The Pentax K5: A Review from the Field

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by Paul Giguere, Aug 11, 2011.

  1. Paul Giguere

    Paul Giguere

    May 4, 2011
    Wayland, MA USA


    You might be wondering why a web site such as is featuring a review of a digital SLR camera like the Pentax K5? After all, are we not compact camera users? Did we not throw our heavy, bloated, expensive, cannonball-sized DLSR cameras overboard in favor of cameras that can go where we go, when we go, every time? Well, the reality for many of us is that while we might be fans of compact cameras many of us still own and use DSLR cameras when needed for various reasons and many of us who no longer own a DSLR but may have owned one in the past and know of their capabilities and potential for making great (maybe even spectacular) photographs.

    Okay, so I can already hear people grumbling about the fact that 4/3rd and micro 4/3rd cameras have been around for awhile and are as small (if not smaller) than the K5. This is may be true however, the K5 is very close in size to cameras like the Panasonic GH2 and other 4/3 cameras that are similar in shape to a standard DLSR design. The important thing to realize here is that the K5 offers features that 4/3 cameras do not usually have such as a true viewfinder (no EVF here), a well proven design and interface, a medium-sized CMOS sensor, Pentax lens compatibility (which are arguably some of the finest lens made), and a weather-sealed body. I decided to review this camera because, while size and weight are still two very important variables for me when deciding which camera to take, image quality and speed are equally important at times and since I own a single camera (a Ricoh GRD3 at the time of writing this review) I know I will need to round out my camera range and a DLSR beckons in the not too distant future. The Pentax K5 is what I would call a bridge-camera between two worlds.

    The Pentax K5 sports a 16.3 megapixel CMOS sensor, a 920,000 pixel LCD screen, and all of the various features, settings, and shooting modes you would expect from a DLSR. The camera also features a number user-customizable options. In fact, just about every button and function on the camera can be customized and set-up exactly how you like. A DSLR camera though can really only be fully measured by evaluating the camera in combination with the lens you use. After all, the lens is what dictates image quality to a large degree. For this review, I used a Pentax SMCP-DA 35mm f/2.8 Macro Limited Lens and a Pentax DA 21mm f/3.2 Limited Lens both of which are superb lens and with the 1.5X crop factor of the sensor, gave me a range of 31.5mm to 52.5mm. The camera body comes with the basics (body cap, neck strap, manual, battery and charger, plus AV and USB cables). The street price for the K5 is $1,350 USD (plus lens).


    The K5 is a very solid camera (a small cannonball if you will). Holding the camera feels very comfortable and with either of my two test lens, the camera was well balanced. Yes, it is a bit on heavy side when compared to a compact camera but it much lighter than my Canon 5D ever was. One thing about the size though, the body is on the petite side when compared to other DSLRs (including consumer models from the likes of Canon and Nikon). The grip feels good but I can see where someone with large hands would not have a place for their pinky finger (it would naturally slide under the body when gripping the camera). Again, this was not a problem for me but those with large hands may want to try a K5 first and see if this will be a problem.

    Size not withstanding, everything else on the camera (dials, buttons, etc.) are placed logically and in natural positions for effortless shooting. In fact, you will find the LCD screen and all of the controls to be roughly the same size as any other class-leading DSLR. The set-up and menu screens are well organized and easy to navigate. I particularly liked the level of customization one has in assigning or reassigning various functions to buttons and such. This is no small feat and Pentax really has nailed the ergonomics of how DSLRs should be designed.

    The other great feature of the K5 is that it is weather-sealed. What this actually means is that it is essentially waterproof to a certain depth for a certain period of time (I was not able to get the actual numbers on this from Pentax) however, I have seen videos of people taking the K5 into the shower with them and firing off shots, submersing it entirely in a tub of water and shooting while submerged, and someone even took it snorkeling and made photos with the camera underwater for periods of time. All of this without any ill effect. Just towel it off and you’re good to go. To be frank, I’m more interested in how the camera would perform in wet weather (I rarely make photos while showering) and I would have absolutely no problem using this camera in rain or snow. There is currently no camera on the market that has full weather sealing under $5,000 USD (body only) so to find this kind of feature in a camera priced under $1400 is incredible and a very attractive feature.

    In the Field​

    All of this attention paid to the user experience by Pentax has resulted in a camera that is actually a joy to use. It is very fast and very responsive. The weight and physical size of the camera made it easy to carry around my neck without any fatigue and I frequently wrapped the neck strap around my wrist and carried the camera hanging down from my hand (something that was very difficult to do with my Canon 5D for long periods of time due to the weight).

