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Pentax X-5 Review

Overview by Mike Tomkins
Posted: 08/22/2012

Shooter's Report by Chris Gampat and Dan Havlik
Posted: 04/12/2013

If you're onto a winner, why change anything? The design team at Pentax seems to have asked themselves this question before creating their latest ultrazoom digital camera. They promptly answered by borrowing the extremely popular styling of its Pentax K-5 DSLR -- and its name, bar one letter -- to create the Pentax X-5. The new camera takes the K-5's basic design and runs it through a shrink ray, before tacking on a powerful 26x optical zoom lens. A few changes to accommodate the smaller body and the feature-set Pentax chose for the fixed-lens X-5, and hey presto: you've got one very handsome little ultrazoom.

We've seen more than a few fixed-lens cameras with SLR-like styling over the years, but in this case the resemblance is more than uncanny. In fact, as similar as it is, we have to wonder whether basing the X-5 so closely on a fully-featured SLR may lead to some confusion in the minds of consumers. ("My camera looks just like my friend's, so why aren't my pictures as good?") Because let's be clear -- while it may look a lot like the K-5, the Pentax X-5 is very much closer to the typical consumer ultrazoom in terms of feature set and image quality.

Sensor. Pentax has based the X-5 around a 1/2.33-inch type CMOS image sensor with a resolution of 16 megapixels. That's a little bigger than typical camera phone sensors, but par for the course for a fixed-lens camera, and vastly smaller than the APS-C sensors in typical DSLRs. It's worth noting that the sensor uses a backside-illuminated design, which moves some circuitry off the active layer of the sensor to free more space for light gathering, helping improve sensitivity and noise characteristics when compared to older, non-BSI sensors. The sensor is mounted on a movable frame that allows correction of camera shake for stills, so you can handhold exposures in lower ambient light without having to resort to flash. (Which, if needed, is provided for with a pop-up flash good for up to 38 feet or 11.5 meters at wide angle, using Auto ISO.)

Features and functionality. The Pentax X-5 is, however, rather less sophisticated than its looks might suggest. There's no hot shoe, for example, and full-resolution burst shooting is limited to a staid 1.1 frames per second. Experienced photographers may find off-putting the fact that the only format in which images can be saved is as compressed JPEG files; there's no raw file support. Nor does the X-5 support Aperture- or Shutter-priority shooting; you have a choice of Program Auto or Manual exposure modes, plus the usual raft of consumer-friendly Scene modes. (If you enjoy using these, you'll find the selection is pretty generous: Flower, Blue Sky, Sunset, Night Scene, Night Scene Portrait, Fireworks, HDR, Surf & Snow, Baby, Kids, Pet, Food, Digital SR, Stage Lighting, Text, Museum, Digital Wide, Digital Panorama, and Frame Composite). There's also an Auto Picture (or Green) mode, which places the camera in control of most everything except framing and deciding when to press the shutter button.

On the plus side, there is at least a physical Mode dial, something of a rarity in fixed-lens cameras, which often force you to meander through the menu system just to change the exposure mode. It sits on the opposite side of the camera from where it's placed in the K-5, likely both due to the lack of room on the X-5's smaller left shoulder, and because the X-5's right shoulder is largely empty. As you'd expect on a fixed-lens camera, there's no top-deck LCD info display, which occupies much of the same space in SLRs like the K-5.

26x optical zoom lens. Beyond the sensor size, the biggest difference between the Pentax X-5 and K-5 is the new camera's 26x optical zoom lens. It might look like an SLR, but like its competitors the lens is firmly fixed in place. With everything from a very generous 22.3 equivalent wide angle to a powerful to 580mm equivalent telephoto covered, though, you likely won't mind. Covering that same focal length range with an SLR is simply not an option for most consumers: the cost and bulk of the lenses required would be prohibitive.

