We can count on one hand the number of times a waterproof camera was the only suitable option for any given photo shoot, but drizzle and even flash monsoons can strike at any moment, especially in some locales. Most clothing and other analog gear can survive such attacks of mother nature nearly unscathed, but smartphones and cameras are another story altogether -- unless they're coated in head-to-toe weather sealing, of course. Pentax may not be a top player in any digital imaging category, but the company does have a few serious DSLR contenders, and should be taken seriously for anyone in the market for a new ILC. The manufacturer's latest swappable-lens model, the K-30, is quite a respectable beast, and a fairly solid value at $900 with an 18-55mm kit lens. Beneath that steel and polycarbonate black housing there's a 16.3-megapixel APS-C sensor with shift-based stabilization, a 100-percent FOV optical viewfinder, a color-adjustable 921k-dot 3-inch LCD and a bevy of manual control options, for stills and video alike.
We put the K-30 through its paces during a half-day shoot around NYC. There was no rain, sand or snow in sight, but the brutal heat and humidity didn't take any toll, with the camera offering consistent performance and excellent battery life for hours on end (we captured nearly 700 stills with live view and a few minutes of video with plenty to spare, and you can also swap in four AA lithiums for up to 1600 shots). We spend much of our time shooting with mirrorless cameras these days, but when absolute portability is less critical, there are obvious benefits to lugging around a full-size DSLR like the K-30. The camera was able to shoot with perfect exposure and white balance in almost every situation and images captured with the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens were sharp and vibrant. Video performance was sufficient as well -- most of our clips were captured at 720/30p, but 720/60p and 1080/30p are also on offer. Focus wasn't the fastest we've seen (the Olympus E-M5 still holds the title), but the lens adjusted accurately even in low light, especially when aided by the green illuminator.
High-ISO performance didn't blow us away with noise reduction deactivated -- noise was visible at a 25-percent view at ISO 12,800 and a 12.5-percent view at the ISO 25,600 extended setting, but the sensor-shift stabilization mode enabled us to capture sharp handheld shots at 1/40 second, so it's not terribly difficult to avoid venturing into that high-sensitivity zone. Pentax also added a unique Astrotracer mode, which moves the sensor precisely for long night-sky exposures, using an optional GPS module to provide location and direction information (there was no way to test this feature in NYC, where the city lights never sleep). We did have a chance to test out that weather sealing, however -- the camera functioned just as well while under a running water fountain as it did on dry land. Overall, we were quite impressed with the K-30 -- it's one of the best sub-$1,000 DSLRs we've used to date, and if you've made an investment in Pentax KAF2 glass (or you're ready to load up now), you can expect to be pleased. Click past the break for a sample gallery and video.