Pentax K-5 digital SLR review

Pentax builds a solid and robust DSLR camera

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Pentax's chunky, semi-pro 16.2 megapixel digital SLR features rugged, weather resistant body

The 16.2 megapixel Pentax K-5 is a slightly more affordable sibling to the semi professional K-7, and sits above the entry-level 12.4MP K-r model in the manufacturer’s digital SLR range. Unsurprisingly then the Pentax K-5 features some heavyweight functionality not to mention blocky construction, its body properly weatherproofed. Whilst the exterior may appear daunting to first time users, it nevertheless maintains ease of use through the likes of fun, built-in digital filter effects and large chunky controls. A ‘best of both worlds’ approach by its maker, if you like.

Because, or in spite of, this, the Pentax K-5 doesn’t come cheap, with a suggested price of £1,200 if opting for the kit that contains both camera body and standard-issue 18-55mm zoom lens. While that’s high and we did find a street price just under £900, pick the Pentax up and you’ll literally feel the quality you’re getting in return. It weighs 740g with battery and SD card loaded and dimensions are 131x97x73mm. It hits the right balance of being reassuringly weighty without causing neck ache if you’re going to be carting it around all day using the provided shoulder strap.

Pentax K-5 Controls (ease of use)

The Pentax K-5 is in fact only slightly broader in build than rival Nikon’s entry-level D5100 DSLR, so everything is within reach of finger or thumb, even if it is a fair deal heavier when gripped in the palm. Pentax has supplied a top plate LCD screen – a typical feature of pro DSLRs – via which key info such as ISO speed (up to a respectable maximum ISO512,000) and battery life can be checked with a quick downward glance. This is in addition to the second, larger, backplate LCD.

This has meant that the shooting mode dial is now over at the left hand side of the hotshoe, rather than being located immediately behind the shutter release button and grip. This dial is chunky and is ‘locked off’ at each setting so it can’t accidentally slip from, say, program mode to shutter priority. We also get front and back command dials for quickly scrolling through functions faster than the familiar cross keys at the back will allow.

Pentax K-5 Screen

The Pentax K-5 is rather conventional in the wake of angle adjustable screens from Canon and Nikon by offering a fixed 3-inch variety. It does however boast a high visibility 921,000-dot resolution, and, again as expected for the price, there is a dedicated ‘LV’ (Live View) button via which the screen can be used to compose stills and Full HD video, not just review them. Press this and the camera’s internal mirror mechanism audibly flips out of the way to provide the back screen view as an alternative to using the optical viewfinder above.

This comes into its own in video mode, 3-inch LCD display cropped top and bottom to present a 16:9 aspect ratio, if you’ve first twisted the mode dial to the relevant movie camera icon. Filming commences with a press of the shutter release; there’s no dedicated backplate video record button.

Pentax K-5 Speed and performance

The Pentax K-5 powers up instantaneously for action; by the time your forefinger has flicked the power switch to on and moved a few millimetres to the shutter release button you’ll be taking the first shot, with unprocessed Raw images offered alongside, and in tandem with, regular JPEG files.

For action photography, the K-5 shows its semi professional mettle by including a continuous capture speed of 7 frames per second (fps). Entry-level models manage 3fps, top-end pro units around 11fps. We found it a tad off-putting however that if you use the auto focus setting when in Live View mode the Pentax quickly zooms in to focus on a small point and then jumps back to reveal the entire frame, such rapid zooming back and forward leaving our senses slightly jolted. Luckily using the optical viewfinder instead for stills shooting (which illuminates the 11 AF points in red), or indeed manually focusing, avoids this phenomenon.

Pentax K-5 Battery

The Pentax K-5 is powered by the regulation-issue rechargeable lithium ion pack, which like the camera itself is chunky – adding weight and stability to the handgrip by virtue of being stored in the grip’s base. Unlike other models in its maker’s range there isn’t the ability to substitute a handful of AAs, should the battery splutter out when you’re far from a mains plug.

We shouldn’t have cause to panic though. Power is sufficient for a class-leading 980 shots from a full charge, claims Pentax, or 740 if using the flash. Either way that’s more than sufficient for a week’s holiday for most of us.

Pentax K-5 Pictures and video

The Pentax K-5 is a sturdy camera capable of putting in a solid performance when it comes to image quality too. Indeed it’s in the arena of still images that we find Pentax generally excels, the K-5 in particularly delivering punchy, reds, greens and blues even on its standard default settings. This, in tandem with the supplied lens, ensured we got some razor sharp results with plenty of contrast with the minimum of fuss.

When it comes to video the Pentax K-5 is not quite as fluid and intuitive as say shooting with a Compact System Camera or Sony’s DSLR-styled A55 – you have to turn the mode dial to the right setting and have Live View function implemented before you hit the shutter release button and begin filming – but this quickly becomes second nature nonetheless.

Pentax K-5 Verdict

Almost every feature you’d expect from a higher priced digital SLR is located readily beneath forefinger or thumb on the Pentax K-5, meaning that regular DSLR users should have no problem picking it up and starting to shoot straight away. First time users may be a little daunted by its workhorse build and appearance, and so may find the K-r a better bet. Either way the K-5 offers a solid alternative to Nikon and Canon, if not quite a value for money price tag that would make it a hands down better option. Having said that, for those counting the pixels it offers two million more than the flagship (but older) K-7.

Pentax K5 launch date: out now: Pentax

Pentax price: £1200

Olympus Pen E-P3 Specs:

  • Sensor: 16.2 megapixel 23.7x15.7mm CMOS
  • Lens: 18-55mm lens supplied in reviewed kit bundle
  • Screen: 3-inch LCD 921,000 pixel screen
  • Video: Full HD 1920x1080 at 25fps
  • Storage: SD, SDHC (no internal memory)
  • Battery: Rechargeable lithium (up to 980 photos per charge)
  • Connections: USB 2.0, standard AV out,HDMI output
  • Dimensions/Weight: 131x97x73mm, 740g (with battery and card)