Category: Semi-professional Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Conclusion - Pros
- Good detail and dynamic range (even better in RAW)
- Exceptionally 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
- 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
Conclusion - Cons
- AF system not as versatile as Nikon D7000 (which is a cheaper camera)
- Lockable exposure mode dial can be annoying
- No dedicated movie shooting button
- No AF during movie shooting
- Poorly implemented live histogram in live view/manual exposure mode (doesn't show final exposure)
- No 'live' aperture control during movie shooting
- Shadow Correction mode doesn't take full advantage of K-5's sensor
- Jaggies can be a problem along very fine diagonal lines
We liked the older Pentax K-7 a lot, and our only significant criticism was its relatively poor high ISO performance. The new K-5 brings all the things that we liked about the K-7 - the compact, solid body, and generally well thought-out ergonomics, and excellent feature set - but adds substantially better image quality, in both still and movie modes, and a host of other improvements. In our opinion this makes it one of the best APS-C DSLRs currently on the market.
Image quality is now up there with the best of its competition, and all of the K-5's key systems are reliable and effective. Throw really nice ergonomics into the mixture and you have a compelling little camera that we have really enjoyed using.
We have some minor criticisms, listed in the 'cons' above, but none of them constitute a good reason not to seriously consider a K-5. The most irksome of them is the lack of a direct video shooting button, which hamstrings the K-5's video mode, making it much less spontaneous than it should be.
The K-5 has a very similar sensor inside it to the Nikon D7000's, and like the Nikon, the K-5 displays excellent image quality across almost its entire ISO span. Things fall apart a bit above ISO 6400, but careful tweaking of the NR settings (or even better, shooting in RAW mode) will enable you to get acceptable results out of the K-5 even up to ISO 25,600. The ability to fine-tune noise reduction to every ISO setting is very valuable here.
Detail capture is excellent (although you'll have to put some very good glass on the front of the camera to get the full benefit) and dynamic range is wide. We'd recommend keeping highlight protection switched on by default - the increase in mid-tone and shadow noise is academic at the most commonly used ISO settings, and it really helps to preserve highlight detail.
The K-5 is small but perfectly formed. The magnesium alloy body shell is rigid and the whole camera has a feeling of reassuring solidity which belies its dimensions. In general we love the way that the K-5 is designed. All of the major controls fall easily to hand, and the positioning of the various control points is very sensible. The only issue we have is the relegation of movie mode to the exposure mode dial. Now that the K-5 can capture full HD video we feel that this function is useful enough to be given much more prominence in the ergonomics.
The Final Word
It is hard to find a negative thing to say about the Pentax K-5. Most of our criticisms are very minor, and as a consequence we would wholeheartedly recommend the camera to any Pentax user. It is an interesting camera, with an excellent feature set, and one which is capable of producing images which are up there with the best of its competition. It is fast, responsive, and very enjoyable to use, and its key systems are as reliable as we would expect from a camera at this level and price point.
Speaking of price point though, the K-5 is a very expensive camera right now, and although we consider that it is good value from a Pentax-users perspective, there is no doubt that such a high asking price (currently around $300 higher than the Nikon D7000, which has a similar sensor and boasts a significantly more versatile AF system) will put some people off. It should be noted though that the prices of the K20D and K-7 also started high but soon dropped - the K-5 will almost certainly come down in price in the coming months.
The K-5 is a no-brainer upgrade from a K-x or earlier Pentax DSLR, but obviously, for users of other systems it is harder to justify, and price is only part of the reason for that. Importantly, Pentax has some way to go before it can market a system as complete as those offered by Canon and Nikon. That's not to say that the system itself is at all restrictive, and in some ways (most notably the lovely 'Limited' range of high-quality prime lenses) it's unique. One other thing that we love about the Pentax system is that it is so backwards-compatible; there is a lot of fun to be had in mounting older, manual focus optics on the K-5, both for still and video capture.
Ultimately, we have no hesitation in recommending the Pentax K-5 to anyone - not only existing Pentax users, and despite its high cost (for the moment- we expect it to drop once the K-7 leaves dealers' shelves) it earns a solid gold award. A note on categories though - the K-5 is a hard product to categorise. Although it competes with the Nikon D7000 and even the Canon EOS 60D in some respects, it's introductory price clearly indicates that Pentax wants the K-5 to be viewed alongside the likes of the Nikon D300S and Canon EOS 7D. For this reason we have classified the K-5 as a semi-pro model (as we did the K-7), and scored it accordingly.
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.
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The Pentax K-5's compact, solid body, generally well thought-out ergonomics, comprehensive feature set, and excellent image quality, in both still and movie modes make it one of the best APS-C DSLRs currently on the market.
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