The new sensor also offers users a vastly improved ISO range. 100-12800 is standard, but an increased mode can expand it to 80-51200. Noise is supposedly much improved over the prior generation, which let some users down.
Together, the new sensor and autofocus system mean fast, solid performance. Tossing it around the room, the camera kept up - shooting everything it saw. High-speed continuous shooting performance is both better and worse than the K-7. It hits 7 FPS over the K-7's 5.2, but the K-5 only goes up to 22 frames - as opposed to the prior's 40.
RAW performance hit the same maximum of 15 frames in continuous shooting mode - the Pentax reps didn't say what the maximum was in RAW mode, though I kept the shutter button depressed for a few seconds after the 15-frame buffer was full, and it never stopped shooting.
Small camera for the big screen
Video really seemed to be added as something of an afterthought to the K-7. It had some odd movie modes - 640x416, 1280x720 and 1536x1024, all at thirty frames per second. Things are a good bit better with the K-5, though it unfortunately still lags behind options available from competitors.
The film modes seemed easy to use, and resolution and framerate can be switched with a quick trip into the settings menus. This time around, Pentax reps mentioned that getting the "cinematic" framerate of 25 frames per second (though 24 FPS is usually considered to be the rate used in cinema) was of utmost importance.
As a result, while the resolution is there, framerate options are limited. Continuous video autofocus is also, sadly, absent. The K-5 can manage video at 640x480 (25 or 30 FPS), 1280x720 (25 or 30 FPS) and 1920x1080 at 25 FPS only.
Check out a complete picture walkthrough of the menus in our gallery.
Thankfully, the video we tried did seem pretty, though it's naturally pretty hard to glean mistakes on a small, back-of-the-camera display. Video can be viewed on larger screens thanks to the micro-HDMI port, and sound can be recorded with the built-in mono microphone or via an external 3.5mm stereo mic jack.
Interestingly enough, any of the K-5's custom image modes and digital filters - and there are a number - can be applied to the video captured by the sensor. Pentax noted that the framerate may vary, depending on the load and properties of the image/mode in question. Additionally, the K-5 can terminate video recording if a slow SD card is inserted.
Fortunately, that shouldn't be much of an issue with any card bought recently, especially since the K-5 can support the SDXC storage format with an upcoming firmware update.
Evolution ain't cheap
Pentax is known for offering features in their cameras that are typically reserved for market entries placed at substantially higher price points. In-body shake reduction and image stabilization, in-camera HDR, weather resistance with sealed compartments and more. It seems like, however, that Pentax might be pricing the K-5 more appropriately this time.
While the MSRP is typically higher than a camera's average street price (and Pentax DSLRs often drop in price relatively quickly), the K-5 body kit will retail at first for $1,599.95, a three hundred dollar increase over the K-7's introduction at $1,299.95.
For those interested in picking up a lens with their new camera, a kit including both body and a weather resistant 18-55mm lens carries a suggested retail price of $1,749.95. Coinciding with the K-5's launch, Pentax also announced a new 18-135mm weather resistant lens in their DA lineup. It has an MSRP of $529.95, and both the new lens and the new camera are scheduled to ship next month.
Final first thoughts
While the time we spent with the K-5 was limited (and I apologize for the nature of the photos - we had to hide from everyone else behind a curtain!), it's easy to see that Pentax isn't dead yet.
While critics are quick to point out the company's troubled success in recent years, Pentax reps will happily tell you that they gained two points of marketshare in the highly competitive SLR space. That gain in recent quarters can largely be attributed to the K-x, a camera that offers, even today, amazing performance for its price.
The K-5 is essentially the K-7, but better. Better (and useful) video performance, increased resolution and expanded ISO range. The image quality, low-light and noise performance are also said to be much better, but we'll have to wait until we can get the K-5 into our labs to test that theory.
Regardless, the K-5 is an update to the Pentax DSLR lineup that should please fans and maybe tempt new users. Owners of the aging K20d - and especially the K10d - are probably itching to upgrade at this point, and the K-5 is a worthy followup choice. Customers who bought the K-7 have a much harder decision - that's a high price to pay so soon after their camera launched.
If you're one of the new breed of DSLR videographers, however, and you're a Pentax fan, that decision might be easier to make.
Stay tuned to DigitalCameraReview.com for our upcoming full review of the Pentax K-5 as well as our hands-on look at the company's midrange K-r!
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