Pentax X-5 Review
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The Pentax X-5 is a super-zoom digital bridge camera that looks and feels very much like a DSLR. Featuring a 26x, 22.3-580mm lens with a sensor-shift Shake Reduction system, the X-5 should cover most photographic bases. Also on offer are a 16 megapixel sensor, 1080p HD movies with an HDMI port, electronic viewfinder and a 3-inch tilting LCD screen, fully Manual shooting mode, 10fps burst shooting and a 1cm macro mode. The Pentax X-5 is available in black or silver and has a recommended retail price of £199.99 / $279.99.
Ease of Use
The 16 effective megapixel X-5 is a digital SLR-styled 26x optical zoom camera. It is, in fact, the kind of semi-chunky bridge camera that was all the rage before Compact System Cameras came along and introduced another meeting point between compact user-friendly snapshot and fully-featured DSLR. So, while having such a broad focal range, equivalent to a wide-angle 22.3-580mm in 35mm terms, never fails to come in useful, do we still want another choice of camera that outwardly resembles an entry-level DSLR - yet isn't, in that among other things said lens cannot be swapped?
Sporting a classically DSLR all-black or silver colour scheme as an indicator of a more serious intent, Pentax would argue of course that its X-5 provides the kind of reach that would cost a lot more were you to equip an actual DSLR with comparable lenses - and it would be right. As such it markets itself as an accessible all in one option for those looking for big zoom power in a single, very affordable package.
We'd have been surprised if the X-5 didn't offer HD movie capture and HDMI output, and indeed it does, with video at full HD 1920x1080 pixels and smooth frame rate of 30 fps. There's also a dedicated button for one touch capture on the rear plus a High-speed Movie mode for slow-motion playback and Time-lapse Movie mode for fast-forward playback (both captured at 640x480 pixel resolution). The movies feature can also be selected via the familiar top plate shooting mode dial, and recording commences and ends with either a press of the main shutter release button or the one-touch movie button.
The X-5 additionally features what Pentax is calling its own Intelligent Zoom function, extending coverage to a frankly ridiculous 187.2 times (for a focal length of 4174mm in the 35mm format) equivalent if you don't mind shooting at a VGA resolution. All this and a macro mode that allows photographers to get as close as 1cm from their subject/s and still maintain sharpness. There's no RAW capture here though, despite its bridge model pretensions, merely three quality levels of JPEG: Good, Better and Best. Light sensitivity is however respectably broad, stretching from ISO100 through ISO6400 and incrementally selectable with it.
Marginally smaller than a budget DSLR with overall dimensions of 86.5x120x106.5mm, grip the X-5 in your right hand, three fingers instinctively snaking around the provided grip while your forefinger hovers above the shutter release button and thumb rests on the rubberised pad at the rear, and the camera feels surprisingly lightweight given its dimensions. It's a rather hefty 507g unloaded, or 599g with battery and SD/SDHC/SDXC or Eye-Fi card. The camera's build is obviously quite plastic-y though, something it also shares with starter DSLRs. The lens is protected by a slip-on plastic cap that can be attached to one of the side lugs for the shoulder strap via the thread provided in the box. Otherwise we can see this cap quickly getting mislaid.
Thankfully for those looking to eschew use of a tripod a zoom of this size is supported by anti shake or rather Pentax's proprietary Shake Reduction, here of the CCD sensor shift variety, built-in gyro sensors detecting external wobble and vibrating the sensor horizontally and vertically at high speed to compensate. Pentax claims this compensation is the equivalent of three stops.
Picture composition is via the rear 3.0-inch tiltable LCD monitor with 460K dots and an anti reflective coating, or the 230k-dot resolution electronic viewfinder with DSLR-like dioptre adjustment dial situated on the left. The LCD monitor is hinged at the bottom and allows the screen to be tilted up and down, but not side to side. The eye relief for said viewfinder juts out quite prominently from the camera back so your nose doesn't squash uncomfortably against the rear screen below. However this means that it does unfortunately clunk against your spectacles, should you happen to be a wearer.
