Pentax K-5 £1099

1st Aug 2012 | 08:00

Pentax K-5

Is the Pentax K5 simply a modest upgrade to an already existing camera, or one that deserves recognition in its own right?

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Good design and build quality; Good auto-system; Good image quality

Dislike:

Some improvements needed in design; K-7 is £300 cheaper;

Introduction

The K-5 was announced at a time when a number of other manufacturers were updating their own lines with likely competitors, notably the Olympus E-5, Canon EOS 60D and Nikon D7000. It improves upon the Pentax K-7 with a new sensor and focusing system as well as a multitude of smaller customisations and refinements.

Pentax k-5

When you look at the Pentax K-5 vs Nikon D7000, Pentax K-5 vs Canon EOS 60D and Pentax K-5 vs Olympus E5, all three offer something different, but the Pentax K-5 can comfortably list a number of features which arguably make it the most intriguing of the group.

Features

The Pentax K-5 improves upon the K-7's burst speed, increasing the latter camera's 5.2fps rate to 7fps. Although there was some concern upon the K-5's announcement that the raw burst depth was limited to a disappointing eight frames at this pace, this was addressed by a firmware update which boosts the figure to 20 frames at the maximum speed.

While the K-7 had slightly unusual and non-standard video specifications, the Pentax K-5 allows Full HD 1920x1080 pixel recording at 25fps, and the other more standard 720p and VGA options. Audio recording is limited to mono via the on-board microphone, although a socket has been provided around the camera's side for external stereo recording.

Where there's movie recording there's also live view, which allows for autofocus in three ways, either through face-detection or the more standard phase- and contrast-detect options.

Pentax k-5

Using the contrast detection AF system during live view, and for focus prior to movie recording, the camera immediately zooms into the centre of the frame whenever the shutter release button is half-depressed, before quickly focusing and zooming back out again.

While the speed at which this happens increases the live view system's usability in different situations, occasional mis-focuses and problems with finding focus mean it can't always be relied upon when lighting conditions aren't optimum.

Nevertheless, in good light the system is accurate, speedy and more than convenient, and provides a preferable alternative to manually adjusting yourself (which, of course, is still possible).

The vibrant green light which illuminates the top-plate LCD makes all exposure information contained within it easy to read, while the equally powerful AF assist light springs readily into action wherever the camera senses it could help achieve focus.

The new SAFOX IX+ autofocus system inherits the eleven points of previous SAFOX modules, but these are spread over a wider area, and the most central nine are cross-type which makes them sensitive to both vertical and horizontal details.

In comparison with SDM-equipped optics such as the DA* 16-50mm f/2.8, the 18-55mm kit lens with which the Pentax K-5 is available delivers a reasonable performance overall, focusing only marginally slower in good light and takes just a little more time to confirm focus, once it has reached a rough approximation. As may be expected, this is done with considerably more noise from the lens's motor, and there's decidedly less fluidity in its movement, too.

Composition Adjustment Explained

The K-5 is one of a recent number of cameras to incorporate an electronic level for keeping horizons straight, but it also retains another one of the K-7's more interesting features, whereby the position of the sensor may be shifted to help with composition.

The sensor may be moved up, down, left or right up, and even rotated slightly to fit with a straight line - such as a horizon - within a scene. For most situations the electronic level function should provide sufficient guidance here, although the Composition Adjustment feature is the preferable choice when using the camera in conjunction with a tripod, where particularly fine adjustments may be awkward to perform using a tripod head.

For even speedier access it is also possible to assign the Composition Adjustment function to the Raw/Fx button. This feature is an extra benefit of the K-5's sensor-shifting Shake Reduction (SR) system which automatically moves the sensor to compensate for accidental camera movement that can blur images. Conveniently, the SR system works with any mountable lens.

Build quality and handling

One area in which Pentax has largely left things as they were is with design: the Pentax K-5 body externally remains very similar to the Pentax K-7 body. You have to look closely for any changes, although the K-5 exposure mode dial is noticeably taller which helps in its turning.

The body is constructed from a durable magnesium alloy, and has been sealed against dust and water incursion around all vulnerable points. It's perhaps lighter and smaller than its specifications may suggest, but the benefit of this is that it presents no problem when carried around for prolonged periods of time, even with the moderate heft of a wide-aperture zoom lens.

The handling areas around the grip and thumb-rest do away with some of the more intricate contouring seen on other models, and instead focus on simply providing enough room for users with any size of hand to get enough purchase.

Pentax k-5

Although there's plenty of space around the back for the thumb to sit comfortably, this hasn't come to the detriment of button and control spacing. In fact, it's hard to imagine how better the controls could be either arranged or labeled, although the menu button sitting towards the bottom isn't something that will please everyone.

The functions within the menu system itself are sensibly organised in order of importance, and Pentax has opted for a scrolling display of longer-named functions in place of any mysterious abbreviations.

All of this is assisted by three different displays which alternate upon presses of the Info button, namely a status screen which consists of all major settings in use; a control panel where changes may be made to these settings; and an airplane-style electronic level display which offers indicators for both roll and tilt.

Sadly, a handful of quirks do stand in the way of quick and easy access to certain settings. The collar underneath the mode dial, for example, which is used for switching between metering modes, is conveniently placed for quick manual adjustment, although its stiffness together with the shallow lever by which it is operated make such a simple task a touch trickier than it should be.

Similarly, it's puzzling as to why the microphone port is covered with an integrated rubber plug, while the screw-in cover on the flash-sync socket is not just separate from the camera, but so small and awkward to remove that it makes it very easy to lose.

