Pentax K20D Review
October 2011, Carl Garrard
Pentax K20D 14.6MP Digital SLR Camera with Shake Reduction (Body Only)Digital SLRs)
Pentax K20D Review: Introduction
As the bargain outdoor/weather sealed camera hunt continues there's no way we can leave out Pentax's K20D DSLR. Today the K20D can be had for about what it will cost you for a new high end compact camera. Seems to me that if you are a photographer that likes to take your camera outdoors in weather, this is another no-brainer proposition when you consider that fact. At roughly $300-700 dollars used (in varying condition) the K20D is a STEAL at this price range.
Although it doesn't run on AA batteries like the K200D does, it's still affordable and an incredible bargain for an enthusiast level DSLR. Great thing is, if you don't want to buy used you can still get new K20D's in the box with a manufactures warranty as of the date of this article. Pentax's K20D takes weather sealing to another level beyond the K200D as well, something that may prove handy in say oh, a tornado or hurricane shoot. Speaking seriously though, the added protection is just added peace of mind no matter what the conditions are- always a bonus.
Pentax K20D and Me
In a way, the K20D is much like the larger version of the K200D as far as I am concerned. I briefly owned this camera during a time when all I had were Alpha DSLR's and thought fondly of having a real weather sealed combo (camera and lens, not just a camera). This was also during a time when DSLR interest had bubbled (late 2008, early 2009), and I was trying to play "catch up" to the digital SLR industry at the same time.
Long story short, I had a short attention span at that time and the K20D came and went very quickly in and out of my hands, unfortunately. Ergo three years later (wow three years already!?) and I've got renewed interest in the K20D. This is another bargain all weather no frills DSLR that offers yet more advancements and refinements than the K200D offers. So if you are like me and in the market for a slightly larger DSLR than the K200D that has a larger viewfinder and many more external controls, the bigger brother to the K200D may just be that camera for you. I want both for varying reasons which leads me to the next segment of this review.
Here's some reality- Pentax as a brand flat out owns the outdoor/all-weather DSLR category for the price. Not only that, but its nearest competitors either use a smaller sensor (Olympus for example) or are nearly 2-3 times more expensive than three Pentax models I can think of right now (K10D, K200D, and K20D), and even the K7 is now becoming extremely affordable.
These are all great DSLR's folks, but the K20D and K7 really raise the stakes when you are looking for an outdoor camera outfit on a budget, and don't mind using proprietary lithium Ion batteries.
That said, there are occasions when I do like to use larger DSLRs albeit its not as often as I like to use mid-small size DSLRS. Here are some examples of when I do like to use larger DSLRS (mainly because of improved external controls and handling):
- Indoor Photography
- Portraiture Photography
- Specific Photographic Excursions (i.e. trips to distant locations, but not always)
- Night Time Tripod Photography
- Driving Photography (Do not attempt please)
Side Note: Current Market Trends vs. DSLRS
With a looking glass upon the current photographic market, there seems to be a rise of smaller mirrorless cameras purchased by consumers. There are many reasons for this which I won't get into now, but suffice it to say I'm keeping a watchful eye on this market and starting to wonder how far manufacturers will go with it. Mainly I'm slightly concerned about the future of the "classic" (if you'll permit me to generalize) DSLR design, and I'm wondering if we'll continue to see designs similar to the K20D form factor come in the future or not.
As a photographer, I well know the advantages of "larger" cameras, and optical viewfinders. There are a lot of consumers out there though that don't want a larger camera- they just want the "better quality images" that these new cameras promise without the size associated with them. Ok, fine by me, but I think many of them will miss out on the wonderful learning experience that DSLRs have to offer them- DSLRS like the K20D for example.
In General: Pentax System Advantage
Besides the unique prime lens lineup that Pentax offers, they have many weather sealed lenses that start at very affordable entry level prices that perform better than the competition for the same price, and have more features (such as focus shift, non rotating front element, etc.).
