Pentax K-30 vs K-x: Comparison and First Impressions

I just bought this!

Image courtesy B&H Photo & Video.

Photo by (© 2013) me:  1/640″ f5.6 iso200 40mmF2.8, uncropped.
My 3 year old Pentax K-x has served me well, but when the price of of the K-30 fell to <$500, I couldn’t help myself!  I had already had the chance to play with one of these in a store a couple of times and really liked it.  I wasn’t really needing to upgrade, but beside the fire-sale price, my reasons for upgrading were:  1) water-resistance, 2) a really handy second control wheel, 3) a clearer, full 100% pentaprism viewfinder for my 50+ year old eyes, and 4) auto-focus that actually works is less than ideal situations!

I haven’t had a chance to actually go out and shoot with it in normal conditions yet, except to shoot Independence Day fireworks (which came out very well), but I may do a more detailed review (with photos) later!  The trick with these types of reviews is deciding at what point to do them.  Do it too soon and you risk not having enough accurate information to do it justice.  Wait too long and you forget your first impressions.  Therefore, this is not going to be a full “review” of the K-30 itself, but rather a review of my first impressions and how it differs from and compares to my trusty K-x.  It is indeed a significant improvement over the K-x, addressing all my upgrade goals mentioned above.

(+) The biggest improvement for me by far is the auto-focus, though not a huge improvement over the K-x, but still very significant for me!  This was by far my biggest and only real problem with my K-x, and this alone nearly makes the upgrade worth it!  I often found myself in indoor or other situations with less than ideal light and way too often, the auto-focus would simply not work.  Instead, it would just hunt and hunt and never lock with the noisy screw-drive just whining away resulting in many missed shots.  It was particularly embarrassing when I was with other photographers (with “Canikon” cameras or even point-and-shoots) when we’d compose a photo and they would just take it and my auto-focus motor would just go psycho on me and then they’d all be looking at me like “what’s wrong with your camera bro?”  Then, they’d look at their shots and ask me how mine turned out and I’d have to sheepishly say “Oops, I didn’t get a good one” (couldn’t focus quick enough!) – GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!  This way, not only did I know that my auto-focus SUCKED, but so did everyone around me.  I’ve been playing with the K-30 and it seems to do much better!  It even has a small light to assist the auto-focus when needed if the problem is low light!  The only times I can make it “hunt” is when there’s no contrast in or around the spot being focused on (such as aiming at a solid blue sky).  As far as speed goes, it may be a bit faster too.  I never had an issue with the “speed” of my K-x’s focusing – when it worked, it would just zip right to it.  Please note, I use “center-spot” focus and I’m referring only to the “Phase Detect” focusing used with view-finder shooting.  I almost never use Live View and so I don’t really have anything to say about focusing in Live View.  I do note that the K-30 adds “focus peaking” in Live View (but not in video), so I may try that some someday.  My camera came with firmware version 1.0 and I upgraded it to 1.04 and the notes say that there is improvement in the Live View focusing system, so if you use that, check your K-30’s firmware version and upgrade if needed.


