Pentax K-5 Review

 
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Pentax K-5 live view

Like the K-7, the Pentax K-5 has a live view mode, for framing subjects on the LCD instead of using the optical viewfinder. Where the K-7's live view functionality was a fairly major upgrade from that of its predecessor, the Pentax K-5's live view mode provides a smaller -- but still quite worthwhile -- step. The live view menu is now accessed from the fourth tab of the record menu, rather than the third tab, and has been rearranged slightly to place the most important options -- autofocus type and grid overlay -- at the top of the list. Unfortunately, accessing the menu system -- even to visit the live view menu -- still immediately causes the K-5 to terminate live view mode, causing unnecessary wear and tear on the shutter and mirror mechanism if you intended to immediately return to live view upon exiting the menu, not to mention inconvenience to the photographer. This is something we'd like to see changed in future firmware.

Live view mode is still accessed from any exposure mode by pressing a dedicated LV button,upon which the K-5 raises its mirror, and initiates live view. Pressing LV again disables it. Like its predecessor, the K-5 automatically shuts live view off after five minutes to prevent the sensor from overheating, and if the internal temperature threshold has been reached, won't let you resume live view mode until the sensor has cooled to an acceptable level. When using autofocus, you can magnify the image 2x, 4x, or 6x by pressing the INFO button. The four-way controller can be used to move the magnified area around the frame, and the green button is used to return to the center. When manual focus is used, higher magnification levels are available to a maximum of 10x, as an aid to precise focusing. Options are available in the Record menu to toggle information overlay on or off, or to add a grid displays and a live histogram, and to blink clipped highlights or lost shadows.

Contrast detection autofocus is noticeably faster than the K-7, even when the older camera is running the latest v1.11 firmware update, which improves contrast detection speed significantly over the original K-7 firmware, and subjectively, tracking also seems to be more precise. A new function of the K-5's contrast detection AF is that during the AF operation the K-5's live view feed automatically zooms in on the focus point -- whether it is manually selected, or set using face detection -- making it much easier to see if the lock was accurate. The zoom isn't performed instantly, but rather the view gradually zooms in to help reinforce where within the frame the camera is focusing. This function is something of a mixed blessing, however, in that it can't be disabled, and operates even when in AF-C mode, where you'd expect to be shooting a moving subject. (It does return to a normal view shortly after the initial focus lock, so you do at least see the full image view during focus tracking.) The zoomed view can still make it very tricky to continue to follow your subject and keep them inside the image frame while focusing, though, and we'd really like to see the option to disable this otherwise useful feature -- at the very least when Continuous AF is disabled, and preferably at any time of the photographer's choosing.

Also new are a selection of three different grid types in live view mode, versus the one grid type of the K-7. The K-7's 3x3 grid is still available as the first option on the list, but there's now also a 2 x 2 grid with diagonals indicated (useful for rule of thirds framing), and a scale overlay that is reminiscent of the MI-60 AF Scale Matte focusing screen, with horizontal and vertical bars crossing at the center of the image frame. The horizontal bar has 30 scale markings along its length, while the vertical bar has 20, and each has larger markings for every fifth tick on the scale.

One final tweak of note is enabled solely because of new hardware in the K-5, but is worth noting anyway. Unlike the K-7, the K-5 has dual-axis electronic level sensors, and so it is now possible to view indications of both roll and pitch when in live view mode, making it easier to ensure the camera is level in both axes. The K-7 offered only a roll sensor, with no pitch indication available.

The illustration below (courtesy of Pentax) shows the selection of information that's available on the Pentax K-5's LCD display during live view mode.

1
Exposure Mode
10
Temperature warning
2
Flash Mode
11
Electronic Level
3
Drive Mode
12
Contrast AF Frame
4
White Balance
13

Phase Difference AF frame / AF point

5
Custom Image
14
EV Compensation
6
Extended Bracketing
15
Histogram
Multi-exposure
16
AE Lock
Interval Shooting
17
Shutter Speed
Digital Filter
18
Aperture Value
HDR Capture
19
EV Bar
7
Number of shots using Multi-exposure
20
ISO Sensitivity
Cross Processing
21
Remaining Image Storage Capacity
8
Battery Level
22
Main Face Detection Frame
9
Adjusting Composition
23
Face Detection Frame

 

Composition Adjustment

Move the sensor, not the camera Here's an unexpected consequence of a body-based IS system: You can use the IS actuators to shift the sensor for fine-tuning your composition when on a tripod!

When you're shooting on a tripod, you presumably don't need the Pentax K5's Shake Reduction capability, but why let those actuators go to waste? The earlier Pentax K-7 introduced a feature unlike anything we'd seen in any other digital SLR camera before, and it's retained and expanded upon in the K-5: you can use the Shake Reduction actuators to shift and rotate (albeit slightly) the image, to make very fine adjustments to composition! Selecting this option from Record Menu 2 puts the camera into live view mode, and lets you shift the image back and forth with the arrow keys, and rotate it slightly with the rear control dial! At any point, you can return to the sensor's default position by pressing the green button just under the rear control dial. (This button normally returns you to the programmed exposure after you've made adjustments manually.)

Compared to the K-7, the Pentax K-5 allows an even greater range of adjustment, so long as you don't use the rotational correction -- as far as 1.5mm (24 steps) away from centered in either the horizontal or vertical axes. If the sensor is rotated even by one step, the adjustment range reverts to the same as that of the K-7 -- 1mm (16 steps) in any direction.The level of rotational adjustment is unchanged, at approximately one degree (8 steps) on either side of level. A nice touch is that the K-5 now indicates the level of adjustment that you've made, allowing you to remain aware of how much further adjustment is possible.

The animation at right shows how much you can shift the image, relative to the overall frame area. It's a surprisingly large amount, more than you might expect. (We haven't tried it, but this should also work like a shift-lens does for shooting tall subjects without tilting the camera -- and producing converging verticals -- although the range of motion relative to what a dedicated shift lens can achieve is relatively small.)

Of course, nothing in this world comes entirely free of compromises, so there are naturally some involved with the Pentax K5's Composition Adjustment feature as well. The extent of the issue will depend on the particular lens in use, but any lens will have poorer optical characteristics (blur, chromatic aberration, coma distortion, etc.) the closer you get to the edges of its "image circle." Tilt-Shift lenses are designed to have unusually large image circles, and many ordinary lenses do better than you might expect as you move away from the center of the frame, but keep this in mind when using the Composition Adjustment feature with a digital-specific lens. (With Pentax lenses designed for the 35mm film frame, the image circle will be so much larger than the K-5's sensor that there shouldn't be any significant loss of image quality relative to having the sensor centered.)

(As an aside, note that this same trade-off between image quality and sensor displacement also comes into play with digital-specific lenses used with a body-based shake reduction system: Shots snapped with the sensor near the limits of its excursion will show poorer image quality on the edge of the frame that's closest to the edge of the image circle. -- And conversely, image quality may actually improve somewhat on the opposite edge.)

 

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