Pentax K-5 Review

November 22, 2010 | Mark Goldstein |


The Pentax K-5 is a new semi-professional DSLR camera, based around the same body design as the older K-7 and the same 16.3 megapixel image sensor as found in the Nikon D7000 and Sony A55 cameras. Key new features include a greatly expanded ISO range of 80-51200, Full HD 1080p video at 25fps, 7fps continuous shooting, upgraded 11-point SAFOX IX+ AF system with wider coverage and faster speed, improved High Dynamic Range mode, and a bigger range of in-built digital filter effects. The K-5 inherits the K-7's dustproof, weather-resistant and cold-resistant construction, shutter designed for 100,000 releases, top shutter speed of 1/8000th second, through-the-lens optical viewfinder with 100% frame coverage and 0.92x magnification, 77-segment matrix meter, 3-inch LCD monitor with 920k dots, built-in dust removal and shake-reduction systems, Live View with Face Recognition AF, and automatic compensation of lens distortion and lateral chromatic aberrations with DA and DFA lenses. In the UK the Pentax K-5 is available in in three kits - £1199.99 with the 18-55mm WR lens, £1299.99 with the 18-55mm WR and 50-200mm WR lenses, and £1699.99 with the 18-135mm WR lens. In the US the Pentax K-5 is available body only for $1,599.95 or with the 18-55mm WR lens for $1749.95.

Ease of Use

The Pentax K-5 is outwardly identical to its older big brother, the K-7, so a lot of comments that we made about that camera apply equally to the new K-5. The Pentax K-5 is the same size - 97(H) x 131(W) x 73(D) - and the same weight - 660g without the battery or memory card fitted. As soon as you pick the K-5 up, you can instantly tell that it's a serious camera, feeling as solid as its main rivals, the Canon EOS 60D, Nikon D7000, Nikon D300s and the Olympus E-5, despite being quite a lot smaller than any of them. This is mainly due to the K-5's stainless-steel alloy frame and lightweight magnesium-steel alloy body, which is a world away from Pentax's much smaller and lighter entry-level DSLR cameras, signifying the company's continued attempt to provide a DSLR that will appeal to more experienced photographers. The K-5 is dust, cold and water resistant, thanks to a system of 77 special seals used throughout the design, and it can operate at temperatures as low as -10°C. This shows itself most obviously via the battery compartment and the memory card slot. The former is opened via a small rotating latch, which is reassuring but a little fiddly to use if you're in a hurry.

The K-5 features a shutter unit which provides a fast top shutter speed of 1/8000th second and a very competitive 100,000 shutter release life-span, a figure more commonly associated with professional SLR cameras. The standard 18-55mm kit lens is better built and more weather-proof than the kits lenses of its rivals. The smc PENTAX-DA 18-55mm F3.5-5.6AL WR lens features a simplified weather-resistant construction designed to minimise the intrusion of water and moisture into the lens barrel. There's also a special coating which repels dust, water and grease and makes it easy to wipe off fingerprints and cosmetics. Consequently it feels well-matched to the K-5, although it's a rather slow lens at both ends of the focal length (f3.5-5.6).

As it's aimed at the more experienced digital SLR owner, the K-5 is a complex camera in terms of functionality and the number of external controls that it offers, with over 25 in total and a lot of them having more than one function. Despite the presence of so many buttons and switches, the Pentax K-5 doesn't feel too cluttered or intimidating, although it will certainly take some time to adapt to for people moving up from an entry-level SLR. Departing from the recent trend of ultra-compact SLR models, the K-5 is definitely designed for "normal" hands. The camera has a deep, contoured handgrip on the right-hand side, coated in a rubberized compound to aid grip, that enabled me to use three fingers to hold it and my right forefinger to operate the shutter button. There is a generous contoured area where your right thumb sits, with the rest of the body finished in a textured matt black. The shutter release action on the Pentax K-5 is much quieter than on the K7, which had a quite loud and mechanical actio, and therefore makes the K-5 a lot better suited to more close-up candid photography.

On the front of the camera body is the RAW / FX button, which instantly sets the image quality to whichever RAW format is selected in the menu system (either Pentax's PEF format or Adobe DNG), useful if you are shooting in JPEG and want to quickly switch to RAW mode for a particular image. This button can now also be customised to optionally control either Exposure Bracketing, Digital Preview, Electronic Level or Composition Adjustment. Located underneath is the Autofocus Mode switch, with three available modes, and above a small button for opening the pop-up flash, which extends quite high above the lens to help minimise red-eye. On the bottom of the K-5 is the weather-sealed battery compartment, housing the same rechargeable 1860mAh D-LI90 lithium-ion battery as used by the K-7. The camera managed an improved performance of over 900 shots using the supplied rechargeable Li-ion battery before being depleted. There's also a metal tripod mount that's perfectly in-line with the centre of the lens mount.

