Pentax K-50 £529.99

5th Mar 2014 | 19:15

Pentax K-50

A weatherproof all-rounder well-suited to beginners

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

The best thing about this camera is its weatherproofing credentials, so to get the most of it, partner it with the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 WR (weather resistant) optic.

Like:

Weatherproof; 100% field of view viewfinder; 6fps shooting;

Dislike:

Fixed screen; Noisy operation; No Wi-Fi;

Overview

Ratings in depth
Design 4Features 4Performance 4
Usability 4
Value 4

Despite being one of the oldest brands in the photography world, Pentax struggles against the big names of Canon and Nikon to lure in those all important entry level customers.

Although cameras at this end of the market are much cheaper than the pro gear that sits at the top, snagging somebody at this point in the buying cycle usually means you have a loyal customer for quite some time – especially if they start to invest in accessories such as lenses.

Since Pentax was taken over by Ricoh, release schedules have sped up a little to compete with the faster churn, at least at this end of the market, of the equivalent Nikon and Canon models.

The K-50 was announced in June 2013, at the same time as the K-500. It shares many of the features as the K-30, including the same 16-million pixel APS-C size sensor. Despite the similarities between these two cameras, Pentax says that the two cameras will both continue in the line-up.

The sensor is pretty special, as it features Pentax's Shake Reduction system, which works with pretty much all Pentax lenses. When the system is activated, the sensor can automatically rotate by up to one degree to correct problems with sloping horizons in compositions. To help further with that there's also a digital level display option for both the viewfinder and the LCD screen.

Pentax K-50

As with the K-30, the K-50 uses the new SAFOX IXi+ AF module which has 11 AF points, of which nine are cross-type.

Several of the other features of the camera outdo the Nikon and Canon equivalents, on paper at least. For starters, there's high-speed continuous shooting at around six frames per second, while high-sensitivity shooting can reach ISO 51200 (which is also an improvement from the K-30)

Another improvement the K-50 offers is an improved Prime M image processor, which should help with that high sensitivity shooting.

The ability to shoot in raw format is offered, and one useful thing about Pentax cameras is that its raw format is DNG, rather than a proprietary to the camera file format, meaning that your software, whether that's Photoshop or something else, should already be able to read any files it outputs rather than having to wait for an update.

As this camera is primarily aimed at beginner photographers, there are a few features designed to entice them in. For example, it includes the ability to shoot a few different digital filters, such as Toy Camera, Retro and High Contrast. Additionally, there's the option of shooting different Custom Images, which may be more appreciated by enthusiasts – here you can alter different aspects of the image, including saturation, contrast and so on. There's also a variety of scene modes.

Pentax was of the first companies to introduce automatic HDR (high dynamic range) shooting in SLRs, with the K-30 having several options for combining three images.

There's no inbuilt Wi-Fi though, something which is starting to become a must-have feature for DSLRs, but you should be able to use an Eye-Fi card if you want to give it that ability.

The three inch, 921k dot, TFT LCD screen features anti-reflective coating, but it neither tilts nor articulates, and it isn't touch sensitive – again something which is starting to become more commonplace, especially at the lower end of the market. The optical viewfinder offers a 100% field of view, something which is unusual for cameras at this price point and means you won't get any nasty surprises when looking back at shots.

Build quality and handling

The K-50 is very similar in shape and size to the K-30 it sits alongside. The grip is chunky and feels very nice in the hand. The textured coating at the front of the grip helps to give it a little extra purchase, which is useful when holding the camera one-handed.

It's a weatherproof camera, and as such it feels a little more robust than some of the other entry-level cameras on the market. It's also weightier than cameras such as the Nikon D5300, which help to lend an air of higher quality.

Pentax K-50

The camera can be a little noisy to operate, so it's perhaps not best suited to quiet situations such as wildlife photography. If you have sensor cleaning set to activate on start-up and shut-down, there is a knocking sound when you switch the camera off. Similarly, the kit 18-55mm makes quite a lot of noise when attempting to focus, while the shutter itself makes a fairly loud clicking noise.

