If you're looking for a rugged digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera costing less than $1,000, you have one choice: the Pentax K-30. It's the only DSLR in its price range that's dustproof, coldproof and fully weather-sealed, and experts say image quality is right up there with its Canon and Nikon rivals. The K-30 is full-featured except for some missing movie features, is easy to use and shoots great images, too. It's a strong runner-up to the touchscreen Canon EOS Rebel T4i (*Est. $850 with kit lens), our Best Reviewed pick for a step-up entry DSLR.
Viewfinder shows the full picture. The Pentax K-30's viewfinder outclasses those of other compact cameras. It's actually "one of the most impressive points in the K-30's design," writes Shawn Barnett at Imaging-Resource.com.
While its rivals rely on pentamirror viewfinders, the K-30 is the only entry-level DSLR with a pentaprism just like on pro-spec cameras. While the T4i shows 95 percent of the image in the viewfinder, the K-30 lets you see everything. "You won't have to guess how much extra image area you're going to capture," Barnett says. "Not only is the view 100 percent, [but] it's bright and clear."
The 3-inch LCD screen is bright and clear, too, with high resolution. You can frame your shot on the screen in Live View, but testers caution that autofocus works sluggishly if you do, a common problem with entry-level DSLRs. The screen doesn't tilt or swivel and there's no touchscreen; the Canon T4i is the only DSLR with one of those. However, critics call the Pentax K-30 easy and enjoyable to use, with a comfortable grip. "In fact, the grip is one of the most ergonomically shaped and comfortable to use that we have come across," says Angela Nicholson at TechRadar.com.
For beginners, the Pentax K-30 gets a wealth of point-and-shoot modes like Auto Picture -- which analyzes the scene and automatically picks the right settings -- Backlight Silhouette, Night Scene Portrait and more. More advanced users can step beyond this with unique modes like Sensitivity Priority, and Shutter & Aperture Priority, not to mention full manual controls.
"Superb images" and fast burst shooting. Expect consistently terrific images from the Pentax K-30, reviewers say. Its 16.2-megapixel compact sensor "produces superb images with lots of detail and good colors," says TechRadar.com's Nicholson. Even in low light, images remain free from grainy "noise" through ISO 1,600 in Mark Goldstein's test at PhotographyBlog.com.
Burst shooting of up to 6 frames per second (fps) outruns rivals like the 5-fps Canon T4i, and puts the Pentax K-30 "in the same speed league as many semi-pro DSLRs such as Canon's EOS 5D Mark III (Est. $3,400 (body only))," says Mike Topham at WhatDigitalCamera.com. However, Imaging-Resource.com says the K-30 takes almost a full second to power up and shoot, which is pretty slow for this class.
Autofocus locks onto subjects quickly in most tests, as long as you're looking through the viewfinder; like other entry-level DSLRs, it's sluggish in Live View on the LCD screen. Continuous autofocus is not an option while shooting video. Other DSLRs can do this, including cheaper ones like the Nikon D3200 (Est. $530 with kit lens), but it's usually slow and noisy. While you can manually engage the K-30's autofocus while shooting a movie, it's slow and noisy, too, Goldstein says at PhotographyBlog.com.
Battery life is rated at 480 shots per charge. That's less than competitors like the 550-shot Canon EOS Rebel T4i, but the Pentax gives you the option of using AA batteries if you buy a battery holder (*Est. $40).
Splash it, freeze it, dust it up. Simply put, the Pentax K-30 is the toughest DSLR you can buy for under $1,000. Its body is still made of plastic, like its rivals, but that body is fully weather-sealed, dustproof and coldproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. One important note: The 18-55 mm kit lens packaged with the K-30 is not weather-sealed, several critics say. Pentax sells a kit with a weather-sealed 18-135 mm lens for about $300 more, and other weather-sealed lenses separately.
"The fact that the body is weather-proofed is a huge bonus, as one of the main reasons why cameras are sent for repair is water damage," says Nicholson at TechRadar.com. Other experts gleefully set about trying to ruin the K-30. Barnett runs through the sprinklers with his kids to shoot photos for Imaging-Resource.com with no problem. Nicholson trudges through pouring rain for a couple of hours: "Even though there was water running down the camera, it still worked perfectly well."
