Reviewed.com's Guide to the Best Pentax DSLRs
Reviewed.com’s shopping guide for finding the best Pentax DSLR for your needs
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Here at Reviewed.com, we believe that there’s a product out there for everybody, regardless of brand. When we review a camera, we do it as objectively as possible, basing our scores on our scientific tests. While it’s easy to compare all of the options out there by numerical score alone, that’s only half the story. Buying a DSLR means you’ll be buying into a lens system, and there are some unquantifiable factors to consider before taking the plunge.
Pentax spent 2013 expanding its family of options, hitting some important and appealing price points. You can now pick up a Pentax DSLR for as little as $600. On the high end, you’ll be looking at around $1300 for its latest and greatest flagship. Even though Pentax’s range looks limited compared to Nikon or Canon, don’t let that deceive you—its DSLRs are better than ever.
Best Beginner DSLR: Pentax K-50
We’ve had a K-50 in our collection of long-term samples for a while now and it’s won some fans around the Reviewed.com office for its combination of advanced control and ease-of-use. Not only is image quality high, your $700 nets you a key feature—one you usually can’t buy until you spend well over a grand. That feature is weather sealing, something Pentax has plenty of experience with. There’s a certain peace of mind that weather sealing lends, enabling beginners to confidently take the K-50 anywhere, rain or shine.
The 16-megapixel sensor used in the K-50 is the same as in much of Pentax’s recent cameras, which is a great thing. Pentax has used this sensor in no less than six cameras at this point and we’ve seen solid performance from each one we’ve reviewed. You’ll also get a full array of scene modes, something the more advanced Pentax DSLRs go without. The K-50 is available in a rainbow of color combinations for people who want to stand out in a sea of frumpy black-on-black cameras.
Pentax also sells the K-500, which is even cheaper than the K-50 if you have a tight budget. You lose out on the full weather sealing, rechargeable battery (the K-500 uses AA batteries) and also illuminated AF points in the optical viewfinder. Unlike the K-50, the K-500 follows the classic Henry Ford model—you can have it in any color, as long as it’s black. We haven’t tested the K-500 yet so we can’t comment directly on its imaging prowess or performance (image quality should be pretty comparable to the K-50 since, minute differences aside, they’re the same camera). If you can’t spare the extra $200 for a K-50, the K-500 is your ticket into the world of Pentax DSLRs, albeit without the signature Pentax weather sealing.
Best DSLR for the Money: Pentax K-50
Since Pentax has so few DSLR models, we knew we’d have to double-up for one of the categories. The K-50 is not only a fully-featured mid-range camera that’s well-suited to beginners, but it’s also a heckuva deal. There are no other DSLRs at this price that have full weather sealing, dual control dials, solid ergonomics and a bright pentaprism viewfinder. Competing Canon and Nikon DSLRs have less AF points, feature less expensive pentamirror viewfinders, and generally aren’t designed to be as rugged as the K-50.
If you’re interested in shooting with legacy Pentax K-mount glass, the K-50, like all Pentax cameras, has in-body image stabilization. Any lens you put on the camera is stabilized. The only other DSLR manufacturer to feature this type of image stabilization is Sony. Overall, the K-50 isn't just the best Pentax DSLR for the money, it's also one of the best bargains going in DSLRs today.
Best DSLR for Advanced Shooters and Professionals: Pentax K-3
Without a doubt, Pentax’s latest flagship, the K-3, is the best DSLR they’ve made to date. It’s the highest scoring Pentax in our database and it ups the ante for what Pentax has offered in the past. Featuring the most megapixels out of the brand’s lineup, the K-3 goes without an optical low-pass filter for maximum sharpness.
Wrapped in a freeze proof magnesium body, the K-3 is a go-anywhere camera that’s priced for enthusiasts, but rugged and built well enough for pros. Top-tier Pentax cameras have been known to survive harsh sub-freezing conditions, pouring rain, and desert sands with little or no ill effects.
Pentax has improved autofocus speed greatly with the K-3. 27 phase-detection points and a quicker, more reliable contrast-detect system in Live View make the shooting experience more pleasant than past Pentax flagships. To assure fast focusing, we recommend picking up a Pentax lens with a DC or SDM focusing system. While the older, screw-drive lenses work better on the K-3, they continue to be noisy and slower than lenses with the aforementioned internal focusing motors.
Pentax DSLRs aren’t known for their video prowess, but the K-3 is the first Pentax where video doesn’t feel like an afterthought. A new switch on the back of the K-3 lets you quickly change between still and video modes, and we thought that the footage we captured looked decent. While a Canon 70D or Panasonic GH3 will are both better choices for professional videographers, the K-3 can shoot video in a pinch, as long as you don't mind doing it without continuous autofocus. The addition of a headphone jack lends the K-3 the air of a purebred HDSLR, but we’d definitely look elsewhere if your paycheck’s riding on selling video to a client.
Video quibbles aside, the K-3 is a terrific DSLR for still-shooters, and it’s an advanced APS-C camera with one of our favorite control scheme and all the trimmings for only $1,300 body-only. While current Pentax shooters could opt to buy a K-5 IIs for around $1,000 body-only, the speed increase that the K-3 brings to the table is more than worth the price difference.
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