Pentax K-50 review

The Pentax K-50 is a fully weather-sealed D-SLR camera with an big optical viewfinder and fast burst shooting capability. It's available to order in any of 120 color combinations, but its video functionality is behind the times.
Photo of Pentax K-50

The Pentax K-50 ($699.95 direct, body only) is a solid midrange D-SLR camera, which happens to be available in any of 120 color combinations. Despite the fact that it can be had in a lilac and pink color scheme, it’s a serious photographic tool. Cosmetics aside, it’s the same body as last year’s K-30, offering weather sealing, a 16-megapixel APS-C image sensor, a pentaprism viewfinder, and fast 5.9fps burst shooting. It’s not quite as well-rounded a camera as our Editors’ Choice Nikon D5200, which is a better SLR for recording video thanks to superior autofocus and a hinged rear LCD. But if video isn’t a concern, the Pentax K-50 is good alternative for shutterbugs who enjoy taking photos in inclement weather and for discerning shooters who are underwhelmed by the D5200′s pentamirror viewfinder.

Design and Features
The K-50 is fairly compact, measuring just 3.8 by 5.1 by 2.8 inches (HWD) and weighing in at 1.4 pounds. It’s a smidge smaller than the Canon EOS Rebel T5i (3.9 by 5.2 by 3.1 inches), but the T5i is lighter at just 1.1 pounds. One of the reasons that the K-50 is heavy is that its viewfinder is a solid glass pentaprism. It covers 100 percent of the frame, so your exact frame in the finder, and it’s a bit larger and brighter than the pentamirror finders found in the T5i, D5200, and most other sub-$1,000 cameras. Another factor is the weather sealing; each button and dial is protected by a gasket, so you can shoot in very rough weather. You can’t submerge the camera in water, since it’s not rated for that, but feel free to go out and shoot photos in a blizzard or hurricane with the K-50 when it’s paired with a sealed lens.

Also setting the camera apart from others in this class is a dual dial control system with programmable functionality. Advanced shooters will love the ability to assign EV compensation, ISO control, and other common shooting settings to a dial that would normally go unused when shooting in aperture or shutter priority modes. If you’re not as knowledgeable about the ins and outs of photography, you can set the K-50 to operate in auto or program mode and fire away as it takes control of settings. There are also a number of Scene modes available. These aren’t quite as user-friendly as the Guide Mode found on the Nikon D3200, but do give some explanation as to when they are applicable.

There are enough physical controls packed into the K-50′s compact body to keep advanced shooters happy, though not as many as the Pentax K-5 II—a more advanced camera that features a PC flash sync connector and a dedicated control to select the active AF point, both of which are absent from the K-50. You’ll find buttons that adjust the ISO, activate exposure lock, control the flash, set the self-timer and drive mode, and control white balance on the rear, as well as a reprogrammable Raw button and a switch to toggle between autofocus modes on its left side.

The rear LCD is 3 inches in size and has a 921k-dot resolution. It’s fixed, unlike the tilting display found on the Sony Alpha 65, which makes it a bit harder to use the camera if you need to shoot from an odd angle. The display is extremely sharp, though, and when you activate live view mode you have the option of using focus peaking as a focusing aid. This feature highlights in-focus areas of your frame to improve accuracy when focusing manually. Peaking works for stills only—the camera’s processor isn’t quite up to the task of keeping it active during video recording—but is a boon to anyone with a library of older, manual focus Pentax lenses. Like the company’s other D-SLRs, you can use any K-mount lens without the need for adapters—that’s close to 40 years worth of glass at your disposal. Like other Pentax SLRs, the shake reduction is built into the body, not into the lens, so any glass that you attach will benefit from stabilization.

