Pentax K-5II Review: A Praiseworthy Challenger

by Reads (9,181)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 8
    • Features
    • 8
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 9
    • Performance
    • 9
    • Expandability
    • 9
    • Total Score:
    • 8.60
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10


  • Pros

    • Very good image quality
    • Weather resistant
    • "Flagship" featured camera at a prosumer camera cost
    • In body stabilization compatible with any Pentax lens
    • Relatively small and light given overall feature set
  • Cons

    • No continuous autofocus in video mode
    • Live view/video a bit slow to initiate following selection of video mode
    • Video clip length in full HD video less than six minutes
    • Shooting mode dial lock button/turning a bit awkward
    • Might be too small for large hands

Quick Take

The Pentax K-5II is the company's flagship camera with 16.3-megapixels on an APS-C sensor. It is lightweight and has very good image quality, but lacks AF in video mode.

The Pentax K-5II is the current flagship of the Pentax DSLR lineup, superseding the K-5 which remains on Pentax’s website as of this writing (late February). But unlike the K-5, the K-5II is also available as a K-5IIs variant which dispenses with the camera’s anti-aliasing filter — a la the Nikon D800E. Pentax acknowledges that the K-5IIs is intended for a limited and specialized clientele, primarily “…for photographers who practice commercial and studio photography where camera settings, lens selection, lighting, and other shooting conditions are controlled.” The rest of us would be better served with the K-5II, a praiseworthy challenger to both Nikon and Canon.


As the top Pentax DSLR, you would expect the K-5II would have some fairly impressive credentials and you’d be right — the camera is weather sealed to be water resistant and dust proof as well as capable of operation in temperatures down to 14 degrees F. Shutter speed can range from 30 seconds to 1/8000 of a second and in-body stabilization offers up to four stops of shake reduction. The camera is compatible with any Pentax lens ever made; K mount lenses affix directly to the camera while old screw mount, 647 and 67 series lenses require adapters. The 11 point autofocus system features nine cross-type sensors and the viewfinder offers 100% coverage. The camera can capture movies in full HD resolution and there’s a 3-inch LCD monitor. If you think these specifications sound suspiciously like the K-5, you’re right — the K-5II features incremental improvements and upgrades over its predecessor rather than a dramatic departure from established design parameters.

Sensor resolution remains at 16.3 megapixels on an APS-C sized sensor, but it’s the latest generation sensor that’s partnered with the PRIME II (Pentax real image engine) imaging engine. The autofocus system includes a newly designed SAFOX X AF sensor in place of the SAFOX IX of the K5 and the 3-inch monitor is a new air-gap-free design, reportedly providing a brighter and sharper image. The AF sensor also includes an upgraded AF algorithm as well as the Select-Area Expansion feature, which automatically tracks the subject when it deviates from a pre-assigned selection point by assessing data from neighboring sensors. The camera offers features such as auto level compensation and image composition fine-adjustment functions, along with a custom image function that provides a choice of nine distinctive custom image modes and 18 built-in digital filters. The camera is compatible with SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media and Pentax includes a battery charger and lithium-ion battery, USB and AV cables, a viewfinder eyecup, camera strap, CD-ROM software and printed operating manual with each camera. The K5II is available as a body only or in kit form with 18-55 or 18-135mm lenses.

When it was first announced in September 2012, the K5II as a body only carried a MSRP of $1200; as this is written in late February 2013, the camera can be had for $1100 on the Pentax Americas website; reputable NY area internet vendors have it for only a few dollars less ($1097).

Build And Design
The K5II breaks no new ground in its overall design, featuring the ubiquitous rectangular body/exaggerated handgrip/viewfinder and flash atop the body configuration. Overall dimensions are 5.2 x 3.8 x 2.9 inches with a shooting weight (battery/ memory card/lens and camera strap) of 37 ounces with the 18-55mm lens on board. These dimensions place the K5II towards the smaller end of the DSLR size scale. The camera is assembled in the Philippines and consists of magnesium alloy exterior panels over a stainless steel frame; materials, fit and finish seem appropriate for the price point.

Ergonomics and Controls
With virtually identical dimensions to its stable mate, the K-30, and a strong family resemblance between the two bodies one might expect the cameras to feel the same, but the K-5II just feels better in my hand then the K-30, which I reviewed concurrently. This improvement in feel is directly attributable to the way my index finger falls on the shutter button — on the K-30 it overlapped a bit requiring me to pull back to activate the shutter with the fingertip; on the K-5II it falls more directly onto the shutter. There are subtle differences in the contours of the handgrip area on the K-5II versus the K-30, and the thumb rest area features a tacky rubberlike material on the K-5II while the K-30 makes do with a slightly slick feeling composite panel.

As with the K-30, a lens unlock button on the K-5II is on the lower right front of the lens mount, smaller and directly opposite to what I’m used to on my big Nikons. With a bit of practice what was initially an awkward feeling location became second nature, cradling the camera in the left-hand and removing lenses with the right, just as with my own equipment.

