Pentax K-5 IIs Digital SLR Review - The Pentax K-5 IIs offers the same 16 megapixel sensor as the K-5 II, but with the AA filter removed, does it offer sharper images? John Riley investigates in this full review.
I reviewed the Pentax K-5 II in November 2012 and found it to be an excellent DSLR, well worth the Editor's Choice accolade. Pentax have been bold in introducing the IIs variant which, like the Nikon D800E, is an option with no anti-aliasing (AA) filter to reduce the full sharpness potential of the sensor.
The promise is increased resolution of fine detail, the downside is the extra cost and the possibility that repeating patterns could cause moire effects to become visible. Ever since the introduction of the “K-5 Twins” the burning question has been would the extra outlay be worth it and would the dangers of moire be a real problem or just a theoretical one? We shall now seek the answers.
Pentax K-5 IIs Features
As with the Pentax K-5 II, the IIs is an APS-C DSLR using a Sony 16.28MP sensor, well tried and tested. The ubiquitous K mount means a vast heritage of lenses can be used. All Pentax AF lenses and A series manual focus lenses will work fully with the IIs. Lenses prior to that will need the use of the aperture ring to be altered to “permitted” in the camera menu, after which they can be used manually. With adapters, there are thousands of even older lens options open to Pentax users.
The current lens range is continuing to expand and the lens roadmap is available on the Pentax website, indicating yet more on the way. Pentax have always made interesting lenses and there are several Limited prime lenses that are quite unique to the marque.
In-body shake reduction (SR) means whatever lens or accessory is used, camera shake can be significantly reduced, with a 3 stop or more advantage. Weather resistance of the body and many lenses means the freedom to shoot in all weathers. The magnesium alloy body is reassuringly solid and adds to the feeling of confidence that the camera will stand up to rugged outdoor use. The camera body remains relatively light and compact despite its modest size.
Live view, movie mode, digital filters, a fast 7fps shooting rate, AF sensitivity to -3EV and excellent control of noise all add up to an attractive package indeed. In the K-5 II test the camera made the grade with flying colours so now we need to see if the IIs has lost anything as it gains resolution from the modified sensor.
3 inch LCD monitor with 921,000 dots and no air space
Live View with Contrast Detection and Phase Matching AF
SAFOX X AF module sensitive to -3EV
Weather resistant construction with 77 seals
Magnesium alloy shell
7fps maximum frame rate
ISO range 100 to 12,800, expandable to 80 to 51,200
Full HD Movie Mode
17 Digital filters
DNG RAW format
Premium JPEG Quality level
Pentax K-5 IIs Handling
The simplest things can encourage a feeling of quality, from the excellent packaging to the quality of finish on all the components. Pentax have moved to the usual cardboard packing, but it all holds the various items securely and is all of good design. A proper paper manual plus software, cables and charger are all neatly and securely contained.
Ergonomics have always been a Pentax strength and this design is now well established. There are plenty of dedicated buttons and everything falls to hand. The old Spotmatic-era advertising slogan “Simply hold a Pentax” was very true in 1964 and I still believe that to be true today.
The cramped and awkward SD card door is the only weak point in the design. It does seem that the spring has been improved so that the card releases a little better, but it is still difficult at times. It does get better with practise, but the same arrangement on the diminutive Q does not have the same problem, so it is solvable. Hopefully Pentax will take note for future models. It's a small point perhaps, but nonetheless could be improved.
Menus are logical and efficient and it is useful to be able to lock the setting so that the last used tab remains in place. This was a time saver whilst testing, but could also be handy if, for example, formatting cards was the most usual reason to dip into the menus. It would save having to leaf through several button presses to arrive at the same place every time.
The Dli90 battery offers a specification of 740 shots with 50% flash usage and 980 without flash, or 440 minutes of movie playback. This is quoted by Pentax using the CIPA standard at under 23C. Three days of use has not shifted the indicator from full and battery life is clearly not an issue.
Speed - We took a number of shots to test the camera's responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.
Pentax K-5 IIs
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo
Shot to Shot without Flash
Shot to Shot with Flash
Continuous Shooting - JPEG
(shots before slow down)
Continuous Shooting - Flash
Continuous Shooting - RAW
The times measured on the K-5 II were again tested on the IIs and are substantially identical. The RAW frame rate was slightly slower and measured the specified 7fps, so this seems to be the expected minimum performance. In use, the camera operates virtually instantaneously.
Shooting at maximum rate, the buffer filled after 28 JPEG shots (specification 30) or after 21 RAW shots (specification 20), slightly lower in performance than the K-5 II in the case of JPEG shooting. File sizes for the IIs were the same as for the II, so the capacity of cards was identical.
