Pentax K-r

      Photo Review 9

      In summary

      A keenly-priced DSLR camera with plenty of advanced functions and support for 720p HD video capture.Like the entry-level K-x (which we reviewed in November 2009), the mid-range Pentax K-r is offered in black, white and bright red. It sits below the K-5 (which, like the K-r, was announced in the lead-in to Photokina 2010) in Pentax’s line-up. Combining the same 12.4-megapixel sensor as the K-x with a high-resolution monitor, the K-r supports the fastest burst speed of the three cameras and is the only one that can use either a rechargeable battery or four AA cells. . . [more]

      Full review


      Like the entry-level K-x (which we reviewed in November 2009), the mid-range Pentax K-r is offered in black, white and bright red. It sits below the K-5 (which, like the K-r, was announced in the lead-in to Photokina 2010) in Pentax’s line-up. Combining the same 12.4-megapixel sensor as the K-x with a high-resolution monitor, the K-r supports the fastest burst speed of the three cameras and is the only one that can use either a rechargeable battery or four AA cells.


      The three colour options for the Pentax K-r. (Source: Pentax.)

      The review camera was supplied to us with the smc Pentax-DA 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL lens, which is the standard kit lens. A review of this lens can be found with our review of the K-x. The K-r is also offered in a twin-lens kit with the 50-200mm DAL lens.

      Build and Ergonomics
      Physically the K-r resembles the K-x but with a slightly larger stainless steel chassis overlaid by a coloured, fibre-reinforced polycarbonate casing. Build quality is up to Pentax standards and very good for the camera’s price tag.

      All components mesh securely together and the body looks and feels tough enough to take almost anywhere. A downsized in-body shake reduction mechanism and high-density packaging technologies keep it small enough to be usable for bushwalking but, although smaller than most competitors, it ‘s roughly 90 grams heavier.


      Front view of the Pentax K-r with the 18-55mm kit lens. (Source: Pentax.)

      The front panel has a deep but relatively narrow grip, which is covered with a black, rubber-like material that prevents your fingers from slipping. It’s solid and stable to hold and positions your index finger directly over the shutter release button.

      An LED embedded mid-way down the front of the grip doubles as a self-timer lamp and remote control receiver, while a thumb notch is located just above the LED. Users with small hands and/or short fingers may find the depth of the grip daunting but photographers with large and average-sized hands are well catered for.

      The rubber coating has been extended to the panel on the opposite side of the lens mount, where it provides a handy cushion for your left thumb when shooting. The lens mount protrudes roughly 15 mm from the rest of the camera body and carries the unlock button on the front of its lower grip side and the AF/MF switch on the opposite side.


      Rear view of the red version, showing the control layout and LCD monitor. (Source: Pentax.)

      The rear panel layout is identical to the K-x, with the 3-inch, 921,000-dot LCD monitor prominent. This multi-purpose screen is used for navigating the camera’s menus and reviewing shots as well as Live View viewing. Unlike some cameras, the K-r doesn’t switch automatically between the viewfinder and Live View; you have to press the button on the rear panel – a new addition in this model..

      The viewfinder in the new model is slightly larger than the K-x’s and the active AF point lights up when the shutter button is half-pressed (which it didn’t in the earlier model). But it’s not overly bright and its rubber surround is not ideal for shooting while wearing glasses.


      Top view showing the mode dial and exposure compensation and Green buttons. (Source: Pentax.)

      The top panel is identical to the K-x and dominated by a large mode dial with 14 Capture Mode settings. These include a prominent green Auto Pict mode, a SCN mode that accesses a sub-menu containing 11 illustrated pre-sets, the Movie mode, P, Sv, Tv, Av and M modes, a flash-off mode and additional pre-sets for Night Scene Portrait, Moving Subject, Macro, Landscape and Portrait modes.

      There’s no data LCD and aside from the shutter button, only two other buttons are provided on the top panel: the AV +/- and Green buttons. The former sets exposure compensation in modes where it is supported and is used to change aperture values in Manual mode.
      The Green button provides a quick way to access one frequently-used function and users can assign any of the following functions to it: Custom Image settings, Optical Preview, Digital Preview, Digital Filter, Cross Processing, One-push File Format. Users can access the assigned function by simply pressing the Green button.

