Pentax K-50 and K-500 review: Lots of photo features but pics disappoint

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THE GOOD

The Pentax K-50 features a weather-sealed body that’s unique in its price class, an interesting set of shooting features, support for AA-size batteries, and a relatively nice viewfinder. Plus, it comes in colors, if that appeals to you. The cheaper K-500 has the same feature set but lacks the weather sealing and color combos.

THE BAD

Image quality and performance, while acceptable, don’t match the competition’s, and the cameras lack an articulated LCD. Also, both the shutter and the lens make a lot of noise.

THE BOTTOM LINE

A reasonable option for an entry-level dSLR, the Pentax K-50 should satisfy if you need the weather-sealed design. But while acceptable, it and its cheaper sibling the K-500 lag behind the competition in image quality and performance.

Essentially a tweaked version of its predecessor, the K-30, that can be two-toned to your heart’s delight, the Pentax K-50 doesn’t seem like much of an update apart from the colors and a nonspecific update to the autofocus system. That said, it still stands out from the competition with the same weather-sealed body, the aforementioned colorific cornucopia, and Pentax’s usual broad set of shooting features. However, the image quality is a bit disappointing — especially when using the default settings — and the performance, while fast enough for most tasks the family photographer might require it for, is slower than you get from the competition.

The K-50 has a cheaper brother, the K-500, which lacks the weather sealing and only comes in serious black. For review purposes, it’s more or less identical.

Image quality

Overall, the image and video quality disappoint, especially on the default color settings. Following a long Pentax consumer tradition, Custom Image still defaults to Bright, a setting that indiscriminately pumps up color saturation and increases contrast, resulting in serious hue shifts and clipped shadow detail. Switching to the Natural setting or shooting raw helps somewhat. If you’re not worried about color accuracy, the occasionally surreal colors might appeal. On the other hand, the interface for the Custom Image setting is really nice — it shows you exactly how the presets and changes affect the color gamut.

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For JPEGs I wouldn’t recommend going higher than ISO 800. The K-50’s images generally look pretty soft, and that gets worse as the noise reduction really kicks in. It also looks like the camera adds some sharpening at ISO 400, as there’s a noticeable jump in sharpness at that point.

It renders a respectable tonal range, with a reasonable amount of recoverable shadow detail, though like the rest of its class it doesn’t retain a lot of highlight detail. Exposures look correct, with no metering surprises, even in this sunny, high-contrast July.

ISO 100

ISO 800
ISO 3200

Performance

Video also ranks as subpar, with lots of moire and aliasing, as well as severe rolling shutter. The 18-55mm kit lens is also pretty noisy.

I think the K-50’s performance should be fine for most kids-and-pets photography — it’s especially fast for continuous shooting — but it’s just OK compared with other models in its price range. It takes about 1.2 seconds to power on, focus, and shoot. Time to focus, expose, and shoot runs about 0.4 second in good light, but close to 1 second on average in dim conditions.

The latter seems to be the result of variability in the response of the autofocus system, at least with the kit lens: at best, the camera locks and drives the lens directly to position in about 0.8 second. But just as often it hunts a couple of times before fixing, increasing the time to as much as 1.4 seconds.

It takes 0.3 second for two sequential JPEG or raw shots, essentially the result of taking focus out of the equation. Adding flash ups that to about 1.1 seconds.

SHOOTING SPEED (IN SECONDS)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

LEGEN : (1) –  Time to first shot/ (2) – Raw shot-to-shot time/ (3) – Typical shot-to-shot time/ (4) –Shutter lag (dim light)/ (5) –Shutter lag (typical)

Canon EOS Rebel T5i

(1) – 0.7

(2) – 0.3

(3) – 0.3

(4) – 0.8

(5) – 0.2

Pentax K-50

(1) – 1.2

(2) – 0.3

(3) – 0.3

(4) – 1.0

(5) – 0.4

Nikon D3200

(1) – 0.3

(2) – 0.6

(3) – 0.5

(4) – 0.5

(5) – 0.3

Nikon D5200

(1) – 0.3

(2) – 0.2

(3) – 0.2

(4) – 0.8

(5) – 0.5

The camera can sustain a burst of 5.7-frames-per-second JPEG shots essentially indefinitely (at least 31 shots using a 95MBps card), which should be fast enough for all but fast-action sports. It can burst for eight raw shots at 6.4fps, but then drops significantly.

TYPICAL CONTINUOUS-SHOOTING SPEED

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Canon EOS Rebel T5i : 7.7

Pentax K-50 : 5.7

Nikon D3200 : 3.9

Nikon D5200 : 5.1

In practice, the single-shot autofocus feels relatively fast, though the continuous autofocus frequently doesn’t lock on the correct subject and there’s no way to track it in the optical viewfinder. The K-50 has a fairly large viewfinder with nice representation of the autofocus areas — much better than the Canon Rebel series’.

Though the camera has a — disappointingly — fixed LCD, the screen is pretty bright and high-contrast and visible in direct sunlight.

Design and features

If you discount the different colors the camera comes in, the K-50’s design is pretty old-school — in a good way. Weather sealing aside, even the plastic feels a little sturdier than Canon’s or Nikon’s bodies. It has both forefinger and thumb dials like higher-end models, and a mode dial that bristles with manual and semimanual modes and only a couple of automatic options, plus two user settings slots. The deep grip, comfortable for single-handed shooting, accommodates either a proprietary lithium ion battery or four AA-size cells. Movie recording is really old-fashioned, with a mode on the dial and stopping and starting with the shutter button. It’s additionally inconvenient that if you change shutter or aperture settings while in movie mode it changes them for the relevant priority modes as well; in other words, if you like to shoot movies at 1/30 second and stills at 1/100 second, you’ll have to reset them every time you jump back and forth.

