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The Complete Pentax K-5 Review

by Matt Beardsley on 02/04/2011

The Pentax K-5, a robust and compact DSLR with excellent customization and great image quality. Now that the review is over, let’s do a recap.

PROS:

Quick and accurate AF

Very good auto exposure

intuitive and flexible controls

good (and tested) weather sealing

novel exposure settings (Sensitivity Priority, Shutter & Aperture Priority, and the very useful Green Button)

JPG processing is very flexible and useful and can be applied in-camera to captured RAW files

RAW data from last captured JPG file can be extracted and saved

excellent battery life

in-camera stabilization ads stabilization to all lenses without additional cost

HD video recording

remarkably wide dynamic range (we were able to create clean files with as much as 3 stops of post processing exposure boost)

very clear shadow detail

well-managed and not un-attractive noise (more like film grain than digital distortion)

easy to use and attractive menus

Flexible file output (DNG, PEF, RAW+JPG, and a range of JPG options)

a pro-level feature set nicely combined with an intuitive, easy-to-learn, and compact camera

responsive customer support from Pentax Imaging

CONS:

Our test camera displayed unattractive purple fringing in strongly back-lit images (mostly manageable in Adobe Lightroom if shooting PEF RAW)

Control for AF point selection is less intuitive than on competing cameras (frustratingly mixed with menu shortcut keys)

Camera is slow to display previews after a photo is taken (as long as 5 seconds in some tests with firmware 1.01, as long as 4 seconds with firmware 1.02)

In-camera stabilization doesn’t work as well as more expensive in-lens stabilization

Compared to competing cameras, movie mode is basic (no AF during recording, limited exposure controls etc.)

Day 1, Specs, Ergonomics, and Button Layout

Day 1 Conclusion: The Pentax K-5 is a compact, robust, and capable camera. It’s uniquely small compared to direct competition from Canon and Nikon, offers a wide range of similarly compact and able lenses including the55mm f/1.4 DA* tested here. The camera offers a few innovative features in control and customization and will appeal to photographers desiring a compact, pentaprism (optical viewfinder) DSLR.

Day 2, Customization, Image Quality, and a landscape shoot in the rain

Day 2 Conclusion: To my eye, RAW files emerge from the camera as more neutral and perhaps a bit flat compared to other 35mm digital cameras. They’re like blank canvases, ready for processing (to which they respond very nicely). In this respect, the RAW files remind me of those from modern Hasselblad cameras: clean and neutral, ready for processing. By contrast, the Nikon RAW files I use regularly have an already-boosted look, with contrast and saturation amped from the beginning. Files can be easily made to look the same from either starting place, but it’s interesting to admire Pentax’s bias towards especially clean and true-looking RAW files.

Day 3, Wedding Photography, and Low Light Performance

Day 3 Conclusion: I really enjoyed adding the K-5to my usual kit for a wedding. It is quick and responsive, stealthy, and delivers big, beautiful images (especially for a cropped-sensor camera). It is unbeatable for customization and a joy to operate. In my testing, I discovered two curious issues, an especially slow response time when displaying images for review and strong purple fringing in certain back-lit situations. A problematic SD card may be responsible for the playback delay (more on that in a future post). My purple fringing issue may be isolated to our test camera, but it is certainly cause for alarm. Please comment below if you have experienced a similar issue or have a K-5that does not have this problem.

Day 4, An Engagement Shoot with the K-5

Day 4 Conclusion: The Pentax K-5 continues to be a fun little camera to shoot. I’ve enjoyed using it as both a landscape and portrait camera. It is uniquely customizable, offering many options for controls and file output. On a portrait shoot – even in the rain – it provides easy operation, smooth autofocus and metering and will bring home attractive images with good color, detail, and contrast. I continue to be impressed with it’s compact size and comfortable ergonomics.

Day 5, Night Photography, Image Quality, and Stabilization

Day 5 Conclusion: To sum up the night shoot experience, the Pentax K-5 is a creatively inspiring and fun to use camera. It is very well built, easy to customize, compact, and captures clean, nicely-detailed files with minimal noise. I like that it mixes professional versatility and functionality with features that make it fun to experiment with. Pentax needs to address the K-5′s purple fringing issue, though in the meantime, Adobe Lightroom offers an easy remedy for most images with unsightly fringing. The camera also seems to take longer-than-normal to process previews. Complaints aside, the image quality of the K-5 is top tier for a 35mm crop-sensor DSLR and it offers an especially wide dynamic range. I would be quick to recommend it to a photographer seeking a compact and capable DSLR.

A Quick Look at Pentax K-5 Video

For those serious about video work, the K-5 will be a bit of a tease without a dedicated microphone and some sort of after-market stabilization frame. For photographers who might enjoy the occasional motion grab, it’s a fun tool to have added to an already very capable little camera.

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