Pentax K-5 IIs Performance
Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.
Pentax K-5 IIs Sample Photos
Sample Photos - The K-5 II and K-5 IIs are largely the same camera, apart from the lack of an AA filter in the IIs version. I have therefore used this opportunity to repeat as far as possible all the shots made for the K-5 II so that the two cameras can be exactly compared. Two months separated the shoots, but fortune smiled and amongst the snow and ice of the last three days there have been some fortuitous spells of perfect weather.
Pentax smc DA 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL WR Other sample images
The lens used is the same model as the first review, a well tried copy of the SMC Pentax-DA 18-55mm WR kit lens. This was chosen to make a comparison between the II and IIs easier, with as few variables as possible. They were not actually the same lenses, but both were known to perform in a similar way.
Pentax smc DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR Other sample images
Two more lenses were provided with the camera, the SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm WR DC and the new SMC Pentax-DA 18-270mm. A series of images has also been made using all three lenses. Images were shot at the canal junction at Worsley and at the Astley Green Colliery Museum. Finally, my young model Bethany was rushed in to make some outdoor portrait shots, at Tyldesley Cemetery.
Pentax smc DA 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 ED SDM Other sample images
The test shots were made at default settings apart from increasing the quality to Premium JPEG. Normally I would use Custom Image Natural and Daylight white balance, but the test was generally kept at Bright and AWB respectively.
I was particularly interested to see if the removal of the AA filter meant better quality images, and whether or not there was any trade off in the other qualities of the camera.
Exposure is similar to the K-5 and identical to the K-5 II. Matrix metering offers the same slightly light result for my taste, but -0.3EV is enough to correct that if required. It is otherwise accurate and centre weighted and spot settings are available if preferred. As over-exposure can be the enemy of digital images, with the potential for burnt-out highlights, then my preference is for centre-weighted metering.
The dedicated exposure compensation button provides a generous -5 to +5 stop adjustment range, although only 3 stops can be shown in the viewfinder display because of lack of space. The rear screen display shows the full range.
Focusing is snappy and accurate. The measured values are a worst case scenario as they are from one extreme to the other, infinity to close or vice-versa, and focusing is much faster when little adjustment needs to be made. The DC and SDM motors are very smooth and virtually silent, so in-lens motors do have their advantages. The body retains its own motor for screw-drive AF, so all AF lenses can be used.
Distortion Correction and CA removal work very well, although they do slow down processing times. However, for architectural shots and for trees silhouetted against sky these features are a huge benefit.
Then we reach the question of resolution and image quality and how the lack of an AA filter affects these. The AA filter present in most cameras has always been there because without it interference patterns (moire) can appear in fine detail. Slightly blurring the image prevents this, but the consequence is that images then need to be sharpened post-capture. Unsharp Mask in Photoshop is one effective way to do this, although the “sharpening” depends on our contrast perception and is an illusion. However, images look crisp and sharp, so the technique is effective.
Sensor and electronics design have moves on, and of course pixel counts have increased, so Nikon (D800 and D800E) and now Pentax (K-5 II and K-5 IIs) have been bold enough to offer this alternative.
The result is amazing. Examining the images shot on both camera, especially impressive is how a fine tangled mass of branches suddenly becomes clear. How lovely hair texture becomes amazing hair texture. How the surfaces of decaying metalwork come alive with fine detail. This is perfect for detailed, texture-filled subject matter, such as landscapes and architecture, close-ups and macro, and, pleasingly, even portraiture. In the case of portraits we may have to diffuse slightly with some subjects, but we might anyway. The test images can be downloaded full size, so interested photographers can see for themselves if the difference is one that appeals.
Of course the K-5 II and other current cameras already provide sharp images after sharpening. The alternative is to use the K-5 IIs which seems to require little or no sharpening and adds a micro-clarity to the texture of subjects. It may be a matter of taste, but I can only say that speaking for myself I am very impressed.
That only leaves the question of moire, and try as I might I could not make it a problem. I have no doubt that as we have been warned of the possibility there may be circumstances, but the instruction book advises that using wider apertures than f/8 will reduce the possibility. Diffraction at smaller apertures can add to the moire effect, although I see no evidence of it so far.
Pentax K-5 IIs Lens test images
Lens Performance - Three lenses were used with the camera, as mentioned. The 18-55mm WR kit lens was used for most of the shots, enabling direct comparisons to be made with the shots in the K-5 II test. The kit lens performs well, especially when stopped down to f11 or beyond. It also focuses impressively close and the quality is well maintained. Stopping down is always advisable when shooting subjects up close, such as the watch shot.
I tested the 18-135mm some time ago and liked very much its wiry, sharp characteristics. This is for me the ideal general purpose lens and weather resistance adds to its versatility. The DC motor in the lens is quiet and fast.
