Pentax K-5 II £799.99

16th May 2013 | 14:00

Pentax K-5 II

The popular APS-C camera gets an upgrade

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

Like:

Solid build; Ease of use; Decent sensor; In-camera Shake Reduction system;

Dislike:

Not that different from K-5; Metering prone to overexpose; Some fiddly controls; Resolution scores unimpressive

Introduction

Two years ago Pentax revamped its top-end APS-C DSLR, the Pentax K-7, with the Pentax K-5, and in doing so produced one of the best cameras in its class.

So given the original Pentax K-5 was such a well-rounded performer, it's perhaps of little surprise that Pentax didn't want to alter the K-5 recipe too much for its replacement.

Externally the Pentax K-5 II is virtually identical to its predecessor, and you'll still struggle to differentiate the two after a tech spec comparison.

Pentax K-5 II review

Aside from a slightly improved LCD screen and an allegedly revamped sensor, the most notable development is the K-5 II's new SAFOX X autofocus system, which claims to offer a noticeable speed and accuracy boost over the original Pentax K-5.

One other difference that is obvious with the second generation Pentax K-5 is that it comes in two flavours; Pentax K-5 II and Pentax K-5 IIs. The latter is an identical camera, but forgoes an anti-aliasing filter in an attempt to improve image sharpness.

That's great in theory, but it adds a fair bit to the asking price, as well as a much greater risk of moiré interference when shooting densely patterned subjects.

Pentax K-5 II review

The full price of the Pentax K-5 II is £799.99/AU$1,149/US$1,199.95 for the body only, since you ask. Its rivals from other brands include the Nikon D7000, Canon EOS 60D and Sony Alpha a65.

Whereas the original K-5 contained a considerably improved sensor over the old K-7, the new Pentax K-5 II doesn't move things on to the same degree. Pentax has stuck with a 16.3MP CMOS sensor, and while it does offer marginally improved low-light performance, you'll be hard pressed to notice any real world improvements in image quality.

Sensitivity also remains unchanged, ranging from ISO 100-12,800 and expandable to 80-51,200. You also get the option to pre-select the amount of in-camera noise reduction the K-5 II applies at each sensitivity setting, enabling you to perfectly balance detail retention and noise reduction.

Pentax K-5 II review

One element that's completely new for the Pentax K-5 II is the SAFOX X autofocus system. Pentax claims this provides much improved speed and accuracy, as well as making the K-5 II the first APS-C camera to focus on lighting conditions as low as -3 EV.

As with the old Pentax K-5, you still get 11 well-spread autofocus points, nine of which are the more accurate cross-type.

Other in-camera image tweaks included automatic chromatic aberration compensation to minimise (but not eliminate) purple fringing in high-contrast areas, and distortion correction to remove wide-angle barrel distortion or telephoto pincushion effects. Although both features produce decent results, they do add a frustrating couple of seconds of processing time per shot.

Pentax K-5 II review

Pentax's Dynamic range expansion feature is more usable though, and it does a great job of significantly brightening shadow areas while maintaining highlight detail for more balanced exposures.

If this isn't enough, then the camera also has an extensive multi-shot HDR capability, with four preset strengths plus an automatic mode. Results look the part, but are only available when shooting JPEG, and again, processing time is lengthy, this time being a whopping 20 seconds per shot.

Continuous shooting to a maximum speed of 7 fps keeps the Pentax K-5 II on a par with the competition, but it's no faster than the original Pentax K-5. Likewise, the Pentax K-5 II's Full HD movie recording ability is also unchanged, apart from the addition of some extra post-processing effects.

Pentax K-5 II review

These effects can also be applied to still images, via a dedicated rear button. Options range from subtle contrast and saturation tweaks to enhance portraits or landscapes, through to more blatant effects such as Bleach Bypass, which desaturates the final image.

Each effect is fully customisable, and while such effects are of arguable usefulness in an enthusiasts' camera, they're a quick and easy way to add some basic image customisation.

