Pentax K20D First look

In mid January, it's good to get in the sun, so when Pentax took Matt Grayson to the burning desert to test their new DSLR, he packed his SPF50 with g

24/01/2008 - 15:51

After the success of the mid-range K10D, Pentax release the successor to the Company's flagship. The K20D is physically the same, but with a monstrous 14Mp CMOS sensor, Live view and an improved Shake reduction system.

One of the main features of the K20D is its robustness and in particular the dust protection. So it seemed fitting to test the model out in the desert. Luckily, they didn't leave us there.

Pentax K20D Pentax K20D Specification

  • Resolution: 14.6 Mp CMOS with Primary colour filter
  • Image size: 4672 x 3120 JPEG, 4688 x 3120 RAW
  • Metering: 16 segment TTL aperture metering, Multi-field, Spot, Centre weighted
  • Format: JPEG, RAW PEF, RAW DNG
  • Memory: SD/SDHC
  • Monitor: 2.7in Polysilicon TFT LCD
  • Shutter: 1/4000 sec - 30sec plus Bulb
  • Viewfinder: Pentaprism viewfinder 95% coverage
  • Focus: TTL phase matching AF, 11 point AF system, Single AF, Manual, Continuous
  • Shake reduction: Image sensor shift max. 4EV steps
  • Dust removal: Image vibration mechanism, SP coating, Dust alert
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Transfer: USB 2
  • Size/weight: 141.5 x 101 x 70mm / 715g

31st March 2008 sees the end of Pentax Corp. before the inevitable amalgamation with Hoya. Will the K20D give the brand something to be proud of as it breathes its last breath?

Pentax K20D Modes and features
Pentax K20D Despite the obvious cosmetic upgrade in the screen which is a 2.7in LCD screen, not the 3in screen that the Chinese websites were reporting in their rumoured technical specifications, the K20D is physically no different to the K10D, which makes the transition easier for current K10D users. The main differences in features and, indeed, layout comes within the menu systems.

The new 14Mp sensor is a CMOS APS-C with 1.5x magnification and ISO tolerance up to ISO6400. This sensor is the highest resolution on any DSLR of its class. The switch from CCD to CMOS is seen as a positive step forward due to the robustness of the CMOS sensor.

It has been made in collaboration with Samsung who did the development and manufacturing whilst Pentax input the optical information.

Live view has been added with workable AF and Shake reduction. It's accessed by flicking the power switch over to the Depth of field preview option. My only gripe about this feature is that to focus, the AF button must be held down. The mirror then clunks up, blocking the Live view and the camera focuses. Adding to the gripe is that the camera will focus whilst the AF button is depressed. It wont automatically stop or let you know it's focused. Likewise, if you only press the button briefly, the camera wont perform a full AF.

The previous 10Mp sensor of the K10D is not going to waste as this will be put into the new K200D entry level DSLR. Pentax were questioned by ePHOTOzine as to why they seemed to be falling into the pixel race, especially as the K200D was now upgraded to 10Mp. Gabrielle Remmers, Marketing Communications Manager answered that Pentax were not falling into the race for higher resolution. The reason behind fitting the K200D with the 10Mp sensor was simply down to availability. With the bigger sensors being fitted by everyone else, manufacturers of lower resolution sensors are hard to come by. She added that Pentax are trying to educate consumers that resolution is not the be all and end all.Pentax K20D

The RAW converter is a new 14bit ADC converter, different to the 22bit converter found on the K10D. ePHOTOzine asked Yasuyuki Maekawa from Pentax product planning why they had seemingly stepped backwards and the simple reply was that the K10D only converted RAW at 12bit anyway, so seemed pointless having the higher converter.

To help us photographers even more, the K20D has been given a Pixel mapping feature and any dead pixels found will be amended using interpolation.

Other upgrades from the K10D are useful, but small. Changes such as adding a dynamic range enlargement by 1EV which is equivalent to 200%, the ability to adjust the focal plane to solve front/back focus problems which have only been a problem since the advent of digital. In Playback, the image can be magnified by 32x on the slightly larger 230,000 pixel screen and Auto bracketing has been improved upon stopping up to 2EV in both half and third steps.

The continuous shooting modes have changed and the K20D has had a burst mode of 20fps added, but only shoots at 1.6Mp. The other continuous shooting modes have been upgraded in the capacity. JPEG can now shoot 38 frames and RAW DNG can shoot 16 frames. The speed is still set to 3fps.

Pentax K20D Build and handling
All the time I used the camera, it felt sturdy and even in the desert, I knew I wasn't going to have too much trouble. I switched lenses a few times from the standard 18-55mm zoom lens to the 50-135mm zoom I managed to pinch from the Pentax rep during the test. During each switch I was careful to ensure as little dust contamination as possible and after running a dust scan, I found some in the top left corner so used the dust removal and the issue was resolved.

