Is the Pentax K-500 the best entry-level DSLR out there? We find out in the What Digital Camera Pentax K-500 review
The Pentax K-500 looks to wrestle some on the market dominance in the entry-level DSLR section away from the ‘big two’ of Canon and Nikon, with an impressive looking specfication. We see if it succeeds in the What Digital Camera Pentax K-500 review.
Pentax K-500 Review – Features
Pentax has opted to use a continuation of the 16.28MP sensor we’ve seen in numerous Pentax DSLRs in the Pentax K-500, but its been tweaked to now offer a broad sensitivity from 100-51,200. Compared to similarly priced rivals, the K-500 offers a 1-2 stop sensitivity advantage over them, so while it may not offer quite the same ultimate resolution, it offers that little bit extra flexibility in poor lighting conditions.
A nice touch is that while the K-500 can shoot in its own .PEF Raw format, there’s also the choice to shooting in DNG – Adobe’s universal Raw format, allowing you to easily open files on an Adobe Raw supporting program, even if you’re using an older version of the software.
The Pentax K-500 features Pentax’s SAFOX IXi+ AF sensor module, with 11 AF points. That’s pretty similar to its rivals, but look a little deeper at the spec and you’ll find that 9 of those AF points are the much more sensitive cross-type variants, that are sensitive to both the horizontal and vertical; and easily outdoing the single central cross-type points found in the Canon EOS 600D or Nikon D3200. There’s also a select-area expansion function that keeps the sensor module tracking a moving subject.
LCD screen and viewfinder
While the Pentax K-500′s 3in, 921k dot screen sits flush with the body, the optical viewfinder offers a coverage of approximately 100%, beating the 95% coverage offered by the EOS 600D and D3200. While this 5% may seem an insignificant difference, you’d be surprised what can creep into the frame at the edges that you don’t see with complete coverage.
Another big tick next to the K-500 is the viewfinder’s magnification of 0.92x, compared again to the smaller 0.85x on the EOS 600D and 0.8x on the D3200, while Pentax has featured a glass pentaprism normally only found in more expensive DSLRs rather than a lighter pentamirror.
Burst shooting – the ability to fire-off a series of frames in quick succession – is another strong area for the K-500, with it capable of shooting at by to 6fps (frames per second), compared to 3.7fps for the EOS 600D and 4fps for the D3200, though they’re having to process larger files.
Image stabilisation and battery
Where’s both the EOS 600D and D3200 feature lens-based Image Stabilisation systems, the K-500, like all current Pentax DSLRs, features a sensor-shift mechanism known as Shake Reduction and offers you the ability to shoot at shutter speeds 3 stops slower than you normally would and still capture blur-free images.
The K-500 is bundled with a D-LI109 Lithium-ion rechargeable battery, with a capacity to shoot up to 480 images without flash, while the battery chamber will also accommodate 4 AA batteries via the optional D-BH109 AA Battery Holder. If you opt to install rechargeable lithium AA batteries, it’s possible to shoot up 1250 images (again, without firing the flash) before they’re exhausted, while you’ve got the extra flexibility of using alkaline AA’s in an emergency if needed.
Pentax K-500 Review – Design
While the Pentax K-30 featured quite a sharp, angular design, the K-500 has shunned away from what might have been thought of as quite a challenging design. Instead, the K-500 opts for a much more traditional look, and while it might not stand out from the crowd as much, its still a pretty decent looking camera, with generous curves and smooth edges.
If you’re looking for the similarly impressive levels of weather sealing as we saw on the K-30, you’ll need to take a look at the K-50, but overall the K-500 feels like a very well put together camera for the price. There’s a stainless steel chassis over which a reinforced polycarbonate shell can be found with a light splatter effect finish.
The rubberised grip has a high-end feel too, being much more satisfying to the touch than equivalent rivals, while the chunky handgrip is one of the most comfortable around. Your hand wraps comfortably around the grip, with your little finger not left to dangle in thin air, while theres decent space for your thumb to rest – it’s a little bit of a shame that Pentax decided to omit a grip for the thumb rest.
Exterior controls are kept relatively sparse, with a 4-way control pad offering quick access to ISO, Flash, Drive and White Balance, as well as being used to select your desired AF point, while the K-500 also benefits from two command dials – another feature that’s often only seen on higher priced models.
Pentax K-500 Review – Performance
While the Pentax K-500′s AF performance is fast, zipping quickly between near and far subjects with ease on most occasions, only really struggling in low contrast situations, I have a couple of issues with it.
The first is the noise of the AF in operation. Compared to the whisper-quiet AF experienced from both the EOS 600D and D3200, the K-500′s AF is an orchestra of whirrs and buzzes as AF is acquired with the supplied 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. It’s a shame to see Pentax omitting their SDM (Supersonic Direct-drive Motor) from the bundled lens when rivals include it on theirs, detracting from the shooting experience.
Another point that irritates with the AF is the fact that the active AF point is invisible in the viewfinder. While its not going to be an issue if you’re using the broad 5 or 11-point auto AF options, when you want to specifically select an AF point, it becomes quite an annoyance.
While the K-500 may show you the active AF point on the rear screen, that’s of little comfort when you’ve got the camera raised to you eye, and even if you know which AF point is active, its still hard to be 100% sure when that AF point precisely is in the viewfinder.Frustrating stuff, especially when looking at the spec, the K-500 should be running rings around the competition in this area.
