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Pentax K20D Impressions

WARNING: Clicking on the photos in this entry will load up the rather large (~2-3MB) full-sized versions. All photos except for the very first one originally shot in RAW format and converted to JPEG using Adobe Photoshop CS3 with no noise reduction. But the ISO 1600 shots clean up pretty nicely with Noise Ninja.

ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/60, 50mm

Had the chance to play around with the new 14.6MP Pentax K20D paired with a Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8 (24-75mm equivalent) for the past month and thought I'd write up my impressions on it. This will be in no way shape or form comprehensive as I didn't test every single functionality on the camera. I just used it as I normally would a DSLR and that was that.

Ready to Eat
ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/60, 50mm

Let's start with the K20D body which overall is pretty solid. And small. It's smaller than both the Canon 40D and 5D but comes in a more weather-resistant body. The grippy, rubbery parts of the body is more similar to the smoother Canon style than Nikon's thicker feel. Control layout reminds me more of the Nikon bodies with the 2 horizontal scroll wheels on the right side (front and back) and the on/off switch that surrounds the shutter button. Frankly I'm still not very used to the 2 horizontal scroll wheel layout that Nikon/Pentax prefers and I find it harder to use than Canon's 1 vertical scroll wheel and 1 big thumb scroll wheel layout. Particularly the wheel on the front face under the shutter button. I find I often have to change the entire way I grip the camera with that hand to use that particular wheel. Most likely a hand size/familiarity issue that can be overcome in time.

The on/off switch also triggers LiveView which is super convenient. This Pentax is also the first body I've seen from any manufacturer that came with a flash hotshoe protector. Not a huge deal to leave your hotshoe exposed but pretty sweet from a cosmetics standpoint. Both the battery and SD card compartments are turn-latch based which I thought was terrible at first cause you gotta lift the latch and then twist it to get inside. But you get used to it after awhile and now I don't give it a second thought.

The mid-sized multi-selector is 4-way only which is kinda surprising considering the price range this body falls in. Surrounding this is a scroll-wheel that reminds me of the big scroll wheel on the back of Canon bodies but on the Pentax it's just a switch that lets you choose your AF mode from Auto, Selectable or Fixed Center. So it's a bit more of a hassle to flip between Auto and Selectable on the Pentax when compared to Canon where if you're in selectable mode, a quick push of a button will put you back into Auto and moving the little joystick around will flip you back to Selectable and let you select individual points.

Stairway to Heaven
ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/90, 16mm

The dedicated RAW and bracketing buttons are a nice touch though. The RAW button is programmable so if you're say mostly a JPEG shooter but want to shoot RAW for a few shots, a quick press of the RAW button will let you do just that. Or it can also be the opposite where a RAW shooter may want to shoot just a few JPEGs. Bracketing on this body is wonderfully easy as you choose if you want to do a 3 or 5-shot bracket and then hit the shutter button once. It'll take the 3 or 5 shots automatically for you. With Canon, you have to hit the shutter button three times for each shot.

The anti-dust mechanism on the K20D is the most powerful mechanically that I've ever felt. With the Canon 40D or Nikon D300, you mostly just hear a buzz when the anti-dust kicks in when you turn off or on the body. With the K20D, you feel the vibrations. Makes me wonder what prolonged use will do to the sensor itself if anything.

Shutter sound is another favorite area of mine to compare. The 5D has a relatively loud sound but to me it sounds like what a shot should sound like. The 40D has an incredible quick shutter sound which seems rather perfunctory and utilitarian. The D300 has a pretty good shutter sound, not too loud, not too long. The worst shutter sound I've come across was with the old Konica-Minolta bodies which to me sounded too loud and plasticky and more like a toy than a camera. The K20D has a rather unique sound in that it's squeaky. Sounds like the mirror is on a rusty hinge or something. But walk a few feet away and the shutter sound is very soft. So not my favorite but not my most hated either.

The K20D also sports 2 unique shooting modes besides the standard (P, Av, Tv, M): Sv and TAv. Sv lets the user control ISO while automating shutter and aperture. TAv lets the user control both aperture and shutter while automating ISO. I think TAv is more useful overall than Sv but I'd probably stick with the usual P or Av and the occasional Tv. But the extra options don't hurt.

ISO 100, f/6.7, 1/125, 16mm

Now, the one aspect of the K20D that threw me for a loop early on was its Fn (Function) button. Being a long time Canon user I'm used to the 4 dual-function buttons on the top right of their prosumer and above bodies that allow the photog to easily manipulate some of the more commonly used functions, often without even taking your eye from the viewfinder. So I was simply astounded when I couldn't find an ISO button anywhere on the K20D. Process of elimination left me with the Fn button and pushing it, I discovered that Pentax and buried 4 options within: ISO, Drive Mode, white balance, and flash. Now ok, I can maybe accept the latter 3 being bundled into a multi-purpose button. But ISO??? Poking around in the custom settings menu provided somewhat of a solution. The K20D's two horizontal scroll wheels are relatively customizable for each shooting mode. When shooting Av or Tv you can set it so that one wheel handles Av/Tv while the other handles ISO. So if you find yourself mainly shooting in those modes and you're a big ISO changer like I am, then this fixes that limitation quite well.

