Operation and Controls

In terms of its operation and controls, the K-5 is all but identical to the K-7. As far as the number and arrangements of control points are concerned, there are no external differences whatsoever. This is good news - as far as operational handling is concerned, the K-7 is one of our favorite DSLRs, and the K-5 is equally pleasurable to use. We like the balance of manual control and screen-led operation, and unlike similar interfaces in some other DSLRs, the 'info' status screen (shown below) is not only useful but also colorful and unintimidating.

Rear controls

Despite the large 3 inch LCD screen, Pentax has managed to find room for an impressive number of buttons on the rear of the K-5. As well as the AF pattern switch and live view button, the rear of the K-5 also plays host to the secondary control dial, AE lock button and - upper left - the playback and delete buttons. All of these buttons have a relatively shallow travel, but without the dry 'click' which characterizes control points on lower-end Pentax DSLRs such as the K-r. If we have one criticism it would be that the buttons themselves are rather small, and as such, can be hard to manipulate precisely with cold or gloved fingers.

Both front and rear control dials can be customized, but by default, the rear dial is the primary control input for aperture in manual exposure, Av and TAv modes, as well as the zoom control in image playback mode.

Also visible in this view is the K-5's AF mode switch. With it set to 'sel', you can easily change the active AF point with the camera to your eye, simply by using the 4-way controller. A quick press of the OK button flicks the AF point to the centre of the 11-point array, while a longer press changes the mode of the 4-way controller to access the functions marked on the buttons. Once you've made any changes, a quick press of 'OK' switches back to AF-point selection mode.

Top right controls

On the top right of the camera we have the front dial, which is angled slightly upwards, which by default, adjusts shutter speed in Tv and manual exposure modes. Behind this is the shutter release button, surrounded by the main power switch which also serves a preview function (optical or digital - live view has its own button on the camera back). Also here are then recessed exposure compensation and dedicated ISO buttons.

Top left controls

As with previous high-end Pentax cameras, the K-7 has an excellent selection of external controls (including levers to specify metering mode, AF point selection method, and focus mode). It also has an exposure mode dial that plays host to the conventional PASM options (P and M double as Hyper Program and Hyper Manual in collaboration with the green button on the rear of the camera - more on these functions below) and three Pentax-only shooting modes - Sensitivity Priority and Shutter-and-Aperture Priority. Also selectable from this wheel is a customizable 'USER' mode (it is possible to save up to 5 profiles) and movie mode.

The exposure mode dial locks into place at each of its detents, and can be released by pressing the button at its centre. We're equivocal about this - the lockable design prevents accidental rotation, but it also means that there is an additional button to press when you want to change modes quickly.

It is a shame that there is no direct movie shooting button on the K-5 body - instead, you must unlock the exposure mode dial and rotate it to the movie shooting position before you are able to capture video. You get used to it, but it isn't the most spontaneous way of working and can result in missed video opportunities.

Hyper modes

The 'hyper' in Hyper Program and Hyper Manual refers to the function of the green dial in program and manual exposure modes. In P (hyper program) mode,rotating the front or rear dial quickly switches the camera into shutter priority (front dial) or aperture priority (rear dial) modes. To return back to full Program mode just press the green button on the back of the camera. This simple but effective method of going between the three exposure modes is very clever, and unique to Pentax. Note that you can change the program-line from a 'standard' one to hi-speed (favors higher shutter speeds), depth-of-field (favors smaller apertures) or MTF (selects the optimum aperture for the lens used). In manual mode, pressing the green button sets the shutter speed and aperture as they would be in program mode (using the metered value and selected program-line).