Cameras

Pentax K-5 Digital Camera Review

The K-5 is the best Pentax we've tested thanks to a capable new sensor and sharp kit lens.

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Introduction

Pentax's K-5 features a number of improvements over the K-7, not the least of which is a new 16.2 megapixel sensor that boasts strong color representation and, when paired with the excellent weather resistant kit lens, a sharpness rating that exceeds many competitors in the class.

Design

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Sides Tour Image

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo
  • Pentax K-5 Digital Single-Lens Reflex Camera
  • Weather Resistant 18-55mm Kit Lens
  • Lens Hood
  • D-LI90 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery
  • Neck Strap
  • Micro-USB Cable
  • AV Cable (Micro-USB)
  • Operating Manual
  • Pentax Digital Camera Utility 4 (CD-ROM)
  • AC Plug Cord
  • D-BC90 Battery Charger

Kit Lens & Mount

The absence of an auto/manual mode switch built into this kit lens is noteworthy, so manual mode is essentially always available. Also, the front of the lens does not rotate while focusing, which is desirable for use with filters.

All Pentax “K mount” lenses are compatible with the K-5, that’s about 90 lenses as of this writing. Pentax’s catalog is strongest at the extremes , with plenty of solid entry-level options and plenty of excellent high-end options. Some won’t autofocus, but all current digital lenses (DA, DA L, D FA, and FA J configurations) will work fine. When exchanging lenses, the release button is actually a bit of a pain, especially for those who exchange frequently.

Lens Mount Photo

Classic Pentax lenses can be mounted with readily available adapters.

Sensor

The K-5 was the first application of Sony’s newest 16.3 megapixel APS-C sensor, which was since also used in the Nikon D7000 and most likely the Sony Alpha A55. The sensor’s performance set off a firestorm in the community as it met or even exceeded the abilities of professional grade DSLRs (though admittedly, the professional lineup hasn’t been updated for some time).

Convergence areas of different sensor sizes compared

Our findings are consistent with the praise, especially when it comes to resolution. 16.3 megapixels is plenty, and while not quite the absolute maximum resolution found in today’s consumer level cameras, this is some of the finest detail available in the class. Most decent shots can be blown up to living room portraits without a noticeable loss of quality.

Viewfinder

The K-5’s viewfinder boasts a full 100% field of view with a diopter adjustment range of -2.5 to +1.5 m-1. If that’s not strong enough, corrective eyepieces may be purchased to match your prescription. The eye cup is comfortable without straining or squinting, but the diopter adjuster is too rigid and may only be adjusted properly after the eye cup has been slid off completely. Pentax also opted not to mark the available focal points here, however the active point is highlighted during autofocus.

Display(s)

The back panel is dominated by the K-5’s gorgeous 3-inch LCD screen clocking in at approximately 921,000 dots. The display’s color temperature was accurate and well calibrated out of the box.

A swiveling panel design would have been nice here, especially for shooting video. But as it is, the fixed LCD does well with what it has. The viewing angle is wide enough for lining up the trickiest of shots, while the backlight is bright enough to preview images at noon on a sunny day.

Tweaking adjustments for both brightness and color can be found in the main options menu, but again, the default settings for both a fine. Brightness is adjustable in seven steps up or down. Color adjustment is identical to the color modes screen, a set of two axes leans color reproduction toward green or magenta, and blue or amber.

Flash

The K-5’s built-in flash appears identical to the K-7 from 2009. Like most, this built-in flash is really for emergencies only, with a tendency to wash out color and darken backgrounds. The flash’s distance guide number is 13 meters or 43 feet, and the K-5’s circuitry has the ability to sync flash at shutter speeds of up to one 180th of a second. This is lower than some peers but remains competitive with our comparison group.

This flash meters through the lens and offers red-eye reduction, trailing curtain sync, and wireless sync. Flash exposure compensation can be edited painlessly in the flash menu, and extends from -2.0 to +1.0EV.

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

Connectivity

As mentioned, the plastic memory card cover takes up the majority of the right grip. Below that, a rubber port cover conceals the remote control input slot. On the left side of the body, three more ports are housed underneath a large rubber cover: a DC power input, a micro-USB port, and a mini-HDMI port. Above these is a separate, 3.5mm plug for use with an optional external microphone.

Battery

The K-7’s D-LI90 lithium battery makes a return for the K-5 and is the only compatible battery type. Performance is rated at 980 recorded shots without flash at seventy-three degrees Fahrenheit. This sounds about right, the K-5 withstands all our tests on just one or two charges. Charging time is rated at a maximum of 390 minutes, and we found only an hour or so was necessary to return to shooting after fully depleting the charge.

