Pentax K-x DSLR Review

Pentax K-x DSLR Review

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Budget-priced DSLRs make up a pretty crowded sector and one that deserves investigation from anyone about to enter the wonderful and empowering world of this type of shooting gear.

As a DSLR, the Pentax K-x is about as good as it gets and, aside from engaging with a venerable name in cameras, taking it on would also deliver a camera to you with the benefits of Live View and High Def movie capture.

With the f3.5-5.6/18-55mm lens attached the Pentax K-x, built around a stainless steel chassis, is compact and not too heavy at around 800 grams. The knobbly speed grip makes it an easy one-handed shooting piece of gear.

Pentax K-x black front.jpg

Colour? Yes it can shoot colour (goofy!) and it comes in colour in a choice of white or black, as well as special, limited edition red and navy blue.

pentax-k-x-colors.png

Here’s what you get: 12.4 megapixel CMOS sensor with a shifting sensor to quell hand-induced shake in both stills and movie shooting, giving you a four f stop boost; pentamirror optical viewing plus a 6.9cm LCD screen; HD video capture at 720p resolution and 24 fps; 11 point autofocus system; uses 4AA batteries (alkaline or rechargeable); RAW, JPEG And RAW+JPEG capture.

Pentax K-x white back.jpg

The High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode is interesting in that it blends three bracketed images into a single picture to optimise shadow, highlight and midrange detail. This is a technique much admired by pros (mostly achieved in software) and can give superb results with subjects containing an out of the ordinary contrast range. Some caveats: the camera and subject must be perfectly still; the stabiliser is disabled; JPEG is the capture format.

Continuous capture can run up to 17 JPEG frames at an initial speed of 4.7 fps; this speed will slow as the buffer memory fills; another continuous mode can shoot at a slower but more reliable 2 fps until the memory card is full.

ISO Settings

ISO settings range from 100 to 6400, with a boost to a startling ISO 12,800. But don’t expect pristine quality at this level.
Pentax K-x ISO 200 f4.5 1:50 sec.jpg
ISO 200 at f4.5 and 1/50 second.

Pentax K-x ISO 800 f5 1:200 sec.jpg
ISO 800 at f5 and 1/200 second.

Pentax K-x ISO 1600 f5.6 1:250 sec.jpg
ISO 1600 at f5.6 and 1/250 second.

Pentax K-x ISO 6400 f9 1:400 sec.jpg
ISO 6400 at f9 and 1/400 second.

Pentax K-x ISO 12,800 f10 1:640 sec.jpg
At ISO 12,800 and f10 with 1/640 second exposure the noise and colour artefacts become very obtrusive.

Chinese lantern 2 ISO 12,800 f14 1-2500 sec.jpg
This shot of the lantern was taken at ISO 12,800 and f14 with 1/2500 second exposure.

The K-x has three different focusing modes in Live View: contrast optimisation; Face Detection Auto Focus detects up to 16 faces, then selects the main subject’s face and captures it in sharp focus; the AF sensor is used to optimise focus on the subject.

Kids in pool.jpg

The mode dial offers access to auto, Program AE, shutter and aperture as well as manual exposure modes. Added to this are direct access to five scene modes and, indirectly, another ten.

A novel collection of digital filters will encourage the dabbler to experiment with his or her images: you can shoot pictures looking as though they were made by a toy camera, an old photo look; high contrast effect; soft focus etc … I’m sure you get the picture.

Pool Normal-Cross Proc.jpg

Even more startling is a Cross Process mode that will give you ‘off colour’ versions of otherwise straight images, a little like the way that pros used to (and some still do!) dunk the right film in the wrong chemicals. Don’t ask me why they do it but the results are startling.

Comment

In my test shots I found the Pentax’s quality to be on par with most other DSLRs at this level.

  • Why you would buy the Pentax K-x: movie mode; a wide range of experimental modes (HDR, Cross Processing, Digital Filters etc); Live View; you need a top shutter speed of 1/6000 second!
  • Why you wouldn’t: movie capture is not Full HFD; xxxHaving said the above I also have to note that the camera is noisy: the shutter release and mirror action clatters.