      In the Auto Picture mode the camera is pre-programmed to identify five Picture mode settings (Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Moving Object and Night Scene Portrait) and will automatically set exposure parameters to match these scene types. When shooting with Live View, Blue Sky and Sunset selections are also available. If no match is found, the camera defaults to normal auto exposure.

      The built-in flash lifts its head approximately 45mm above the camera body when you press the flash-up button. It has to be pushed down manually if you don’t want it to fire.

      A card slot on the right hand side accepts SD and SDHC cards (but not, it seems, SDXC). The battery compartment, which is accessed via a hatch in the base of the camera, is configured to take either four AA batteries or the supplied rechargeable lithium-ion battery. This dual power source will be appreciated by travellers as it enables users to obtain power when mains power is unavailable.


      The battery compartment can accept four AA batteries or the supplied rechargeable lithium-ion battery.(Source: Pentax.)

      A metal-lined tripod socket is centrally located on the base plate, in line with the lens axis. The single video/PC (USB) interface port sits beneath a small, lift-up hatch on the left side of the camera. No HDMI out connection is provided. The white version of the camera is offered with a colour-matched lens, whereas buyers of the red and black cameras can only expect the standard black lens.

      New Features
      Aside from the dual-power-source design and higher-resolution monitor, the most interesting new feature in the K-r is the expanded ISO range. The standard sensitivity range of this camera goes from ISO 200 to ISO 12800, which is relatively wide. However, there’s an Expanded Sensitivity setting on page 1 of the Custom menu that enables users to stretch it out to ISO 100 and ISO 25600, which should cover most users’ requirements.

      The K-r also offers a fast (up to 6 frames/second) continuous shooting rate and has a buffer memory capable of storing 25 Large/Fine JPEGs or 12 raw frames to enable users to take advantage of it. Wireless data transfer to IrSimple-enabled devices like printers is also available via an infrared connection.

      A couple of new shooting modes have been added, including a new Cross Processing mode that lets users record still pictures or video clips with dramatically altered colours and contrast. This setting is located on page 2 of the shooting menu and provides a random adjustment and three different colour-biased presets plus three memory banks. The latter can be used to store the processing settings if you see an effect you like when shooting in this mode.

      Night Scene HDR is a new addition to the Scene presets. In this mode, the shutter fires three times capturing different exposure levels. These exposures are combined to produce a single image with an extended brightness range. It’s optimised to suit dim lighting situations.

      Two new modes have been added to the Custom Image settings in the main shooting menu: Bleach Bypass and Reversal Film. The Bleach Bypass setting replicates the effect of a black and white image over a colour image and produces reduced saturation plus increased contrast and graininess. The Reversal Film setting aims to emulate slide film by increasing contrast and saturation slightly. It’s particularly useful for shots that will be displayed through digital projectors.

      Like the K-x, the K-r offers two continuous shooting speeds. In the High-speed mode, the camera can record up to 25 high-resolution JPEGs or up to 12 raw shots at up to six frames/second. The Low-speed mode records at two frames/second and users can capture up to 36 raw frames in a burst or shoot high-resolution JPEGs until the memory card is full.

      Two noise reduction processing settings are available via the main shooting menu, separately covering slow shutter speeds (long exposures) and high ISO settings. Slow shutter speed NR processing can only be switched to Auto, On and Off settings but high ISO NR processing offers six levels: Auto, Off, Low, Medium, High and Custom.

      In other respects the user interface resembles that on the K-x and is covered in our review of that camera.

      Sensor and Image Processing
      The sensor used in the K-r has the same 12.4-megapixel resolution as the CMOS chip used in the K-x. However, Pentax’s press release claims it is a ‘ new-generation’ unit but doesn’t disclose who manufactured it. The sensor and overlying low-pass filter are mounted on an improved moving base that’s responsible for the in-camera shake-reduction system, which claims up to two stops of correction.

      Coupled with the sensor is the new PRIME (Pentax Real Image Engine) II image processor, which is responsible for the many sophistications the camera offers. Image size options are essentially the same as in the K-x and users can choose between the Pentax proprietary PEF and ‘open’ DNG raw file formats or access four JPEG sizes, each with three compression ratios.

      Raw files are only recorded at full image size and RAW+JPEG capture is supported for both raw file formats. Typical file sizes are the same as in the K-x, as shown in the table below.



