Pentax K-5 First Look Review
by J.R. -  9/20/2010

PENTAX today announced the newest update to its family of DSLRs - the top-of-the-line K-5 camera body. A high-end "prosumer" camera, the K-5 is an evolutionary update to the previous K-7 flagship model. Is the refresh worth the cost? DCR got to spend a little hands-on time with the K-5. Read on for our thoughts.

Pentax K-7...minus two
The K-5 is essentially a K-7 that's been modified to address some of the camera's outstanding issues and feature requests. The body has remained largely unmodified; aside from a few tweaks, most of the K-5's changes are internal.

One noticeable change to the outside body, however, is the increased height of the mode selector dial. Pentax felt that the dial on the K-7 was a little too short to be truly comfortable so they added an additional row of notches, increasing the height by roughly 25%.


I only had a few minutes with the K-5, but the new dial makes a noticeable difference. Comparing it to the K-7 sitting here, the K-7 can be a bit of a pain to change settings with one hand.

All of the rest of the buttons and dials are in the same place as on the K-5's predecessor, so both experienced users and camera novitiates would have no problem switching between the two.

The pentaprism viewfinder offers nearly 100% coverage with a magnification factor of 0.92X.

Like the K-7, the K-5 has a very solid, magnesium-clad, stainless steel body. It's completely weather-sealed, which means that with the right (read - weather-sealed) glass, it's possible to take a few shots even in rain or snow.

The screen on the rear is only slightly different from the previous generation - it's still three inches, measured diagonally, but it does have 921,000 dots instead of roughly 920,000.

Sony style sensor
In the heart of the new K-5 is a Sony sensor said to give performance equivalent to the 645D - Pentax's attempt at a digital medium format camera. At 16.5MP, the new sensor offers a slight resolution upgrade over the previous K-7.

More importantly, however, is the fact that the low-light performance, a weak spot in the K-7 setup, is said to be vastly improved. That was probably important for Pentax, since the low-end K-x was widely considered to have weaker high-light performance but better low-light performance. When your $500 camera can best your flagship, that's a problem.

Other upgrades over the K-7 include a new autofocus system, which Pentax considered to be improved enough to give it a version increase, making this the SAFOX IX+. The K-7 used the SAFOX VIII+, which also had an 11-point system, but slower.

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 for our upcoming full review of the Pentax K-5 as well as our hands-on look at the company's midrange K-r!