A tried-and-tested 16.28-million-pixel sensor, an impressive 81 weather seals and a 100% viewfinder could make the Pentax K-50 one of the best enthusiast cameras we have tested. Read the Pentax K-50 review...
Pentax K-50 at a glance:
- 16.28-million-pixel, APS-C-sized sensor
- 81 weather seals
- 100% optical viewfinder
- 3in, 921,000-dot LCD screen
- ISO 100-51,200
- Street price around £529 body only
Pentax K-50 introduction
There was a time when Pentax SLRs were proudly worn round their owners’ necks. Now-legendary models, such as the Pentax K1000, Spotmatic and ME Super, were the cameras of choice for enthusiast photographers, which made the Pentax brand one of the biggest in the industry. These days it is Canon and Nikon that make the headlines in the DSLR market, while Pentax goes quietly about its business.
Yet while Pentax may not have the market share of its competitors, that should be no reflection on its cameras. Over the past few years we have enjoyed using Pentax models, such as the K-7, K-30 and K-5 series, when they came into the AP office. There is something about these modern enthusiast DSLRs that reflects the company’s heritage. Its current DSLRs are full of features designed to aid enthusiast photographers, as well as those who don’t mind tinkering with settings and learning how to get the best results. Also, image quality has certainly been a match for its competitors.
The two latest cameras in the Pentax K series, the K-50 and K-500, have inherited many features from their predecessors; in fact, these two cameras are virtually identical. The key differences between the K-50 and K-500 are the K-50′s weather-sealed body and its AF points, which are visible in use in the viewfinder. Besides these, the two cameras are identical in body and features. Bearing that it mind, while we are testing the Pentax K-50 here, the majority of this review also applies to the K-500.
Image: In its standard bright image style, the colours are still fairly bold and punchy
Pentax K-50 features
At the core of the Pentax K-50 is the same 16.28-million-pixel sensor last seen in the K-5 II, although there are key differences. For example, the K-5 II offers 14-bit raw-file capture compared to the 12-bit capture of the K-50. This gives the K-5 II the potential to capture a more comprehensive range of tones, particularly in highlight and shadow areas.
The Pentax K-50′s sensitivity range is an impressive ISO 100-51,200, with files saved as either raw or JPEG files. Usefully, Pentax raw files are saved in the DNG format, which means they are compatible with nearly all raw-conversion software programs, so potential purchasers need not worry about having to upgrade to new software.
One of the key selling points of Pentax’s K-series DSLRs is that they are fitted with the Pentax K mount, which has been in use since the 1970s. As such, there are many second-hand manual and autofocus lenses available. As Pentax DSLRs currently lack the popularity of some of their competition, older lenses can also be purchased at extremely good prices.
All the lenses can benefit from the Pentax K-50′s built-in sensor-shift image stabilisation, which also has a tilting movement to ensure even better stabilisation. However, the movements of the sensor don’t just prevent camera shake, as there is also a horizon-correction function that can slightly shift the sensor to get horizons perfectly level. This tool works well when used with the electronic level, ensuring that you get perfectly straight horizons every time.
An even more interesting and specialist use of the sensor-shift capability is for the unique AstroTracer function. AstroTracer works with the O-GPS1 GPS unit and actually moves the sensor slightly during exposures of up to 5mins, to ensure that star trails are not recorded when shooting the night sky.
Further differences between the Pentax K-50 and the K-5 II are that the K-5 II has a better AF system, and a magnesium-alloy body rather than the polycarbonate body of the K-50. The K-5 II can also shoot at 7fps, as opposed to the 6fps of the K-50.
Like other Pentax DSLRs, there is a great range of in-camera customisation options, including AF fine-tune and setting how the auto white balance responds to tungsten light. An intervalometer, multi-exposure mode, lens correction and dynamic range optimisation are also crammed inside the K-50′s body.
One of the things that often separates high-end enthusiast cameras from professional-level models is the amount of weather-sealing each camera has.
The Pentax K-50 has possibly the best weather-resistance we have seen in a camera at this level.
The K-50 features a total of 81 seals around its body, which prevent splashes of water and also dust from entering the camera. Of course, this doesn’t make the K-50 waterproof in the same way as an underwater camera, but it does mean that you can feel comfortable going out shooting in the rain or in a dusty environment, knowing that these foreign bodies won’t penetrate through to the
inside of the camera.