Photo by (© 2013) me:
6″ f14 iso200 40mmF2.8, very cropped.
(+) The next biggest improvement for me is the second control wheel, mounted on the front just under (and too close to) the on-off switch (I would have put the wheel just a tad lower and tilted slightly toward the lens (to be slightly easier to reach with the end of the forefinger).  I had already envisioned in my head what I would do with that second wheel and downloaded the user manual beforehand and found out how to program it to work as I want.  As a photographer that pretty much always shoots in one of the professional exposure modes (as opposed to the Auto and “scene” modes used by “point-and-shooters”), I use the (single) control dial on my K-x with pretty much every shot.  With my K-x “Av” (Aperture priority) is my default mode.  In this mode, the control wheel functions as an aperture ring (like I grew up with using my film camera) with the shutter speed adjusted automatically by the camera.  On the K-30, by default, the second control wheel is inactive in Av, Tv (Shutter priority), and Sv (Sensitivity/ISO priority) modes.  Therefore, one of the first things I did was to go into the menus and program the second control wheel to do the most common function I would use in each mode.  In “Av” mode, the rear wheel functions as an aperture ring (as on the K-x) with the shutter speed adjusted automatically by the camera.  It is this parameter that I am usually wanting to adjust, for optimum image quality from the lens and to obtain a desired field depth.  I usually have the virtual film-speed fixed and set to the lowest ISO with which I can get enough shutter-speed to freeze the subject.  The other choice was to have it adjust the ISO, but I chose exposure comp. since that’s the one I usually want to change in a hurry.  I can still change the ISO fairly quickly by pressing another button and adjusting with the rear wheel (I always operate with the ISO fixed, as it is with film).  For “Tv” mode, I set the front wheel to do shutter speed (The default is the rear wheel, but Pentax allows you to also reverse them in each mode!) and the rear wheel to do the ISO, since I use “Tv” only when shooting sports / action and then I can quickly up the ISO as needed to keep the fast shutter while leaving the aperture to the camera.  I never used “Sv” mode with the K-x since, with a single wheel, I found it virtually useless, as you can only vary the ISO and the camera choses both shutter & aperture that you can’t override.  With 2 wheels though, this mode becomes useful now, particularly in the evenings as the light decreases rapidly with sunset.  I set the second wheel to do “Program Shift” so that I can change both shutter and aperture together as I desire.  I’ll most likely dial it to the aperture I want and then dial up the ISO a bit as needed if the shutter speed falls below what is needed to avoid blur.  “M” (Manual) mode is now much more useful too as I can change the shutter just as quickly as the aperture.  With the K-x you had to press the “Ex-comp”. button to make the wheel change the shutter, but then, you’d pause a few seconds, the meter would go off, you’d turn the wheel some more to further tweak the shutter only to find it had reverted back to aperture control and your aperture was now wrong.  The K-30 also adds a new “TAv” mode that works like “M” except the camera varies the ISO instead of the exposure as you adjust either the shutter or aperture, but so far, I haven’t envisioned using this for much, as that usually when I want to set both shutter and aperture, I’m trying to get a certain exposure variance.  It’s still a cool, nice-to-have option though and I might grow into it some day!  I have the “green” button set to “Program line”, which causes it to “reset” your ISO to what you originally had it at (as opposed to actually restoring the “program line”), but this is useful, though it won’t assure you a proper exposure.  Why isn’t this an option for the “green” button” in the other modes when setting the second wheel to “ISO”?! (see next paragraph)  For “P” (Program) mode, I also set the front wheel to do exposure compensation, since that was the only meaningful option (the default is rear-wheel: “aperture”, front wheel: “shutter”, but that’s essentially duplicated functionality since changing one always changes the other regardless of which wheel you turn).  In this mode, the “green” button resets you to the default “program line”, but leaves any exposure comp. you dialed in with the other wheel intact.

(-) There is one minor annoyance about the “green” button.  When you have the second wheel set to adjust the exposure compensation (as I set it in “Av” mode), I just naturally expect the “green” button to “zero-back” the exposure compensation by shifting either the shutter (“Tv-shift” in “Av” mode), or aperture (“Av-shift” in “Tv” mode), but instead, it does absolutely NOTHING!  So, to quickly return back to zero exposure-comp. (a common action needed in a hurry) I have to first press the “Exp. Comp” button, THEN the “green” button.  Minor, but a needless half-second extra step!  Fortunately, in “M” mode, you have a choice of either “Tv-shift” or “Av-shift” to select which parameter to shift when zeroing back the exposure (I usually wish to set the aperture and then use it to shift the shutter as needed to correct exposure – “Tv-shift”).

(+) I’m really liking the new viewfinder (I’m an old-school photographer who’s eyes can’t focus on that screen without either reading glasses or holding the camera at arms length) and only use “Live View” to take photos directly of the sun.  The viewfinder on my K-x had gradually become slightly “fogged” making manual focusing more difficult.  I also occasionally missed part of a photo since it was not fully accurate in displaying what you are capturing.  I will also point that the screen is much brighter and higher-resolution than on the K-x, but the trade-off is that it’ll use a lot more power when on, I’m sure.  I had no problems with the K-x’s view screen or this one.  It lacks a touch screen, but I’m not used to that and don’t really care.