The main shooting options are located with a twist of the familiar bottle-top design mode dial located on the X-5's top plate, next to the housing for the pop-up flash. Sufficiently stiff to avoid accidental jogging from one setting to the next and slotting into place at each option with a definitive click, the X-5, like an entry class DSLR, mixes a choice of the fully automatic with the manually creative.
Suggesting family friendliness is that the most prominent setting is an Auto Picture mode. This, like other Smart Auto or intelligent Auto technology on rivals, compares the scene before the X-5's lens with 16 on board settings - including portrait, landscape, night-time and macro scene options - and theoretically selects the most appropriate for optimal results. In practice too it's reliable, though busy scenes do cause the camera to flutter between options. Adjacent settings on the same dial include a separate scene mode option for non-automatic selection, plus Program and Manual shooting modes, though there's no Aperture-priority or Shutter-prioirty options as you'd perhaps expect.
|Pop-up Flash||Tilting LCD Screen|
There's further a customizable User mode to which commonly used settings can be attributed (as a default this provides a short cut to the camera's pared-down green - read 'easy' - mode). Also featuring on the dial are a means of accessing movie recording, plus Handheld Night Snap, Sports, Landscape, Portrait, and Scene modes.
Like Pentax's own K-x DSLR, beginners can, by using the above, feel their way gradually into using the camera by utilising it as a point and shoot first and foremost, and then moving onto experimenting with more manual settings as experience and confidence grow. Also like its DSLRs, there is also a extensive array of fun digital effects filters on board, including Toy Camera and Retro options, but here applied in playback mode rather than at the point of capture. Less helpfully, users only get a quick start pamphlet included in the box, the full manual being supplied on CD only - there's also a product CD with MediaImpression 3.5 for PENTAX (Windows version compatible with Windows 7) and MediaImpression 2.1 for PENTAX (Macintosh version compatible with Mac OS X 10.7).
So, as noted, from all angles the X-5 looks and feels distinctly DSLR-like. Viewed lens on, the front is dominated by that whopper of a Pentax branded lens, the surround of which on first glance looks like it features a ridged manual adjustment ring; but sadly this transpires to be fixed rigidly and merely a detail of the design.
Directly above the lens sits the pop up flash, with a dedicated flash button located on the ridge to its right. A press of this will prompt the flash to pop up ready for duty regardless of whether the camera is switched on or not. The X-5 will also provide a text prompt to tell the user to raise the flash should a forced flash setting be selected when the flash isn't raised.
Over at the left hand side of the flash housing is a small window for AF assist lamp and self-timer indicator. Adjacent to this on the forward sloping ridge above the comfortably moulded camera grip we find the large and sufficiently springy shutter release button and, surrounding it, a compact camera-like lever for adjusting the zoom. An infrared remote receiver is built into the hand-grip for use with the optional remote controller accessory.
Whilst that's it for the front of the X-5, the top plate is slightly more interesting. The chief feature here is of course the aforementioned shooting mode dial - and the other two controls are a dedicated button for exposure compensation (a modest adjustment range of +/- 2EV) and the on/off switch, with cheerful green lamp inserted into its centre as a visual indicator that the camera is indeed active. Press this button and with a brief audio flourish the back screen bursts into life, lens extending to maximum wideangle setting ready for the first shot in just over a second - an impressive response by any standards.
Wrap a finger around the zoom lever and that's also near instant in its response; in fact the zoom is so responsive and quick to race through the entirety of its range - just under three seconds from maximum wideangle to extreme telephoto, a timing more usually seen from humbler 10x zoom compacts - that precise control is tricky. With a gentle touch it is possible to progress in baby steps, but this obviously doesn't provide the same degree of control as a manual zoom ring.
A slight disappointment is the fact that the full extent of the optical zoom isn't avaialble in video mode; that's to say the zoom range is effectively limited to 3.2x - 23x. The additional digital/ 'intelligent' zoom is also accessible should you want to go closer still in HD video mode, but as this progressively degrades the image, we'd argue it's best avoided.
