Pentax *ist DS
[ia] Although not the most compact DSLR available, the Pentax *ist DS is the smallest and lightest in the 6.1-megapixel category and keenly priced for its category. Sporting a tough, stainless-steel chassis and sophisticated electronics, the *ist DS combines the controls photographers want with plenty of user-friendly features, making it a good choice for any photographer who wants an affordable, high-performing camera. It will be especially attractive to those with Pentax K, KA, KAF, and KAF2 lenses, most of which can be used with the *ist DS body. . . [more]
Rating (out of 10) Build: 9.0Ease of use: 8.0Image quality: 8.5Value for money: 8.5
[ia] Although not the most compact DSLR available, the Pentax *ist DS is the smallest and lightest 6.1-megapixel model, and keenly priced for its category. Sporting a tough, stainless-steel chassis and sophisticated electronics, the *ist DS combines the controls photographers want with plenty of user-friendly features, making it a good choice for any photographer who wants an affordable, high-performing camera. It will be especially attractive to those with Pentax K, KA, KAF, and KAF2 lenses, most of which can be used with the *ist DS body.
Unusually for a DSLR, the*ist DS records to Secure Digital memory cards instead of CompactFlash. A year ago we would have seen this as a negative but now the price of SD cards is comparable to CF cards with equivalent capacities – although top capacities for SD still lag behind CF. High-speed SD cards are also available, although not essential for this camera as a standard card will handle most shooting demands. The card compartment door is latched to stop it being opened inadvertently, a safety feature ignored by many DSLR manufacturers. Kudos to Pentax for this addition. New buyers note: no card is supplied with the camera.
Pentax is clearly targeting this camera at first-time SLR users and provides plenty of options for point-and-shoot operation. The mode dial, which is worked with the left hand, carries a highlighted ‘Auto Pict’ setting that sets the shooting mode automatically and selects the appropriate combination of aperture, shutter speed, white balance, saturation, sharpening and contrast for the subject it detects. It also has a ‘normal’ setting – denoted by a smiley face – which is described as the ‘basic picture-taking mode’ (which we assume means ‘full auto’). There are also five ‘scene’ settings, covering portrait, landscape, macro, moving object and night scene portrait settings. Fortunately, there are also the standard P, A, S and M settings plus a ‘B’ position for long time exposures (an optional cable switch is required). A switch on the camera body makes it easy to focus the lens manually – and works with all lenses.
Although we’ve not been able to confirm it, we suspect the *ist DS’s sensor is the same Sony ICX413AQ CCD as is used in the *ist D and other 6-megapixel DSLRs from Konica Minolta and Nikon. It’s been around since mid-2002 and has a proven track record, so it makes sense for a manufacturer that doesn’t make sensors to use it. The chip has an active imaging area of 23.4 x 15.6mm and a photosite cell size of 7.8 x 7.8 µm, giving it a field-of-view crop (focal length multiplier) of 1.5x. A standard Bayer mosaic filter is used for recording colours.
Interestingly, Pentax has come very close to exploiting the continuous recording capabilities of the sensor in the
. According to published specifications, the ICX413AQ CCD can capture data at 3 frames per second in single channel mode and the *ist DS supports continuous shooting at 2.8 fps, with its buffer memory holding up to eight frames.
Photographers can choose between RAW and JPEG capture, with the latter offering three image sizes (6M, 4M and 1.5M) and three compression levels (1:3, 1:6 and 1:12). RAW files are typically around 11MB in size, while the highest-resolution JPEGs are just over 3MB. Two novel ‘image tone’ settings are provided: the default ‘bright’ setting has higher sharpness, saturation and contrast than the ‘natural’ setting, which is recommended for images that will be edited post-capture.
Features and Controls
Physically, the *ist DS has all the features and functions you’d expect of a competent SLR camera, including an all-glass pentaprism viewfinder that displays 95% of the sensor’s field of view plus three AF frames. Eleven superimposed AF points can be selected via the four-way controller. The hand-grip gives the right-hand fingers easy access to the on/off switch and shutter release button and allows quick access to exposure compensation, the AE lock and the ‘e-dial’, which sets shutter speed, aperture and compensation values. The top panel LCD carries a comprehensive data display covering camera settings, battery status and the number of recordable shots remaining.
The rear panel is uncluttered, with a large LCD monitor, buttons for accessing the menu, delete, info and quick review functions and a standard four-way controller. A special ‘Fn’ button calls up shortcut menus that let users adjust sensitivity, white balance, flash mode and drive mode settings on-the-fly in capture mode, and controls DPOF settings, digital filters and slideshow playback in playback mode.
