2 March 20118,416 views6 Comments

Pentax K-5 Review

by Koko Brown, February 2011

I have a special place in my heart for Pentax.  It’s what started my journey into the world of photography.  I had always loved this photography lark, but was really frustrated that I couldn’t achieve the results I wanted on a disposable, my aunt had an old film SLR Pentax and I had some cash, we done a deal.   Since then I haven’t looked back, I often think about taking the old dog out – perhaps one day!

I jumped on board when WEX asked me to test the new Pentax K5, hoping to bring back some early photography memories and try out a new DSLR.  Sadly, my grand ideas of shooting some really cool street photography on the streets of London were hampered by the arrival of the white stuff.  Completely snowed in, I had to make do with what was around me, although I did manage to get up to Scotland for Christmas – I have no idea how with the amount of snow back home got!  Okay, down to business.

The Body:

Okay, I don’t think it’s the prettiest looking body I’ve ever seen on a digital camera; it looks a bit clunky, the wheel on top looks like a mini tyre.  I think it has small dog syndrome, its little but trying to make a big impression.  At first I found it quite awkward to sit in my hand, I have small hands but long fingers and it just felt uncomfortable, but I think it’s also just to do with what I am used to – everyone is different.  On the flip side, its solid and relatively weighty which I find quite rare for entry level DSLR’s.   All the major controls and dials are within super easy reach, but I found them a bit close together though, like the buttons and dials were crying out for space. 

The LCD screen is a huge 3 inches which makes framing and composing shots in Liveview a pleasure!  One thing I did notice about the screen was the fact that it seemed to render all my shots a tad hotter than they actually were.  Because I was shooting mostly indoors I didn’t notice it at first, but because there was a lot of snow outside, I noticed that my snow shots were a bit warmer than they should be.  It’s not major, but I am somewhat obsessed by colour balance.  Someone else might not even notice it.  It worked really well when it was overly bright outside and I wasn’t struggling to see.  It looks great from any angle too!

I tend to run and hide when I see camera backs full of buttons, dials and switches – I’ve never really been one for getting involved in the hugely technical aspects of photography.  I like what I like, I go with what I feel looks good not what by what aperture or shutter speed I SHOULD shoot at.  Fortunately for those who do enjoy the more technical aspects, the Pentax K5 does deliver on options.  The K5 has an SD/SDHC memory card slot.  It is still a bug bear that all cameras just don’t use the same type of memory card, but this on no way impacts on the ease of use of the camera itself.  It also has all your usual slots for AV out and HDMI cables meaning you can plug it into a HD TV if you have the cable. 

Ease of Use/Shooting Options

Okay, so I’ve already said how it feels in my hand – slightly awkward but a good weighty camera – but what about what it’s actually like to USE.  I used the K5 in extremely cold conditions, I’m not talking about Antarctica, but December was extremely cold in England and Scotland!  The only things that I had problems with were my fingers actually functioning properly.  The Pentax is capable of operation at as low as -10 and I think we were pretty close to that.  The body is also weather-proof so I was able to use it during heavy snow and not worry about damage. 

Snow!

I have to say that the kit lens provided beat other rivals’ kit lenses hands down.  I find with other cameras the kit lens is overall on the soft side and quite plasticy.  I had none of those complaints with this – its fast and, okay, it’s not PIN sharp but it’s as near as.  A weird thing was that I really liked the noise of the shutter when shooting, it sounded mechanical but it wasn’t loud which was great for when you don’t want to be noticed!  Talking of shutter, its super fast, delivering a top shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second!  I do get the impression that it would just keep shooting and shooting and shooting, dare I call it the Volvo of cameras? 

A great feature which I loved was the RAW/FX button, to enable you to easily switch between file formats.  This means you can simply switch depending on what your shooting, if it’s for a particular assignment etc.  I really really liked how easy this was!  Just underneath this button is the autofocus switch with three options and the button for the pop up flash.

In true DSLR style the shooting mode is on top on the left hand side.  There are a range of options to choose from such as aperture priority, shutter priority or manual.  There are also the standard point and shoot modes P and Auto where no faffing about is required on the photographers part!  One thing; there are no auto scenes on this camera, meaning no picture of a sun with a palm tree saying “this is good for a sunny day, try this!”  Which made me warm to the camera slightly more; it made me see it as a more serious contender, being aimed at the more serious and more experienced amateur.   There were however a few new shooting modes that I hadn’t seen before, sensitivity-priority and shutter & aperture-priority modes.  The sensitivity priority will select the best shutter speed and aperture depending on what ISO you have selected.  You can move this by turning the control dial on the rear.  This is quite useful if you’re shooting in conditions where the light is constantly changing.  Shutter and aperture-priority will do the opposite and select the best ISO for your shutter speed and aperture combination, simples!  As far as I am aware I haven’t seen this feature on any other camera, why – I’m not exactly sure considering ISO is one of the 3 major factors in obtaining the desired exposure! 

