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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

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.

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