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A flagship DSLR gets significant tweaks
The Pentax K-5 II is a worthy successor to the K-5, but are the improvements worth the upgrade?
There are two things I really love about the Pentax K-5 II, which is available now at Adorama for $1,196.95. Actually, I like a lot more than just two things, but here are two features that really stand out for me: Its sensor is fantastic, and it is ruggedly splash- and dust-resistant. A bonus: Its feel reminds me of one of the most underrated film cameras of all time, the Pentax LX, which is available at the Adorama Used Camera department and still demands top dollar for a used film camera. From the raised characters on the lockable mode dial to its solid, all-weather construction, the K-5 II certainly carries some of the LX’s DNA. And that’s great—but the things I love about the K-5 II are not really any different than the things I loved about its predecessor, the Pentax K-5, which as of this writing is available at Adorama for $749. What’s new in the second generation, and is it enough to warrant the higher price?
Pentax K-5 II Key Features
- 16.8MP APS (23.7 x 15.7mm) CMOS sensor
- ISO range 80-51,200
- Shutter speeds 30-1/8000 sec
- Sensor-shift shake reduction
- 100% viewfinder coverage
- Dust Removal
- 3-inch, 921k dot LCD
- Live view
- Pop-up Flash GN 13m
- X-sync 1/180 sec
- Green, Hyper-Program, Sensitivity Priority, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Shutter & Aperture Priority, Manual, Bulb, Movie modes
- RAW, JPG, AVI capture
- 27 custom functions
- Magnesium Alloy shell over steel chassis
- 77 Weather protection seals
- Pentax K-5 IIs Only: No anti-aliasing filter
A capable camera in tough situations: This cropped shot, showing approximately half the original image, was made in light drizzle at a somber candlelight vigil for the Newtown, CT victims. Exposed at 1/20 sec at f/4, ISO 6400. Only source of illumination: The police officers' candles.
The K-5 II’s predecessor, the Pentax K-5, was, and still is, a subtstantial camera and a great deal; at the time of this writing, the body has dropped in price to about $750 at Adorama. And as Jason Schneider wrote nearly two years ago in the Adorama Learning Center, the K-5 was Pentax’s most technically advanced DSLR to date, and delivered a performance that still ranks it up there with its major-brand challengers.
The Pentax K-5 II has the same control layout and design as the K-5. It retains the same 16.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor, in-body shake reduction, ISO range of 80-12,800, 7fps burst rate in both JPEG and RAW, the same selectable 11-point AF system, 77-segment metering, 3-inch, 921k dot LCD, and over 77 protective seals against sand and rain. So, with virtually identical bodies and the same outstanding sensor, what has changed, and are they worth paying the extra dough? And what about the Pentax K-5 IIs?
Raindrops on a dumpster: This was shot in low light during a moderate downpour. The camera kept clicking, and I got soaked. Oh, the sacrifices I make for the Adorama Learning Center!
The Pentax K-5 II's changes may seem incremental, but they may remove the obstacles that have caused some potential buyers to balk at buying the K-5. This includes replacing the K-5’s Phase Detection AF system with a more DSLR-standard Contrast Detection system, along with a revved up AF system that Pentax says will provide faster focusing time. Pentax has also changed to a more efficient energy system, and battery life is rated for 980 shots per charge, instead of 740. For videographers, Pentax has finally added the ability to shoot at 30fps in addition to 25fps, although 30fps is only available at 720p resolution (25fps is available in 720p and 1080p). Finally, the Pentax K-5 II adds Panorama image capture and has built-in GPS.
Do all these changes make a difference? I took this camera on the road, in all kinds of weather and light, to find out.
In The Hands
My first impression of the Pentax K-5 II was its grip: large and very graspable, it was comfortable to hold, and the camera itself had a good, balanced, solid feel. The battery compartment could only be accessed by turning a lock; good protection in tough conditions. The memory card slot opened easily enough but closed tightly.
For those unfamiliar with the Pentax K-5 II’s layout—which is virtually the same as the K-5, let’s go through it. (Skip this section if you are already familiar with the K-5).
The side of the dial was knurled for easy grip. Each mode had a raised icon or letters, and a locking button had to be pressed to release the dial so it could be turned. While this was an extra step, it did prevent accidental slippage. The modes themselves are a bit different from the typical PASM array: They consist of the auto-everything Green mode, P (Program; change the shutter speed and the aperture will automatically change and vice versa), Sv (Sensitivity value: you set the ISO, the camera does the rest), Tv (adjust shutter speed), Av (adjust aperture), and TAv (set shutter speed and aperture, and the camera will determine the correct ISO). There are also X (flash sync speed of 1/180 sec), M (manual) and B (Bulb) modes. Finally, there is the USER (custom) mode and video, which we'll get to later.