The other feature that the K20D has that makes not having a dedicated ISO button less of a pain is auto ISO. Just like Nikon but less comprehensive. While Nikon's auto ISO lets you specify the ISO range you want the camera to stay within as well as a minimum shutter speed you want to stay above, Pentax's version only allows you to set the ISO range. But it still works reasonably well. Kinda like image stabilization, it's good for stationary objects but if you're trying to shoot moving targets, you're still better off setting the shutter speed and ISO on your own.

The viewfinder is reasonably large and bright and the K20D packs 11 AF points which covers a decent amount of space horizontally but vertically seems to be clustered around the middle third of the viewfinder. You also can't see the points until you hold the shutter button down halfway to focus which I find a little odd cause it makes trying to focus with one selected point a bit more complicated than it should be. AF speed was reasonable in good conditions but seemed a bit slow in lower light levels. Nine of the 11 AF points are cross-type but as far as performance goes, Pentax still lags here compared to the Canon 40D and Nikon D300.

ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/45, 34mm

Auto white balance seems to work pretty much on par with Canon although Nikon still leads the group in this area. I did have a problem with shots (both JPEG and RAW) taken under tungsten lighting coming out absolutely horrid looking when viewed in Aperture 2 but that seems to be a software issue as they looked much better when viewed in Photoshop.

An issue I did notice fairly early on was that it seemed to take a bit longer than what I'm used to for the preview to come up after taking a photo, especially when shooting RAW. On a Canon or Nikon I'd take a shot, look at the LCD and the shot was already there. With the Pentax, sometimes it'd take a second or so before the preview showed up. So if you're one who likes to chimp a lot, the Pentax can slow you down.

As far as photo quality is concerned, the K20D won't let you down. With the new 14.6MP CMOS sensor that Pentax is sharing with Samsung, the results you'll get are quite nice. Eyeballing comparable shots from a 5D, the K20D shows more grain (even at ISO 200) but its very fine with minimal chroma noise. At higher ISO (800-1600) there's some odd blotching here and there but it's not something that would be bothersome unless you stare at 100% crops all the time. And the high ISO shots clean up pretty well when put through noise software like Noise Ninja. I'll add some comparison shots between the K20D and the Canon 5D in a later post but suffice to say I have no complaints about the photo quality coming out of this camera.

Flying Insectoid
ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/8, 24mm

The other main feature that the K20D sports is built-in image stabilization. Unfortunately that feature's not that useful in the 16-50mm (24-75mm actual) range so I didn't test it extensively although the few test shots I did try out leads me to believe that while it does work, it's still not as good as in-lens stabilization.

So overall I think Pentax has definitely come out with quite a good performer here with the K20D. For a hundred or so more than the Canon 40D you get better weather resistance, 4 more megapixels, in-body stabilization, better auto ISO, and AF adjustment for individual lenses. You get pretty much the same features as the Nikon D300 (although a bit less polished but with the in-body stabilization) for $500 less. Not a bad deal, not a bad deal at all. If I were a new DSLR shopper, I'd definitely give Pentax a good, long look. While their lens selection may not be as extensive as the two big gorillas Canon and Nikon, what they do have is pretty darn good. I put the 16-50mm f/2.8 up against Canon's 24-70mm f/2.8 and it did extremely well. More thoughts on that in a later post with pics. Plus they got them cool pancake primes in their lineup. =)

Diaper Change
ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/45, 50mm


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» A Few Quick & Dirty Canon vs. Pentax Comparison Shots from Absurd Singularity
So earlier this year I tried out a Pentax K20D and 16-50mm f/2.8 lens for a short while and was pretty impressed by the combination. Back then I had taken a couple of center sharpness comparison shots against my... [Read More]

Comments (5)

I have a soft spot in my heart for Pentax. Man, they never get the respect they oughta!

Hey! Nice shots - I really love that first one you have of the Apple store (the one taken from a middle floor). And those ISO1600 shots are really nice.


Just a quick note, you can adjust ISO without any menus by holding down the OK button on the back and spinning the front selector wheel.

Perhaps not perfect, but much better than diving through menus or hacking a fix in certain shooting modes.

(I love my K20D)


Hey Bierp,

Ahh, cool, thanks for the tip! That's definitely a lot easier to do. Yeah the K20D's a pretty great camera, can't go wrong with it. =)

Thanks Bierp for the tip!

I was looking for the quick iso-adjusting option, but couldn't even find on the manual (blind...) and getting desperate.

It's making the use of the camera even more enjoyable, loving it!

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 19, 2008 4:37 PM.

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