The user option on the dial allows you to customize up to 5 shooting profiles.  The shooting mode wheel, the one that I said looked like a tyre is pretty stiff.  This had negatives and positives.  Positive because it means it can’t be easily knocked off whatever mode you’re shooting on, but I found that it hurt my thumb when I was moving it. There is a button in the middle of the wheel to push down when you turn the dial, but it’s not the smoothest of operations. To be fair I was testing it to its limits and constantly turning it, but near the end I found myself leaving it on one mode because my thumb was a bit red.

To the right hand side is the shutter button as expected, it’s fairly small in size, and is next to the on/off button.  The LCD panel on top, gives you an array of information on your chosen aperture/shutter speed, battery etc.  Also on top is the dial to enable you to change the shutter speed and behind that the ISO and exposure compensation button.  The buttons are all within easy reach but a tad close together for my liking.   The viewfinder was brilliant, and enabled you to see 100% of the scene.  It was crystal clear and I didn’t feel like my view was squished or distorted in anyway.  The LCD status is at the bottom as you look through and shows the current settings on the camera.

The K5 has face recognition and can recognise up to 16 people in one frame, but can take a few seconds to catch up.  On live view this is great but only if the subjects are fairly still, for someone or something who is moving about, it’s a wee bit sluggish but not a major problem really.  Live view is easily accessible by pushing the LV button on the rear right hand side.   Live view is also used for the movie mode, which makes this camera a good all rounder.  It records full HD footage, and will shoot about 20-25 for a single clip.  The sound is built in but you can attach an external microphone if you want better sound quality, but the on board microphone was pretty good.  To access movie mode was a bit of a mission, you first have to set the dial to movie, the half press the shutter OR press AF-on to set the focus, then press the shutter button to begin recording.  Not the easiest of access really.

The Pentax has built in shake reduction which I had on all the time, which is turned on in the main menu.  This works well when you’re shooting at a slower shutter speeds and ensures you have a crisper image.  The shake reduction is actually built into the camera body, which is a real win for Pentax as by that theory it should work with any lens you put on the front.  The K5 will also warn you when camera shake is likely to occur when you look through the view finder, you will get the warning even if you have enabled anti shake.  It’s just holding your hand really, nice.

Built into the camera there is a feature called Pentax custom images, which allows you to make changes in camera to certain images.  You can adjust sharpness, saturation, colour tone and contrast.  You can also add some artistic effects, but I prefer to do any adjustments in Photoshop.  I did however like the cross processing effect, reminds me of a simpler time!

The K5's cross-processed effect (enhanced a little in Photoshop)

Once you have shot a range of images the K5 has a good array of playback options.  Press the play button to review and scroll through, you can view 9 thumbnails at a time, zoom in and out and see information about a specific image.  You can also compare 2 images side by side and zoom in to check focus and the like.  Focusing was super sharp and super quick; anything moving was locked in quickly which will be great for any photographer particularly interested in sports or wildlife, or even for those family outings.  AF had 11 points of focus, 9 of which were cross type meaning they were sensitive to horizontal and vertical details in the frame.  There is a powerful AF beam which will come into force when it thinks it can help the camera achieve focus which is great.  During live view the camera zooms into the centre of the frame to check focus, in good light this seemed to be fairly accurate, however in lower light conditions it missed the focus a few times.

Liveview focus was a bit hit and miss

The battery life was unreal, I had this camera for a good few weeks and I charged it once when I first got it, it lasted about 2 weeks and I was shooting quite a lot.  I only had to then charge it again for about 20 minutes and it kept on going right until I handed it back!

Image Quality:

I shot mostly in premium JPEG, taking advantage of the full range of Mega Pixels available.  The Pentax produced some really clear, crisp images with little or no noise whatsoever.  I was shooting with the kit lens so the images weren’t the sharpest but certainly a lot sharper than other kit lens rivals.  There are 4 JPEG options, premium being the highest producing files of about 9MB.  You can also shoot in RAW & JPEG at the same time, or solely RAW.  The colour space is sRGB or adobe RGB

Mega pixels/processor/Sensor

The Pentax K5 has a 16.3 MP CMOS sensor with built in dust removal.  It removes dust by moving the filter in front of the sensor, shaking the dust off.  Clever eh?  On the occasion when all the dust isn’t removed, there is a feature called dust alert which will show you exactly where the dust is on the sensor.   There is an HDR capture option which means the camera will shoot 3 images each with a slightly different exposure and then merges them together, expanding the dynamic range of the image.  You can do this handheld but you will probably get a bit of blur, even when anti shake is enabled, so it’s best to use a tripod or a sturdy surface.  The HDR shooting seems to be all the rage with the young ones these days so I think this is a great if not trendy feature.

