Pentax has a knack of making its cameras stand out from the crowd, and from the all-white K-30 to the colourful compact Q range, they always catch the eye; the latest K-50 D-SLR – its most advanced entry-level model yet – keeps this tradition going.
Sitting above both the K-500 and K-30 in the K series line up, and below the K-5 and K-5 II, the K-50 is set to distinguish itself from its rivals not just through its newly-refined body shape, but thanks to its availability in 120 colour combinations. Both the K-50 and K-500 cameras feature a new expanded ISO range, and share much of the same technology, but the big difference (aside from the K-50 costing £75 more) is that the K-500 doesn’t feature the ‘WR’ weather sealing, and is only available in black.
Features & build
At the heart of the K-50 you’ll find the 4928x3264 16Mp APS-C sensor and PRIME M image processor (also found in the K-30 and K-500). Dimensions of 129x96.5x70mm and a weight of 875g make the K-50 almost identical to the K-30, but a new-look design produces a sleeker appearance and is available in 20 body colours and 6 grip colours, giving the 120 colour combinations mentioned.
On the rear of the K-50 sits the 3in 921k-dot LCD screen with AR (Anti-Reflective) coating and a D-pad for changing the Drive mode, ISO, White Balance and Flash settings. On the top you’ll find the hotshoe and pop-up flash as well as the Shutter, Exposure Compensation, and a ‘Green’ button which can be used to quickly reset the exposure settings to default values. The 360° rotating Mode dial also sits on top of the K-50, providing access to the standard MASP shooting modes, Auto, Movie, User, Scene and Bulb, as well as some more elaborate modes including a Sensitivity (ISO) priority and a Shutter & Aperture priority which is like shooting in Manual mode but with more restrictions over the ISO value. Twin command dials are also featured for adjusting the aperture, shutter speed and ISO, one on the back next to the thumb rest and the other in front of the shutter button.
The K-50 can shoot in RAW and JPEG and features a new ISO range of 100-51,200. There are 11 AF points – 9 of which are the more accurate cross-type – and these are clustered around the middle of the viewfinder, which sports a 100% field-of-view. The K-50 uses the SAFOX IX+ autofocus system and features a shutter range of 30secs to 1/6000sec (plus Bulb mode), and with JPEGs, it can shoot at a frame rate of 6fps.
Image stabilisation comes in the form of a body mounted sensor-shift Shake Reduction system, and the KAF-2 lens mount accepts any of the 35 current K-mount lenses, 11 of which are weather-resistant.
We tested the K-50 with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 WR DAL kit lens which boasts the weather seals to match the camera.
Performance & Handling
At first glance the K-50 looks pretty much identical to the K-30, with a very similar weight and physical dimensions. However, the refined design of the K-50 certainly makes it more comfortable to hold in the hand over prolonged periods of use due to a more smoothed-out thumb rest. Our only small gripe with the thumb grip was that it would have benefitted from a rubber or silicon coating, as it became a little slippery in wet conditions.
One issue we did find with the K-50 body was that the Focus Mode switch sometimes got caught in between modes, as it doesn’t neatly click into place, but this wasn’t a major issue, once discovered.
The user interface feels a little old-fashioned but displays all the info you need, and the menus were fairly easy to navigate. The only thing newcomers may scratch their heads at is the ‘green’ button, which at first glance looks like a movie-rec button, but is used to instantly take you back Program mode exposure settings – very useful when you’re in Manual mode and want to swiftly return to the camera’s suggested metering.
For an entry-level D-SLR, the K-50 has some really neat features, and the weather protection provides real peace of mind when you’re out shooting. This is really liberating, as when other snappers are putting their cameras away and running for cover, you can carry on shooting in the heaviest of downpours.
Twin command dials make adjustments easy and we also liked the fact that the K-50 can be powered by multiple sources – either four AA batteries or the Li-ion cell that comes with it.
The 18-55mm WR kit lens handles very well, and felt good in the hand with plenty of grip around the focus and zoom rings. When using the AF with 18-55mm kit lens attached, it was quite loud though, whirring into focus, and we would have liked a few more AF points than the sparse 11 that are clustered around the centre of the frame. On the positive side, we couldn’t argue with the AF speed, as it found our subjects very quickly.
Write times were equally speedy, and the PRIME M imaging engine enabled us to shoot a single JPEG with 1sec taken to clear the buffer and it never slowed in continuous shooting. With RAW files, 1.6secs were taken to clear a single shot and just 2.9secs to write 8 RAW files to card.
Another plus point is that RAWs are recorded in the universal DNG format, so they’ll open in any RAW converter, and there’s no need to update your software to read them. The RAWs are 12-bit files, so don’t offer the 14-bit capture seen in the more expensive K-5 II model, but they still offer bags of flexibility when processing pics.
Value for Money
When put against its closest competitors, the K-50 certainly ticks enough boxes to give its rivals a run for their money, including the speedy write times and fast autofocus.
However, with £600 to spend on an entry-level D-SLR and 18-55mm package, it’s also worth considering the Canon EOS 100D (£525) which is considerably smaller and lighter – and £75 cheaper. The Nikon D5200 (£619) is also worth a look with its 39 AF points and higher resolution, 24.1Mp sensor. Finally, if you’re a budding videographer or love to shoot sports and action scenes then the Sony Alpha A65 (£589) can use phase detect autofocus when recording movies and can shoot stills as fast as 10fps.
That said, the Pentax K-50 certainly offers good value, with its weather-resistant design, body-based anti-shake system and an extended ISO range. The choice of colour combinations is also a nice touch for users who want a customised camera.
Features like the in-body Shake Reduction and weather resistance give the K-50’s similarly priced rivals a real run for their money. The fast write times and speedy AF performance really impressed us and the only minor gripes we could find were the rather pedestrian user interface, slightly slippery thumb rest and noisy AF. The K-50 may be available in a head-turning 20 body colours and six grip colours, but that’s not all that makes it stand out from the crowd.
- Body price: £389 (Secondhand price as of June 2016)
- Resolution: 16Mp (4928x3264px)
- Sensor: 23.7x15.7mm APS-C
- Lens mount: Pentax KAF-2
- ISO range: 100-51,200
- Minimum aperture: f/22-40
- Maximum aperture: f/3.5-5.6
- Image stabilisation: Yes
- Shutter: 30-1/6000sec & Bulb
- Focal length: 18-55mm (27-82.5mm equivalent)
- AF system: SAFOX IX+ with TTL phase-matching AF
- Focusing modes: Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual Focus
- Monitor: 3in 921k-dot LCD
- Flash: Pop-up and hotshoe
- Video: 1080p Full HD @ 30/25/24fps
- Storage: SD, SDHC, SDXC
- Weight: 875g (with 18-55mm lens and Li-ion battery)
- Dimensions: 129x96.5x70mm (WxHxD)
- Visit: www.ricoh-imaging.co.uk
This review was first published in the October 2013 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.