Pentax K-5 Camera Review
With the K-5, Pentax has the most feature-rich DSLR currently available - again. This DSLR camera boasts built-in stabilization, automatic horizon correction, a dual-axis digital level, class-leading weather-sealing, a large 100% coverage viewfinder, a 3" LCD with 921K pixels, ISO up to 51200, 7 FPS continuous shooting, live-view and a wealth of unique photographic controls and image parameters. All this in a sturdy and relatively compact pro body. In addition to its photographic capabilities, the Pentax K-5 records full 1080p HD movies, either with a built-in mono microphone or an external stereo one.
Note: As the Pentax K-5 is nearly identical to its predecessor, the first two pages of this detailed review are largely copied from the K-7 review. For an overview of functionality differences, see the 'Pentax K-5 vs K-7' box on the performance page. The same page has been largely re-written for the K-5.
Pentax K-5 Key Features
This review takes a close look at the Pentax K-5 in terms of features, ergonomics, usability, performance, image quality and unique photographic controls. As their new flagship DSLR, the K-5 sports the following features:
- 16 Megapixels image sensor, 1.5X crop-factor.
- Automatic and selectable ISO from 80 to 51200.
- 1/8000s to 30s shutter-speeds, plus bulb mode.
- Exposure compensation, -5..+5 EV, 1/2 EV increments or 1/3 EV increments.
- Automatic, preset, kelvin and custom white-balance, all fine-tunable.
- 11-point auto-focus system, with 9 cross-type points.
- Focus-point selection: automatic, manual or center.
- Focus modes: single-shot, continuous and manual.
- Metering modes: multi-segment, center-weighed and spot.
- Full manual controls, including PASM modes.
- Exposure bracketing, 2, 3 or 5 images, 0.3 to 2 EV increments. Optionally delayed or remote-triggered.
- White-balance, saturation, hue, high/low-key, contrast and sharpness bracketing, 3 images.
- Customizable image parameters: saturation, hue, tone-curve, overall contrast, highlight contrast, shadow contrast and sharpness.
- 7 FPS continuous shooting for up to 20 images.
- Self-timers: 12s and 2s with automatic mirror-lock-up.
- Remote trigger: Instant, 3s delay or continuous.
- Mirror-Up: Manual or remote-triggered.
- Auto-Exposure-Lock (AEL), Auto-Focus-Lock (AFL) and auto-focus(AF) override.
- 100% coverage 0.92X magnification viewfinder.
- 3” LCD 921K Pixels, 160 degree viewing-angle.
- Image review with magnification and histograms, luminance and RGB.
- Depth-of-field preview.
- JPEG, RAW and JPEG+RAW modes.
- Built-in popup flash, hot-shoe and sync-port for external lighting.
- 1920x1080 @ 24 FPS 16:9 aspect-ratio movie-mode. Recordable with or without sound, using built-in mono mic or external stereo mic.
- Lithium-ion battery.
- Secure Digital High Capacity memory.
The Pentax K-5 also stands-out by having all the following advanced features, a few of them being unique to the K-5:
- Shake-reduction, provides stabilization to all lenses at no additional cost.
- Digital level with automatic horizon correction, corrects for camera tilt up to 2 degree towards each side.
- Dust-reduction, diminishes the necessity of cleaning the image sensor.
- Weather-seals, enables photography in adverse weather. Usable in rain and snow. Cold-resistant to -10C (14F).
- Auto-ISO with selectable minimum and maximum.
- Unique hyper-program, sensitivity-priority, hyper-manual and shutter-aperture-priority modes.
- Direct ISO control in sensitivity-priority mode and optionally in aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes.
- Dual-control wheels, for efficient parameter selection and navigation.
- Automated multi-exposure and time-lapse capture modes.
- Automatic HDR capture from 3 image bracket.
- In-camera RAW recovery for last JPEG
- In-camera RAW image conversion.
- In-camera correction of optical distortion and lateral chromatic aberrations.
- Selectable DNG or proprietary RAW file format.
- Support for huge selection of legacy Pentax lenses.
- Illuminated top status panel.
Suitability - What is it good for?
Since DSLR cameras represent the high-end of digital cameras, they are generally suitable for most types of photography. The versatility of interchangeable lenses brings SLR cameras their greatest potential. The Pentax K-5 is no exception, it is suitable for every type of photographic subject.
Feature-wise, the K-5 has just about everything. Other DSLR models distinguish themselves mostly by the choice of lenses available to them and ultimate performance. The traditional weak-point of Pentax cameras offering slower continuous shooting speed no longer applies with only a handful of models shooting faster. Reaching as high as ISO 51200 combined with image stabilization makes the K-5 the ultimate low-light digital camera for still subjects. For moving subjects, the Nikon D3S
Nikon D3S remains the low-light champion due to its unmatched high-ISO results. The cost of this advantage is that the D3 is a much bulkier and expensive digital camera.