Shake reduction has been improved. It's a lighter sensor with a more flexible circuit. The image sensor shift mechanism has a maximum capability of 4EV steps and the sensor has been covered with the Pentax SP (Super Protect) coating to help alleviate dust problems.

Pentax are not just relying on the SP coating to get rid of dust. They have also added a dust repellent coating on the Low-pass filter and a new Dust Alert feature. This will scan the sensor for any dust and show an image display of it on the screen. Conveniently, the image shown will be saved on your memory card in a folder called Dust.

There has been some debate regarding the sensor having a slight sloping to it. Aligning the top of the frame with something straight such as the top of a picture on a wall will give a result of a slightly lop-sided image. This is an issue with the *istD and the K10D and still remains apparent on the K20D. I have contacted Pentax regarding the problem and, at the time of publication, they are looking into it before giving me a response, so watch this space.

Pentax K20D Pentax K20D Performance
Pentax escorted ePHOTOzine and a group of other journalists out to Dubai as they were eager to show off the new dust removal and dust alert features.

On our first excursion, we stopped at the edge of the desert to photograph some quad bikers on the dunes and when they saw the cameras, they all came buzzing around us and showing off. I tried a number of different shutter speeds and tried a panning shot to get a blurred background with a sharp subject. I shot at ISO100 to get as smooth an image as possible and with the help of the Shake Reduction, I got a nicely blurred image with the face of the rider still sharp.

As the light started to fade, we were taken to an area of the desert to be given the opportunity to photograph the amazing Arabian sunset. Unfortunately, we hadn't seen the sun at all because of the thick cloud looming over us, but luckily a Falconer was there with a Peregrine Falcon for us to photograph.

I got a still of the bird feeding on some Quail using the built-in flash. The Guide number has been raised to 13 on the K20D and I wasn't very close, yet the image is sharp and evenly lit. the dark background is due to the camera using a faster shutter speed than it would normally. It was still relatively light.

We were treated to the Falcon in action, so I upped the ISO to 3200 and managed to catch it diving for some meat. This bird can reach near terminal velocity we were told by the enthusiastic owner, so to get it in flight was a good display of my obvious talent. The noise is apparent at this level, but closing in on the bird still shows some detail like the contour of the eye.

It's a shame that ISO100 is the lowest rating as I would liked to have gone smoother on my test of the reflections in the river. Still, the detail is good and looking to the top of the skyscraper from our excursion the following day, the visage of Dubai's president also has good detail. Unfortunately, the very top of the same building shows some chromatic aberration with the contrasting sky.

We took a small ferry across the Dubai Creek river and I managed to use the tracking focus to take a shot of the ferry owner as he moved around the jetty.

Predictably, the images are flat on the RAW DNG colour chart. The JPEG version has boosted primary colours, especially Blue which is very vibrant.

Pentax K20D
Taken in JPEG, the chart shows a boost in primary colours, particularly Blue.
Pentax K20D
Taken in RAW DNG, the colours are predictably muted. Pentax say the PEF RAW file holds more information so is a little better.
Pentax K20D
The camera gave a decent result with the panning even at ISO100 on a dull day.
Pentax K20D
At ISO3200, the noise is evident, but allowed me to capture the Falcon in mid-flight at just under terminal velocity.
Pentax K20D
The distance on the built-in flash has been increased to 13. The dark background has appeared because of the faster shutter speed not having enough time to light the sky.
Pentax K20D
The continuous focus managed to track this ferry owner as he span his ferry to move about the jetty. At this point, he was backing up and to the right.
Pentax K20D
Shot at ISO100, I wanted to include the reflection of the towers in Dubai Creek. A small portion of the river bank has been cloned out of the bottom left as it wasn't important to the test.
Pentax K20D
A white image, with small black parts where the dust can be located, is the result of the Dust scan.

DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.

Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Pentax K20D.

Pentax K20D Verdict
The upgrades from the K20D make the camera that little bit more interesting. Even though Gabrielle Remmers said that Pentax are not entering a pixel race, it's amusing to see that the K20D has the highest pixel count in its class.

Some of the upgrades and additions are good and will be useful, but there are some that seem to be hardly worth the effort. Would it have been too difficult to fit a 3in screen? Then they could have given it a better pixel count than 230,000 keeping it in line with the newer DSLRs from other manufacturers.

The major changes are what will help you make the decision over whether to upgrade or change. If you need a DSLR with 14Mp, dust alert features and good anti-camera shake, then the K20D is definitely a camera to look at.

Now take a look at the video review of the Pentax K20D on here

Pentax K20D Plus points
Dust alert feature
Extended Shake reduction
Good ISO results
Pixel mapping feature

Pentax K20D Minus points
No reason why the monitor couldn't be bigger
The Live view AF could be problematic





The Pentax K20D will be available with the 18-55mm, 16-50mm or 16-45mm lens kits.

The Pentax K20D & 18-55mm lens costs around £598 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Pentax K20D & 18-55mm

Now take a lok at the video review:

Got to for more videos.

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