    As I mentioned, all of the controls are well laid out on the camera and I was able to quickly and easily customize the buttons for my preferred set-up. The LCD is bright and of a high resolution. The viewfinder is huge (almost 100% coverage) and bright. I’ve gotten used to using the LCD with compact cameras (and can do this as well with the K5) however the viewfinder is really quite nice and I enjoyed using it even it if it was a bit like riding a bike after several years of not doing so.

    Focusing with this camera in autofocus mode is lightning fast (sorry, no numbers here but it blows the Canon 5D out of the water). I also found it easy to do both manual focus as well as zone focusing. The lens for the K5 are built like little tanks (all metal) and have engraved markings for distance settings on the barrel (something you usually only find with Leica lens these days) which made it very easy to zone focus the lens for different situations. Because many of the photos I took for this review were action photos, I also used the continuous shooting mode and was equally happy with the write-speed of the K5 with RAW files.

    In actual use, the K5 was a lot of fun to use, so much so that my wife kept giving me a worried look because I was enjoying myself so much this camera, she described me as giddy at one point . . . a sign that a possible purchase might be around the corner I guess. An important thing for me though is whether the camera becomes invisible to me as I’m making photos. In others words, do I forget about the camera as I work so that I can focus on my photography and not the gear and although the K5 is indeed a DSLR and is bigger and heavier than my Ricoh GRD3, for example, I have to truly say this camera (while not entirely outside of my consciousness) would be a camera I could use on a regular basis for my photographic work. That said, due to the size and weight, the K5 would still not be the type of camera that I would carry around with me on a daily basis in my bag.


    Well all of the great features, handling, etc. don’t mean anything unless the image quality is there and the K5 again comes up as not just competent in this area but on par with the image quality of much more expensive cameras and even rivals cameras that sport full-frame sensors (in my opinion). Yes, image quality is also a matter of the lens you use however, once you are a part of the Pentax family, you will also be using some of the best glass ever produced.

    All of the photos in this article were made using available light (no flash). I used Lightroom 3.0 to edit the photos where I used the auto feature to adjust exposure and white balance. No other editing was done to these photos. As you can see from the photos, the K5 did an excellent job not only with color rendition but the metering. The metering on the K5 was very accurate and was able to balance backlighted situations with proper exposure of my subjects. The color out of the camera was also spot on (shooting in RAW).

    Below are photos made at a local soapbox derby race which happens every year just around the corner from my house. Most of these photos were shot using continuous shooting mode using the Pentax SMCP-DA 35mm f/2.8 Macro Limited Lens:






    Below are photos made at a festival. Most of these photos were shot using continuous shooting mode with the Pentax DA 21mm f/3.2 Limited Lens:







    The Pentax K5 is truly an excellent camera. Sure, it may not be a compact camera by our definition, however, the K5 is smaller than most DSLRs and goes head-to-head with any professional DSLR camera out there today (including full-frame cameras) for image quality. It is also hard to nail down the competition for this camera. The obvious suspects are other DSLR cameras at the mid and high-range (Canon and Nikon come to mind easily enough) but I can see the K5 giving the M4/3 cameras out there a run as well. Granted, the price tag is higher (by almost $600 or more on average) however you get a lot of camera for the money.

    The big question for me is would I buy a K5 and the answer is most definitely yes . . . if I was looking for a DLSR camera that is. I still want, need, and use compact cameras for most of my work so a DSLR would just sit in the bag at home most of the time unless I had a particular project that I needed it for (or for a truly weather-sealed camera). If you are looking for a compact DSLR, the K5 is definitely worth considering.


    Paul Giguere is a photographer based in the United States. His current focus is on social documentary photographic projects that show the positive aspects of society and community. He is the host of the podcast Thoughts on Photography ( and you can also visit his personal web site at: -Amin

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    • Like Like x 8
  2. Andrew Karre

    Andrew Karre New to SC

    Aug 11, 2011
    Weather sealing

    Oly's E5 is weather sealed, is it not? E3 and E1 were.
    • Like Like x 2
  3. kyteflyer

    kyteflyer ~@¿@~

    Jan 31, 2011
    Newcastle, Australia
    Real Name:
    Indeed it is (so are cams like the 5D etc) but its bigger and heavier, and its still got the 4/3 sensor, and in a camera of this size I'd expect at least an APS size.. I looked at an E5 at the recent PMA in Sydney and even though on specs its only 60gms heavier than the K-5, it felt like a tank.

