Pentax K-5 IIs review

The Pentax K-5 IIs omits a low-pass filter in order to capture extremely fine image detail, but its video capture capabilities are behind the times.
Photo of Pentax K-5 IIs

The Pentax K-5 IIs ($1,299.95 direct, body only)  sets itself apart from the nearly identical K-5 II  by something it lacks: a low-pass filter. Elminating this filter allows the camera to capture sharper detail, although it comes at the risk of picking up moiré color patterns in certain shooting situations. Like the K-5 II, the 16-megapixel camera shoots at an impressive 6.2 frames per second, is sealed for use in harsh weather, and delivers excellent photos even at high ISO settings. It’s on a par with our Editors’ Choice Sony Alpha 77 , but a disappointing video experience prevents it from ousting that camera from its perch.

Design and Features
The K-5 IIs’s body is identical in design to its predecessor, the K-5 . Compared with other cameras in its class, it’s quite small, measuring only 3.8 by 5.2 by 2.9 inches and weighing about 1.6 pounds. Compare this to Canon’s EOS 60D , which measures 4.2 by 5.7 by 3.1 inches and weighs 1.7 pounds. If you prefer a bit more bulk to your camera, you can extend the battery life and make the K-5 IIs a bit bigger by adding the D-BG4 Battery Grip—it attaches to the bottom of the camera and adds two control wheels and a shutter release for vertical shooting.

There are ample physical controls on the camera’s svelte body. There’s a mode dial on the top, to the left of the viewfinder, which also features a toggle switch to change between spot, center weighted, and average metering patterns. On the other side of the viewfinder you’ll find buttons to fire the shutter, adjust EV compensation, and change the ISO. There’s also a monochrome LCD, with a backlight, that displays current shooting settings.

Front and rear control dials are there to adjust settings during shooting. There’s the reprogrammable Green button, a toggle switch to change the autofocus point selection mode, and buttons to adjust white balance, change the drive mode, adjust Flash settings, and to adjust the JPG color settings.

Like other cameras in this class, the K-5 IIs has a solid glass pentaprism viewfinder that gives you a 100 percent view of the frame. Most lower-priced cameras use a pentamirror finder that is not as bright and often doesn’t capture the extreme edges of what the camera can capture. Pentax’s own K-30 is an exception to this rule—it’s one of the few sub-$1,000 cameras that has a top-end optical viewfinder.

The rear display is 3 inches in size and sharp at 921k dots. It is identical in quality to that of the K-5 and K-30, but eliminates the air gap that exists between the screen and its protective cover. It definitely looks better than the K-5′s display when viewed side-by-side.

The camera’s weather-sealing lets you shoot away in rain and other types of inclement weather. Pentax SLRs have become very popular with outdoor enthusiasts. Time has proven that the K-5′s sealing is top-notch, and the build quality of the K-5 IIs is identical. Pentax has a good selection of both zoom and prime lenses that are sealed, and if you do see yourself shooting in the elements, you will want to marry the camera to one of these. Popular options include the SMC DA 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 ED AL (IF) DC WR  and any of the top-end DA* line of Pentax lenses, including the wide-aperture 55mm f/1.4 DA* SDM prime optic.

The compact design lends itself especially well to the Pentax lens system, which has a strong selection of compact prime lenses. If you’re more of a zoom lens person, it’s wise to take a look at Pentax’s current lineup before adopting the system—there are f/2.8 lenses that cover the 16-50mm and 50-135mm range, the only other fixed-aperture zoom is a 60-250mm f/4 lens. There’s also no full-frame upgrade option for Pentax owners—as such all but a handful of lenses are designed only for use with APS-C sensor cameras. Canon, Nikon, and Sony all offer full-frame body options, and sell full-frame lenses that can be used on either body type.

One byproduct of the weather sealing is that it helps to quiet the sound of the shutter—it’s one of the quietest you’ll find on a traditional D-SLR. Sony cameras like the Alpha 77, which feature fixed mirrors and electronic viewfinders, are quieter—but only because the mirror doesn’t move when taking a photo.

Performance and Conclusions
The K-5 IIs is capable of rattling off a lot of shots in fast succession. It shoots at about 6.2 frames per second, but more impressive it can keep going for 23 Raw+JPG shots, 24 Raw photos, or 31 JPG shots before slowing down. Recovery time with a Sandisk 95MBps memory card after a full burst is is about 28 seconds if shooting in Raw or Raw+JPG, and only 17.3 seconds when shooting JPG only. The Sony Alpha 77 does shoot a bit faster—it hits 10.3 frames per second in our tests—but was only able to keep that pace up for about 12 shots, though it is able to recover more quickly from a burst when using the same speed memory card.

The camera starts and shoots in about 0.8 second and delivers a very short 0.1-second shutter lag. In good light it brings a very out of focus shot into clear view and fires on about 0.6-second, a figure that can extend to about 1.7 seconds in dim light. Focus is much slower in Live View mode. It takes about 1.9 seconds to lock on in good light and an average of 2.8 seconds in dim light when using Live View. Despite being much older, the Nikon D300s  starts and shoots just slightly faster at 0.7 second, and can lock focus in good light in about 0.4-second, but its Live View focus is also slow at about 2 seconds.

The main differentiation between the K-5 IIs and its sibling, the K-5 II is the presence of a low-pass filter. The latter has one, and the former does not. This type of filter is used to prevent moiré patterns, which can show up when photographing fabrics, feathers, and other mesh patterns, showing up as an unwanted rainbow effect in your images. In doing so, the low-pass filter robs an image of some sharpness. This isn’t something that shows up when shooting our standard test chart, as that relies on simple contrast to deliver a score, but it is evident when viewing sample images. We’ve included one in the slideshow that shows a detail crop of the same scene as shot by both cameras using the Pentax SMC FA 43mm f/1.9 Limited lens at its sharpest aperture, f/4.