Of course, with interchangeable lenses, you'd get more than just the choice of focal lengths. The Pentax X-5's built-in lens offers impressive macro performance, focusing as close as just one centimeter if you can get sufficient light on your subject, but it doesn't have the brightest aperture around, and coupled with the small sensor this will make shallow depth-of-field effects nigh on impossible. At wide angle, the X-5's lens offers an f/3.1 maximum aperture; by telephoto this falls to f/5.9.

But then, much of this is true of most ultrazoom cameras, and we're perhaps being a little unfair by drawing the comparison to an SLR. We do so only because with the extremely direct port of the styling from the company's flagship APS-C DSLR, many of its customers are likely to do the same.

Tiltable LCD. Uncommon for a camera in this class.

Articulated LCD monitor. Truth be told, the Pentax X-5 does offer some features not found in all of its rivals -- and in some cases, not found even on the company's digital SLRs. Key among these is an articulated LCD panel. Sadly it only tilts up and down, and can't be folded out from the camera body and swiveled. That means it's of no use for self-portraits, a pretty common use case for a camera aimed at consumers. It will, however, make shooting high above your head or low to the ground much more enjoyable, so long as you're shooting in landscape orientation. The Pentax X-5's screen tilts upwards about 90-degrees, or downwards by 60-degrees. It has a pretty standard 3.0-inch diagonal, and an above-average resolution of 460,000 dots. (That equates to around 153,000 pixels, with each pixel made up of red, green, and blue dots.)

Electronic viewfinder. The Pentax X-5 also offers an electronic viewfinder, with diopter adjustment. That's not unique, by any means, but even in long-zoom cameras it's becoming less common. A viewfinder is a good idea on a really long-zoom camera, because shooting with the camera braced against your face is a much more stable position than holding it away from your body. Even with good image stabilization, anything you can do to steady the camera at 26x is helpful. Over the last year, only about a third of mega-zoom cameras had viewfinders, so kudos to Pentax on this. In terms of resolution, the Pentax X-5's electronic viewfinder sits near the entry level, with a dot count (230k dots) similar to that of Fujifilm's FinePix S4300, and far below the 1,440,000 dots of the Fuji X-S1. That's to be expected when one considers their respective pricing, though.

Shutter, ISO and white balance. Images shot with the Pentax X-5 are metered with a TTL multi-segment metering system that also offers center-weighted and spot modes, and shutter speeds vary from 1/1,500 to a rather short 1/4 second by default. You can access longer shutter speeds in Manual and Night Scene exposure modes, but even there you're faced with a cap of just four seconds. ISO sensitivity varies from 100 to 6,400 equivalents. Eight white balance modes are available, including Auto, six presets, and manual.

Video. As well as stills, the X-5 can also capture Full 1080p HD video at a rate of 30 frames per second, or 720p high-def video at a choice of 30 or 60 fps. There's also a standard-def 30 fps VGA mode. Videos use MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 compression, and include monaural audio. Unfortunately, these rely solely on digital techniques in firmware to fight blur; the sensor-shift stabilization system is disabled for movie capture.

Connectivity. Connectivity options include USB 2.0 for image and movie file transfer, a composite standard-def video/audio output via the combined USB/AV out port, and a Micro HDMI (Type D) port for high-def video output. The X-5 also has a infrared receiver in the grip for use with an optional wireless remote.

Unusually for its class, a DC input terminal for an optional AC adapter kit is provided.

Battery and storage. The Pentax X-5 draws its power from four standard AA batteries, and its manufacturer says battery life with nickel-metal hydride rechargeables is about 500 shots on a charge, and even with alkaline disposables you should get around 330 shots on a set. Lithium disposables, as always, offer the best life (although that may not present the best value or environmental friendliness), at about 950 shots on a set.

Images and movies shot with the X-5 are stored in 75.3MB of available built-in memory, or on Secure Digital cards. This includes both the newer, higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC card types, as well as Eye-Fi's WiFi-enabled cards. Pentax doesn't seem to specify a minimum card speed for capturing Full HD movies, but Speed Class 4 should be sufficient based on the bit-rates we've seen in X-5 movies. It wouldn't hurt to go with a faster card, though, to be on the safe side.