    You should take note that there are three performance options with batteries: best one is lithium; second is rechargeable NiMH cells; final is AA alkaline batteries, as an emergency only. In my case I loaded a fresh set of Duracell alkalines … and they lasted 20 shots!

    This is a seriously good camera for the photographer making the leap from a compact digicam. While it would be a good choice for snapshot and holiday photography, by adding one or two lenses with extended zoom range, it would make a powerful kit.

    Experimenters apply here: the range of the camera’s ‘image twisting’ options is terrific and these could create effects that even a hardened Photoshop whiz envious.

    Like it.

    Pentax K-x Specs

    • Image Sensor: 12.4 million effective pixels.
    • Metering: Multi-segment, centre-weighted metering and spot.
    • Effective Sensor Size: 23.6×15.8mm CMOS.
    • 35 SLR Lens Factor: 1:5x.
    • Compatible lenses: Pentax K, KA, KAF, KAF2 and KAF3 mount.
    • Exposure Modes: Auto, Program AE, shutter and aperture priority, manual.
    • Shutter Speed: 30 to 1/6000 second, Bulb. Flash sync: 1/180 sec.
    • Memory: SD/SDHC cards.
    • Image Sizes (pixels): 4288×2848, 3936×2624, 3072×2048, 1728×1152. Movies: 1280×720, 640×416 at 24fps.
    • Viewfinders: Optical pentamirror, 6.9cm LCD (230,000 pixels).
    • File Formats: RAW, RAW+JPEG.
    • Colour Space: Adobe RGB, sRGB.
    • ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100 to 6400.
    • Interface: USB 2.0, AV, DC input.
    • Power: Rechargeable lithium ion/NiMH/4AA alkaline batteries, AC adaptor.
    • Dimensions: 122.5×91.5×67.5 WHDmm.
    • Weight: Approx. 580 g (with lithium battery and card).
    • Price: Get a price on Amazon for different configurations including Body Only and with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL Lens.
Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Pentax K-x DSLR
Author Rating
4

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • YakYak2 December 21, 2011 09:10 am

    Thanks for this review, hunting for a new DSLR, I've had a Kodak EasyShare since 2004, which takes surprisingly good pictures, but really want one that rivals hubby's Canon EOS. I came to this site because I own (and dearly love) a Pentax ZX7, and had an older Pentax SLR before that.

    Are there any "old" Pentax owners here? I'd be curious to learn what you think of the K-x and the K-7. Also curious about the battery issue. That one has me a bit spooked.

  • Rinceyman July 8, 2011 06:30 pm

    Have had the Kx for 18months now and have found it to be a really useful little camera.
    It came with two kit lenses 18-55 & 50 - 200. Quality of picture very good although no doubt it could be improved with a lens upgrade which would, probably, cost more than the original Kit and the improvements would, I expect, be minimal.
    There are quite a few comments about battery concerns but I use hama 2700 NiMH 1.2v HR6.
    I have taken this camera on holiday to America and spent two days in New York doing the sights.
    Used both still and video and on each day took more than 500 files. Only changed batteries Over night just in case.!
    Very pleased with size as compared to various Cannon and Nikon I have seen.

  • Erasmo February 19, 2011 04:14 am

    This is just a humble opinion of new enthusiast who just bought his first digital DSRL XD (I have used 35-mm film SRL in the past). I bought the K-r, which is a sister of this camera. I am a very satisfied newbie. I got this one because I am making a transition from a point/shoot to DSRL camera. I do not have the battery problem as K-r has its lithium rechargeable battery, with option to AA batteries. It could be expanded to 25k ISO range, but there is some noise after ISO 1600, and it increases considerably afterwards (just as the K-x 6400 ISO example). I love the HDR option, it allows to take the pictures I have always wanted to take, but did not know how. Both K-r and K-x share many similarities.

