Pentax K-5 II at a glance:

  • 16.3-million-pixel APS-C stabilised CMOS sensor
  • ISO 80-51,200
  • Weatherproof body
  • SAFOX X AF sensor
  • 7fps high-speed continuous  shooting
  • Optical viewfinder with 100% field of view
  • Street price around £800

Pentax K-5 II review – Introduction

As its name suggests, the Pentax K-5 II is a direct replacement for the Pentax K-5, which was tested in AP 15 January 2011. The camera received a high score in the review, and praise has been heaped on it ever since. Many photographers have claimed that it has the best overall image quality of any DSLR with an APS-C-sized sensor, so the K-5 II has a lot to live up to.

In the two years between the K-5 and K-5 II, there has been very little movement in enthusiast DSLR section of the market. The two-year-old Nikon D7000 is still current, as is the three-year-old Canon EOS 7D. We have seen many new cameras and steps forward in imaging technology in other areas, though, particularly professional-level DSLRs and compact system cameras. Some companies are all about the big numbers, such as more pixels, faster frame rates, smaller bodies and the latest in connectivity. It is perhaps the photography enthusiasts – at which the K-5 II is aimed – who are the most demanding audience of all, and the ones who drive many of the changes. From this point of view, the K-5 II comes across as a little disappointing.

A comparison of Pentax’s flagship K-5 II with its predecessor shows there are few changes, but noteworthy developments include the revised sensor, new SAFOX X AF system and brighter LCD display. However, with the cameras side by side they appear virtually identical. On the surface, this seems to be a compliment to the K-5 – that two years on, it is still up there with the best of them – but it will be interesting to see how the new competition shapes up, as and when it arrives.

Perhaps unsurprising is the fact that Pentax has created a second version of the camera, the K-5 IIs. This is almost identical to the K-5 II, except that it has no anti-aliasing filter. We have seen this before in the Nikon D800 and D800E. In short, the K-5 IIs is at a greater risk of moiré patterning in fine image detail, but in return it produces sharper images. At the time of writing we have not had our hands on the K-5 IIs, but when we do we will run a comparison test against the K-5 II to see how the image quality is affected.

Pentax K-5 II review – Features

Image: There is a good level of in-camera edits. From the original JPEG image shot at ISO 25,600, a cyanotype filter has been added, the image cropped and the exposure brightened +1EV

There have been many variations of Sony’s APS-C-sized 16-million-pixel sensor – think the Nikon D7000, Pentax K-5 and Sony Alpha 57 – and two years later there are still cameras being released that use it. The reason for this is that it is very good. The K-5 II features a revised version of the 16.3-million-pixel Sony CMOS sensor used in the K-5. The company claims the revisions are for improved video use, while stills photographers are unlikely to notice any difference. There is 14-bit raw capture available in the universally accepted DNG format or Pentax’s own PEF format, with file sizes in the region of 30MB.

Image stabilisation up to 3EV is provided in-camera through sensor-shift shake reduction, and all K-mount Pentax lenses can make use of this. Other benefits that come from the sensor-shift include basic composition adjustment modes, such as auto horizon correction. Also, with the optional GPS unit attached (O-GPS1), the astrotracer function is available. This function can eliminate star trails during long exposures. We explored astrotracer in more detail in the Pentax K-30 review (see AP 4 August 2012).

The K-5 II offers a host of useful shooting modes. There are seven digital filters, including toy camera, retro and a user-defined effect. HDR capture can be achieved in any one of four strengths or auto, and with an auto-align function enabled through sensor-shift. Provided one shoots in raw capture, though, there is little need to select any of these modes. This is because the K-5 II offers an excellent range of in-camera edits, so all these effects can be applied post-capture. Also, if the last image taken on the camera is a JPEG file, there is even a raw data-retrieval function.

A copy can be made from the original raw file through in-camera raw editing, where changes to the colour mode, white balance, ISO (±2EV), noise reduction, distortion corrections and shadow corrections can be made. The file can then be converted to JPEG or TIFF format.

As well as the picture effects, other in-camera effects include multiple exposure for up to nine frames with the option of auto EV adjustment. Interval timer offers a user-defined start time and up to a 999-frame capture. The drive mode menu is packed with options, too, including remote (for single, delay and continuous shooting), exposure bracketing (which can be combined with delay and remote) and mirror up (which can be combined with remote). Continuous high-speed shooting up to 7fps is likely to please action photographers. Of course, the memory card in use affects the performance of the camera in this mode. With a Class 10 UH-I SDHC card with 95MB/S write speed, I found up to 21-frame burst in full resolution raw + JPEG capture was possible, or a 30-frame burst in JPEG only. For raw + JPEG capture, the buffer takes around 30secs to clear, or less than 10secs in the JPEG-only burst, but the camera can be used while the buffer clears.