Pricing and availability. In retail stores since September 2012, the Pentax X-5 is priced at around US$280. Available body colors include black and silver.

 

Shooting with the Pentax X-5

By Chris Gampat and Dan Havlik

While the superzoom Pentax X-5 looks a lot like an SLR, it's designed primarily for casual photographers or beginners who don't want to fumble with a bunch of interchangeable lenses. This versatile digicam is built for convenience and optical reach, although it sacrifices some advanced features and image quality in the process.

Specifically, the Pentax X-5 squeezes a massive, 26x optical (22-580mm equivalent) zoom lens into a relatively small body while still finding room for a 16MP, 1/2.33-inch sensor. That's a typical sensor size for most digicams, and the only way to cram this big a zoom into a manageable body size.

While smartphones continue to eat into the compact camera market, there's still a strong argument for superzoom cameras. Smartphones are portable and connected to the internet and social sites, but there's no current camera phone with anything approaching the awesome optical zoom range of the Pentax X-5. Digital zoom in smartphones may have improved over the years, but can't remotely beat the optical zoom lens and mechanical image stabilization found in the Pentax X-5.

From a casual photographer's point of view, for just US$280 and 22 ounces (623 grams) slung over your shoulder or stashed in your bag, the do-most-everything Pentax X-5's incredible focal range could be just what the doctor ordered for documenting your travels or capturing up-close snapshots of the kids playing soccer. Let's see if this powerful but still highly portable superzoomer fits the bill.

Look and feel. Users familiar with DSLR cameras should take a liking to the look and feel of the Pentax X-5. But is that really who this camera is designed for? It's hard to say with the X-5, which resembles what you'd get if a point-and-shoot camera and a DSLR had babies. While its sturdy exterior, generous hand-grip and textured rubber ring around the lens suggest a DSLR lineage, there's lots of automated functionality in the X-5 that shows its digicam roots.

The Pentax X-5 is surprisingly compact, with dimensions of 4.7 x 3.4 x 4.2 inches and has a more compact feel, even with the telescoping, built-in zoom extended all the way out to 26x. From the front, the black Pentax X-5 I tested certainly looks like a mini DSLR, though, and its attached lens screams serious business. Around the front area of the lens is Pentax’s familiar green ring, normally appearing as a branding motif on their interchangeable SLR lenses. Considering that this camera is aimed at novices, it's a bit of an odd design choice, but perhaps there's an aspirational appeal for those familiar with Pentax's SLRs.

Right behind the green ring is a rubberized grippy material that makes one think this is a camera with a manual zoom ring. Behind the textured rubber, there's a grooved plastic area on the lens, which also suggests some manual functionality. While non-DSLR users might feel differently, the ergonomics of the design made me want to turn the lens with my hand. Don't bother though, because that won't extend or retract it. Instead, use the zoom ring around the shutter button on top of the camera to control zooming with the lens.

Want to manually control your settings? Well, it's a bit complicated to do so because of the sometimes awkward layout of the Pentax X-5. (More about that later.) In my field testing, I usually found it best to just set the X-5 to automatic mode and go shoot with the camera.

Overall, the Pentax X-5 has a slightly confusing premise on the surface, but it looks good, has balanced ergonomics and operates like a much higher-end camera regardless of the fairly inexpensive price.

In the hand. Despite its apparent DSLR lineage, you’re often reminded of how much the Pentax X-5 also feels like a point-and-shoot camera. You want to believe that it weighs as much as an interchangeable lens camera, and is just as rugged, but the reality is that the camera is made primarily of lightweight plastic. When you’re in the moment and trying to track fast moving subjects, you'll want to be careful not to bash it into something.

But the X-5's lack of heft isn't a bad thing at all. When photo walking around NYC, I often had the strap wrapped around my wrist and I barely noticed it over the course of a full day of shooting, a welcome change compared to my pro-grade SLRs.

Poor battery and memory card placement. When getting the Pentax X-5 ready to shoot, I learned that the batteries and SD card are loaded, somewhat awkwardly, through the bottom of the camera into the handgrip. That's because this Pentax X-5 takes four, tried-and-true standard AA batteries.