  • john January 2, 2011 08:33 pm

    i just bought the k-x after the holidays and i love it so far. it's my first dslr camera, and it has been easy to figure it out. i've taken hundreds of pictures over the past few days and the energizer lithiums are still going strong. as far as the shutter noise is concerned, it is much louder than my brother-in-laws canon, but he spent double on his camera what i spent on this one. it may look like a toy (i have the white version), but i guarantee that it doesn't shoot like one. my two favorite things about the camera are the fact that i don't have to use the flash indoors much at all, and the filters are fun to experiment with. the thing that i don't like is that the live view mode doesn't seem to really work all that much. if it's low light, then you can forget using the live mode, it never focuses. i was kind of disappointed in that, but everything else is great (however, i am the first to point out i am a novice and don't have experience with other cameras). since it's my first dslr, i have the luxury of not missing a focus indicator in the viewfinder. overall, i'd definitely recommend this to anyone like me who is just starting to get into photography.

  • dogwatcher June 25, 2010 09:30 pm

    @Noel:
    Using a lens from 1996 is no big deal with a Pentax.. :P

    I use manual Pentax K-mount lenses of the 70s and 80s with my Pentax K-7, and I'm always searching for "new-old" lenses on ebay.

    Regarding HIgh-ISO and noisy.. you're sure? At least here in Germany and among Pentax users the K-x has the reputation of absolute low-light (high ISO) wonder... in relation to its price tag. You're sure you don't confuse the K-x with the K-m (or K2000 as it is called in other countries)? As I said before, some K-7 users are outright angry that the (cheaper) K-x is the better lowlight camera than the K-7....

    The funny thing is: We have BOTH cameras here (a K-7 (mine) and a K-x (my wife), but I didn't get the K-x in my hands until now.. at least not for extensive testing. And my wife didn't also... the poor K-x is waiting in the shelf for better days.. *sigh*....

  • Noel Ombrog June 25, 2010 08:07 pm

    I own a Pentax K-x and I'm happy with the perfornance. Althought, I agree with you that the shutter and mirror are a bit noisy. There are some lighting situations that are best handled by manual exposure settings and exposure bracketing. You forgot to mention that the Pentax is the only camera that is backward compatible to almost all Pentax lenses and K-mount lenses. I have an old Tokina 28-200mm lens which I bought in 1996 and it works well with it. High ISO really is a bit noisy.

  • jimshin June 19, 2010 06:21 pm

    Got mine last December and found the lithium batteries lasted for 600 or so shots during a 10,000km trip across Australia. Found it very handy to know the batteries were at charge for such an extended time while travelling. I did not use the video mode. Find the iso 6400 ideal for indoor night shots at Rotary functions without the need to use flash - shots OK for use in Pubisher in the weekly Bulletin. Still to explore all the featuresbut happy so far.

  • Newbabypentax June 18, 2010 07:42 am

    I have had my K-X since April and I LOVE it, I love the sound a shutter makes so the noise doesn't bother me. I have had some great high iso shots. I have rechargeable batteries and they last for for than 600 pix.

  • Sandra June 18, 2010 06:19 am

    Great shot of the kid's pool at DY, I learned how to teach swimming there and even remember before the little pool was built - WOW that makes me old.

  • Frank G June 18, 2010 03:57 am

    I've had mine for 3 weeks now, taken about 300 shots and the batteries it came with are still going strong, although I haven't used the flash much and haven't taken any video yet.
    The shutter sound is fine. This is my first DSLR so I can't compare it to other shutter sounds, but it doesn't bother me.
    It's a great camera. I bought because it has a great price to feature value compared to others in it's class and the backward compatability to all Pentax lenses ever made!

  • Bill Merritt June 16, 2010 11:44 am

    Have had my K-x for 2 months. Original lithium batteries lasted a month using view finder and minimal flash (maybe 100-150 shots) . I will probably keep using the battery type that came with the camera.
    Love the low-light capabilities of the sensor. Yes, it rattles and clicks loudly between the mirror slap and shutter.Noise not an issue with me, but focus issues are becoming a bigger problem as I use it.
    AF, M, or most other modes, kit lens, older M or A lenses have consistent focus issues. It is going in to authorized repair center this week. Too bad as there is so much to like about this camera. I hope they can resolve it. SR seems counter-productive with all of the caveats attached. Maybe I expected too much from the in-camera SR. Have been reading more and more about SR / mirror slap / focus problems when I started looking around to see if it was just me having issues. Apparently, I have a lot of company with same problem. Maybe a QC issue?
    Lack of focus points are not a big deal to me.
    Can the problem be me? Always a possibility with a new camera, but I think I am out of options on this one.

