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Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can keep the new 14.6MP Pentax K-7 down--tight weather seals and low noise at high ISOs ensure that if you have the chops, this camera will deliver no matter what the conditions. The K-7 retains much of the great feature set of its predecessor, the K-20 (5 out of 5 stars, Dec/08), with a few additions. It now sports a brilliant 3-inch LCD viewscreen, 5.2-frames-per-second continuous shooting, 1/8000-second shutter speed, and a whisper-quiet shutter. Its innards are protected by a weather-resistant body, and HD video capture has been added. All fine improvements.
Redesigned (and repositioned) controls also make the camera handle like an ergonomic dream. Most are now logically grouped to the right of the LCD. Playback and delete buttons have been moved below the mode dial, where they’re within easy reach of the left thumb, and the Exposure Value (EV) compensation button is now next to the shutter-release button (for lightning-fast, forefinger access), instead of being buried in the camera’s back.
We frequently used the EV button to improve image quality by varying exposures on extremely dark or bright scenes. While you can set the camera to bracket exposures, using EV compensation is faster and more precise. In its new location, we could now easily access the EV button--thumbing the control to change values without removing our eye from the viewfinder.
The K-7 is a great DSLR. Its video mode would benefit from better controls and 1080p resolution, but for still photography, it offers plenty to get excited about.
Pentax's K-7 offers weather seals and an ultrafast 1/8000 shutter speed.
The K-7 draws power from a new, more powerful Li-ion battery, and we took nearly 900 shots (about a quarter of them with the camera’s built-in flash) before it required recharging. Up to and including ISO 1600, image quality at all megapixel settings--14.6, 10, 6, and 2--was virtually noiseless with excellent color accuracy. Output up to 13x19 inches on an Epson R2880 was also sharp and clean. When set to ISO 3200 or 6400, the images we shot in RAW showed remarkably little noise. While our JPEG photos were somewhat more grainy (as expected), they looked fine at print sizes of 8x10 inches or less.
With the K-7 on a tripod, we tried its HDR (high dynamic range) function, which automatically blends three JPEG images for more shadow and highlight detail in high-contrast shots. The results were impressive--our photo of a dimly lit church interior showed details in both dark paneling and bright stained glass windows. The camera can shoot in RAW, JPEG, or both formats at the same time, adding the kind of versatility that we appreciate. To simplify such matters, it can also process RAW images in-camera, so you don’t need Photoshop or other software, though a converter application is included for making edits on the desktop.
Unfortunately, a new lock button in the middle of the mode dial made it a hassle to quickly change modes, and we missed the K-20’s locking door on its memory-card compartment--though it’s really not needed. Live view is still clunky as ever (as it is on most DSLRs), but it worked well when shooting extreme close-ups using a tripod. An innovative composition-adjustment feature made it easy for us to reframe images by shifting the sensor instead of moving our entire setup.
The K-7 is one of the most compact (5.1x3.8x2.9 inches) and lightest (26 ounces) DSLRs in its class, and a new grip configuration makes it more comfortable to use than the K-20 during long sessions. Other upgrades--the viewfinder shows 100 percent of the image, the metering is more sensitive, autofocus is faster, and there’s a new, more efficient dust-removal system--also significantly improved the experience of using this camera.