Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
Pentax_K50-front-angled.jpg
  • 16-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • High light sensitivity, up to 51200
  • Available in 120 colors
  • Accepts K-mount lenses
  • Sensor-shift anti-shake
  • 921k-dot LCD
  • Customizable buttons
  • Lots of custom controls
  • Two dials for quick operation
  • Records 1080p HD video at 30fps
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot

Pros
  • High image quality
  • Customizable buttons
  • Two well-placed dials
  • Good high ISO performance
  • Burst modes perform well
  • Sensor-shift shake and dust reduction
  • Big pentaprism viewfinder
  • Live view on high-resolution LCD
  • Rugged, weather-sealed body
  • Can run on AA batteries
  • Comes in 120 different colors
  • Eye-Fi wireless compatible
Cons
  • Focus is slow when using Live View
  • No continuous auto focus in video mode
  • Li-ion battery life could be better
  • LCD does not tilt or swivel
  • No HDMI port
  • No external microphone jack

Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 1.1 seconds
  • Shutter lag when prefocused = 0.1 second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = approx. 0.3 second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus (live view) = approx. 1.2 second
  • Shot to shot delay (low) wo/flash = 0.3 second with quick review off
  • Shot to shot delay (high) wo/flash = 0.2 second with quick review off
  • Shot to shot delay w/flash = 0.8 second
  • Burst (low) = 3.6fps @ 16M
  • Burst w/flash (low or high) = 1.4fps @ 16M
  • High Speed Burst = 5.75fps @ 16M
  • High Speed Burst = 3.1fps @ RAW+16M
  • All tests taken using Program mode, flash off, quick review off, and all other settings at default unless noted.
Bottom Line
The rugged, weather-sealed K-50 offers high image quality, speedy burst modes, and low noise at high ISO settings. Two dials for quick navigation, many customizable functions, and a good selection of digital effects round out the offering. You also get good-looking HD video (as long as you don't need continuous AF).

Pick This Up If...
...You already have a collection of K-mount lenses, or otherwise need a rugged, weatherized SLR that's fast, highly customizable, performs well in low light, and allows you to dig deep into color settings and digital effects to fine-tune your images.

When you first pick up the Pentax K-50, you can feel that you're holding a well-built camera. The rugged, weather-sealed body feels sturdy, and its adequate yet not oversized handgrip lets you get a firm grasp. The front dial (which sits just below the shutter release button) falls right under the index finger and the rear thumb dial falls conveniently under your thumb for easy operation. Surrounding the four-way control are AF/AE-L, Info and Menu buttons; the live view/trash button sits on the other side of the back panel, left of the optical viewfinder. You can customize the AF/AE-L button, as well as the RAW/Fx button near the lens barrel. The green button that sits just behind the shutter button is not so versatile - it simply serves to cancel whatever parameters you're in the middle of adjusting.

But you can adjust a lot of parameters, and you'd have to go quite hog-wild with your settings-adjustment requirements to miss the customizability of the green button. The K-50 offers four pages of custom settings, two user-selectable positions on the mode dial, and you can customize how auto exposure and auto focus operate, as well as customize the two e-dials dependent upon the shooting mode.

With all of that at your fingertips, the handiest menu-navigation tool the K-50 offers is the Info button. In shooting mode, this button pulls up a grid of 15 settings icons. You use the rear dial to change the setting and the icon changes to reflect your change - without you having to press OK on the four-way control to enter the full-blown menu. However, you can not whiz through the icons using the front dial - you have to use the four-way buttons to get to the setting you want to change.

The live preview mode is a welcome feature in most cases. The screen is high resolution, at 921,000 dots, so you get lots of sharp details, and a bright picture in general, with vibrant color. When it is really bright outside, you'll still probably want to resort to the viewfinder, as you will when shooting fast-moving action. Trying to keep up with a moving target is a challenge with live preview mode because the screen goes blank with each frame, and if you are shooting in burst mode it is likely you will not be able to keep your subject within the frame.

The other drawback of live preview mode is that the camera must use contrast detection autofocus, versus the phase detection autofocus it uses when you look through the optical viewfinder. Contrast detection AF is generally regarded as slower at tracking moving subjects. I also found it slower in general, particularly in low-light situations - the focus tended to swim, whereas the phase detection AF locked focus faster. In my testing, the camera took 0.3 second to focus and capture a shot when using the viewfinder and phase detection auto focus, versus 1.2 seconds using live view and contrast detection AF. However, this slower performance only applies to the first image. In high-speed burst mode, in live view the camera whizzed along with just 0.2 second in between shots, or almost 6fps, just as it did when not in live view mode.

When using the camera's viewfinder, the continuous AF on the K-50 did a good job at tracking subjects I shot at a soccer game in daylight. Most of my shots looked sharp, though not all of them. Continuous AF was pretty quick to adjust while zooming to capture the action (using the 18mm-55mm kit lens) and in most cases produced a sharp shot. Where it could not keep up, however, was when I approached a subject at a close distance. When approaching from roughly 15 feet to as close as 5 feet or less, my closest shots fell out of focus, with the camera unable to keep up with the shortened focal distance. Changing from high-speed to low-speed burst did not increase the AF's refocus speed. I had to stop and refocus to get a sharp shot.

If you like to use manual focus rather than rely on automation, live view can work, and Pentax has done a good job in this regard. The camera offers a quick zoom feature whereby pressing the OK button zooms the image to a magnification you select, up to 6X. Also, you can turn on focus peaking, which highlights edges to help you lock focus. Still, I prefer looking through the viewfinder using manual focus, in part because the camera beeps and flashes a spot in the frame that's come in focus.

