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Pentax K-5 targets serious photo enthusiasts

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Pentax K-5 Digital SLR Camera

The Pentax K-5 DSLR is engineered for serious enthusiast photographers who want a weatherproof camera with excellent image quality, but in a smaller package than most in its class. The K-5’s solid magnesium alloy/stainless steel chassis feels good in the hands, it’s easy to operate the buttons and dials, and the 16.3 MP images Pentax’s flagship camera captures are high quality, even at ISO settings up to 3200.

Physical features

Despite the K-5 body being smaller than the Canon 60D and Nikon D5000 (two of its peers), it features plenty of physical controls including a mode dial, front and back e-dials, metering switching lever, main switch, and a host of useful buttons to control ISO, exposure compensation, playback, and more. Buttons and dials are well marked and intuitive to use. However, the settings screen on 3-inch LCD definitely feels more complicated, and it requires a trip to the owners manual to get the most out of it.

Speaking of the 3-inch LCD, it supports 921,000 dots of resolution and provides an excellent view of images. The top LCD panel glows bright green when you tap the shutter release and is easy to read in all lighting conditions. The K-5’s various ports (HDMI, AV, DC power, remote release) are on the sides behind rubber covers. A nice touch is the microphone terminal that is protected by its own, separate cover. The K-5 uses SD memory cards and is compatible with SDXC.

Video captured by the K-5 plays back cleanly and without difficulty on the Mac.


The K-5 fires up quickly when you move the power switch to the on position. Focusing, even with the kit 18-55mm zoom is responsive, thanks to the autofocus system that can be set to 5 or 11-AF points. The lens itself is a bit grindy sounding, especially if you’re used to silent motor zooms. The optical viewfinder shows 100 percent image, which is great. But it also has a warm cast. So what you see in the optical viewfinder is not precisely represented color-wise in the actual image.

When you take a picture, there’s a slight delay before the review image appears on the back LCD screen. The pause takes a little getting used to. Once the image does appear, however, it is faithfully displayed.

The 7 fps high speed burst mode is a pleasure and will get the attention of those standing around you. Quite honestly, it can send a chill up your spine if you’re not used to shooting at that speed.

The K-5 was a solid performer in cold, rainy conditions. No extra protection was required.

Notable features

Shake reduction: The body-based Shake Reduction stabilizes any Pentax or third-party lens than mounts on the camera.

Raw files: The camera has native support for both PEF Raw files (supported by Aperture and iPhoto) or 14-bit DNG. You choose which works best for you, or go with JPEG. In-camera Raw processing allows you to create a JPEG or Tiff file from Raw in-camera. It includes some nice options including output resolution, star rating, white balance, color space, and more.

Easy HDR: An HDR option produces wide dynamic range JPEGs with virtually no fuss. I found this feature particularly helpful in contrasty lighting situations.

Battery life: The camera has excellent battery life. I charged the battery when I received the camera, and shot for more than a week before recharging.

Live view: You can enable Live View by pressing the LV button on the back of the camera. Focusing in this mode is fast and accurate. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated movie button to record video. You have to change the setting on the Mode dial. And you can’t refocus while the movie is recording.

Electronic level: The electronic level is very easy to use and appears in the optical viewfinder, top LCD and back 3-inch LCD. It can be activated by programming the Raw/Fx button on the left side of the camera.

Broad ISO: The camera has a broad ISO sensitivity range, from ISO 80 to 51200, which is acceptable for general use up to ISO 3200.

You can shoot JPEGs or Pentax Raw files—both work fine in iPhoto and Aperture. If you prefer, the K-5 captures in DNG too.

Image and video quality

Image quality is outstanding throughout the ISO range to 3200—with excellent detail and good dynamic range. Noise is very well controlled without sacrificing picture quality. We only had the kit zoom for our testing, but we suspect this image sensor would reward top notch glass with superb images.

As for video, the K-5 also is a formidable device in terms of quality, but not highly versatile. It captures 1920-by-1080 HD video in a .AVI extension. QuickTime on a Mac displays the format as OpenDML JPEG at 25 fps (there are no other options for fps). Audio is 16-bit mono at 32.000 kHz. The footage looks and sounds very good.

Pentax includes Digital Camera Utility software with the K-5. The Mac version works with Mac OS X 10.4.11, 10.5, and 10.6. Currently, there isn’t a specific update for Lion, but latest version of Digital Camera Utility, 4.33, seems to work with Mac OS X 10.7.

Mac users may want to work with iPhoto or Aperture, however. And since both the .AVI movies and .PEF Raw files are supported by Apple, there’s no reason not to.

The built-in HDR function recorded more tonal range than was often possible with a straight exposure.

Compared to the HDR version, this image is flatter with less detail in highlights and shadows.

The HDR version is on the right.

Macworld's buying advice

The Pentax K-5 is a good choice for photographers who work in all types of outdoor environments and need a dependable DSLR that produces high quality images and video. Our main caveat is the relatively limited digital lens selection compared to the competition. But if you’re fine with working with a handful of Pentax lenses, then you’ll most likely be pleased with your purchase.

[Senior Contributor Derrick Story teaches digital photography on and runs a virtual camera club at The Digital Story.]

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Weather sealed Magnesium/stainless steel chassis
    • Excellent battery life
    • Both PEF Raw files and DNG formats available
    • Excellent image quality at wide ISO range
    • Fast 7fps burst mode
    • Good Mac compatibility
    • Variety of in-camera processing options


    • Limited movie setting options
    • Zoom lens a bit noisy during focusing
    • Optical viewfinder renders slightly warm tint
    • Limited lens selection compared to the competition
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