Build quality and handling

The Pentax K-5 II retains the same high quality magnesium alloy casing and rugged stainless steel chassis as the original Pentax K-5.

Also carried over is the advanced 77-seal weather proofing to prevent dust and moisture intrusion. Cold weather shouldn't pose a problem either, as the Pentax K-5 II is rated to operate in temperatures as low as -10C (14F).

Pentax K-5 II review

Because the Pentax K-5 II uses the same chassis as the Pentax K-5, naturally both cameras have the exact same control layout. This is no cause for concern, however, because there's little to find fault with in the button placement and control design.

You get the usual front and rear control wheels, with a sizable thumb grip area thanks to the location of the rear control wheel. This wheel also doubles as the playback zoom controls, doing away with the need for additional zoom buttons.

Pentax K-5 II review

Atop the body sit two well-sited buttons for adjusting ISO sensitivity and exposure compensation, and on the left hand side is the main mode dial.

Apart from the usual automatic, program and manual modes, Pentax also gives you a combined shutter and aperture priority mode, where the camera only adjusts the sensitivity to maintain correct exposure.

Pentax K-5 II review

In addition to this there's a dedicated bulb exposure mode, and a user programmable setting in which you can store five custom preset modes selectable by the rear control wheel.

One control element that could really have benefited from a redesign is the metering adjustment collar beneath the mode dial. Its stiffness and tiny thumb grip mean it's unlikely to be accidentally moved, but it's also quite a pain to adjust when you need to.

Pentax K-5 II review

Another annoyance from the original Pentax K-5 design that's present on the new camera is the minuscule screw-in cap for PC flash sync port. It's virtually impossible to remove, and once out is unlikely to be seen again.

The only external change Pentax has made to the Pentax K-5 II is its new LCD monitor.

Pentax K-5 II review

The 3-inch, 921,000 dot panel is now equipped with an internal resin layer between the outer glass and the LCD screen itself, which Pentax claims improves brightness and reduces unwanted reflections.

Results are generally comparable to most current DSLR monitors, but the Pentax K-5 II screen is indeed vibrant, with excellent viewing angles making it easily viewable in all but the harshest direct sunlight.

Pentax K-5 II review

Performance

Here the Pentax K-5 II pretty much picks up the baton where its predecessor left off, which is definitely no bad thing considering the original Pentax K-5 was a good performer.

Sure, these days a 16.3MP sensor is never going to steal the thunder from the likes of Nikon's latest megapixel monsters, but look beyond sheer resolution and the sensor in the Pentax K-5 II produces terrific quality images.

Pentax K-5 II review

Colour depth and dynamic range are still superb, especially when the Dynamic Range Enlargement feature is enabled.

Image noise - or lack thereof - is another area where the Pentax K-5 II excels. There's rarely ever a need to ramp a camera's sensitivity up to ISO 12,800, but even here little if any chroma noise (colour speckling) is evident. And although there is a fair amount of luminance noise (grain) visible, it's by no means distracting.

Pentax K-5 II review

Of course if you push on up to the Pentax K-5 II's maximum sensitivity of ISO 51,200 things don't look so pretty, but image quality is still good enough for prints up to around 9 x 6 inches.

Pentax is particularly proud of its new SAFOX X autofocus system in the Pentax K-5 II, and with good reason. The system manages to focus almost instantly, even in the darkest of environments, and in many instances it does so without the aid of the AF assist lamp.

Pentax K-5 II review

Switch to Live View and, unlike many DSLRs, the Pentax K-5 II still delivers pleasantly speedy autofocusing and gives you the option to choose from three autofocus methods depending on your subject.

But whether the autofocus performance is that much of an improvement over the original Pentax K-5 is less obvious, since this camera was still no slouch in this department provided you use the right lens.

Pentax K-5 II review

The camera's 77-segment exposure metering system is largely unchanged from its predecessor, and in the majority of situations this reliably hits upon correct exposure settings. But - and this is really the only significant issue with the Pentax K-5 II - the system is still prone to overexposure.

