Last September Pentax replaced the K-5 with not just one but two new digital SLRs, one without an optical low pass filter (OLPF). Looking little changed from the Pentax K-5 and K-7 before that, the Pentax K-5 II retains a very photographer-friendly design, with a good set of controls at the ready despite a surprisingly compact design. Internally, the K5 II gets only a few updates, including a new air-gapless LCD and an improved autofocus system; the latter of which offers a noticeable improvement in AF speed overall, and greater sensitivity in low light. Though the resolution remains the same, Pentax updated the camera’s 16.3-megapixel CMOS sensor with a faster data readout, according to company representatives.

Though Pentax made few upgrades, the K-5 II remains an excellent digital SLR, particularly for outdoor photography, including a weather-resistant body, extreme cold tolerance down to -10C (14F), an optical viewfinder with 100% coverage, sensor-shift Shake Reduction that works with all lenses, an electronic level function, and a seven-frame-per-second frame rate. 

As almost a bonus, Pentax also offers the K-5 II S, which is essentially the same camera with the low-pass filter removed. Also called anti-aliasing filters, low-pass filters soften images slightly to minimize pattern interference with the sensor’s own grid pattern. When capturing subjects without repeating patterns, K-5 II S users will gain a slight sharpness advantage; however, repeating patterns do occur in nature, so even landscape photographers are not immune from the possibility of moiré appearing in images. We’ll have a look at the issue in this First Impressions report to see if it’s worth the risk for extra sharpness at a cost of just $100 more.

Highlights

  • 16.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • 11-point SAFOS X autofocus system
  • ISO 100-12800; expandable to 80-51200
  • 1080p video at 25fps
  • 3-inch, 920K LCD
  • Maximum 7fps continuous shooting
  • 100% Glass prism viewfinder (0.92x magnification)
  • Weatherproof, cold-resistant, Magnesium-alloy body
  • Shake Reduction image stabilization built-in
  • Handheld HDR image capture 
  • Built-in Level
  • Horizon-fixing 'Composition adjustment' rotates sensor, allows careful composition 

Handling

That Pentax kept the K-5 II design essentially the same as its predecessors might concern some, but those familiar with the design will be just as happy as they were when the company introduced the K-7 in 2009. We really liked the original design quite a bit, so we're perfectly happy to see it repeated here. The body is tight and small, a little smaller than a large Rebel, but with a metal body rather than polycarbonate.

Despite the smaller dimensions, the Pentax K5 II’s controls remain easy to use once you get accustomed to the tight quarters. The camera’s small size makes it easy to fit into a bag or backpack - and outdoor trail use is a purpose for which the K-5 II is quite well suited thanks to its weather sealing and cold resistance.
Front and rear control dials allow full access to aperture and shutter speeds. The AF point selection switch is maybe a bit too stiff between detents though, which makes landing on the actual selections a little more difficult. Also, having an infrared port front and back makes tripod work easier, especially when working in close quarters, as in macro photography.
The optional GPS receiver connects to the camera through the hot shoe, with no cable or special connector required. It also uses its own AAA battery for power. We've only just received this accessory; watch for the review for a little more detail on how this works with the K-5 II.

Improved autofocus

Pentax says focus acquisition should be faster with the new SAFOX X autofocus system, and our early experience shows that to be true. In low light, the difference is a bit less obvious. Both can still struggle a bit in low light, but the K-5 II takes about half a second, while the K-5 takes more like a second on average. We’ve always admired how Pentax SLRs, even when they were slow, kept at the job until focus was achieved, where other cameras just give up.


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