PENTAX K5II Review: If You Had To Pick One...
May 2022, Carl Garrard
Pentax K5II Review: Introduction
As I write this article I can't help but feel a little bit sad. Pentax was the last brand that I decided to cull of the bunch. I guess I just had a very hard time letting go of my Pentax collection that was so dear to me over the years. In the end I reasoned to keep only one Pentax DSLR and a few lenses of my entire collection. This article serves as a sort of memoir, also a detailed breakdown of why I ended up landing on the K5II as the only Pentax DSLR I would own from this day forward. Let me be clear, I have liked at least to some degree or another, every single digital Pentax K mount camera that they have ever made (even the K-01 and quirky KS1), and that, will never change. Some, more than others.
|Totally weather sealed.
Pentax is still one of my top brands of cameras to choose for use in the outdoors. Their ruggedness, comfort, compactness, and bomb proof weather sealing are just a few reasons why I like them so much for outdoor photography. Pentax has never been a brand that I'd rely on for serious action work. In fact, and to Pentax's credit, they have never represented themselves to be either. But for causal bird watching/photography, inclimate weather landscapes, and nature macros, they are one of the very best choices of all- and some are my favorite to shoot with.
|Rugged. And you feel it in your hand.
I remember when Pentax introduced the K5. They really made a mark with that camera. The raw images were nothing but short of stunning, and it put a mark on the industry. The K5 was one of the very first "ISO less" sensors that allowed for massive pushing and pulling of exposure in post processing- up to five stops or more. The images were also very low noise, and very detailed, rivaling many full frame DSLR's at the time. Today the image quality holds up against new cameras, and surpasses some of them.
Pentax sold a ton of them, it's one of their best selling DSLR's ever for a reason.
Then not too long after the K5, Pentax decided to improve on near perfection by introducing the K5II. By addressing the K5's most obvious (of its few) weaknesses and yet keeping the same layout, the K5II/S models were also a big hit. They improved the LCD greatly, and Pentax improved the speed, sensitivity, and low light autofocus performance by adding a new SAFOX X autofocus module. Which to me at least, instantly made the K5II a much better overall autofocusing camera, especially so in low light situations. Future firmware updates bolstered the already improved performance for screw driven lenses.
The changes, that may at first seem minor, made a big difference when using the camera in real life circumstances. Just think about how often you use auto focus and how often you review your images for instance. Quite a lot in fact, and thus the experience of using the K5II is much improved as a result. The autofocus was immediately noticeable to me, both in speed and tracking ability, and especially the ability to focus and lock in near dark conditions (-3ev). I mean the K5II is tenacious and never seems to give up in dark circumstances.
By making the rear LCD gapless, they improved the viewing angles and reflectivity of the LCD screen, this also had the advantage of keeping dust particles from being sandwiched between the lcd panel and protective glass- a minor but common annoyance with the K7/K5 cameras.But Pentax also added a couple other nifty items.
They added a couple of features using the body's image stabilization- Image Composition Fine Tune and Auto Horizon Leveling. Both of which have a particular practical appeal to the landscape photographer who uses a tripod for example. There were also a few other additions showing up in the menu system too, like an auto setting for the HDR mode etc. But they were overall minor changes/additions.
|Manual image composition tuning was unheard of at the time. A nice trick for landscape photogs.
Overall to me, the K5II was a smart, progressively improved camera. And kudos to Pentax for improving an already stellar design by keeping what was good about it, and improving what stood out. I was a huge fan of the K5 when it came out, but I'd never go back to using the K5 when today's prices are so close on the used market. In a way the K5II was a finalized K5 which is the simplest way of explaining it.
That leads me to why I purchased the K5 II recently. I already had the K5IIs, so what gives? Well I think I'll just have to tell this part as a new segment.
Pentax K5II Review: "There Can Only Be One"
Deciding on a single Pentax DSLR to keep wasn't an easy task. In the end I felt my decisioning process was rock solid though, so I'm going to share it with you. It's important to understand that I have other brands of cameras to do photo work that historically my Pentax's have not, nor will they in the future either. This fact helped me to make the decision on only choosing one Pentax DSLR easier I suppose.
I'll start my sharing my elimination process by first addressing the older than K5II cameras, then the newer than K5II cameras.
All of the Pentax DSLR's introduced prior to the K5II were night and day less advanced and capable. There are truly some great older than K5II Pentax's that I'll always adore, but I like the K5II more overall. These cameras were the easiest to eliminate, relatively speaking. Although I was quite fond of the K10, K200, and K7, there's just no comparison to the K5II here. In the end there just weren't enough unique advantages to those cameras to achieve immortality.
By ruling out using a Pentax for action photography by default, I had to eliminate the K3 III unfortunately. I reasoned that it was senseless to stay invested in this camera if I wasn't able to leverage arguably its greatest feature- autofocusing. Pentax just doesn't have the supportive lens lineup that I require or need in the end, and I tried all of the options in the range I needed. Make no mistake, the K3 III is highly capable, just as much or more so as the D500 or newer mirrorless models, but I prefer to have a much wider choice and better performing range of lenses from for this task.
In my testing, only a couple lenses available for the K mount really show what the K3 III can do for critical action photography (this is the key, critical!) and there's really no fast focusing third party support lenses worth considering either. It was hard to let go of this very fine camera. But I had to be honest with myself, I have better matched camera/lens combinations for this task. Action photography demands the most out of a camera system in my opinion, so until Pentax bolsters it's lens lineup with more options they simply are not the brand I'd choose for this task. I made this very clear in my three part review of the K3 III.
