Pentax K-50 Review: First Impressions
The Pentax K-50 mid-level, weather-sealed DSLR succeeds the Pentax K-30, a richly featured camera that we loved for its impressive bang for the buck. The K-30 simply provided advanced photographic capabilities that no other camera could at its price. So you can see why we're excited about the Pentax K-50, because the DSLR not only ups the ante in terms of features and functionality, but also comes in at an even lower price. Which makes us wonder, how can Pentax do it?
What's new and what's the same. Boasting a number of evolutionary upgrades, the Pentax K-50 comes equipped with a refined version of the K-series' 16.3-megapixel APS-C sensor and PRIME M processor whose tweaks were designed to improve image quality. In particular, Pentax claims the K-50's sensor and processor work together to suppress jaggies (jagged lines) and reduce noise. And the DSLR now offers low-light sensitivity up to ISO 51,200 (something it shares with the higher-end Pentax K-5 II). The K-50 also gains WiFi capabilities via its Eye-Fi SD card compatibility. Not only can you wirelessly share photos with your computer or smart devices, but the camera's built-in Eye-Fi controls let you choose and re-size images before sending them.
Like its predecessor, the Pentax K-50 offers remarkable performance for its class, shooting at nearly 6 frames per second in high-speed continuous mode (taking up to 30 JPEGs or 8 RAW shots in a burst). It also provides a max shutter speed of 1/6000 second and a SAFOX IXi+ 11-point (9 cross type) autofocus system with subject tracking. The K-50 also carries forward the K-30's full pentaprism optical viewfinder and its bright and gorgeous 100% field of view, full 1080p HD video recording at up to 30 frames per second, and twin control dials (one on the front grip and one just below the mode dial on the rear) which give you a ton of flexibility when setting exposure on the fly.
Of course, the K-50 also retains the 81-point weather sealing that's become a Pentax hallmark, especially impressive at this price point, and protects the camera from rain, sleet and snow. But the K-50 gets even more weather proofing in the form of two revised kit lenses which are both weather-sealed -- the DA-L 18-55mm WR and DA-L 50-200mm WR -- something the K-30 didn't offer.
Pentax is the only manufacturer providing comprehensive weather-sealing, dustproofing, and coldproofing at every level: professional, enthusiast, mid-range, and now at the entry-level too. Even the Pentax K-50’s kit lenses are weather-sealed.
The K-30 body originally retailed for US$849. But the K-50 body retails at $700, and kitted with the new, lightweight, weather-sealed DA-L 18-55mm WR lens costs just $780. Assuming that the K-50 is truly an upgrade in terms of image quality, this looks to be an incredible value-based proposition from Pentax. Who wouldn't want more for less?
Color commentary. But there's one last unmistakable upgrade on the Pentax K-50 designed for photographers who'd like their DSLRs to match their personalities or sense of style. And that's the fact the camera comes in 120 different color combinations at no additional cost. Pentax introduced this custom color approach with the Q10 back in January 2013, though with *only* 100 combinations (meaning one less grip color), and it's apparent the company believes it's a successful gambit. With 20 body colors and 6 grip colors on the K-50, you can opt for a classic black camera body matched with a black grip or choose an olive green body with a pink grip -- to each their own. Pentax states that while that choosing a custom Pentax K-50 through its Color to Order system is free, it will likely take three to four weeks to ship to you.
Overall design. Outside of the colors options and a few minor adjustments, the Pentax K-50 looks nearly identical to its predecessor. In fact, it's the exact same dimensions as the K-30, measuring in at 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8 inches. The K-50 weighs 20.8 ounces without its battery, and 22.9 ounces with it.
The body is constructed of reinforced polycarbonate over a stainless steel chassis. In addition to being fully weather sealed, it's also dustproof and cold-resistant down to 14-degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius). The K-50 features a Pentax KAF2 bayonet stainless steel mount, and is compatible with KAF3, KAF2, KAF and KA lenses (as well as K mount, 35mm screw mount and Pentax 645/67 medium format lenses with an adapter or with restrictions).
On the back of the K-50 is a 3-inch, wide-view TFT LCD monitor with approximately 921,000 dots of resolution that sits flush with the body, and on top of the pentaprism is a built-in, pop-up flash and hotshoe (which features high-speed sync and wireless capabilities when a Pentax-dedicated flash is mounted on it.)
Additional features. Pentax prides itself on its Shake Reduction technology, and never fear the sensor-shift-based system is built into the K-50 body, complete with rotational compensation that's good for three stops of compensation on average, according to CIPA, four stops max. Another Pentax hallmark is its Dust Removal system, which is integrated with its Shake Reduction sensor movement system on the K-50.