“Bleached Bypass”.

Normal image
(+) There are three new “custom finishing” choices in addition to the seven available before.  The new ones are “Bleach Bypass” and “Reversal Film”, along with “Cross Processing”.  “Bleach Bypass” reduces the saturation and increases contrast.  It also seems to make landscape photos look darker green for an interesting effect.  “Reversal Film” gives photos a high (but not overpowering) contrast look.  I’ll be playing with this one!  “Cross Processing” was only available on the K-x if shooting JPEG only. Now it’s available as a finishing mode for developing RAW images.  I shoot RAW+JPEG and thus haven’t really been able to take advantage of this one (since in JPEG mode you must therefore choose it whilst taking the photo, whereas this is something that one typically wishes to try out later when going through their photos (Kudos, Pentax, for also recognizing this!)

(+) I hardly ever need (or even think) to shoot video so don’t really have anything to say about that either. The K-30 offers a “full HD” (along with the “HD” and “VGA” modes that the K-x offered), but now stores the files as “.MOV” instead of “.AVI” as before.  There’s also a new “interval movie” mode that allows one to do time-lapse photography (3 seconds to 1 hour (movie) or 24 hours (stills) apart!) and you can even preset the start time to begin at a later time!  Video shooting seems to be an afterthought to Pentax with both cameras, but hey, I’m a stills photographer who only occasionally snaps a video so both camera’s video features are sufficient for me and that’s what these cameras are designed and marketed for!  If I wanted serious video capability I’d either get a Canon Rebel T4i or a true video-cam!


Photo by (© 2013) me:  1/640″ f2.5 iso200
50mmF1.4, shadow-corrected, custom WB, very cropped.
(+) On my K-30, I can now FINALLY use the “Optical Preview” feature (temporarily stops down the lens so that one can see what kind of field-depth I’m going to get)!  On the K-x, the only way to use “Optical Preview” was to select that as the function for the “green” button, thus losing access all the other functions the “green” button could perform (so not worth it)!

(+) Another non-trivial change is being able to use both a rechargeable Lithium battery OR AA batteries. (I ordered the optional AA adapter for six bucks when I ordered the camera)  I’ve always loved being able to quickly swap in a new set of batteries when I run out during a shoot and always carry a spare set.  The rechargeable feature is now growing on me a bit though too, since I can order a second one for not much more than the cost of a pack of those nice disposable “9x” AA Lithiums I use.

(+) They also moved the “Live View” button off (and out of the way) to the left side of the camera (YESSSSS!!!!!)  I was forever accidentally hitting it when trying to hit the “Image Review” button.  I had actually carved a notch on my K-x next to the “Image Review” button so I could find it with my thumb!  On the slightly annoying side, they rearranged the functions of the “clover-leaf” controller, which may take a bit to get used to.  I think it’s going to be a plus though having the ISO on top and easiest to reach, since that’s the one I’m most likely to reach for with my thumb while the camera is up in my face!  They’ve also added separate settings for “AF-S” and “AF-C” on the focus-mode switch, giving it three positions now, which is very handy since with the K-x you had to go to the menus to set that, making it nearly useless when shooting (the K-x only had two positions (Auto and Manual).  Another slight improvement is that the Scene modes have been taken off the main dial and are now combined into a single position called “SCN”.  I hardly ever use those, but when I did on the K-x, using the “SCN” option (which had those and other “scene modes”) I had to use the “clover-leaf” buttons to change the scene (instead of the (disabled) rear control wheel), but now you can change scenes with the control wheel!


Image courtesy:  Trendhunter.
(+) The water-sealing is nice too, though I can only remember one time when it started to drizzle while I was shooting and I immediately tucked my K-x under my shirt to protect it, bent over, and ran for shelter; which I wouldn’t have to do now (I was out trying to get a shot in quickly before it started to rain).  I’ve yet to have a reason to shoot in drizzle though.  The drawback is that none of my lenses (including my limited pancake primes) are water-sealed, so I’ll still have to either turn my camera to face down or shoot in drizzle while holding something over at least the lens!

