Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
The Pentax K20D is Pentax’s latest offering in the mid-range DSLR market for hobbyist, advanced amateur, and professional Pentax photographers, replacing the previous K10D. The pixel count has been increased from the K10D’s 10MP to a first-in-its-price-range 14.6MP. The Pentax K20D is compatible with older Pentax film lenses (FA, F, and A mounts), in addition to the newer Pentax lenses designed for digital SLR bodies (DA and DA* mounts) and Tamron and Sigma lenses in a K mount compatible with Pentax.
What’s new on the Pentax K20D?
A newly developed CMOS image sensor to bring out the optimum performance of Pentax interchangeable lenses, featuring 14.6 effective MP and the latest noise-reduction technology.
Custom Image functions that allow users to select between six preset options and further adjust image processing, including saturation, hue, contrast and sharpness. The K20D also offers an Expanded Dynamic Range function for more contrast and detail in bright settings
A Live View that allows users to see the full image area to confirm composition, focus status and lighting on the 2.7-inch LCD monitor.
An improved Dust Reduction system that features the new Dust Alert function to pinpoint the exact location of dust particles for the photographer to remove.
A weather and dust resistant body that allows photographers to keep photographing even in harsh conditions.
A PC sync socket for more advanced photographers who use studio lighting.
The Pentax K20D can be purchased from amazon.com in the following options:
When your K20D arrives don’t be shocked if you think there is a K10D in there by mistake. After just a quick glance, the K20D resembles the K10D almost identically. However, this isn’t a bad thing as the ergonomics of the K10D received very few complaints. A side benefit is that all the accessories for the K10D including vertical grip and batteries work on the K20D.
Upon closer inspection there are a few minor external upgrades. The first and most important is the weather sealed flash PC sync connection. The second is the slightly larger 2.7-in 230,000 pixel resolution LCD vs. the 2.5-in 210,000 LCD on the K10D. The larger LCD takes a little bit of thumb space from the K20D but overall the controls are in the same spot on either camera.
Since the K20D resembles the K10D so closely please refer to the Pentax K10D Review for a full run-down of the external features.
Internally the K20D is a vastly different camera. Upgrades include a 14.6MP CMOS sensor vs. the K10D 10.2MP CCD, an improved and expanded menu system, faster auto focus in AF mode and better low light AF sensitivity, a 21 frame-per-second (fps) burst mode at 1.6MP, a larger buffer, and Live View. There are many small menu-based feature improvements as well.
On the other hand, Pentax left many of the K20D specs the same as the K10D, which leads me to believe it shares quite a few internal parts.
The frame rate on the K20D is on par or slightly slower in RAW (about 2.8fps vs. 3.1fps), the K20D does have a slightly bigger buffer in continuous mode (16 RAW vs. 12 RAW with a 20MB/sec SD card).
Despite the PC sync port the K20D shares the K10D flash sync speed of 1/180th, which for daylight sync on indoor sports strobing applications should be at least 1/250th. Many photographers are quite happy with the High Speed sync feature of most modern cameras, which allows sync up to the maximum shutter speed. On the K20D the maximum shutter speed is 1/4000th and with an attached hot shoe flash the camera can sync to that speed in High Speed mode.
This is Pentax’s first DSLR with a CMOS, and it’s also Pentax’s first non-Sony sensor. Pentax K20D and Samsung GX-20 (a K20D clone) are the only cameras on the market to use the 14.6MP Samsung CMOS.
LCD Screen and Color Calibration
The 2.7-in LCD is larger but has the same resolution as the K10D at 230,000 pixels. The first thing you will notice is the larger text. There is also an option to adjust text size and tweak screen coloring and brightness to match your calibrated monitor, so your capture system is calibrated from capture to print. The K20D is the first camera to add this option in an era when calibration of color profiles is almost as important as the capturing camera and outputting printer.
On the K10D, there were only two options for previewing images: optical preview and digital preview. The K20D has the addition of a Live View feature.
Optical Preview: the lens stops down and you look at depth of field through the viewfinder.
Digital Preview: the camera takes a sample image that is not saved to memory but displayed on screen with the histogram.
