It's been over a year since I reviewed the Pentax K20D, the company's last semi-pro digital SLR. In common with most other reviewers I was extremely impressed by its combination of rugged build quality, fast performance, excellent image quality and outstanding value for money. The K20D is still available for under £600, and it's still a real bargain. However time and the digital SLR market march ever onward, and the K20D is starting to look a little dated, lacking the numerous bells and whistles that are rapidly becoming standard features of top-end digital SLRs. In response, Pentax has just launched a new flagship DSLR, the K-7, and it's stuffed to the gunwales with the latest advanced features including live monitor view, HD video and in-camera HDR capture.
Although it has never had the dominating share of the DSLR market enjoyed by rivals Canon, Nikon and more recently Sony, Pentax has always had a solid reputation for innovation and quality, producing many classic cameras over the years, such as the Spotmatic, the K1000, the ME Super and the LX. Pentax's advertising for the K-7 makes reference to this heritage, and it's not an unjustified comparison either. I used to own a Pentax LX, and looks to me like the designer of the K-7 had one sitting on his desk while he was working. It has a number of styling cues that reminiscent of Pentax's classic pro 35mm SLR camera. It even has the leatherette textured rubber covering most of the lower art of the body. The similarities are not just cosmetic; the K-7 has the same robust professional build quality, with a tough lightweight magnesium alloy body over a steel chassis, full weatherproof environmental sealing, and more importantly it has that classic camera look and feel, with superb ergonomic handling. The large sculpted handgrip is the most comfortable of any camera in its class. Also in common with those classic Pentax cameras, the K-7 is smaller and lighter than any of its immediate competitors.
As a high-spec APS-C DSLR camera, the K-7 is competing with some very well established rivals, including the Nikon D300 (£1,070 body only), the Canon EOS 50D (£739 body-only), the Sony Alpha A700 (£675 body only) and the Olympus E-3 (£990 body only). By comparison the K-7's current price of £1,029 body-only might seem expensive, but it's only just been launched so the price will probably come down over the next couple of months as retailers start offering discounts.