I have to say though that the Pentax K-500′s viewfinder itself is lovely and clear, and fair from tunnel like which some pentamirror-based DSLRs can suffer from, while the rear display, though relatively reflective, has good contrast.
The K-500′s sensor-shift image stabilisation system works well, and while sharp shots will still depend a lot on technique, there’s no reason to doubt the effectiveness of the 3 stop advantage quoted.
There are some nice touches too. If you’re shooting in JPEG there’s the ability to save a Raw file once you’ve taken the shot, with the data retrieved from the camera’s buffer, while if you’re shooting Raw and JPEG you get the choice if you delete an image with you keep the Raw or JPEG file.
The Pentax K-500′s graphical menu interface does feel a little dated compared to rivals – the menu looks tired, with simple white text against a simple background, while the shooting info display uses a rather bright default colour palette (though there’s a wide choice of alternative colour combinations) with large lettering. Though relatively easy to navigate, it could do with some refining.
It’s quite a luxury having dual control dials and depending on what mode you’re shooting in, the secondary dial can be programmed to adjust a host of settings depending on your preference.
As we’ve mentioned, there are quick access controls round the dial for ISO, Drive, White Balance and Flash, hitting the Info button also brings up a Quick menu of other controls such as metering, AF active area and highlight correction modes.
Pentax K-500 Review – Image Quality
Colour and White Balance
I found the Auto White Balance could be relied upon to deliver pleasing results in most scenes, though I did find that when shooting either early in the day or later on when the sun was low that results were a little on the cool side. Indoors and under mixed lighting, the K-500 did a good job at delivering well balanced images
Some previous models have tended to under expose the scene and while in general the K-500′s 77-zone metering system coped well, I did find that on occasion – particularly shooting subjects with quite a bit of sky in the shot, that the K-500 did opt to under-expose the scene, often by a stop or more.
Raw vs JPEG
There’s no surprises to find that the JPEG files display the more pleasing colours and contrast straight out of the camera, though the Raw file retains more detail at higher sensitivities and naturally has the wider exposure latitude for post processing.
While the 16.28MP resolution offered by rivals isn’t quite as impressive, you’ll still be able to produce large A3+ prints at 240ppi without the need to interpolate the file, though cropping the image can be limited.
Looking at results from our resolution test chart and the K-500′s sensor performs well, resolving detail down to just over 24lpmm (lines per mm), dropping to a still very respectable 22lpmm at ISO 6400. Real world tests also show good levels of detail, though we’d recommend using an alternative to the supplied 18-55mm kit lens for ultimate sharpness.
As you’d expect at the low-end of the K-500′s sensitivity range, images display little if no noise. You have to be shooting at ISO 3200 or above to see a hint of noise in our JPEG files, though we did see a hint of coloured Chroma noise in Raw files at ISO 1600.
At ISO 6400 and JPEG files display some speckled Luminance Noise, though we couldn’t see that much in the way of Chroma noise. Raw files behave a little differently at the same sensitivity, with some Chroma noise also present, but with images displaying a touch more detail.
Images are still more than useable until ISO 51,800, where quality drops off noticeably, with pronounced Chroma and Luminance noise visible.
Pentax K-500 review – Verdict
With a feature set that wouldn’t look out of place one more costly models, the K-500 is perhaps one of if not the best-specified entry-level DSLRs you’ll find thanks in part to the large pentaprism viewfinder, 6fps burst shooting, dual control dials and AF system that includes 9 cross-type sensors.
It’s also one of the better entry-level DSLRs in the hand thanks to the large and comfy grip, while you should be more than satisfied with the image quality with results from the K-500 are more than a match for its rivals, despite loosing out in the resolution stakes.
I’d perhaps like to see a little less underexposure in some shots, but overall there’s little to not like, with a very good image noise performance, plenty of latitude in files and a decent amount of detail.
What holds the K-500 back from being our pick of the entry-level DSLRs is the camera’s AF. There are no complaints about its speed and accuracy, but doing away with the active AF point superimposed in the viewfinder is a big omission.
It may not sound like much, but it’s a real hindrance and can be quite frustrating when trying to compose and focus shots. If you can over come this and the rather dated interface, then you’ll be rewarded with a very capable and well-specified DSLR.
Sample Image Gallery
These are just a few sample images taken with the Pentax K-500. For a full selection, along with the full range of ISO shots, head on over to the Pentax K-500 review sample image gallery.
SD, SDHC, SDXC, Eye-Fi compatible
GN 12m at ISO 100
Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent Light (4 types), Tungsten, Flash, Custom, Manual, Colour
+/-5EV (adjustable in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps)
Good, Better, Best
4928 x 3264
3in, 921k dots LCD
11 points (9 cross-type)
Yes; 2500 to 10,000K
16.28MP APS-C CMOS sensor
Yes; sensor based
77-segment TTL system
1920 x 1080 (30/25/24fps), 1280 x 720 (60/50/30/25/24fps)
P, A, S, M, Sensitivity Priority, Shutter and Aperture Priority, Auto Picture Mode, Scene Mode
USB 2.0, mini HDMI
650g (including card and battery)
Rechargeable Li-ion battery
Raw (DNG/PEF), JPEG
96.5 x 129 x 70 mm
1/6000 – 30 sec, bulb
Auto, Single, Continuous, Manual
Single, Continuous (3 or 6fps), Self-timer, Remote Control, Auto Bracketing