Battery Photo

Memory

SD and SDHC memory cards are supported and no maximum storage capacity is specified. High speed SD cards are suggested when filming video, otherwise write speed will not be able to keep up with recording speed. Memory card access is underneath the right hand grip, concealed by a hinged plastic cover.

Memory Photo

The K2000 accepts inexpensive, easy to find SD cards.

Media Photo

Image Quality

Sharpness

With its default lens, the K-5’s sharpness rating stood way out from the rest of our comparison group. At similar focal lengths and apertures the K-5 often outperformed Nikon’s D7000 by approximately 30%, and was able to outperform Pentax’s own K-x by more than double. More on how we test sharpness.

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Image Stabilization

The K-5’s shake reduction performed poorly, particularly during low shake scenarios such as shooting from the hand.

Color

The K-5’s Sony-built APS-C sensor is capable of strong color accuracy across most of the spectrum, though it does lose some warmth in the brightest yellows and blues. At the most accurate settings, greens and reds are particularly faithful. Saturation was also nearly spot on, averaging 102.1% in our test. More on how we test color.

The results are excellent, but they should be given this camera’s price point. The K-5 easily bests Pentax’s own K-x model from 2009. We measured the K-5’s “Natural” color mode to be the most accurate, and used this mode in all other tests.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The K-5 scores well in our comparison group, easily surpassing Samsung’s NX10 and Canon’s 7D, in addition to the K-r. However our results do place this camera slightly behind the Nikon D7000, a close competitor. While the D7000 also struggles with cyan, the Nikon’s superior processing of bright yellows is largely to thank here.

Color Modes

Nine color modes are available in total, and while Natural is the most accurate, the others have their uses too. Portrait enhances all colors evenly across the gamut. Landscape is suited to nature shots, with accentuated yellows and blues. Vibrant increases the intensity of shots, at the expense of color accuracy (particularly magentas and greens). On the other hand, Muted reduces the saturation of all colors for an intentionally washed out look. Other modes are Bright, Bleach Bypass, Reversal Film, and Monochrome.

White Balance

The K-5’s white balance is close to what we’d expect, and does improve upon the K-x. Performance is just as strong as the competition. In fact, the most troublesome aspect here is a clunky and confusing white balance interface.

Automatic White Balance ()

Automatic white balancing scored low versus our comparison group, surpassing only the Nikon D7000 and falling way behind the Canon 7D, which boasts an excellent automatic mode. Like many cameras, this one has a tendency to arrive at color temperatures that are a bit cooler than the ideal. In fact, almost no white balance result, auto or custom, was too warm.

In natural daylight, the K-5 returns some of the most accurate results of any white balance test, auto or custom. On average, the camera’s calculations were only off by 89 degrees Kelvin. This is a major selling point for everyday use, assuming most of your shooting will take place outside. In daylight, auto white balance actually outperformed custom, and by a decent margin too.

On the other hand, indoor incandescent light tends to give digital cameras a lot of trouble. The K-5 fares just as poorly here as the rest of the field. Images averaged 2200 degrees too cool.

Under compact fluorescent light, the K-5’s scores are consistent with competitors. Color casts averaged 276 degrees on the cool side.

Custom White Balance ()

Custom white balance was a bit of a shock for the K-5. First of all, as mentioned, automatic white balance during daylight actually functions better than custom settings, which take longer to establish and ruins spontaneity. This is an important metric. Often the process of buying a camera can be purely a numbers game, but the effectiveness of this camera’s automatic white balance in daylight speaks directly to the “fun factor” of shooting with the K-5.

Then there’s the compact fluorescent performance, which is better in custom mode, but not by much. Certainly not enough to necessitate manual adjustment for every set of shots. And finally, most surprisingly, custom white balance performance under tricky incandescent light actually edged out automatic daylight for the best overall scores, off by only 88 degrees.

So, bottom line: take a custom white balance indoors, otherwise there’s no need.

In our comparison group, the Canon 7D has an easy lead thanks to fantastic scores in automatic mode, averaging only a 38 degree difference from ideal in daylight. The K-5 can’t compete with numbers like these, but solid marks in both auto and custom land this camera near the group’s average score.

White Balance Options

Available white balance adjustment settings are robust. Relegated to its own key on the rear control panel’s directional pad, the white balance menu allows users to select automatic, daylight, shade, cloudy, four variations of fluorescent light, tungsten light, or a setting designed for use with flash. Three additional settings are a bit more in depth. “Color Temperature Enhancement” allows the user to keep and strengthen a specified color tone. Manual allows the user to capture an image and select a region that the camera will consider “white,” with memory for three presets. A final mode allows the user to manually input a desired color temperature in degrees Kelvin, again with memory for three presets.