When talking camera bodies, Pentax has several advantages as a system. Typically Pentax bodies are smaller than competitors for the same price (discounting Olympus who seem to now be getting out of the DSLR race), better build quality for the price, best weather sealing out there for any price (again discounting Olympus), and in-camera customization options that allow you to personalize your camera to suit your own tastes and needs.
Pentax also has a reputation because of their historical impact on the camera market bringing many innovations to the marketplace. Add the fact that you can use most of the older and vintage lenses on current bodies and the perceived value of the system instantly pays off. Most makes or brands if you will, changed their mount when when autofocus became a standard in the mid 80's, but not Pentax. Advantage Pentax users.
These strengths of the Pentax system in my opinion simply aren't emphasized nearly enough by press, or by that matter, Pentax itself. Maybe though tooting their own horn could end up being self defeating? Who knows.
K20D Weather Sealing
More than ever of late I've realized that there is great value in a Pentax system for outdoor shooting. Duh, you say. Well hear me out. Like they say, perspective is everything. Sometimes you can't see the forest through the trees until you really need too.
That time has come for me, and quite frankly outfitting myself with a few weatherproof bodies excites the living goosebumps out of me. Since I've a new child now, time isn't as plentiful as it used to be. No longer do I have time to ditch a photographic opportunity because I just don't want to hassle with waterproofing my equipment- or outright avoiding weather all together. That is reason enough alone to me for an investment in Pentax bodies (and a couple of WR/Weather Proof lenses).
According to Pentax the K20D is even more robustly sealed than the K200D is. It used to be a much more expensive camera than the K200D so it would be reasonable to assume that it might be slightly better (practically) than the K200D in foul weather. Perhaps the K20D can tame a hurricane while the K200D can just weather a tropical storm, who knows? I will shoot in neither situation, but I guess it's good to know that the K20D adds even more extensive weather sealed protection vs. its smaller sibling.
At the time of introduction, no other DSLR was better weather sealed without an additional waterproof case than the K20D, perhaps with the only exception being the Olympus E-3. Even today, the K20D sets very high standards of dust and water protection and I doubt you'll get such protection from other companies until you pay at least three times as much as you would for a K20D.
My Reason for the Purchasing
My reasons for purchasing the K20D alongside my K200D are quite simple. I wanted another all weather DSLR that would fill the niche I outlined above, but more specifically this additional list really sold me personally:
- Larger Pentaprism Viewfinder
- Addition of Live View (even though a very limited type compared to today's offerings)
- More additional external controls
- Many of the same reasons I bought the K200D but in a larger more spacious form factor
- Even more customization features
- Slightly better noise control at higher ISO's (one stop advantage means better indoor ambient light images)
- Too good of a deal to pass up, may be one of the last of its kind
- To be part of my 1,2,3 knock out punch system for weatherproof DSLR bodies (more on this later in the review), the K5 will be the last addition to this group
Pentax K20D- The Weatherproof Bargain Factor
Like the K200D review I just completed, here is my list of about 25 items why I think the K20D is such a great bargain on the market today. This list can also serve as a supplement to the praise section in the final conclusion if you wish:
- Exceptional Build Quality, internally and externally
- Highest rating for weatherproofing for DSLRS
- One of the best APS-C Pentaprism Optical Viewfinders for magnification and clarity
- Used prices are much lower than it's real life practical value
- Not too old, still competes well with current DSLRS
- Excellent resolution
- Above average battery life (backwards and forward compatible lithium ION battery)
- Very good raw image quality performance to ISO 2,500, usable to ISO 6400 in Raw
- Takes camera customization to a whole other level higher*
- *The sum of its customization abilities means that many different needs are met for many different types of photographers
- Spacious grip offers plenty of space for large hands, but not uncomfortable for smaller hands- makes a nice balance point on the camera
- (One of my personal favorites here)- Left side of the camera is indented on the front and backside and makes a very decent hand hold for your left hand when doing portrait work (body styling is functional, brilliant!)