Flash

The flash didn’t pop up when I needed it and I had to push the little button to make it wake up, I found this quite frustrating and put me off some shots.  I’m not sure if this was my error or maybe the camera just decided I didn’t need flash?  On the good side, the flash is quite high above the barrel of the lens which is really good for minimising red eye.  The flash wasn’t particularly harsh which I have found on some other DSLR’s.  I had no issues with it dropping off or washing out skin tones at all.  Just next to the flash button there is a small socket to enable you to plug in a sync socket.  It’s cleverly hidden by a screw in cap.

Conclusion:

The Pentax K5 really is packed full of features on its little body, there are tons of shooting modes which can be customised, there really is a huge variation, I’d be here forever if I had to explain them all!  I’m not the most technical photographer, of course I understand all the technical aspects but I consider myself very much an emotional photographer.  I found that the K5 was more caught up on the technical aspect, which is great for some, but I just wanted to shoot and be free!  It really does want to help you through the entire image making process, which could be good for some less experienced photographers, but more experienced ones may just get annoyed with the camera’s interventions and willingness to help!  I think the shooting mode wheel needs to be a bit smoother in operation and on the thumb, and the buttons could do with being spaced out slightly.  I did get used to the feel of the body in my hand.  It has a deep handgrip on the side, and being small(ish) actually enabled me to eventually get comfortable with holding, framing and shooting with one hand quickly on the go!  I think it’s a well rounded, great addition to the DSLR market, I think they have delivered a real contender and with a few adjustments I think Canon and Nikon should show interest!

Ratings

Ease of Use: 6/10
Style: 7/10
Image Quality: 9/10

Build Quality: 8/10
Likeability: 7/10

Overall score:

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6 thoughts on “Pentax K-5 Review

  1. You say that it feels solid, and that you find that rare for entry-level DSLR:s. The K-5 definitely cannot be considered entry-level. It is Pentax’s flagship (except for the medium format 645D), and one of the most customizable and expensive DSLR:s there are with an APS-C sized sensor. It has a glass pentaprism, metal chassis and body + probably the best APS-C sensor available today. The kit lens, on the other hand, is definitely entry-level.

    Other than that, thanks for the review. Your non-technical viewpoint makes it different from most other reviews, which is a good thing.

  2. Yes, I also cannot agree with your rating of this camera as ‘entry level’. It is almost an insult, as this is one of the best dslr’s around for many reasons including exceptional control of image noise and one of the highest sensitivity settings going. I think also that most photographers considering this camera would bypass the kit lens in favour of something better. I would suggest the new Pentax 17-70mm F/4 as a reasonable start.

  3. Again I would point out that the K5 is not an entry level camera. That’s why a flash doesn’t “pop-up” – it’s aimed at photographers who will decide themselves whether or not they want to use flash. You fail to mention the ability to shoot 7 fps, the built-in viewfinder electronic level display, the ability to shoot in DNG format, its compatibility with all KAF3, KAF2, KAF, KA*, KF*+, K*+ mount lenses etc

  4. As a pro tog I would tend to agree with a lot of the comments in this review… whilst its not maybe entry level I think it has a definite entry level feel to it which is probably what the reviewer was getting at. I agree with the whole ease of access comments. I had a shot of this camera, a friend is obsessed with pentax, personally I shoot Nikon and I dont think I’d ever take the pentax on a professional job. Id probably have it in my kit as a “large compact” though!

    Eryk

  5. This review reads like the personal likes and dislikes of feedback from sites akin to Amazon etc.
    It’s nowhere near a decent and constructive professional review, in fact it’s rather annoying and a waste of time for someone needing proficient and expert guidance.
    Best go to “DPreview” and return to WEX to purchase.

  6. I am a professional photographer and I have used Fuji,Nikon and Canon cameras. The K5 isn’t an entry level camera at all and I think this demonstrates the person who write the review didn’t really know what they had in their hand. I am dropping all my full frame Canon equipment in favour of the Pentax system and the K5/ii. As a tool for photographers the K5 has a whole host of useful function that just aren’t available on the Canikon models. We all know that the K5ii is rated right above the the Canon 1DX in quality at present on DXO, position 11 and 12 respectively. The Nikon’s are top but they are “how much more to buy” and “weigh how much more with lens” etc. I can buy three K5iis at present for less than the cost of one Canon 5D Mk3. The K5 is weather resistant (check the YouTube video of the solder washing his K5s under the shower after he buried them in the sand) with SR built in. There are many professionals using Pentax at present and the number has now increased by one. I changed not by looking at the size of the camera in my hand (which fits like a glove and has the quietest shutter) but by looking at the raw files it creates. I can manipulate these so much more than I can Canon files. Increase exposure and the noise in the shadows just leaps out at you. I never ever liked the Canon colours, too red magenta and orange under artificial light for my taste.

    In testing the K5/ii I have never used a camera before that had such an accurate exposure system. I could go on and on but this is one professional using Pentax who is impressed enough to drop Canon.

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