The Pentax K-5 II arrives with just a handful of improvements over its predecessor, and it’s launched with a virtually identical Pentax K-5 IIs sibling. But why? Read on to find out in our full review.
But wait – there’s more. In addition to a new flagship body, Pentax has released a further Pentax K-5 IIs model alongside, identical in all areas save for the lack of an anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor. This idea mirrors the launch of the Nikon D800/D800E pair last year, and is potentially useful to photographers who only tend to work within specific genres.
Pentax K-5 II review – Features
The Pentax K-5 II is virtually unchanged in specification from that of the Pentax K-5. The new model still has a 16.28MP APS-C CMOS sensor at its heart, which operates across an ISO range of 100-12,800. This can be expanded up and down to equivalent settings of ISO 51,200 and 80 respectively, which compares favourably with its peers.
As has been the case with previous Pentax models, and somewhat unconventionally, a choice of two Raw formats are provided alongside the default JPEG mode: Adobe’s DNG format and Pentax’s proprietary PEF type, with the former being particularly useful if you already use a Raw-supporting Adobe program.
The Pentax K-5 II’s main change is its SAFOX X autofocus module, which is said to offer “the broadest autofocusing EV range in its class”. The camera’s specifications reveal it to have a working range of -3 EV to +18 EV at ISO 100, which is a two-stop improvement over the previous SAFOX IX system. In practice, this means the camera should be able to achieve focus in even lower light than before, which will no doubt interest live music photographers.
The new system still bears 11 points as before, with nine of these points being cross-type to sense details in both vertical and horizontal orientations. While it’s impressive to see the majority of these points being cross-type, some may consider only 11 to be too few for a company’s flagship model.
Another change to the Pentax K-5 II comes with the camera’s LCD, which now sees a gapless design between the display and the tempered outer panel. This, Pentax claims, helps to reduce internal reflections, and with the anti-glare film on the outer panel helps to improve visibility. The screen measures 3 inches in size and has a 921k-dot resolution, which is the standard expected for such a model.
Just above the Pentax K-5 II’s LCD lies the pentaprism viewfinder, which boasts an approximate 100% coverage of the scene – this is impressive for a model of the K-5 II’s mid-range billing. And, in addition to its capable core specification, the Pentax K-5 II sweetens the deal with a collection of additional features, such as an intervalometer for time-lapse photography, together with an electronic level and a multiple-exposure option. Pentax has also provided options for processing Raw images in camera (before saving the results as TIFF files, which is welcome to see), as well as basic trimming of movie files.
The Pentax K-5 II and Pentax K-5 IIs each shoot full HD video at 25fps, as well as standard HD video at 30 and 25fps, and VGA footage at the same frame rate. The camera records Motion JPEG files and saves them into the .AVI format, and has a mono mic on board (with a port for stereo microphones). Image stabilisation can also be used while recording.
Pentax K-5 II review – Design
Whether the Pentax K-5 II is an attractive model or not is subjective, but one thing that’s difficult to dispute is its utilitarian design. The grip is substantial and rubbered, while the command dial at its peak travels freely when turned. As is typically the case with Pentax DSLRs, all buttons press positively into the body and clear labelling is used throughout.
The Pentax K-5 II’s top-plate display lamp, which as on other models is accessed by turning the power collar around the shutter-release button, has cleverly been twinned with a depth-of-field preview function, while the mode dial on the other side of the top-plate has a space-saving metering pattern collar at its base.
The body is constructed principally from magnesium alloy and stainless steel, with the same weather-sealing and dust protection as the Pentax K-5. In order to make the camera fully weatherproof it needs to be used in conjunction with a weather-resistant optic, which in Pentax’s line is denoted by the WR moniker.
Sadly, given its carbon-copying of the Pentax K-5, some of the more annoying idiosyncrasies have also made the transition, such as the unnecessarily stiff focus-pattern selector control on the rear, as well as the painfully small flash-sync port plug which is not only awkward to remove but, on account of it not being attached to the body as on other models, easy to lose too.
