HandlingSince the K10D, Pentax has been alternating its updates: the K20D kept the same body but had new internal electronics, while the K-7 had pretty much the same internal components as its predecessor but had a very different design. Logically then, the K-5 has an almost identical body to the K-7, but is entirely different on the inside. It has the same high-quality, almost flawless build, an advanced weatherproof finish (the 18-55 mm WR and 18-135 mm WR lenses are also weatherproofed), and the most compact design ever seen in this range. In fact, every last millimetre of space is used on the inside of the camera to help keep its size down.
Users with larger hands could, however, find the camera a bit too small for them. But for everyone else, the K-5 offers excellent handling. All the controls seem to be perfectly placed under your fingers and are logically laid out.
The back of the K-5 is identical to the K-7, and has the same nice VGA screen, which although now pretty much standard on this kind of camera, is still as pleasant as ever to use.
ResponsivenessThe K-5 holds no great surprises in this field. Like other SLR cameras, it starts up almost instantly (cleaning the sensor does make for a slight delay, but you won't really notice it in practice). It's up and running in under half a second.
The stopwatch doesn't always do justice to the progress made by autofocus systems. In low light—a traditional weakness for Pentax cameras—we got the same times as with the K-7. In practice, however, the K-5 autofocus is much more reliable and less hesitant, and you really will notice the difference on a day-to-day basis. It's not quite as speedy as the latest Nikon autofocus systems, and the K-5 doesn't always keep track of a subject that moves through the frame (a Nikon speciality from the D300 and D90 onwards). All in all though, the Pentax K-5 does a more than decent job.
The burst mode isn't quite as fast as announced, but with 6.8 fps for 7 Raw+Jpeg shots or 6.4 fps for over 30 Jpeg pictures, it's still pretty good. Just three years ago, only professional cameras could do as much!
Finally, a quick word about the Live View on-screen viewfinder. Until now, we didn't really mention this feature in our SLR reviews, as we found it pretty much useless since it was never really responsive enough to use. On the K-5, like the D3100 we've also recently tested, this is no longer the case. There's still a delay of 1 to 2 seconds when focusing, and it's still not as good as in compacts with interchangeable lenses (contrast-detection specialists!), but the screen can now reasonably and realistically be used as a viewfinder without proving too frustrating.
Picture QualityThis was the big disappointment of the K-7. It's also one major thing that's changed in the K-5, as the sensor and internal components are all new.
Ok, so the last two settings are useless, but that's no big deal as far as we're concerned, as they're only accessible via a custom function (as is the 80 ISO setting). Otherwise, from 100 to 1600 ISO, it's actually quite hard to tell the images apart since they're all very good. At 3200 ISO, speckling starts to appear but isn't really a problem until 6400 ISO. On the K-7, the same was true from 1600 ISO!
We've already used the 18-55 mm WR kit lens supplied and it behaved as expected. In other words, it's quite good on the whole, particularly for a kit lens, but it's plagued by a certain amount of distortion and chromatic aberration in wide-angle mode—two problems that can be easily overcome by shooting in Raw and using demosaicing software or by activating the appropriate functions in the camera.
VideoThe K-5 video function is up to the current standards of SLR video modes. Picture quality is good at 720p and 1080p, and the image is sharp with noise kept in check. Manual focusing is probably your best bet as the autofocus is still really a speciality of micro four-thirds cameras, Sony's NEX range and its new models with semi-transparent mirrors. The K-5 records mono sound that's OK but nothing more, and which is certainly nowhere near as good as in the Sony Alpha 55!
Inferior-quality sound would usually stop a camera from getting a five-star score. However, the K-5 has so many other strong points (excellent picture quality, full weatherproofing etc.) that we still decided to give it five stars. It also has a microphone socket, which means that anyone who's serious about video can bypass the dodgy mono sound by hooking up a better-quality mic.
However, manufacturers take note: decent sound is now a pre-requisite in decent consumer compacts and so there's no reason it shouldn't also feature in expert-level SLRs!
- Good build and all-weather casing
- Advanced custom settings (buttons and rings)
- Fast and responsive, even the on-screen viewfinder
- Excellent picture quality (noise handled very well)
- Incredibly compact / mechanical stabilisation system
- Focusing with on-screen viewfinder still not as good as in certain micro four-thirds cameras
- Mono microphone (but stereo socket available for an external mic.)
- Grip handle placed a little to high for big hands
The K-5 isn't short of top-notch competitors but it's definitely up there with the best. It has several key advantages you'll be hard pushed to find elsewhere (full weatherproofing, mechanical stabilisation, custom controls) and offers excellent overall performances. Only users who are serious about video will be let down by the mono sound.