It's only really a problem in low light, high contrast situations, where the camera plumps for a more balanced exposure at the expense of highlight detail. Sometimes this does give true-to-life results, but often highlights can be blown by as much as two stops, with mid-tones and shadows looking unrealistically bright.

Pentax K-5 II review

Switching to spot metering or dialling in some exposure compensation does solve the problem, providing you have time to do so.

Auto white balance is by and large consistently accurate on the Pentax K-5 II, with only a couple of instances in mixed artificial lighting where an unexpected colour cast tainted the final image.

Pentax K-5 II review

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Pentax K-5 II, 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 80 the Pentax K-5 II is capable of resolving up to around 20 (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:

JPEG

Pentax K-5 II review

Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Pentax K-5 II review

ISO 80, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 II review

ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 II review

ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 II review

ISO 400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 II review

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

Pentax K-5 II review

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

Pentax K-5 II review

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

Pentax K-5 II review

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

Pentax K-5 II review

ISO 12800, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 II review

ISO 25600, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 II review

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

Raw

Pentax K-5 II review

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

Pentax K-5 II review

ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 II review

ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 II review

ISO 400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 II review

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

Pentax K-5 II review

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

Pentax K-5 II review

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

Pentax K-5 II review

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

Pentax K-5 II review

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

Pentax K-5 II review

ISO 25600, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax K-5 II review

ISO 51200, score: 12 (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.

Here we compare the Pentax K-5 II with the Nikon D7100, Canon EOS 7D and Sony Alpha a77. The Pentax K-5 II has the greatest ISO range of all the cameras here.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Pentax K-5 II review

These results show that JPEG images from the Pentax K-5 II have a relatively strong signal to noise ratio when compared with the other cameras here. This means that the Pentax's JPEGs are consistently cleaner than those from the Canon EOS 7D throughout the sensitivity range. They beat the Sony Alpha a77 at all but ISO 400, and the Nikon D7100 at all but ISO 100, where results are almost identical.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Pentax K-5 II review

TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Pentax K-5 II have the greatest signal to noise ratios of all the cameras here, beating the Nikon D7100, Canon EOS 7D and Sony Alpha a77 at every sensitivity setting. This means that the images are likely to be cleaner than those from the other cameras. TIFF images from the Sony a77 come closest to matching the scores from the Pentax K-5 II at the lower sensitivities.

JPEG dynamic range

Pentax K-5 II review

JPEG results for dynamic range are again impressive, with the Pentax K-5 II's images showing a stronger dynamic range than those from the Canon EOS 7D at every sensitivity. They're also stronger than JPEGs from the Sony Alpha a77 at most sensitivities, but the two cameras show almost identical amounts of dynamic range at ISO 800, and the Sony's images beat the Pentax's at ISO 1600, before falling behind again afterwards. JPEGs from the Nikon D7100 have greater dynamic range than those from the Pentax at lower ISOs, but at ISO 1600 and above the Pentax's images overtake.

Raw dynamic range

Pentax K-5 II review

As we can see from this chart, the Pentax K-5 II's TIFF images (after conversion from raw) show the strongest dynamic range of the group, beating the Canon EOS 7D and Sony Alpha a77 at every sensitivity setting. The Nikon D7100's TIFFs contain very similar levels of dynamic range as the Pentax's at ISO 100, but after that the Pentax takes the lead. A high dynamic range means that the Pentax K-5II is able to capture a wide range of tones in a single frame.

Sample images

Pentax K-5 II review

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The Pentax K-5 II's low light ability can produce excellent results with minimal image noise.

Pentax K-5 II review

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The viewfinder's 100% field of view makes it easy to compose shots correctly.

Pentax K-5 II review

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Taken under relatively harsh sunlight, dynamic range is pretty good...

Pentax K-5 II review

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...But activate the multi-shot HDR function and dynamic range is boosted even more.

Pentax K-5 II review

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Good detail here from the 16.3MP sensor.

