Why buy Pentax? (k5 mini review)


9aul

Link Posted 12/02/2012 - 20:41
I see this question asked a lot on this and other forums, and I wanted to introduce myself as a recent Pentax convert and now user of the K-5, give my initial experience of the camera, my reasons for being here as well as having three hours sat on a train to kill thus the originally unintended length of the post...

The K-5, my third DSLR, comes after time spent with both Nikon and Canon. My first “proper” camera was the brilliant Nikon D40 which I used for a long time with just one prime lens attached (35mm f1.8 ) and this made a great lightweight setup that I could take everywhere and get some great results from, especially considering the specs that would be baulked at by my most users today (6mp), but the basics worked well and it produced great images. I picked the camera up on sale while Nikon were offering a rebate for £250, I used it for over three years and sold it for £240 on ebay just over a year ago, to say the camera owed me nothing was an understatement and would whole heartedly recommend a similar setup to anyone starting out today (I guess the Pentax equivalent would be the ‘soon to be replaced’? K-r and the 35mm 2.4 lens).

Inevitably after some time I was seduced by advertised specs and a want for more features, in particular the video that I had seen coming from the Canon cameras and so like many before me, bought myself a Canon 550D about a year ago. Although my desire for features was met; basic things such as support for more lenses, a direct ISO button and bracketing that Nikon feel the need to omit from their lower end models, as well as video which has been a lot of fun to use, I was underwhelmed by the increase in stills image quality and I could just never get used to the cheap feel of the camera or find any desirable lenses in my price range. The year with the Canon showed that the ergonomics and feel of a camera are much more important than the spec list (to me at least).

An extensive hunt for my new ideal camera started; Nikon D7000, Sony NEX/Alpha 65, Canon 60D, Fuji X100, meanwhile Pentax further dropped the price of the K-5 and announced the cash-back offer that put it in my price bracket and in the frame, so to speak.

So with all the great options currently out there, why choose the Pentax, a company that is seen by many as second best, without proper support, dubious quality control and a ‘limited’ range of lenses?

The biggest reason for me was that ‘Limited’ lens range which offers enthusiasts lenses that are I think are simply designed to be used. Other manufacturers seem to design lenses to be the fastest, best rendering or the cheapest and end up being prohibitively large, heavy, expensive or just feel cheap and nasty in-use, the Limiteds give an affordable range that is small in size, light weight, with great rendering and build, while on paper they look unimpressive, to my eyes are unmatched by anything else on the market for the money (I wish they would release a faster mid-wide though, a small 24mm f2 would be perfect please Pentax). Canon still refuse to properly invest in serious prime lenses designed for APSC and Nikon while having some great cheap lenses such as the 35mm f1.8, the rendering or build can’t compete with the Pentax Limited range and even though I admire the images produced with lenses such as Canon/Nikon’s 24/35mm f1.4s, I could never justify the expense or want to carry such large heavy lenses around with me all day.

After discounting the Canon and Nikon on the grounds of lens offering (probably the only time you will ever read that) and while rightly or wrongly dreaming of the Leica M9, realistically my choice finally came down to the Fuji X100, the Sony Alpha/NEX and the K5, using them back to back in the store, the K5 was simply the one I found most natural to use, this was really brought home to me when using my Canon the next day, even though I had been using it regularly for a year found myself hunting for the controls of the K5, that had only used for an hour in the store, it is this level of design that can’t be put on a marketing spec sheet but is probably the reason for all the great user reviews of the Pentax and the affection it gets from [most of] its users.

It is small functionality that when taking pictures repeatedly, that may seem like small things but become real irritations over time, one such annoyance is the image zoom on the Canons that has to be held down to zoom in to review focus, this is done instantly by a click of the rear dial with the Pentax (I recently found that you can also zoom in and out using the +/- and the green button if you get tired of using the wheel). I thought that I had found one such area that had been missed by Pentax, as initially I couldn’t find a way to quickly bring up the histogram when reviewing images after pressing the play button, having to cycle through all the display options with the info button, however I have since found the histogram can be summoned with the info and removed again by hitting ok, as well as giving easy access to an RGB histogram with an arrow key, perfect!. I also questioned the auto exposure options that the camera was choosing, as at default it will try to keep the lens to at least an aperture of f2.8 and a relatively fast shutter speed in low light, while boosting the ISO quite aggressively, not what I would have chosen. However setting the auto ISO setting to ‘low’ gives much better results and seems to affect both the shutter speed; which is allowed to drop to the focal length of the lens, as well as unexpectedly affecting the behaviour of the aperture; allowing the lens to open fully before boosting the ISO to the extent that it did before. In my opinion this should be the default setting for the camera, but easily changed when you know it’s there.