The K-50 can be had as a body only, but only in a few of the 120 color combinations. In order to customize it completely you’ll need to order it with the DA-L 18-55mm WR kit lens, which increases the price to $779.95. The WR designation means that the lens is sealed against weather as well, and this particular version of the lens (which features a plastic mount rather than a metal one) is only available when purchased along with a body. There’s also a two-lens kit, which adds the telephoto zoom DA-L 50-200mm WR lens; that sells for $879.95. If shooting in bad weather isn’t a concern, but you still like the K-50, you can save some money by opting for the K-500. It’s the same camera, minus the sealing and minus a rechargeable battery; it is powered by standard AA cells. It’s compatible with the same rechargeable battery that ships with the K-50; you’ll just have to spend a bit and buy it and a charger separately if AA batteries aren’t for you. The K-500 can be had for $599.95 with an 18-55mm lens, or for $699.95 with an 18-55mm and 50-200mm two-lens kit.

Performance and Conclusions
The K-50 isn’t the fastest camera to start and shoot, but it makes up for it with a short shutter lag and an impressive continuous shooting rate. It requires about 1.4 seconds to turn on and fire a photo, but its shutter lag is only 0.1-second in good light. If an image is out of focus to start, that figure increases to an average of 0.4-second. In low light the autofocus slows a bit, requiring about 1.9 seconds to bring an image into clear view when using the optical viewfinder. Live view focus in good light requires about 0.8 second in bright light, and can slow to 2.3 seconds in dim light. Compare this to the Nikon D5200, a body that starts and shoots in a mere 0.7-second. Its autofocus system averages about 0.2-second in good light, but can slow to about 1.2 seconds in dim light—not that far off from the K-50. The D5200 is slower in live view mode, requiring about 1.9 seconds to lock and fire in good light and about 3.6 seconds in low light. These are average figures and depend on your subject matter; if you’re trying to use the K-50 to focus in live view on a dark object with very little contrast the time can stretch out to four seconds, but that can be said of any camera with a contrast detect live view focus system.

Where the K-50 really impresses is in its burst rate. It can capture photos at an impressive 5.9 frames per second, better than the 4fps that both the D5200 and Canon EOS Rebel T5i netted in our lab tests. It can keep up this pace for an impressive 48 shots when shooting in JPG format, but only manages 7 shots in Raw or Raw+JPG format. Shooting slows down when the buffer fills, but doesn’t stop. It takes about 8 seconds to fully clear the buffer to a SanDisk 95MBps memory card. This is in line with the T5i; it manages 39 JPG shots, and is also limited to 7 Raw images at a clip.

We are reviewing the K-50 as a body only, but we use Imatest to check the performance of the 18-55mm weather-sealed lens that can be had with the camera in a kit. The lens delivers typical performance for an 18-55mm design. At its widest angle it shows noticeable barrel distortion, about 2.7 percent, and is sharper than the 1,800 lines per picture height that we require of a photo to be considered sharp. The resolution at f/3.5 is 1,905 lines, measured using a center-weighted method. The edge performance is very weak, only 982 lines. Stopping down to f/5.6 is recommended; it improves the overall score to 2,434 lines with edges that top 1,515 lines.

The lens is at its best at 35mm, where the maximum aperture narrows to f/4.5. There’s no distortion, and the overall sharpness is an impressive 2,257 lines, with edges that hit 1,735 lines. Stopping down to f/5.6 delivers excellent performance from edge to edge, with an overall score of 2,497 lines and edges that approach 2,100 lines.

At 55mm the lens shows just a little bit of pincushion distortion, about 0.6 percent, and records 2,095 lines at its maximum f/5.6 aperture. Edges are a little weaker here than at 35mm, about 1,585 lines. Stopping down to f/8 improves the score to 2,345 lines with edge resolution of 1,654 lines. Overall the lens is a much better performer than the 18-55mm that Sony bundles with its Alpha 65 camera; it only manages 1,356 lines at its widest angle, improving slightly as you zoom to 55mm, where it scores 1,761 lines. Thankfully Sony has replaced that lens with a new design; it was first released with the Alpha 58 camera.

