Pentax takes on Canon 7D, Nikon D300s with K-5

Pentax's new dSLR slides into the top of its product line, with speed and video capture features designed to appeal to entry-level pros.

Pentax K-5
Pentax USA

Pentax K-5 back
Pentax USA

When Pentax briefed me on the K-5, its latest midrange dSLR--midrange for the market as a whole, but at the top of Pentax's food chain--its PR spokeswoman downplayed the announcement. "It's just an updated version of the K-7" was the gist of her pitch.

Then the team began to detail the changes: a beefed-up autofocus system, a switch to a Sony CMOS sensor with on-chip noise reduction, an increase of 2fps in continuous shooting, 1080p video capture. I pointed out that these were nontrivial changes, and that just because the body was fundamentally the same as the K-7--same weather sealing and magnesium-alloy build--didn't mean that people wouldn't recognize the importance of the enhancements.

It's not the replacement for the K-7 that many were expecting, instead filling out Pentax's lineup a price class up. Here's the company's current dSLR line:

 Pentax K-xPentax K-rPentax K-7 Pentax K-5
Sensor (effective resolution)12.4-megapixel CMOS12.4-megapixel CMOS14.6-megapixel CMOS16.3-megapixel CMOS
23.6 mm x 15.8mm23.6 mm x 15.8mm23.4 mm x 15.6mmn/a
Color depth12 bit12 bit14 bit14 bit
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6,400/12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6,400/25,600 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded)ISO 80 (expanded)/100 - ISO 12,800/51,200 (expanded)
Focal-length multiplier1.5x1.5x1.5x1.5x
Continuous shooting4.7 fps
5 raw/17 JPEG
6 fps
n/a raw/25 JPEG
5.2 fps
15 raw/40 JPEG
7 fps
n/a raw/22 JPEG
Viewfinder
magnification/effective magnification
96% coverage
0.85x/0.57x
96% coverage
0.85x/0.57x
100% coverage
0.92x/0.61x
100% coverage
0.92x/0.61x
Autofocus11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX VIII)
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX IX)
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX VIII+)
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX IX+)
Shutter speed1/6,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync1/6,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync
Shutter durabilityn/an/a100,000 cycles100,000 cycles
Metering16 segment16 segment77 segment77 segment
Image StabilizationSensor shiftSensor shiftSensor shiftSensor shift
Video720/24p Motion JPEG AVI
Monaural
720/25p Motion JPEG AVI
Monaural
720/30p Motion JPEG AVI
Monaural
1080/25p; 720/30p/25p Motion JPEG AVI
Monaural
Manual aperture and shutter in videoAperturen/aYesn/a
Mic inputNoNoYesYes
LCD size2.7 inches fixed
230,000 dots
3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
Wireless flashYesYesYesYes
Memory slots1 x SDHC1 x SDHC1 x SDHC1 x SDXC/SDHC
(SDXC requires firmware upgrade)
Battery life (CIPA rating)1,100 shots (lithium batteries)560 shots (NiMH batteries)740 shots980 shots
(not CIPA spec)
Dimensions (inches, WHD)4.8 x 3.6 x 2.74.8 x 3.6 x 2.75.1 x 3.8 x 2.9n/a
Body operating weight (ounces)20.420.426.5 (est)n/a
Mfr. Price$599 (body only, est)$799.95 (body only)$1,099.95 (body only)$1599.95 (body only)
$649.95 (with 18-55mm lens)$849.95 (with 18-55mm lens)$1.199.95 (with 18-55mm WR lens, est)$1,749.95 (with 18-55mm WR lens)
 $899.95 (with 18-55mm and 50-200mm lenses)  
 $999.95 (with 18-55mm and 50-300mm lenses)  
Ship dateOctober 2009October 2010June 2009October 2010

There are obvious differences between the K-5 and K-7, which is important given the big price gap between them. The tweaks to the AF sensor include new optical components designed to reduce the affects of temperature extremes and increased transparency to allow more light to hit the AF sensor (for presumably faster, more accurate operation).

I think there are clear wins for Pentaxians looking for a step up in speed and video capabilities over the K-7. I think it's less clear for people who are considering the K-5 vs. its same-priced competitors. Here's a comparison:

 Canon EOS 7DNikon D300sOlympus E-5 Pentax K-5
Sensor (effective resolution)18-megapixel CMOS12.3-megapixel CMOS12.3-megapixel Live MOS16.3-megapixel CMOS
22.3 mm x 14.9mm23.6 x 15.8mm17.3 mm x 13.0mmn/a
Color depth12 bit14 bit12 bit14 bit
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded)ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6,400ISO 80 (expanded)/100 - ISO 12,800/51,200 (expanded)
Focal-length multiplier1.6x1.5x2x1.5x
Continuous shooting8 fps
15 raw/128 JPEG
7 fps
n/a
5 fps
16 raw/unlimited JPEG
7 fps
n/a raw/22 JPEG
Viewfinder
magnification/effective magnification
100% coverage
1.0x/0.63x
100% coverage
0.94x/0.63x
100% coverage
1.15x/0.58x
100% coverage
0.92x/0.61x
Autofocus19-pt AF
all cross-type; f2.8 dual cross center
51-pt AF
15 cross-type
11-pt AF
twin center cross-type
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX IX+)
Shutter speed1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync1/8,000 to 60 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; n/a x-sync
Shutter durability150,000 cycles150,000 cycles150,000 cycles100,000 cycles
Metering63 zone1,005-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II49 points77 segment
Image StabilizationOpticalOpticalSensor shiftSensor shift
Video1080/30p/25p/24p; 720/60p H.264 QuickTime MOV
Monaural
720/24p Motion JPEG AVI
Monaural
720/30p Motion JPEG AVI
Monoaural
1080/25p; 720/30p/25p Motion JPEG AVI
Monaural
Manual aperture and shutter in videoYesAperturen/an/a
Mic inputYesYesYesYes
LCD size3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 million dots
3 inches articulated
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
Wireless flashYesYesYesYes
Memory slots1 x CF1 x CF, 1 x SDHC1 x CF, 1 x SDXC1 x SDXC/SDHC
(SDXC requires firmware upgrade)
Battery life (CIPA rating)800 shots950 shots870 shots980 shots
(not CIPA spec)
Dimensions (inches, WHD)5.8 x 4.4 x 2.95.8 x 4.5 x 2.95.6 x 4.6 x 2.9n/a
Body operating weight (ounces)3534.231.5 (est)n/a
Mfr. Price$1,699.00 (body only)$1,699.95 (body only)$1,699.99 (body only)$1,599.95 (body only)
n/an/an/a$1,749.95 (with 18-55mm WR lens)
Ship dateOctober 2009August 2009October 2010October 2010

One of Pentax's strengths tends to be offering better-than-usual performance, features, and build quality than similarly priced models. In this class, however, the K-5 just offers parity with Canon and Nikon (though all leave the Olympus E-5 looking a bit forlorn). It does have in-body image stabilization, and Pentax's WR lenses provide weather-resistance at cheaper prices than Canon and Nikon's pro-level models, which combine the weatherproofing with pro-level glass. On the other hand, Pentax lags in a few ways that matter in some quarters; for example, shutter durability and possibly an oddly slow maximum flash sync speed (I'm assuming it's unchanged from the K-7). It's also unclear what the manual controls will be for shooting video, though Pentax tends to lag a little here as well.

Overall, the K-5 looks like an intriguing addition to Pentax's lineup, though much waits to be ascertained in testing. I hope to see one sooner rather than later.

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