Best DSLR for beginners: 6 tested

Entry-level cameras and the best DSLR on a tight budget

Best starter dslrs  6 tested

Pentax K-r - £400

Small but with a robust and rugged feel, the Pentax K-r packs in plenty of impressive features. Shooting modes include all the usual basic settings such as Portrait, Landscape and Sports, plus an auto scene-sensing full auto mode.

In advanced modes, the Pentax K-r adds a Sensitivity setting to the usual PASM, so you can set the ISO to your preferred value, and the camera works out an appropriate balance of aperture and shutter speed. Video recording is less impressive, with a maximum resolution of 720p.

To improve image quality, there's a neat range of auto corrections available from the menu system, including independent dynamic-range controls for highlights and shadows, and lens corrections for distortion and lateral chromatic aberrations.

Multiple exposure and interval shooting are also on the menu, and the body features sensor-shift image stabilisation. Furthermore, the maximum shutter speed is an above-average 1/6000 sec, and the Pentax camera has the fastest continuous shooting rate in its class, at 6fps. All in all, the K-r is an extremely versatile camera.

Performance

The 11-point autofocus system proved very accurate in our tests. The only disappointment is that in selectable, single AF point mode, the four-way pad loses its ability to control white balance, ISO, flash and the self-timer, which is rather awkward.

Metering is quite accurate in most outdoor conditions, but in dull lighting, and for indoor shots without flash, we found the Pentax K-r often severely under-exposed pictures. The shadow-correction feature works quite well, but highlight correction often fails to avoid blown highlights.

Outdoor image test

Best starter dslrs  6 tested

In regular 'Natural' colour mode, images can be a little muted, as above. Switching to Landscape or Vibrant gives more impact.

Resolution test

Best starter dslrs  6 tested

ISO 200

The Pentax K-r proved a little disappointing in resolution, with a noticeable drop in fine detail compared with other cameras in the test.

Noise

Best starter dslrs  6 tested

ISO 200

Best starter dslrs  6 tested

ISO 3200

Image noise at high ISO settings is much reduced compared with the older Pentax K-x, but under-exposure is a problem in dull lighting.

Colour error

Best starter dslrs  6 tested

Colours from the Pentax K-r can sometimes look a little insipid, and we often saw a slightly cool colour cast in test images.

Image test verdict

Saturation is slightly muted, and the colour balance is cool. There's a lack of fine detail along with under-exposure in dull lighting conditions.

Read our full Pentax K-r review