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Pentax *ist DS; Affordable Digital SLR Outperforms Its Price

Text and Photos by Mike Stensvold, October, 2005

We Rate It
Camera: Pentax *ist DS
Category: Entry-level AF D-SLR
Autofocus Perfomance
Metering Performance
Feature Set
Ease Of Use
Image Quality
4.5 Overall

It’s tiny, very easy for SLR novices to learn and use, and produces good image quality. Pentax’s second digital SLR, the *ist DS, is an excellent “move-up” camera for consumer digicam users who want to experience the versatility and performance of an interchangeable lens camera. It uses the SecureDigital (SD) memory cards common to consumer digicams, rather than the larger CompactFlash cards common to digital SLRs, so many consumer digicam users can use their existing cards with this camera.

The Pentax *ist DS features the same 6.1-megapixel resolution as the original *ist D (which remains in the Pentax line-up), along with the same 1.5x “crop factor”
(a 100mm lens frames like a 150mm lens on a 35mm SLR). Despite its smaller size, the new model sports a larger LCD monitor than the original *ist D.

The autofocus system employs the Pentax SAFOX VIII sensor with 11 autofocus points, 9 cross-types providing a large central focusing “hot” area. You can also select any of the points manually. However selected, the active autofocus point(s) glow red in the finder when focus is achieved.

There are five drive autofocus modes: Single-shot, Self-Timer, Remote Control, Auto Bracket, and Continuous. The latter is available only in the Moving Object picture mode. Of course, you can also focus manually via the lens’ focusing ring, and the bright 0.95x magnification glass penta-prism viewfinder makes that easy.

Pentax lenses feature Super Multi Coating, a pioneering Pentax antiflare innovation that really works. Here, contrast and color are maintained, even though the sun appears in the frame.

Exposure Controls
The three metering modes (16-Segment, Center-Weighted, and Spot) provide great versatility, although the 16-segment one works so well that I rarely used the others. You can link the 16-segment metering to the active autofocus point, or keep it independent of the focusing area.

Exposure modes are numerous: For those who just want to shoot, there are the Picture modes which automatically set camera and digital functions for shooting such subjects as portraits, landscapes, close-ups, action, and more. For the true novice, there’s the Auto Picture mode which automatically sets the appropriate Picture mode for the subject and situation at hand. For serious shooters, there’s Shiftable Program AutoExposure, Shutter-and Aperture-Priority AE, and Metered Manual.

You can set exposure compensation (±2 stops in 1/2- or 1/3-stop increments), lock the exposure with the AE-L button, and activate three-frame automatic bracketing.

Electronic Flash
The Pentax *ist DS has a built-in P-TTL autoflash unit with an ISO guide number of 15.6 (150 200/m) and a wide enough beam to cover a 20mm lens (equivalent to 30mm on a 35mm camera). Flash modes include Auto (pops up and fires when needed), Manual (you pop it up when you want to use it), and either of these modes plus redeye reduction. If you rotate the mode dial to the no-flash symbol, the flash will not fire regardless of light level. You can apply +1.0 to –2.0 flash exposure compensation when using the built-in flash.

Atop the viewfinder is a hot shoe that accepts accessory dedicated Pentax flash units (the AF360FGZ is recommended, providing such features as P-TTL flash with pre-flash for optimal exposure accuracy, high-speed sync (at speeds above the camera’s normal top flash-sync speed of 1/180), rear-curtain flash (you also get rear-sync flash with the built-in unit when used in conjunction with the AF360FGZ), and wireless off-camera flash with one or more units).

The DA 18–55mm f/3.5–4.5 AL zoom lens that’s included when you buy the *ist DS as a kit will focus down to under 10” (from the film plane—about 4” from the front of the lens) at all focal lengths, great for close-ups.

More Features
Shutter speeds range from 30 seconds to 1/4000, plus B. You can shoot up to 8 frames at 2.8 fps. Mirror prelock lets mirror vibration die down before you make a long exposure, and the camera also features a depth of field preview function.

You can shoot RAW 2008x3008-pixel images, or JPEGs at 2008x3008, 1600x2400 or 1029x1536 pixels, each at three compression levels. You can fit about 90 RAW images on a 1GB SD card, 330 highest-quality JPEGs, or more than 2100 lowest-quality JPEGs.

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