(+) Another nice touch is that the flash pops up about three-quarters of an inch higher above the lens than on the K-x or most other cameras, which should substantially reduce red-eye!  They waste the last quarter inch of that long “beak” above it though, but some Aggie like me could probably add a bit of tin-foil or something inside it to add some “reflectivity” to it possibly adding a couple of points to it’s guard value of 12 (we’ll see)!  The only minor problem is that now the Flash pop-up button has moved to the left side of the camera and the “Live View” button has taken up residence in it’s place, so now I’ll be hitting “Live View” when I’m wanting flash, for a while now.  Fortunately I want flash a lot less often than I want to review pictures!

(+) Still others are:  1) the menu button now “remembers” which menu you were in the last time, good for briefly making quick adjustments and then toggling them back to your “normal” setting.  The “Digital Editing and Filters” menu also remembers your last choice, ie. “Crop”, “Raw Development”, etc.  2) A “quick zoom” feature when previewing images.  3) Two “User” settings on the main control dial where you can have the camera “remember” it’s configuration.  I have not had a chance to try this out to see what all it actually “remembers” yet.  4) They removed that annoying blue “Power is on” light on the top of the camera, though some might miss this feature, particularly if you do a lot of bulb or time-delay / interval shooting!

(+) One initial concern I had was weight.  I love my K-x because of it’s compact size and light (but still solid-feeling) weight.  I knew this camera weighed slightly more, but it really doesn’t feel noticeably heavier to me.  At least my hand and wrist muscles don’t feel or react any differently to holding it nor seem to tire any quicker.


K-30’s Display Control Screen.
Image by (© 2013) me.
(-) Now for some minor annoyances, and there are several (more than I expected from a company that obviously studied ergonomics when they designed the K-x).  First and most annoying, is the “Info” button.  On the K-x I had the LCD screen set to OFF unless I was reviewing an image, changing a menu setting, or using “Live View”.  Here, it took me quite a while to figure out how to turn off the LCD screen which by default, remains on continuously, eating up your battery and making night work difficult.  I finally found it in a new menu screen that pops up in sequence by pressing the “Info” button.  It contains four icons without text explanation and one of them (a square with a slash through it) means turn off the LCD (except when doing one of the aforementioned things).  This isn’t too bad once you figure it out though.  The real annoyance, which is related, is when reviewing images.  On the K-x, when reviewing images, one pressed the “Info” button to toggle through the different image displays (bare image, image with basic exposure parameters, thumbnail image with all shooting parameter values, and image with histograms).  Now, the “Info’ button presents a similar screen of icons to choose which display mode one wants without any way to quickly toggle through them while viewing an image.  Since the front control wheel now advances to the next image, why not use the clover-leaf controller toggle through the different image displays, eh?  Or, maybe use the “Info” button (as before) to do this and have the “Menu” button display that choice menu, since there’s no real need to go directly to the camera’s menu settings from image-review mode. I’m now sure why we moved the “Af/AE-L” button from it’s nice, reachable place in the upper right corner, but it’s new position is still very reachable.  It no longer has it’s unique protruding bevel either.

(-) Another really strange omission is the “Dust Alert” menu choice on the K-x that would take a picture of the sensor and show you where the dust was making it much easier to blow it off with a blower.  For some strange, inexplicable reason, Pentax left this off the K-30.


K-30’s Level Screen.  Image by (© 2013) me.
(+) The K-30 also has a new built-in “level” (very nice).  There are two versions of it.  One is a full-screen level that shows you exactly how far you’re off that can be accessed through selecting that screen option in the “Info” button icon menu (discussed in the previous paragraph).  This is useful when setting the camera up on a tripod and getting it level once and for all before beginning shooting.  The other is a tiny level “slider of LED dots” in the viewfinder that can either perform that function or indicate exposure compensation up to ±2ev, useful for hand-held shooting (but you have to choose either level or exposure compensation indicator, but not both in the menus).  It works for both level and plumb (vertical shooting), but really can only show you how relatively off level you are until you are approximately level (or plumb).