All in all, the K-5 II is definitely geared to the enthusiast photographer, who is likely to find all the functions he or she needs.

Pentax K-5 II review – ISO sensitivity

In its standard setting, the ISO range is 100-12,800. However, this range can be manually extended through the custom menu to a class-leading ISO 80-51,200. Unlike some other camera systems, the expanded settings are available at full resolution and in raw and JPEG capture.

Impressive as its performance may be in low light, noise is evident at the high ISO settings. In the high ISO NR menu, one can choose between low, medium, high and auto NR.

What is particularly useful, though, is the custom NR setting. With this setting selected, the low, medium, high and auto NR settings can be individually selected for each ISO setting. This eliminates the need to fiddle with the NR settings for JPEG files every time one changes the ISO setting.

Pentax K-5 II review – Build and handling

Not only does the feature set of the K-5 II cover a broad range of scenarios, but the camera is built to a high standard and its handling is intuitive, too. For a camera of its class, the K-5 II is both small and lightweight, weighing 760g including battery and card. The body is made up of a stainless-steel chassis and weather-sealed magnesium-alloy shell. Pentax claims the camera can operate down to -10°C. Indeed, I recently went out shooting with it on a night when the temperature was close to that figure, and experienced no problems whatsoever. The camera seems more than able to resist a light rain shower, too.

Being a lightweight and small DSLR, the K-5 II can comfortably be lugged around all day. Its pronounced handgrip with its deep cavity ensures a good grip, even single-handed. Key exposure controls are intelligently placed around the camera, with ISO and exposure-compensation buttons a small movement away from the shutter release. The shutter response is near instant and it is tested to 100,000 cycles. It has a maximum 1/8000sec speed and offers a bulb mode on the shooting-mode dial. All in all, every button feels tactile, and the camera is built to last. However, to speed up access to frequently used controls that do not have a direct button, I would like to see more options available for customising certain buttons.

Battery life is measured up to 980 shots, which is excellent. Add the optional battery pack with second battery, and the capacity is doubled. Most of the compact system cameras and high-end compact cameras I have tested recently have a battery life in the region of 300-350 shots, so the advantage to the K-5 II is clear. At the end of a long day shooting landscapes and street scenes, the battery still reads half full.

The K-5 II uses the company’s K-mount lenses, which means there is a good number from which to choose. Lenses are securely fixed in place on the metal lens mount, which is weather-sealed. The camera features a built-in flash, which has good clearance from the body and has an output of GN 13m @ ISO 100. There is the usual complement of manual flash modes, and the camera offers basic wireless flash control through an optional external flash unit.

There are a few screens to work through to make user-defined adjustments, but for more frequent adjustments a quick menu is accessed via the info button. An extra press of this button brings up the digital level. It is worth going through each of the 27 options in the custom menu. For example, as a default the extended ISO settings (ISO 25,600 and 51,200) are deactivated. Also, I would advise those who do not want the 7fps high-speed continuous shooting to slow down during capture, to switch to frames per second priority over focus priority.

Pentax’s interface may look a little dated now, but enthusiast photographers are likely to find the functions they need, that the camera is responsive across a number of shooting situations and that it is rugged for tough conditions.

Pentax K-5 II review – Metering

The K-5 II uses the same 77-segment metering system as its predecessor, which in its multi-segment mode has a tendency to underexpose – at times up to 1EV. This means that highlight detail is usually preserved, but images can be a little dark. Given that most enthusiast photographers work on their images post-capture, this is not a problem because the exposure can be brightened a little. For those who want print-ready images, dialling in up to +1EV is advised. However, the multi-segment exposure metering can be linked to the active AF point, so if one then switches to spot AF, the mode effectively turns to spot metering, which will be more accurate to the subject.

To change between multi-segment, centreweighted and spot-metering modes, the camera has a dedicated switch under the shooting-mode dial. Unfortunately, it is rather fiddly to control. Auto-exposure lock works really well, though. The button is handily placed on the top right of the camera’s rear, and needs just a single press to lock the exposure, even over a number of frames. There is an auto EV compensation option for when a ‘proper’ exposure is not obtained, but having used this control I am not convinced of its usefulness.

