Pentax X-5 £199.99
12th Mar 2013 | 10:00
Set to impress the bridge market with a gigantic zoom range
The Pentax X-5 is unusual in that it's a bridge camera being released into a sea of new types of cameras.
Since smartphones have done a fantastic job at replacing the need for traditional ultra-slim compact cameras, many camera manufacturers have tried new concepts to hook consumers.
Some invested heavily in compact system cameras (CSCs), while others chose the route of premium compacts - bestowed with super fast lenses and manual controls - such as the Canon G15 or the Panasonic LX7.
Others played smartphones at their own game by creating Android cameras such as the Nikon Coolpix S800c and the Samsung Galaxy Camera, which supply access to the internet and offer the ability to download apps direct.
A few, however, are continuing to produce bridge cameras, which sit neatly between easy to use point-and-shoots and low-end DSLRs. With impressive focal length ranges, bridge cameras are often the weapon of choice for those looking to progress their photographic skills without investing in a pricier DSLR.
Today, however, high-end compacts and CSCs are squeezing out bridge cameras, yet a few manufacturers aren't giving up and Pentax, with its new X-5, is one of them.
What is a bridge camera?
Priced at a very affordable £199.99/AU$269.95/US$279.95, the beefed up compact Pentax X-5 is available in black or silver. This makes it cheaper than fellow bridge cameras such as the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS and Panasonic Lumix FZ200.
The Pentax X-5 features a 16MP 1/2.33-inch backlit CMOS sensor with a sensor-shift shake reduction system, as well as manual shooting mode, 1080p HD movie modes and digital filters.
Pentax's camera also boasts a 3-inch tilting 460k dot LCD screen, and offers 10fps shooting and a 1cm macro mode focusing distance.
Perhaps most impressively of all, it touts an incredible equivalent focal range of 22-580mm with its 26x optical zoom.
And it tops this with an intelligent zoom function that extends coverage approximately 187.2 times, up to a jaw-dropping equivalent focal length of 4174mm.
Build quality and handling
What camera should I buy? Your options explained
Built in the mould of an entry-level DSLR and encompassing a hearty zoom lens, the Pentax X-5 weighs in at unsurprising 600g (21oz) when fully loaded. The added weight offers a sense of reassurance and durability, yet it could deter some, since it's twice as heavy as the average CSC.
The front of the camera fits the elongated lens with a rubberised ring, offering the suggestion of being able to control zoom or focus from here. But sadly this is just for decoration.
A comfortable rubberised grip protrudes from its right, sporting an indented index finger rest, and there's a solid zoom dial on top. Sadly using the zoom control, while impressive in range, doesn't slide in and out of the scene as smoothly as we would have hoped. Instead, chunky incremental jumps are made, even with the gentlest of nudges to the dial.
Holding the camera is made steadier and more comfortable by the large grip, which smuggles four AA batteries and a memory card in its underbelly.
While some photographers may enjoy the flexibility of AA batteries, many may lament this decision, which can be more costly in the long run. We found that a set of fresh top-brand batteries yielded around 400 shots, yet four rechargeable batteries only provided sufficient power to execute around 200.
Positioned next to the rather flimsy battery compartment door is a plastic thread for tripod mounts.
Looking at the top of the Pentax X-5 we find a pop-up flash and familiar looking shooting dial that houses Manual, Program, Movie, Auto Picture, a customisable 'User' mode and Scene modes.
Auto Picture automatically selects between 16 presets such as portrait, landscape and macro. There are 19 scene modes, including all the stable choices plus more unique offerings such as Digital Wide and Stage Lighting. Also included are shortcut options for Handheld Night, Sport, Landscape and Portrait.
While there is enough shooting choice in the Pentax X-5 to tantalise most levels of photographer, we can't help noticing obvious weak spots - notably the startling absence of shutter priority and aperture priority modes.
These modes arguably act as the essential stepping stone for many novice shooters looking to bridge the void between auto modes and full manual control, which is surely one of the main purposes of a bridge camera.
Furthermore, despite the adoption of manual features, there is no support for raw file shooting - instead we are merely given the choice of three JPEG qualities.
When it comes to shooting with the Pentax X-5, auto modes are pretty straightforward, and there are no eye-raising flaws that surface.
But the same can't be said for Manual, which sadly lacks the same intuitiveness that many of the new breed of manual-mode-clad compact cameras offer. You toggle between speed and aperture by using the exposure compensation button, then have to rotate the rear dial to select values.
No issues there, but while we found it possible to vary the shutter speed in incremental steps, when it comes to moving the aperture in stops, you only have the choice of two extreme variables, which change depending on the focal length.
So realistically the Manual mode is better suited to those with a preference for shooting in shutter priority mode.
The rear of the Pentax X-5 features a 230k dot electronic viewfinder with dioptre and a 3-inch articulating 460k dot LCD display. Despite the fact that most average compact cameras now brag a screen resolution of 920k dots, we found the Pentax X-5's monitor to be pleasingly bright and clear.
Plus, thanks to its anti-reflective coating and tilting design, it combats glare efficiently in most lighting scenarios.
Elsewhere on the reverse of the camera, the placement of a one-touch record button is conveniently positioned for avid movie-makers, but is perhaps edged a little too close to the rear thumb pad, and as such there is a danger of accidentally recording.
The Pentax X-5's D-pad doesn't throw up anything bizarre, and thankfully includes the faithful macro shortcut, since some recent compact offerings by rival brands have noticeably lacked this feature of late.
The camera is adequately responsive, taking just over a second to start up. The shutter takes half a second to respond, and it requires around a second to write the picture to memory before refreshing for the next frame.
What is a bridge camera?