For specific photographic subjects, lens versatility is quite important. While the Pentax K-5 supports an incredibly large collection of lenses, most of these lenses are no longer in production. In terms of modern lenses, Pentax offers a rather small lineup, certainly smaller than the lineups of Canon and Nikon.
The Pentax K-5 has a weather-sealed body that makes it more suitable for rough environments and extra resistant to cold temperatures. Compared to its competitors, the K-5 is relatively compact, making it also more suitable for discreet shooting, assuming use of a smallish lens. This DSLR and its predecessor are currently the smallest DSLR to have a viewfinder with 100% coverage and to be weather-sealed. An optional grip, shown above, is available to considerably increase the size of the K-5 while allowing the use of standard AA batteries to shoot in remote areas.
Capability - What can it do?
As noted in the introduction, the Pentax K-5 has everything expected from a modern DSLR plus an impressive list of extra features. Headline features include built-in image stabilization, automatic horizon correction, dual-axis digital level, dust-reduction, a cold-resistant weather-proof body, 7 FPS continuous drive, 1080p HD movie-mode and live-view. Built-in stabilization is not only a cost-saving feature, it works with all lenses, even those without any stabilized counterparts such as prime, bright, tilt-shift and fish-eye lenses.
The Pentax K-5's power-switch has 3 positions: off, on and preview. The preview position is used for depth-of-field preview and digital preview. In all shooting modes, the behavior of the preview button is controlled by a setup option. Depth-of-field preview simply stops down the lens aperture to the one metered or set manually, this is the usual behavior. Digital preview takes a picture and shows it on the LCD before optionally storing it. Those who would like quick access to both optical and digital previews, can program the RAW button to show the digital one, leaving the switch around the shutter for optical preview. Digital preview is cleverly used when setting white-balance and image parameters. This is an innovative way to ensure that the proper white-balance is selected. While scrolling through white-balance options and fine-tuning white-balance, the preview image is updated accordingly. Finding the right preset white-balance and tweaking it further is more time-consuming on DSLR cameras without this feature unless using a color-accurate live-view mode.
The shutter-release on this DSLR is a standard 2-stage release with a soft halfway point. By default, pressing the shutter-release halfway locks focus but not exposure. It can be locked using a dedicated AEL-button or by the halfway press when a custom option is set. Focus can also be locked by a separate AF-button which can be configured to disable auto-focus instead. When exposure is locked, whether using the AEL-button or half-pressing the shutter-release, an asterisk is displayed in the viewfinder. This is an important indication of which behavior is in effect.
Live-view on the Pentax K-5 is entered and exited using a dedicated button. During live-view the LCD shows a 100% coverage preview with accurate focus, colors and white-balance. Unfortunately, exposure is not previewed at all, meaning that it falls short of being WYSIWYG, as it is on the Canon EOS Rebel XSi
Canon EOS Rebel XSi for example. There are optional histograms and blinking areas but both these options are completely useless as they do not represent the exposure, only what is displayed on the LCD. The extremely helpful dual-axis digital level is displayed in live-view. Most controls are usable in live-view, although, strangely, changing exposure-modes and going into playback mode exits live-view.
Focus in live-view can be done using face-detection, contrast-detection or phase-detection. The first two options use the sensor to determine if something is in focus or not. When focusing with either of these methods, the preview zooms into the chosen area to help judge focus accuracy. When using phase-detection, the display naturally goes blank for a second or so. When the camera has locked focus, the preview appears again and the camera highlights the chosen focus areas.
The greatest thing about the K-5 is that it helps take better pictures. It does this with a bright 100% coverage viewfinder and automatic horizon correction. This means that the photographer avoids having to crop and rotate images unexpectedly. Rotation is detrimental to image quality and therefore avoiding it helps produce higher quality images. Cropping is not damaging by itself but knowing what is going to be in the frame is a relief to the photographer and maximizes the resolution of resulting images. With the digital-level enabled, the viewfinder shows tilt below the view. Pitch is not shown in the viewfinder but can be seen either in live-view or by using the Info button to select the dual-axis digital-level view.
The mode dial of the Pentax K-5 has 11 set positions. Five of these modes are ubiquitous on modern DSLR cameras: automatic (called Green-mode), program (P), shutter-priority (Tv), aperture-priority (Av) and full manual (M) mode. Notably absent from the mode-dial are scene modes which frequently control the camera in mysterious ways. The mode-dial has a locking system to prevent accidental changes.