Live View: the mirror flips up and the image on the screen is in real time.
While the K10D’s digital preview is great for a quick histogram check, it doesn’t help in the area Live View could be most useful: macro photography. In this area, the K20D’s new Live View should be a major upgrade for the macro enthusiast.
Using the larger 2.7-in LCD, critical focusing on high magnification macros should be improved over looking through the viewfinder. This is where Live View can be advantageous over optical or digital preview.
A few problems I found with Live View is that it doesn’t allow you to change very many settings while the mirror is up. To change settings and access the menu system you have to manually deactivate Live View by sliding the preview lever on the power switch surrounding the shutter. Otherwise many of the adjustment buttons are locked out. The other issue I found with Live View was, while the auto focus works, it blacks out the LCD as it acquires focus.
Finally, while a tilt and swivel LCD is a point of weakness in durability it is something that should come standard with a Live View camera, mainly because Live View is most useful in situations where the photographer cannot look through the viewfinder, i.e. ground level macros or remote camera setups.
Overall, Live View is extremely useful in limited applications. As this feature is in its first generation on a Pentax DSLR, it still has a long way to go.
Dynamic Range Expansion
After capturing a few thousand images with the K20D I have to say for my uses Dynamic Range Expansion (DR expansion) is the feature I find to be the biggest upgrade. In the function menu under ISO there is an option to turn on DR expansion. This automatically limits your ISO to a minimum of ISO 200. It’s unclear to me why ISO 200 is the base ISO with this setting on. My only guess is that ISO 200 is the CMOS-sensor native ISO.
It was clear to me after reviewing my initial images on the computer that in landscape photography midday, this has the ability to greatly expand the tonal range of your images. I typically would limit my exposures to 2 stops over mid-tone without this feature on my previous DSLRs. When I turned on this feature, the K20D was getting at least another stop of the highlight end of the exposure range.
What did impress me about this feature is using it in combination with Photomatrix Pro, an HDR converter. When I imported a single ISO 200 expanded ISO image into the converter, the results were similar to importing several 1-stop bracketed images from my CCD DSLRs.
There is a small issue with the DR expansion on the K20D. It seems to add a bit of shadow noise to the image, especially in lower contrast scenes.
Overall, the K20D’s CMOS appears to have a bit more DR with or without the expansion turned on. However, with the expansion in the right situations this sensor and the expanded DR feature can really make high contrast capturing a bit easier.
The K20D has an improved max ISO range of 6400 in expanded mode. This is compared to a cap of 1600 on the K10D. The K20D seems to have better high ISO exposure latitude over the K10D, and high ISO shots that I used fill flash on showed excellent resolution and low noise. I was slightly less impressed with the high ISO using existing light but, I found images from the K20D to need far less post processing, and a less exact exposure. With the K10D, ISO 1600 was highly usable if you had spot-on exposures trending towards overexposure. The K20D allows the photographer a little leeway and gives far less blotchy shadow noise than was prevalent on the K10D.
The K20D has a 21 frames-per-second (fps) burst mode at 1.6MP. Like the Live View, this is a new feature for Pentax, but also one that has a few flaws.
At 1.6MP the images are big enough for newspaper use, and small high quality prints. They are also a little big for web resolution. They are HDTV resolution so they might be useful for motion slide shows or HD-quality video. However, even with sound the video quality from an SLR would not match that of a dedicated HD video camera.
While the burst mode works well it blocks out the optical viewfinder, and locks up the camera between burst while the buffer clears. You cannot restart capturing or access the menus until the camera finishes writing the images to the card.
Personally, I would have loved this mode to be customizable. For instance: 21fps at 1.6MP, or 10fps at 3.0MP, and 6fps at 6MP. This would make the mode useful in a variety of still applications beyond web resolution photos and HD videos.
Pentax claims the Shake Reduction (SR) on the K20D is improved by a full stop. Like with all SR systems, each photographer will get different results. I find I can capture at least 2.5 stops under consistently with both the K10 and K20D with both wide and tele lenses. However, my wife tends to return blurry images with wide-angle lenses at shutter speeds equal to the focal length with the K10/20D. As illustrated by this example, it stands to reason that there are skeptics as to how many stops an SR system can achieve.
