In terms of performance the K10D acquits itself well even when compared to its more expensive rivals. Start-up time is almost instantaneous, and it is possible to switch the camera on and take a picture just as fast as you can physically operate the controls. The AF system is exceptionally fast and accurate, and the wide spacing of the selectable AF points makes precise selective focusing very simple. It also proved to be very good at capturing moving subjects. Low light performance is also extremely good, focusing without a problem in a room lit only by a few candles. Like many DSLRs the K10D can use a pulsed burst from the pop-up built in flash as an AF assist lamp, giving enough light to focus accurately in darkness at a range of approximately four metres.
Shooting speed is also exceptionally fast, thanks to its use of high-speed DDR2 memory and Pentax’s PRIME image processing engine. The K10D can shoot at three frames a second, which is the same as the Nikon D80, but where the D80’s buffer can only hold 23 shots in JPEG mode or 6 in RAW mode, the K10D can shoot 3fps JPEGs continuously until the memory card is full, or a burst of 11 RAW files, although I found that using a faster memory card significantly improved this performance. Using a fast SanDisk Extreme III SD card I was able to keep shooting in RAW mode until the card was full, with only a slight slow-down in shooting speed after the first 11 frames.
Not surprisingly, image quality results from the K10D are identical to the Samsung GX-10. When comparing test shots, I found that the Nikon D80 did produce noticeably sharper fine detail, but then I tested that camera with the AF-S DX 18-70mm F3.5-4.5 lens, which gives it something of an advantage. As I’ve remarked before, there’s very little to choose between the various mid-range 10MP DSLRs in terms of overall image quality, but there’s no doubt that the K10D competes on equal terms with the best of them. Focusing, exposure metering, colour rendition and dynamic range are all first rate. Like most Pentax DSLRs, images from the K10D do appear slightly soft straight out of the camera, but respond well to a light application of unsharp mask, bringing out plenty of sharp detail. It is worth noting however that there is a noticeable difference in image quality between the JPEG files, which have a surprisingly high compression ratio, and the results from processed RAW images. The PEF RAW format is also compressed, but appears to be lossless, resulting in much sharper and more detailed pictures with no compression artefacts.
The standard kit lens that comes with the K10D is the same f/3.5-f/5.6 18-55mm SMC lens that has been supplied with all Pentax DSLRs since the *ist D. It’s a good lens, certainly better than the rather lamentable kit lenses supplied with some competing cameras. It does produce some barrel distortion at the wide-angle end, and there is a hint of chromatic aberration in the corners of the frame, but the overall level of sharpness and edge-to-edge performance is surprisingly good for such as small and lightweight lens. All in all, the K10D is still a superb camera over a year on from its launch, and anyone looking for a good hobby camera would be very satisfied with it. The only reason I’m not awarding it the straight-tens score that I gave to the GX-10 is that time has moved on, and with cameras like the EOS 40D, the new Sony Alpha A700 and the Olympus E-510 the K10D has to work a bit harder for its Recommended award.
Despite being over a year old, the Pentax K10D still compares well with other current mid-range enthusiast’s DSLRs. It is one of the few digital SLRs on the market with a weatherproof body, and combines this with outstanding build quality and design, superb performance and excellent image quality. Add moving-sensor image stabilisation and an effective anti-dust mechanism and you have what is unquestionably one of the best mid-range DSLRs on the market.
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