It's been a while since we've tested a camera that didn't use a proprietary, rechargeable "brick" battery and the X-5 was refreshing in that way. But... we also forgot how unwieldy it was to have to spring load four AAs into the handle and then slide the battery door shut. And because Pentax put the slots for both the batteries and the SD card in the same compartment, if you remove the SD card carelessly, the batteries will also pop out when you open the sliding cover -- definitely annoying.

Controls. The Pentax X-5 splits its controls between the top deck of the camera and the rear panel. Consequently, you'll find yourself going back and forth between these two areas to make adjustments.

At the top of the Pentax X-5's large handgrip is the shutter button surrounded by the aforementioned zoom ring. Behind the shutter button is a small, knurled mode dial, which contains the camera's automatic modes along with a basic Program mode and Manual setting, as well as a custom User setting. Next to the dial are the on/off button, which illuminates in green when the X-5 is turned on, and the exposure compensation button.

From here, we move to the back of the camera, where all of the controls are on the right-hand side. There's also a small, rubberized thumbrest on back, which compliments the front handgrip, making this one of the more comfortable superzoom cameras to hold for long periods of time.

One of the first things you'll notice on back is the EVF, which has a resolution of 230K dots, and is suitable for framing shots in casual shooting situations such as photo walks.

The EVF button on the back of the Pentax X-5 lets you switch the live view from the EVF to the LCD with just a touch. Next to the EVF button is the display button, which changes the types of information displayed during shooting or playback. To the right is the "e-dial," which lets you adjust exposure compensation or shutter speed and aperture during shooting, or zoom in or out on an image during playback, among other things.

Other controls on the back include the one-touch movie record button, playback button, and four-way control button layout, which serves a variety of functions during shooting. Finally there's a menu button and the "green" button, which quickly switches the camera into the fully automated, default beginner's mode. You can also custom assign functions to the green button, which doubles as a trash button when the X-5 is in playback mode.

LCD. The rear LCD screen has 460k dots of resolution, which isn’t especially impressive but decent considering the Pentax X-5's reasonable price point. Images and video that I shot with the Pentax X-5 looked crisp and beautiful on the LCD. Even when the screen dimmed to save battery life, it was still very bright and easy to read, something Pentax deserves kudos for. It's also an articulating screen, with the ability to tilt away from the body of the camera, either up or down. No, it can't swivel out for self portraits, but we liked being able to tilt the screen upward (by 90 degrees) or downwards (by 60 degrees) to frame shots from tough angles. It's a nice perk.

The Pentax X-5's flip-up LCD screen also reminded me of using an old twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera. With the LCD in Live View and the screen tilted up, I was able to capture photos with the X-5 in a "shoot from the hip" style. My thumb comfortably reached the shutter release while my index finger operated the zoom dial. It’s quite fun to do! And if you’re at a concert and far away, you’ll have no problem flipping the screen down and raising the camera up above your head to get a shot of musicians on an elevated stage.

Shooting performance. Living in New York City, I'm lucky that all I have to do to put a camera through its paces is to step outside and start shooting -- as long as the weather cooperates, anyway. I took the Pentax X-5 out with me for a walk about town on a brisk but relatively sunny day, and I found a lot of subjects to test the camera's speed, responsiveness and, ultimately, image quality.

In the city: The X-5 proved to be a versatile little shooter in the Big Apple, if a bit slow at times.

Unfortunately, I quickly found out that the X-5 isn't the fastest performer by any means. It suffers some serious shutter lag, as well as slow startup and shot-to-shot times, the former of which outright annoyed me many times while I was trying to capture an image from full stop. (The lab measured the startup time at a leisurely 2.6 seconds.) Even when I had some time to set up a shot and pre-focused the X-5, I noticed some shutter lag, which was unusual and less than ideal. (The lab measured it at 0.129 seconds; not a lifetime, but slower than many competing models.)

