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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

Overall conclusion

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.

Image Quality

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.

Handling

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.

Pentax K-5
Category: Semi-professional 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 photographers who need a rugged body and and great low light performance.
Not so good for
shooters who need the quickest possible access to movie mode.
Overall score
83%
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.

Samples Galleries

There are 30 images in the 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. A reduced size image (within 1024 x 1024 bounds) is provided to be more easily viewed in your browser. As always the original untouched image is available by clicking on this reduced image.

Pentax K-5 Review Samples

30 images • Posted 17th December 2010 • View album
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Comments

Total comments: 4
ANTMANT

Brilliant camera with stunning noise control, this is my own test of every ISO level: https://www.flickr.com/photos/antmant/13507776774/

0 upvotes
oldnoob

When compared in RAW with the k-5II and the k-5IIs, the k-5 is clearly back-focusing. Compare the three cameras and center on the queen of hearts and look at the wall behind it. And also compare the left top checker test pattern in the test scene.

Comment edited 25 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
eclat

What I find so disingenuous (and irritating) about these otherwise wonderful reviews is dpr's clear bias toward Canon and Nikon. The exact same specs can be found on a Pentax, but what we'll get is a measured, sometimes even tepid nod, while with the Canon/Nikon, there will be an enthusiastic thumbs up for the same feature. The Pentax line (as the most obvious example) is held to a different standard, it seems.

Take the Pentax K5 review, for example, which is called a "serious amateur's" camera and yet is compared to its "direct competition," the Canon 7D and Nikon D300s, cameras that are for "keen enthusiasts, professionals and aspiring-professionals..." and "semi-pros" respectively. Apparently Pentax "serious amateurs" are equal to Canon and Nikon "pros and semi-pros." We always knew that, of course, but still... try to be a little more objective in your reviews and a little less biased, one way or the other.

10 upvotes
Reeuwijk

Dear sir,

How is it possible that the Pentax K 5 has a higher resolution than the Pentax K5 II/IIS?

Brant van der Goot

2 upvotes
Total comments: 4