With SDM lenses I noticed no significant improvement in auto focus on the K20D, but with body-controlled slot drive lenses I did notice there was faster acquisition on low light, and overall slightly faster focusing.
The K20D menu system is vastly expanded, allowing for more customization of features. While bigger menu systems can sometime be daunting to master, the menu upgrades on the K20D appear to be largely positive and once most settings are tweaked you can leave them if your capturing style is largely the same most of the time.
Some returns are from the past Pentax film models and include auto bracketing. With the K10D you must press the shutter for each exposure, or attach a cable release and lock the release open so the camera will fire all 3 or 5 shots without the need to press the shutter. With the K20D you simply press the shutter, cable release, or remote control one time to take all 3 or 5 bracketed shots.
One of the big add-ons of the K20D menu system is a focus adjustment system. This system allows you to adjust lenses with front or back focus individually. However, the K10D had this option available in a hidden menu in its original firmware version, and was removed in subsequent firmware updates.
The interval timer was always available with a tethered laptop using Pentax Remote Assistant but this feature is now available directly on the camera menu. This would be great for nature photographers doing time lapse photography.
The K20D retains nearly all of the features of the K10D, including in-camera RAW development, which the K10D was the first DSLR to have.
Compared to the Pentax K200D
The K20D offers higher resolution at 14.6MP, compared to the K200D’s 10MP. Aside from MP, the main difference between the Pentax K20D and the K200D is the level of weather sealing and the sensor (the K20D has a new CMOS sensor, the K200D has the CCD sensor). The K20D has a wider ISO range, from ISO 100-3200, compared to the K200D’s max ISO of 1600. The K20D offers slightly better exposure compensation, from -3 to +3 EV, compared to the K200D’s -2 to +2 EV. Unique to the K20D is the 21fps burst mode (at 1.6MP). The K200D uses 4 AA batteries, while the K20D uses a Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery. AA batteries have a shorter lifetime and don’t operate as well in cold weather, unless you use single-use lithium AA which work well in extreme cold. However, they are easier to replace than a Lithium-Ion batteries while traveling. The K200D is slightly smaller and lighter, 690g compared to the K20D’s 800g. Both offer in-camera shake reduction, though only the K20D offers the highest level of dust and weather resistant seals found on an SLR.
The K200D is ideal if compactness and light weight are important. You can take the K200D along on your vacation, or a trip around town when you think that you might want to take pictures.
Compared to the Nikon D300, Canon 40D, Olympus E-3, Sony A350
The K20D, like the K10D, is sort of an enigma that gives reviewers a challenge when it comes to putting it in a class to compare it to. Some features including 14.6MP CMOS resolution, color calibration, and weather sealing simply aren’t available at the $1000 price level. Yet, the K20D has these features, However, cameras such as the Nikon D300, (compare prices) (review), Canon EOS 40D, (compare prices) (review), and Olympus Evolt E-3, (compare prices), have faster frame rates, and higher flash syncs. These cameras are certainly better suited for advanced sports action photography.
The K20D is most similar to the Olympus E-3—both have the highest weather sealing available, and when a weather sealed lens is attached they are more weather proof than a Nikon D3 or Canon 1D series. Pentax and Olympus DSLRs are the only splash proof cameras on the market.
The K20D lacks the E-3 frame rate (5fps) and metal body. However, the build of the K20D like the K10D is extremely solid, and the use of polycarbonate over a stainless steel chassis and lens mount saves production cost in an era when an SLR can be considered obsolete in just 1-2 years time.
In other ways, the K20D is very similar to the Sony Alpha A350, (compare prices) (review), which has a 14.2MP CCD sensor, shake reduction, a tilting LCD and is priced competitively.
Where Pentax holds its own is in its lens selection. The current Pentax lens lineup is both unique and leaves very little to be desired to the travel, nature, or studio photographer, although Pentax still lacks very long fast primes or zooms.