However, I did find the camera's burst mode to be fairly effective. I caught a shot of a moving taxi cab and I think the Pentax X-5 did a fantastic job, though it drops down to 5-megapixel resolution in burst mode (full-resolution continuous mode is rated at only 1.1fps). Autofocusing could be problematic at times, though. For one particular shot, I tried several times to get a group of pigeons in focus but the camera kept wanting to focus behind them, or on the trees in front of them. The Pentax X-5's inability to lock focus quickly had me exasperated until I finally got the picture I was attempting.

Pentax X-5: Examples of burst mode success (left) and autofocus issues (right).

Plenty of modes. While I was shooting, I tried to explore as many shooting modes as possible. And, believe me, the Pentax X5 has enough of them for anyone. And for the advanced amateur photography crowd, there is a Program mode and a full Manual mode if you want to really fine tune your results. Note that while the Pentax X-5 offers manual control options, it unfortunately has no RAW image capture -- a bit of a bummer for more advanced users, but not unexpected from a camera in this price range.

Most beginner photographers will gravitate to the Auto Pict mode, which, it should be noted, takes up a lot of real estate on the small mode dial. Auto Pict proved to be very effective in automatically selecting the appropriate mode for the various scenes I shot. If you’re planning a vacation to NYC, know that this mode did a great job with metering scenes in the subway, during sunsets, in apartments, hotels and more. Of course, the X-5 offers loads of other automatic modes as well, including portrait, landscape, sports, you name it. The Pentax X5 also includes a custom user mode, where you can customize the setting to be whatever you want.

Low light: These shots prove you can take some decent images with the Pentax X-5 in low lighting, but generally speaking the camera fares much better when there's lots of sun.

When simply pointing and shooting photos with the Pentax X-5 in one of its auto modes, I found it an absolute joy to use. The X-5 is light, versatile, and the primary function -- zooming -- is easily accessible. When in manual mode, however, the camera can be a bit of an odd duck. The e-dial is conveniently placed at the user’s thumb, but to switch to the aperture control you need to press the exposure compensation button on the top deck, so your index finger needs to move backward in a way that requires near double-jointedness. It’s uncomfortable, to say the least. The video record button is also placed right under the e-dial, and many a time my thumb accidentally hit the button and recorded video when I meant to capture a still.

Taking advantage of zoom power. The Pentax X-5's lens is a 26x optical zoom that boasts the equivalent of about 22-580mm, which was plenty enough for me to take very wide shots, and also zoom in on relatively small details at a great distance -- such as the details of a house across a lake. Such versatility means that I could shoot wide landscapes of a park one second and zoom in on a far away building across the Hudson River the next. (Side note: Through it all, I was amazed that even when the lens zooms to full tele, the X-5's camera body still remains fairly compact.)

1x Zoom (22.3mm eq.) 26x Zoom (580mm eq.)
Zooming in: 26x is a lot of optical zoom power when you need it. The above shots were taken hand-held and if you click on the 26x image to view the full-size JPEG straight from the camera you will note the relative sharpness despite such an extreme zoom range, the result of very good image stabilization for a camera at this price range. The X-5's lens also goes wider than most, at 22.3mm equivalent.

To help you get steadier photos, the Pentax X-5 also has sensor-shift shake reduction, which helped quite a bit in low light situations and when zoomed in all the way. The aperture of the lens ranges from f/3.1 at the wide angle to f/5.9 at full tele. However, when in manual mode, the lens jumps aperture stops, going from f/3.1 to f/9.7 with one click of the exposure dial. (Like many lower-end digicams, it appears to have only two different apertures at a given focal length. That also explains why there is no Aperture- or Shutter-priority mode.)

I also tested the X-5's macro capabilities -- noting that Pentax claimed the lens can focus down as close as 1cm -- and I found them to be quite amazing, resulting in some fun and interesting close-up photos.

Full HD video. 1,920 x 1,080 @ 30p. Click to play/download 180MB .MOV file.

