Pentax K-S2 Conclusion

Pro: Cons:
  • Unusually compact for a weather-sealed camera
  • For the most part, ergonomics are excellent
  • Twin control dials are very intuitive
  • Versatile tilt/swivel screen is great for framing from awkward angles
  • Selfie button-switching is a clever idea that improves ergonomics
  • Great pentaprism viewfinder with 100% coverage
  • Sharp, detailed images (though default sharpening is a bit high)
  • Vibrant default colors (may be a little over the top for some)
  • Decent burst speed for its class
  • Good high ISO performance for its class
  • Very flexible high ISO noise reduction options
  • On-demand anti-aliasing filter works well
  • Fast autofocus
  • 18-50mm kit lens offers decent optical performance, is weather-sealed and has very compact dimensions
  • In-body image stabilization works with almost all compatible lenses
  • Comprehensive and flexible built-in lens corrections
  • Good flash performance
  • Incredible Wi-Fi range
  • Your only option for in-camera Wi-Fi and tilt/swivel LCD in Pentax's DSLR lineup, besting even flagship models
  • Barely any cheaper than the enthusiast-grade Pentax K-3
  • Power switch turns too far, too easily, switching on in movie mode
  • 18-50mm kit lens controls are small and fiddly; retraction mechanism sometimes binds up when extending or retracting; too easy to retract slightly by mistake
  • Sluggish startup for a DSLR
  • Struggles to focus in low-light without autofocus assist
  • Shallow buffers when shooting raw files
  • Auto white balance too warm under incandescent lighting
  • Somewhat inconsistent evaluative metering
  • No mechanical stabilization for movies
  • Movie-mode options are very limited
  • No continuous autofocus in movie mode
  • NFC pairing for Android often fails to connect Wi-Fi automatically
  • Incredibly slow Wi-Fi transfer speeds
  • Smartphone apps are unintuitive, and Android app is very, very slow
  • Poor battery life for a DSLR

The Pentax K-S2 gives you features its rivals lack

The Pentax K-S2 is a camera without a direct predecessor, but one that builds on the company's heritage of impressively-specified mid-range cameras at an affordable price-tag that's well-below US$1,000. And there's no question about -- you're getting a whole lot of camera for your money. Like some of the company's past models, it gives you features like weather-sealing, twin control dials and a pentaprism viewfinder that rivals save for much pricier enthusiast-grade DSLRs.

It's the new tech that really had us excited though

But it has to be said that these features aren't what got us excited when the camera was first launched earlier this year. Although Pentax has brought some pretty rare features to the market in their past DSLRs, especially those taking advantage of its in-body stabilization system, it is in some ways a rather conservative company. Features like retracting lenses, wireless networking and articulated screens which have proven popular in rival models haven't been adopted with the same gusto by Pentax -- until now, that is.

As the second model in the company's K-S series, which is intended to foster innovations the company isn't yet ready to adopt in higher-end models, the Pentax K-S2 breaks new ground for the company, with several landmark firsts.

The tilt/swivel LCD is a great addition

Key among these for our money is the side-mounted tilt/swivel LCD monitor, which makes the camera much more versatile in live-view shooting, helping you frame from all manner of different angles. And it's doubly impressive when you consider that it's weather-sealed, to boot. Selfie shooters will really like its clever button-switching functionality, activated automatically when the screen is turned to face forwards: It makes for much better self-portrait ergonomics.

We'd recommend forgoing the 18-50mm kit lens

But sadly, not all of these features are such roaring successes right out of the gate. The new 18-50mm lens, while impressively compact and quite good ergonomically for a kit lens, has several issues. Its retraction mechanism has a tendency to bind up when extending or retracting the lens, something we've noted on multiple copies of the optic. Its controls are also very small and fiddly, and yet their placement is such that we frequently found ourselves retracting the lens slightly by mistake.

The K-S2's Wi-Fi networking is in need of some work

And nor were we really taken by the new in-camera Wi-Fi connectivity. The hardware itself shows great promise, with really spectacular Wi-Fi range, but it's let down by clumsy, unintuitive smartphone apps, and on the Android platform in particular, absolutely dismal performance when reviewing downloaded images. And image transfer speeds are also very slow compared to modern cameras from rivals. Given that these problems are likely software / firmware related, we're hopeful that they'll improve over time, but in the meantime you're likely to find Wi-Fi on the K-S2 a rather frustrating experience.

And with much of its new tech not meeting the early promise, we found ourselves very conflicted when it came time to conclude this review. After all, this is still a very powerful camera with numerous features that its rivals lack. Even if some of the new tech is a bit rough around the edges, you're getting a whole lot of DSLR for your money with the Pentax K-S2.

The K-S2's biggest challenge is its incredibly impressive sibling

But therein lies the rub: The Pentax K-S2 represents a pretty good buy for the price if you forego its kit lens in favor of another optic, but its enthusiast-grade sibling, the Pentax K-3, gives you a whole lot more. That camera is only a little bit bulkier -- and still very compact by enthusiast DSLR standards -- yet it has higher resolution, shoots faster, has better autofocus and metering systems, twin card slots, and a whole lot more. And while it lacks in-camera Wi-Fi, the wireless networking functionality provided by its third-party Pentax Flucard strikes us as much more mature, if not as seamlessly integrated.

Pretty much the only feature of the Pentax K-S2 that we'd miss in trading up to the Pentax K-3 is its tilt/swivel screen. And yet the K-3 is barely any more expensive than its selfie-friendly sibling. In fact, at the time of this writing we found multiple retailers listing the K-3 for the same or less than the body-only K-S2, and even including a couple of basic lenses or a portrait / battery grip in that price.

Not quite a Dave's Pick, but impressive as a very compact, all-weather DSLR

Were it not for the existence of its higher-end sibling, which we have to say represents an absolutely spectacular value, the Pentax K-S2 would probably have scored a Dave's Pick. And we have to say that if you buy one, you're probably still going to enjoy it very much, especially if you're a big selfie shooter. But if you don't need the lightest, smallest weather-sealed DSLR possible and can live without the tilt/swivel screen, we'd really recommend that you consider the Pentax K-3 instead. (You can read our review here, if you'd like to jump up to the fuller-featured camera.) And for that reason, we can't quite justify a Dave's Pick for the K-S2.

Now, Pentax: Please can you give us the K-S2's tilt/swivel screen in a K-3 series body? We have a feeling that design would sell like hotcakes!

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