Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Pentax K10D- Revisiting Simpler and Practical Photography

Pentax K10D- Revisiting Simpler and Practical Photography
February 2019, Carl Garrard

For fans of the K10D like myself, the appeal behind the Pentax K10D is undoubtedly it's simplicity compared to most modern DSLR and mirrorless camera features. Worth noting is it's complete lack of video or live view, sensitivity is limited to just 100-1600 ISO, and with just 10.2 megapixels of detail from a CCD sensor, its anything short of being on some photographer's dinosaur list. It's a pity that manufacturers these days don't even use CCD sensors anymore (at least that I'm aware of), because CCD sensors make excellent color and more. Some of my favorite cameras I've used have a CCD sensor, which in my opinion, produce absolutely gorgeous tonality and subtle image character that seems, um, less plasticy or "digitized" than most CMOS sensors.
Link: Pentax K10D on Amazon

In addition to its less-is-more appeal, it's an extremely comfortable DSLR to hold on either side of the camera. It's truly weather sealed with excellent ergonomic external controls, and has a rather large bright optical finder (.95X) with 11 autofocus points. Battery life is just ridiculously good, one less concern.
Smooth lines equals comfort in the hand. Note the right side of the camera (the camera's left), you can see the indentation in the body for the left hand fingers to hold. Same on the rear of the camera for the thumb of left hand (see below).

Customization in the well organized menu's is more than you'll need. And all this adds up to a simple sort of workhorse camera package that frees you from additional worry or fuss; instead the K10D lets one slow down, and just focus on making a photograph. But enough of that, lets not get too fancy pants about technical stuff, because that isn't what this article is about. It's about photography, and not blaming a camera's deficiencies or lack of features for a lack of motivation to be a better photographer.

Such a well organized camera. Easy on the eyes is easy on the mind. No matter where your hands fall, they will be comfortable all day long, even with large lenses. The LCD is centered exactly to the viewfinder, and isn't taking up tons of room on the back. This leaves "breathing room" for controls and for hand placement. Important!
For a camera introduced in 2006, the K10D was really well designed and holds up well today. It's got the tools you need.

In my view, learning real photographic technique- exposure, framing, and timing, are key essentials to becoming an excellent photographer. Relying too much on technology or having gear obsession can easily become a distraction from the process of making a good solid photograph. It is why I have cameras of all ranges and capabilities, I do not ever want to get too reliant or lazy on newer cameras because of the technological achievements within. One of the greatest pleasures of photography for me has always been what I've learned along the way - the challenge of understanding exposure, how to frame or compose, manual focusing, secure hand holding techniques, and most of all- timing.

Don't know, don't ask, the moon just looked cool in blue outline through the trees

When you use a camera that becomes part of you, and doesn't allow much reliance on technology, the rewards to your skills become almost immediately apparent. It's about focus, and what your priority is going to be. Sure, it may take more cognizant effort to use an older or less capable camera, but I've never felt more satisfaction from photography than when I have truly earned a good photograph.

That's not to say the Pentax K10D is a dinosaur either (like many will tell you), and that it's free of some modern conveniences, because it surely does. First of all it's digital, and that is convenience enough. Secondly, it's got auto focus, unlike a digital rangefinder. It's also a bit more loaded with external controls that aid in control, and it's got a plenty large enough 2.5" LCD screen for playback and review (my expensive Leica M's have a 2.5" screen). You just don't "need" more to make a simple still photograph.

Good enough dynamic range, even at higher ISO values like this one, at ISO 1600

With that said, compared to using manual focus only film cameras, the K10D is a technological tour de force. And yet, it somehow seems to strike that overall good balance of capability vs. unnecessary distractions.

Side by side to modern camera's though, the K10D is a much more simple photographic device. It's low used price means if you choose to give it a go, you are hardly investing any funds into becoming a better tuned photographer. You'll learn more shooting with a camera like this through trial and error than just about any paid photography class could ever teach you. And best of all, you'll forge skills that will grow your photographic prowess that last a lifetime. What joy would photography be, if it wasn't an earned skill?

It makes pretty darn good black and whites with that CCD sensor.