Video. I didn't get a chance to fully explore the X-5's video performance, but it's about what you'd expect from a superzoom at this price point -- adequate but not awesome. It can capture Full 1080p HD video at a rate of 30 frames per second, but I was disappointed that you couldn't optically zoom while recording -- just digital zoom is available. And while Movie Shake Reduction is the default setting for shooting videos, I found that this digital-only image stabilization wasn't as effective as I would have liked.

One neat feature that I did like was that you can capture up to three full-res still photos while filming just by pressing the OK button on the back dial of the camera. The Pentax X-5 also features a time-lapse movie function for capturing fast-motion playback at 15 fps, as well as a high-speed movie function for capturing slow-motion videos at 120fps. Both functions are limited to 640 x 480 resolution.

Image quality. So once I completed shooting, I was eager to get back to my apartment and see how the images from the Pentax X-5 turned out. I was pleasantly surprised, as the photos were extremely well detailed for a camera with a such a small sensor, particularly when shooting in good lighting. In lower-light situations, however, I found the images to look flat and a bit soft, with the highlights clipped.

Overall, I thought the images I took were a bit warm on the color spectrum, with blues not as deep as I wanted them to be. With this tendency, the X-5 seems to do better when taking outside pictures around sunset, and it probably would do well at the "Blue Hour," too. Continuing on color, I also discovered that color gradation, especially in the shadows and blacks, took quite a hit when shooting the Pentax X-5 at ISO settings above 800. Also, chromatic aberration and noise were fairly noticeable when I looked at the images carefully -- not ideal, but expected.

As the Pentax X-5 is truly a bridge camera and not a DSLR, you’ll still get your best images when shooting in good amounts of sunlight. Compared to other cameras of its class, I think the X-5's sensor does a significantly better job at keeping down high ISO noise than I was expecting and is an improvement over previous iterations of Pentax's digicams that I've shot with.

In summary. If you’re on a vacation in a bright, sunny locale this summer, this is a camera you’ll want to consider to pack with you -- if you want to keep the size down and don't want the hassle of a DSLR and lenses. But when the weather and the lighting gets a bit more challenging, your photos will suffer because of the X-5's imaging limitations.

 

Pentax X-5 Lens Quality

The Pentax X-5 features a 26x optical zoom lens, equivalent to a 22.3-580mm lens on a 35mm camera. Because this is such a long zoom, some of our test shots were taken at 20x instead of full telephoto.


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Noticeably soft at upper left
20x Tele: Sharpest at center (slightly soft)
20x Tele: Very strong blurring, lower left corner

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Pentax X-5's zoom shows some blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, though blurring gradually diminishes toward center. At 20x telephoto, blurring is a bit stronger, with quite strong blurring the in lower left corner of the frame. (However, though blurring doesn't extend very far in toward center, the entire image at 20x is a hair soft overall.) Still, pretty good performance for the focal range.


Wide: Almost no visible distortion
20x Tele: A miniscule amount of pincushion distortion, not noticeable

Geometric Distortion: The Pentax X-5 does a very good job controlling lens distortion, with very little geometric distortion at both wide angle and 20x telephoto (less than 0.05%).


Wide: Moderate
20x Tele: High and bright

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide angle is moderate in terms of pixel count, with a hint of blue and red pixels visible on either side of the target lines. At 20x telephoto, however, distortion is much more pronounced, with higher pixel count and much brighter pixels.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Pentax X-5's Macro mode captures a sharp overall image with strong detail, and manages to do so with only moderate blurring in the corners of the frame (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in Macro mode). Minimum coverage area is 1.05 x 0.79 inches (27 x 20mm), which is quite good. Exposure is a little uneven at this close shooting range, with a strong highlight fading into shadow across the frame. With the flash enabled, the camera focuses so closely that the resulting exposure is quite dark, with most of the flash output blocked by the lens.


 

Pentax X-5 Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: LCD Monitor
20x Tele: LCD Monitor
Wide: EVF
20x Tele: EVF

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Pentax X-5's electronic viewfinder and LCD monitor showed close to 100% frame coverage in record mode at both wide angle and 20x telephoto, which is excellent.