      RAW format

      JPEG Quality







      4288 x 2428







      3936 x 2624







      3072 x 2048







      1728 x 1152






      Video capabilities are the same as in the K-x. Two sizes are supported: 1280 x 720 pixels with a16:9 aspect ratio and 640 x 480 pixels in 4:3 aspect ratio, both captured in the AVI (Audio Video Interleave) format with monaural soundtracks. Frame rates are 25 fps for both modes with the VGA mode also supporting 30 fps. The table below shows typical capacities for a 4GB SDHC card.


      Recorded pixels





      1280 x 720

      11 min. 18 sec.

      15 min. 50 sec.

      22 min. 20 sec.


      640 x 480

      43 min. 43 sec.

      59 min. 9 sec.

      1 hour 23 min. 48 sec.

      The camera can record video continuously for up to 25 minutes with a clip length limit of 4GB. Recording will stop when the memory card is full.

      Playback and Software
      Playback options are essentially unchanged from the K-x (INSERT LINK), although the index display options have been increased to include 81 thumbnails. Additional filter effects include Extract Colour, Sketch, Miniature, Base Parameter Adjust, Soft, Starburst, Slim, HDR and Posterisation. Many effects are adjustable, so users can fine-tune the ‘look’ of the picture to suit their requirements. Adjusted images are saved as separate files.

      The software bundle consists of the latest versions of Pentax’s Digital Camera Utility 4, which includes a raw-data processing application based on the previously-used Silkypix processing engine developed by Ichikawa Soft Laboratory plus a browser application.

      Pictures straight from the test camera were similar to the shots we took with the K-x. The kit lens performed to expectations, delivering a similar performance to our findings in our January 2009 review (INSERT LINK). As expected, we found noticeable barrel distortion at the 18mm focal length and slight pincushioning at 55mm. Lateral chromatic aberration was negligible to low.

      Test shots contained a wide dynamic range and good tonal balance and contrast and saturation were nicely restrained. By default, Pentax applies minimal in-camera sharpening to JPEG files, leaving out-of-camera shots appearing slightly soft when examined at 100% enlargement. However, a touch of unsharp masking produced plucky-looking images containing the of detail you would expect from the K-r’s resolution.

      Colours were natural-looking with the default standard setting. Autofocusing was acceptably fast and metering was accurate for most subjects with the appropriate metering modes.

      The body-integrated image stabiliser enabled us to use shutter speeds approximately two f-stops slower than would have been possible with a non-stabilised camera. More than 90% of shots taken in our stabiliser tests were sharp with this degree of adjustment.

      Our Imatest tests were carried out on DNG.RAW files, which were converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Adobe Camera Raw. We found the expected differences between JPEG and raw files and, although resolution remained relatively high up to ISO 6400 it declined only slightly thereafter. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests and also highlights the difference between JPEG and DNG.RAW performance.


      Low light performance was well above average. Test shots taken with and without flash showed little visible noise right up to ISO 3200. Noise became steadily more visible thereafter in long exposures and both pattern and colour noise could be seen at ISO 25600. However, shots were printable at 15 x 10 cm size.

      Flash shots appeared slightly less noise-affected at ISO 12800 but were a little soft by ISO 6400 and we observed some loss of contrast at higher ISO settings, coupled with a warm colour cast that may have been partly due to the influence of the ambient artificial lighting (daylight-balanced fluorescent).

      The built-in flash provided even illumination of an average-sized room throughout the camera’s ISO range. Flash exposures were also well balanced for indoor close-ups for which flash provided the main illumination.

      Auto white balance performance was slightly better than most cameras we’ve reviewed. Although the test camera was unable to totally remove the warm cast imparted by incandescent lighting, it came close enough to require minimal adjustments in-camera (or with editing software). Shots taken under fluorescent lighting were almost totally free of colour casts. Plenty of in-camera adjustments are provided to correct colour casts.

      The camera was a little faster to focus than the K-x in bright conditions but equally slow to adjust to brightness changes. Nevertheless, focus tracking wasn’t particularly fast and some hunting occurred in poorly-lit situations.