On the right-hand side of the K-5 is the weather-sealed SD / SDHC memory card slot, and located below is the remote cable release connector. On the left-hand side is a large vertical flap covering the DC In, AV Out and HDMI connectors. The HDMI port allows you to connect the K-5 to a high-def TV set, but only if you purchase an optional HDMI mini-cable. Above this is a small Mic port for connecting an external microphone, protected by a round rubber seal.

The Pentax K-5 follows conventional DSLR design in having a shooting mode dial on the top-left of the camera, which allows you to select either one of the advanced mode like Aperture-priority, Shutter-Priority and Manual, or the more point-and-shoot Auto and Program modes. There are no scene modes on this camera, signaling its intent as a serious photographic tool. You'll instantly notice that the K-5 has a couple of unusual shooting modes that you won't have seen before on any other camera (apart from the older K10D and K20D models). These are the Sensitivity-Priority and Shutter & Aperture-Priority modes, and they are genuinely useful additions.

Pentax K-5 Pentax K-5
Front Rear

Sensitivity-Priority automatically selects the best combination of aperture and shutter speed for your chosen ISO speed. The sensitivity can be shifted instantly (in 1/2 or 1/3 steps) by turning the rear control dial. This allows you to quickly select an ISO speed, without having to access the menu system, which is very useful in rapidly changing light conditions. In Shutter & Aperture-Priority mode the camera selects the most appropriate ISO speed for a shutter speed and aperture combination, allowing you to use ISO sensitivity as a third factor in determining the correct exposure. As digital cameras have always offered the unique ability to instantly change the sensitivity, it's surprising that Pentax are still the only manufacturer to allow you to use ISO in this way. At the base of the shooting mode dial is a switch which selects from one of the three metering modes - multi-segment, centre-weighted or spot - which all use the 77-segment multi-pattern metering system.

On the right hand side of the top of the K-5 is the small shutter button, surrounded by the on/off switch. This has a third setting, which by default activates the traditional Depth of Field Preview function, stopping down the lens so that you can see the effect of your chosen aperture. Located in front of the shutter button is one of the e-dials, predominately used to change the shutter speed, while behind it are the Exposure Compensation and ISO buttons - these commonly-used functions are ideally located for easy access. Pentax have retained the traditional top LCD panel which displays quite a comprehensive amount of information about the current camera settings, including the shooting mode, current aperture or shutter speed, flash mode, battery level, number of remaining frames and drive mode. A similar amount of settings are also displayed in the viewfinder. In addition, when you turn the K-5 on or change the shooting mode, a graphical overview of how that mode operates is briefly displayed on the rear LCD screen. The Pentax K-5 does a very good job of providing easily understood information about the settings that it's using.

The Pentax K-5 has a traditional eye-level optical TTL viewfinder which offers an impressive 100% scene coverage. Being able to see exactly what will be captured means that you can only blame yourself for poor composition and unwanted details creeping into the frame. The viewfinder is bright and free of any distortions or aberrations, making it suitable for both auto and manual focusing. It also features a Natural-Bright-Matte III focusing screen to improve focusing accuracy during manual-focus operation. The in-finder status LCD runs horizontally along the bottom and it shows most of the camera's key settings.

The rear of the camera is dominated by the large 3 inch LCD screen. The K-5's LCD screen has a very high resolution of 920K dots, wide viewing angle and it remains visible outdoors in all but the brightest of conditions, making it one of the best LCD screens that we've seen on a DSLR. The colour temperature of the screen can be modified if you think it doesn't match that of your calibrated computer monitor, but the contrast and gamma cannot be altered. The rear screen also doubles as a comprehensive status display, which can be called up by pressing the OK or Info buttons in record mode. If you then press the Info button again, you can also change all the settings right on the screen using a combination of the navigation pad and the rear e-dial. This ingenious solution spares you the pain of having to enter the menu, and makes most setting changes very simple.

Located above the LCD screen and to the left of the viewfinder are the self-explanatory Play and Delete buttons. To the right of the viewfinder is the rear e-dial, mainly used for changing the aperture, and the AE-L button, handily placed for locking the exposure. Underneath is a rather innocuous looking button with a small green dot that's unique to Pentax DSLRs. It has two uses - firstly, when shooting in Manual mode, a single push of the green button allows you to instantly set the correct exposure for the subject, as calculated by the camera, useful if you need a starting point for your own exposure. Secondly, the K-5 offers a Hyper Program function which instantly switches to either the Shutter-Priority or Aperture-Priority mode from the Program mode, simply by turning either of the control dials on the grip. Pressing the Green button then returns to the Program mode.