Moving on, I also ruled out the K1 and K1 Mark II full frame options. I already have a 50mp camera I use exclusively for critical landscape work, and thus I felt these models would be redundant because landscape photography is undoubtedly the best choice for these models. Further, the full frame lens lineup was also pretty limited and I didn't desire to use the older screw driven film lenses of the past. Any APS-C lenses I already had in the K mount, wouldn't leverage the resolution of those two beasts either because of the crop factor, and most of my modern and favorite lenses were APS-C.
Also, I never really took to all of the controls and layout of the K1/II cameras. Honestly these cameras felt a bit too specialized/complicated to me for general purpose use. The K1/II are extremely capable to be sure, and one of the best choices out there for astro/landscape work overall, but they are just not as pleasurable to use for every day photography, i.e. as an all rounder. So again, because of limited lens choices, and for other reasons, I reluctantly passed on these two models as the remaining sole immortal.
That leaves just three serious contenders that were newer than the K5II, the K3/II, KP and Pentax's dark horse the K70. I immediately ruled out the KP, as I never took to its handling/controls/layout, but it remains one of Pentax's most handsome DSLR's they have ever designed. Had the K70 had the high end magnesium build quality and 1/8000th top shutter speed of the K5II/K3 cameras, it would have come down to the K70 and K5II. There could have been a different outcome on the final camera as a result. The K70 is probably the best overall DSLR for the money that Pentax has ever made, and likely will ever be.
The horse race then came down to the K5II and the K3. Truly it was a neck and neck race, but ultimately I decided on the K5 II for several key reasons.
First of all I had to decide what specific role a Pentax DSLR would fill in my photography, then I could pick the best camera for that role. I had already eliminated Pentax for action. In the end I decided that a Pentax DSLR would best fit playing the serious shutterbug role. Basically that means that I want a capable DSLR that can produce pro level quality images that is pleasurable to use in a multitude of circumstances that aren't action related.
I was beset on having a sensor that performed the best all round vs. a more specific role, such as landscapes. In my experience, the K5II's 16mp sensor had better low light performance and dynamic range- which both translated into more pleasurable and noticeable improvements when post processing. I have 30x40" prints on the wall that were made with a 12mp DSLR. So I knew that I would miss the lower noise and increased dynamic range of the K5II, but not the extra 8mp of resolution of the K3.
So the greater malleability of the raw files which includes extra dynamic range and better noise control swayed me to the K5II. The icing on the cake was the handling. I just love the button and dial layout of the K7/5/5II cameras, it's near perfect. Pentax did some small tweaks and additions to the K3 that I felt just weren't as ideally located or fine tuned. In short, I found the K5II more versatile in more shooting conditions than the K3 day to day, and in the digital darkroom as well. The slight improvements in the autofocus system and higher resolution didn't convince me over the K5II.
So although the K3 was in some ways better than the K5 II, and definitely better than the K3II, the K5II seemed to have a better balance of handling and image quality, without almost no practical sacrifice in performance for the duty/role it would fill. I do believe that the K5II and the K3 were Pentax's best overall DSLR's however.
Lastly, even though the K5IIs has a bit more fine detail, in comparison to newer gear I found it wasn't really a practical advantage for the role the K5II would inevitably play. Plus, I didn't really have to be concerned about false colors showing up here and there either- not that it was ever a major concern. My K5IIs was also getting old, it had much use. So I decided to sell it and get a brand new K5II in the end, as it seems to be the best all round solution of the two. Luck had it that a seller had a brand new one in the box with the 18-135mm WR as a kit, for a whopping $396.00. That, is a steal.
|Orchids. Still life, K5II
Pentax K5II Review: The Immortal One
So when compared to every other Pentax DSLR, the K5II is my personal choice if I'm to be alone on a remote island. Through this process I realize that I have no legitimate regrets whatsoever. In addition, I think the K5II is probably one of the very best DSLR's made by any manufacturer for still shooters who just enjoy the process of photography. In terms of pleasure of use, its definitely in my top five of all time. It's important to know what it does best, because if you do I think it's a perfect fit for the serious shutterbug that isn't into action photography.
|Compact, robust, highly featured, with a splash of tradition. The K5II is an excellent example of the embodiment of Pentax's ideals.
In a pinch, like many cameras, the K5II can get action shots. It's autofocus system is snappy-quick and with the right lens you can absolutely get yourself some prize winning action shots if your skills and timing are on point. To me though, there are other cameras much more ideal for this task and do so much more reliably and gracefully. And I'm absolutely fine with that. On the occasion I get a great bird in flight shot, or nail other moving subjects with the K5II, it's just all that more satisfying that I was able to do it at all with lessor equipment.
|Quail Pair. Perfect subjects for the K5II.
But without beating the bush too hard, the real joy in using the K5II is walk around photography, hiking photography, and street photography. It's small, weather sealed, beautifully built, supremely comfortable to hold, and highly intuitive to use. It's such a joy to shoot with in the rain with a weather sealed lens too. I have never, nor will ever, worry about ruining a K5II from the wet, cold, heat, or dust. It's just one of the fewer bombproof cameras out there. It's really not that dated nor does it feel so either, it's got some great specs where it counts, and some unique and helpful features that are to die for.
So here I am, with one Pentax DSLR. Never thought that would happen. But I feel with complete honesty, with no remorse or regret, that I have made the right choice overall for my needs. The K5II will fill the role I need just perfectly, and one that I feel embodies the greatest historical attributes and advantages of the brand.
|Mule Deer on the ridge. Hiking with the K5II looking for opportunities just like this is what it was designed to do. Happy trails.