Good decision?

Although actively ignoring the specs of the camera, I have been more impressed with the Sony sensor than I thought I would be and has provided, to my eye, a bigger jump in IQ going from the Canon 550D (18mp) sensor to the k-5 (16mp), than I had going from the D40 (6mp) to the Canon, which says two things; in real world use mega pixels don’t matter that much (unless you need to print at large sizes), something that everyone seems to agree with, yet is still a number that obviously creates sales, as demonstrated by the recent buzz surrounding the Nikon D800, and second; the Sony sensors are currently surpassing that of the Canon by quite a margin, although maybe that will change at some point this year?

I am still getting to grips with my current lightweight combination of k-5 and fa 43mm Limited, but have been consistently impressed with how the camera allows you to take pictures without getting in the way, controls are where you feel they should instinctively be and navigating menus is something that becomes a rarity rather than the norm, features such as the green button which before use may almost seem like gimmicks, leave you wondering why other manufacturers haven’t implemented their own version on competing models, such is its usefulness. Another area that has been a real improvement is the 100% viewfinder, which is a night and day difference from the consumer level cameras that I had become accustomed to, something that I wouldn’t have thought twice about when first starting out, but find increasingly important in my attempts at that elusive perfect composition. In short I think the K-5 is a true photographers camera, in a world where so many camera companies ‘bored’ rooms must contain talk of how to increase market share, it feels that Pentax’s goal for their latest DSLR was a single minded “how can we help users take better pictures”, maybe to their detriment in terms of sales, but to the distinct benefit of its savvy owners (right place, right time in my case).

Not all roses?

Every product on the market is a series of compromises and the k5 is no different, although it has a great size/features ratio, it is relatively weighty and works out heavier than either the 550D or D40 and plastic prime lens combination, mainly due to the magnesium build, larger battery and in-body shake reduction system, it maybe not the ideal lightweight travel companion, but I still have absolutely no problem carrying it in a Lowepro Passport Sling (great small bag btw) all day and the level of features and versatility makes the extra few hundred grams well worth it, if I was living out of backpack for six months those few grams may start to take their toll, although you have to wonder how long the plastic camera and lens combo would last in those circumstances.

Low light focusing was an issue that I was aware of before purchase and has been put to the test over Christmas when most of the images I have taken were indoor low light, while I haven’t taken any test charts, this really hasn’t been an issue in real world use, yes I have had some out of focus shots, as I did with the Nikon and Canon, but haven’t had consistent front or back focus like others have reported in certain lighting, although there is definitely a level of light where the camera will hunt for focus and seemingly not able to find anything to lock on to, then takes a guess, normally being out by some margin. This is exaggerated by low contrast subjects, but the level of light needed to induce this, is less than I initially feared after some users reports and a level that is not going to be an issue in most real world situations (I am using a relatively fast lens though f1.9).

The overall level of customisation is excellent, although one aspect of the camera that I have missed from the Canon is the ability to create a custom menu. I like the quick settings screen with the Pentax, although I think that this should itself be customisable and could act as the ultimate user menu, greatly enhancing ergonomics, giving access to individual settings used frequently; the program mode is one that I find myself wishing was on this screen, while I doubt I will ever use many of the in camera filters that are displayed here.

Rendering of reds is another issue that I have come across since using the camera, that I hadn’t heard of before purchase. This seems to stem from a number of issues (metering, white balance, JPEG rendering) and doesn’t show its-self often but from time to time the camera has a tendency to over saturate and over-expose the red channel when shooting JPEGs, to a greater degree than either the Canon or Nikon. This is something that I am still experimenting with and to this point am not quite sure how to overcome entirely. Canon has a picture styles setting in camera that allows the user to set tone curves to control the rendering of JPEGs and to my knowledge Pentax doesn’t allow this degree of control over its in camera processing, I have switched the camera to the natural colour setting and reduced saturation slightly which seems to have helped, but any tips with this would certainly be appreciated.

The video is something that I am missing from the Canon, which when combined with Magic Lantern (custom firmware hack for the Canons) is quite special. One of the biggest problems of shooting video with DSLRs though is camera shake, which is something that Pentax’s version of in camera stabilisation deals with remarkably well and is much more useful than the in-lens system adopted by Canon for video. If Pentax would start to take video a bit more seriously they could have a really unique product – maybe something they have realised with the recent announcement of the K-01 with its video specs, which is set to be the only APSC video camera with manual control and in body stabilisation (that I know of); here’s hoping they have put sufficient effort into the down-sampling of the sensor to make it really competitive.

