This review was written by someone who buys a new camera every year, always seeking better photos, bigger zoom, more mega pixels. My quest for outstanding photos led me to my first SLR, a Pentax K-r with two lenses. Rejected was my first love, an Olympus Pen camera which has a lens factor of 2x meaning a 200mm lens has an equivalent of 400mm. The Pentax has a lens factor of 1.5x so my 200mm lens has an equivalent of 300mm. For wildlife and bird shots even that reach seemed lacking, so I bought a 50-300mm zoom lens and a 1.4x teleconverter. After a few uses I sold the teleconverter because of its finicky focusing and noise. The 300mm lens has enough reach for most occasions, but I still lust for that far-reaching mega zoom which may propel me to sell the 300mm lens and buy a new Nikon with an advertised 42x zoom. It never ends with me.
So how does this first time SLR owner like his Pentax K-r? For the most part I do like it, and I have taken some outstanding photos along with hundreds or thousands of throw away shots. Having an SLR doesn't guarantee photographic success. The K-r's 350 page operating manual would indicate that this is a complex piece of apparatus that takes time, practice, and study to achieve those longed for great shots.
My success has been mixed. I've found that it's best to concentrate on one aspect at a time before moving on to another. The filters alone and the various scene settings take many hours of practice to master. Some produce excellent shots, and others just aren't worth the effort. One can process images in-camera with a slew of filer effects; the effects can be eye-pleasing, but I prefer to post process photos on a big screen using software. I will say that in the scene mode the night scene HDR setting for low light pictures has produced some magnificent results, without the extremes of highlights or shadows.
The camera comes with software for organizing and retouching photos. I loaded it onto my computer but have seldom used it.
Even with intensive searching I haven't been able to find any supplementary books about the K-r. I did download an e-book for the K-x that's actually pretty good and most of the content also applies to the K-r which is a very similar camera.
I don't like lugging around three lenses and a handful of filters. Mostly I just keep on the 50-200mm filter and back up if I'm too close to the subject.
Be aware that though this camera can use AA batteries, you have to buy an adapter to make that happen, an adapter that isn't cheap. I've had no problem with the battery life of the standard battery. It's actually very good.
The Pentax K-r feels good in the hand, comfortable and sturdy. With practice accessing the controls can become second nature. My problem is that I have three cameras with different ways to access the same features, such as bracketing.
The on camera menu is extensive and quite complicated. When on vacation, I made sure to keep the manual in the camera bag for ready reference.
This camera really shines in the bracketing mode. I've achieved some of my best photos using this technique and later processing the pictures with Photomatix pro. Taking the three bracketed shots in the raw mode has produced even better results.
Finally - Looking to step up to SLR? The Pentax K-r with its self-cleaning CMOS sensor is not a bad choice if one is willing to devote time for practice and study. Other options are the smaller but more expensive SLR's from makers like Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony. Just don't expect all of your photos to be great right out of the box.