      Given the camera’s limitations, overall video quality was commendable and similar to clips we shot with the K-x. Picture quality was reasonably good with each resolution setting and colours were accurately recorded; audio quality was pretty ordinary. We found occasional clips where the so-called ‘jello effect’ produced wobbly videos when shooting fast movement or panning too quickly. The review camera powered up in just under 0.2 seconds and we measured an average capture lag of less than 0.2 seconds, which was eliminated by pre-focusing. It took 1.6 seconds, on average, to process each high-resolution JPEG, 2.6 seconds for each DNG.RAW, or PEF.RAW file and 3.3 seconds for each RAW+JPEG pair. Shot-to-shot times averaged 0.9 seconds.

      In the high-speed continuous shooting mode we recorded 10 high-resolution JPEG frames in 1.6 seconds, which is slightly faster than the claimed six frames/second speed. The same frame rate was achieved when shooting both DNG.RAW files and RAW+JPEG pairs in burst mode. It took 7.7 seconds to process the burst of JPEGs, 20.1 seconds for the raw files and 26.6 seconds for the RAW+JPEG pairs.

      Pentax rates battery life for the K-r with the supplied D-LI109 lithium-ion battery pack at approximately 560 shots/charge without flash or 470 shots/charge with 50% flash usage. Playback time is rated at 300 minutes. We had no need to recharge the battery in the course of our tests, which involved 252 still pictures and 12 video clips.

      Buy this camera if:
      – You want a bright red or smart white DSLR that’s affordable and feature-rich.
      – You want a wide range of pre- and post-capture, in-camera image adjustments.
      – You’re happy to shoot and process raw files when high resolution output is required.
      – You’d appreciate the Live View shooting capabilities.
      – You require superior high-ISO performance.
      Don’t buy this camera if:
      – You want to record Full HD video clips.
      – You require fast autofocusing and focus tracking in Live View mode.
      – You’d like a wide choice of lenses (Pentax’s range is currently smaller than competing brands).
      JPEG image files


      Raw image files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Adobe Camera Raw.




      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.


      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.


      30-second exposure at ISO 200; 24mm focal length, f/4.


      15-second exposure at ISO 1600; 24mm focal length, f/7.1.


      10-second exposure at ISO 6400, 24mm focal length f/8; no noise reduction.


      1/60 second exposure at ISO 25600, 24mm focal length f/5.6; no noise reduction.


      Flash exposure, ISO 200; 55mm focal length, 1/40 second at f/5.6.


      Flash exposure, ISO 800; 55mm focal length, 1/40 second at f/5.6.


      Flash exposure, ISO 6400; 55mm focal length, 1/40 second at f/5.6.


      Flash exposure, ISO 25600; 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6


      18mm focal length, ISO 200; 1/320 second at f/7.1.


      55mm focal length, ISO 200; 1/320 second at f/8.


      Rectilinear distortion at 18mm; ISO 200; 1/250 second at f/5.6.


      Rectilinear distortion at 55mm; ISO 200; 1/125 second at f/5.6.


      Dynamic range settings comparison; the shot on the left was taken with D-Range adjustment switched off. The shot on the right had maximum D-Range adjustment applied.


      Skin tones test: 55mm focal length; ISO 800, 1/20 second at f/5.6; spot metering.


      Close-up at 18mm; ISO 200, 1/10 second at f/16.


      Close-up at 55mm; ISO 200, 1/125 second at f/5.6.


      38mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/250 second at f/5.6.


      Still frame from 720p HD video clip recorded with maximum quality.


      Still frame from VGA video clip recorded with maximum quality.