Furthermore, the Pentax K-5 II’s mode dial features a locking button in its centre, which needs to be depressed for the dial to turn. For some this is a welcome addition, for others it may be considered an annoyance. Either way, the dial itself is not only a little on the small side, but it’s bunched so close to the flash that those with larger fingers may find turning it to be somewhat fiddly.
Pentax K-5 II review – Performance
The 18-55mm WR kit lens moves rapidly when focusing, which is not only conducive to fast AF times but also means the lens spends less time hunting through its range when faced with more problematic subjects. Slightly offputting is the loud whirring of its motor as it focuses; the 18-135mm lens, which is also available as part of a kit with the Pentax K-5 II is a more discreet performer.
As one of the Pentax K-5 II’s improvements is said to be its focusing system. It’s welcome to find that in low light the camera indeed continues to focus, even finding it against very low-contrast subjects. The success rate here is obviously helped by enabling the AF assist light too, but even with this disabled the camera managed to find focus against barely-lit subjects (lit, for example, by nothing more than candlelight) in a couple of seconds or so. As may be expected, choosing the Auto Area AF also generally helps to find focus quicker than if a single point is selected, although this will depend on where on the subject the point lies.
A comparison with the previous Pentax K-5 shows both AF systems to hesitate slightly in low light (particularly without the AF assist lamp), but generally for the Pentax K-5 II to acquire focus in marginally better time, with less hunting.
In short, its overall focusing performance is impressive and clearly improved, and a benefit for those photographers regularly working in low-light conditions.
The other main change from the Pentax K-5 is the LCD screen. Comparing the two models again validates Pentax’s claims with regards to the newer model; although both screens show reflections, those from the Pentax K-5 II display are less obvious, and because of this the screen does show slightly better contrast. Again, the difference isn’t particularly significant, but it is still noticeable.
The camera’s sensor-based image stabilisation system is also clearly effective. Pentax states it provides a three EV stop advantage (the effectiveness of such systems does depend in large part on technique, and also lessens as subject distance decreases), although during the test it was possible to capture acceptably sharp images beyond this point
The camera’s video quality is better than expected. On both its full HD (25fps) and standard HD (30fps) settings, footage is fluid and richly detailed, with only finer details causing some aliasing artefacts, (which is true of many cameras). The metering system responds swiftly but smoothly to changes in the scene, and sound is recorded clearly, although control over audio settings – beyond the on and off controls offered – would be appreciated.
The sensor-based image stabilisation system may also be used in movies, and when employed it has a noticeable effect on the stability of footage. When panning, however, it’s best to disable this, because when a pan is finished the system does have a tendency of readjusting itself, producing an effect where the frame jumps a little to one side.
One of the more impressive things about the camera is the range of post-capture options available, particularly as many of these are still nowhere to be found on some of the Pentax K-5 II’s peers. The ability to delete Raw and JPEG versions of an image independently from one another is perhaps the most useful, and being able to preview captured images in different colour and white balance options is also beneficial. These are simple, helpful features, but it’s remarkable how few cameras actually offer them.
Pentax K-5 II review – Image Quality
Colour and White Balance
The little to complain about the camera’s Auto White Balance system when used in natural light, as it rarely strays from that what’s expected. Now and again it delivers slightly warm results under daylight, but even at night, under various fluorescent sources the camera reproduces scenes accurately. Indoors, under a mixture of artificial and natural light, some inconsistencies between frames becomes noticeable, but then the Pentax K-5 II is not alone in this respect.
While a common observation of some of Pentax’s previous DSLRs has been a tendency towards underexposure, the Pentax K-5 II follows its predecessor in delivering a more consistent performance, although unexpected under- and overexposure was still noticed.
The Pentax K-5 II is available as part of two kits, with either 18-55mm or the 18-135mm lenses. While the latter provides a useful 27-202mm equivalent focal length, chromatic aberration at its tele end is noticeable even when images are viewed at small sizes (although correction for JPEGs is provided in-camera), and corner and edge softness is also noticeable. Stopped down, the 18-55mm lens delivers pleasing details.
While some texture can be observed in images taken at as low as ISO 200 in overcast conditions, this can be easily rectified in post-production. The better resolution of the Pentax K-5 IIs means that even when noise obscures details, they are less obscured than on the Pentax K-5 II.