One of the best things about using the K-50 is the 100% field of view offered by the viewfinder. This means that you won't get any nasty surprises creeping into the shot, and it's refreshing to see it on a camera at this end of the market. It's not the brightest viewfinder we've used, though it is reasonably large.

Pentax K-50

There are a decent number of buttons on the K-50 to give you direct access to settings such as ISO (sensitivity), white balance, exposure compensation and flash modes. Most of the buttons on the back of the camera are grouped on the right hand side, making them easy to reach with your thumb.

The only button on the back of the camera which is more awkwardly placed is the live view button, which can be found on the opposite side of the camera just next to the viewfinder. It also doubles up as the delete button when in playback. It's not too much of a problem though, since you'll probably be using the button fairly infrequently when compared with the others .

When you want to make a change to some parameters, for instance to white balance, an image will pop on the screen showing how your previous shot would have looked had that setting been used – it's a useful way to quickly gauge if the setting you're making is the right one. It also works for custom image and digital filter shooting.

On the side of the camera is a button labelled RAW/Fx. By default this is set to switch between raw and JPEG shooting modes, but you can customise it to another function if you prefer.

Pentax K-50

When the option to set the autofocus point manually is selected, if you hold down the OK button at the centre of the four way navigation pad, you'll be taken between the ability to use the arrows to navigate to the point you want, or use the arrows for their designated shortcut, such as white balance.

A sort of quick menu is accessed by pressing the info button while in shooting mode. This will bring up a display showing you the settings that are currently in operation, to make changes to any of them, use the arrow keys to navigate to the appropriate one and use the scrolling dials to alter the setting.

On the top of the camera is a mode dial, which is fairly simple. It features the usual aperture priority (Av), shutter priority (Tv), Manual and programmable modes as well as a couple of customisable memory recall slots and automatic, movie, and scene modes.

A small scrolling dial on the back of the camera is used to alter aperture if you're shooting in aperture priority or manual. Meanwhile, a second small dial is used to alter the shutter speed if you're in shutter priority or manual mode. If you are shooting in fully manual mode, it's a nice way to work, and feels very natural.

Comparing the K-50's user interface with the Nikon and Canon equivalents leaves it looking a little dated. However, on the plus side, with the screen's high resolution everything is nice and clear. The screen also has anti-reflective coating which does a good job in all but the very brightest of conditions.

It's a shame that you can't tilt or articulate the screen to help with shooting at awkward angles though. In terms of the menu itself, it's fairly sensibly laid out, but it can be a little tricky finding certain settings if you're in a hurry – spend some time familiarising yourself with the layout and that will be easier.

Performance

We've been pretty impressed with the performance of Pentax cameras of late, which it perhaps ultimately owes to the Sony sensor which lies at its heart. We have come to expect Sony sensors to be excellent, and the K-50 is thankfully no different.

Colours straight from the camera are bright and punchy. It's interesting to compare the JPEG image output with the raw format (DNG) files, which show noticeably more muted colours – the idea is obviously to give you the most scope with raw format files, while making JPEG images look pleasing if you want to do minimal post processing work – something which is more likely with entry-level cameras.

Detail resolution is generally good, with little evidence of image smoothing or smudging especially at the lower end of the sensitivity scale. The K-50 comes with an 18-55mm lens as part of its kit package. This lens is an adequate performer for all-round work, giving a flexible focal length. Probably the biggest gripe we have with this lens is the loud noise it makes while focusing, otherwise it's a good optic to get you started with.

Pentax K-50

Other Pentax cameras we've tested have had slight problems with the metering system, and it seems as if the K-50 is suffering from the same affliction. The camera has a tendency to underexpose in certain conditions, such as high contrast, so you may need to either dial in some exposure compensation, or change the metering mode to spot metering to get better results. Where the light is a bit more stable, the camera has less of a problem and produces pleasingly exposed images.