Image: The exposure in this landscape has been brightened +1EV, because the multi-segment metering errs to a darker exposure. Fringing is evident in this raw file on the far-left pontoon post, but lens corrections can be applied in-camera that deal with the issue in this instance

Pentax K-5 II review – Autofocus

On paper, the new SAFOX X AF system mostly reads the same as the last version. Both systems use the same 11-point set-up, nine points of which are the more sensitive cross type. The new AF system has been made more sensitive, though, which Pentax claims has been expanded to cover a -3EV to +18EV sensitivity range. To put this in perspective, -3EV is slightly darker than moonlight. Only the new Canon EOS 6D focuses down to -3EV, while Nikon’s D4 (which we have noted has about the best AF of any camera) focuses down to -2EV (moonlight). So, while 11 points may sound limiting when compared to the Nikon D7000’s 39-point set-up, the K-5 II’s system is very effective.

When facing challenging situations the AF was not the quickest I have used, but it was reliable, successfully locking onto a subject under some very dark lighting. Certainly, it is a better low-light operator than its predecessor, with the speed of focusing on close-range subjects aided by the AF assist lamp that works when the camera detects dim conditions.

For everyday scenes in bright light, AF is snappy. As mentioned earlier, for high-speed scenes, the K-5 II can struggle a little and I found it necessary to change the camera’s setting in the custom menu from focus priority to speed priority because otherwise the camera slows down too much. Using continuous AF in the 7fps continuous shooting mode, it can typically take up to three frames to lock onto a new subject, which is respectable. Object tracking would be useful, which is an AF mode that has become commonplace in other systems. Face-detection AF is possible in live view mode only.

Pentax K-5 II review – Dynamic range

Looking over a number of images captured with the K-5 II, it is clear that the camera is able to capture a wide range of tones. In high-contrast landscapes, the 16.3-million-pixel sensor captures slightly more detail in highlights and shadows than one would get with most other cameras. Put simply, the camera has to be up there with the best cameras for its ability to capture tonal detail. Going a step further, the K-5 II also offers a number of settings and modes that are designed either to extend the dynamic range or adjust the exposure levels to make detail more obvious.

In the D-Range setting menu, both highlight and shadow correction can be activated (which can be added post-capture to raw files, too), with each setting adjusting the exposure levels to make detail more obvious. Also, as noted in the features section, HDR capture can extend the dynamic range, and thanks to the auto align feature provided by sensor-shift, it is not necessary to use a tripod in this mode.

Pentax K-5 II review – White balance and colour

Image: In this portrait taken in the shade, the AWB gives colour rendition that is too cliical. The custom reading is notably warmer and better suited to the portrait

For the best part, the K-5 II can be left in its auto settings and its colour rendition is fine. There are a couple of manual adjustments that are worth making, though. The AWB setting is too cool for my liking, which is more noticeable in portraits where colour rendition is a little clinical. So, to keep a little warmth from a scene when using AWB, it is worth manually shifting the colour axis a couple of points away from blue to the amber side. Also, in the custom menu it is worth selecting the option to maintain warm colours in tungsten light when using AWB. However, most enthusiast photographers would, where possible, take time to make a custom WB reading to ensure the most accurate colour temperature. Taking a reading is a quick process, and up to three readings can be stored in the camera.

As for manual control over the colour rendition, there are nine colour modes to choose from. Bright is a pleasant balance between the understated natural setting and the bold vibrant setting. Of course, each of the colour settings can be adjusted for saturation, hue, contrast, sharpness and high/low key. Black & white photographers will be pleased to know that as well as a cyanotype through to sepia tonal adjuster, there are eight filter effects, including red, green and infrared.

Pentax K-5 II review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 16-50mm f/2.8 lens set to f/8. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

There are no surprises with the level of detail the K-5 II can resolve, because like the K-5, the new camera also uses a 16.3-million-pixel APS-C-sized sensor. At ISO 100 in raw format, the camera can reach the 28 marker on our resolution charts when using Pentax’s 16-50mm f/2.8 lens.

This level of performance is pretty standard at this level, but when pushed to its limits the K-5 II still performs well. For example, at ISO 12,800 the camera reaches the 24 marker. The camera’s native ISO 100-12,800 range can be extended to a class-leading ISO 80-51,200 range.

As part of an extensive number of in-camera edits, the ISO setting can be adjusted up to ±2EV post-capture.

I suspect that if new enthusiast DSLRs are announced, the K-5 II’s 16.3-million-pixel resolution may come up short.

We have already seen a 24.3-million-pixel APS-C-sized sensor used in the Sony Alpha 77 and Nikon D3200.

However, for those who do not print much larger than A3 size, this will be of little concern because the K-5 II’s 4928×3264-pixel output provides prints sized 16.5x11in at 300ppi, without the need for interpolation.

While there is not much new to report on resolution, this will be a different story with the K-5 IIs. We can expect this version to resolve a higher level of detail than the K-5 II, and we will compare the two cameras in the coming months.