There are other cameras on the market without the filter as well—Fuji’s X-Pro1 doesn’t have one, but uses a bigger six-by-six color array rather than the traditional four-by-four used in most cameras, a design that promises to eliminate the possibility of moiré patterns from appearing in images. Leica sticks with the standard four-by-four pattern, but omits the filter to maximize the sharpness of its high-end M9-P rangefinder camera, and most medium format digital cameras, including Pentax’s own 645D omit the filter as well. If you’re concerned about moiré it’s probably best to choose the K-5 II over the K-5 IIs, but if it isn’t likely to be a frequent issue with your photography, the extra sharpness you get out of the K-5 IIs is worth its $100 premium.

I used Imatest to check the noise level in the out-of-camera JPGs captured by the K-5 IIs, using default noise reduction settings. The camera is able to keep noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 1600, and only barely crosses that threshold at ISO 3200, where it records 1.6 percent noise. At ISO 3200, Raw files from the K-5 IIs show less noise than those from the 24-megapixel Sony Alpha 77, although the two cameras do run neck and neck in terms of detail. The K-5 IIs also edges that camera out in terms of noise and detail in JPG format at that ISO setting. Cranking the ISO up to 6400 extends the K-5 II’s lead, as it really kills the Alpha 77 in both noise control and detail there in Raw, although this is the setting at which detail starts to fall apart for the camera in JPG format using default noise reduction settings.

The K-5 IIs isn’t the best camera we’ve seen at ultra-high ISOs—unsurprisingly the full-frame Nikon D4  runs circles around it, but that’s a $6,000 professional body. The K-5 IIs does manage to equal one of the best mirrorless cameras that we’ve tested, the Sony Alpha NEX-6 , in a direct comparison of high ISO Raw files.

Pentax uses in-body shake reduction in its D-SLRs, a departure from Canon and Nikon, both of which build stabilization into select lenses. This gives the K-5 IIs the added benefit of steadying the shot with any compatible lens. You can use any K-mount optic with the camera, giving you access to decades worth of lenses—and M42 lenses can also be used via an adapter. When using manual focus lenses you’ll have to rely on the viewfinder or Live View to focus—unfortunately there’s no Focus Peaking implemented as there is in the K-30. Peaking highlights in-focus areas of an image on the Live View display, speeding manual focus—shooters with a large selection of manual focus Pentax lenses may find the K-30 a more suitable body for that reason, even though it doesn’t have as many physical controls or pro connections as the K-5 IIs does, and its Raw imaging engine only offers 12-bit recording versus the 14-bit capture that the K-5 IIs can handle.

The K-5 IIs’s weakest link is its video capture mode. Quite frankly, it hasn’t been improved in the slightest when compared to the K-5. Video quality tops out at 1080p25 and 720p30 resolution in AVI format, and the camera can’t autofocus during video recording. The video is very crisp and shows good color, but the 25fps frame rate isn’t the best at capturing fast action—you’ll get smoother footage from a camera that can record at 30 or 60fps like the Alpha 77, and of course you’ll have to remember to adjust the focus ring in order to keep your subject in sharp focus as it moves through the frame. The less-expensive Pentax K-30, which was released earlier in the year can autofocus when recording video, albeit slowly, but doesn’t feature a mic input port like the K-5 IIs has. The camera does have a mini HDMI port to connect to an HDTV, as well as a proprietary USB connection, a PC Sync socket for studio strobe triggering, a DC power input, and a wired remote control port. Standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are supported.

If you’ve already bought into the Pentax system, you’ve only got a couple of D-SLR options open to you if you are considering upgrading to a current model. The K-5 IIs delivers excellent images and is rife with controls, but its video recording functionality leaves a lot to be desired. For that reason, the less expensive K-30 may be a better fit—even though it can’t use an external mic, it can autofocus during video recording, offers an excellent viewfinder, and is no slouch in the imaging department.

If you’re not committed to a lens system and video recording is a priority, don’t discount the Sony Alpha 77—thanks to its fixed-lens design, its video autofocus speed is extremely quick and there are numerous high-quality recording options. It is still our Editors’ Choice, in spite of a design that uses an EVF (albeit a very good one) instead of an optical pentaprism. However, if video isn’t a concern, and you are interested in a weather-sealed camera with pro-level control, a compact design, and excellent still imaging capability, the biggest question may be whether you want one with a low-pass filter, or without. This reviewer is of the opinion that the K-5 IIs is worth the extra $100, as images from that camera show crisper details, but if you shoot subject matter that will introduce troublesome moiré you’ll likely disagree.

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Specifications
Dimensions 3.8 x 5.2 x 2.9 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary, mini HDMI, Mic, Remote, PC Sync
Megapixels 16 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.16 seconds
LCD dots 921000
LCD size 3 inches
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 51200
Type D-SLR
GPS No
Boot time 0.8 seconds
Sensor Type CMOS
Weight 1.63 lb
Lens Mount Pentax K
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
LCD Aspect Ratio 4
Image Stabilization In-Body
Shutter Lag 0.1 seconds
Sensor Size 23.7 x 15.7 (APS-C) mm
Viewfinder Type Optical

Verdict
The Pentax K-5 IIs omits a low-pass filter in order to capture extremely fine image detail, but its video capture capabilities are behind the times.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
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