Via a sub-menu all modes, including auto, may be fine tuned with a set of two axes. The Y-axis adjusts between green and magenta, the x-axis between blue and amber. The interface is a little complex at first, but owners should get used to it pretty quickly.

Long Exposure

The K-5’s noise and accuracy during long exposures is consistent with the K-x. Both sets of scores tend to remain fairly constant from 1 to 30 seconds of exposure. Activating noise reduction degraded color accuracy enough for our tests to detect the difference, however these are miniscule variations we’re talking about here. More on how we test long exposure.

Color error results ranged from 3.88 to 4.00 without noise reduction. Decent scores, but clearly thrown off by high oversaturation, which averaged 107% across all exposure times. This oversaturation is identical to the K-x’s performance, however the detriment to color accuracy is not nearly as severe in the K-5.

Noise scores at long exposures were disappointing. With reduction off results ranged from 1.84% at worst to 1.41% at best, though 1.41% is hardly a great performance anyway. Noise reduction did little to help, instead exacerbating the problem in many cases. Red noise was the most prevalent in our tests, which is common. The K-5 seems to have a long exposure “sweet spot” of around 10-15 seconds, this exposure time yielded the best results in all cases.

As is evident in the graph below, noise performance scores are grouped cleanly into two groups. The Nikon D7000, despite drastically undersaturated long exposures, earns first place in our comparison by keeping noise below 0.7% at all times. The Canon 7D posts good scores in both metrics for a close second. The rest of the field cannot compete. Sony’s A55 and both Pentax cameras receive similar, significantly worse scores.

Noise Reduction

Six settings are available for high ISO noise reduction: off, low, medium, high, auto, and custom. The custom setting allows the user to manually specify noise reduction settings for each ISO individually. This is a helpful feature, ideal for for balancing the strong effect of this camera’s noise reduction algorithm, against the tendency to lose sharpness with reduction enabled. We recommend medium settings up to ISO 200, and high for 400 and above.

This customization will be more effective than auto, which results in noise levels well above 1% at nearly every ISO setting. Or, in other words, the equivalent of low noise reduction at ISOs below 1600, and the equivalent of medium noise reduction at 1600 and above.

Noise is spread evenly across all color channels, except for a very slight lean toward red noise compared to others. With noise reduction set to off, luma noise is perceptible at all ISO levels, even 100, and begins to spike at 800 which is not uncommon. More on how we test noise.

Initially, the K-5’s performance here surprised and disappointed, returning a full 1% noise even at ISO 100, then quickly worsening to artifacted, but still printable images as early as ISO 800. At the highest ISOs, noise actually drops a bit, which of course makes no sense, and suggests that some form of noise reduction must be present even at the “off” setting. However, at ideal settings with noise reduction enabled, the test results turn around, and the K-5 returns noise levels as low as 1.4% even at ISO 25600.

With noise reduction turned off, the K-5 lagged way behind at low ISOs, but excelled at the highest settings. Nikon’s D7000 registered only half the noise of the K-5 at ISO 100, but three times the noise at ISO 25600. Sony’s A55 also subjects images to less than half the K-5’s noise level at ISO 100, but posted strong numbers at high ISOs as well. This isn’t a perfect comparison however, since the A55’s noise reduction has no “off” setting.

At maximum noise reduction, the K-5 is the strongest performer of the entire group. Each of these cameras, with the exception of the K-x, posted excellent scores at low ISOs. But above 6400 the K-5 runs away with it, offering results at 25600 better than competitor’s results two or three stops below.

The Nikon D7000 does edge out our K-5 in overall noise performance. Given the identical sensor, this suggests Nikon’s method of noise reduction is slightly more effective. The gap is thinner than it would’ve been in years past however. In fact the numbers do show a relatively vast improvement between Pentax’s K-5 and its K-x from only a year before.

ISO Options

Offering a range of ISO settings extending from 80 to the rare 51200, it’s clear Pentax hopes ISO range will be a major selling point of this camera. And to an extent, it is.

Don’t be fooled, these aren’t “extended ISO” levels. 80, 12800, 25600, and even 51200 are all full-resolution and available from default settings. Moreover, the camera’s Sensitivity Priority mode will meter and adjust ISO settings automatically and, via a menu setting, may be set to operate between any combination of minimum and maximum ISOs the user prefers, including the full 80-51200 range.