The other concern that I had before purchase was quality control and if I had taken heed of all the warnings on the net, I could have expected a whole host of issues that have been well documented, which by and large I chose to ignore and may well regret saying this, but to this point (6 weeks use and 2k images) the camera has worked flawlessly, the real test I guess, will be if I can say the same thing in a few years time.

Ultimately which camera to get comes down to a compromise between image quality, features, price, size and weight, range of lenses, and brand reputation among other smaller aspects unique to the individual. Even with the recent announcement of the new NEX-7 and the Fuji X-Pro1 which have been designed for the enthusiast market (unless real world samples are vastly superior to what I have seen thus far), Pentax in my humble opinion still makes the best enthusiast “compact” camera system on the market today, and one that I am enjoying shooting with more than ever, which at the end of the day is the reason we buy cameras, right?

...now when was the release date for the new D800 again...

Mike-P

Link Posted 12/02/2012 - 20:43
If that's a mini review I would hate to see one when you really get going.

Will have a read now ...
. My Flickr

geordie01

Link Posted 12/02/2012 - 21:45
Mike-P wrote:
If that's a mini review I would hate to see one when you really get going.

Will have a read now ...

what Mike said

steven9761

Link Posted 12/02/2012 - 21:53
I hope it was the express train you were travelling on, otherwise Harper Collins are gonna be in touch!!

Pentaxophile

Link Posted 12/02/2012 - 22:51
A great 'mini'-review and I think you've nailed the strangths of the Pentax system. The new Olympus 0M-D looks like it has been designed along the same lines as the K5 - small size, but with pro features and quality. Of course it will beat the K5 on size by a huge margin but I don't think Pentax will be too worried about image quality
[link=https://500px.com/will_brealey/[/link]

9aul

Link Posted 13/02/2012 - 18:07
Mike-P & geordie01 - Sorry, should have labelled the conclusion really so people could skip the life history bit at the top!

steven9761 - No was the cheap very-non express train unfortunately, though think I am pretty safe from Harper Collins advancements!

Pentaxophile - Thanks, I had been looking for a while. The Olympus looks impressive and love how they have made it modular with the grip, seems they have put some real thought into the ergonomics – like you say is a trade off between size/weight and IQ – I have always been turned off by M4/3 probably without real justification, shooting in 4:3 perspective is defiantly attractive, I really dislike the 3:2 aspect ‘hangover’ that APSC inherited from film.

I have a friend who carries a 5D around with him whenever he goes away and gets his wife to carry a couple of extra zooms, which I find funny, but he gets some incredible images, ironically though he is a good photographer and would still be getting great images with a P&S, but he is happy and his wife, well, divorce isn’t on the cards as yet!

vrapan

Link Posted 13/02/2012 - 20:34
I had a rather similar trip with you. I too had (still have though) a D40. It has been an amazing camera given that I bought it from SRS nearly 5 years ago for £219 with the kit lens... Despite having sold all the lenses I accumulated over the 4 years I was using the camera I kept it and the amazing 35mm 1.8 .

However last spring I felt the camera was great but I did need a few more MP to crop a bit more and would have liked to be able to take pictures when ISOs start hitting the 1000+ mark. Went for the D7k which is a great camera in its own right but ended up with a K-5 and would recommend it to anyone that does not need super long lenses or a fairly sophisticated AF system.
Last Edited by vrapan on 13/02/2012 - 20:34

9aul

Link Posted 14/02/2012 - 21:45
vrapan wrote:
I had a rather similar trip with you. I too had (still have though) a D40. It has been an amazing camera given that I bought it from SRS nearly 5 years ago for £219 with the kit lens... Despite having sold all the lenses I accumulated over the 4 years I was using the camera I kept it and the amazing 35mm 1.8 .

However last spring I felt the camera was great but I did need a few more MP to crop a bit more and would have liked to be able to take pictures when ISOs start hitting the 1000+ mark. Went for the D7k which is a great camera in its own right but ended up with a K-5 and would recommend it to anyone that does not need super long lenses or a fairly sophisticated AF system.

Sometimes wish I had kept the D40, I have read it was Nikon's best ever selling DSLR, not sure if that's true but wouldn't surprise me.

Can I ask why you switched from the D7000? Are you happy with the change?

vrapan

Link Posted 14/02/2012 - 22:24
9aul wrote:
vrapan wrote:
I had a rather similar trip with you. I too had (still have though) a D40. It has been an amazing camera given that I bought it from SRS nearly 5 years ago for £219 with the kit lens... Despite having sold all the lenses I accumulated over the 4 years I was using the camera I kept it and the amazing 35mm 1.8 .