Automatic white balance does a good job of accurately representing colours, even when shooting under artificial or mixed lighting conditions. You can change the automatic setting to a more appropriate one if you prefer, but we found that wasn't generally necessary in the majority of conditions.

One of the improvements this camera sees over the K-30 is the improved processor and therefore improved sensitivity range. Images taken at high sensitivities, such as ISO 1600, display a good level of detail, without introducing too much noise into the equation. Images taken at ISO 3200 are also very good, although if you examine them very closely you will find examples of some image smoothing, as is to be expected. When sharing the images at normal web sizes, or printing them at A4 or below, we'd be happy to use up to ISO 3200 without worrying too much about reduction in quality. For the best quality, I would be inclined to keep sensitivity below 1600 though.

Autofocus

Autofocusing is generally pretty swift, especially when using one of the 9 cross-type AF points. We found that although focusing speeds dropped in low light, it wasn't too concerning, although there is the aforementioned noise of the focusing mechanism to worry about when shooting in quiet environments with the kit lens. Luckily, the lens doesn't hunt about too badly to make the situation worse. I found on a couple of occasions the camera presented a false positive in terms of focusing, especially when shooting in limited lighting conditions, but overall it wasn't too bad.

Pentax has included a number of digital filters that can be used with the K-50, presumably in a bid to appeal to the Instagram crowd. Unfortunately, some of these filters leave a lot to be desired, with some strange, slightly old-fashioned (but not in a good way) choices. It's worth experimenting with them though, to see if you like any of them. It's also a shame that you can't use these when shooting in raw format, so if you use one, you'll be stuck with it forever.

It's perhaps therefore more advisable to experiment instead with Custom Images, which allows you to shoot in raw format, and gives you more control over the look of your image. There are plenty of creative options here, such as Cross Process and Monochrome, so I found using these was much more interesting than the filters that are offered.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Pentax K-50 review, we've shot our resolution chart. These images were captured using a full-production sample of the camera.

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 K-50 scores 24 line widths per picture height x100

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-50

Pentax K-50

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

Pentax K-50

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

Pentax K-50

ISO 400, score: 24 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 800, score: 24 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 1600, score: 24 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 3200, score: 24 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 6400, score: 22 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 12800, score: 22 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 256000, score: 22 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 512000, score: 16 Click here to see full resolution image.

Raw

Pentax K-50

ISO 100, score: 28 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 200, score: 28 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 400, score: 28 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 800, score: 26 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 1600, score: 26 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 3200, score: 26 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 6400, score: 24 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 128000, score: 22 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 25600, score: 20 Click here to see full resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 51200, score: 16 Click here to see 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-50 with the Nikon D5300, Sony Alpha 65 and Canon 700D.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Pentax K-50

The K-50 performs very well in the signal-to-noise ratio test, beating the other cameras at the lower end of the sensitivity run (although it dips at ISO 200 to match the others). At the very top end of the scale, such as ISO 12800, it is a decent performer, if not quite the best on test.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Pentax K-50

In raw format (after conversion to TIFF), the K-50 performs slightly worse in the signal to noise ratio tests. Here we can see it is very closely tied to the Nikon D5300, this could be because they both use a Sony sensor. The other two cameras put in a very similar performance, while they are all pretty consistent.

JPEG dynamic range

Pentax K-50

The K-50 puts in a good, consistent performance for dynamic range, being the second best performer at the very lowest end of the sensitivity run. In the middle of the range it is very closely tied to the Sony Alpha 65and the Canon EOS 700D. The Nikon D5300 puts in the best performance in the test though.

Raw dynamic range

Pentax K-50

The K-50's raw format files (after conversion to TIFF) have lower scores than the other cameras on test at most sensitivities. This may be a result of the camera favouring detail over noise reduction though for raw format files. As usual, however, you can apply your own noise reduction in post-processing.

Sample images

Pentax K-50
The K-50's metering system has struggled slightly with the high contrast scenario presented here when using the camera in general-purpose metering mode.

Pentax K-50
Colours are more deeply saturated when comparing JPEG images with raw format (DNG) files, which leaves a lot of scope for post-production editing.

