Shaking up the market: Pentax K-70 Review
The Pentax K-70 takes place of the K-S2, with ergonomic improvements that make it feel like a much more serious camera, and Raw image quality that is among the best the APS-C sensor size has to offer. It may not offer the outright speed of mirrorless competition, like the Sony a6000, but the K-70 trumps both its mirrorless and its DSLR competion, like the Canon Rebel T6i and the Nikon D5500, in terms of controls and customization.
Body and Handling
Pentax's cameras offer the amount of control points and customization abilities expected from much more expensive cameras, and the K-70 is no exception. It is one of the best cameras for setting up ones' preference in its price bracket. While other camera companies seem to penalize users for 'cheaping-out' by offering less feature-rich cameras, Pentax leaves out features that are truly optional to many users and don't detract from the handling of the camera: a second card slot or built-in GPS, for example. While it is the heaviest camera of its class, that weight does carry the most 'bang for the buck' in terms of features.
There are some annoyances to the Pentax's actual controls. We'd love to see an AF-point joystick instead of the woefully slow double-duty D-pad. Other cameras in this segment make graceful use of a touch screen, even using it as a replacement for an AF joystick, something the Pentax could greatly benefit from as well.
The K-70 comes loaded with features, with their utility being truly up to the photographer and the way they use the camera. Pixel Shift Resolution, for example, can produce some incredibly detailed photos, but can't be used with strobes, which is a common tool used to light studio still-life shots. It also doesn't produce its stellar results with anything in motion, making it a tough sell for many landscape shooters.
The Wi-Fi is quite easy to use, although iOS users may be a bit frustrated by the complete absence of their photos in anywhere but the Image Transfer app. If Ricoh provides any updates, we certainly hope it will improve the DNG transfer process so that we can start editing Raw files in Lightroom mobile.
|Long shots like this are easily executable handheld thanks to how well the K-70's SR system works|
The in-body image stabilization works brilliantly, although telephoto shooters should take note that when using this system they will lose any assistance stabilization might provide with framing a subject in the viewfinder, as only the sensor is stabilized, not the viewfinder.
JPEG image quality at factory default is a bit disappointing, with soft files showing unsophisticated sharpening, and lackadaisical noise reduction at high ISOs. Colors tend toward the cooler side as well. However, a vast 'Custom Image' menu provides the ability to get out-of-camera JPEGs dialed-in and looking quite nice. For first-time camera users, it will take some time to get used to and understand, but is mandatory to get the best JPEG performance from the K-70. The K-70's use of same interface for the in-camera Raw conversion menu makes the trial and error of dialing in one's favorite shooting settings quite easy, allowing for some great results straight out of the camera, ready for sharing via Wi-Fi.
|The default JPEG parameters (used above) tend to produce images that aren't very sharp, especially when compared to their Raw counterparts. Thankfully, changing the type of Jpeg sharpening can produce much more detailed results.|
Raw performance is exceptional, with very low noise (albeit with some mandated noise reduction baked into the Raw) and files that are quite tolerant to extreme exposure adjustments, something we have come to expect from the sensors Pentax uses.
Particularly clever, though, are the camera's Pixel Shift and AA filter simulation modes, both of which use the sensor shift system to either increase resolution and decrease noise, or reduce aliasing, respectively.
The SAFOX X system found in the K-70 is the same system found in the K-S2, albeit with some tweaks to the autofocus tracking algorithms. It's a bit disappointing to find an entry-level 11-pt autofocus system with such limited coverage in an enthusiast level camera. However, as long as you keep your subject centrally placed in the frame, the camera is capable of maintaining focus on it. For static subjects, you'll realistically have to focus and recompose. This is a limitation, though, that many of its mirrorless and DSLR peers don't have.
In our testing of the K-70 we've found the greatest hindrance to any Pentax AF system is the lens itself, with performance from the kit 18-135mm being fairly sub par, but quite good with the fast-focusing 55-300mm PLM. Also the feedback the camera gives to the photographer is another part of what holds the K-70 back, as there's little feedback as to whether or not the camera has locked on to a moving subject.
Furthermore, the subject tracking system (ability of the camera to follow your subject around the frame) is extremely limited, not only by the small AF area, but also by the lack of a dedicating imaging or metering sensor to understand your subject to follow it, or even find faces. We did find it to work reasonably well, though, with single distant subjects well isolated in distance (without distracting objects nearby).
On-sensor phase detection doesn't alter the behavior of live view autofocus for a number of Pentax lenses, which is a problem. Only the new 55-300mm PLM makes the best possible use of the system, but isn't even offered as a kit option, and is a limiting option with its 82.5mm equivalent minimum focal length.
While the K-70 is the first Pentax to have the ability to continuously focus in live view, it's performance is as behind the times as the soft 1080p video's quality is. It hunts easily, even when subjects are at or near infinity, and doesn't give a very confidence-inspiring performance. Single AF is still the better way to ensure a video clip is sharp. When focus is taken care of, footage is incredibly steady at wider focal lengths, although the footage's quality is below par.
The Final Word
The K-70 is a very compelling option, especially for cash-strapped enthusiasts that are looking for a camera that they want to take complete control of and customize to their personal taste. For them, the Pentax is the obvious choice, as there's no penalty for buying a body on a budget in terms of features and controls, which isn't the case with other manufacturers.
|I'm surprised any of these cars ever made it to the USA|
For less experienced customers that are looking to let the camera 'do the math', the Pentax doesn't feel as refined as the competition. There are still parts of the K-70 that feel a bit crude, and lifted out of a parts bin, like the autofocus system, which users of this level will most likely be depending on constantly. Plus, without the 55-300 PLM, the Pentax is not nearly as nice of a camera to use as it is with this lens mounted.
|The 55-300 PLM is the best companion to the K-70, making a great travel combination.|
In fact, the need for a specific lens to unlock all of the K-70's features, and then to not have this lens as a kit option at all, is a disappointment that is potentially misleading to any K-70 customers.
However, for beginning landscape photographers or those not constantly covering fast action, the K-70 (sans kit lens) offers exactly what they need: good controls, weather resistance, and a high quality sensor. Those alone make it a standout option in its class, and a worthy recipient of our Silver Award.
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.
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
While not as refined as the competition, the K-70 doesn't feel crude or cheap as its predecessors. In fact, it offers the most controls and features of the competition, at a considerably lower price. For the cash-strapped enthusiast that wants complete control, there is no better value for money in the segment, and there are few flaws to make the buyer feel like they 'cheaped out'.