If you’re over the age of 30 and studied photography at college or university, chances are you learned the basics on the venerable Pentax K1000. It was a basic manual-only camera with a match-needle lightmeter, perfect for beginners, and what it lacked in features it made up for in robust reliability, superb handling and excellent picture quality.
After a 21-year run the K1000 finally ceased production in 1997, but Pentax still makes a camera for beginners. It’s called the *ist DL2 and it was launched in January this year.
The *ist DL2 is the very epitome of the entry-level DSLR, and that includes the price. It is available exclusively from Jessops, so there are no dubious online discount deals available, but even so it is priced at an incredibly competitive £349 including a high quality 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Pentax DA lens. Compare that with £393 for the Nikon D50 or £485 for the (8 megapixel) Canon EOS 350D with similar sized lenses and the DL2 looks like a very tempting package.
Pentax has always been known for making very compact and lightweight SLRs, and the DL2 continues that tradition. Comparing it side by side with the Nikon D50 reveals that the Pentax is 55g lighter, 8mm narrower, 9mm shorter and 10mm thinner than its rival. Even with the 18-55mm lens attached it is still light enough to use comfortably one-handed if necessary. The low weight is all the more remarkable when you remember that like all of Pentax’s digital SLRs the DL2 is powered by 4 AA batteries. In fact the weight of the batteries inside the handgrip helps to balance the camera.
With such a small camera there is of course the danger that handling could be compromised, but fortunately this is not the case. The DL2 only has a bare minimum of external controls and they are well spaced out so they’re not crowded. The handgrip is small compared to other DSLRs, but is comfortable to hold even for my very large hands. The sculpted shape is a definite improvement over the rather cramped grip of the *ist D, and a large thumb grip at the back makes for a very secure hold.