The Pentax K-30 DSLR

by John Rettie

December 10, 2012

Since Canon and Nikon continue to be the big players in the DSLR market, it’s easy to forget about their main competitors. In many ways it’s a shame that these companies—Olympus, Pentax and Sony—do not sell more cameras, as they could break up the duopoly, which I firmly believe would lead to more competition and lower prices.

In many ways, Olympus and Sony, in particular, are leading the way in trying new things, ahead of Canon and Nikon: Sony with its “mirrorless” electronic viewfinders on DSLRs and Olympus with its small, lightweight “mirrorless” bodies and lenses.

Pentax, on the other hand, has concentrated on more traditional DSLR models with features that are often only available on expensive top-of-the-line models from Canon and Nikon.


Take, for example, the recently introduced Pentax K-30. It’s a DSLR with a 16-3-megapixel APS-C sensor. “So what?” you say. “That’s not much different from the Canon EOS Rebel T4i or the Nikon D5100.” True, but the K-30 is weather resistant, offers a 100 percent viewfinder and a top shutter speed of 1/6000th second.

Canon and Nikon keep true weatherproofing exclusively to their high-end cameras that start at $6,000. If Pentax can do it, why can’t Canon and Nikon include this useful feature in their cameras that cost under $6,000? According to Pentax, the K-30 has 81 seals in its polycarbonate body, which also has a stainless steel frame.

Previously, I’ve tried the older 14.6-megapixel Pentax K-20 camera and found it was not quite as good as comparable cameras, particularly in regard to speed of autofocus. Despite this downfall, I used it to shoot several off-road races and appreciated its weather-proofing capabilities, as I did not have to worry about the camera getting covered in dust. 

The Pentax K-30 has an all-new autofocus system called SAFOX IXi+ that proved to be far better than the K-20. However I was still disappointed at times with the speed of autofocus with the fixed-length 300mm telephoto lens. The optics are excellent and I could not fault the images I captured with it. However, because it does not have a focus motor in the lens (as found on the majority of modern lenses), it relies on a screw drive with a motor in the camera body, just as you’ll find on all but a few low-end Nikon DSLRs. It’s not necessarily a problem for non-action photography, but is definitely a drawback at times in fast-action sports and wildlife photography.

The K-30 is available as a body only for $850 or with choice of kit lenses; an 18-55mm for $900 or with an 18-135mm lens for $1,100. The 18-135mm zoom lens that I tested is weatherproof, and proved to be good and fast, largely because the focus motor is built into it. I did not dare drown the lens in water, but if you believe the official photos from Pentax, you can throw water on the body and lens with impunity. Of course the camera is not sufficiently sealed for immersion under water, but it should be fine when shooting in the rain.


Photo by John Rettie

While the official ISO range is 100 to 12800, everything is pretty good up to ISO 800. There is an increase in noise and a softening of JPEG images as you go above that figure (RAW delivers better images at higher ISO settings).

The camera can fire at 6 fps, and I had no trouble shooting surfers with the 300mm lens. The K-30 can capture 1080p video, although there is no dedicated movie shutter button, as we’ve come to expect. The K-30 has a built-in Shake Reduction mechanism that Pentax says is good for approximately four stops. What’s best is that it works with any Pentax K-mount lens and even old screw mount lenses with an adaptor. 

Compared to some of its closest rivals, the K-30 offers plenty of controls. For example, it has two command dials for adjusting shutter speed and aperture. Generally, low-end DSLRs only have one dial, making it more difficult to adjust their settings. I found the menu very easy to comprehend, especially compared to the one on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 I’ve been trying recently (trying, to say the least). I liked the K-30’s large handgrip and found the layout of controls to be convenient. Generally I do not shoot RAW, so I appreciate the unique Pentax feature—a button that can be pushed to shoot RAW (or JPEG) for a single shot as needed. This button can now be reassigned for another function so that it is not redundant if you always shoot RAW and never need to switch on the fly.

As an entry-level DSLR, the K-30 offers 20 scene modes to cover a wide variety of different shooting conditions such as sports, pets, snow, etc. It also offers several built-in filters for processing an image after capture. 

Another unique feature of Pentax cameras, including the K-30, is the ability to use AA batteries in an optional holder. This could be critical if you’re miles away from the ability to recharge the camera’s lithium ion battery. Carrying extra AA batteries is something many of us do as a routine backup.

All in all, as you have probably gathered, I was quite enamored with the Pentax K-30. It offers better value for the money than similar models from other manufacturers, and if you need to use a camera in adverse conditions, there’s nothing quite like it for the price.

John Rettie is a photojournalist who has been covering digital photography since its earliest days. He resides in Santa Barbara, CA, and readers are welcome to contact him directly by e-mail at john@johnrettie.com.

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