      Image sensor: 23.6 x 15.8mm CMOS sensor with 12.9 million photosites (12.4 megapixels effective)
      A/D processing: 12-bitLens mount: KAF2 bayonet stainless steel mount
      Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
      Image formats: Stills – RAW (PEF or DNG), JPEG (Exif 2.21), RAW+JPEG; Movies – AVI (Motion JPEG) with monaural audio
      Image Sizes: Stills – 4288 x 2848, 3936 x 2624, 3072 x 2048, 1728 x 1152; Movies: 1280 x 720 at 25 fps, 640 x 480 at 30 or 25 fps
      Image Stabilisation: Sensor-shift Shake Reduction (4 stops max)
      Dust removal: Image sensor vibration plus anti-dust coating on low-pass filter
      Shutter speed range: 30 seconds to 1/6000 second plus Bulb; flash synch at 1/180 second
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 3EV in 1/3 or 1/2 EV increments
      Exposure bracketing: 3 continuous exposures in 0.3 or 0.7-stop steps
      Self-timer: 2 or 12 seconds delay
      Focus system: SAFOX IX TTL phase-matching system with 11 AF points (9 cross-type); 11 point auto, 5 point auto, AF point select, centre/spot selection; AF-assist LED
      Focus modes: Auto AF, Single AF, Continuous AF (available in Action mode including Auto Picture Action, Kids, Pet, Stage Lighting, Night Snap, P/A/S/M/B/Sv)
      Exposure metering: 16-segment TTL open-aperture evaluative metering with centre-weighted and spot modes
      Shooting modes: Auto (Green), P, A, S, M, B (in Metered Manual), Sv (Sensitivity Priority); Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Action, Night Scene Portrait, Standard Flash Off, Scene (Night Scene, Surf & Snow, Food, Sunset, Kids, Pet, Candlelight, Museum, Stage Lighting [JPG], Night Snap [JPG], Night Scene HDR [JPG])
      Picture Style/Control settings: Bright, Natural, Portrait, Landscape, Vibrant, Muted, Monochrome; Monochrome mode includes adjustment for film filter effects (green, yellow, orange, red, magenta, blue, cyan, infrared), toning (sepia warm/cool), key, contrast, sharpness (regular and fine adjustment). Cross Processing mode available for creative random effect generation.
      Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
      Custom functions: 22
      ISO range: ISO 200-12800 in 1, 1/2, 1/3 EV steps (up to ISO 1600 in Bulb mode), expandable to 100-25600
      White balance: Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent (D, N, W, L), Tungsten, Flash, CTE Manual mode; WB fine adjustment+/- 7 steps in A-B or G-M axis in all modes
      Flash: Retractable P-TTL auto/manual popup flash, GN 16 (metres at ISO 200); P-TTL, red-eye reduction, slow-synch and rear-curtain synch modes; high-speed and wireless synch available with Pentax external flash units
      Flash exposure adjustment: -2EV to +1EV in 1/2 EV steps
      Sequence shooting: Up to 6 fps in Continuous Hi mode; max. 25 Large/Fine JPEGs, 12 raw frames
      Storage Media: Single slot that accepts SD/SDHC cards
      Viewfinder: Pentamirror with 96% FOV coverage, 0.851x magnification,19.1 mm eye relief, Natural-Bright-Matte II focusing screen, dioptre adjustment from -2.5 to +1.5 dpt, depth-of-field preview
      LCD monitor: 3.0-inch TFT colour LCD with adjustable brightness, 921,000 dots, wide-angle viewable
      Live View modes: Contrast detection + Face detection / Contrast detection or Phase matching AF; grid overlay, histogram, bright/dark areas warning; enlargement of 2x, 4x, 6x, 8x, 10x in MF mode; 2x, 4x, 6x in AF mode
      Data LCD: No
      Playback functions: One Shot (no data, basic data, full data, colour channel histogram), Multi Image Display (4, 9, 16, 36 or 81 thumbnails), Calendar Filmstrip, Folder, Magnification (quick zoom available), Select & Delete, Movie Playback (no data, basic data, full data), Bright/Dark Indication Mode pallet: Image Rotation, Digital Filter, Resize, Cropping, Slideshow, Image Comparison, RAW Development, Index Print, Protect, DPOF Magnification: Up to 16X, scrollable Digital filters (playback): Toy Camera, Retro, High Contrast, Extract Colour (6 options), Watercolour, Sketch, Pastel, Miniature, Base Parameter Adj, Monochrome (filter effects, toning), Colour (6 options), Soft, Starburst, Fisheye, Slim, HDR, Posterization, Custom Filter
      Interface terminals: USO 2.0, AV/Video out (PAL/NTSC), IrSimple infrared connection
      Power supply: D-LI109 rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 560 shots (without flash)
      Dimensions (wxhxd): Approx. 125 x 97 x 68 mm
      Weight: 544 grams (body only); 598 grams with supplied battery and memory card





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      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 8.8
      • Ease of use: 8.8
      • Image quality: Stills JPEG 8.5; Video 8.0
      • OVERALL: 9.0