The 18-270mm is new and has not been tested as yet. This one features an SDM motor in the lens, totally smooth and silent. The wide range makes for an ideal travel lens and the quality seems to hold up well. Longer focal lengths will mean relatively small apertures are available, so camera shake may be more of a problem if hand held. Like its predecessor, the 18-250mm, a lock is provided so the lens does not creep whilst being carried.
All three lenses were used at 18mm, 55mm, 135mm, 180mm and 270mm as their ranges allowed, and wide open, f/8 and f/22. All exhibit the same rise and fall pattern in sharpness that we would expect, f/8 offering the best result.
It is clear from the results that from the humble kit lens upwards, all the lenses have sufficient resolution in reserve to take advantage of the extra sharpness from the K-5 IIs.
Pentax K-5 IIs ISO test images
ISO Noise Performance - Low noise levels in the K-5 and K-5 II were very impressive and it's good to see that the IIs is just the same. There are still few DSLRs that can deliver the impressive performance of this series of cameras. I am totally happy to use any setting up to and including ISO1600. From ISO3200 quality steadily deteriorates, and by the time we reach ISO51200 there is a marked drop in sharpness and a marked increase in noise. Detail becomes mushy, but on the other hand we can still get an image that for some purposes might be useful. There was no ISO51200 film, so things have come a long way.
Pentax K-5 IIs White-balance test images
White Balance Performance - White balance controls perform well and as expected. AWB is a good general setting, but for photographers who enjoy the quality of the colour of light then this may be better preserved by using Daylight or another preset. We may wish red sunsets to remain red, for example.
It is worth noting that the presets by default are presets within a small band of auto adjustment – the camera still has some input as to the final value. This can be switched to a fixed value in the custom menus. Item 10 is “WB Adjustable Range”. The Tungsten (Incandescent) setting can also be altered to offer mild or strong correction. Thus a good degree of control is possible.
Pentax K-5 IIs Digital filters
Digital Filters - The same digital filters, HDR options and other effects are available.
Video - The video mode works well. I felt it was slightly smoother than the K-5 II. A sample video was made after the model shoot. There are so many options to explore that it would take a much longer test to cover it all, but the effects available open up a whole new world of possibilities. I am particularly impressed by the Soft filter, which I expect may be well received by the subjects themselves.
Value For Money
This probably depends upon the requirements of the individual. There is no doubt that the excellent Pentax K-5 II offers a camera that competes at every level with its alternatives and at a very attractive price level. As the K-5 disappears as an option, then the K-5 II becomes an obvious choice for both new and existing users.
The K-5 IIs offers a new level of performance in terms of a gorgeous optical clarity and fineness of detail, providing that attention is paid to technique and in many cases a tripod used. Only then can the optimum benefit be enjoyed. It has the same qualities as using a fine grain film as opposed to a fast film.
There is currently a £130 street price difference between the K-5 II and K-5 IIs bodies. However, the K-5 IIs is also, on the same basis, £1490 less expensive than a Nikon D800E, the only other option with no AA filter. I see it as excellent value for money.
This review was started as a journey of discovery, hoping for the answer to the basic question – does it make a difference and is it worth the difference in cost?
The camera is basically well established – compact, efficient, rugged, weather resistant, all of which amounts to an excellent performer and an Editor's Choice. The only caveat with the K-5 II over the original K-5 was as to whether the improved low light AF performance made an upgrade desirable. There is no doubt that it was desirable as an upgrade from an earlier model or as a new buy-in to the Pentax system.
So we look at the K-5 IIs and now find not only the II improvements, but a new, totally impressive level of detail in the images. A clarity. It is visible clearly on screen. To have that quality, the lenses are up to it, but a tripod where possible, or at least attention to making sure that camera shake does not take the edge off again, are essential parts of the process.
Moire does not seem to be a problem, so a higher price than the II is all that remains as a barrier. Put it against the alternative though and it looks rather an amazing bargain. So does it make a difference? Yes, a significant difference. Is it worth the difference in price? Yes.
The K-5 IIs offers new levels of image quality at an excellent price.
Pentax K-5 IIs Pros
Superb clarity in image quality
Rugged weather sealed construction
Compact body and lenses
Some unique prime lenses in range
Glass pentaprism viewfinder
Improved Live View
Backwards lens compatibility
In body shake reduction
Low noise levels
Excellent VFM compared to other marque alternative
Low light AF to -3EV
Wide selection of built in effects and filters
Outstanding colour reproduction
DNG RAW format
Pentax K-5 IIs Cons
Fewer lenses in range than Nikon or Canon
Live View focus and shutter release slow
Price penalty over K-5 II