Image: Brightening the exposure +3EV shows that noise is well controlled even in shadow areas

Pentax K-5 II review – LCD, viewfinder and video

The K-5 II features an optical viewfinder with 100% field of view, which is useful for achieving an accurate composition. Its display is a little darker than I would like, which can be a little problematic in low light, but otherwise it provides a pleasant viewing experience. The rear 3in LCD screen has the same 921,000-dot resolution as that in the K-5, but Pentax has introduced ‘air-gap-free’ technology in the K-5 II. This is a resin layer that fills the gap between the LCD screen and front glass panel to reduce glare, reflections and light dispersion. The result is a brighter and clearer display. I had no problems viewing the screen for composition using live view even in bright light, although the screen can benefit from dialling in extra brightness to get a better idea of exposure in playback. I would like to see an ambient brightness sensor that adjusts the screen’s brightness automatically, rather than achieving this manually. That said, there is no camera at this price point that offers such a control.

Video recording is solid rather than spectacular. Like the K-5, 1080p full HD capture is possible at 25fps, and the camera has a 3.5mm connection for an external microphone. A number of the in-camera edits can be made on video files as well as stills, such as the colour modes and digital filters.

Pentax K-5 II review – The competition

Image: Sony Alpha 77

We may be two years down the line from the Pentax K-5, but currently the K-5 II competes mostly against the same cameras. There has been very little action in this area of the market, apart from the Sony Alpha 77. The Alpha 77 has class-leading resolution, uses an EVF and offers high-speed shooting modes up to 10fps, but its low-light performance cannot match the K-5 II.

However, the Nikon D7000 is the most obvious competition to the K-5 II, and the two cameras match up in so many areas. Both feature a 16.3-million-pixel sensor, use an optical viewfinder with 100% field of view and have a weatherproof magnesium-alloy body.

Image: Nikon D7000

Those looking to buy the Pentax K-5 II may end up considering the K-5, because of the modest number of changes between models. The predecessor is significantly cheaper given its age and it is really only in the low-light focusing that one notices a difference between the two.

Pentax K-5 II review – Our verdict

More pixels, more AF points, more shooting modes and improved handling are the sort of changes we normally see when a next-generation camera is released. On the face of it, then, the K-5 II is a little disappointing. Its key improvements over the K-5 are its low-light focusing and brighter LCD screen, but otherwise there is little reason to upgrade. In its own right, the K-5 II is an excellent camera, with superb dynamic range and image quality in all lighting conditions. From a photographer’s point of view, I can find virtually no gripes about its handling, either, as the camera simply does the job and caters for each shooting scenario. As things stand, the K-5 II sits pretty in the enthusiast DSLR market, but I do wonder if this will still be the case as and when the competition announce their latest models.

Pentax K-5 II – Key features

Noise reduction

The K-5 II offers high ISO NR like most other DSLR cameras, but also slow shutter NR. The latter deals with noise that can occur during long-exposure images, and has a manual on, off or auto mode. In its manual mode, NR is applied to exposures that are longer than 1sec.

As well as external flash units, Pentax has an additional GPS (O-GPS1) unit that attaches to the hotshoe. With it attached, functions include electronic compass, simple navigation, auto time sync. and astrotracer

Copyright information
The K-5 II can embed copyright data onto each image. Both the name of the photographer and the copyright holder can be individually set by the user.

Connectivity on offer includes a 3.5mm mic, HDMI, PC/AV, DC in and remote.

Flash sync
In its standard flash mode, flash sync is up to a modest 1/180sec. Handily, on the shooting-mode dial is the flash sync mode, which locks the shutter speed to 1/180sec. However, the K-5 II offers a high-speed flash sync mode with its AF540GZ or AF360GZ flash units, which allows for shutter speeds faster than 1/180sec to be used with the flash units.

Sensor maintenance
To maintain the cleanliness of its sensor, the K-5 II offers pixel mapping, dust alert, dust removal and sensor cleaning. Pixel mapping checks for defective pixels, dust alert can display on the LCD where any dust and dirt resides on the sensor, dust removal deals with dry dirt on the sensor through vibration, and the sensor cleaning raises the mirror to allow the user to manually deal with wet dirt.

Live view
With live view employed, the grid, info overlay, histogram and bright/dark area can be displayed, as can the autofocus method. In flexible spot AF mode, the AF point can be selected. In still capture the display can be a little sluggish.

Info button
Every press of the info button scrolls through the four LCD display modes, which includes shooting display, quick menu (where key exposure controls can be changed), electronic level and to turn off the LCD display, which is necessary for clear use of the viewfinder.