The K100D is the latest in a very long line of 6-megapixel Pentax DSLRs. What's more, the latest doesn't seem physically that different from the first, the *ist D. Not that there's much wrong with the design. The surprisingly compact body (considering it runs on four AAs) is built around a metal chassis and finished off with tough, matt-black plastics. This is a weighty, solid camera that feels a cut above its rivals.
However, is any maker wise to launch a new 6-megapixel SLR into a market already populated by a new generation of 10-megapixel models? The K100D's new anti- shake system is a bonus, but the Sony Alpha 100 has it too and comes with a higher-resolution sensor.
It's not all bad news, though. Although the Pentax seems dated in many ways, it produces very nice pictures. They don't have outstanding definition, unusually low noise levels or especially high dynamic range, but they do have a very subtle 'film-like' quality, with good contrast and rich colours. The K100D seems especially good at reproducing texture, details and tonal changes in difficult colours like strong reds.
If you're not too concerned about outright definition and have an eye for these subtler qualities, you might be able to overlook the K100D's 6-megapixel sensor. But that's not the only thing you'll have to overlook.
The good and the bad
Surely Pentax's designers could have done something better with the menu system? The blocky typefaces and kindergarten colours really undermine this camera's quality feel. That's a disappointment - the control layout is well thought out, and you can imagine that real photographers might have designed it.
It hinges on a single 'Fn' button on the back of the camera. Pressing this displays a facsimile of the four-way controller on the LCD, showing you which directional button to press in order to change the white balance setting, the drive mode, the ISO and the flash mode. This helps keep the camera exterior comparatively unfussy.
Elsewhere, though, the Pentax demonstrates again what a mixed bag it is. The main mode dial has a selection of picture modes: Portrait, Landscape, Macro and so on. But there's also a 'SCN' position for a selection of scene modes: Night, Sunset, Kids, Museum.
It's difficult to tell the difference between a 'picture mode' and a 'scene mode'. Why are they in two different places, and will you ever remember which one has the mode you want?
The 18-55mm kit lens has good and bad points, too. On the surface, it's a very ordinary zoom lens of a type you might expect on a budget SLR. The definition can fall away a bit at the edges at wider apertures and it suffers from a noticeable if acceptable degree of chromatic aberration.
But then you notice the lens mount is made of metal where some rival kit zooms have plastic mounts. The front element doesn't rotate during focusing, so you can use square filter systems on the front without endless readjustments, and you can turn the focus ring to fine-tune the focus without having to disengage the AF first.
The K100D continually surprises you with deft touches like these, and an auto-exposure bracketing system that automatically switches to Continuous Shooting mode, or the ability to use Pentax lenses going right back to the SMC-M series of the '80s.
So that 6-megapixel sensor doesn't tell the whole story. The K100D is a lot better than the specs sheet might suggest. But unless it sees some serious discounting in the shops, it's hard to imagine it making much of an impact.