Some of these seals are very apparent on the outside of the body, with the remote-release sockets and the inside of the memory-card compartment door both featuring thick rubber seals to prevent dirt, dust and water ingress.
I took the K-50 out in the middle of a stormy summer downpour, and the camera got pretty wet. However, I felt completely comfortable being out in these conditions with the camera, and it proved itself to be absolutely fine. It really is a sturdy and robust camera, and while it may lack a little of the glamour that certain other cameras seem to provide, it is nevertheless an extremely good tool for those who are serious about their photography, and like to go out shooting whatever the weather.
Build and handling
I am extremely impressed with the build and handling of the K-50. The polycarbonate body feels tough, and the matt finish of the body is nice to hold. I don’t mind the white finish of the body on the sample I tested. It may not be very inconspicuous, but it is a nice design and the matt finish looks far better than the glossy coloured finish seen on some other cameras.
The button layout is fairly conventional, with directional control buttons on the rear of the camera and an assortment of direct buttons surrounding these. Enthusiast photographers will be pleased that they have the use of two control dials at the front and rear of the camera, which makes it easy to change settings. The exposure-compensation button is located conveniently next to the shutter button, so there is no need to remove your eye from the viewfinder to adjust the exposure.
One feature that I am a big fan of is the way that Pentax has positioned the on/off switch around the shutter button. Nikon also does this, as does Sony on some of its models, and I find it useful to be able to hold the camera in one hand and quickly turn it on and take a shot without having to use a second hand or change the way the camera is being carried. It may be a small thing, but it means the camera can be on and ready to take a picture in the time it takes to raise it from a carrying position to your eye.
Other interesting buttons include the Raw/FX button on the side of the front of the camera. This button is easily pressed with the thumb of the left hand while shooting. By default, this button switches between shooting raw and JPEG images, but as it is actually a function button it can also activate a few other functions, such as exposure bracketing, or perhaps more usefully, depth of field preview – or Optical Preview as it is labelled on the in-camera menu.
Overall, the K-50 is a pleasure to use. The camera’s body and layout are clearly designed with enthusiast photographers in mind, with a good selection of buttons and dials and direct access to important features. However, it is perhaps the handgrip that steals the show. It is fairly deep and well contoured, and very comfortable to hold.
With the same 16.3-million-pixel Sony IMX071 CMOS sensor on-board, the dynamic range of the K-50 almost matches the performance of the K-5 series, as well as the Nikon 7000 and Sony Alpha 77. The amount of detail that can be recovered, especially in underexposed images, is still quite remarkable, even though we have seen this sensor used now in almost a dozen cameras.
I found that I could expose images for extremely bright highlight details, and still brighten the shadows by around 3-4EV, revealing detail and introducing very little noise. Any noise that is revealed is generally so slight that it is easily dealt with using Adobe Camera Raw.
The dynamic range of the K-50 is so good that with tweaking of the highlight and shadow sliders in Camera Raw, it is possible to create images that have an almost HDR effect.
Images: Although the 12-bit raw files don’t have quite the same detail as the 14-bit files from the K-5 II, there is still a tremendous amount of latitude in the shadow detail of images
One of the best reasons for using Pentax cameras is that the metering systems behave exactly as you would expect them to. The 77-segment metering system of the K-50 is no different, with the metering generally producing an exposure that is fairly average throughout the scene.
This does of course mean that the metering can sometimes be fooled by large bright highlights or areas of shadow detail, but most enthusiast photographers, particularly those with a background in film photography, will find the metering system very familiar, and easy to predict how it will respond to the light in certain scenes.
As you would expect, spot and centreweighted metering are also available, although I generally found that the evaluative metering and the exposure-compensation dial were fast enough to produce the exposure that I wanted.
One of the great advantages of the K-50′s impressive dynamic range is that you can underexposed images by 2-3EV and still recover shadow detail without introducing too much noise. This means that spot metering and exposing to preserve an image’s highlight detail is possible. While using the K-50, there were a few times that I set the camera to spot metering, the exposure compensation to +1EV and then took the exposure reading from the highlight in the scene. This meant that highlight detail was retained, and quick adjustments to the raw file were all that was needed to reveal the shadow detail.
