Camera Review: Pentax K-5 IIs

June 25, 2013

By Erik Sherman

Many pros may have slighted Pentax digital SLRs, but that started to change a bit with the K-5, a prosumer body with a solid build quality, a 16.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, improved low-light shooting and faster continuous shooting than its previous models. Now Pentax has the K-5 II with a faster autofocus system, and the K-5 IIs, a model that comes without an anti-aliasing filter to increase resolution (like the difference between the Nikon D800 and D800E). Plus, the K-5 II is actually cheaper than the first-generation K-5. Not too shabby.

I compared an original K-5 with the K-5 IIs. Both are outwardly similar, with a magnesium alloy shell over a stainless steel chassis to provide a solid feel. The body weighs 23.3 ounces without the battery or memory card (SD, SDHC or SDXC). That’s on the order of Canon’s EOS 60D prosumer model, only with lower resolution (16.3 megapixels compared to 18 megapixels). Photography is far more than my-megapixels-are-larger-than-yours technical machismo, and not so long ago 16.3 megapixels would have been impressive for a DSLR. In other words, don’t sweat what are now small differences in absolute resolution.

More Pro Than Prosumer

The controls and ergonomics haven’t changed from the K-5, and that’s a good thing. The overall design of the K-5 IIs is intelligent, although if you’re coming from another camera system, it will take some time to adjust to the user interface. My rule of thumb for a smart interface is that you can find the really important basics by looking at the display screens and using a little trial-and-error. 

From that view, the K-5 IIs can be a little mysterious. I wanted to test continuous shooting mode and had to head to the manual. To switch shooting modes, you have to press the self-timer button, which also brings up single frame, high- and low-speed continuous shooting, remote triggering and exposure bracketing. That’s not a problem once you get used to it, but you may be spending some quality reading time to get up to speed.

Speaking of continuous shooting, the specs say that you should get “up to” 7 frames per second (fps) in JPEG mode. I found the K-5 IIs a little slower than that: about 6 fps for JPEGs and 5 fps when shooting RAW. Oddly, the older K-5 seemed a little bit faster in both capture modes. Given that the mechanics should be almost identical, that seemed like a potential natural variation you could get in individual units. 

Resolution Versus Moiré

The model without an anti-aliasing filter is aimed at studio photographers who may want higher resolution. Anti-aliasing is a way that camera vendors handle an inherent problem of digital photography. The pixels that make up the image can make diagonal lines look like a series of steps when enlarged. But if the lines are parallel and small enough, the image runs the risk of developing a moiré pattern.

An anti-aliasing filter removes the problem by doing the opposite of unsharp masking. The filter slightly blurs the pixel steps, making them look more like continuous contours. You lose a little resolution but with it go the dancing moiré brothers.

So, by dropping an anti-aliasing filter from the K-5 IIs, Pentax rolled the dice that improved resolution would trump the chance of moiré occurring. I came across the problem almost immediately by simply pointing the K-5 IIs with a 31mm lens at my pant leg to test autofocus. When the preview came up on the camera’s 3-inch LCD panel, the image was moiré galore. The issue stemmed from the small but distinct weave pattern of the twill chinos I was wearing at the time.

Still, no need to completely panic, as moiré was exacerbated by the small size of the display. When I brought a JPEG into Lightroom 4 (I hadn’t yet updated to 4.3, which is the minimum version needed for K-5 II or IIs .PEF RAW files), the pattern virtually disappeared when viewed at actual pixel size.

Yes, you could at least reduce moiré in Lightroom 4 or Photoshop if you needed a smaller size image, but there’s no way to be sure in advance that you could completely eliminate it. That means you’d have to carefully examine the texture of anything you were to photograph and test for problems with the K-5 IIs. For studio work, it might make sense to buy or even rent a medium-format camera if increased resolution is important. With the much higher resolution of medium format, you can lose some to anti-aliasing and still be ahead.

The Bottom Line

Problems with anti-aliasing aside, the detail in images from the camera, when blown up more than 400 percent, was impressive. Plus, the price is a fraction of what an medium-format body would run. With improved autofocus, extensive ISO range (up to 12800 is easily usable, although the extended 51200 setting is something to avoid if you can) and hefty build quality, the K-5 II or IIs is a camera you might consider.

Pros: Improved autofocus over the K-5; option of a model without an anti-aliasing filter 

Cons: Continuous burst rate seemed lower than the claimed 7 frames per second; if you’re used to a full-frame sensor, you won’t find it here

Price: $1,099.95 (body only);

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