Pentax K-5 II review

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Despite the dull lighting, the Pentax K-5 II has kept some colour vibrancy to lift this image.

Pentax K-5 II review

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This shot required -0.3 EV to keep the highlight details in check.

Pentax K-5 II review

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Detail and colour reproduction are decent, even at ISO 640.

Pentax K-5 II review

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Again that accurate viewfinder makes life much easier. Look closely and you'll also spot the photographer making a fool of himself!

Pentax K-5 II review

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Accurately exposed by matrix metering with highly resolved detail.

Pentax K-5 II review

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Although the conditions for this shot were fairly undemanding, matrix metering consistently overexposed, necessitating -0.7EV of manual exposure compensation.

Pentax K-5 II review

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Fabulous detail and colour depth.

Pentax K-5 II review

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Exposure metering has done a good job here.

Pentax K-5 II review

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Captured at ISO 1000, there's impressively low image noise, even in the shadow areas.

Pentax K-5 II review

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Here the exposure metering badly overexposed the highlights in this shot. -1.0EV was needed to bring them back, and they're still slightly blown.

Pentax K-5 II review

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This time, -2.0EV had to be used to prevent highlight burnout from the automatic matrix metering.

Pentax K-5 II review

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Shot at ISO 800, there's bags of detail and almost no visible image noise.

Pentax K-5 II review

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This is one of very few occasions where automatic white balance was confused, since the image shouldn't have such a yellow colour cast.

Pentax K-5 II review

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Another ISO 800 night shot, and again the sensor produces excellent results.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Pentax K-5 II review

Full ISO 80 JPEG image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 80

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 100

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 200

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 400

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 800

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 1600

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 3200

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 6400

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 12800

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 25600

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 51200

Raw

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 80

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 100

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 200

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 400

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 800

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 1600

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 3200

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 6400

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 12800

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 25600

Pentax K-5 II review

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ISO 51200

Verdict

Considering the significant technological advances made by the original Pentax K-5 over the old Pentax K-7, we can't help but feel a little disappointed that the new Pentax K-5 II is a much more subtle, evolutionary step forward.

But that said, it's refreshing to see that Pentax hasn't attempted to set the Pentax K-5 II apart by giving it a needlessly high megapixel count, or festooning it with gimmicky features.

We liked

Although it's no great improvement over its predecessor, the Pentax K-5 II's performance is still good, and a worthy match for the competition in most areas. The robust build quality should ensure it survives sustained abuse, and the in-camera Shake Reduction system works with any compatible lens.

We disliked

As capable as the Pentax K-5 II is, much of what makes it special has just been carried over from the original Pentax K-5. Then there's the elements we wish hadn't been transferred, including the tendency to overexpose and frustrating slowness at processing HDR shots, removing chromatic aberration and correcting lens distortion.

Final verdict

Like its predecessor, the Pentax K-5 II succeeds where it matters most. It produces high image quality (although its resolution scores are a little low), boasts strong autofocus performance, high build quality and is easy to use. It is a pity we can't add the camera's exposure metering to the list of superlatives, because capable though it is, the few occasions where overexposure does occur can frustrate.

However, the biggest problem the Pentax K-5 II faces is the old Pentax K-5. While the specification and performance of the newer model is marginally better, the price difference is far more pronounced.

Hence if you're in the market for a high performing APS-C format DSLR with a great all-round ability, the original Pentax K-5 could well be a more tempting proposition at the right price than the slightly more capable Pentax K-5-II. Likewise, if you already own a Pentax K-5, then the Pentax K-5 II is unlikely to provide much of an upgrade.

Make the leap from the older K-7, however, and you'll be far more likely to appreciate the much improved image quality and autofocus performance. And graduate from entry-level cameras such as the Pentax K-r or Pentax K-x, and you'll be in for a treat.

Easy to use, built to last and based around a decent sensor, the Pentax K-5 II is a great value DSLR. It's just a pity it's so close in spec to its predecessor.

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