- Dual control dials for faster changes in settings
- Playback/menu buttons situated on left side, control buttons and dials on the right (more left brain right brain thinking- just like the K200D)
- Top mounted LCD with back light (great for nighttime exposures)
- AF points recognize when manual focus lenses are in focus
- Wireless flash
- In body image stabilization
- Live view helps for 100% composition and metering accuracy for landscape shooting
- Full control of noise reduction in Jpegs
- Lens autofocus fine tuning for up to 20 lenses
- Raw files have a full 11.5 stops of dynamic range (same as K200D) above average (source Imaging-Resource)
- 21 frames per second live view mode at 1.6mp. That's enough resolution for a good looking 8x10 folks. I've managed to make them look better at 4mp equivalent (11x14 inches). Sports shooter? For reportage/newspapers, sure!
- Add the Pentax O-ME53 viewfinder magnifier and the magnification is now 1.14x (very large, bright and clear, near full frame film/digital camera size. I've compared the view to my Maxxum 9 film camera and the magnification is near identical. Clarity goes to the Maxxum 9 however.
- Forward and Aft infrared remote sensors so the K20D can be fired in almost any direction around the camera using a remote trigger (most cameras don't have any IR remote capability at all, and when they do it's relegated to a front receiver only)
More on the K20D
The main theme of the K20D's design (like many of Pentax's DSLRs of the last half decade) is user control. This isn't specifically relegated to the menu system either. The body of the K20D is designed on purpose to give photographer greater control over the photographic process, both in its form factor (rubber grip everywhere/indented surfaces) and button/controls layout.
Yet the menu system has count-em' 36 custom sub-menu items that enable you to set up the K20D however you'd like, plus they allow access to other features in the camera.
Does that scare you? That's fine, customization isn't for everyone. You can use the K20D just like a point and shoot camera if that is your desire. For serious enthusiasts however, there's enough customization options in the K20D to satisfy the most demanding gadgeteer.
My one wish for a choice in the menu system would be to have an option that the status screen (shown below) be able to be on 100% of the time. Likely the K20D is set up this way so that it saves energy, but I think that's a choice that the user should be able to make. Having to push the info button to see this screen tends to be a drag sometimes. The great thing though is that it's FULL of information, valuable information (focal length of your lens being a big one for me).
All in all, the placement of the controls of the K20D are well executed. Although the layout is vastly different than cameras I've raved about before (Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D for example), I find there to be plenty of controls and they are easy to map and remember quick enough.
The grip is exceptional.
Lots of room for my medium sized hands to hold the K20D. There is a stiffness in the grip that makes the body feel it's made of metal, fingers have plenty of room and there's enough of an indent in the front of the body to hold the K20D one handed hanging at my side (resting between shoots).
Curves and rubber on the rear make a home for my thumb and adds exceptional stability and control during shooting, whether the camera is wet (yes I tested this) or dry, with a large or small lens- it doesn't matter much. This is an area I think the K20D has one of its strongest advantages amongst Pentax's lineup-Handling.
Photography often is physical labor for me, so the more a camera is designed to hold at odd angles or for all day comfort, it's going to be one of the biggest things I'll notice and appreciate right away. Something about the K20D's design screams comfort and hand holding- no matter if its a large or small lens.
It's a kind of tactile and intimate relationship with a camera like this that really makes me smile. Photography is hard work as it is, I shouldn't have to wrestle with a camera or menu dive often- that takes away my rhythm of shooting and sometimes that is my greatest asset. Yep, the K20d (like other Pentax cameras) was designed by shooters who have a love for camera design, and this photographer certainly appreciates that.
If you want to stack multiple exposures onto one file, the K20D has a menu option to allow the shooter to do this. The ace in the hole is that it allows for RAW capture, and tripod users who like to do HDR photography have a real benefit by this. The exposure mode doesn't change the total amount of dynamic range itself, but allows for a more properly exposed single file wherein the range of light you are attempting to capture exceeds the dynamic range of the sensor itself.
