Blocky in design yet approachable in terms of control layout, the K-r offers surprisingly similar handling and proportions to its more senior K-7 sibling. That means great ergonomics, large buttons and easy to find and use features, of which there are plenty. There are some notable differences of course. Chiefly the K-r's hand grip is less contoured and less comfortable than its big brother, plus it omits the K-7's top-mounted LCD display window - a signature of semi pro DSLRs - so doesn't afford this useful shortcut to key settings.
Instead of the K-7's LCD window, to right the K-r has a chunky, almost oversized, shooting mode dial in its place. Its size has enabled Pentax to squeeze 14 settings around it without the control looking overly busy. Here we get the default point-and-shoot Auto Picture setting, the most prominent of the lot, along with the usual suspects of dedicated video and scene modes settings, the creative program, shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual shooting modes, plus further pre-optimised settings for the shooting of portraits, landscapes, close ups, sports (with 6fps shooting offered for up to 25 JPEGs) and night portraits. There's even a mode for cancelling the flash, which is here of the pop-up variety with a hotshoe sitting just behind, for adding a more powerful option.
The shutter release button is of the ergonomically slanted variety, which we found made for greater comfort over prolonged periods of use. It's located on a gentle forward slope at the top of the hand grip where it's surrounded by the on/off switch. We find this location for the power switch more convenient than on Canon's SLR's, for instance, where it's around the mode dial, though there is a greater chance that you may knock it while shooting.
Gripping the camera with the right palm, the thumb automatically falls on the K-r's one command dial located on the back plate at the exact same location as the one found on the K-7. Conversely we find these thumb operated dials less easy to use than top mounted dials for operation with your forefinger, but there is a large degree of personal preference here. Give this a spin in playback mode to enlarge a portion of an image and check focus/exposure, or alternatively display your shots as a series of thumbnails. There is no second command dial as on the K-7, but this is to be expected for a non-semi-pro model. More troubling, though, are some other omissions.
Whilst not a deal breaker there's no dedicated one touch video record button on the K-r for its 1,280x720 pixel High Definition clips at a modest 25fps. Instead the dial needs to first be turned to the movie camera setting, and then, with a half press of the shutter release the camera automatically flips the mirror mechanism to go into Live View mode, the impressively high 921k-dot resolution 3in LCD screen bursting into life with the relayed image cropped top and bottom to resemble what the clip will look like when re-watched on your flat panel TV. Except here we come to the next omission, which is even more surprising: there's no HDMI output; just the standard AV out and USB 2.0 connectivity. This is pretty much a standard DSLR feature these days, even at the entry level, so it really should be here and not just reserved for models higher up the range. What's more, there's no external microphone input.
This is of course, countered by the aforementioned in-body image-stabilisation and that unique battery system. The stabilisation system does seem to be very effective.
Further aiding performance in low light is the ability to expand the K-r's light sensitivity range to ISO100 at the low end and a whopping ISO25600 equivalent at the high end. Not an ability you'd formerly have expected to find on a Â£500 DSLR, being usually reserved for semi pro models.