Pentax K-500 review

Written by Phil Hall & David Hague     24/09/2013 | 16:09 | Category name i.e.REVIEWS

Key Features: 16.2MP APS-C CMOS Sensor; 3-inch, 921k-dot LCD screen; Sensor-based image stabilisation; ISO 100 - 51200; 1920 x 1080 at 30fps

Pentax K-500 review

Mention the term 'dSLR' to anyone, and most will immediately think of Canon or Nikon. They should also think of Pentax, especially now the K-500 has been released at a price point sure to make a few heads swivel if people are looking for an entry level camera.

 

The rear of the K-500 has a 3" LCD, with a resolution of 921,000 dots, but in this day and age we would like to have seen an LCD that can be angled as against one that stays flush with the body.

 

A definite party trick though is the viewfinder; it offers a field of view so close to 100% that it doesn't matter while the competition only gives 95% at best.

 

Although 5% doesn't sound like a big difference, when you're out shooting in the field and come to consider your images back on the computer you'll be surprised what can sneak in to the sides of the shots.

 

The viewfinder also features a 0.92x magnification, which is preferable to the 0.85x and 0.8x found on the 600D and D3200 respectively.

 

 

The solid level of features includes a fairly comprehensive AF system. The K-500 features Pentax's SAFOX IXi AF sensor module; in real terms, this unit features 11 AF points of which 9 are the more sensitive cross-type variety.

 

This number is far more comprehensive than those found on the 600D or the D3200 and as such should offer a better level of performance across the frame.

 

The K-500's sensor is the same unit as seen in numerous previous Pentax DSLRs. The sensor itself is the 16.28MP APS-C module, which offers an impressively wide ISO range of 100 - 51,200.

 

The sensor offers the welcome capability to shoot both the Pentax .PEF format Raw files alongside the Adobe DNG format, meaning there's direct support for Raw files in the Adobe Camera Raw software.

 

The sensor also features sensor-shift stabilisation that, Pentax claims, allows for up to three stops of image stabilisation and thus will aid sharp images in difficult conditions.

 

Continuous JPEG capture is another impressive area of the K-500's specification. It shoots at up to 6fps, which is faster than both the Nikon D3200 (4fps) and the Canon EOS 600D (3.7fps), thus making the K-500 a good option for those wanting to try sports photography.

 

One final interesting area of the specs is the battery chamber. The K-500 is bundled with a D-LI109 Li-ion chargeable battery, but the chamber supports also 4 AA batteries through an optional D-BH109 battery holder. This is a welcome feature as it allows you to readily replace a dispensed rechargeable battery with affordable off-the-shelf units on the go.

 

Pentax K-500 - Design

 

Where previous recent Pentax DSLRs have opted for a somewhat unconventional angular design, Pentax has chosen a more traditional body with the K-500.

 

The body is a lot smoother and as such is much more in keeping with other entry-level DSLRs. The body of the camera itself doesn't have that many controls, with a 4-way control pad offering access to common shooting settings, though there are dual command dials - a feature normally reserved for more advanced DSLRs.

 

The body also benefits from a large, chunky and rubberised hang grip. It allows for a comfortable and solid feel to the camera, but it's a shame there's no corresponding rubber thumb grip at the rear. 

 

The camera's chassis itself is comprised of stainless steel with a reinforced polycarbonate finish. The K-500 is lacks the weatherproof sealing found in the Pentax K-30, although those who require such durability will no doubt be appeased by the Pentax K-50; a camera launched at the same time as the K-500 and featuring a virtually identical specification with the addition of weatherproofing.

 

Pentax K-500 - Performance

 

The K-500 offers somewhat of a mixed bag when it comes to its performance. There are certain areas where the camera impresses, including the Raw and JPEG capture, but it's let down by a so-so interface.

 

If you're shooting JPEG files and haven't set the camera to record Raw files as well, there's the option to record a Raw file after the shot. Simply select the option and the K-500 retrieves the Raw file from the camera's buffer system.  There's also the option to keep either the Raw or JPEG file - if you've recorded both - when deleting any selected images. 

 

Then there's the luxury of having dual command dials on an entry-level DSLR. Depending on which shooting mode you're using, there's the option to program the secondary dial to a host of settings to aid the use of the camera.

 

One area of performance that is slightly disappointing is the general interface. The menu system itself feels dated and a little tired, with a plain black on white theme, while the colourful shooting information display is also rather garish. 

 

The dated interface isn't the most disappointing area of performance however: that ignominy befalls the K-500's AF system. The performance of the system is reasonable enough on the whole, acquiring prompt enough focus and only really struggling in low contrast situations.

 

However, the noise of the AF in operation, particularly when using the bundled kit lens, is overly loud. Where both the D3200 and 600D feature near-silent operation, the AF on the K-500 whirrs and buzzes throughout the various focus settings. Pentax's SDM (Supersonic Direct-drive Motor) is missing and is sorely missed.

 

The second major irritant with the AF system is the absence of the display of the active AF point in the camera's viewfinder. While this won't be an issue of you're using the broad 11-point AF system, if you want to select a single point its absence is hard felt.

 

The viewfinder itself, however, is bright and clear, benefiting from pentaprism technology as opposed to the lesser pentamirror technology.  

 

The K-500's image stabilisation system is also worthy of note, and it generally offers a good level of performance with very little to doubt the quoted three-stop benefit.

 

Pentax K-500 - Image Quality

 

The general level of image quality with the K-500 is of a decent level and certainly in keeping with other entry-level DSLRs.

 

Where previous Pentax DSLRs had a strong tendency to underexpose, the K-500 generally copes well. The 77-zone metering system copes well on the whole, and although it still doesn't get every single exposure correct there is a pleasing level of consistency.

 

The camera's white balance system is also reliable in most shooting situations and lighting conditions. There is the odd occasion in which the K-500 produces cooler results, such as earlier or later in the day with natural lighting, but on the whole it's generally reliable.

 

The K-500 features an impressive ISO range of 100 - 51,200.  At the lower settings there's very little by way of visible noise, and in fact you'll have to be shooting at ISO 3,200 to notice any at all in JPEG files. 

 

Noise becomes more visible at ISO 6,400, although the good news is that the ISO range is eminently usable right up to the maximum setting of ISO 51,200.

 

When comparing Raw and JPEG files, it's noticeable, although hardly unique to the K-500, that JPEG files are sharper and feature better colour straight out of the camera. Raw files do retain more detail, however, and if you're happy to edit in postproduction they're the preferable option.

 

Should I buy the Pentax K-500?

 

The Pentax K-500 has a lot going for it when comparing its specification to other entry-level DSLRs on the market. Its specification more than matches the leading two in the Canon 600D and Nikon D3200, and in some areas exceeds them, while the camera's design is certainly pleasing and the camera feels solid in the hand.

 

There are a few performance factors, however, that leave the K-500 a little short of being a stellar recommendation. The lack of the camera's AF point on the viewfinder is a realissue and one that really hampers the K-500's usability, while the noisy AF system and dated menus don't help, either.

 

On balance, we'd still pick the 600D or D3200 ahead of it, then, despite the K-500's promising specs.

 

Verdict:

The Pentax K-500 is a very well specified entry-level DSLR that delivers a solid standard of image quality, but there are a few too many rough edges to recommend it over the dominant Canon's and Nikon's.

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Pros & Cons

Pros:

Good image quality Large and comfortable grip Strong features compared to rivals

Cons:

Noisy AF with kit lens Dated interface No visible AF point in viewfinder