Pentax has a long history of creating photographer-friendly digital SLRs at reasonable prices. The most recent example is the K-30, which offered a 16 megapixel CMOS sensor, built-in image stabilization, weather-sealed body, pentaprism viewfinder with 100% coverage, and dual control dials - all for under $799 (with 18-55 WR lens).

The venerable Japanese manufacturer has continued that trend with the new K-50 and K-500 digital SLRs. The K-50 ($699/£529 body only, $779/£599 with a lighter 18-55mm WR lens) takes everything that made the K-30 so appealing, and adds improved image processing and a more traditionally styled body.  And, if you desire, you can custom order the K-50 in your choice of 120 color combinations. Pentax is quoting a 4-week (ish) wait for custom color orders, so plan ahead, especially if you're buying one as a gift (note that with this many color combinations, you can replicate many national flags and team colors...).

Just five of the K-50's more than 100 possible color variants - pictured at Pentax's launch event in New York. Which is your favorite?

"You can have any color you want!" That's the very un Henry-Fordian way that journalists were greeted at today's New York launch of the Pentax K-50, K-500 and Q7. In Pentax's opinion, apparently, as technology advances to a point where iterative improvements become the norm, customization - specifically color options - is a serious differentiator. 

Here's the colorful K-50 (we grabbed a glossy red one for this shot) from the front... ...and from the back. Both K-50 and K-500 feel good in the hand, but although pleasantly solid, neither has the heft of Pentax's higher-end K-5 II/S. 

The K500 is a more budget-conscious model ($599/£449 with a standard, non-water-resistant 18-55mm lens), with only the weather-sealed body, electronic level, and included battery differentiating it from the K50. Unlike its pricier sibling, the K-500 comes only in black. We're a little surprised by this, but according to Pentax, it's a logistical issue. Offering three cameras in multiple color options would simply have been too much to handle. 

Along with the two new camera bodies come two lower-cost versions of existing Pentax lenses. Both the F3.5-5.6 18-55mm and F4.0-F5.6 50-200mm WR lenses fall under Pentax's DA L line-up, which means that they're lighter than regular DA lenses, and have a plastic mount. They have the same 'glass' and are just as water-resistant as the DA models.

John Carlson, Senior Manager for Sales and Marketing, pictured at the New York launch of the K-50 and K-500. 

We've not had a long time with the K-50 and k-500, but in the course of a brief shooting session, our conclusions are boringly familiar - they look nice (hot pink K-50 aside, but someone out there will love it), feel nice, handle well and don't have any obvious vices. They are, in short, very much what we'd expect from recent K-series DSLRs. Interestingly, there's little sign of the influence of Ricoh on these products. Whereas the recently-announced Ricoh GR betrays a little of its newfound Pentax DNA, the K-50 and K-500 look, handle, and operate like pure-breed Pentaxses.

This isn't a bad thing of course. Actually, far from it. We really like the K-30 and K-5II/S and the K-50 and K-500 slot neatly beneath them. In the words of one Pentax executive that we spoke to at the launch, 'we finally have a DSLR lineup!'. And that's great news.

What's New

  • Improved image processing, with fewer 'jaggies' and higher maximum ISO
  • More traditional D-SLR design
  • Lighter (yet still water-resistant) kit lenses with plastic mount
  • Available in 120 color combinations (K-50 only)

Cameras Compared

The K-50 (right) has a much rounder style than the angular design of its predecessor the K-30.
The K50 and K500 are nearly identical, with the non-WR lens being the only visible external difference in the above photo. Although the K-50 is weather-sealed, in use the two cameras handle in the same way, and feel the same to use. 

Aside from cosmetic differences, the features on the K-30, K-50, and K-500 are nearly identical, as you'll see in the table below:

 
K-30
 K-50
 K-500
MSRP (w/18-55 lens)
$799
$779
$599
Sensor
16M APS-C CMOS sensor
Image processor 
PRIME M
AF system
SAFOX IXi+
AF points
11 (9 cross-type)
ISO range 
100 - 25600
100 - 51200
Shutter speed range 
60 - 1/6000 sec
Burst mode 
6 fps
6 fps
5/6 fps *
Display
3-inch, 921,000 dot
Viewfinder
Pentaprism (0.92x magnification, 100% coverage)
Electronic level
Yes
No
Eye-Fi card control
No
 Yes
Battery used
D-LI109, AA (4) **
Battery life (CIPA)
410 shots
710 ***
Kit lens
DA L 18-55mm/
DA 18-55mm WR
DA L 18-55mm WR
DA L 18-55mm
Available colors
9
120
1
* 6 fps available with optional lithium-ion battery
** The K-30 and K-50 include the D-LI109 lithium-ion batter, while the K-500 includes four AA batteries. An optional AA battery holder is available for the K-30 and K-50.
*** With four AA lithium batteries; 410 shots with optional D-LI109

As you can see, the differences between all three cameras are very subtle. As of right now, the K-30 is a real bargain for as long as stocks last, and unless you really hate using AA batteries, the K-500 is almost all of a K-50 for considerably less cash. But then, you don't get the reassurance of the K-50's weather-sealing and of course you'll be stuck with plain old black as your only color option. And where's the fun in that? 

Sample Photos

There are 16 images in our samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. The photos below are from a pre-production K-50 and image quality is not final.