Raw vs JPEG
As expected, JPEGs see a slight boost to contrast over Raw files, with details better defined and colours more appealing. The lateral chromatic aberrations which were frequently noticed during this review were also lessened by the processing in JPEGs.
Pentax K-5 II review – Verdict
That the Pentax K-5 II is a minor upgrade on the Pentax K-5 is not necessarily a bad thing, as the Pentax K-5 was an impressive model in itself. Its headline improvement of a more sensitive AF system is minor although combined with the changes to the LCD screen and the lower launch price (£250 less) it’s unquestionably a better proposition than the Pentax K-5. Still, it would have been nice to see small kinks ironed out in this latest release, such as the stiff focus selection dial, and perhaps improvements made to image noise.
It’s certainly welcome to see the Pentax K-5 IIs arrive at the same time too. Although testing does indeed show it to have a higher resolution than its sibling, as we have seen this isn’t always an entirely positive attribute – in other words, there’s a good reason for each camera to exist alongside the other.
So which do you buy? If you tend to alternate between a range of different subjects, you’re perhaps safer with the Pentax K-5 II, knowing that it will still provide good image quality with a lower risk of aliasing. If, however, you tend to stick to landscapes and other natural subjects where man-made subjects feature infrequently, the Pentax K-5 IIs is worth the extra outlay.
Pentax K-5 II review – Comparison
We take a closer look at three of the Pentax K-5 II’s rivals to see how it fares and see if there are better models out there for your money.
Both cameras feature a 16.28MP APS-C sensor, so here they are tied (although the lack of an anti-aliasing filter in the K-5 IIs gives it a resolution advantage over the K-5).
The K-5 II and K-5 IIs are said to benefit from the removal of the gap between the LCD and the outer panel, helping with visibility. This difference is small but it’s definitely there.
WINNER: PENTAX K-5 II
The same pentaprism viewfinder with approximately 100% coverage has been used in both the K-5 and the K-5 II, so here the two cameras are tied.
The SAFOX X AF module inside the K-5 II is similar to the K-5’s SAFOX IX module, although it is more sensitive in lower light and has improved AF tracking.
WINNER: PENTAX K-5 II
Both cameras feature an APS-C sensor, although the Canon EOS 60D just squeezes in a little more: 18.1MP versus the 16.28MP of the K-5 II.
WINNER: CANON EOS 60D
While the extra 110k dots or so of the EOS 60D’s screen over the 921k display on the K-5 II makes little difference in practice, the 60D’s side articulation does make it more flexible.
WINNER: CANON EOS 60D
Both cameras feature large, bright pentaprism viewfinders, although the EOS 60D’s 96% (approx.) coverage is behind the 100% (approx.) coverage offered by the K-5 II.
WINNER: PENTAX K-5 II
Both cameras offer nine cross-type points as part of their AF system, although the K-5 II has a further two single-orientation points to make 11.
WINNER: PENTAX K-5 II
Both cameras use an APS-C sized sensor – the Sony sensor being marginally smaller – although it’s the A65 that has the resolution advantage, with 24.3MP next to the K-5 II’s 16.28MP
WINNER: SONY A65
While the displays on both the K-5 II and the A65 measure three inches and have 921k dots, the articulation of the latter camera’s display makes it better suited to a variety of shooting positions.
WINNER: SONY A65
The viewfinders on both cameras offer an approximate 100% coverage of the scene, although the A65 has an EVF while the K-5 II has an optical viewfinder. Here it’s more down to personal preference.
The A65’s 15-point system only features three cross-type points, while the K-5 II’s system sees nine cross-type points out of a total of 11. Both systems have their pros and cons, so it’s a draw again.
While the Pentax K-5 II does indeed present a few advantages over its rivals (as well as its predecessor), it is bettered by other cameras in a number of areas. As an all-rounder it does well, but if you regularly shoot at awkward angles, or plan on making enlargements, you may be better off with either the Sony A65 or the Canon EOS 60D. Those shooting in low light may also appreciate the A65’s EVF. Other models to consider in this price range include Nikon’s D5200 and Sony’s A77.