Flick the K-r's on/off switch with the forefinger and the camera matches our recent test of the Nikon D3100 in that to all intents and purposes it's possible to be up and shooting as soon as the finger can slide over on to the shutter release button at its centre. In other words it's fast.
Utilising manual focus on the K-r is also quick and straightforward. Simply flick the focus switch tucked behind the lens mount to the right setting and, if like us you're shooting fine detail, activate the camera's Live View mode, which has its own almost instant access 'LV' button to display a larger view on the backplate monitor. There's a second or so to wait whilst the mechanism mirror audibly flips out of the way.
Alternatively, the camera is quick also to respond in auto focus mode. In fact, utilising 11-point AF, with a half press of the shutter release button it's lightning quick to determine a target for you, the motor of our test lens whirring impressively as it does so. Also quite loud and definitive is the sound of the shutter firing, so the K-r might not be the best tool for surreptitious candid portraits. Shooting from a metre or so away, we managed to wake up the dog in our test shots for example.
A highest quality JPEG will write to either SD or SDHC card in around a second, which is rather impressive, with an uncompressed Raw file only extending this to two seconds.
Incidentally, should you have the camera in Live View mode when also in AF mode, a half press of the shutter release prompts the camera, apropos of nothing, to zoom in on a central point in your image to show it's focused properly and then jump back to show the full frame. As this slows things down momentarily and the lens adjusting is again a little noisy, it's a little irritating that there doesn't appear to be a way to deactivate it.
Also, we could have done with the screen at the back being angle adjustable to further aid shooting from unusual or otherwise awkward angles. It's certainly not an expected feature at this price but it would have been another box on our buying check list ticked. However, all is forgiven and forgotten when you see the quality of the results, which we'll come on to.
In our opinion Live View comes into its own and is at its most essential when shooting video clips. But even this, as we've noted already, isn't quite as smooth and as instant a process as shooting with a mirror-less compact system camera such as an Olympus Pen or Sony NEX, or even Sony's translucent mirrored A33 or A55 Alpha 'SLT' (as opposed to SLR) models. Essentially, as ever with video on an SLR, the quality is excellent but the ease of use is not so much. With the limitation to only 25fps, this particular model is also a step below the competition.
For anyone stepping up from a compact snapshot, there's the ability to leave the Pentax K-r set to Auto Picture mode or any of the other subject-specific, pre-optimised shooting modes and simply fire off a shot with the secure feeling that comes from a DSLR with a reliable and consistent output.
To rate its picture quality, what really stood out for us was the slightly warm, well saturated colours and even exposures achievable straight from the camera's default settings - which again should appeal to the mass market, family user. Should you want to add visual punch though on dull days, there's the opportunity to do this via the usual smattering of digital effects filters - here the likes of 'toy camera' are accessible in playback mode - and custom image modes, with the Reversal Film option really standing out for us in terms of delivering a bit more punch and contrast to formerly flat images. Pretty standard fare perhaps at this level, but they extend the K-r's creative options for those who occasionally want to do more than point and shoot.
The Pentax K-r sits in an odd position. It's a step up model from a totally entry level DSLR with its high-resolution screen, 11 focus points, and fast performance, but yet it lacks Full HD video (only HD Ready) and has a lower-resolution sensor than some other mid-range models. It also has some other idiosyncrasies. While it does have in-body image stabilisation and the ability to use AAs in place of its standard battery, it doesn't have an external mic input for video or HDMI output. The result is a camera that's a very versatile choice at its price point for just pure still image shooting, and would actually be our choice on that point alone, but that's not an allrounder when it comes to video.
If you want full HD video and a higher resolution sensor, the D3100 is the other obvious alternative, or if you spend around Â£100 more, you'll get the Canon 550D, which is excellent for video and has an even higher resolution sensor.