(-) Another thing to consider is that if you set to (“Electronic Level OFF” in the menu), then, when in “M” mode, you will see the ISO and NOT the exposure compensation amount number, and pressing the “Ex-comp” button will NOT show this to you (or do anything useful), effectively limiting the usefulness of “M” mode to ±2ev instead of the ±5ev advertised (you can still calculate further amounts in your head)!  The “Ex-comp” button will still do this (and actually work) for you in other modes though (smells like a firmware oversight “BUG” to me)! Therefore, If you use “M” mode, you will probably want to set “Electronic Level ON” in the menu, then you can see level and exposure compensation (±5ev), but not ISO, which is especially useful for shooting moon shots on a tripod! Otherwise, if you want to use your other control dial to do exposure comp. in “Tv” or “Av” mode, set “Electronic Level OFF” in order to get immediate feedback on minor (<±2ev) exposure comp. adjustments in real-time and press the “Ex-comp” button to see it numerically (followed by the “green” button to zero it back out)!  The trade-off with this is you will have to count clicks of the dial if you are in a hurry and remember to do the “two-button reset” to zero it back out before continuing shooting!  The fix to me is duh-obvious, Pentax:  Simply tweak the firmware to have the “Ex-comp” button simply toggle the display between ISO and “EV Comp” when in “M” or “B” modes, annoyance eliminated!

Keep in mind, these are all very minor nits for what to me is nearly the “perfect camera” (for my needs and type of usage).  I just wanted others to know the real differences to weigh when considering making the upgrade from a K-x, which is still a wonderful camera, except for the poor auto-focus.

Overall, this camera is extremely capable, versatile, and feature-packed for this price.  Pentax has clearly put in a lot of work in designing a very good camera.  It is definitely a worthy upgrade to the K-x (at least if you can find one for <$500).  This is all made possible by Pentax’s recent replacement of the K-30 with the new K-50, but other than changing the body “style” slightly”, the only “feature” it seems to have over the K-30 is a single additional ISO stop (51200) that I have no use for (at least not paying at least $200 more for).

As a software developer though (in my day job), it is particularly sad to me that it appears that they did not have their firmware development team fully test it out throughly enough through actual usage (there are an awful lot of new option combinations to test though) since almost all of these ergonomic annoyances could’ve probably been very easily corrected with just some minor tweaks to the firmware resulting in a much superior and more complete user-interface with only a few more hours of additional software development time allowed!  This is especially noteworthy because Pentax is well-known and revered for their attention to ergonomic detail and usability.  It looks like they put a little less effort into firmware testing than they did with the K-x.  If Pentax wanted to really top the “cool” scale in my book, they would “open-source” their firmware (or at least the customization parts), then I’d fix these nits MYSELF!  It wouldn’t cost them anything since one can’t use the firmware without purchasing their camera anyway and they’d benefit since I’m sure others would fix, improve, and release new versions providing free software development for them!

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4 Comments

  1. Matt
    Posted April 9, 2014 at 5:42 am | Permalink | Reply

    Great first impressions of the K30. I just bought the K50 and stumbled across your blog. I haven’t read much else on this site yet but if you haven’t tried it yet, Focus Peaking works brilliantly with Live View manual focussing, especially with older lenses. It actually takes away some of the skill needed but helps speed up the manual process.

    • Posted June 10, 2015 at 1:47 am | Permalink | Reply

      I’m sure it does, unfortunately, I’m not really able to use LV to focus, since my eyes can not focus closer than a/b 2-3 feet away anymore w/o reading glasses. I too have recently upgraded to a K-50 after my K-30’s aperture control module failed 3 times (repaired twice). Credit-card’s extended warantee covered most of it though!

  2. Andrei
    Posted November 20, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I just bought a K-x 4 days ago. it happens to be my 1st DSLR , and till now I think I made the right choice. Hope to last enough so I can give it to my kids one day.

    • Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:45 pm | Permalink | Reply

      It is an oldie but goodie, hope you got a great deal on it. I still have mine for a backup, nothing beats it ease of one-handed use!

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