Conclusion - Pros

  • Good detail and dynamic range (even better in Raw)
  • Very low shadow noise in Raw files at low ISOs
  • One of the best APS-C DSLRs in terms of high ISO image quality
  • Very good build quality and handling
  • Maximum ISO of 51,200 at full resolution
  • Excellent burst depth in Raw mode (with firmware 1.0.1)
  • 1080p HD video mode with basic editing built-in
  • In-camera Raw processing
  • Built-in sensor-shift shake reduction effectively stabilizes all mountable lenses
  • Useful electronic level and composition adjustment functions
  • Comprehensive customization options including adjustable NR for each ISO
  • Large, bright viewfinder with 100% coverage
  • Fast contrast detect Auto Focus in Live View
  • Versatile (but poorly documented) Auto ISO function
  • Wireless flash mode

Conclusion - Cons

  • No dedicated movie shooting button (important only if you plan to use the movie mode often)
  • No AF during movie shooting
  • Poorly implemented live histogram in live view/manual exposure mode (doesn't indicate final exposure)
  • No 'live' aperture control during movie shooting
  • Shadow Correction mode doesn't take full advantage of K-5's sensor
  • Jaggies and color error can be a problem along very fine diagonal lines (more so with the K-5 IIS)
  • Noise processing in Raw at ISO 3200 and above prevents use of better software solutions

Overall conclusion

Though they don't represent hugely significant upgrades to the original K-5, the Pentax K-5 II and K-5 IIS still hold their own in the current SLR market, with excellent image quality, solid build, and a proven interface. We appreciate the tight, simple design of the K-5 II, one that offers quick access to a rich feature-set. Where the K-5 II shines, though, is its quality sensor, which seems essentially unchanged from its predecessor. Improvements in autofocus are welcome, if subtle. They were necessary, as slow autofocus was a concern with the K-5, and we found AF to be just about right with the K-5 II, and really quite good in low light.

Choosing between the K-5 II and K-5 IIS is an important decision we tried to explore in greater depth from the outset, and it's clear there is a difference and slightly more danger to choosing the K-5 IIS. The safe play for the general-purpose photographer is the K-5 II, which maintains better control over moiré while still delivering sharp images. Those looking for more detail who think they can deal with the inevitable moiré will likely be happy with the slightly more expensive K-5 IIS. We think it was wise of Pentax to offer both, as Nikon did with the D800 and D800E. The K-5 IIS offers those curious about life without a low-pass filter an inexpensive way to experiment with the concept.

As we have demonstrated, the Pentax K-5 II offers a unique set of photographic tools any enthusiast photographer would enjoy digging into, and it integrates well with several accessories including the versatile GPS and flash to extend a photographer's capabilities.

Image Quality

Thanks to the sensor we liked so much in the K-5 and Nikon D7000, the Pentax K-5 II still turns out excellent images with a wide dynamic range and low noise, while maintaining good shadow and highlight detail. At ISO 3200 and above we begin to see processing applied before Raws are saved, resulting in an apparent improvement in our measured noise graphs, but not necessarily an improvement to real image quality, as it results in slightly softer images. Still, up to ISO 6400, the K-5 II is safe to use for most photographic purposes, and even ISO 25,600 images are acceptable depending on the noise reduction setting applied (or if you're shooting Raw).

Many of our gallery images were shot with the 18-135mm kit lens, and a few of our samples are quite soft, depending on the focal length. We really recommend investing in good quality lenses to more fully enjoy the potential of the K-5 II and K-5 IIS. Pentax's fine 'Limited' prime lenses for example are lightweight, sharp and don't take up a lot of space.

Handling

Small and solid, the K-5 II has the easy portabilty of a Canon Rebel with the gravity of a pro camera, largely thanks to its magnesium alloy body. We admired the tight integration of controls on such a small body. On occasion that tight integration led into some confusion, temporarily blocking controls to allow use of others, but tradeoffs are often necessary on smaller camera bodies. Upgrades to autofocus were apparent in the form of generally faster focusing, but the change wasn't overwhelming in the environments in which used the camera. We'd still like to see a Movie start button for quicker access to the feature.

The Final Word

Regardless of whether you pick the K-5 II or K-5 IIS, we think you're likely to enjoy the camera and the images you make with it. Though it's been a little more than two years since the K-5 was introduced, the K-5 II is still relevant to today's market. Its sensor at the time broke new ground, but it's easy to argue that its 16 million high-quality pixels still make great images two years later. We don't find ourselves at all disappointed, especially considering the K-5 II's wide dynamic range and ample tools to extend it even further. Pentax took a great camera and upgraded it with a faster autofocus system, an improved LCD, and largely left the rest alone - save for the effective removal of the low-pass filter in the K-5 IIS.

Though the body-only MSRP of the K-5 II was only $100 cheaper than its predecessor at launch, the current online price is closer to $800 body-only, which puts it in the high-value category. We were concerned about the K-5's high debut price of $1750, but that's certainly less of a concern now.

Whether the K-5 II is an essential upgrade for K-5 owners isn't hard to guess: If you own a K-5, unless autofocus speed is an issue in your experience, we'd have to say you don't need to replace your current camera. K-7 owners, or owners of older Pentax bodies might want to give the K-5 II a look though.

For anyone in need of an excellent light and rugged weatherproof option for hiking or other outdoor activities, the Pentax K-5 II combined with one of the company's WR lenses is a natural choice. This combination is not submersible, but it's splash and rainproof. If light and small is all you need, a selection of small prime lenses don't take up much space. Beyond water-resistance, there's probably no compelling reason for those already invested in another platform to switch, but new users or those wanting a second body with any of the features we've outlined needn't hesistate.

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Pentax K-5 II
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Enthusiast and pro photographers, particularly those with leanings toward outdoor photography.
Not so good for
Consumer users who are likely to want better access to, and higher performance from live view and movie modes.
Overall score
80%
A good, solid, weather-sealed camera with a tried-and-true sensor, the Pentax K-5 II remains a solid digital SLR that's easy to recommend. With a decided bent toward enthusiast users, the Pentax K-5 II pairs well with the company's line of Limited lenses, and is good to have along with a weather-resistant lens on a rainy day.

Pentax K-5 IIs
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Enthusiast and landscape photographers, those interested in trying photography without a low-pass filter.
Not so good for
General-purpose photographers who are likely to encounter moiré-inducing subjects like fabric, buildings, and other man-made objects.
Overall score
81%
Bearing all that the K-5 II does, minus an optical low-pass filter, the K-5 IIS is a specialized camera made for those who want a little more detail and know how to handle the resulting artifacts. Its weatherproof design and small, tight build make it ideal for landscape photographers, as well as anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors.

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