Pentax recently released several mid to longer lenses with f/2.8 apertures. All are weather sealed. The fact that Sigma and Tamron have released long options for the K mount and Pentax for the first time in recent memory offers photographers enough in production options, and excellent backwards compatibility.
The Pentax lens collection offers a unique mix of modern high quality primes, pancake primes, fast weather sealed zooms with internal focusing motors, and fast long glass. Pentax has also tried harder than most companies to retain backwards compatibility, which allows existing Pentax photographers, or new Pentax photographers to use any of the 24 million K mount lenses in circulation, as well as M42 screw mount lenses, while retaining many of the advanced capabilities including Shake Reduction.
Pentax has also remained true to its core focus of compact camera and lens design keeping all its lenses compact in nature. The K20D remains a fairly compact mid size camera with a robust feature set, and an excellent selection of lenses not found by other manufacturers.
Choosing a Lens
Pentax has a wide variety of manual and auto focus wide-angle lenses for digital and 35mm film cameras. All Pentax DSLR cameras currently have an APS-C sized sensor that result in a 1.5x focal length multiplier. The Pentax K20D is backwards-compatible, meaning that
lenses designed for the 35mm film bodies will work on the digital bodies. If you don’t feel like carrying the extra weight of lenses that were designed to cover a larger area than the K20D’s sensor, Pentax has also designed DA and DA* lenses specifically for their APS-C sensor digital cameras. These lenses are smaller and lighter because they are designed for the digital camera’s smaller sensor size. The Pentax DA* series of lenses are weather-resistant and are tightly sealed for use in rain or dusty conditions.
The following are photo.net’s lens suggestions for a variety of
The Pentax K20D is compatible with older Pentax film lenses (FA, F, and A mounts). Due to the body having built-in image stabilization, older lenses designed for film will benefit from 2-3 stops of extra stabilization on the Pentax digital SLR bodies. These include shift lenses, fast wide-angle primes, and even those old screw mount lenses. Your old equipment can still be used to its potential and beyond.
23.4 × 15.6mm CMOS sensor, 1.5x multiplier (the K10D has a 23.5 × 15.7mm CCD-shift type “Shake Reduction” sensor)
1/180s flash sync speed (same as the K10D)
11-point AF sensor, 9 cross-type sensors (same as the K10D)
ISO sensitivity range 100-3200, up to 6400 as a custom function (100-1600 on the K10D)
3 fps continuous capture rate, up to 38 JPEG, 14 RAW, 16 DNG images (3 fps on the K10D, unlimited JPEG, 9 RAW)
21 fps burst mode at 1.6MP (the K10D doesn’t have this feature)
1/4000s fastest shutter speed (same as the K10D)
2.7" LCD monitor, 230,000 pixels (2.5" LCD monitor, 210,000 pixels on the K10D)
built-in flash (same as the K10D)
compact, light body: 800g or 28.2oz with battery (K10D is 793g or 28oz)
Live View available (K10D doesn’t have this feature)
uses the rechargeable D-LI50 lithium-ion battery (same as the K10D)
Other than the CMOS sensor it seems Pentax largely added improvements through firmware. In theory it is possible Pentax could have released a beefed up K10D firmware with many of these features but they have not, and it shouldn’t be expected that they will. While firmware was promised as a way to stop premature obsolescence of electronics it’s more recently been abandoned for new products by most companies.
Is the K20D 2x the camera of the K10D? Truthfully after 18,000 combined photos between the two cameras (over 4000 on the K20D) I am not sure. However, in light of the fact that when the K10D was released it was perhaps the best camera ever released below $1000 ($919 body only), the K20D is definitely an upgrade in sensor design while retaining all the key features of the K10D. The firmware of the K20D is like a fully finished version of the K10D. At higher ISO the CMOS sensor performs well, and the dynamic range expansion feature while not perfect is excellent. The Live View is great for manual focus macro work.
The K20D would be ideal for travel, nature, macro, and studio photographers. Along with the superior resolution, the weather sealing and high quality compact lens system makes great for nature and travel photographers, and for close to $1000 it’s one of the best cameras on the market if you don’t need a blazing fast fps, or a higher flash sync.