Record setting: I brought the Pentax K-5 II along to an event in Princeton Airport (did you know Princeton, NJ even had an airport?) where 835 people simulateously lit menorahs in one place, thereby earning a place in the Guiness Book of World Records. The camera handled the subdued light well, with virtually no noise at ISO 1600.
Surrounding the mode dial is a meter pattern selection switch, which is locked and released by the same button that locks in the mode dial. You can choose spot, center-weighted, or multi-pattern metering, but you have to really want it: Even when unlocked, the switch needs some force to be moved.
Moving across the top of the camera, the pop-up flash throws a modest Guide Number of 13 meters at ISO 100 with up to 28mm coverage. The on-off switch surrounds the generously-sized shutter release, and buttons allow you to quickly adjust exposure compensation to a remarkable +/- 5 stops in 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments. The ISO button lets you change the ISO. The default range is 100-3200, but that can be expanded to ISO 12,800, or limited as needed. The ISO limiting feature along with the TAv mode lets you control exposure without worrying about ISO going into overly high-noise territory.
Color control: I changed the color setting to Vibrant so the red grill would really pop. Each color setting can be adjusted and customized, and a graphical rendering of the color space is displayed on screen. If you have a background in color science, this info is useful. If not, you can simply choose the appropriate setting, shoot and learn.
The back of the Pentax K-5 II is dominated by the LCD monitor, as well as 15 buttons, dials, and switches. Actually, there are a total of 27 physical controls all around the camera body. That seems like a lot, but the controls are arrayed in a logical manner, and I found that my most-needed camera controls were always at my fingertips.
A preview monitor and delete button can be found to the left of the viewfinder, while a dial to the right of the finder controls aperture, ISO and other criteria in shooting mode, and zooms in on preview images. A handy AE-L button lets you lock in exposure and re-compose. On the right side of the camera back you'll find a mysterious button with a green dot. This is a kind of reset button: It switches the camera to autoexposure, no matter what mode you are in, and also resets all camera settings to the default mode. The AF button, not surprisingly, activates the autofocus (although manual focus switch overrides it) The surrounding SEL dial lets you choose wide-area or pinpoint autofocus points, which can be changed via the four-way controller
Under harsh mid-day sun, this scene suffers from too much contrast—a good test of the Pentax K-5 II's 14-stop native dynamic range. Shot at ISO 100, this straight out of camera shot demonstrates the camera's ability to capture shadow detail despite the intense sunlight.
The LV button flips the reflex mirror up and activates Live View, while the four-way controller activates White Balance, flash settings, self-timer, and—big surprise—the color balance and overall image quality. There are several settings: Bright, Natural, Portrait, Landscape, Vibrant, Muted, Bleach Bypass, Reversal Film, and Monochrome. Within Monochrome you can choose the effect of a colored filter on relative gray tones for different colors, sharpness, toning, and contrast. The different color profiles can be customized but I recommend this only if you have a good familiarity with color science. Otherwise, the defaults are powerful. A nice touch: While you can set the color space in advance, you can also apply them after the fact in image preview mode.
Rounding out the tour of the camera body is the front of the camera, which has a remote reciever embedded in the hand grip, and a focus lamp next to the grip. To the right of the lens mount—which can accommodate any K-mount lens ever made for a Pentax DSLR—in the base of the lens mount, are three buttons. The Flash button, which flips up and turns on the flash, a RAW FX button, which lets you quickly select to shoot an image in RAW, and the focus mode switch; choose AFS (single shot autofocus), AFC (continuous AF) or MF (Manual focus).
One of the features that sets the Pentax K-5 II apart from the crowd is a something rarely seen on a digital camera: Multiple exposure. It's really easy: You access multiple exposure from shooting menu mode #2, set the number of exposures, hit OK, and you're ready to shoot. It is quite easy, but keep in mind that, just as with film, you need to adjust exposure to accommodate two exposures.
In The Market: Autofocus acquisition was super-fast and dynamic range caught plenty of highlight and shadow detail, allowing me to get this backlit slice of life at a pre-holiday outdoor market in New York City's Union Square.
In The Field
I found the Pentax K-5 II to be a quick, responsive camera. Autofocus was as a fast as I would expect from a serious enthusiast-level DSLR. Even with the f/3.5 kit lens in fairly dim indoor lighting I found the autofocus to be quick and decisive. Only when shooting literally in candle-lit scenes did the autofocus search, but no more than I’ve experienced with any other DSLR. But in general I found the S-AF and C-AF modes to both be very fast, comparable with other DSLRs in its category.
While the camera has many controls, their placement was logical and intuitive. The Live View button was a great convenience, as was the RAW button, allowing me to switch back and forth between optical and LCD viewing and JPEG and RAW image capture, respectively.