Contrast detection AF is used in point-and-shoot cameras because it requires that the light coming through the lens land on the sensor. An SLR must reflect that light to its viewfinder so you can actually look through the lens (TTL) to see your shot - so it needs a separate phase detection AF sensor, and so uses contrast detection AF when using its sensor to capture the preview image and send it to the LCD.

All that said, if you really enjoy the convenience of using the LCD to preview your shots, you may find one other aspect a slight disappointment - the fixed LCD does not angle outward for getting creative angles. But you do get a rugged, weatherproof body, and a hinged LCD does present an easy breaking point and possibly a weakness to inclement weather.

The K-50 is a solid performer in burst mode. The manual touts up to 6 frames per second in high-speed burst mode, and I was able to nearly achieve that (5.75fps) in high-speed burst mode. The camera also has a low-speed burst, which shot at 3.6fps in my testing. I didn't always get top-notch results, however. On one occasion, when the camera had been on a while, the camera topped out at 4.1fps in high-speed burst, and lowering the resolution to 12MP did not improve the speed. So I lowered the JPEG resolution to 5MP, and used the sports scene mode - in both cases the camera shot at 4.4fps. Respectable, but short of the 6fps maximum.

The camera also can shoot with flash in burst mode, and did so at 1.4 fps, the same speed in burst low and burst high. You can use burst mode even if you're shooting in RAW+JPEG, thus recording a RAW file and a 16-megapixel JPEG simultaneously. In RAW+JPEG mode the K-50 can shoot quickly out of the gate (with roughly 0.2 second between the first seven images) but then beings to slow, averaging 3.1fps for 10 shots; the slowing continues until there's anywhere from 0.5 second to 1.1 seconds between shots, averaging out at 2fps if you capture somewhere in the neighborhood of two dozen shots.

Most importantly, the K-50 offers high image quality and offers the versatility of low noise at high ISO settings. Over its predecessor, the K-30, the K-50 has a maximum ISO of 51600 versus the K-30's ISO 12800. That may not be applicable in many situations - you will have to make that call yourself by seeing the examples on our Samples Page. It's a simple matter of how much digital noise you are willing to put up with. Suffice it to say, the K-50 keeps the noise low throughout a healthy portion of the ISO range, giving you a lot of flexibility in dimly lit situations where you don't want to use a flash.

In more everyday settings, the K-50 delivers accurate exposures, a healthy dose of sharp details, and pleasing, accurate color. And, with all the Custom Image options and digital filters, you can tailor the look of your shots to your liking, with many adjustable parameters offered for many of the effects.

The built-in flash is adequate. For its size, you can't expect much more for an SLR's built-in flash unit. It will work fine in a pinch when you don't mount an external flash, within a limited range of less than 15 feet or so. In my testing, it did a fine job of lighting up a dark room to about 12 feet. At wide angle, the flash failed to illuminate my subject's face at roughly that same distance, but zooming in on my subject did the trick - the camera's automatic settings made the proper adjustments to get me a well-exposed and properly illuminated portrait.

The K-50 has a large optical viewfinder with 100% field of view coverage. This is a basic feature that could easily be overlooked, but how you see through the lens is critical - you'll likely frame most of your shots through it - and having a larger window is a blessing (you know this if you've spent time trying to frame shots through a smaller viewfinder). The camera offers a depth of field preview (both optical and digital) to help you select your aperture setting.

Recording video on the K-50 requires that you use the movie setting on the mode dial. There is not a dedicated movie record button. In general, the camera records good quality HD video, though I would not call it on par with a digital camcorder. The biggest drawback is that you can't use continuous auto focus, so trying to record video of a fast moving subject is not easy, especially if it is approaching or retreating from the camera's position. In addition, the operation of the anti-shake is a little jittery if you're hand-holding the camera, and the result can feel slightly nauseating. Perhaps that's why the camera's manual suggests that you mount the K-50 on a tripod for video recording, and not to operate it while recording (not exactly on the caliber of a camcorder). Also, the manual warns that if you use one of six digital filters available in movie mode, some frames may not be recorded and therefore result in less-than-optimally smooth playback.

Navigating in playback mode is for the most part as quick as in shooting mode. The two dials make for quick navigation to index view, zooming in and out, and applying edits. My only gripe is that when in index view, the front dial flips the page of thumbnails rather than whiz through the thumbnails - to navigate through the little thumbnails within a page, you must use the four-way buttons. That's a personal preference - the page up/down function of the front dial may suit other uses just fine.

Battery life isn't tops. The rechargeable Li-ion battery is rated to last just 410 images with 50% flash (CIPA rating), or 480 without flash. If you opt for the AA battery holder, you'll get longer shooting sessions per charge: 1250 images without flash, or 710 with 50% flash (CIPA rating) using AA lithium batteries.

There are a few features you don't get with the K-50 that you might expect at this price range. There is no HDMI port for playing back in HD to a TV or other monitor. Also, there isn't an external mic port for recording higher quality stereo audio (the built-in mic records in mono). Lastly, the LCD is fixed, so you can't angle it outward or swivel it to get creative angles on your shots. Most likely, this feature is simply not possible without compromising the weather-sealed body of the K-50.

Bottom line - The K-50 offers a lot of manual control, customizable features, and high image quality. Its two dials and dedicated buttons are well placed and enable you to make quick adjustments, and you can fine-tune all of the color treatments and digital effects. The camera offers speedy burst modes, performs very well in low light, and records good-looking HD video (though doesn't offer continuous AF). And the rugged, weatherproof body offers peace of mind.


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