The Pentax K-x is definitely the most eye-catching DSLR for the price. It's available in such colors as red, white, and navy, which makes this camera more unique. For $599 (including an 18-55mm lens) users also get 720p video and a fast burst shooting rate of 4.7 fps. However, when it comes to image quality, the K-x doesn't always match similarly priced DSLRs.
Design and User Interface
Available in black, navy, red, and white, the K-x easily has the most distinctive design of any DSLR. It also feels particularly durable, thanks to a combination of a stainless steel chassis and fiber reinforced plastic polymer covers; Pentax generally markets its DSLRs--including this one--to outdoorsy types. At 1.8 pounds, the K-x weighs the same as the Nikon D3000, but it feels less fragile.
The K-x's layout of buttons combines one navigational dial with another for shooting modes. Like the Nikon D3000, Pentax has placed an Autofocus/Autoexposure lock button at the top of the back of the K-x, making it easy to quickly lock in on a moving subject. Other controls include delete, exposure compensation, info, Live View, menu, and playback buttons, as well as a five-button navigational area. The 2.7-inch display, which has a typical resolution of 230,000 dots, was easy to see even as we shot photos in direct sunlight.
The menus, while cruder looking than those found on the Sony Alpha DSLR-A380 or Nikon D3000, were still easy to navigate. That's because each major setting, such as ISO or exposure compensation, has a dedicated button. Having a navigational dial also helps.
Image Quality and High-Def Video
Despite having an 11-point autofocusing sensor, some of our 12.4-megapixel photos (including Macro shots) looked softer than ones we took with the Canon EOS Digital Rebel T1i and the Sony A380. The colors, while pleasant, weren't always accurate. Some cranberry colored berries appeared too pink; a blue afternoon sky too cobalt. Part of the problem is exposure--many of our shots were just too dark.
Similarly, the camera's ISO range is 200-6400; we wish it included ISO 100, as similar cameras do. It does, however, offer ISO levels 100 through 12800 as expanded settings. Not that we take ISO 12800 with more than a grain of salt in budget cameras; these photos will be far too grainy.
Out of the box, it's easy for a camera to deliver mediocre results in harshly lit environments, whether's its blowing out the background, overexposing it, or cloaking the foreground in shadows. However, the K-x has a high dynamic range (HDR) mode that blends three shots to get the best exposure from each element of the photo. Although these amalgams take several seconds to process, the results are crisp and warmly lit. Without this mode enabled, the K-x doesn't do as good a job as other DSLRs at correcting backlight: in a side-by-side comparison, the Canon EOS Digital Rebel T1i, the Nikon D3000, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A380 all had more brightly lit subjects, although not all of them managed to preserve the detail in the background as well.
Finally, the K-x shoots high-def video with a resolution of 1280 x 720 and a frame rate of 24 frames per second. Although the sound quality was strong and the colors and overall image quality were fair, the 24-fps frame rate showed. Our clips showed some motion blur that we think could have been lessened with a 30-fps speed, which is what you can expect with the $799 Canon EOS Digital Rebel T1i when shooting SD or HD video.
Speed, Battery Life, and Lens Options
One of the K-x's biggest strengths is its speed: it shoots stills at up to 4.7 fps, which is faster than the Canon EOS Digital Rebel T1i (3.4 fps), Nikon D5000 (4.0 fps), or Sony Alpha DSLR-A380 (2.5 fps). In our test shots, the camera was best able to freeze our moving subject (the conveniently located AF/AE-L button was especially helpful here).
Unlike most everything else on the market, the K-x takes 4 AA batteries instead of a proprietary rechargeable one. Pentax says the camera can shoot approximately 1,900 shots on a charge. Competing models by Canon, Nikon, and Sony promise around 500 shots, but it's important to remember that camera companies don't follow a standard procedure in benchmarking battery life, and don't tend to publicize these methods. Suffice it to say, the K-x's battery life is long. While we've groused in the past about the shorter battery life of AA-powered cameras, the batteries lasted through a few days of shooting at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, and for several subsequent days of intermittent shooting.
It's worth noting that for $799, the K-x includes two lenses: a typical 18-55mm lens and a 55-300mm lens for some serious zoom action. For that same amount of money, you could also pick up the Canon EOS Digital Rebel T1i with an 18-55mm lens.
Thanks to its durable design with multiple color options, fast burst shooting rate, 11-point Autofocus sensor, and the option of taking home two lenses for less than what you'd pay for a competing model, the $599 Pentax K-x is a compelling buy. While there are other DSLRs, such as the $629 Nikon D5000, that offer better image quality for both photos and videos, there's no question that the Penatx K-x is still a good value.