Performance

At lower sensitivities images from the K-5 are detailed and clean, and only require a touch of sharpening to get them to their best.

Though JPEG output from the camera is satisfactory, it's clear that images with more intricate details are better handled by more careful noise reduction and sharpening using raw files as a starting point.

Predictably, noise rises and image quality drops as sensitivity increases, but this happens at a steady pace with no obvious 'cut-off' point in terms of quality. The maximum ISO 51,200 setting is certainly ambitious, but even with the kind of noise it produces its results could potentially be fine for smaller prints, particularly after noise reduction.

Pentax k-5

The only time its results surpass this level is when there's plenty of light, although realistically there's little reason why a sensitivity setting of ISO 51,200 would ever be called upon in such conditions.

An interesting feature on the K-5 is that each separate sensitivity setting may be assigned a different level of noise reduction. One option is simply to increase this in line with sensitivity, which deals with the worst noise patterning, but tests performed using the three different levels of correction available suggest that this is perhaps better tailored specifically to the scene being shot rather than the to the sensitivity itself.

It's clear that the effects of the Pentax K-5 noise reduction are dependent on the subject details and how well they have been lit, and better-illuminated scenes will tolerate a greater level of noise reduction before too much detail is compromised. In any case, it's more likely that for such critical work this option is likely to be bypassed in favour of raw post-production where more care and time may be taken.

Although some Pentax DSLRs in the past had a tendency for slight underexposure in certain conditions, that doesn't appear to be the case with Pentax K-5 images. Even when faced with harsh backlighting, the 77-segment metering system is not swayed into underexposing the main subject, choosing instead to give a more even balance, even if it comes at the expense of highlight detail.

Pentax's in-camera Lateral Chromatic Aberration Adjustment option removes the most obvious coloured fringes (but without completely eliminating them), while the Distortion Correction option available from the same menu is also effective, though the strength of its correction – which cannot be adjusted – proves to be a little overzealous at times, resulting in some unfortunate pincushion distortion.

Both options add around two seconds of processing time per image, and so are perhaps best left deactivated until needed.

One particular headache for any digital camera is the accuracy of its auto white balance system under artificial light, mainly due to the wealth of different lighting sources, each with their own characteristics. Yet, even in this troubled area the Pentax K-5 exceeds expectations, with an impressive level of accuracy under a range of artificial lighting, even under combinations of tungsten and fluorescent sources.

The system does have an overall tendency to lean slightly towards the neutral rather than the faithful, which can be problematic if the warmth of a scene is to be retained, but a Colour Temperature Enhancement option is on hand to remedy this. The system also sometimes struggles under a mixture of natural and artificial light to produce a rather over-compensatory bluish cast, but realistically we should expect the odd error when there are so many combinations of lights under which it may ever be used.

In daylight and other more typical conditions there's little to complain about, and with the default Bright colour option colours are generally pleasing and life-like.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Pentax K-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 K-5 is capable of resolving up to around 22 (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:

JPEGs

Pentax K-5 review

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 80, score: 22 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 100, score: 22 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 200, score: 22 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 400, score: 22 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 800, score: 20 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 1600, score: 20 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 3200, score: 20 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 6400, score: 20 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 12800, score: 18 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 25600, score: 18 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 51200, score: n/a (Click here to see full resolution image)

Raw

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 80, score: 24 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 100, score: 24 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 400, score: 22 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 800, score: 22 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 3200, score: 20 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 6400, score: 18 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 12800, score: 18 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 25600, score: 16 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 review

ISO 51200, score: 14 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Sample images

Sample 1

12mm, f/8, ISO 200 (Click to view full size image)

Sample 2

50mm, f/4, ISO 800 (Click to view full size image)

Samsple 3

85mm, f/4, ISO 200 (Click to view full size image)

Samsple 4

200mm, f/5.6, ISO 400 (Click to view full size image)

Sensitivity and noise

ISO main

1/15sec at f/11, ISO 100 (Click to view full size image)

ISO 80

ISO 80 (Click to view full size image)

ISO 100

ISO 100 (Click to view full size image)

ISO 200

ISO 200 (Click to view full size image)

ISO 400

ISO 400 (Click to view full size image)

ISO 800

ISO 800 (Click to view full size image)

ISO 1600

ISO 1600 (Click to view full size image)

ISO 3200

ISO 3200 (Click to view full size image)

ISO 12800

ISO 12,800 (Click to view full size image)

ISO 25600

ISO 25,600 (Click to view full size image)

ISO 52100

ISO 52,100 (Click to view full size image)

Verdict

The Pentax K-5 is a highly-specified and immensely enjoyable camera to use, and one which can easily withstand an array of photographic challenges.

It is hard to imagine how its menu system and the controls round its body could be presented any better, but perhaps its finest quality is its willingness to help the photographer out through the numerous and often unexpected interventions, particularly when finding correct focus, or appropriate colour and white balance settings.

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Though its body handles well and offers many direct functions for immediate access, improvements could nevertheless be made to make some of these less awkward.

Either way, by not entirely changing a winning formula but simply making it a little better, Pentax has delivered a competent contender when you compare the K-5 vs D7000 and K-5 vs Canon 60D.

Overall, the Pentax K-5 marries a well-rounded specification list with a stellar performance, and stands as an ideal upgrade to Pentax's previous DSLRs.

digital SLRs DSLRs Pentax
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