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Dynamic Range

At ISO 80, the K-5 achieves over seven stops of dynamic range in our test. A solid result, but unfortunately these numbers will drop off quickly. As early as ISO 100, the sensor can no longer pull the full seven stops, by ISO 800, not even a full five. At ISOs above 3200 the K-5 scores relatively well, achieving three full stops and most of the fourth at 6400 and 12800. Remarkably, the camera still manages a dynamic range just shy of three stops even at the sky-high ISO 51200.

Highlight correction and three levels of shadow correction are available in the menus, however these modes were not a part of our test. More on how we test dynamic range.

Canon’s 7D was the top performer in our comparison group for this metric, capturing almost eight stops of range at ISO 100 and a full seven stops even at ISO 400, whereas the K-5 had already dropped down into the fives. The K-5 was also outperformed—albeit only slightly—by the older K-x, which captured one stop more at ISO 400 and 800.

This of course places the K-5 close to the bottom of the pack in our dynamic range test, surpassing only the Nikon D7000 and even then by only a small margin. What does impress us is the Pentax’s handling of high ISO dynamic range, which is relatively strong, though not strong enough to outweigh the poor results below ISO 6400.

Noise Reduction

Six settings are available for high ISO noise reduction: off, low, medium, high, auto, and custom. The custom setting allows the user to manually specify noise reduction settings for each ISO individually. This is a helpful feature, ideal for for balancing the strong effect of this camera’s noise reduction algorithm, against the tendency to lose sharpness with reduction enabled. We recommend medium settings up to ISO 200, and high for 400 and above.

This customization will be more effective than auto, which results in noise levels well above 1% at nearly every ISO setting. Or, in other words, the equivalent of low noise reduction at ISOs below 1600, and the equivalent of medium noise reduction at 1600 and above.

Noise is spread evenly across all color channels, except for a very slight lean toward red noise compared to others. With noise reduction set to off, luma noise is perceptible at all ISO levels, even 100, and begins to spike at 800 which is not uncommon. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

Offering a range of ISO settings extending from 80 to the rare 51200, it’s clear Pentax hopes ISO range will be a major selling point of this camera. And to an extent, it is.

Don’t be fooled, these aren’t “extended ISO” levels. 80, 12800, 25600, and even 51200 are all full-resolution and available from default settings. Moreover, the camera’s Sensitivity Priority mode will meter and adjust ISO settings automatically and, via a menu setting, may be set to operate between any combination of minimum and maximum ISOs the user prefers, including the full 80-51200 range.

Focus Performance

The K-5 uses an 11 point (9 cross-type) autofocus system with an option to use 5 points instead. In the overwhelming majority of shooting scenarios the phase detection method was very fast and accurate, and—relatively speaking—so was the contrast detection.

Autofocus is further controlled by a radial thumb dial located to the left of the right thumb rest on the back panel. This dial chooses between full autofocus, selective autofocus which allows the user to specify which of the eleven points to focus on, and center focus which always gives focus to the center of the frame. In the center of the dial, a large “AF” button can be depressed while shooting to temporarily disable autofocus entirely.

The dial itself is rigid to a fault, far too strong to be tripped accidentally, but still tricky when used intentionally.

Long Exposure

The K-5’s noise and accuracy during long exposures is consistent with the K-x. Both sets of scores tend to remain fairly constant from 1 to 30 seconds of exposure. Activating noise reduction degraded color accuracy enough for our tests to detect the difference, however these are miniscule variations we’re talking about here. More on how we test long exposure.

Color error results ranged from 3.88 to 4.00 without noise reduction. Decent scores, but clearly thrown off by high oversaturation, which averaged 107% across all exposure times. This oversaturation is identical to the K-x’s performance, however the detriment to color accuracy is not nearly as severe in the K-5.

Noise scores at long exposures were disappointing. With reduction off results ranged from 1.84% at worst to 1.41% at best, though 1.41% is hardly a great performance anyway. Noise reduction did little to help, instead exacerbating the problem in many cases. Red noise was the most prevalent in our tests, which is common. The K-5 seems to have a long exposure “sweet spot” of around 10-15 seconds, this exposure time yielded the best results in all cases.

As is evident in the graph below, noise performance scores are grouped cleanly into two groups. The Nikon D7000, despite drastically undersaturated long exposures, earns first place in our comparison by keeping noise below 0.7% at all times. The Canon 7D posts good scores in both metrics for a close second. The rest of the field cannot compete. Sony’s A55 and both Pentax cameras receive similar, significantly worse scores.

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

Only ten lux of illumination on our lab’s chart was necessary for the K-5 to reproduce an image accurate enough to return 50 IRE on a waveform monitor. Such an image, while still dark, would be visible with an acceptable level of detail.

