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

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.4
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 7.0
  • Image quality: 7.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

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.

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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.

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.

Click to download ISO 100

ISO 800
ISO 3200

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.

Performance
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)
Time to first shot  
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim light)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon EOS Rebel T5i
0.7 
0.3 
0.3 
0.8 
0.2 
Nikon D3200
0.3 
0.6 
0.5 
0.5 
0.3 
Pentax K-50
1.2 
0.3 
0.3 
1 
0.4 
Nikon D5200
0.3 
0.2 
0.2 
0.8 
0.5 

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Digital camera type Digial SLR Camera
  • Optical Zoom 3.1
  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 16.3 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical (image sensor shift mechanism)
  • Optical Sensor Size 15.7 x 23.7mm