    Paul's review about sums up my experience of the K-5, but I don't find it difficult to cart about in a bag all day (my lens choice is currently the FA43) and its very compact with any of the limited lenses. Then again I don't have a micro 4/3 camera... my attitude might well change if I did :)
    • Like Like x 2
  4. vincechu

    vincechu SC Veteran

    Sep 14, 2010
    I agree with what's said above by Paul and Sue - I'd like to add that I love the colours and the look of the images you can get from the K5 and pentax lenses - they often look very film like to me. Just like Paul, I don't really adjust the colours, just WB and exposure in LR3.

    Talking about IQ, I also love the massive amount of RAW headroom you get from under and over exposure and also I find up to ISO9000 very usable with little or no noise reduction.

    In comparison to a M4/3 camera, the k5 is definately heavier, I used to have a G1 and can say with kit lenses mounted, the G1 was 1/3rd of the weight of the K5 - but then the k5 is built like a tank and water resistant.

    My only niggle is that I feel AF could be better - ie more focus points and tracking for a pro camera, but then I don't really shoot sports that often ;-)
    • Like Like x 3
  5. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    If I were going to use a DSLR, it would be the K-5. I could be very happy with just a K-5 and two or three primes. Awesome system.
    • Like Like x 2
  6. Rich M

    Rich M SC Regular

    May 2, 2011
    Thanks Paul.....I have to tell you that I LOVE my K-5.......I mean REALLY love it......more than any camera I have ever owned (and I have been shooting for over four decades).

    I recently came back from South Africa and only shot the K-5. Weather/dust sealing was essential....and the the shutter is sexy/whisper quiet. I could carry the camera all day on a wrist strap.

    Here is a shot 25 minutes BEFORE sunrise at 25,600 ISO.......the fact that I could get anything to even focus in the dim light, much less a photo is a testament to Pentax.


    Thanks again for the review.......R
    • Like Like x 3
  7. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    That's incredible quality for ISO 25,600 before sunrise! If there was one thing about the K-5 which I could have with my E-P3, it would be that sweet shutter sound.
  8. Bugleone

    Bugleone SC Regular

    Jun 1, 2011
    I have come to quite like 'serious compacts' as a site which I take a glance at most days. There are many general photography sites and even more specific DSLR sites on the web, so I can't help but be a little concerned and annoyed that this is being reviewed here,...since the k5 is most certainly NOT an item that should be on these pages, and can be read about in many other sites not to mention printed material also.

    To lay my cards on the table;...I got rid of my pentax DSLR after three years and now use a Sony NEX 3. I have been a passionate photographer for my whole life and started with the proverbial 'Box Brownie' then moved on to Rolleiflex and large format cameras for pro work in industry and TV etc.

    My main objection to DSLR's, particularly those of pentax, is that the makers are not only very conservative but also arrogant and blind to the desires of modern photographers. This is now going to change, and it's a change long overdue.

    All of the main makers essentially offer the same out of date design,, the 'black plastic blob' DSLR which is basically the Canon T90 with a sensor wedged inside. Until very recently this was the only digital game in town unless one went to the expense of a medium format digital back or was content with a small consumer 'digicam'. All developement of small format SLR cameras effectively ended when Canon took the incredible design work of Luigi Colani in the 1970's and figured out that there was much more money to be made by a plastic blob clone. This unfortunate 'design' swept the board as all makers felt obliged to copy the trend set by Canon (with the T90)

    Strangely, I bought the NEX largely for negatives,, NOT a DSLR,...NOT expensive,...NOT large,......NOT locked into one lens fitting,....NOT intimidating to others,.......NOT encumbering to the user,.....NOT forced to put across ones face to use,....etc etc. I have already been more than satisfied and made more good images in less than two months than I did in three YEARS using 'the black plastic blob' Other people largely ignore the NEX and treat one as just another digicam toting passer-bye, so I basically take shots of who and what I like, when I like,...important in a country that is more and more camera phobic.

    In short, the NEX offers a completely different type of photography, which is very easy to lose entirely when the photographer is dominated both physically and mentally by a large black DSLR which is always 'between' the photographer and his subject, and which demands his subservience and attention to feed the many technical 'fleas' that live on the DSLR 'dog'. The only thing I slightly miss from the black blob is the use of long tele lenses, where the tunnel sensation of a DSLR does tend to be of use. Even there the benefits are actually doubtful when one stops to consider.