Chromatic Aberration

Very little fringing is present in our sample photos, never enough to distract. The score is in line with other models in this price range and lens configuration. Chromatic aberration results are slightly worse than the older Pentax K-x.

Sharpness was also consistent across varying focal lengths. At 18mm, sharpness was excellent at low and especially medium apertures, and still solid all the way up to f/22.

35mm continued the trend, medium apertures like f/11 were once again a sweet spot for sharpness, surpassing wider settings like f/4.5, before dropping off at f/32.

Finally, at 55mm, wide aperture scores were high with medium apertures scoring even better. This time performance dropped considerably at the smallest apertures. The camera was only able to resolve half the detail at f/38.

Distortion

Tests at the 18mm focal length revealed barrel distortion in excess of 2.6% which, unfortunately, is common. At the 35mm medium range however, the figure dropped down to an excellent 0.16% pincushion distortion. At the full 55mm zoom: a still respectable 0.73%. Together this equals an overall score that is commensurate with other models in the class.

Motion

Overall, the K-5 improves on the K-x. We noticed much better smoothness this time around, as well as slightly less artifacting. Though, it should be noted neither the K-5 nor the K-x can be criticized for visible artifacts of any degree, both had stellar results. Smoothness however was a big problem for the K-x and we’re happy to see this resolved in the K-5. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Sony's A55 posted some of the best video scores under average lighting. Notice how the red vertical bars on the train's caboose don't blur into each other, although some distracting trailing is present on the black and white pinwheel.

The Nikon D7000 was another strong performer in our video tests, however in practice we notice a loss of smoothness (especially apparent on the rotating pinwheels), more artifacting than we've seen in previous cameras, and a loss of definition in the train's vertical bars.

The K-x handles motion poorly compared to the K-5. Note the blur and jumpiness as our train circles closest to the lens. Still, artifacting is at an absolutely minimum here, a quality which--thankfully--is intact on the K-5.

Video Sharpness

The K-5 also scored very well in our video sharpness test, outperformed only by the Sony A55, our overall video leader. This makes sense, given the K-5’s capable new sensor, which it most likely shares with the Nikon D7000. Interestingly, we scored the K-5 higher than the D7000 in this test.

Sharpness is measured in line widths / picture height. We found this camera achieved 675 lw/ph while panning both horizontally and vertically. For reference, the mighty A55 is only 25-50 lw/ph ahead, averaging 700 and 725 for horizontal and vertical panning respectively. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Low Light Sensitivity

Only ten lux of illumination on our lab’s chart was necessary for the K-5 to reproduce an image accurate enough to return 50 IRE on a waveform monitor. Such an image, while still dark, would be visible with an acceptable level of detail.

Buttons & Dials

Controls are laid out very intelligently for the most part, though buttons themselves can be hit or miss. For example, keys found on the directional pad protrude slightly, have a shallow but clear stroke, and an audible click. Then again the AF button is recessed, making thumb striking a challenge, with barely an audible click. The metering dial also remains puzzling for its extremely difficult and even painful operation.

Control mechanisms have far more ups than downs however. The shutter button has a soft focus phase, which leads predictably and intuitively to the release click. Behind it, enlarged ISO and and exposure compensation buttons are placed conveniently in reach of the index finger, freeing up the right thumb to operate the rear dial or AF button. Speaking of dials, both the front and rear have excellent grip and just enough stiffness.

Button layout is designed around the directional pad, helping to ease menu navigation. Live view gets its own large button this time around, while exposure lock holds prime real estate directly above the thumb grip. The only misstep is the autofocus dial, which has a very low profile that is far too shallow to operate with gloves and is still very difficult without. I do understand the desire to prevent accidental adjustment here, but this seems like overkill.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

Eight digital picture filters are available in the main menu, most are silly. Extract Color is the most valuable and really the only one with legitimate artistic value. This mode extracts one or two colors and renders the rest of the image black and white. Toy Camera makes images appear they were taken with a tiny camera, Retro makes images look old, High Contrast and Soften are pretty self-explanatory, Starburst shapes highlights, Fish-eye simulates a fish-eye lens, and finally the Custom Filter allows the user to design and save their own filter.

The K-5’s menu layout is consistent with other models in this class. The main menu is divided into four tabs, with each tab further subdivided into numbered menus. Each tab is color coded to help with memorization. The interface is operated via a combination of the directional pad, and the front and rear dials. The front dial navigates through entire tabs, the rear dial through each numbered menu, and the directional pad through each individual option. All options are clearly legible at their default size, with an option to increase text size even more.