So for example, this mode will allow you to compress a 16 stop dynamic range scene into 11.5 stops, the key is that you can control clipping of shadows and highlights, and do it all on one file.
The other side benefit to this is for static subject, low light photography. Stacking up to 3 frames (or more) in this mode drastically reduces visible grain- whether you bracket your exposures or not (recommended that you do). Since image noise is random over the sensor, stacking several images means filling in gaps noise typically leaves on just one frame, with several frames. Here is a sample at ISO 6400, a 5 frame stack in camera developed from Raw (DNG). The more you stack, the lower the noise.
So for me, this mode has value for landscape photography (at all ISO values), and indoor static subjects as well. Why not use just a lower ISO value for static subject indoors if I'm going to use a tripod you say? Simple, I can control my over and under exposure better by using multiple frames on one raw file, and I get cleaner images at ANY ISO setting.
Although I must use a tripod, another added benefit is that I can use higher shutter speeds because of being able to use higher ISO values, which saves me time.
Recent Photo Gallery
These images represent just a few that I've collected in the short time I've owned the K20D, well I mean re-owned. Since I was pretty familiar with the K20D going into this review having previously owned it, shooting with it was near second nature for me (great how memory keeps on remembering!). Note that the very last image is one I made with the K20D the first time I owned it, it isn't recent.
Having recently "inked" the K200D review, I'm fresh about that camera and in my mind I've been comparing the two a bit. Both are available today for near the same used price, with the 20D being just a bit more expensive on average. If you don't mind a proprietary lithium battery or the slightly bulkier and heavier body that the K20D is- you do get more value for your money on average.
I'll be forthright when I say that I can be a bit picky at times when it comes to choosing camera equipment for the job. When it comes to hobbies or serious interests (like photography), I've always been this way. So suffice it to say, I like having several different camera bodies around so that I can choose whichever one that seems to fit the job best. And sometimes I'll even choose a camera that suits my mood that may or may not necessarily be the best tool for the job. That is just how I am.
Bottom line the K20D is a lot of camera. Where the K200D seems to be a smaller/more bare bones offering (at least in terms of Pentax's range compared to the competition), the K20D adds a lot more tools you'll use and appreciate. It's bigger and roomier, it has more features, slightly better image quality and more resolution, and it's more customizable still than the K200D. The K20D is a brawny, comfortable, and reliable workhorse.
One of my favorite things to do with the K20D is to just hold it and operate it. No matter if I'm using bigger or smaller lenses, or using them in landscape or portrait style orientation, the K20D is always comfortable to hold with one or two hands, and layout of the controls is excellent.
One particular aspect of the K20D (much like the 10D it replaced) that I really like is the way the left hand side of the body is contoured to allow both hands to be used at the same time or in portrait orientation. The body can be held left side upwards with my left hand which allows my dominant left eye to be placed on the finder and the right side of my face exposed to willing subjects. This is a very comfortable position for me to shoot the K20D in, and it allows my subjects to see most of my face.
So slap a good weather sealed Pentax lens on it, and head out into the outdoors with confidence (just make sure you are weather sealed too).
As always, be safe and happy shooting.
P.S. You're support helps me to support our wonderful world of photography and photographic products, thank you.