In addition to shooting in Auto mode, which lets the Pentax K-50 determine the best shooting mode for a given subject or scene, the camera offers fully PASM shooting controls via its Mode dial. The camera's Scene mode features 19 different scenes, ranging from Night Scene Portrait to Pet, that optimize exposure and other shooting settings.
There's also 11 custom image modes, ranging from the traditional Natural and Vibrant to the more dramatic Bleach Bypass or Reversal Film. Nineteen different filters can also be added, including the usual suspects such as Toy Camera and High Contrast, as well as in-camera HDR. For manual shooters, the K-50 does feature focus peaking, but note that it's not usable during active video recording.
Battery, storage and image capture. The Pentax K-50 uses a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery (D-LI109) that's CIPA-rated to 410 shots before you have to recharge -- which unfortunately is one of the few under-performing specs for the new DSLR. However, the K-50 does offer the flexibility to use AA batteries instead -- especially helpful if you're traveling in the wilds or overseas -- if you purchase the optional AA battery holder (D-BH109), which we're told should run about US$50. Running on four lithium AA batteries, the K-50 is rated for 710 shots. Another optional power source is the AC adapter K-AC128.
For file storage, the camera is compatible with SD/SDHC/SDXC and Eye-Fi memory cards. We recommend Class 6 and higher, and at least 16GB. Like most DSLRs, the K-50 has no internal memory.
The K-50 captures stills in 8-bit JPEG and 12-bit RAW (DNG) formats. Videos are captured at Full 1080p HD at 30/25/24 frames per second, and 720p at 60/50/30/25/24 frames per second in MOV MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) format. Maximum movie recording time is 25 minutes per clip.
Pricing and availability. The Pentax K-50 was immediately available to order on its launch date June 12, 2013, in a choice of 120 color combinations at pentaximaging.com. It will be available in retail outlets nationwide in July 2013. The K-50 comes with a suggested retail price of US$699.95 for body only, US$779.95 for the kit including DA-L 18-55mm WR lens and US$879.95 for the dual lens kit including the DA-L 18-55mm WR and DA-L 50-200mm WR lenses.
Shooting with the Pentax K-50
At a special press event today, we got a sneak preview of the Pentax K-50 just hours before it was officially announced. As far as picture-taking skills go, the K-50 seems solid. We got to shoot with it for a short time during the sneak preview and while it felt similar to the K-30, that's not a bad thing. The K-30 was a clear Dave's Pick when we reviewed it in October 2012, and the K-50 seems destined for greatness as well.
While the 120 color combinations make the K-50 seem more like a consumer or lifestyle camera, the DSLR's features and overall build mean it's a serious tool for serious photographers. The K-50 uses a 16.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor -- the same resolution as the K-30 -- but Pentax says it's been redesigned to reduce noise when shooting at higher ISOs. Indeed, the maximum ISO has been bumped to ISO 51,200 and the K-50 seemed to do well in low light.
The Pentax K-50 also feels rugged -- and it's built that way, with 81 weather seals and additional dustproofing and coldproofing. The K-50's smc PENTAX-DA L 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 AL WR kit lens is also weather sealed, making this the perfect camera combo to get unexpectedly caught in the rain with. Looking through the K-50's viewfinder you get 100%, field of view, which helped in composing cityscape shots we captured from the roof of a building in lower Manhattan, which you can see with a few other initial gallery images here. Autofocus via the camera's SAFOX IXi+ AF system seemed quick and sharp.
The Pentax K-50 is a fast camera to shoot with overall, and we were quick to test out its claims of 6 frames-per-second in continuous shooting mode. We didn't time it, but it certainly felt peppy. Though we didn't get to try it out, we're particularly excited about the K-50's built-in control for Eye-Fi SD wireless memory cards. With so many different camera wireless-sharing systems so far providing underwhelming results, it's nice to see a different approach and we're eager to see exactly how it works once we get it into the IR lab.
Overall, while colorful cameras are not really our thing, these multi-hued K-50 DSLRs from Pentax should appeal to an array of photographers who want their camera not only to shoot great photos but to look stylish in the process.
Summary. Outside of Pentax's product line, it's unheard-of to find features like a 100% pentaprism viewfinder and twin control dials in an entry-level DSLR. And with a fast 1/6,000 second top shutter speed and six frames-per-second burst shooting, the Pentax K-50 should have no trouble keeping up with the action.
The Pentax K-50 puts enthusiast-grade features in the hands of consumers, and does so with a surprisingly affordable price tag.
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