Image: The K-50 handles well and is quick to use, making it great for when you need to react quickly to a situation
Although with a rather meagre 11 AF points the K-50 may pale in comparison to many of its competitors, the speed of the focusing system certainly does not. I found that the K-50 focuses just as fast as any rivals, quickly snapping into focus particularly when the centre AF point is used. When combined with the camera’s generally fast operation, this means it can be quickly switched on, focus found and a shot taken in just over a second, making it great for documentary or street photography, or just to capture family events.
An AF assist lamp is present to help in low-light situations, but of more interest, at least to those users with older lenses, is that AF fine-tune adjustments are also available. This allows the autofocus to be slightly adjusted to compensate for front or back focus in these lenses. Any adjustments can be applied universally, regardless of the lens being used, or custom AF micro adjustments can be saved for up to 20 different lenses. This may be especially useful for Pentax K-mount users who wish to use old AF lenses designed for film cameras.
White balance and colour
Image: The vibrant colour setting produces very punchy colours, but the hues still look fairly natural
Enthusiast photographers should really enjoy the colours that the K-50 produces. They look natural and realistic, and even on the vibrant setting colours are only subtly increased in saturation, producing a slightly more vivid image but avoiding outright garish or over the top images, which some other cameras manage to achieve.
The black & white mode is also excellent, with a range of different colour filter effects available. The first thing I do when using the black & white mode on most cameras is to apply a red filter effect. In the K-50 this effect is very good, producing dark and moody skies, so it’s a great mode for those who shoot high-contrast landscapes.
Image: The bleach bypass image style produces really nice images. The effects of the image style are obvious, but it isn’t over the top as many similar effects can be
There is also a range of more novel colour effects, including a number of cross-processed looks and bleach bypass. The cross-processed effect can be applied randomly, so you never know which of the various styles you are going to get. One or two of them are interesting to use, but on the whole I wasn’t overly impressed with the images or colours they produced. The bleach bypass effect is far better, producing very deep shadow areas, highlights and midtones, and low colour saturation. Images taken using the bleach bypass style are reminiscent of a number of Hollywood films of the late ’90s, for which this particular effect was used. For certain landscape images, and also some portraits, the bleach bypass effect is fun to use and creates some striking results, without looking too harsh or obvious.
Auto white balance works well, producing fairly neutral results, although images do tend to be a little on the cool side. Switching to the default white balance styles produces more accurate results, with daylight mode especially producing very pleasing colours when combined with the standard natural image file.
As we have seen in a few other cameras in the past few years, the K-50 allows the user to determine how the camera’s white balance will perform when set to its tungsten lighting mode.There is the option to create a completely neutral image, removing the amber colour from the scene entirely, or to leave a hint of this colour in the image. This really underlines the fact that the K-50 is designed for enthusiast photographers, and options such as these will allow the camera to be customised to the user’s exact needs.
Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video
The 100% viewfinder is another feature of the Pentax K-50 that will appeal to enthusiast photographers. Although it could be a little brighter, the viewfinder is a reasonable size and the 100% field of view is something that is normally reserved for professional-level DSLRs.
The 3in, 921,000-dot LCD screen is similar to those we have seen in other cameras, and it reveals a good amount of detail when reviewing images. The screen has an anti-reflective coating that works reasonably well, although as usual, bright sunlight still makes it a little awkward to see. Thankfully, different levels of brightness are available to help combat bright sunny conditions.
A lot of information is available when using the screen for live view, including 100% image magnification, highlight and shadow clipping warnings, and a live histogram. All these features should help to ensure that your images are correctly exposed and focused, while a series of grid overlays aids perfect composition.
Video can be recorded in 1920×1080-pixel full HD at a frame rate of 30fps, 25fps or 24fps. Footage is saved in MPEG-4 format with H.264 compression. Sadly, there is no external microphone socket, with sound recorded via the camera’s monaural microphone. Anyone serious about shooting video footage may be better suited to the Pentax K-5 II, which has an external microphone socket.
Noise, resolution and sensitivity
In terms of image resolution, the K-50 records about as much detail as you would expect for a DSLR with an APS-C-sized CMOS sensor. For all our resolution test images, the K-50 reaches around 24 to 26, with raw files having a shade more sharpness and detail than the equivalent JPEG produced in-camera.
