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Mini-Review: Pentax *ist DS

It was time to pick up a new camera, so after some research, I got the 6.1 megapixel Pentax *ist DS, and I have to say I'm quite impressed.

I've been using my trusty Canon C2100 for about five years now, and it's a great camera—I will undoubtedly continue to use it for many more years. But I had the opportunity to take a trip to Angkor Wat in Cambodia recently, and I wanted something more than 2.1 megapixels for the pictures from that place. I picked the *ist because it offered the things I was looking for, namely 35mm SLR form factor, SecureDigital (SD) memory, and something that would fit my investment in lenses and filters.

The *ist is a "traditional SLR body," meaning that it looks and acts like a traditional 35mm camera body, only there's no film. It's portable and light—lighter than a Pentax PZ70 I've used for years—but feels quite rugged. And since I've already made an investment in Pentax K-mount lenses, this camera made a lot of sense.

Features I like in the camera:

  • Looks and feels like a 35mm camera, with all the benefits of SLR.
  • Uses either 4 AA batteries or 2 lithium camera batteries. I think the AA feature is important: if your batteries give out, AA's are usually just around the corner. Besides, NiMH rechargables are convenient to recharge overnight.
  • Fits Pentax lenses, so existing investments are still good... including my astrophotography gear
  • It has an excellent CCD, and takes some stunning pictures, even in low light.
  • Fast CPU. Starts fast, renders fast, stores images fast. And it's miserly on the batteries: I can leave it in standby mode, and just wake it up instantly by lightly tapping the shutter release. This is good for all-day photo-expeditions.
  • Uses Secure-Digital memory cards. I like this, since a number of other gadgets I have use them, too. No need to buy or carry around a bunch of single-tasker memory cards.
  • Very well-done user interface; reviewing pictures is quick and effortless, and navigating menus (which you don't have to do for most things anyway) is straightforward. Controlling the camera is quite easy, and doesn't feel like you're working through a key-hole.
  • Excellent connectivity to a PC. Plug it in, and it behaves like a USB card reader, acting just like it is an external disk. (Most modern cameras do this now, but a few holdouts require you to install special software to download photographs: not good.)

I'm still working on a list of things I didn't like, but to be honest, I haven't found much yet. There's a minor thing about the way it treats lenses: my 28mm lens isn't quite as wide-angle as if it were on my PZ70, so some shots were not possible. But on the other hand, at 80mm it behaved more like 120mm, so it balances out.

I've seen the price come down from about a thousand dollars to under seven hundred, so it's becoming much more affordable, too.

In short, it's been a great investment, and while the trip to Angkor Wat resulted in about a thousand pictures (over two gigabytes of images!) they're really great pictures. My problem quickly became "where do I put them all in the field?"—the last thing I want to do is carry around a bunch of memory cards. Fortunately, there's a cool answer to that, too.

- Thomas