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Pentax K-7 -- a Pro SLR, at a Semi-Pro Price

In a pro photography world virtually owned by Canon and Nikon, Pentax's scrappy determination is admirable. Although it rarely grabs the headlines, this company consistently turns out well-built cameras at good prices.

We're hoping that applies to the company's latest SLR, the Pentax K-7, which we got a hands-on look at earlier this month. Priced at $1300, it's priced against semi-pro cameras such as the Canon 50D, but has many professional features that match far-pricier models. For one, the magnesium-alloy case is completely sealed against dust and water and certified to keep the camera working all the way down to a frigid 14 degrees Fahrenheit. You don't get that kind of battle-ready performance from the big boys until you step up to pro models like Nikon's $5000 D3 camera. Just like its price, the K-7's weight is also way lower: at 27 ounces, it's about two-thirds the weight of Nikon's D3.

The K-7 also introduces several new technologies. A new image stabilization system corrects not just for up-and-down and side-to-side jitters but also for rotation-say if you turn the camera slightly clockwise when pressing the shutter button. And in a curious (but useful) level of customization, you can take manual control of the antishake mechanism to nudge the sensor in any direction. Pentax expects that to come in handy if you have the camera set on a tripod and the image is just a bit off-center.

The K-7 is also one of the first cameras to do high-dynamic range (HDR) photography. In the HDR mode, you take three photos at different exposure settings-optimized for the darkest, lightest and mid-range parts of the scene-and the camera combines the three images into a single photo that shows more detail in the light and dark parts. (Previously you had to combine these images afterwards on a PC to get the effect.) We tried this and definitely got better results than just taking a single photo. But as with all HDR photography, it works only for scenes with little or no movement, as snapping the three photos takes some time.

Following the now-inevitable trend in SLRs, the K-7 captures high-def video (in the 720p format). It records audio using either a built-in mic or an external unit plugged into a jack.

The 14.6-megapixel CMOS image chip captures images up to an ultra-high sensitivity of ISO 6400-which could be great for night-photography, if it produces clean images at that setting. Pentax promises it will, saying that chipmaker Samsung has found a way to reduce the static that appears in images at high sensitivity. Also keeping images clean, the camera processor recognizes many Pentax lenses and automatically corrects for known shortcomings for each lens, such as a smeared-color effect known as chromatic aberration.

Speaking of lenses, Pentax is also releasing new all-weather glass to go with its ruggedized camera. A short-zoom 18-55mm lens (F3.5-5.6) sells for $200, and a longer 50-200mm F4-5.6 ED goes for $250. The camera and lenses should all be available by July.

Tags: newproducts, pentax, photography, slr, slrs, top, travel, treknology, upcoming

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