    The other area I want to touch upon is the unfortunate ethos of the DSLR user. Too often I see DSLR's to be male jewellery or fashion accessory rather than image making tool. The DSLR is largely aimed at 'camera enthusiasts' rather than photographers. DSLR users tend to be lacking in sublety and the public tacitly understands this. My local Shakespeare group has recently banned "serious and professional cameras" from it's popular outdoor summer productions. When I asked why I was told that the people who used "those big black noisey cameras" were also too "pushy" and not concerned about disrupting the performances which they viewed as "their right as photographers". Interestingly, this same group encourages it's audiences to use compact cameras an even informs on how to turn off flash and ge the best results before the performance begins.

    Lastly, to look more closely at the way pentax deports itself;.....Is it not a fact that pentax is a very incomplete system despite more than 10 years of DSLR production? The repeated fiction is that there are lots of lenses etc when in actual fact the pentax range is full of glaring gaps and basically only offers what Mr Pentax thinks we should have. To take but one example; there is still no moderate f2 wide comparable to a 35mm on 'film cameras'. The fast moderate wide is one of the tenets of small camera use,..for example Leica has had up to FIVE 35mm lenses in it's line up at ONE TIME such is it's importance. Compare this with Sony/Zeiss iminent instroduction of 24mm for NEX.

    ...Maybe it would be better for 'seriouscompacts' to keep to it's core business,..just saying.
    • Like Like x 1
  9. Paul Giguere

    Paul Giguere

    May 4, 2011
    Wayland, MA USA
    Sorry, I wasn't familiar with the E5 and it's relatives with regards to weather sealing. I stand corrected on that.



  10. Paul Giguere

    Paul Giguere

    May 4, 2011
    Wayland, MA USA
    Actually, the Canon 5D (or the 5D Mark II for that matter) are not truly weather sealed (only the 1D class bodies are). The 5D lacks gaskets on the body and lens (and then again, only the "L" class lens have the gaskets, the consumer lens do not) that actually create a solid and truly sealed camera. What this means is you might be able to stand getting some drops of water on the 5D and, if wiped quickly, may not present a problem but try and submerge your 5D under water and take some photos. You will ruin your camera and lens, and that is a statement I will stand behind 100% :smile:
    • Like Like x 2
  11. Paul Giguere

    Paul Giguere

    May 4, 2011
    Wayland, MA USA
    Okay, I did a bit of research on weather sealing and the E5, etc. It turns out the E5 is actually classified as weatherproof which means that it can stand some rain and such (which is probably what most of us care about anyway) but it is not a completely weather sealed camera. In other words it can't be submerged or anything like that. Also, just because the body might be weather sealed doesn't your lens are (most consumer lens are not weather sealed which means they don't contain the proper gaskets to block out water. Just something to keep in mind in case you E5 owners were thinking of giving it the shower or snorkeling test :wink:

    • Like Like x 1
  12. Paul Giguere

    Paul Giguere

    May 4, 2011
    Wayland, MA USA
    Hi Bugleone,

    You make a good point about reviewing a DSLR on this web site and it was something that Amin and I discussed. In the end, we decided to go with it because there are many people on the web site who either own, have owned, or want to own the K5 as a "smallish" camera. Rest assured, I don't think this represents a change in the editorial direction of the web site or anything like that.

    Your points about DSLR cameras are spot on I think. I see many people gravitating towards DSLR systems as a way of graduating from the compacts (in their minds amateur cameras) usually because they want to be taken seriously (less about quality) or they think the camera will improve their photos (which it won't). Many of the higher end DSLRs are popular with professional photographers because of the system of lens and options but the image has stuck with the camera-buying public I think and people behave accordingly as you mention. It's interesting that many people who make photographs in a purposeful way (I won't say serious photographer because I don't like that term) are gravitating towards cameras that would be considered retro before the age of the SLR body (e.g.. Fuji X100, Olympus digital PENs, etc.). Perhaps there is something to be learned here in that the SLR body as we know it today was developed out of necessity (functionality) to accommodate the mirror box, finder, etc. and not because someone thought it looked good. Perhaps now that these features are no longer needed (or desired) we will see more photographers gravitating towards other designs where form and function go hand-in-hand.