  • fotolocco June 15, 2010 10:41 pm

    I dunno but I dont like the colored body. It made the camera look like a toy

  • dogwatcher June 15, 2010 07:17 pm

    @dana

    .. regarding the missing focus indicators.. well, focus-and-recompose works of course. But only if the DOF ist not too shallow. Close range portraits with a wide open aperture and main subject not in center is always tricky with focus-and-recompose... There's a reason why many workshop trainers give you a (verbal) slap if you start to focus-and-recompose during a portrait shooting... "You've got an AF with movable focus.. what do you think they are for??"

  • dogwatcher June 15, 2010 03:11 pm

    @dana

    A firmware update has been one of the first things that I did with this camera... but that didn't help much.

    I even have a second set of eneloops here, with same results... so unlikely that my first set of eneloops were defective.

    I have to wait and see... maybe the eneloops need more cycles. Or the charger which came along with the camera is just crap (even if it bears the sanyo sign.. it looks quite cheap). Some say, the charger is definitely one of the weaker ones... nice of Pentax Germany to give one along witch each sold K-x in the first place, but it had to be cheap I guess.

  • dana June 15, 2010 05:42 am

    @dogwatcher

    after a firmware update you won´t even have problems with the battery symbol - mine stays green and green and green and when I overdone a shooting ( about 4 hours) and the symbol turns orange (empty) I just shut the cam off for a few minutes and on again and they´re green again and stay like this for a long while.

    I don´t miss the focus indicator in the viewfinder at all - for I still use center oint focus and recompose. I did this with every camera sijnce the 70s and I think I´m faster with that method than any focus setter ;D

  • dogwatcher June 14, 2010 03:15 pm

    We own a Pentax K-7 and a Pentax K-x.... Among Pentax owners, the Pentax K-x is famous as a camera with astounding high-iso-capabilities. Many K-7 owners think it outperforms their more high-spec K-7 easily in this regard, there were some bitter comments in forums about this.

    Some would even prefer the K-x above the K-7.. but there are some things lacking of course: What is missed most are the non-existent AF-field-indicators in the viewfinder (.. yes, no AF-field highlighting for the K-x... I didn't read this in the review.. but maybe I just overlooked this).

    Having my hands on both these cameras, I can confirm this at a first glance... the high-iso shots "out-of-cam" with default settings are suprisingly well for a camera of this class, I could take shots with ISO 6.400 easily with the K-x.. (at least good enough for snapshots of the better kind), the K-7 ones are not usable at this setting, at least not without much wizardry with anti-noise-tools.

    The Pentax K-x is a very fine little camera. You wouldn't tend to take her seriously with all the "colored-body-stuff" but first, but don't be fooled. As with all Pentax cameras, you can get some old fast primes on the second-hand market easily and they do work with this cam....

    Regarding shutter and mirror action noise.. I didn't found that to be more noisy than many other cameras... but it is not as silent as the K-7, which really sounds very good "dampened".

    Batteries... Yes, they are somewhat problematic in the K-x: In Germany, we get the K-x bundlet with Sanyo Eneloops (!) and a charger, because Pentax Germany is well aware about the K-x being "picky" with batteries. And even with the eneloops the "battery almost empty" symbol is soon to be seen, but I doubt that they are really empty, the camera electronics seems to have a hard time getting the real charge status of the AA batteries. This fact is discussed in depth in various forums.

  • dcclark June 14, 2010 11:40 am

    Is this article finished? There is an "xxx" in there, some unfinished sentences, weird formatting...

  • dana June 14, 2010 02:57 am

    recommended is the use of eneloops here, I own that camera and use them and I can shoot 400-500 pictures.