Pressing the INFO button in capture mode displays details of camera settings on the LCD monitor for 15 seconds. An explanation of the selected shooting mode can be accessed by pressing the right arrow on the four-way controller. In playback mode, the camera switches between simply showing the last image, providing a thumbnail plus detailed information display, and displaying the shot with a histogram overlay each time the INFO button is pressed. Areas where blooming has occurred will blink in the histogram mode if the Hot Spot warning has been activated.
The Recording menu is accessed via the MENU button and carries settings for image tone, resolution, quality, saturation, sharpness, contrast, quick review time, auto bracketing, metering mode, focus point selection and flash output adjustment.
The SAFOX VIII autofocusing system is the same as on the *ist D but lacks a continuous AF setting. Instead, there’s a Moving Object scene mode, which restricts your use of other exposure controls. Otherwise the system was quite versatile and you can use the Select AF mode to focus on any of 11 areas in the field of view or use the ‘Swtch dst msr pt’ setting to select individual focus points from an array of nine displayed in the viewfinder. After dark, the *ist DS will fire its internal flash to focus accurately, even in complete darkness.
The flash occasionally popped up when it wasn’t wanted. Because there’s no flash-off setting in the flash menu, the only way to be sure it stays down is to set the mode dial to Flash Off – but that presupposes you want to use the basic auto shooting mode, which enthusiasts probably won’t. Using the custom white balance setting was also difficult as the camera doesn’t record a measurement if the lens can’t focus. You can trick the system by switching to manual focus or autofocusing on an edge and then recomposing the shot so the white reference fills the field of view. An ‘OK’ message is displayed when the measurement is successful.
Results of evaluations made with Imatest are posted on the Photo Review website with the *ist DS review. In general, the *ist DS delivered pictures with accurate colours and natural-looking sharpness, with the default ‘bright’ setting delivering slightly higher contrast, sharpening and saturation than the alternative ‘Natural’ setting, which we felt was more suitable for bright Aussie sunlight. White balance performance was almost uniformly good, although the auto setting failed to eliminate the colour cast of incandescent lighting.
Low-light performance for available-light photography was outstanding. Images were generally clean and free of stuck pixels and noise only became discernible at ISO 400. Shadow noise could be seen at ISO 800 in shots taken in normal lighting but broad-spectrum noise was only really obvious at ISO 3200. Unfortunately, the flash was somewhat feeble for a camera of this calibre, although overall light distribution was nice and even.
We measured an average capture lag of 0.4 seconds when focusing was required and 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. Shot-to-shot times were about 0.5 seconds, with flash recycling times ranging from about 1.5 to 4.1 seconds, depending on camera-to-subject distance. The continuous shooting mode captured nine shots at 0.4 second intervals and it took just over seven seconds to process a full burst of shots. Shooting in RAW format roughly doubled the processing time with only a minor slowing of the capture rate. 
Resolution is generally high and the potential for aliasing (‘jaggies’) is minimal, as we would expect from a high-quality DSLR. This camera should produce high-quality prints at sizes between A4 and A3.
Chromatic aberration is negligible.
Saturation is slightly high for a DSLR – but not unacceptable. Colour accuracy is also reasonably good. This camera should produce vivid prints that meet many buyers’ expectations.
The above chart confirms the L*a*b* colour error results but suggests that image noise may be an issue at high ISO settings.
Image sensor: 23.5mm x 15.7mm 6.31-megapixel CCD with a primary colour filter (6.1 megapixels effective)
Lens mount: PENTAX KAF bayonet mount
Lens multiplier factor: 1.5x
Image file formats: RAW (12-bit), JPEG (Exif 2.21)
Shutter speed range: 30-1/4000 sec. plus Bulb
Colour space options: sRGB and Adobe RGB
Storage Media: Secure Digital card
Interfaces: USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed), PAL/NTSC video, PictBridge compliant
Body dimensions (wxhxd): 125 x 92.5 x 66 mm
Weight: 505 grams (body only)
Focus system: TTL Phase-matching 11-point autofocus system (SAFOX VIII)
Exposure metering/control: TTL open-aperture 16-segment metering with multi-segment, centre-weighted and spot metering; auto, P, A, S and M modes
White balance: Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten Light, Fluorescent Light (W, D, N), Manual setting
Flash: Series-control retractable P-TTL pop-up flash; Guide number 15.6 (Standard Output Sensitivity 200/m); synch speed – 1/180 sec.
ISO range: 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
Sequence shooting: 2.8 fps for up to 8 frames
Custom functions: 18 programmable
Viewfinder: Pentaprism with 95% field of view; Diopter adjustment -2.5 to +1.5m-1
LCD monitor: 2-inch low-temperature polysilicon TFT colour LCD (Approx. 210,000 pixels)
Power supply: Four AA (lithium, alkaline, and rechargeable Ni-MH) batteries or two CR-V3 lithium batteries
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