With the K10D, I enjoy every minute of using it. Even the times I screw up and miss a shot or have to redo one, or think I've got it nailed only to get home and realize I blew it completely. It's got plenty of resolution for large enough prints (20x30"), and raw files that I can manipulate for a lifetime if needed. When weather is bad, you can keep shooting with it. No need to worry about it's "level" of weather resistance either, it's practically water proof. It's reliable, extremely well built, and supremely comfortable to shoot with in either standard or portrait orientation.

ISO 1600, filmish look no? Hand held, the image stabilization and good hand holding technique help.

This is one of few cameras that were designed keeping the left hand in mind, which I use to hold all of its weight in portrait orientation. This makes a difference when you are out making a lot of frames and experimenting with compositions. After a while I find myself taking a quick glance at the K10D now and then and smiling. I think to myself- "Thanks for making this a pleasant experience, what a great camera design".

To me, the tonality of the CCD is very much apparent. Mainly, it's in the color and the transitions between highlights and shadows.
Tonality and unique image quality is something I look for in a camera. Something about it's processing or chip or combination of both that has its own unique fingerprint. There's just this more... organic or chemical look to the images than most digital cameras. To the laymen or beginner this subtlety is often hard to see, but after hundreds of cameras and years of photography, it's very obvious to me. As far as detail is concerned, there's plenty there. When is the last time you've made a print over 20x30"?

The full 10.2 megapixels (see below)
100% crop, see, plenty of detail.

ISO 250, macro


Favorite lenses to use on the K10D include the Pentax 35mm Macro LTD f/2.8, 17-50mm f/2.8 Tamron, and the excellent weather sealed 55-300mm HD f/4-5.8. Every lens is versatile as a stand alone lens, sharp as all heck, and has excellent overall optical characteristics. When weather gets foul, or, you just don't know what lens to bring with you, whipping out the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 is not only an overall favorite "safe" choice, but a lens you can keep on it almost permanently (less critically sharp edge to edge landscape photographs).

Pentax 18-135mm
Pentax 35mm f/2.8 LTD Macro
Pentax HD WR 55-300mm f/4-5.8
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8

For a practical improvement of magnification in the viewfinder which aids in manual focus accuracy, I use the O-ME53 optical finder magnifier (OEM Pentax product). It definitely helps a little, and every little bit counts when adjusting for fine sharpness in manual focus. It's also good at blocking out unwanted sunlight, and more comfortable on the eye socket to use than a standard finder cup. In bad humid/wet weather, I found the inner optic will fog a bit, so keep an anti-fog cloth handy.

Pentax O-ME53 Eyecup Magnifier


I could recommend many older DSLR's to the motivated photographer. However, complexity, price, or lack of weather sealing, key specifications, whatever it is, keeps me from recommending anything else in this class or price range. For Nikon and Canon types, either a D80 or EOS 30D should do but you sacrifice weather sealing and a smaller optical finder, amongst other things, in the process- let alone a better overall handling experience.

There is just something a bit special about using a camera with unique qualities in today's "so much is the same" world we live in. Looking at a few samples won't always reveal its uniqueness or the complete story, instead over time it will just become apparent to you.

Summed up, this is why I like using the K10D: It's a comfortable, extremely well built DSLR with weather sealing, it's simple: it has everything I need to make an excellent still image (but nothing more), enough battery life to shoot all day or a weekend on one charge, and its CCD sensor has a unique enough look to make it stand out from my other cameras. And all that adds up to a camera that may be a bit more of a challenge and ultimately rewarding to use. Compared to its peers of the time (D80 or 30D), the only area it's not a leader in, is its continuous autofocus speed. Additionally, its autofocus is a bit noisier with screw driven lenses, yet you do have a choice for quieter lenses such as the 18-135mm for example.

ISO 1600 Hand held at night. Does just fine. Man I like it's color.

Those are barely limitations compared to its peers, if you want to call them that, especially considering the priority of the type of use I'm discussing in this article. I say, give one a try if you are looking to improve your skills as a still photographer. For the $139.00 I bought mine for (like new in OEM box), can you go wrong? That's up to you ultimately, but it feels like a steal to me.