Options and tabs are arranged from left to right generally in the order of most common to least common adjustments, starting with shooting options and features, and finishing off with detailed customizations like LCD panel illumination, etc. This layout means no scrolling down is ever necessary, allowing the user to dial through the menus efficiently.

Instruction Manual

A substantial, helpful manual comes with the K-5. Clocking in at over 375 pages, the guide encompasses everything from basic photography techniques to specifics for each switch and setting. Beginners could easily start at page one and tackle the manual like a book, while experts hoping to acclimate quickly will find the detailed index and table of contents very helpful.

Unfortunately the camera itself is not quite as beginner-friendly. There is no help button to describe the function of this camera’s countless options. Menu items are also abbreviated frequently. This is an oversight. In-camera help would’ve been nice since, after all, nobody brings their manual along when out shooting. The omission is particularly harmful considering Pentax’s positioning as an beginner/enthusiast manufacturer.

Handling

The K-5 has a reassuring heft and solidity thanks to its magnesium alloy shell surrounding a stainless steel chassis. Some shifting of internal parts is detectable, but only if you’re seeking it out specifically and even then the effect is barely noticeable.

Minus the lack of an articulating LCD, handling is phenomenal. The right hand grip features a recession for the index finger which, when coupled with the protruding rear thumb grip on the back, provides extra leverage for a stable and confident grip. Cupping the zoom ring with the left hand only adds to the K-5’s outstanding control. This camera is a joy to shoot with.

Handling Photo 1
Handling Photo 2
Handling Photo 3

Buttons & Dials

Controls are laid out very intelligently for the most part, though buttons themselves can be hit or miss. For example, keys found on the directional pad protrude slightly, have a shallow but clear stroke, and an audible click. Then again the AF button is recessed, making thumb striking a challenge, with barely an audible click. The metering dial also remains puzzling for its extremely difficult and even painful operation.

Control mechanisms have far more ups than downs however. The shutter button has a soft focus phase, which leads predictably and intuitively to the release click. Behind it, enlarged ISO and and exposure compensation buttons are placed conveniently in reach of the index finger, freeing up the right thumb to operate the rear dial or AF button. Speaking of dials, both the front and rear have excellent grip and just enough stiffness.

Button layout is designed around the directional pad, helping to ease menu navigation. Live view gets its own large button this time around, while exposure lock holds prime real estate directly above the thumb grip. The only misstep is the autofocus dial, which has a very low profile that is far too shallow to operate with gloves and is still very difficult without. I do understand the desire to prevent accidental adjustment here, but this seems like overkill.

Buttons Photo 1
Buttons Photo 2

Display(s)

The back panel is dominated by the K-5’s gorgeous 3-inch LCD screen clocking in at approximately 921,000 dots. The display’s color temperature was accurate and well calibrated out of the box.

A swiveling panel design would have been nice here, especially for shooting video. But as it is, the fixed LCD does well with what it has. The viewing angle is wide enough for lining up the trickiest of shots, while the backlight is bright enough to preview images at noon on a sunny day.

Tweaking adjustments for both brightness and color can be found in the main options menu, but again, the default settings for both a fine. Brightness is adjustable in seven steps up or down. Color adjustment is identical to the color modes screen, a set of two axes leans color reproduction toward green or magenta, and blue or amber.

Viewfinder

The K-5’s viewfinder boasts a full 100% field of view with a diopter adjustment range of -2.5 to +1.5 m-1. If that’s not strong enough, corrective eyepieces may be purchased to match your prescription. The eye cup is comfortable without straining or squinting, but the diopter adjuster is too rigid and may only be adjusted properly after the eye cup has been slid off completely. Pentax also opted not to mark the available focal points here, however the active point is highlighted during autofocus.

Image Stabilization

The K-5’s shake reduction performed poorly, particularly during low shake scenarios such as shooting from the hand.

Shooting Modes

The mode dial is pretty standard for DSLRs, with the addition of a few Pentax-only features. The very useful “Shutter and Aperture Priority” allows full manual adjustment of shutter and aperture via the front and rear dials respectively, while the camera dynamically adjusts ISO based on shooting conditions. “User” mode stores up to five sets of options across all modes and menus, for easily switching between totally different shooting styles. “X-sync” locks shutter speed at 1/180, the camera’s maximum flash sync speed, for external flash that does not support automatic syncing.

On top of the mode dial is a lock button that must be depressed in order to rotate the dial. It requires a little bit more finger work, but getting accustomed to this is relatively painless. Design wise this does seem like a strange decision, since the mode dial is sufficiently out of the way, and was really never in danger of accidental adjustment anyway.