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All frequently accessed settings have a direct-access control except for metering — grumble, grumble — plus there’s a control screen that could be redesigned with better visual cues and organized for faster access to the more frequently needed options.

This is not a camera that you can sneak up on people or animals with. The shutter delivers a loud, decisive thwack! and the kit lens sounds like airplane landing gear as it hunts for focus. (Then again, it’s pretty hard to be stealthy with a hot-pink and lime-green camera.)

Canon EOS Rebel T5i Nikon D3200 Nikon D5200 Pentax K-500 Pentax K-50 Pentax K-5 II/IIs
Sensor (effective resolution) 18MP hybrid CMOS 24.2MP CMOS 24.1MP CMOS 16.3MP CMOS
(12 bits)
16.3MP CMOS
(14 bits)
22.3mm x 14.9mm 23.2mm x 15.4mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.7mm x 15.7mm 23.7mm x 15.7mm
Focal- length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 – ISO 12800/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/
200 – ISO 6400/ 12800 (exp)
ISO 100 – ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 – ISO 51200 ISO 80 (exp)/
100 – ISO 12800/
51200 (exp)
Continuous shooting 5fps
6 raw/22 JPEG
4fps
n/a
5fps
n/a
6fps
8 raw/30 JPEG
7 fps
8 raw/30 JPEG
Viewfinder (mag/
effective mag)
95% coverage
0.85x/ 0.53x
Optical
95% coverage
0.80x/ 0.53x
Optical
95% coverage
0.78x / 0.63x
Optical
100% coverage
0.92x/ 0.61x
Optical
100% coverage
0.92x/ 0.61x
Autofocus 9-pt AF all cross-type; center cross to f2.8 11-pt AF
center cross-type
39-pt AF
9 cross- type
(Multi- CAM 4800DX)
11-pt AF
9 cross- type
(SAFOX IXi+)
11-pt AF
9 cross- type
(SAFOX X)
AF sensitivity -0.5 to 18 EV -1 to 19 EV -1 to 19 EV -1 to 18 EV -3 – 18 EV
Shutter Speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/6,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync
Metering 63-zone iFCL 420-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 2,016-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 77 segment 77 segment
Metering sensitivity 1 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 to 22 EV 0 to 22 EV
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/60i/ 50i/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p/ H.264 QuickTime MOV H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/
24p/25p; 720/50p/ 60p
1080/25p; 720/30p/ 25p Motion JPEG AVI
Audio Stereo; mic input Mono; mic input Stereo; mic input Mono Mono; mic input
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes n/a
IS Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift
LCD size 3 inches articulated, touch screen
1.04MP
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC/ SDHC
(SDXC requires firmware upgrade)
Wireless flash Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 440 shots 540 shots 500 shots 710 (AA lithium); 410 (lithium ion) 740 shots
Size
(WHD, inches)
5.2 x 3.9 x 3.1 5 x 3.8 x 3.1 5.1 x 3.9 x 3.1 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8 5.2 x 3.8 x 2.9
Body operating weight (ounces) 20.8 17.6 19.9 23.2 (est) 23.2 (with li-ion battery) 26.1 (est)
Mfr. price $749.99 (body only) n/a $699.95 (body only) n/a $699.95 (body only) $999.95/
$1,099.95 (body only)
$849.99 (with 18-55mm STM lens) $549.95 (with 18-55mm lens) $799.95 (with 18-55mm VR lens) $599.95 (with 18-55mm DA lens) $779.95 (with 18-55mm WR lens) $1,149.95 (with 18 – 55mm WR lens)/n/a
$1,049.99 (with 18-135mm STM lens) n/a $1,099.95 (with 18-105mm lens) $699.95 (with 18-55mm DA and 50-200 DA lenses) $879.95 (with 18-55mm WR and 50-200 WR lenses) $1,349.95/
n/a (with 18-135mm WR lens)
Release date April 2013 April 2012 January 2013 July 2013 July 2013 October 2012

One of the K-50/K-500’s strengths is the large selection of uncommon or unique shooting capabilities. It may lack real-time filter effects, but it offers useful features like TAv mode, which allows you to set shutter speed and aperture while the camera automatically selects an ISO sensitivity to match; sensitivity-priority mode, which lets you select the ISO sensitivity and it selects shutter speed and aperture; focus peaking, which appears in autofocus mode as well as with manual focus; and a raw override button. The Interval Shooting is a little more common, but still good to have. And if you have the optional GPS unit, there’s also an Astrotracer option, which removes star trails from long exposures in astrophotography.

For a complete account of the features and operation, download the PDF manual for the K-50 or K-500.

Conclusion

Oh, the mixed feelings I have. With a broad but no-nonsense feature set and weather-sealed body, the K-50 stands out from the crowd for its design and features, and while it doesn’t have best-in-class performance it’s good enough. But it just can’t keep up on photo quality, and I really suggest you pass it up if you’ll be shooting video. Despite the lack of weather sealing, the K-500 also looks a little better than its frills-free competitors, but once again, compromises on photo quality.

(cnet.com)

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