Pentax K-5 Pentax K-5


The AF button provides an alternative way of locking the focus, surrounded by the Autofocus Area switch which can be set to Centre AF, Auto/All 11 AF points, or User Selectable. The LV button turns on the K-5's Live View mode (see below for more details). The traditional 4-way navigation pad is split into separate buttons, providing instant access to the drive mode/self-timer, custom image, flash and white balance settings, with the OK button confirming actions. The Menu button accesses all of the 97 different menu options that the camera offers, reflecting the fact that this a complex and very customisable DSLR. Thankfully you will only have to set about half of the settings once and can then forget about them. The menu system has a fairly logical tabbed system with four main tabs, Rec. Mode, Playback, Set-Up and Custom Setting, each divided into several sub-pages, and it's easily readable with a bright display and a large font size making it perfectly visible even in low light.

You can use the Live View mode to hold the K-5 at arm's length or mount the camera on a tripod, with a single press of the LV button on the rear displaying the current scene on the LCD screen. Focusing is achieved by pressing the small AF button on the rear of the camera or by half-pressing the shutter-button. Alternatively you can use manual focus in Live View mode, with up to 10x magnification available via the Info button to help you fine-tune the focus (you can also use the Info button to magnify the subject by up to 6x when Auto Focus is on). Most of the main camera settings are displayed in Live View, including a helpful electronic level that helps to keep your horizons straight, a welcome histogram and the ability to highlight bright/dark areas. You can change the aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO speed and a number of other settings when Live View is activated.

New to the K-5 is the magnified view feature, which zooms into the image and back out again to clearly show that the correct focus has been achieved. Although I appreciated this quick way to check the focus, the inability to disable it if required may annoy some users. Live View is fine for use with stationary subjects, but forget it if you want to track a moving subject. The AF system in Live View mode takes a couple of seconds to lock onto the subject, making it much better suited to subjects that don't move. The Face Recognition AF mode works quite well, as promised quickly identifying up to 16 people in the frame, but again it takes a couple of seconds to lock onto a non-moving subject. More impressively Live View can be used in the continuous shooting mode with no restrictions on the 7fps rate, as the K-5 sets the mirror to the lock-up position.

Live View is also used for the feature that will generate a lot of interest in the Pentax K-5: its movie mode. This is the fourth Pentax DSLR camera to shoot HD quality video but the first to be able to record Full 1080p HD footage, recording high-definition video at either 1920 x 1280 pixels or 1280 x 720 pixel resolution at 25fps in the Motion JPEG (AVI) format. The maximum size of a single video clip is either 4 gigabytes or 25 minutes. There's a built-in microphone for mono recording and also a socket for connecting an external stereo microphone. It also has an HDMI port for playback on a HD TV, using the industry-standard HDMI mini-out connection, but note that you'll need to purchase a suitable cable separately. You can also still connect the K-5 to a standard TV set via NTSC/PAL.

There are some notable drawbacks to the Pentax K-5's video mode. It's quite difficult to actually start recording one. You have to set the Mode Dial to the Movie mode, then press the AF-On or half-press shutter button to set the focus, then press the shutter button to begin recording (with the same button ending the movie). It's not on a par with the one-button system that some rivals offer, and you can't take a still shot during recording either. As with most other DSLR cameras that offer a video mode, you also can't autofocus during movie recording, something that the Nikon D7000 does offer. Pre-focusing before beginning recording, then focusing manually during the take is the only option.

Pentax K-5 Pentax K-5
Top Pop-up Flash

In addition you can't set the aperture from the camera during recording, only before, so you will want to use lenses that have an aperture ring if possible. The K-7 can be set to Auto Aperture Control, which removes the flexibility of being able to set the aperture yourself but at least enables the camera to change it during recording to suit the subject matter. The shutter speed cannot be set by the user in movie mode either, so you will have to rely on the camera's auto-exposure system while filming.

The Pentax K-5 features a built-in Shake Reduction system. Turn it on via the main menu option and the K-5 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds, providing approximately 2.5 to 4 shutter steps of compensation. As this system is built-into the camera body, it works with almost any lens that you attach to the K-5, providing a significant cost advantage over DSLRs from Canon and Nikon, which use a lens-based image stabilisation system (compatible lenses are the PENTAX K-, KA-, KAF-, KAF2- and KAF3-mount lenses; screw-mounted lenses (with an adapter); and 645- and 67-system lenses (with an adapter)). In practice I found that it does make a noticeable difference, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when Shake Reduction is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos. The K-5 also displays a blur icon in the viewfinder to warn you that camera-shake may occur, regardless of whether or not Shake Reduction is on.

