Magazine Article


Pentax K10D and the Broken Record

Pentax K10D
Pentax K10D
tug passes the Mary Murray ferry
The tug passes the Mary Murray ferry, visible in the distance.
Don Sutherland

The ghost of the Mary Murray
The ghost of the Mary Murray, the old ferry that sometimes turns up in lore about the Raritan River. It was wet out there, and the camera had no problems shooting in the middle of a nor’easter.
Don Sutherland

So we obediently shot everything in RAW formats for a year, congratulating ourselves on the freedoms we exercised with the full dynamic range that our uncooked files provided. Then we compared our versions against similar files shot with the same camera as JPEGs, and guess what? When there was a difference, we frequently liked the way the camera’s algorithms did it better.

Which brings us back to the Pentax K10D again.

Button, Button, Who’s Got the…

The Pentax K10D has a button near the lens mount, just about where your left thumb would fall while supporting the camera from beneath, which when pressed takes the camera out of JPEG file mode and puts it into RAW recording mode. This button is labeled RAW.

With this button, Pentax reveals an understanding of how photographers work. From moment to moment, photographers are likely to encounter varying conditions, requiring them to vary their camera settings on the fly.

Film photographers never thought about file formats at all. But photographers using the K10D can switch between RAW and compressed formats, instantaneously, for as long as conditions warrant one or the other.

Is that a digital camera with a capital “D,” or what?

There are other things you can change on-the-fly with the K10D, including the AF-reading area. With the knob turned to the left (you can do it with your right thumb), the camera picks the points in the scene the AF thinks it should focus on. With the knob turned to the middle, the user selects the point of focus within a frame from a number of choices, accessed by pressing the arrow buttons nearby. With the knob turned to the right, the focus point of the camera is in the center of the frame.

The K10D has the customary autoexposure modes, manual being almost as easy and intuitive to use in a varying world as the automatic systems are. In M mode, the dial on the front of the camera controls f/stop, and the dial on the back of the camera controls shutter speed. A little display lit up in the viewfinder tells you when you’re a few stops under or a few stops over or exactly right for exposure. Running the fore and aft exposure dials while watching the display makes picture-taking a little bit like a video game.

The exposure mode dial, besides the traditional settings, has a new one labeled TAv. In this mode, the AE system brings not only aperture and shutter speed to the task of setting exposure, it brings the ISO in as well. It selects its own assessment of the optimum combination of the three exposure controls, including ISO equivalency settings from 100 to 400.

Since the light sensitivity of a digicam can be varied from one frame to the next, why not add it to an autoexposure mode? We’ve seen a lot of similar systems in compact cameras this year, but the K10D would be one of the first DSLRs to include it.

Singin’ in the…

One claim made for the K10D that we haven’t heard in the moderate-price DSLR market for years, is that it’s weather-resistant. Early releases around photokina time spoke of 72 seals in the camera to protect the innards. We’re here to tell you that they work.

For our first assignment with the K10D, we went to the christening of—what else—a tugboat. Well, we’re friends with the owner, and we said we’d do it, as his new tug followed his older tug up the river for a few miles. We stood on the fantail of the lead tug for just about 90 minutes.

What made those 90 minutes special was that they were during a howling nor’easter, one of those storms we get occasionally on the Atlantic coast, where the rain comes in sideways, in big angry drops that want to kill you. It was nasty out there, and we would have pardoned any camera for frying. Our K10D couldn’t have gotten wetter if we’d submerged it in a bucket of water.

And it took all the pictures, and has continued taking pictures ever since. We are impressed. This camera is equipped for a world that varies not only photographically, but physically as well.

Pentax is the first manufacturer to announce expected shutter durability for an under-$1,000 DSLR (the K10D lists at $999), which they’ve placed at 200,000 cycles. The high-end $5,000 battle axes from Canon and Nikon now claim more like 300,000, but they were quite proud of themselves when they claimed 200,000. No mater how you slice it, that’s a lot of pictures.

In the Dark

The one area where the K10D falls short of its predecessor is in the area the predecessor is most celebrated for—elevated sensitivity, or, as it’s popularly called, high ISO. At 400 speed, the K10D about equals the K100D at 1600 speed.