Pentax has consistently produced well performing, decent value digital SLRs since the introduction of the *istD, coming up to a decade ago now. Yet it's a brand that's easy to overlook in the face of the big electronics manufacturers' (Sony, Panasonic) marketing firepower and the traditional big two of Canon and Nikon. Can the Pentax K-r convince anyone upgrading from a compact or bridge camera to put their faith and cash where it counts?
To set the K-r in context, it sits below both the semi pro 14.6 megapixel K-7 and the newer K-5 which tops the range on resolution at 16.3 megapixels, but above the entry level K-x, which like the K-r has a 12.4 megapixel resolution APS-C sensor. For action shooters, the K-r is second only to the K-5 in terms of continuous shooting speed, even nudging ahead of the K-7 with up to 6fps achievable to the K-5's 7fps, though of course overall resolution is lower.
The K-r therefore comes as a bit of a 'best of', as regards the Pentax range. Yes, it has a resolution typical of a beginner's DSLR, but the firepower and flexibility to avoid those more familiar with working their way around such a camera getting easily bored. It's basically like the K-x and K-7 have been merged into the one unit.
In terms of price, at around Â£500 with the standard f/3.5-5.6 18-55mm kit lens, it most obviously comes into competition with the Nikon D3100, and for a spot more you'll get the Canon EOS 550D. Both of these are excellent cameras, so it's got a hard task on its hands to convince newcomers not to side with the bigger brand names. A few things do help it get a head start, though.
One of these is that Pentax has provided space in the base of its hand grip for either the supplied rechargeable lithium ion battery or the alternative of four AAs, should you run out of juice miles away from mains power. This versatility makes it that little bit more suitable as the big family camera to take on holiday and such like. You also get in-body sensor-shift image stabilisation, saving you having to buy more expensive anti-shake lenses.
More expectedly, you also get HD Ready video shooting, which of course also suggests the presence of a Live View mode for framing your shots using the screen, rather than the viewfinder.
The K-r boasts rock solid build quality even if the large and obvious buttons and controls make it look a little less sophisticated on the outside than it actually is on the inside. It's reasonably compact and lightweight for its class, with official dimensions of 97x125x68mm and a portable body weight of 544g, though the D3100 does trump it at only 455g. Most importantly, though, even with our test lens attached we avoided the all-too-familiar aching shoulders after lugging it around all day.