Ricoh, who owns the Pentax brand, amazingly still has a full description and information page on the K10D. I find this a very pleasant surprise considering the age of the camera. More information can be found here.


United Kingdom

The latest firmware update (v 1.31) is located at the link below, which includes all previous firmware updates.

Stay focused.

Carl Garrard


  1. Yeah you think so Nancy? Or are you just pluggin' ? :)

  2. I agree that the CCD sensor gives more pleasurable tones. I miss my D60 (first DSLR) and now that I have turned Pentaxian I would like to try a K10D. I am currently shooting with a K5 besides my beloved Sony A700. I have bought also a K5iis for better low light performance but Pentax has dropped the Image Comparison feature. So I returned to the K5.

  3. Thanks for the great article... your thoughts largely mirror my own. I have one K10D and several Samsung GX-10 (re-badged K10D). They're my favourite cameras by far, despite owning much more recent and technically more capable kit. I tend to shoot mine between ISO 100 - 400 most of the time, though I'll step up to 800 when necessary. I find 1600 too grainy and susceptible to banding, but that's a personal taste thing. At lower ISOs, the raw files are a delight. If you can work within the limitations, the K10D / GX-10 is an awesome camera indeed. Thanks again and kind regds - Mike

  4. Thanks Carl, excellent article.
    I am still puzzled over what geared me towards buying the K10D a couple of years ago but boy am I glad I did. You are right in all you say and for me, whilst is heavy, I love using if and love the results. Colours especially.
    I'm going out today with my Camera Club group and taking it instead of my usual Go-To Canon 70D + 18-135mm decision made thanks to your article read this morning
    I'm also shoot equally with 35mm film cameras mostly B&W and enjoying this enormously and here's another reason I enjoy the K10D, it sirt also feels like a film camera, don't you think?

  5. You are welcome, glad you liked the article! Yes it does feel a bit like a film camera, in that the viewfinder is used for everything. No live view or video, no menu items to support those either. Simple. Plus the look of the CCD images, I can see how you'd compare. I'd say you felt compelled because the camera is simpler, back to basics, and you have less distractions in your hand? Just a guess! :)

  6. I have a K10D too. Got it in 2008. I just loved it. It was my first DSLR camera. Guy at the camera store tried to push a D70 on me but I wanted the Pentax. I finally replaced it with a Pentax K-5II years later. I wanted it for the better low light performance. Didn't care about video or the live view. I figured it would be have better dynamic range and a larger sensor cropping, and better RAW flies. I guess this is all true, I never really checked. But recently I went out on a bright day for a photo walk and took the K10D along. Put the HD DA55-300mm lens on it and came back with some nice photos. The old girl still has it. I've been using manual focus Takumars, SMC-M's and a 14mm Rokinon lens on the K-5II. I need to try them on the K10D more than I have recently and get back to more basic photography. Thank you for the inspiration.

  7. Great sharing Doug, love it. It's funny how older cameras give you that long term satisfaction of use that newer more capable cameras don't. They are both great to have, but there's just this difference in overall satisfaction that is quite quantifiable. I think older cameras force you to be more involved in the photographic process, and that has a satisfaction you just cant get from newer cameras. Newer cameras wow you with speed, resolution, dynamic range, etc... in a way older cameras can't, but at the end of the day I really prefer to feel like I've earned something. ;)

  8. This might inspire me to buy a K-10D body I just found with 5000 shutter cycles and price is $130. I don't know much about it yet, but I threw a kit lens on it at the store and it just had a great feel to it somehow. I have some old pentax lenses at home that might work well with it. The picture I took in the store were horrible as it was not very light and I never had a chance to figure it out but it sure felt right. Maybe i'll get it...

    1. I bought, what a great camera. Nothing special in low light, but in every other situation it is simply wonderful. It's solid as a tank, and does great landscapes and portraits so far. Pictures have a film-like quality and great colours. I am playing with the settings and trying some old glass.....glad I went for it.

  9. Hi Dehdee, glad you bought it. Wondering if you still have it after a couple of years? I'm itching to do a full comprehensive review of the K10D, which I haven't done in some time.