Pentax *ist DL Guide

Posted in March 2006

This Pentax *ist DL guide is designed to give you a complete overview of this digital SLR camera.

You'll learn about the camera's key features and how it differs from the competitive camera models.

Let's start with some history: Pentax announced the release of the *ist DL on June 1, 2005.

The DL is the third camera in the Pentax lineup, following behind the high-end *ist D and the consumer *ist DS (September 13, 2004).

All three cameras are very similar in features and functionality.

Key differences are that the *ist DL has a larger LCD screen (at 2.5") and is the lightest of the 3 cameras.

The *ist DL also loses the 11-point autofocus system in the D and DS models, which causes some issues with focusing as you'll see later on in this guide.

pentax *ist DL

Quick Overview

  • 6.1 megapixels lets you create excellent 11x14 inch prints
  • Compatible with Pentax KA, KAF and KAF2 lenses
  • 2.8 photos per second
  • ISO settings from 200 to 3200
  • Maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second
  • 1.5 times crop factor
  • 2.5" LCD
  • Stores photos on SD memory cards
  • 3-area autofocus system

Key Feature


The *ist DL next to the Canon 20D

This camera is small and light.

One of the problems of owning a digital SLR camera is bulk. Digital SLRs are significantly larger than their compact cousins.

Since most people's idea of a good time doesn't involve hauling around a 5-pound weight, digital SLR cameras get left at home a lot.

If you don't have your camera with you, how can you take spontanous photos?

The *ist DL solves problem, and is a portable solution for anyone who wants the advantage of an SLR without the size and weight.

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Who The *ist DL is For

The Pentax *ist DL is best suited for travellers on a budget.

  • The small size and light weight make it easy to carry around.
  • It uses standard AA batteries, which you can find no matter where you are.
  • As of March 2006, this is the most inexpensive digital SLR camera you can buy.

It is also a good camera for a digital SLR beginner.

Menus on the *ist DL are easy to read and navigate, making it accessible even for the techno-phobic.

Not sure what type of photographer you are? Figure that out first to help you find the best digital SLR camera.

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In Comparison

In this section of the guide, I'll compare the Pentax *ist DL to other cameras in a similar price range.

If you're unclear about the different price ranges, read our article on digital SLR camera prices.

Small Yet Comfortable

Pentax claims that the entire line of *ist cameras (the D, DL, DL2, DS and DS2) are the smallest and lightest digital SLRs on the market.

I would say that this is almost true - the Canon EOS 350D is also small and light.

Here's the key difference: the *ist DL is much easier to hold. I found the 350D too small for my hand, which made the grip uncomfortable.

The grip on the *ist DL is very comfortable, and the camera is exceptionally easy to hold with one hand.

When you can hold the camera with just one hand, you can take photos at odd angles that would otherwise not be possible .

Slower Speed

This camera is not quite as responsive as the Minolta 5D, Canon 350D or the Nikon D50.

Slight delays when the shutter is pressed mean that this camera is not ideal for action photographers.

Focusing is slow in low-light conditions, and sometimes cannot focus at all.

Many other digital SLRs have adopted a focusing mechanism that consists of individual focus points. The Pentax *ist DL doesn't have focus points, which provides less feedback to you about where the camera is focusing.

Fuzzy Viewfinder

When you look through the viewfinder of a digital SLR, you see what the lens sees.

This is due to a solid block of reflective glass called a pentaprism, which bends light at a 90 degree angle.

The Pentax *ist DL doesn't use a pentaprism, it uses a pentamirror: the concept is the same, but instead of one piece of glass it reflects light with angled mirrors.

The problem with the pentamirror is that it dims the image in the viewfinder, and makes the viewfinder image look grainy.

This is especially true when you use the camera's depth of field preview function which narrows the opening of the lens.

When the lens opening is narrow, the viewfinder is so dark and grainy that it's hard to see your photographic subject.

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How It Works

Digital SLR cameras are electronics.

They have dozens of custom functions and features that you can fiddle with.

All of this can be ignored if you just want to take a simple snapshot, but it can be overwhelming when you just want to show a photo to a friend.

The good news is that the menus of the *ist DL are clearly designed for those who want to take photos instead of read technical manuals.

The Pentax uses simple icons and standard words to describe each one of the camera's settings, making it easy for even the novice photographer to make all the right adjustments.

In Use

It's easy to get out and snapping photos with the *ist DL.

Insert the AA batteries, pop in a memory card and you're off and running.

The camera has a large LCD which makes it easy to check the photos you just took.

The slideshow mode is especially nice, and you can plug the camera into a T.V. to show off photos to family and friends (made possible with an included cable).

The limitations of the camera only show up when you start to push some photographic boundaries.

For example, you can boost the ISO on the camera from 200 to 3200 for low-light photography.

Unfortunately, this adds a considerable amount of noise to the image , which you won't see with the Canon 350D or Nikon D50.

The camera doesn't perfom as well in low-light conditions.

No, I'm not talking about the dead of night: the camera has a tough time locking focus indoors on a sunny day.