Focus

The K-5 uses an 11 point (9 cross-type) autofocus system with an option to use 5 points instead. In the overwhelming majority of shooting scenarios the phase detection method was very fast and accurate, and—relatively speaking—so was the contrast detection.

Autofocus is further controlled by a radial thumb dial located to the left of the right thumb rest on the back panel. This dial chooses between full autofocus, selective autofocus which allows the user to specify which of the eleven points to focus on, and center focus which always gives focus to the center of the frame. In the center of the dial, a large “AF” button can be depressed while shooting to temporarily disable autofocus entirely.

The dial itself is rigid to a fault, far too strong to be tripped accidentally, but still tricky when used intentionally.

Recording Options

The K-5’s range of options for outputted images files is robust. While most of your shooting will be done at the sensor’s 16.2 megapixel maximum resolution, menu settings also allow for images at 10-, 6-, and 2-megapixel capture. Intuitively, the same screen displays the exact horizontal and vertical resolution of each setting, and also extrapolates how many exposures remain at each setting given the capacity and current occupancy of the memory card.

Aside from resolution, the quality of the JPEG encoding may be adjusted from one to four “stars,” which can also help save memory. In addition to JPEG, images may be stored as raw data in either DNG or PEF formats. There’s also an option to shoot a full resolution JPEG and raw image simultaneously.

Speed and Timing

Continuous shooting performance is consistent with numbers advertised by Pentax. This is limited by a buffer however, and slightly more so in RAW encoding mode.

Continuous shooting can be set to the full burst or a “low” mode that shoots 1.6 shots per second until the memory card is full. Interval shooting is fully customizable for time-lapse photography.

Our K-5 tests between 6.3 and 7.5 frames per second at maximum settings, and can sustain that speed for approximately 22 shots at maximum resolution. In RAW mode the buffer lasts approximately 19 shots before reducing speed. This is actually contrary—strangely—to the user manual’s claim of only 8 full speed RAW shots.

Self-timer settings are lacking on the K-5. Countdown timers come in only two flavors: two second and twelve second delays. Remote control shooting is fully supported however, offering a standard remote control drive mode, remote with three second delay, and remote continuous shooting.

Focus Speed

The K-5 uses an 11 point (9 cross-type) autofocus system with an option to use 5 points instead. In the overwhelming majority of shooting scenarios the phase detection method was very fast and accurate, and—relatively speaking—so was the contrast detection.

Autofocus is further controlled by a radial thumb dial located to the left of the right thumb rest on the back panel. This dial chooses between full autofocus, selective autofocus which allows the user to specify which of the eleven points to focus on, and center focus which always gives focus to the center of the frame. In the center of the dial, a large “AF” button can be depressed while shooting to temporarily disable autofocus entirely.

The dial itself is rigid to a fault, far too strong to be tripped accidentally, but still tricky when used intentionally.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

Eight digital picture filters are available in the main menu, most are silly. Extract Color is the most valuable and really the only one with legitimate artistic value. This mode extracts one or two colors and renders the rest of the image black and white. Toy Camera makes images appear they were taken with a tiny camera, Retro makes images look old, High Contrast and Soften are pretty self-explanatory, Starburst shapes highlights, Fish-eye simulates a fish-eye lens, and finally the Custom Filter allows the user to design and save their own filter.

Recording Options

Video encoding is restricted to Motion-JPEG compressed .AVI files, with no options for AVCHD or H.264 video compression, techniques which could’ve allowed for smaller file sizes. Video is recorded at a maximum resolution of 1920×1080 at 25 frames per second. The signal may also be downsampled to 1280×720 at 30 or 25 frames per second, or further downsampled to a sub-HD 640×480 at 30 or 25 frames per second. At any resolution, encoding quality can be set from one to three “stars” depending on the desired level of compression. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

Control is very limited during video shooting. The K-5 does not allow control over shutter, aperture, ISO, or auto-focus while a recording is active. Focus adjustments must be made manually with the lens’ focus ring, while the camera’s metering system does its best to automatically adjust other settings for the proper exposure.

The world of SLR video has come a long way since the days of say, the K-7. In the past, these failings would’ve been glossed over, but today they stand out.

Auto Controls

Automatic Mode is therefore the only mode for shooting video. For what it's worth, the light metering system does a fine job keeping subjects properly exposed. Automatic white balance also reacts fairly quickly. But without an automatic focus, we can hardly call this an "auto mode" at all.

Zoom

Digital zoom controls are not available at all during video shooting, the lens' zoom ring is your only option. Before recording, the camera's contrast detection system does use a 6x digital zoom to achieve focus and, even more puzzling, a manual 6x digital zoom is available by pressing the "info" button, but again only before recording--not during.