If you've had a bad experience with DSLRs and dust in the past, then the K-5 offers a Dust Removal mechanism. This automatically shifts the low-pass filter located in front of the CMOS image sensor at very high speed, shaking the dust off the low-pass filter. If you do still notice any dust, there's a neat feature called Dust Alert which is designed to show exactly where the dust is on the image sensor. A vertically and laterally correct image of the sensor shot at f/16 is shown on the LCD screen, indicate exactly where any stubborn dust particles may be lurking. While this feature won't prevent dust from getting onto the sensor, it does provide a quick and easy way of checking for it. In addition Dust Removal can be set to activate whenever the camera is turned on, and you can also use the built-in Sensor Cleaning function to lift the mirror and clean the image sensor with a blower brush or third-party cleaning solution.

The Pentax K-5's improved High Dynamic Range (HDR) Capture option (only available for JPEGs) takes three images with different exposures, with 4 different strengths on offer, and then records a single image that combines the properly exposed parts of each one, expanding its dynamic range. It's important to always use a tripod to prevent camera shake from blurring the HDR image, and it doesn't work very well for moving subjects. Similar to Nikon's D-lighting, Sony's DRO, and Olympus' Shadow Adjustment Technology, Pentax's D-Range allows you to correct the highlights (On or Off) and/or the shadows (3 different levels) before taking a JPEG or RAW image. Although this option is always at your disposal, remember that it is meant to be used in strong, contrasty lighting at base ISO. The Pentax K-5 also has a multi exposure mode that allows you to combine between two and nine different JPEG or RAW images into a single photo and a Cross Processing mode with four built-in effects and custom options that replicates the traditional effect of cross-processing film (remember that?!).

Pentax's Custom Images, similar to Nikon's Picture Styles and Canon's Picture Controls, are preset combinations of different sharpness, contrast, saturation and colour tone settings. You can change the saturation, hue, high/low key, contrast and sharpness for each of the nine options, which now include Bleach Bypass and Reversal Film?. The Pentax K-5 additionally offers seven different Digital Filters, which allow you to quickly apply an artistic effect to a photo before taking it (JPEG images only). Note that applying the Digital Filters slows the camera down somewhat, as it has to process the image for a few seconds after it's taken. The K-5 can also be set to automatically compensate for both distortion and lateral chromatic aberration of any DA- and DFA-series lenses.

Pentax K-5 Pentax K-5
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

The rather innocuous-sounding AF Adjustment custom function will be of particular interest to current Pentax owners. If you have a collection of older Pentax lenses and you've never been quite sure how accurate they focus when mounted on a DSLR, this is the function for you. Essentially it allows you to alter the focus of each lens. You can use a focusing target like the LensAlign range of products to test if the lens focuses correctly, and if it doesn't alter it slightly using the AF Adjustment option, then test again until perfect focus is achieved. With most other DSLR systems you'd have to send the camera and lens off for calibration (and maybe even have to pay for it), but with the K-5, you can calibrate all of your lenses in the comfort of your own home.

The start-up time of the Pentax K-5, from turning the camera on to being ready to take a photo, is very quick for at around 1 second. Focusing is also quick and consistent in good light with the standard 18-55mm kit lens, with the revised 11 point AF system now offering more generous scene coverage, and the camera happily achieves focus indoors and in low-light situations. Note that the 18-55mm lens has an annoyingly loud focusing mechanism though. The powerful AF Assist lamp can be used even if the built-in flash isn't raised.

It takes about 1 second to store a JPEG image at the highest quality setting with no discernible lockup between taking shots, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card. For RAW images the Pentax K-5 takes about 2 seconds to store an image and again there is no lockup between shots. In the continuous shooting mode you can hold down the shutter button and take 7 shots per second for up to 22 JPEGS or 20 RAW files (with the firmware version 1.01), an impressive performance given the large 16 megapixel files that this camera produces. The camera does lock up for a few seconds once the maximum number of shots is reached, although you can continue to shoot continuously, just at a much slower rate.

Once you have captured a photo, the Pentax K-5 has a good range of options for playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view 9 thumbnails, zoom in and out up to a magnification of 32x, and see very detailed information about each image by pressing the Info button. You can also delete, rotate, resize, protect and crop an an image, view a slideshow and set various printing options. There are an expanded range of 16 digital effects available which can be applied to JPEGs plus a Custom option to create your own unique effect. The camera shows you a preview of what the effect will look like when applied, and the effect is applied to a copy of your image, thus preserving the original intact.

Image Comparison allows you to compare two images side-by-side complete with zoom. The Index option creates an index print from up to 36 images, Save as Manual WB sets the camera's Manual White Balance setting to the colour balance of the current image, and RAW Development converts a RAW file into a JPEG or TIFF with various conversion parameters available. Move Editing lets you divide or extract segments from your movies. Importantly the Pentax K-5 offers a histogram after taking a photo which is a great help in evaluating the exposure, plus any areas that are over-exposed flash on and off in the LCD preview to show you want you should be compensating for with your next attempt. If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the comprehensive but relatively easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Thankfully Pentax have chosen to supply it in printed format, rather than as a PDF on a CD, so you can also carry it with you for easy reference.