However last spring I felt the camera was great but I did need a few more MP to crop a bit more and would have liked to be able to take pictures when ISOs start hitting the 1000+ mark. Went for the D7k which is a great camera in its own right but ended up with a K-5 and would recommend it to anyone that does not need super long lenses or a fairly sophisticated AF system.

Sometimes wish I had kept the D40, I have read it was Nikon's best ever selling DSLR, not sure if that's true but wouldn't surprise me.

Can I ask why you switched from the D7000? Are you happy with the change?

I switched really for all the reasons Pentax users like Pentax cameras:

The D7000 felt big and awkward in my hands. I didn't like the weight coming from the D40 and I always found that I needed a lot of patient to get a sharp picture from my 50-150 because of unsteady hands. AF was great, IQ was excellent and external controls just as good so I was keeping it.

Not sure how but looking around I came across the K-5 asked around on another forum about it and blame Mike.P but days later I was in SRS playing with one. Put the 50-135 on it and compared it weight/size/IQ with the D7k and in my very humble opinion they were not even close. K-5 felt like it was part of my hand, I instantly knew how to hold it and on the spot I was sold on the amazing 50-135 too. IQ was similar though the 50-135 was sharper (maybe due to the activated IBIS) nicer colours on JPEGs and felt so much nicer to use than the Sigma (noticed it was slower to acquire focus straight away though).

On top of that I had found out that there are some primes that are tiny further increasing the advantage of the size/weight of the system. That sealed the deal for me, I had ordered a K-5 and got a DA 40 right after I had sold all my Nikon gear (save for the D40, 35mm and the rather amazing for the price 17-50 which has now been sold). Now I have the three primes 21,40 and 70mm, a 10-20 Sigma, a 50-135 and a 16-50 (which I still haven't managed to take out and try properly). Weakest link by a mile the Sigma so much so I am looking for a 12-24 Pentax if I can find one for a reasonable price.

I wouldn't go back to Nikon. The main advantages I find in the Nikon system are ones that are simply not very relevant to me : FF cameras (weight/size/price of bodies/lenses simply kill them for me), long teles (not into them at all) and a much more complete lineup of bodies but then I only want one . The only advantage of the Nikon system that I care about but not enough is AF speed/flexibility. The SDM lenses are snail paced to focus compared to the motorised Nikon and Sigmas (never used the 18-135 which is said to be a lot faster) and admittedly the D7k made my lethargic 10-24, 17-50 Tamron focus extremely fast.

Pentax is excellent for me as APS-C DSLR systems go. However size is still an issue for me so I am considering pairing it with a K-01, OM-D or GX-1 + a widish prime as an always on me kit.

Apologies for the novel!
Last Edited by vrapan on 14/02/2012 - 22:26

Frogfish

Link Posted 15/02/2012 - 02:58
Very nice review, interesting reading .... and welcome to the Pentax community !

Red : easily customised to your preference in the custom menus.

50-150 ? I assume you are talking about the Sigma 50-150/2.8, my go to lens on the K5, it's a great lens and is of course stabilised on Pentax DSLRs.

Travel kit - well I'm actually on holiday as I write this (rest day after driving through the mountains all day yesterday) and I have two kits, one is the walkabout kit which is a K5 with 4/5 lenses in a Tamrac messenger bag (50-150 and 3/4 primes), I never feel this gets heavy (and I'm not a young buck any more !) and in the mountains a large backpack with 2xK5s, 50-150, *300 and 4/5 primes, not good for long treks but if drive/trekking for a few kms then it's great.
http://frogfish.smugmug.com/ Pentax. Pentax DA*300/4, Cosina 55/1.2, Lens Baby Composer Pro & Edge 80, AFA x1.7, Metz 50 af1.
Nikon. D800. D600. Sigma 500/4.5, Nikon 300/2.8 VRII, Sigma 120-300/2.8, Zeiss Distagon ZF2 21/2.8, Zeiss Distagon ZF2 35/2.0, Sigma 50/1.4, Nikkor 85/1.8, Nikon TC20EIII, Nikon TC14EII, Kenko x1.4, Sigma 2.0

9aul

Link Posted 15/02/2012 - 23:23
vrapan - I did seriously consider the D7K also, good to hear that you're happy with Pentax.
It's a shame that Tokina dont make the 11-16 in the Pentax mount which I have seen so many great images from on Canon forums.
Have recently downloaded an image stitching program called Hugin (open source) which is amazingly fully featured and can give great results for still landscapes with sharp 'normal' lenses.
If you were just after a cheap carry round camera, have noticed the Samsung NX100 have been heavily reduced (same sensor as the K-7) you can pick up the kit for just over £200.