Critiques of the K20D
- Live view magnification is too pixelated for extra precise manual focus (but better than not having live view at all though)
- Dynamic range is average for an APS-C sensor (don't confuse with DR expansion for ISO 200)
- No AA battery option (could be good or bad depending on your side of the fence)
- Frame rate is average (I hardly ever use continuous drive modes though, in general)
- Buffer takes longer to clear than I'd like
- Auto focus while quick, can make a racket at times
- Rear LCD won't show status of settings at all time (have to push the info button)
- Multi segment metering can be a bit temperamental
- Setting white balance manually with use of the shutter is a bit of a learning curve and harder to get immediate results (albeit accurate when it does work), too many "NG" errors to begin with at times
- Image "banding" in extreme under exposures of higher sensitivities
Praises of the K20D
- Excellent viewfinder (especially with optional O-ME53 magnifier attached)
- Top notch build quality
- Almost bullet proof go anywhere design, resistant to all kinds of weather phenomenon
- Overall Image quality- Raw files are excellent, Jpegs are pretty darn good too
- Handling is absolutely superb, ergonomics are top rate (love holding the K20D in hand)
- Very good battery life
- Customizable almost to the extreme
- Top LCD status screen w/back light
- Manually linked pop-up flash button (not dependent on the camera being turned on)
- Wireless flash
- In-Body image stabilization
- Fast autofocus (quicker than K200D), eager and very accurate (the most important aspect!)
- Multi-frame exposure mode works on RAW files, and Jpegs alike (VERY HANDY for HDR photography, or image overlay creative photography)
- Not too large (smaller than Canon 7D for example), still a great choice for backpacking light
- Catch-In focus mode for manual focus lenses is a treat and uncommon tool in cameras
- Has access "doors" instead of rubber grommets, less fiddly and higher quality construction
- Excellent exposure bracketing options (.3-2.0EV 3/5 frames) w/dedicated bracketing button, menu has 5 additional bracketing types- from White Balance to Sharpness. Also the K20D can be set to bracket a range of exposures in a set for under or over exposure, by simply using the EV button to tell the camera what to do (most cameras don't allow this)
- Dedicated bulb mode (turns off shake reduction automatically)
- Customized User Mode (remembers settings you frequently use)
- Intervalometer (automatic interval shooting) for time lapse shooting, hands free shooting for up to 99 images
- Live view, Digital Preview, Depth of Field preview all accessible via on/off switch
- Dust alert feature
- Pixel mapping (to fix permanent hot pixels)
- Color and brightness tuning of main LCD
- Extensive noise reduction options (and an off setting too)
Effective Pixels approx.14.6 megapixels
Image Sensor Total pixels: approx.15.07 megapixels Type: CMOS with a primary color filter Size: 23.4mm x 15.6mm
Color Depth 8 bit (JPEG) or 12 bit (RAW)
Recorded Pixels JPEG: [14.6M] 4672 x3104 pixels, [10M] 3872 x 2592 pixels, [2M] 1824 x 1216 pixels RAW: [14.6M] 4672 x 3104 pixels
Sensitivity (Standard output sensitivity) Auto, Manual : ISO100 - 3200(1EV steps or 1/2EV steps) can be expand to ISO6400,Bulb mode:up to ISO1600
Recording Formats RAW(Original), JPEG (Conforms to Exif 2.21), Conforms to DCF (Design rule of Camera File system)2.0
Image Formats Compressed: JPEG - Baseline (: Premium ,: Best , : Better, : Good) , RAW+JPEG : available Compressed: RAW (PEF) Non-compressed: RAW (DNG)
Storage Media SD , SDHC memory card
White Balance Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy,Tungsten Light, Fluorescent Light (W, D, N), Flash, Manual setting, with WB fine adjustment