 

Pentax X-5 Image Quality


Color: The Pentax X-5 produces good saturation levels, with only slight to moderate oversaturation in bright reds and blues (a common occurrence among digital cameras). Mean saturation is 8.6% oversaturated, just a touch lower than average for its class. Some hue shifts are noticeable, such as yellows toward green and oranges toward yellow. Cyans are also pushed toward blue, as most digicams do. The Pentax X-5's average "delta-C" color error after correction for saturation is 6.5 at base ISO, which is a bit higher than average (lower numbers are better).  Dark skintones show a significant nudge toward red/orange, with lighter skin tones just a tad toward pink. Fair results overall, with good saturation levels but slightly below average hue accuracy.


Auto WB:
Quite warm
Incandescent WB:
Too pink
 
Manual WB:
Good, but a hint magenta

Incandescent: Manual white balance did the best job under our tough household incandescent lighting, though it did have a small magenta tint. Auto white balance produced a very warm image, while the Incandescent setting produced a more noticeable pink cast.


Horizontal: 1,900 lines
Vertical: 1,900 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns to about 1,900 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,450 lines per picture height.


Wide: Bright
Auto Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows bright results at the rated wide-angle distance of 20 feet, though the Pentax X-5 did increase ISO to 1,600 to get those results. (We didn't shoot a test with the full 26x telephoto, which would be too long for our studio.)

Auto flash produced fairly bright results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining an orange-pink tint from the ambient light by using a slower shutter speed of 1/25 second, and raising ISO to 1,000. The Pentax X-5's image stabilization should help avoid blur due to camera shake, but any movement of the subject could be problematic at this shutter speed. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


100
200
400
800
 
1,600
3,200
6,400

ISO: Noise and Detail: In terms of the Pentax X-5's noise handling, although noise is evident even at base ISO, detail is pretty good up until ISO 400, where noticeable blurring becomes evident. Blurring and smudging continues to increase with each additional step up the ladder. The effects of chroma (color) noise become more noticeable at 1,600 and up, where we see splotches of color. But more problematic at moderate to high ISOs are the camera's efforts at noise reduction, which really loses fine detail. See Printed section below for how this affects prints.


Print Quality Assessment: For its price and sensor size, the Pentax X-5 does a good job in the prints department, producing nice 13 x 19 inch images at base ISO, good 5 x 7s at ISO 800 and even usable 4 x 6s at ISO 3,200.

ISO 100 prints look nice and crisp with vibrant colors at 13 x 19, other than a few troublesome areas that came out soft. 16 x 20 inch prints make for a good wall display with some obvious (but not unpleasant) softening in those areas.

ISO 200 images are just a bit softer than ISO 100, so we feel safer recommending 11 x 14s for best quality, with 13 x 19s usable for wall prints.

ISO 400 8 x 10s look quite good, albeit with some soft chroma noise visible in lighter shadows. 11 x 14s introduce some grain and still more softening but will still be usable for certain situations.

ISO 800 yields a nice 5 x 7 inch print, with 8 x 10s usable for wall display.

ISO 1,600 makes a good 4 x 6 print and a very usable 5 x 7 with minor noise in some shadowy areas.

ISO 3,200 4 x 6 inch prints are usable here, but are somewhat on the grainy side to make our "good" standard.

ISO 6,400 prints at 4 x 6 may be usable for some purposes, but fall short of the mark for an official "usable" rating.

The red swatch of fabric in our test target continues to cause problems for many smaller sensors, and the Pentax X-5 is no exception. Other than that, it performs admirably for its 1/2.33-inch sensor size, and stands up comparably against most cameras we have seen in its price range.


 

Pentax X-5 Performance


Startup Time: The Pentax X-5 takes about 2.6 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's a bit slow even for a long zoom, but not unheard of.


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is also slower than average these days, at 0.51 second at wide angle and 0.67 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.129 second, not exactly slow, but definitely slower than most out there.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is sluggish, capturing a frame every 2.41 seconds in single-shot mode. Full resolution continuous mode is rated by Pentax at only 1.12 frames per second, which is quite slow, however there are faster burst modes at reduced resolution.