The remaining 6 modes are: Sensitivity-priority (Sv), Shutter-Aperture-priority (TAv), Bulb (B), Flash-synchro (X), User (USER) and movie. Sensitivity-priority is unique to Pentax DSLRs, letting users directly set ISO sensitivity. Shutter-Aperture-priority complements sensitivity-priority by letting the user select both shutter-speed and aperture, letting the camera set ISO sensitivity. Bulb mode keeps the shutter open as long as the shutter-release is pressed, some DSLRs make it part of manual (M) mode. Flash-sync mode keeps the shutter-speed at 1/180 which is the flash-sync speed. User mode is any mode which the user can save along with most camera settings. There are 5 memories within User mode and they can be named individually to easily remember which one is which. A menu option shows which setting is saved for each memory. Movie-mode allows the recording of video clips. Below the mode-dial is the metering selection switch. The standard 3 metering modes are available: multi-segment, center-weighed and spot.
Movie-mode on the K-5 enters live-view automatically, immediately showing the correct aspect ratio for the set video resolution. A maximum 1920x1080 @ 25 FPS can be chosen, which is a standard 16:9 wide-screen HD movie mode. The camera can also record, 720p and VGA at either 30 or 25 FPS. Three quality settings are available. Sound can be enabled or disabled. If is enabled, the camera either records mono sound using its internal microphone or stereo sound using an external one connected to the K-5's mini jack connector. Video playback is possible using the rear LCD, an HDMI device up to 1080i or an analog RCA output, either NTSC or PAL.
The Pentax K-5 has detailed control over white-balance including automatic white-balance, preset white-balanceDaylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, flash, 4-types of fluorescent and enhanced-color (CTE), custom white-balance and color-temperature. All white-balance options can be fine-tuned in 15-steps from blue to amber and magenta to green. Fine-tuning can be reset to 0 by pressing the green button from the preview screen. The behavior of white-balance presets can be fixed to an exact color-temperature or adjusted by the camera. There is also an option to control if AWB corrects colors subtly or strongly under tungsten lighting.
The Pentax K-5 can bracket exposure for 2, 3 or 5 frames, with increments between 1/3 and 2 EV. The 2-frame bracket option is new to the K-5 and it can be chosen if the second frame is more or less exposed than the set metering. It also supports extended bracketing which produces 3 images from one image capture. Images can vary in white-balance, hue, saturation, high/low-key, contrast or sharpness. Flash compensation from -2 to +1 EV can be set after pressing the Flash Mode (down) button.
This DSLR supports the standard drive modesSingle, continuous, self-timer, remote-control., HDR, multiple exposure and time-lapse. In continuous drive, this Pentax can shoot up to 40 JPEG images or up to 15 RAW (DNG) images. Continuous shooting speed is either 7 FPS or 3.3 FPS. The self-timer can trigger after 2 or 12 seconds. With the 2-second self-timer, the mirror is automatically locked-up. Multiple-exposure can combine between 2 and 9 images with or without automatic exposure adjustment. The time-lapse mode shoots up to 999 images at preset intervals between 1s and 24h. Shooting can start immediately or at a set time during the next 24 hours.
Bracketing is part of drive-mode options, like the K-7 but unlike with the K20D which had a dedicated button. Since bracketing cannot be set separately from drive-mode, the K-5 includes bracketing-with-self-timer and bracketing-with-remote-trigger sub-options. This means that bracketing and the 12s self-timer cannot be set together, just like bracketing plus delayed-remote-trigger. When using the bracketing-with-self-timer option, the K-5 uses a 2s timer with MLU between each shot. Now to the K-5 is the ability to customize the RAW button to activate bracketing. All this does is activate the drive-mode selection screen with bracketing set. This option only works one way, pressing the customized RAW button while in bracketing mode, displays the bracketing menu again, it does not turn off bracketing. For this reason, many will prefer to set their preferred bracketing mode in one of the user-mode memories.
Every DSLR can produce RAW, JPEG or both types of images but the Pentax K-5 adds three extra features to its RAW support. The first feature is a choice of format, either Pentax's PEF or Adobe's DNG. The main difference is that PEF is more precisely suited to the Pentax K-5 while DNG is more portable. The second feature is in-camera RAW development. This lets users use RAW images without using conversion software. The difference between capturing JPEG images and processing RAW-images in-camera is that white-balance and image parameters can be adjusted after capture. To aid experimentation with RAW images, the K-5 has a dedicated button to take the next shot in a different format which is configured in the custom-settings menu. Thus button is now labeled RAW / Fx since it can be customized to enable other camera features. The third RAW feature, which is unique to the K-5, is that it can save RAW data for a previously captured JPEG, assuming that data is still in the camera's buffer. This is indicated by an icon representing the AE-L button which is used to save the RAW file.
Pentax K-5 Facts
Sensor-Size: 24 x 16mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|16 Megapixels DSLR||ISO 80-51200|
|Pentax K Mount|
|3-Axis Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|Auto Horizon Correction|
2 Axis Digital Level
|Weatherproof down to -10C||Hot-Shoe & Sync-Port|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Stereo audio input|
|7 FPS Drive, 40 Images||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|1920x1080 @ 25 FPS Video Recording||Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|3" LCD 920K Pixels|
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