Pentax K-50
The camera copes reasonably well in lower light conditions, producing images which are still full of detail without introducing too much noise.

Pentax K-50
The camera's kit lens at its widest point offers 18mm, or 27mm in 35mm terms.

Pentax K-50
At the telephoto end, the lens is 55mm, or 82.5mm in 35mm terms.

Pentax K-50
The 18-55mm kit lens is a good all-round performer for everyday shots.

Pentax K-50
You can get good shallow depth of field effects with the kit lens, despite its maximum aperture of f/3.5.

Pentax K-50
Detail reproduction is good.

Pentax K-50
Although there are a number of effects filters, those can't be shot in raw format. You can also shoot "Custom Images", which give you a number of different options such as black and white and cross processing (as seen here).

Digital filters

Pentax K-50

Pentax K-50

Pentax K-50

Pentax K-50

Pentax K-50

Pentax K-50

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Pentax K-50

Pentax K-50

ISO 100. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 200. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 400. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 800. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 1600. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 3200. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 6400. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 12800. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 25600. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 51200. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Raw

Pentax K-50

ISO 100. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 200. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 400. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 800. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 1600. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 3200. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 6400. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 12800. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 25600. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Pentax K-50

ISO 51200. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Verdict

As with the K-30, there's a fair amount to like about the K-50 and it does make for a good alternative to the Canon and Nikon traditional go-to cameras. One interesting aspect is the ability to use AA batteries (a lithium-ion battery is included in the box), meaning that if you run out of charge when you're out and about, you should be able to find some spare power pretty easily – something which is particularly appealing to holidaying photographers.

The fact that the body is weather-sealed is also an excellent bonus, especially for those who live in less than arid climates. It's something which elevates it higher than its nearest Canon or Nikon rivals, being something which is usually reserved for cameras much higher up in the line.

Using the camera is a pretty pleasant experience, with the arrangement of buttons and a textured, chunky grip making sense a lot of the time. For instance, having one dial to control shutter speed and another for aperture feels like a very natural way to work for those that like to use fully manual mode.

It's very useful that the K-50 shoots in DNG raw format, rather than a proprietary system, meaning you're not restricted by a proprietary raw format. This is good news for those already using something like Photoshop as they can get going straight away. It's just a shame you can't shoot digital filters in this raw format, as that would have made a lot of sense.

Having a 100% field of view viewfinder is pretty unusual for a camera of this price, but it's a welcome feature that we've seen on a lot of Pentax DSLRs. In practice, the gap between a 97 or 98% and 100% device may not sound like a lot, but it can be the difference between the perfect composition and a near miss, so we're big fans of that particular element.

On the other hand, it's a shame not to see an articulating or tilting screen on this camera. It really does help when trying to compose from awkward angles, as well as being useful for video recording.

We liked

Happily, there's quite a lot to like about the K-50, but probably the best thing is the weatherproofing. It's refreshing to see a camera at this end of the market that can be used in all weather conditions, making it appealing to those that want something robust that can be used as an everyday camera for family and holiday photography.

We disliked

We'd like to see an articulating screen here to help with those awkward compositions. It'd be nice if the kit lens wasn't quite so noisy either.

Final Verdict

As the biggest selling point of the camera is its weather-proofing credentials, to get the most from the K-50, you'd be better off investing in the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 WR (weather resistant) lens to make the whole package more durable. That lens also gives you more flexibility and is overall a better performer than the 18-55mm lens which is supplied as the standard kit. Unfortunately, that does mean a big increase in the price, so if you're on a tight budget that's bad news.

Happily, image quality is very good, and it's great to have a good amount of flexibility with raw files to work with, while the JPEGs straight from the camera are also very pleasing.

Overall, this is a good purchase for those looking for their first DSLR and want something a little bit rugged that can cope with a wide variety of different shooting conditions. If you have no particular affiliation to the Canon and Nikon standards here, definitely think about the K-50, if for the weather-sealing alone.

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