While you can certainly take photos in low-light if your subject remains still, the *ist DL works best outside with plenty of light.


The Pentax *ist DL takes all of its photos in color.

There is a menu setting that allows you to change color photos into sepia and black and white, but this is not the same as taking the photos without color in the first place.

How is the color capture? Excellent, from my point of view.

I always take photos of brightly-colored objects for these digital SLR guides, and the colors produced by the Pentax really pop.

You be the judge: take a look at the *ist DL photos samples at the end of this guide.


The built-in flash does a great job of eliminating red-eye.

The flash uses a strobe burst before it fires the flash which helps reduce the diameter of your subject's pupils.

The smaller the pupils, the less chance of red-eye.

A flash compensation setting lets you adjust the amount of flash put out if you don't want to blast your subject with light.


Battery life on this camera is fantastic, even with extended use of the large LCD.

I opted to use 4 rechargeable Ni-Mh AA batteries, but you can also use 2 CR-V3 batteries in place of the 4 AA.

With the 4 AA I didn't have to recharge the batteries once during a week where I took photos every day.

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The kit lens for the *ist DL offers something I haven't seen on any other camera yet: a lens hood.

The petal lens hood attaches to the front of the lens, and helps prevent lens flares.

If you're not sure what a lens flare is, click the icon to see a sample photo : that's a lens flare.

You can find lens hoods for other digital SLR cameras, but it will be a minor additional charge.

Since it doesn't cost very much, it was thoughtful of Pentax to include it with their standard kit.

The standard kit lens has a zoom focal length between 18 and 55mm with a variable maximum aperture of f/3.5 to f/5.6.

The 18mm setting works well for wide-angle work, like landscape photography and indoors.

The 55mm setting is better for portraits, when you want to get closer to your subject and blur out the background .

The lens also lets you get suprisingly close to your subject - it's not a true macro lens, but it's pretty good.

The "Pancake" Lens

I can never talk about the Pentax cameras without mentioning this amazing lens.

The Pentax 40mm pancake lens is exactly that: flatter than any lens I have ever seen.

It has a fixed focal length of 40mm, but a wide maximum aperture of f/2.8. This lets in a ton of light if you like to take photos indoors.

Here's the kicker: this lens is just .59 inches long and only weighs 3.17 ounces. A standard Canon 50mm lens is 2.9 inches long and weighs 10.2 ounces.

This makes the 40mm pancake lens an ideal travel companion.

When this tiny lightweight lens is paired with the equivalently tiny and lightweight *ist DL, you've got a digital SLR camera that is ready to travel.

Good price news: you can get this lens right now for 42% off the retail price with an additional $50 mail-in rebate.

This takes the price of the lens from $455.00 down to $215.00. Not bad.

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The Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
  • Large 2.5" LCD
  • Small and light
  • Simple menus
  • Lens hood included
  • Pancake lens!
  • Slower response
  • Dim viewfinder
  • Noisy at high ISO

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Pentax *ist DL Photo Samples

You can see the complete gallery with 33 Pentax *ist DL photo samples here.

*ist DL photo sample *ist DL photo sample *ist DL photo sample *ist DL photo sample *ist DL photo sample *ist DL photo sample *ist DL photo sample

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Price Analysis

In February of 2006, Pentax announced a $200 price drop on the *ist DL, making it the most affordable digital SLR on the market.

The previous price barrier for digital SLR cameras was $1000, and that was broken by the Canon Digital Rebel back in 2003.

The *ist DL now holds the honor of being the first digital SLR available for less than $600 (with a lens!).

Pentax*ist DL with 18-55mm Lens $ 533.00
NikonD50 with 18-55mm lens $ 627.00
OlympusE500 with 14-45mm lens $ 700.00
CanonEOS 350D with 18-55mm lens $ 780.00

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There are several accessories for the Pentax *ist DL.

The most important one to start with is a decent size SD memory card, since there is no card included with the camera.

In the table below, I have included the approximate number of photos you can take with each card at the highest quality setting.

SanDisk256 MB80 $ 18.00
SanDisk512 MB160 $ 37.00
SanDisk1 GB (1024 MB)320 $ 51.00
SanDisk2 GB640 $ 100.00

Another fun accessory if you want to take photos at night is the cable switch.

With long exposures at night, you don't want to touch the camera because this will shake it and cause blurry photos.

The Pentax cable switch 205 ($30.00) lets you activate the camera's shutter without touching it.

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For Owners


Have you misplaced your user manuals for the Pentax *ist DL? Not a problem.

Digital SLR Lessons

Tired of missing great photo opportunities even though you have an advanced digital SLR camera?

I'll let you in on a little secret: there's nothing wrong with your camera.

Digital SLRs are great at taking photos, but not so good at making decisions - it's up to you to know what you want and to take manual control when you have to.

Here's some good news: it's easier to learn how to use your digital SLR than you might think.

In fact, you can learn all about all the features of your Pentax *ist DL digital SLR camera in just 5 easy online lessons.

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