Pentax K-30 Digital Camera Review
Speed and Timing
The Pentax cameras we've reviewed in the past have hardly been what you'd call speed demons, though they've generally been on par with the market. The K-30 pushes this a bit, with a maximum listed speed of 6 frames per second, with a limited buffer. The camera can also shoot continuously in RAW, but the buffer is even more limited, with just 8 shots allowed.
All the various speed and burst options on the K-30 are accessed by pressing the right button on the rear control pad, with the little stopwatch icon. This lets you select any self-timer delay (two or 12 seconds allowed), remote shooting (normal or with a 3-second delay), and exposure bracketing (adjustable from a difference of 0.3 EV to +/- 3 EV). You can also select single shooting or either a high-speed burst with a limited buffer or a low-speed burst capturing more shots over a longer period of time.
We found that the Pentax K-30 lived up to its 6fps billing—with a small caveat. The camera was able to capture full-resolution JPEG shots with a difference of 0.167 seconds (which equates to roughly 6fps) on occasion, but they were interspersed with shots that were 0.2 seconds apart, or 5fps. Over a normal 5-shot burst, we found the speed generally averaged out to around 5.7fps, which is closer to Pentax's mark than not.
We did find that their claims of a 30-shot buffer when shooting JPEGs were on the money, though it depended on the conditions. In bright light we found it hit close to 30, but in normal indoor lighting it struggled a bit as it slowed considerably after just 15 shots. That's still more than most people would ever need, as fast action is usually over after a few seconds anyway. Also of note, the RAW burst speed was almost exactly the same as the JPEG, though it stopped hard after 8 shots, recording all those to the internal buffer before transferring them to the memory card.
The K-30 includes the usual complement of self-timer options, but it also includes interval shooting, multi-exposure shooting, and a front-facing remote. These features will hardly appeal to everyone, but if you want to try your hand at light painting, timelapse shooting, or simply trying to get complicated effects done in-camera, they will seriously come in handy. If you're just looking for easy group portraits, the self-timer is likely going to be enough, though the lack of a custom self-timer is a bit of a let down.
Focus was a bit of a hang-up performance issue on the Pentax K-5, as it could really struggle under low light conditions. We found that indoor artificial lighting, especially. The camera would lock on, but it often took more than few seconds, even when using fast primes like the Pentax 35mm f/2.4, as we did in our time with the K-5. The K-30 is designed with a new autofocus system, but we put it to the test in low light to see if it offered much improvement.
We tested the K-30 under two types of lighting conditions, 40 lux and 10 lux, from six feet using a portrait focal length of 85mm (35mm equivalent). With a high contrast target we found it was able to lock on with the center point, but it took a little less than a full second at 40 lux (typical of what you'd see in a low lit bar or restaurant) with a stationary target. In the 10 lux test we found the K-30 took a little longer, and around 20% of the time it took a substantial amount of hunting before locking on.
We tested in both contrast detection AF modes and phase detection, finding the contrast AF slightly more accurate, though a hair slower. The contrast detection mode matched phase detection for speed with a stationary target at 40 lux, but it began to have real problems at 10 lux (as expected). In the more extreme low light setting, contrast AF simply failed to find focus around 20% of the time. In all our AF tests we allow the camera to use its AF assist light, though the K-30 only activated it around 1/3rd of the time and it made no difference in our tests both in terms of speed and accuracy.