Control placement on the K-5II differs a bit from the K-30, with the mode dial sitting atop the camera body to the left of the viewfinder/flash and requiring the push of an unlock button to change modes. The K-30 has no unlock button and I found switching shooting modes on it more pleasant than the K-5II. The pushing motion combined with a bit more resistance in turning made shifting gears in the K5II with the mode dial a bit more awkward.

Beneath the mode dial is the metering mode switch; the upper left rear of the camera back contains playback and delete buttons. The lower left half of the back is taken up by the 3-inch monitor, with a number of controls arrayed just to its right, sandwiched between the thumb rest and the monitor. These include the green button (sets exposure mode to automatic and resets the settings), an AF point switching dial, live view button, OK button centered in a four-way controller including white balance, flash, custom image and drive mode buttons; below the controller are info and menu buttons.

The upper right rear of the body contains the rear e-dial and an AE-L button. The top right side of the camera body has an LCD panel that can display a variety of information depending on user preference: shutter speed/countdown of noise reduction processing time; aperture value, multi-exposure, mirror lockup, electronic level, EV bars, exposure compensation and bracketing, battery level, flash exposure compensation, flash mode, ISO, drive mode, file format and remaining image storage capacity/USB connector mode. The upper portion of the handgrip includes the standard on-off switch with the shutter button in the center, exposure compensation and ISO buttons and the front e-dial. The left side of the lens mount base contains a flash pop-up button, RAW/Fx button (more on this later) and the focus mode switch.

The overall placement of controls on what is a relatively small DSLR is nicely done; I had no trouble with inadvertent activations during my time with the K-5II. As befits a flagship DSLR, the K-5II allows you to access many shooting settings externally, without resort to internal menus.

Menus and Modes
Menus in the K-5II are what you would expect from a high-end DSLR, offering an extensive range of settings, but at the same time, being fairly intuitive without having to resort to the operating manual, at least for the basic navigation throughout the various pages. There are four main menus: a 4 page record menu, 1 page playback menu, 4 page setup menu and 4 page custom setting menu.

Pressing the menu button takes you to the first page of the record menu; from there you can scroll vertically through the various menu items on the first page or horizontally to go to other pages of the record menu and beyond that the three other main menus.

K-5II shooting modes are primarily what you would expect from a high-end DSLR — an absence of scene modes and a relatively narrow range of manual shooting options. However the K-5II also offers a green mode that performs quite similarly to an automatic mode out of a compact digital. Here’s a more specific rundown on the K-5II’s exposure offerings:

  • Green mode – a fully automatic mode with the camera determining virtually all shooting parameters; the user can set image size and quality, but very little else.
  • Program auto – an automatic mode with the camera setting shutter speed and aperture; the user retains a wide variety of other settings.
  • Sensitivity priority auto exposure – an automatic mode with the camera setting shutter speed and aperture based upon the user selection of ISO sensitivity; the user retains a wide variety of other camera settings.
  • Shutter & aperture priority automatic exposure – user sets shutter speed and aperture, camera sets ISO sensitivity according to the brightness of the subject; the user retains a wide variety of other camera settings.
  • Shutter priority – user sets shutter speed, camera sets aperture and the user retains a wide variety of other camera settings.
  • Aperture priority – user sets the aperture, camera sets the shutter speed and the user retains a wide variety of other camera settings.
  • Manual – user sets the aperture and shutter speed along with ISO and retains a wide variety of other camera settings.
  • Bulb – allows the user to keep the shutter open for time periods in excess of 30 seconds.
  • X (flash sync) – locks shutter speed at 1/180 of a second to permit synchronization with external flashes that do not automatically set synchronization speed.
  • User – allows the user to save up to five combinations of frequently used camera settings for quick recall, including exposure mode, drive mode, flash mode and exposure compensation, white balance, ISO sensitivity, and many others.
  • Movie – capture Motion JPEG (AVI) video in 1920 x 1080 full HD and 16:9 aspect ratio at 25 frames per second (fps); 1280 x 720 and 16:9 at either 25 or 30 fps; 640 x 480 in 4:3 aspect ratio in either 25 or 30 fps. There is a built-in monaural microphone and an external stereo microphone terminal. Pentax reports recording times of up to 25 minutes but cautions that recording stops automatically if internal temperatures become too high.

The 3-inch LCD monitor on the K-5II features a 921,000 dot composition and is adjustable for 15 levels of brightness and contrast; there are also 15 layers of color adjustment (LCD color tuning) available on the green-magenta and blue-amber axes. The design of the monitor incorporates “…a unique resin layer that alleviates the reflection and dispersion of light to effectively prevent ghost images and maintain image brightness.” Essentially, Pentax has included a resin layer between the monitor and the glass cover, eliminating an airspace that could cause unwanted reflections. Airspace or not, the monitor, while generally usable in outdoor conditions could still be overwhelmed in bright, direct lighting when being used for image composition or capture in live view or for playback. The LCD cover is made of tempered glass.

The K-5II viewfinder image is large and fairly bright, featuring a .92x magnification and approximately 100% coverage. The LCD panel atop the camera body may be illuminated by high or low backlight settings as chosen by the user, or the lighting may be disabled. The viewfinder features diopter adjustment to accommodate varying levels of eyesight.

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