D-SLR great for beginners

Pentax's oddly-named "*ist DS" is a 6.1Mp D-SLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera competing with products like Canon's now older EOS-300D. Although it was released late last year and now also has 8Mp competition, the *ist DS is still one of the smallest and lightest D-SLRs.

The 6.1Mp CCD sensor delivers images with 3008x2008 pixel resolution and sufficient detail to make good-looking A3 colour inkjet prints. Like other D-SLRs, the CCD sensor is physically larger than those in consumer cameras, allowing lower noise levels even at high sensitivities.

Like most D-SLRs, though, the *ist DS' sensor is smaller than a frame of 35mm film. As a consequence, all lenses have their focal length effectively multiplied 1.5 times. So the Sigma 18-125mm lens optionally sold with the *ist DS has an effective range of roughly 27-190mm.

The *ist DS' K-mount can use any Pentax lens, directly handling K, KA, KAF and KAF2 models and even screwmount or medium-format optics with an adapter - great news for anyone who already has Pentax gear or for those who like browsing the second-hand market.

To save space, Pentax has only equipped the *ist DS with a slot for Secure Digital (SD) memory cards. A while back, the prospect of a D-SLR that couldn't use CompactFlash cards was unthinkable, but these days SD cards offer decent capacities at affordable prices. Images can be stored with three different levels of JPEG compression or in RAW mode. Best quality JPEGs measure around 2.7MB each.

Next to its rivals, the *ist DS looks truly compact. It's comfortable to hold, well built, and feels more solid than the 300D, and better looking. You also get a 2in screen and decent-sized LCD status screen on the top.

The main control dial allows keen photographers to select the traditional Program, Manual, Shutter and Aperture Priority modes. Non-technical users can choose from one of seven scene presets or allow the Auto Pict mode to do it for them. Quick fire Sensitivity runs from 200 to 3200 ISO, and the burst mode can capture up to eight JPEGs at 2.8fps. Power comes from four AAs or a pair of CR-V3 lithium packs, and Pentax supplies a mains adapter and a disposable pair of Lithium CR-V3s.

The *ist DS was quicker to start and take its first shot, and smaller than the 300D despite having a bigger screen. But in our tests, it resolved slightly less detail, while noise levels were fractionally higher.

VERDICT: Potential buyers should also consider the 8Mp Olympus E100, 6Mp Nikon D70 and definitely Canon's new 8Mp EOS 350D S-SLR, but the *ist DS is certainly a great camera, combining 6.1Mp resolution, decent build quality and great controls for beginners.

Pentax *ist DS

PRICE $1349 (body only); $1499 (with Sigma 18-125mm lens)

DISTRIBUTOR CR Kennedy (will advise of local reseller)

URL www.crkennedy.com.au; www.pentax.com

SPECIFICATIONS 6.1Mp; 3008x2008 max resolution; 3:2 aspect ratio; takes any Pentax K-mount lens; field of view multiplied by 1.5; takes SD memory cards (not supplied); image size at best JPEG quality approx 2.7MB; 2in LCD screen and optical SLR viewfinder; four AAs or two disposable CR-V3 lithium packs (latter supplied); 125x93x66mm; 605g including battery and excluding lens; 1-year warranty




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