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As I mentioned earlier, the *ist DS has a mode dial with a selection of special program modes, including normal, portrait, landscape, macro, sports and night scene. It also has a unique ‘Auto pict’ mode, which has nothing to do with marauding woad-painted Scotsmen. In this mode the camera analyses the exposure and focus information, the type of lens being used and the menu settings, and automatically selects the program mode it thinks is most appropriate to produce the best shot. On the other side of the dial from these automatic modes are the manual modes, including program, shutter priority, aperture priority, full manual and a ‘B’ (bulb) mode, something not found on many non-SLR cameras.
In terms of performance the *ist DS is outstanding. It starts up in under a second, and in continuous drive mode at the maximum quality JPEG setting it can shoot a burst of seven images at 2.7fps, and then keep shooting at 1.2fps until the memory card is full. This is significantly faster than the *ist D, and compares well with the other digital SLRs on the market. The autofocus system is extremely fast and copes superbly with tricky moving subjects. I used it to take photos of a kite-boarding display and never once missed a shot.
Picture quality is as good as you’d hope from a six megapixel camera, but does have a few quirks that need explaining. In standard JPEG mode the camera produces bright, contrasty and sharp images that will compare favourably with those produced by any zoom compact. There is virtually no image noise even at ISO 1600 and you’ll no doubt be very pleased with the results. However the camera also has a RAW mode, and comes with Pentax Photo Laboratory 2.1 software for converting RAW files to a more readily usable format.
When you see the quality of the images produced from the RAW files you’ll appreciate just what a good camera this is. Pictures done this way have more detail, better colour resolution and are generally sharper than camera-processed JPEGs. Hopefully a future firmware upgrade will adjust the internal JPEG processing to produce results closer to those from the RAW files. It’s only really practical to use the RAW setting all the time if you have some very large SD cards, because the files are stored in an uncompressed format and are over 10MB each, compared to the average of about 2.6MB for the top JPEG setting.
If you are considering upgrading your digital camera or buying a big zoom compact, or if you’re an existing Pentax SLR user looking to make the leap to digital, you should definitely take a look at the *ist DS. It is light, compact, well made and as easy to use as a compact, but can produce results comparable with more expensive digital SLRs. For the price it’s a bargain.