    • Like Like x 3
  13. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Real Name:
    Paul, I always enjoy your reviews whether they're about a camera that I'm personally interested in or not. I like your writing style because when I'm reading, it feels as though we're just sitting around talking - you're telling me what you think about the camera.. You're very down to earth and to me that's a big plus. I like your real life everyday way of approaching these reviews very much. So here's a big thank you from me!:th_salute:
    • Like Like x 1
  14. wolfie

    wolfie SC Veteran

    Sep 19, 2010
    As a previous Pentax K-7 owner

    until it suffered a knock during a fall (and water intrusion) - I can vouch that the form factor is very compact for a WR body and solid feel.
    My main problem after a years use was that the WR started to fail - first on the kit zoom lens and then on covers over the usb outlet and the card door. I'll admit I gave it a tough time in that it was subjected to saltwater spray / splashes but always washed down in feshwater.
    So my confidence was completely destroyed that the WR of the combo was going to hold up on the next splash or bit of rain. THen my tumble put an end to that troubling situation and gave me the opportunity to re-think what I wanted in a carry-with-me camera. So I've gone to an E-P3. It is a feather in comparison to the K-7, and I am going to make a WR cover that I can trust.
    The main thing I miss now is the excellent OVF of the Pentax, but the size and weight savings of the PEN are a very real compensation in a carry-everywhere camera.
    • Like Like x 2
  15. SSSocky

    SSSocky New to SC

    Aug 16, 2011
    I believe Olympus has the most weather sealed lenses as their entire HG and SHG line are weather sealed.

    I don't think any DLSR has weather sealing good enough to allow for submersion without a underwater housing. That said have a look at the beginning of this video: E5 in Iceland - YouTube (although I think it is a ridiculous thing to do). It is a shame that Olympus seem to be abandoning the system.
    • Like Like x 2
  16. JMinSF

    JMinSF New to SC

    Aug 22, 2011
    I too love the K5; for me, the Best Camera Ever. I especially love it now that I've acquired two of Pentax's three "pancake"-type lenses, the 21mm and the 40mm: With these lenses, the K5 is barely larger than a compact. But Bugleone makes a good point: there are times when the "big black blob" just won't do, and for those, I find that shooting with the Canon S95 in manual is an excellent alternative.
    • Like Like x 2
  17. Tord S Eriksson

    Tord S Eriksson SC Regular

    Aug 16, 2010
    Gothenburg. Sweden
    I too (and my wife) have taken to the K-5 in a great way - that and the NEX-5N, which complements each other very well: The K-5 handles the long lenses (over 200) and the low light, while the 5N handles video and the shorter lenses. My wife's has had no problems, mine has been replaced by Pentax, free of charge (Pentax has had a bit of a problem with manufacturing quality with the K-5s, and so has Sony, which makes the the sensor - lots of early K-5s has had problems with stained sensors, all replaced by Pentax, with little or no fuss).

    What I love with the K-5 is the colours, more than a bit better than my 'old' K-x (not least the reds), the straight-forward menu system, the resolution, the high ISO capability, the camera's next to silent operation (Sony could learn a lot from it!), and the superb weather-sealing. The K-7 is pretty much the same camera, as the K-5, but has an old style sensor, so it is not good for anything, but in really good light (sunny days, or in a studio), or when you plan to take very long exposures. All things you can do with a K-5, of course!
    • Like Like x 3
  18. Naveed Akhtar

    Naveed Akhtar SC Regular

    Dec 8, 2011
    London, UK
    Wat ar we talking here?

    Who really care about 5D and E1? They are too big and crazy. For me even reading K5 (without any doubt my favourite DSLR) on this forum is wierd. :confused::confused:

    I have used many big and small DSLRs, they are simply not in the category of Mirrorless cameras, so should not be compared with Panasonic G Series or Pens. To me, even Sony NEX (due to lack of compact and good lenses) is not a true compact. Doesn't matter if weather sealed and still compact DSLR is not THAT bigger and THAT heavier than GHx series, the whole experience is completely different. The fast and accurate AF-C system, the tilt and swivel LCDs, amazing small and sharp lenses with detailed and big EVF take you to a whole new world of Photography.

    The short and basic review is like if someone posted a film camera review on Digital Photography Review (dpreview) website by mistake. :mad:
  19. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Real Name:
    Hi Naveed. I believe we have quite a few K-5 users in this forum as well, and even have a K-5 dedicated thread. Heck, I may even have started it. :) As you already know as a K-5 owner, the K-5 is bigger than a GH2, but not that much bigger (although much heavier). I do agree that any direct comparisons of the K-5 vs. most mirrorless are kind of pointless as they are targeted at different market segments. But I don't think this review was about that. In any event, with the release of high end mirrorless like the NEX 7, it definitely is encroaching into the more "semi-pro" like DSLR segment. We may even see a weather sealed Olympus mirrorless soon. Cheers and happy new year!