Imatest also checks images for noise. The K-50 uses a 16-megapixel APS-C image sensor, and is capable of capturing images in Raw or JPG format. We tested its JPG output at default settings; the K-50 allows for extensive customization of the amount of noise reduction that is applied to images at high ISO settings. It’s able to keep noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 3200, and is only barely over that mark at ISO 6400. We were quite impressed with the JPG detail at ISO 3200, and wouldn’t hesitate to shoot in that format at ISO 6400 in a pinch. But at higher settings images start to lose detail from smudging. Other cameras in this class lag behind the K-30 a bit in terms of noise control; the T5i and Sony Alpha 65 only keep noise below 1.5 percent through ISO 1600. The exception is the Nikon D5200, which also keeps noise under control through ISO 3200.

It’s always a good idea to shoot in Raw if you are willing to take the time to process your images, as it gives you complete control over noise reduction using advanced software like Photoshop Lightroom. We looked at Raw images from the camera on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W display. Image detail is impressive at ISO 12800 when shooting in Raw mode, and quite useable even at ISO 25600, but there’s an excessive amount of grain at the top ISO setting of 51200. If you opt to pick up the K-50 and don’t want to deal with a Raw workflow, you should play around with the noise reduction settings at each ISO setting so that you can balance the amount of detail and the graininess of photos to suit your tastes.

In terms of video capture, the K-50 records 1080p30 or 720p60 footage in QuickTime format, with supports for 25fps and 24fps options at either resolution as well. The footage looks good, especially when ones of Pentax’s better lenses is attached, but autofocus is a disappointment. Autofocus during video is slow, and it must be initiated manually by hitting the AF button. You can see what area of the frame is active during focus before you start recording, but that disappears when video is actually rolling, so there’s a little bit of guesswork involved in knowing what the camera is attempting to focus on. You can record video in program, aperture priority, or manual mode, but settings are locked once the recording begins. There’s no mic input, so you’ll be limited to using the camera’s internal microphone for audio. Depending on which lens you pair with the camera, it can be quiet or loud during focusing. The Pentax SMC FA 43mm f/1.9 Limited captures some beautiful video with a shallow depth of field and sharp details, but it’s insanely loud if you try to engage autofocus when recording. If video performance is key, consider a camera like the Alpha 65, or if an optical viewfinder is a necessity, the D5200—both offer continuous autofocus while recording, and both have mic input ports.

The K-50 ships with a rechargeable battery, but an adapter is available that makes it possible to power the camera with 4 AA batteries. Its only ports are a proprietary USB port and a remote control port—there’s no HDMI output. It supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards. If you want a Pentax camera with more connectivity options, consider the top-end K-5 II and K-5 IIs; each adds a flash sync socket, DC power input, and mini HDMI output.

We lauded last year’s Pentax K-30 as an excellent value, and the K-50 is no different. It’s essentially the same camera, albeit with different cosmetics and an absurd amount of build-to-order color options, at a lower price. Its pentaprism viewfinder is one of the best you’ll find in a sub-$1,000 D-SLR, it can rattle off shots at just under 6 frames per second, it offers in-body image stabilization, it’s fully weather sealed, and the image quality is top notch. Video performance is a disappointment, and it keeps the K-50 from robbing the Editors’ Choice crown from the Nikon D5200. But if video isn’t a concern, and you’re after a compact D-SLR with excellent image quality, strongly consider the K-50.

Specifications
Dimensions 3.8 x 5.1 x 2.8 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary, Remote
Megapixels 16 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.17 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 1.4 seconds
Sensor Type CMOS
Weight 1.4 lbs
Lens Mount Pentax K
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
LCD Aspect Ratio 3
Image Stabilization In-Body
Shutter Lag 0.1 seconds
Sensor Size 18 x 24 (APS-C) mm
Viewfinder Type Optical

Verdict
The Pentax K-50 is a fully weather-sealed D-SLR camera with an big optical viewfinder and fast burst shooting capability. It's available to order in any of 120 color combinations, but its video functionality is behind the times.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
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