Pentax K20d mini review

A review of Pentax's new flagship... (a photographer's perspective)

I am an international freelance surf photographer fortunate enough to get a first touch of the new flagship Pentax K20d DSLR camera. I shoot for some of the largest surf companies in the industry and am somewhat of a Rogue shooter, choosing to shoot with Pentax equipment for the last 24 years. (yes there are pentax pros out there, we are all just a bit busy working rather than tooting our horns about our equipment) Now having said that, I'll begin to blow a melody from my vintage C.G. Conn (yes, i used to be in a band), and tell you that the new K20 just sings with performance...

All images shot at 14.6 MP DNG and converted to Jpeg with no post processing, using ACR and CS2 (i usually add a bit of cyan and a saturation boost in post process, but for purposes of this test, I kept my workflow as simple as possible)

A typical Surf shot from the water using the K20, DA 10-17 fisheye, and encased in custom SPL waterhousing. (location HB pier)

A land shot using Pentax telephoto FA* 600 f4, mounted on Wimberley Gimbal type II head and Induro A 413 legs

100% crop (shooting action vs. a static subject for instances of AF performance are two different worlds. Take note of the sharpness and detail in the surfer's wetsuit. You can read the label, see facial detail and eye color) Using AF-C, the K20 tracked the subject laterally and maintained sharp focus

A timed long exposure at iso 100 Da* 16-50 f2.8 at f14, 25 sec

A full sized landscpe shot with contrasty lighting and shadows
1/125, f11, iso 100 DA* 16-50

A few lifestyle images (im attempting to upload full sized jpegs, but have been unsuccessful. blogger may have restrictions on the amount per blog entry)

IMO, the new CMOS seems to render buttery smooth tones and with finer detail. K20D and DA 50-135, at ISO 400, 1/1250, f3.5
ISO 400, f3.5, 1/2000 DA* 50-135

For me, photography has always been about preserving life's moments. I dont over indulge in tech jargon or "brick wall" tests. I shoot my life as it unfolds and if the results suit myself, as well as my editors, I assume that the equipment has done its job. Some people may want to see ISO maxed out to 3200 or 6400. I have never felt the need for those values and for most of my shooting i barely top out above 1250, occasionally use 1600, but stay at the range of 100-800.

During my film days i never shot with film above iso 400, i simply pushed my film one or two stops, maxing out at iso 1600 and push processed to compensate. If you arent sure what that means, then we really are in a new era. It's like when i read a good friends blog and he stated how some shooters these days assume that "Velvia" is merely a Photoshop Action, without ever realizing that it was once a very popular type of slide film.

I have been very busy these days having a baby of my own, hence, the late review. I could have shot my firstborn with any camera, but i trusted this once in a lifetime moment with the K20.

DA 21 limited, 1/30s at f4.5 ISO 800, handheld
DA 10-17 fisheye

A full sized jpeg, ISO 800, handheld at 1/125 f2.8 FA 77 limited

Some subtle differences between the k10 and k20.
Aside from the differing texture of the mode dial (more ribbed instead of grooved), the black shutter release button (instead of chrome), rounding out of the rear left panel edge, where the buttons (menu, trash, info, play) are lined up and allows a channel for your proboscis. 

There are others that may not be mentioned by other reviewers.

The pentax emblem on the rear below the LCD is now embossed onto the body. The SD door and battery door latches are larger and easier to handle.

The K20 is the same size as the k10, so the BG2 grip fits perfectly flush, and the camera is an easy fit for my old water housing. Thankfully it uses the same batteries. In essence, true legacy support throughout the progression and succession.

The RAW button is customizable to allow for alternating between modes that suit your style of shooting. for me, I like to be able to shoot raw always, but then have the option to push the RAW button and allow myself to shoot RAW + Jpeg 4 star 10MP (yes 4 star, instead of the usual 3 star compression), and then toggle it off by pushing it again.

Some have complained, why not a 3" LCD? The new 2.7" LCD is clear, brighter, and you can adjust color tone to suit your preference. This is very helpful when doing in camera raw to jpeg conversions. You may wonder when this is ever needed. Case in point: I was on site at a resort shooting for a tour company. Since this was on a remote island, i didn't bring my laptop. The resort owner wanted some pics in exchange for free accommodations. So, i processed one raw photo to jpeg, copied it to her laptop and got our stay comped for me and my crew.

Highly customizable image modes allow for adjustment of "fine sharpness" as well as sharpness in general, saturation, hue, and contrast. Also, the user can toggle between the 6 modes: "bright", natural, vibrant, portrait, landscape, and B&W with different color filters (even an Infra red filter).  Keep in mind that these are image modes and not "shooting modes" that are found in entry level cameras (ie: sport, portrait, landscape type icons on a mode dial). These fine adjustments are individual sets of parameters that the user can customize and the camera stores.  I personally like the "bright" mode with a boost in sharpness and contrast.

This feature is neat if you do in camera raw editing, because the raw image can have any filter applied and then converted to that mode, regardless of what the initial image setting was. I'll assume that with the new bundled software, the user can just shoot a RAW image and then go into Pentax Photolab on their computer and apply whatever filter suits their needs.

When bracketing, "one push bracketing" takes a specified number of shots by one shutter release (3 or 5). With my K10, i would have to push the button, however many bracketed photos i needed. In the K20, this mode does it all in one snap.

In camera pixel mapping allows the user to correct for hot pixels without having to send the camera in for service.  Hot pixels occur over time,  but don't necessarily make the camera unusable.  This feature allows the user to correct this problem while in the field and continue shooting.

My favorite new feature is the ability to rename the image filename for specific events. This makes cataloging easier and it reduces the possibility of image number overlap.

Unique Burst Mode feature: 21 FPS at 1.6 MP
A rescaled example of the 21 FPS burst mode. this feature is actually quite useful for web application or if the sequence of images are to laid out as multiple photos making one large photo.

Click on sample image to see the animation. Please allow it to completely load into your browser and it will run smoothly. Keep in mind that this is compressed and scaled down for easy web loading, the actual full size GIF is quite clear with high resolution.

It's actually a neat feature. When shooting sports photography, sometimes what is sought after maybe lost in the in-between frames. At 20FPS, this is near video quality. Now i assume the enginners of this feature werent intending to make a video camera but rather probe the abilities of high speed burst rate.

This GIf was created in Adobe image ready CS2, and is a compilation of 26 individual frames. What high frame rate gives you is the ability to choose the precise frame that suits your composition preference.

I'll give you one instance where this feature is useful. When shooting golf, it is frowned upon to fire away at a golfer mid swing. The machine gun sound of a 10 FPS beast is enough to wake the dead.

This style of high frame rate uses "live view" and is essentially silent.

to be continued... next up, ergonomics, digital filters, and HDR

all images ©2008 Mark Dimalanta Photography