At WhatDigitalCamera.com, Topham dumps a big bottle of water over the K-30, dries it out, then sticks it in the freezer. The K-30 shrugs it off. "It continued to perform just as well as it did out of the box," he writes. "We adore the feel of the K30 in the hand, too. It feels solid and should survive a knock here and there."
Helpful still-photo tools, but movie mode is lacking. The K-30 "delivers a lot of features and performance without breaking the bank," says Goldstein at PhotographyBlog.com. Still-photo features are comparable to the Canon EOS Rebel T4i, including exposure bracketing, a basic attribute missing from Nikon's entry-level DSLRs.
Like the T4i, the K-30 offers additional extras to help you get challenging shots. On the mode dial, "you'll instantly notice that the K-30 has a couple of unusual shooting modes that you won't have seen before on any other camera (apart from older Pentax DSLR models) ... and they are genuinely useful additions," says Goldstein at PhotographyBlog.com.
One of those is Sensitivity Priority mode: You choose the ISO level you want, and the camera automatically picks the best aperture and shutter speed to match. "The sensitivity can be shifted instantly (in 1/2 or 1/3 steps) by turning the rear control dial, "Goldstein explains. "This allows you to quickly select an ISO speed without having to access the menu system, which is very useful in rapidly changing light conditions."
Shutter & Aperture Priority mode is just the opposite: You pick the aperture and shutter speed, and the camera automatically sets an ISO to match. The K-30 also offers the usual Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority modes.
Also like the Canon T4i, the K-30 lets you add creative effects to your photos such as Bleach Bypass, Reversal Film, Monochrome and more. But the Pentax's movie mode isn't as rich as the Canon's. For example, there's no one-touch record button, no external mic jack, no stereo on-board mic and no HDMI jack for hooking the camera up to your HDTV.
Review Credibility: Very Good Only a handful of cameras earn 4.5 stars out of 5 at this U.K. website, and the Pentax K-30 is one of them. Nicholson fully tests its build, handling, performance, image quality, resolution, noise and dynamic range, enjoying the "superb images" from this weatherproof camera.
Review: Pentax K-30 Review, Angela Nicholson, July 27, 2012
2. What Digital Camera
Review Credibility: Very Good As the only weatherproof DSLR in its price range, the Pentax K-30 makes this site's list of the best midpriced DSLRs. Topham likes the image quality, too, although he knocks it for sluggish autofocus in Live View -- a common problem among DSLRs -- and no continuous autofocus in movie mode.
Review: Pentax K-30 Review, Mike Topham, Aug. 1, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good Goldstein tests all major aspects of the Pentax K-30 and concludes that it's "an appealingly well-specified, intuitive, weatherproof and customizable DSLR with few real drawbacks." Cons include slow Live View autofocus and the lack of some video features, but they're outweighed by the K-30's "excellent" image quality, great viewfinder and LCD screen, quick shooting and, of course, weatherproofing.
Review: Pentax K-30 Review, Mark Goldstein, Aug. 22, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good Editors here test 20 DSLRs, including the Pentax K-30. They judge each one's image quality, flash photos, videos, LCD, viewfinder and ease of use, then rank the cameras from best to worst. Each gets a short write-up, but reviews here aren't as detailed as at the dedicated camera websites. However, ConsumerReports.org gets high marks for objectivity, as it doesn't accept any freebies or advertising.
Review: Pentax K-30, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, As of October 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good Although their exhaustive testing process isn't yet complete for the Pentax K-30, experts here post a rich array of in-lab test shots to judge the camera's optics, exposure and more, as well as the results of speed tests. They also analyze its weather-sealing and pentaprism viewfinder, which is unique for its class.
Review: Pentax K-30, Shawn Barnett, Mike Tomkins and Zig Weidelich, Oct. 30, 2012
Review Credibility: Fair Just more than 10 owners review the Pentax K-30 at the time of this report, with most awarding it a perfect 5 stars. Despite the high marks, some lengthy comments list thoughtful criticisms.
Review: Pentax K-30 Weather-sealed 16 MP CMOS Digital SLR, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of November 2012