Focus

Again, focus is limited--rather pathetically--to the manual focus ring. Meaning that for everything except stationary shots, pulling focus by hand will require the skills of a professional videographer which, we dare say, lie outside the target audience of this camera.

Exposure Controls

None, none, and…yes, none. At least not while shooting. Before pressing record, the K-5 does allow for manual adjustment of the aperture only, where it will remain locked during recording. Otherwise, a menu option allows for fully automatic aperture adjustment too. None of these settings can be altered or manually adjusted after beginning a recording.

Other Controls

Manual ISO control is also missing. A shame considering the K-5's strong low light performance. Shake reduction can be turned on or off in the movie menu, and this preference will remain independent of your still shooting selection, but that's pretty much it in terms of video control. This camera is no slouch when it comes to actual video performance, and it's a shame to see this paired with a feature set capable of little more than YouTube schlock.

Audio Features

The K-5 features a built-in monoaural microphone, which is functional in a pinch but for clean sound you’ll need to take advantage of the external stereo microphone terminal, located under a rubber flap below the mode dial. Here again, control is extremely limited. Sound recording may either be set to on or off, no other customization or level metering is available.

Mic Photo

Overview

Much of the K-5's pre-release hype focused on the brand new 16.2 effective megapixel sensor. In our tests, we found the excitement to be justified. This Pentax matches or exceeds comparable models from Nikon and Canon, especially in the areas of sharpness and color accuracy. Even though there are plenty of hardware, design, and feature similarities to the K-x, the K-r, and especially the K-7; current owners may still want to give the K-5 a look as the upgrade is significant.

In addition to the sensor, Pentax's selection of an excellent weather-resistant lens also boosted scores quite a bit. This is evidenced by the Nikon D7000 and Canon 7D comparisons. The K-5's overall sharpness was significantly better than both the D7000, which uses an identical sensor, and the 7D, which has a two megapixel head start.

But the K-5's faults arise in the underlying features and specifications that provide the foundation of image quality in real-life shooting scenarios. "Supporting" elements like image stabilization, dynamic range, and white balance were all a little disappointing. Independently we might be able to overlook these, but in combination--and depending on your shooting style of course--they begin to detract.

Finally, we can't help but feel like the K-5 suffers from a slight identity crisis. For a camera of this quality and capability, the pricing is aggressive, which seems to indicate a target audience of DSLR first-timers or early enthusiasts. Yet the omission of in-camera help is boggling. In terms of sheer power, the K-5 is a fine choice for budding photographers, as long as there's an expert nearby to help out. For everyone else, the K-5 is an accurate, sharp camera with phenomenal handling and strong low light performance.

Performance

Good color accuracy and excellent sharpness define the K-5's still performance. Even in tough shooting conditions, photos were clean, flattering, and victim only to unnoticeable levels of aberration. Dynamic range is capable but average here, a disappointment considering the hype. The same is true for white balancing. Image stabilization was poor at this price range, meaning that my summertime water skiing shots will have to wait. The K-5 is best suited to high color, high contrast subjects that are still or moving, both in daylight and low light, so long as the user's footing is secure.

Video

This model's video capture was just fine, great even. But video features and control are basically absent, rendering the K-5 almost entirely unsuitable for shooting video. Manual focus, manual zoom, manual everything. Unless you happen to own a complex SLR video production apparatus, rule out everything but the simplest YouTube clips when purchasing the K-5.

Hardware

All "K-mount" lenses are supported, that's over 90 choices as of this writing. If you're not quite there yet, the included kit lens is excellent. We also like the 3-inch, 921k dot LCD screen, and found it to be bright and accurate out of the box. The external stereo mic port is nice, however the absence of other video-specific features is both disappointing and unsurprising. At the very least, a swiveling LCD panel would've been a helpful addition.

Handling

The K-5 retains a similar body style to its predecessors and as a result handles extremely well. Shooting is fun and confident thanks to a smart recession for the right index finger, as well as an oversized thumb rest. The pointer finger falls right into place over the shutter release and the extra long on/off switch. The body has a reassuring heft and solidity, but you will not be dropping it accidentally.

Controls

Front and rear dials are out of the way when looking through the viewfinder, and large ISO and EV buttons are placed in front of the top control panel. This means all four key shooting variables--shutter, aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation--may be adjusted painlessly while looking down the viewfinder. Other controls can be head-scratchers though. The rear AF dial is stiff as a bone, while the metering dial will probably takes its toll on your fingernail. The mode dial features a lock button on top to prevent accidental adjustment, but we're not sure this was ever necessary in the first place.

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