Weather sealing to protect against exposure to the elements (water, dust)
Speedy (albeit text-based) menu navigation
Images are very noisy after ISO 800
Colors appear oversaturated and inaccurate at default settings
The Pentax K-50 has a lot to like, with its tank-like, sturdy design and plethora of settings and controls. But color reproduction and noise levels at high ISOs make images a mixed bag.
A year since its release, Ricoh Imaging’s Pentax K-50 still touts something that no other consumer grade entry-level SLR camera offers: weather sealing. While it’s not enough protection to save you if you dunk the camera in a pool, this sealing should give you peace of mind while using the camera in light weather or in the occasional splash zone. The K-50 has other appealing features, including its low price ($780 with an 18-55mm lens) and the fact that it can be custom ordered in up to 120 color combinations.
The K-50 is practically a twin of the similarly priced (lower MSRP, same ballpark street price) K-500. The two look identical and share most specs, but the K-50 is the better choice of the two by far. The K-500 lacks weather sealing and only uses AA batteries.
The biggest thing about the Pentax is that it’s not by either of the dominant forces in SLRs—Canon or Nikon. Pentax has always had its loyalists, and certainly if you have Pentax lenses in your collection from a previous model, that’s one reason to consider this camera. Another: Value. The Pentax offers a lot of functionality at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as enamored of the images it produces.
I tested the K-50 with a white matte chassis—a case design that made the camera stand out immediately amongst the crowd of black camera bodies. I found the white resistant to scratches and scuffs, but prone to getting dirt marks even when I didn’t think it was exposed to dirt.
The camera feels every bit of its 1.3 pounds. The deep grip felt comfortable, and I appreciated the indented finger rests at front (for your middle finger) and back (for your thumb). The camera felt balanced, unlike some models I’ve tried, which helps with the extra weight.
One thing that might account for that extra weight: Inside the camera sits a vibration reduction system that counters camera shake and helps to reduce dust on the camera’s sensor. The system works with most Pentax lenses, and can counter shake as well as adjust for sloping angles by up to one degree.
The K-50’s design feels familiar, mixing elements from both Nikon and Canon cameras. The easy-to-turn 360-degree dial on top has standard shooting modes: manual, shutter priority, aperture priority, automatic, movie, and program. Scene mode for 19 different creative presets, including macro as well as uncommon options like candlelight, night scene HDR, and pet. The dial itself has three other options that you don’t usually find in an SLR: TAV, for controlling both shutter and aperture, while auto-adjusting exposure via other settings; SV, for prioritizing ISO light sensitivity; and B for bulb, which helps achieve long exposures. I enjoyed using the TAV setting, simply because I could set the aperture and shutter speed, and let the camera figure out what ISO I needed to shoot at those settings.
On top of the grip sits the first of two horizontal navigation wheels. Use this to navigate among menu options. Another horizontal scroll wheel sits at back, below the dial; this one also controls menu navigation and zooms in and out of photos on playback. The on-screen display shows which scroll wheel to use for a given setting option, a convenience while you’re first learning the camera.
The control navigation did take me a bit to get used to. It’s not onerous, per se, but it still requires a little more thought than you might expect. But the wheels are easy to turn, the buttons easy to press, and I appreciated being able to use the four-way nav buttons (with center OK button) to make my way through screens, sometimes in lieu of using the rear scroll wheel. I found the buttons even more responsive and faster than the wheel, though your experience may differ.
While the on-screen display is colorful, and I appreciated its big, clear numbers, the Pentax’s menu design is text-heavy, with tiny icons and a dated look compared to more modern, clean graphics of competing models. Some newcomers to the SLR world may find the design intimidating, but it’s certainly manageable, if not pretty. The menus are a case of favoring function over form: I particularly appreciated how quickly I could navigate among shooting options and how I could customize the rear display for one of five options—including not showing any settings at all. But sometimes I was confounded by the menu operation. For example, after I enabled the option to select focus points, I couldn’t easily figure out how to use the four-way nav for other menus settings.
On the left edge of the camera are a handful of unusual controls. At the bottom-left sits a dial for adjusting the focus mode, but most competing manufacturers put these options into the focus menu. Higher up along the side sits a handy button for taking a single RAW photo—or you can program this button for several functions. And to the left of the viewfinder is a button for switching to Live View, and for deleting images during playback.
Weatherproof sealing is appealing for taking your camera out in the snow or rain, or if you’re concerned about being splashed by the pool. All external components are sealed and protected—even the SD Card slot door at right has a rubberized gasket inside to protect the card. While Pentax doesn’t quote any formal ruggedization standards ratings, the company does say it’s “fully weather sealed throughout the body,” and that it’s coldproof to -10 degrees Fahrenheit. The K-50 has a video/PC output under one rubberized flap, and a cable release input under another.
The Pentax K-50 has 11 auto-focus point, nine of which are cross-point. I found that adequate for composing images, though I still appreciate more points when I can get them. To change those points (and to set auto-focus operation and the behavior of the external switch noted earlier), you’ll need to dig into the menu options under AF. Once I enabled all 11 points, I could switch the focus point easily using the four-way nav buttons at the back of the camera.
The camera’s 16.3-megapixel sensor has a 1.5x focal length conversion factor on the included 18-55mm lens. Images shot at all focal lengths looked good. But I was disappointed with the noise in images. Colors often looked inaccurate and oversaturated at default settings. At ISO 800, images looked visibly noisy, and at 1600 they were simply more so. Higher ISOs like 3200 yielded soft images, with loss of detail.
Focus speed seemed sufficiently fast for everyday shooting. So, too, did the five-frames-per-second capture speed, which is competitive for cameras of this price—and outpaces the three fps of the Canon T5. This speed will work well to capture fast-moving action, though some sports may benefit from more frames per second.
Another noteworthy point: If you do shoot RAW, Pentax uses Adobe’s open lossless RAW image format, DNG. This means you don’t need your software to support a proprietary RAW format, as Photoshop, Lightroom, and other software will read DNG.
This model lacks an external microphone input. This means you’re limited to the single built-in mic for video capture. So even though you can capture 1080p video, we’d recommend looking elsewhere if video factors big into your plans for this camera.
The included lithium-ion battery is good for about 480 shots. But another unique benefit of the K-50: It can use four AA batteries, a real boon if you’re traveling and in a bind for power. Ordinary AA batteries can be found most anywhere. If you use lithium AA batteries, Pentax says the batteries should last for over 1200 shots.
The Pentax K-50 is chock-full of features, and those features—many of them, including in-camera vibration reduction and weather sealing, unique at this price—increase its allure. But its mixed image quality constrains its appeal.
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