What is more impressive is the camera’s handling of noise. As we have seen before, it is possible to really manipulate and adjust the exposure of images while introducing only a minimal amount of luminance and colour noise. Between ISO 100 and 1600, images are perfectly acceptable. At ISO 3200 and 6400, the luminance noise does start to become a little more visible, but given that many cameras will struggle at these sensitivities, the performance of the K-50 is very good. Above ISO 6400, luminance noise does become more of an issue, Although colour noise is extremely well controlled throughout the entire ISO range. When shooting raw images, I found that colour noise could be virtually eradicated in images taken at all the sensitivity settings.
In practice, I would feel comfortable shooting between ISO 100 and 1600 on a regular basis, and confident in the ability of the sensor to produce a good results even at ISO 6400. At high ISO settings image quality does start to break down a little, but even then the quality is impressive compared to many other cameras, particularly at this price and position in the market.
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Sigma 105mm lens set to f/8 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.
Although the mid-range DSLR market has got a little less competitive in the past couple of years, it is still Nikon and Canon that dominate this area. The latest Canon EOS 700D has an 18 million pixel, APS-C-sized sensor, which offers a slight resolution advantage over the Pentax K-50, but the Nikon D5200 has a very impressive 24.1-million-pixel sensor. The D5200 also has 39 AF points, which is far more than the 11 points of the K-50 and the nine points of the EOS 700D. However, the Pentax K-50 is the only one of these three cameras with a 100% viewfinder and the advanced weather-sealing, both of which are features that you would expect on more professional model cameras.
Despite the resolution being the lowest of the three cameras, there is still something about the K-50 that makes it feel like a real photographers camera, and it is great for those wanting to learn the craft.
Once again, Pentax has created a camera that enthusiast photographers will enjoy using. Its body
may be polycarbonate, but don’t let that fool you. The camera is strong and the weather-sealing gives you confidence that the camera can be used in rugged, wet and dusty conditions.
The image quality matches the build of the camera, with an impressive amount of detail recoverable from shadow areas and a superb selection of image styles. While the number of autofocus points is a little underwhelming, the system is fast, and unless you are heavily into sports or wildlife photography it should not present a problem. Similarly, the evaluative metering is not perfect, but it is, importantly, predictable.
A camera featuring a 100% viewfinder yet costing only £530 is impressive, and the K-50 is certainly a mid-priced DSLR with ideas well above its station.
Pentax K-50 Key features
On the top left of the rear of the camera is the live view button. This is easily pressed with the thumb of the left hand when needed. It also acts as the delete button when reviewing images.
The K-50 has a built-in pop-up flash with a guide number of 12m @ ISO 100.
As well as the image style modes, there is the now somewhat standard complement of image-effect modes. Among these in the K-50 are monochrome, extract colour, toy camera, retro, high contrast, water colour, pastel, miniature and fisheye modes.
This button rotates between the various display functions on the rear screen, and is most useful because it brings up the quick menu on the rear of the camera.
The name of the photographer and copyright holder of the image can be added to the Exif data of image files.
The camera is powered by a D-LI 109 rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery. The optional D-BH109 battery holder allows the K-50 to be powered by four AA batteries, which is useful when travelling.
1920 x 1080 pixels (at 25fps), 1280 x 720 pixels, 16:9 (at 30fps or 25fps), 640 x 480 pixels, 4:3 (at 30fps or 25fps), Motion JPEG (AVI)
-2.5 to +1.5 dioptre
Auto, 10 presets, custom setting, Kelvin and WB fine adjustment
Yes – GN 12m @ ISO 100
SD, SDHC, SDXC
Electronically controlled vertical-run focal-plane shutter
4928 x 3264 pixels
3in TFT with 921,000 dots
11 individually selectable AF points, 9 of which are cross-type points
16.28-million-effective-pixel APS-C-sized CMOS sensor
Auto, program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, sensitivity priority, shutter and aperture priority, bulb
650g including battery and card, 590g without
Rechargeable Lithium-Ion D-LI 109 battery
12-bit PEF or DNG raw, JPEG, raw + JPEG simultaneously
30-1/6000sec in 1⁄3EV or 1/2 EV steps plus bulb
6fps for approx 30 large/fine JPEG files or 8 raw images
Adobe RGB, sRGB
£529.99 body only
±5EV in 1⁄3EV or 1/2EV steps
Manual, AF.S (single), AF.C (continuous)
129 x 96.5 x 70mm
77-segment metering, centreweighted and spot
USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
2-stage JPEG, 3-stage raw