Pentax K-500 Review: First Impressions
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The Pentax K-500 arrives as a completely new camera for Pentax, filling a gap in the company's DSLR lineup by providing a true entry-level model for consumers at a very attractive price. But here's the thing: The K-500 is no ordinary DSLR for beginners. It's packed with advanced photographic capabilities that rival the likes of what's found in the mid-level Canon T5i and Nikon D5200 -- but for a lot less money. (The obvious shortcoming, of course, being the K-500's 16.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, which significantly trails in resolution to the latest Canon and Nikon mid-level models.)
In fact, the K-500 is functionally the same DSLR as the simultaneously announced, mid-level Pentax K-50, minus that camera's 81-point weather sealing. If rain, sleet and snow don't figure into your shooting routine, then the K-500 should be on your DSLR short list, given it costs just US$600 paired with a DA-L 18-55mm lens, a combo that's $180 cheaper than the K-50 and DA-L 18-55mm WR weather-sealed kit. The only other points of distinction between the two models is that the K-500 doesn't come in the 120 different custom color combinations available with the K-50 -- it's only available in black -- and that it ships with four disposable AA lithium batteries (though an additional rechargeable Lithium-ion pack and charger are available for separate purchase).
What's inside. The Pentax K-500 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-500's sensor and processor work together to suppress jaggies (jagged lines) and reduce noise better than last year's K-30. The DSLR offers low-light sensitivity up to ISO 51,200 (something it shares with the higher-end Pentax K-50 and K-5 II). The K-500 also comes with advanced 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 the K-50, the K-500 offers remarkable performance, 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 of a second and a SAFOX IXi+ 11-point (9 cross type) autofocus system with subject tracking. Additionally, the K-500 also carries forward the K-30's full pentaprism optical viewfinder and its bright and gorgeous 100% field of view -- as well as 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.
Overall design. Outside of the colors options and a few minor adjustments, the Pentax K-500 looks nearly identical to the K-30 and K-50. In fact, it's the exact same dimensions for both models, measuring in at 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8 inches. The K-500 weighs 20.8 ounces without batteries, and 22.8 ounces loaded with four lithium AAs.
The body is constructed of reinforced polycarbonate over a stainless steel chassis. Though it's not weather-proof, the K-500 is cold-resistant down to 14-degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius). It 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-500 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 a hotshoe to accommodate an external flash or accessories.
Additional features. Pentax prides itself on its Shake Reduction technology, and never fear, the sensor-shift-based system is built into the K-500 body, complete with rotational compensation that's good for three stops of compensation on average, according to CIPA. Another Pentax hallmark is its Dust Removal system, which is integrated with its Shake Reduction sensor movement system.
In addition to shooting in Auto mode, which lets the Pentax K-500 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-500 does feature focus peaking, but note that it's not usable during active video recording.
Battery, storage and image capture. The Pentax K-500 comes with a AA battery pack, and with four AA lithium batteries lasts for 710 shots (according to CIPA) before needing a new set. You can purchase the rechargeable Lithium-ion battery pack (D-LI109) that's CIPA-rated to 410 shots if you want. (Low battery life is one of the few underwhelming aspects of the K-500.) 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-500 has no internal memory.
The K-500 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-500 is available in black, and is expected to start shipping in July 2013. The DSLR has a suggested retail price of US$600 for the kit including the DA-L 18-55mm lens and US$700 for the two-lens kit including the DA-L 18-55mm and DA-L 50-200mm lenses.
Hands-on with a pre-production Pentax K-500
At a special press event, we got a sneak preview of the Pentax K-500 just hours before it was officially announced. The new entry-level Pentax K-500 is essentially the same camera as the Pentax K-50, which we also saw today, aside from a few key differences. For one, the K-500 is only available in black, while the K-50 comes in 120 different color combinations. We got some hands-on time with both the K-500 and K-50 digital SLRs (along with the new Q7 compact system camera) and after seeing K-50s in pink, orange, blue, green, white and many other colorful hues, the K-500 seemed kind of boring in comparison.
However, the Pentax K-500 is still a heck of a camera for beginners, though, and shares most features with its big brother, except for the color choices and weather sealing. Like the K-50, the lower-priced K-500 uses a 16.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, which Pentax says has been redesigned to reduce noise when shooting at higher ISOs. In our brief hands-on time with the K-500, it seemed to do quite well in low light, producing crisp images at low light, though we did not test the camera's maximum ISO of 51,200 (!).
During the sneak preview event, Pentax enlisted several models for us to photograph. And even though we had to contend with some inconsistent strobe lighting, we were able to capture the model's features in sharp, detailed focus, thanks to the camera's solid SAFOX IXi+ AF system. We were also impressed with the K-500's pentaprism optical viewfinder which provided a crisp 100% field-of-view for framing shots, as well as the camera's in-body shake reduction system for steadying shots with the camera (and not the lens). At first glance, it seems the K-500 is an ideal DSLR for someone who wants to get their feet wet -- but not their camera! -- in photography at a fantastic price.
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