Frogfish - Thanks - I'm sure there's nothing there that long term Pentax users don't already know.
Have just been on your Smugmug - the Pentax seems to be serving you well - you have some really great shots on there.
Have you had any issues with the reds on the K-5 - if so have you changed any settings in-camera?

vrapan

Link Posted 15/02/2012 - 23:49
9aul wrote:
vrapan - I did seriously consider the D7K also, good to hear that you're happy with Pentax.
It's a shame that Tokina dont make the 11-16 in the Pentax mount which I have seen so many great images from on Canon forums.
Have recently downloaded an image stitching program called Hugin (open source) which is amazingly fully featured and can give great results for still landscapes with sharp 'normal' lenses.
If you were just after a cheap carry round camera, have noticed the Samsung NX100 have been heavily reduced (same sensor as the K-7) you can pick up the kit for just over £200.

Frogfish - Thanks - I'm sure there's nothing there that long term Pentax users don't already know.
Have just been on your Smugmug - the Pentax seems to be serving you well - you have some really great shots on there.
Have you had any issues with the reds on the K-5 - if so have you changed any settings in-camera?

Not impressed with the lens lineup and if I am to buy one it will have to be a system that has a significant amount of lenses for me to choose from. This is why I am sticking to Pentax or m4/3 - that and the fact that I love the looks of both the GX1 and the EM-5 still on the fence about the K-01 regarding looks.

patrickt

Link Posted 16/02/2012 - 02:21
My sister brought me my K5D on January 30th and I went to visit her in Huatulco. I was very happy with my K20D but I wear my camera and after two years of knocking aroubnd it's beginning to wear.

I could not imagine the K5 being much better than my K20 and I was wrong. The dynamic range is a hoot. I shoot in raw at 80ISO, when I can, and the dynamic range is awesome. The metering for exposure is, in my limited experience, fantastic. I shot inside churches, on the beach at noon and at the lighthouse at sunset. Exposure was excellent.

I find my raw shots out of camera need very little before conversion. A little clarity or vibrance in Lightroom and perhaps a highlight or shadow recovery but not much.

I'm still getting used to some of the new buttons and old buttons that have been moved. After two years my fingers knew where the buttons were on the K20 without thought.

I like my K5.

Frogfish

Link Posted 16/02/2012 - 13:55
9aul wrote:

Frogfish - Thanks - I'm sure there's nothing there that long term Pentax users don't already know.
Have just been on your Smugmug - the Pentax seems to be serving you well - you have some really great shots on there.
Have you had any issues with the reds on the K-5 - if so have you changed any settings in-camera?

Thanks 9aul - pleased you enjoyed the site.

I haven't had any issues per se (and if I did they could well be lens related) however for 'important' shots I switch over to RAW anyway. A lot may depend on your original colour setting, mine is set to natural though I know a few people set theirs to 'bright' or 'vibrant' either of these (without adjustment) could cause your reds to come out too rich. I'm not sure what setting the K5 arrives with as default.
http://frogfish.smugmug.com/ Pentax. Pentax DA*300/4, Cosina 55/1.2, Lens Baby Composer Pro & Edge 80, AFA x1.7, Metz 50 af1.
Nikon. D800. D600. Sigma 500/4.5, Nikon 300/2.8 VRII, Sigma 120-300/2.8, Zeiss Distagon ZF2 21/2.8, Zeiss Distagon ZF2 35/2.0, Sigma 50/1.4, Nikkor 85/1.8, Nikon TC20EIII, Nikon TC14EII, Kenko x1.4, Sigma 2.0

9aul

Link Posted 17/02/2012 - 16:42
Frogfish wrote:
9aul wrote:

Frogfish - Thanks - I'm sure there's nothing there that long term Pentax users don't already know.
Have just been on your Smugmug - the Pentax seems to be serving you well - you have some really great shots on there.
Have you had any issues with the reds on the K-5 - if so have you changed any settings in-camera?

Thanks 9aul - pleased you enjoyed the site.

I haven't had any issues per se (and if I did they could well be lens related) however for 'important' shots I switch over to RAW anyway. A lot may depend on your original colour setting, mine is set to natural though I know a few people set theirs to 'bright' or 'vibrant' either of these (without adjustment) could cause your reds to come out too rich. I'm not sure what setting the K5 arrives with as default.

I set the camera to natural pretty early on which like you say seems to help and switch to RAW when required so not too much of an issue, maybe I just need some more time with the camera - thanks for the reply!
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