Finally, finally, finally, a Japanese camera manufacturer has broken with the size/quality lockstep that has been like a hard-and-fast, albeit unspoken rule among Japanese cameramakers throughout most of the digital era. I've long noticed it and bemoaned it many times...better cameras always have to be bigger, and smaller cameras are always aimed at lower levels of the market, typically the undemanding "entry level" that doesn't mind the inevitable cut corners. The new K-7 supersedes the K20D as Pentax's top-of-the-line offering, and it's higher spec'd in almost every way, but it's appreciably smaller than even the smallish K20D...and much smaller than something like the Nikon D700.
Well, all right.
Features (some of 'em)
Okay, now, as you might expect, the new camera, which will list for $1,299, has video. But since that's not my thing, I won't say much about it—I'm sure you're capable of reading the spec sheet for yourself. But here's a rundown of the features you probably expect, followed by a few you don't:
• Although not recommendably dunkable, the camera is rain- and spray-proof with the DA Star lenses. And it'll probably be okay if you drop it in the pool by mistake. It's also dust-proof—and cold-proof, too, to –10°C/14°F.
• "New 14.6 megapixel CMOS sensor rebuilt from the ground up to minimize noise." But they won't let me show you pictures yet (both the K-7's I have are pre-production). More on that when I get a production camera with the final firmware.
• Faster throughput and faster autofocusing
• Live View
• Shake Reduction (i.e., body-integral image stabilization)
• New 77-segment metering system
• HD movie capture; built-in microphone (although an external microphone is recommended)
• Optional ($230) battery grip
• Programmable embedded copyright function
• For tripod work, the camera uses the motors that effect the Shake Reduction to allow you to touch up your framing using the 4-way pad. Nice touch, and one I imagine will soon become standard across the industry for cameras that have body-integral image stabilization.
One of the big deals about the K-7 to me is the shutter noise. It's very quiet. The main point of having a smallish camera is so that it's easy to carry it around with you wherever you go; and if you're using it as a visual notepad, you might call it, then quite often it's useful not to call attention to yourself by clacking away piercingly and drawing stares from anyone nearby. The K-7's shutter is quiet for an SLR by any standard, both in the level and the type of noise it makes. The AF noise is actually louder than the shutter.
Although I'm sure Pentax has worked very hard on the many improvements embodied in the K-7, to some extent we take these incremental improvements for granted (fairly or not): it's faster, it meters better, it's got more features (I like the way it automatically corrects image orientation, for example). Etc. But really, the big deal about the K-7 is handling. It's a carry-around style of camera, and feels good in your hand and on your shoulder. In case you can't quite read the picture above, my son is holding the camera up in the air; the point is that the handgrip is beefy and deep enough that you can easily hold the camera with just your four fingers stuck in the grip while you change cards with the other hand. (The card compartment, despite being weatherproof, is the new style that opens with thumb pressure, too, like the D700 and other newer cameras. It's an improvement on the overly fussy latch on the K20D.)
I'll have more to say about the K-7, I'm sure, in the weeks to come, especially if and when Pentax sends me a final production version with no restrictions on image publication.
So, more anon.
Oh, and one more trivial point: it's handsomer than the K20D, too.