Viewfinder: Pentaprism type Focusing screen: Natural-Bright-Matte II focusing screen Field of view: approx.95% Magnification: approx.0.95X (with 50mm F1.4 lens, infinity, -1m-1) Diopter adjustment: approx.-2.5 - +1.5m-1
LCD Monitor: TFT color LCD monitor, brightness adjustable, Color adjustable, Wide angle view Size: 2.7 inch Dots: approx. 230,000 dots
Live View TTL by Image sensor Field of view: approx. 100% Display: Enlargement (4X, 8x) , Grid pattern
Preview Method Live View, Digital preview , Optical preview
Playback One Image, Two Images, Index (4 or 9 or 16 thumb nails), Enlargement (up to 32X, scroll available), Image Rotation, Folder view, Slideshow, Histogram, Bright/Dark area Digital Filter: B&W(4 type), Sepia(3 type), Color (18 type), Color extract (6 type), Soft (three-level amount adjustable), Illustration, HDR (3 type), Slim (+/- 8 level amount adjustable), Brightness (+/- 8 level amount adjustable)
Focusing System: TL Phase-matching 11-point wide autofocus system (SAFOX VIII) Focus Mode: AF-single (with focus lock); AF-continuous available Manual focus Focus Point: Auto, Select, Center AF assist lamp: avaiable (by Built-in Flash)
Image Stabilizer: Image sensor shift mechanism , Max 4 stops
Dust Removal Type: Image sensor moving mechanism and SP coating with Dust Alert
Exposure Control: TTL open-aperture 16-segment metering (coupled with lens and AF information) Metering Mode: (1) Multi-segment metering (2) Center-weighted metering (3) Spot metering Exposure Range: EV 0 - 21 (at Standard Output Sensitivity 100 with 50mm F1.4 lens) Modes: (1) Green, (2) Program AE, (3) Sensitivity-Priority AE, (4) Shutter-Priority AE, (5) Aperture-Priority AE, (6) Shutter and Aperture Priority AE, (7) Metered Manual, (8) X speed, (9) Bulb Exposure Compensation: ±3 EV (0.5EV steps) , ±2 EV (0.3EV steps) Auto-bracketing: 3 or 5 frames within range of ±0.5EV, ±1.0EV, ±1.5EV, ±2.0EV (0.5EV steps) or ±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, ±1.0EV, ±1.3EV, ±1.7EV, ±2.0EV (0.3EV steps) AE Lock: available
Shutter: Electronically controlled vertical-run focal plane shutter Shutter Speed: 1/4000 - 30 sec. and bulb
Drive Modes: Single-frame , Continuous (Hi, Lo), Burst, Self-timer (12s, 2s), Remote control (0s, 3s), Remote control continuous, auto bracket, extended bracket and Multi-exposure Continuous shooting: approx. 3fps , sequence : until 38 frames (JPEG and continuous (Hi)) , 14 frames (RAW(PEF)) , 16 frames (RAW(DNG)) approx. 2.3fps , sequence : until the memory card becomes full (JPEG and continuous (Lo)) , 14 frames (RAW(PEF)) , 16 frames (RAW(DNG)) Burst mode: approx. 21fps , sequence : 115 frames (1.6M JPEG)
Built-in Flash: Built-in retractable P-TTL pop-up flash Guide number: approx. 13 (Standard Output Sensitivity 100/m) Angle of view coverage: 28mm wide-angle (equivalent to 35mm) Flash Synchronization Hot shoe, X-sync socket, sync-speed: 1/180 sec., P-TTL, high-speed-sync, wireless-sync with PENTAX dedicated flash
Data Folder; Folder Name: Date (100_MMDD) / PENTX (100PENTX, 101PENTX) , File Name: Standard / User customize
Power Sources Rechargeable D-LI50 lithium-ion battery Optional AC adapter also available.
Battery Life Number of recordable images: approx. 530*1 (50% use Flash) , approx. 740*2 (Normal Recording) Playback time: approx. 330 minutes*2
Interfaces USB2.0 (HI-SPEED)/Video , DC input , Cable switch, X-sync socket
Lens Mount PENTAX KAF2 bayonet mount Usable Lens: PENTAX KAF2-, KAF-, and KA-mount lenses. * Power zoom function available. K-mount lenses usable with restrictions. S-mount lenses, 67/645 lenses usable with adapter and with restrictions.
Dimensions approx. 141.5(W) x 101(H) x 70(D)mm (5.6 x 4.0 x 2.76 inches)
Weight approx. 715g (25.2 oz.) without battery and SD memory card. approx. 800g (28.2 oz.) loaded and ready with battery and SD memory card