We found that the Pentax X-5 has a slight bias towards overexposing in auto and scene modes, with an apparent loss of detail in the shadows, and slightly blown out highlights in some cases.
The Pentax X-5 offers eight white balance presets plus a custom option. Using the majority of these options produced satisfactory results, with colours being very nearly on point. Yet the daylight, auto and even the custom option failed to deliver colours as rich as the real-life subjects, with reds and green in particular appearing muted.
In terms of noise performance, we see little disruption at ISO 100 and 200, with colours appearing smooth and lines clean. The first tale-tell signs become visible in darker sections of images by ISO 400, and are quite obvious by ISO 800, with colours and the crispness of detail becoming compromised.
After that, images show clear incremental damage as we move through the sensitivity range, and by ISO 3200 and certainly by 6400, the image quality is so degraded at full size that results are relatively unusable.
Chromatic aberrations are noticeable in areas of high contrast, as is often the case with lower-end compact cameras.
However, what is more disturbing is the purple glare captured in any circumstance where the light source is photographed - be it as harsh as the midday sun or as delicate as a flickering church votive.
We see relative softening at either end of the 22-580mm focal range straight out of the camera, but nothing that should put you off.
However, despite Pentax promising no compromise to image quality when using the infamous Intelligent Zoom feature, we found the results at its full extension were relatively unusable. They more often than not exhibited distortion, blur and colour desaturation.
Given its very reasonable price tag, we weren't expecting flawless images, yet actually the Pentax X-5 does very well for its class. There were a handful of image quality concern areas we could take issue with, but nothing that should deter you from considering it.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Pentax X-5, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Pentax X-5 is capable of resolving up to around 18 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
ISO 100, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
These results show that JPEG images from the Pentax X-5 have the weakest signal to noise ratio of all the cameras here at low sensitivity settings. At ISO 400 and above, however, the Pentax climbs up the rankings, coming second to the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS and beating the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 and Nikon Coolpix L810.
JPEG dynamic range
JPEG results for dynamic range are more spread out than those for signal to noise ratio, with the Pentax X-5 again starting off weaker than the other cameras at ISO 100, before moving ahead of the Nikon Coolpix L810 at ISO 200-400. At ISO 800 and above, the Pentax also shows a greater dynamic range than the Panasonic Lumix FZ200, so that at mid and high sensitivities it's only behind the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS.
The Pentax X-5 comes with 16 presets in Auto Picture mode, including a Landscape option that appears to enrich colours, helping to make the greens, yellows and blues in this seascape pop.
The X-5's smc Pentax lens offers an aperture range of f/3.1-5.9, enabling portrait fans to make good use of even and low light.
Touting an impressive focal range equivalent of 22-580mm, the affordably priced Pentax X-5 provides shooters with a great deal of scope for their money.
The Pentax bridge provides photographers with a range of focus modes, including: Contrast Detect, Multi-area, Tracking, Single and Face Detection, helping you to creatively progress your shooting skills by attempting new challenges and subjects.
Thanks to the Pentax X-5 including manual and semi manual shooting modes, you can experiment with aperture to generate interesting scenes.
A macro mode is installed on the Pentax X-5 to help you get up close and personal with smaller and intricately detailed subjects.
We found that a purple glare was apparent in the majority of scenes where a light source is present.
As an affordable bridge camera, we were suitably impressed by the level of detail attained, even in images taken at great focal lengths.
Colour accuracy appears to be on the mark, but there is a set of digital filters included if photographers feel the urge to spice scenes up.
Like most modern bridge cameras, the Pentax X-5 includes a plastic thread to accommodate a tripod mount.
While some users may applaud the decision to power the Pentax X-5 with AA batteries, others may lament it. But the extra weight does make the camera feel reliably secure in the hand.
The Pentax X-5's macro mode offers you the chance to capture some amazing close up shots, with fantastic results.
Colours and details remain strong even when taking advantage of the camera's f/3.1 aperture.
The Pentax X-5's maximum shutter speed ensured this close up macro shot was as crisp as possible, since it was taken during a heavy gust of wind.
Taken as a landscape shot, this image was framed at 22mm to encompass the great deal of land in front of us.
Using the Pentax X-5's 26x optical zoom, we were able to zoom in to the town on the horizon and achieve fairly balanced results.
Using the Intelligent Zoom feature, we were able to zoom in close enough to pick out the clock face on the church in the distance. The fact it could achieve this distance is clearly rather impressive, yet the results were far less so.
Sensitivity and noise images
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
What camera should I buy?
On paper the Pentax X-5 sounds like it could fulfil the needs of a niche consumer base; seeking to please photographers who want a camera that exudes the build of a DSLR but has the simplicity of one lens that provides a huge focal range.
These shooters may also have a bias for auto operation, but want the potential for manual modes if the need should arise.
The eye-popping focal range is perhaps the main draw of the Pentax X-5, while the camera's incorporated manual mode will also seek to interest more advanced users - although it can be a tad trickier to operate than other brands'.
While a manual mode is included, aperture priority and shutter priority are sadly forgotten, as is support for raw file shooting. Although image quality is of a solid level, there were slight issues with glare, noise and white balance.
While this is a neat little package, you should be aware that there are many other premium compact cameras fulfilling a similar need and producing stronger image quality, offering faster lenses and heavier feature sets, albeit at a slightly higher price point. The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS and Panasonic Lumix FZ200, for example.
That said, it feels unfair to be so critical of the Pentax X-5, because it does do a relatively good job at producing decent image quality and handles well in auto modes, and as such most novices may find this a great little camera.
The problem that some people will have is that, other than an extraordinary focal range, this bridge camera doesn't really offer anything new or exciting. Plus elsewhere it feels a little rushed or unfinished, with obvious features missing such as semi-manual shooting modes and support for raw shooting.