Flash Recycle: The Pentax X-5's flash recycles in about 5.8 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is fair.


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just above the 1/8 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Pentax X-5's download speeds are very fast. We measured 18,470 KBytes/sec.


Battery Life: The Pentax X-5's battery life has a CIPA rating of 330 shots per charge for alkaline batteries (500 Ni-MH and 950 lithium), which is very good.


 

In the Box

The Pentax X-5 ships with the following items in the box:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Pentax X-5 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Comfortable, digital SLR-like styling with nice ergonomics that should appeal to both novices and more advanced users
  • Very light and portable design despite the large 26x optical zoom lens
  • Highly versatile superzoom range (22-580mm equivalent) is useful for many different photo opportunities
  • 22mm equivalent is much wider than most cameras
  • The fast burst mode is very fun to use (but images are only 5 megapixels)
  • Very low geometric distortion
  • Very close Macro mode
  • 3-inch, tilting LCD makes it easy to compose images
  • Effective sensor-based Shake Reduction image stabilization helps correct handshake when zoomed to full tele or in low light
  • Electronic viewfinder (EVF) helps with composing images
  • Captures full 1080p HD video at 30fps
  • Images were crisp with plenty of detail, especially in good light at low ISOs
  • Good print quality for its class
  • Runs on easy-to-find (and rechargeable) AA batteries, with very good battery life
  • Fast USB transfer speeds
  • DC input jack
  • Optional IR remote
  • Good value for the money
  • Slow start-up, shot-to-shot and full-res continuous mode performance
  • Mediocre autofocus speed and noticeable shutter lag
  • Somewhat awkward layout for manual control
  • Only two apertures available at a given focal length
  • No RAW shooting capabilities
  • Weird video record button placement
  • Autofocus wasn't always accurate or effective
  • Noticeable blurring and smudging of images starts at ISO 400 and becomes increasingly worse at higher sensitivities
  • Lens produces some soft corners
  • Moderate to high chromatic aberration
  • Below average hue accuracy
  • Auto and Incandescent white balance struggles indoors
  • Optical zoom and sensor-shift SR not supported in movie mode
  • Movie audio is monaural
  • AA batteries can fall out when changing SD card, if you're not careful

 

The 16MP Pentax X-5 may look and feel like a digital SLR, but it clearly belongs in the entry-level superzoom class. Photo enthusiasts who have shot with a DSLR and who may be drawn to the X-5's serious-looking but compact design -- it reminds us of a shrunken Pentax K-30 -- might want to look elsewhere, unless they're seeking an all-in-one, superzoom camera with a massive focal range they can throw in their bags for casual use.

For beginners and family photographers who might be going on a trip with the kids, the versatile X-5 has a lot to offer. While the X-5 may seem formidable, there are plenty of preset modes and automated picture-taking functions that make snapping photos with the camera a fun and seamless process. The camera also has a nice, 3-inch, LCD monitor on back that tilts up and down for composing shots from interesting angles. Even when zoomed in at the maximum 26x (580mm equivalent!), the X-5 delivered crisp images in good light, which is a testament to the effectiveness of the built-in, sensor-based, Shake Reduction image stabilizer. The X-5 didn't fare as well at higher ISOs and when shooting in dim or overcast conditions, which is not surprising given the X-5's low price point and its lineage as a point-and-shoot camera.

Did we expect more? Perhaps, since Pentax has done such a good job of creating an ergonomic camera that feels like a higher-end model with the X-5. Really though, we should cut the X-5 a little slack, since it does a lot of things very well, and is an excellent companion camera for travelling. The one area where we think Pentax could've done better with the X-5 was in its speed. It's a slow camera to use, especially for any candid work, which is what many moms and dads might use it for when taking snapshots of their kids. In the end, however, the Pentax X-5 is one of the better entry-level superzoom models on the market and an easy Dave's Pick.

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