Once the user has alighted on the framing that they're happy with, the camera in offering 9-point AF takes just over a second to determine focus and exposure with a half press of its shutter release button. Proceed to take the shot and a full 16 megapixel, best quality resolution photograph is committed to memory - here removable SD/SDHC/SDXC plus wireless-enabled Eye-Fi media - in around two seconds. Again this timing is very respectable for this class of camera, and so in terms of overall responsiveness, zoom aside, we take no issue with the X-5.
Returning momentarily to the shooting mode dial, it's here with a twist to scene mode and a further press of the 'mode' button that makes up part of the cross keys control pad on the camera's back, the user can call up the 19 pre-set options herein. These are displayed as a series of cartoon-ish icons that wouldn't look out of place on a point and shoot compact. Along with the expected landscape, portrait, children and pets optimized options, the X-5 user has a chance via 'digital wide' mode to shoot two shots which are then stitched together in camera along with a broader panorama option. Again, these are the sort of options to be found on Pentax's snapshot compacts.
The rear LCD screen is positioned directly below alternative EVF on the backplate and a small button to its right allows one-touch swapping between the two, with a further self explanatory display button to the rightagain. A press of the latter turns off the basic functional information, calls up a nine zone compositional grid, or adds to the presented information courtesy of a live histogram.
The rest of the controls to the left of the X-5's screen again are a mix of what you'd expect to find on a regular compact and an entry level DSLR. Thus we get a DSLR-style command dial top right of the camera back, a twist of which allows shutter speed and aperture adjustments if shooting in one of the camera's creative modes, then jumping between one function folder and the next if in 'menu' mode or usefully zooming in or out of an image if in playback/review mode.
|Side||Memory Card Slot / Battery Compartment|
Beneath is the afore-mentioned one-touch Movie Record button and a familiar Playback button. An additional press of the 'mode' button within this setting and the user has access to quite an extensive range of image slideshow and in-camera editing facilities - it's here you'll find the odd small face filter for example - as well as the toy camera and retro options mentioned earlier. Interestingly, and showing that this camera is aimed as much at beginners as anyone else, there is also an image recovery setting to try and retrieve images accidentally deleted.
Underneath the playback button is the set of operational cross keys, with a centrally-located 'OK' button in their midst for implementing any changes once menu items have been tabbed through and selected using said keys (fittingly, the main menu button sits just below). Situated at 12 o'clock within this configuration is a dedicated button for calling up the X-5's self timer options/drive modes (including an impressive 10 images per second for a maximum of 30 images in a single sequence), at three o'clock a manual means of selecting macro mode, at six o'clock the main 'mode' button, whereby for example the scene options are summoned up, and at nine o'clock we find a dedicated button for controlling the flash.
If shooting in Program mode the flash options are auto flash, off, on, auto flash plus red eye reduction, forced flash plus red eye reduction, slow sync flash, and finally slow sync flash with red eye reduction. As we've already noted, if the flash hasn't been manually activated prior to selection, an on-screen prompt tells the use to 'please pop up the flash'; it won't do so automatically.
Just underneath the above keys we have a Menu button, and alongside it the dedicated 'green' (easy) mode button, as found on most other Pentax point and shoots. This doubles up as a handy delete button when in playback mode, to save the user otherwise having to wade through menu screens.
While the right hand side of the X-5, if viewed from the back, is devoid of any controls whatsoever - and features only a lug for attaching the shoulder/neck strap - a feature mirrored at the other side - the left hand flank is where we find a flap protecting a mini HDMI output port plus separate DC-In and AV Out/USB connections.
The bottom of the camera features a centrally located plastic screw thread for attaching a tripod - though it is possible to shoot handheld in daylight and achieve sharp enough results at extreme telephoto - and to its right, and so within the base of the handgrip, we find a joint battery and card compartment protected by a plastic cover with a sliding catch. Battery life is good for 330 shots when using 4 x AA Alkaline batteries, 500 shots with 4 x AA Rechargeable Ni-MH batteries, and a whopping 950 shots with 4 x AA Lithium batteries.