A key usability test for me is how intuitive it is to set exposure manually, and in this area the K5 II excelled. The thumbwheel and front dial were quick and intuitive, and the TAv mode made it easy to use the entire exposure triangle of shutter speed, aperture priority and ISO in tandem.
As advertised, the camera really did work in all kinds of weather. I shot in misty rain and steady downpours, and as I got soaked the camera kept working without a hiccup. The image stabilization worked very well—a plus when shooting under heavy overcast or after dark—and I shot at 1/5 second handheld at the 18mm setting and got sharp results.
ISO 100: Entire shot above shows a high-contrast scene shows good dynamic range; no noise in 100% detail below, and color fringing is very well controlled; shot with 18-55mm kit lens.
ISO 400: Shooting handheld in open shade (full-frame image above), noise is barely noticeable in 100% detail, below.
ISO 1600: Shot on a heavy overcast day, the Pentax K-5 II handled this tricky lighting with ease as I shot this in Program mode. 100% detail focuses on window washer. Noise is visible now, but not objectionable.
ISO 6400: Above, full frame, straight out of camera, shows friends and neighbors standing in silent vigil during a light rainfall at a local memorial service for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Because of the somber nature of the event, I didn't want to use a flash, and instead chose ISO 6400. While a car headlight illuminated a few of the people towards the left, the rest were only lit by the candels they were holding. In the 100% detail, below, you can see grain, but all things considered, it's not too bad.
Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):
Maximum ISO for acceptable image quality (digital noise): ISO 1600
Maximum ISO for acceptable dynamic range: ISO 1600
Color depth: Outstanding (23.8 on a scale of 1-25)
Overall image quality: Outstanding (82 on a scale of 1-100)
Dynamic range: Up to 14.1 stops
The Pentax K-5 II’s performance is statistically a dead heat with its predecessors, although its low-light image quality has improved slightly. This is not surprising: the sensor is the same as the K-5’s. In both cases, the camera’s image quality just barely edges ahead of the Nikon D7000 for best low light/high ISO test results of any APS-C DSLR, and is the clear leader when it comes to dynamic range with an impressive 14.1 stops. Measured ISO sensitivity is within 1/3 stop of the indicated speed at all ISOs, and the signal to noise ratio really doesn’t dip into the super-grainy side until ISO 6400. As our field shots demonstrate, when shooting JPEGs with noise-reduction turned on, you can get very good results all the way up to ISO 6400 and usable results (albeit with significant graininess) at higher ISO's.
DxOMark test data is Copyright DxOMark Labs, and is used with their permission.
A Word about the Pentax K-5 II s
There’s also the Pentax K-5 IIs, which is essentially the same camera but with the anti-aliasing filter removed. This filter minimizes moiré patterns, but without it the camera can produce a purer, sharper image that lends itself well to detailed landscapes and portrait photography. The only other DSLR that does this is the Nikon D800E, a much pricer, full-frame model.
Strange car roof decor: I shot this in moderate rain with the Pentax K-5 II and 18-55mm WR lens, a water-resistant combination.
Pentax has added to its growing lineup of WR water-resistant lenses to include the following models, all available at Adorama: Pentax D-FA 100mm f/2.8 Macro WR ($846.95), Pentax SMCP-DA 50-200mm f/4-5.6 ED WR ($196.95), Pentax 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 AL (IF) WR, ($526.95), and the Pentax SMCP-DA 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL WR ($199.95). Of course, any K-mount lens, including older ones available at the Adorama Used department, will work (although the older models may have limited capabilities) but are not sealed against water damage.
Dusky dog: I placed the camera down low to capture little Nyla, a neighbor's pooch. Looks like mid-day? Nope, I shot this at sunset, in the shadows, at ISO 1600, producing a vivid image in standard shooting mode, with surprisingly little noise.
Conclusion & Recommendation
In the K5 II Pentax has taken an already outstanding camera that beats out some tough competitors, and made it a bit better. The autofocus and battery life especially have been improved, two features that may be worth the extra cost. However, image quality is the same as the Pentax K5. If you want to save money and are not as concerned about battery life or AF speed, the Pentax K5 is still available for less.
Since the introduction of the K5, Pentax has expanded its selection of WR water-resistant lenses, so you can take the Pentax K-5 II or K-5 IIs out into all kinds of weather with no worries of frying any sensitive circuitry.
The Pentax K-5 II, available at Adorama body only for $1196.95 body only or $1,346.95 with the 18-55mm WR kit lens, or in a variety of other configurations and body colors (see models on the right side of this page) is a very capable challenger to the Canon 60D and Nikon D7000, both of which are due for an update, and bests them on several counts. If you are not heavily committed to either system (in other words, you don’t have a bag full of Canon or Nikon lenses and flashes) the Pentax K-5 II is an excellent choice.