fairly weak, RAW converter window too small
  • Photo Laboratory converted RAW images show some Bayer pattern artifacts
  • Large RAW files (stored as 16-bits per pixel?)
  • Firewire or USB 2.0 should have been a consideration for connectivity
  • Price competition from Canon's EOS 300D

Overall conclusion

Pentax has clearly left their earlier digital SLR false start behind them, the *ist D is a capable digital SLR which can stand shoulder to shoulder with the longer established names in the digital SLR's world without compromise. The camera's compact size and light weight may be an initial reason for interest in the camera, however they shouldn't stop there, the *ist D can also deliver the goods in performance, consistency and image quality. Credit where credit is due, Pentax have produced an excellent photogrphic tool in the *ist D.

Probably the single biggest 'issue' is the apparent softness of images straight from the camera, however it does seem to me that this was a conscious decision made by Pentax's engineers in an attempt to avoid adding artifacts to the image which can not be removed later. It also has the additional benefit of keeping visible noise levels down. You would need to examine our samples images (and those to be found on our Pentax Talk forum) to decide if this would be a major issue to you.

Clearly the market shifted when Canon announced the EOS 300D but this shouldn't stop buyers from considering all of the options, even if that means putting a little more money in the budget. There is also no doubt that many existing Pentax lens owners will be very interested in the *ist D and for them it is the logical step into digital photography, not one they would regret.

Highly Recommended

So which one should I buy? A question I get asked several times a day, and I wouldn't like to say. In a new addition to my reviews (after the amount of feedback I normally get) I've added a link to a specific forum in which you can discuss the review or ask me specific questions which I've not answered in these pages.

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