In the time available
I investigated specific facilities offered by the Pentax K-5, rather
than try to look at all the camera’s capabilities.
John Bebbington FRPS
Background to my Evaluation
My main interest is in Natural History, particularly plants and
invertebrates, and I took up photography in the late 1960s so that I
could share my passion with others. For me photography has become a
passion, but is a servant of my main interest. My images are used to
illustrate my and my wife’s Natural History talks, and my photographic
presentations. I also lead courses on these topics and am a member of
the RPS Associateship and Fellowship Panel in the Natural History
My first camera was a Pentax Spotmatic, and I remained loyal to the
brand throughout the years when I used film. Most of my photography was
done using Kodachrome 25, with Fuji Provia 100 for developing during my
photography courses, which meant that use of a tripod for close-ups of
flowers and insects was essential, and flash was necessary for any
photography of moving insects. To me, as to many other older
photographers, getting the image right in the camera was essential, as
little could be done if a transparency was not up to standard.
In 2007 I was fortunate to receive a commission which enabled me to
purchase not only a DSLR – the Pentax K10D – but also a laptop computer
for image processing. The advantages of digital imaging soon became
apparent – the range of adjustments available in RAW processing and the
options for experimentation and instant calibration of flash equipment
were particularly useful, – but I also tried to discipline myself to
‘get it right in the camera’ as often as possible.
The K10D allowed me to shoot reasonably noise-free images at ISO 400,
but this was still not ‘fast’ enough for hand-held stalking of
butterflies and dragonflies. The arrival of the K-x, with the
possibility of shooting at up to ISO 6,400, seemed to offer a solution.
Although an entry-level camera, the K-x has allowed me to achieve far
more success in this field and produces images which are acceptable for
projection at up to ISO 1600, provided that there are not too many
of uniform tone. However there are still problems in achieving the
necessary combination of shutter speed and small aperture which are
needed in some cases – increasing the ISO rating to 3200 or 6400 simply
produces too much noise.
The Pentax K-5
When Pentax announced the release of the new K-5 the feature which
immediately grabbed my attention was the possibility of shooting at
very high ISO ratings – up to 51,200! So, would this camera be the
answer to my problems?
I had hoped to test the camera on insects in flight and on alpine
flowers, but the camera was sent for review in February, when there
were almost no insects available. However I was able to evaluate its
performance for my requirements pretty thoroughly and I was very
I downloaded the camera manual from the Pentax website a couple of
weeks before the camera arrived and browsed through it, to help
me to decide on my evaluation programme. The Pentax K-5 features which
would be most useful were:
- high ISO capability – for insects in flight
- improved autofocus – again for insects in flight
- improved continuous shooting - again for insects in
- image stabilisation (‘shake reduction’)
- mirror lock-up
- artificial horizon screen – for landscapes and for
wide-angle images of
- weather resistant seals (I have found the K10D usable
in quite awful
- live view and 1080p HD video
Pentax K-5 Red Dead nettle ISO 3200
My first tests were photographing frosty Red Dead-nettle flowers in my
garden, with the camera mounted on my Sigma 180mm macro lens and my
Giottos carbon fibre tripod. At ISO ratings up to 3200 the processed
images projected very well and noise levels were very acceptable. At
ISO 6400 noise was visible, but did not really detract from the image.
From ISO 12,800 upwards noise began to be noticeable and distracting.
Pentax K-5 Red Dead nettle ISO 25600
A few days of milder weather produced a crop of Jew’s Ear fungus on a
dead elm tree and for this I used the 50-200mm Pentax WR zoom lens with
a Pentax accessory close-up lens, again with the camera tripod-mounted,
to allow a closer approach. The results were similar to those for the
Dead-nettle, with ISO ratings up to 3,200 producing very acceptable
Early one morning I found a cluster of Common Shiny Woodlice under a
log – whereas it would have been impossible to obtain a useable image
even at ISO 1600 with the K-x, the Pentax K-5 used at ISO 6400 gave me
which projects well with little visible noise.
Autofocus and Continuous
Pentax K-5 Common Rough Woodlice ISO 6400
Although this is more or less irrelevant for close-up and macro work
with flowers and invertebrates it is important for images of
garden birds and flying insects – my eyesight is not what it was and I
rely on autofocus in these cases. I found the camera’s autofocus much
‘snappier’ and more reliable than that of the K-x, and the ability to
shoot at 7fps for a short burst was also useful.
With shake reduction enabled I was able to shoot handheld at shutter
speeds up to 2 stops slower than expected. This would be particularly
useful for stalking insects using my 180mm macro lens.
Although it was possible with both the K10D and the K-x to shoot using
mirror lock-up this was always with a set delay for shutter release.
With the Pentax K-5 however the mirror can be locked and the shutter
independently, which allows the photographer to choose the exact moment
to capture an image – invaluable for a flower on a windy day for
Artificial Horizon Screen
This worked very well for landscape work and meant that it was
unnecessary to spend time rotating images when processing. I would find
this particularly useful for avoiding perspective distortion in
wide-angle flower photography in the mountains, and for avoiding
horizon curvature when photographing seashore plants for example.
Again, such problems can be corrected during processing, but it is far
better to avoid them!
Weather Resistant Seals
Although I would hesitate to take a DSLR out in very wet conditions
flowers and insects often provide very attractive images in damp and
drizzly weather. I didn’t have the nerve to try the camera out in the
rain – it had to go back in perfect condition! However, based on my
experience with the K10D, I wouldn’t hesitate to venture out and take
photographs in wet weather, using shower caps to protect the camera.
I include video clips in my talks, but have previously had to use
low-resolution images from a basic point-and-shoot compact, or moderate
resolution images from the K-x. The facility to shoot high definition
movies is a real bonus for me, although autofocus won’t operate in
video mode, which would be a real problem with moving insects.
I tried some video clips of minute white Springtails in my compost bin,
and these project very well, with good detail and smoothness.
Pentax K-5 White Springtails Video Clip
For my specific interests in close-up and macro photography I have
found that the Pentax K-5 offers significant improvements in
earlier Pentax DSLRs. The two lenses supplied were of excellent quality
but more importantly the camera is compatible with my older flashguns
and macro lenses and will work on manual setting with my bellows and
with my microscope adaptor.
The most impressive feature for me is the quality of images at high ISO
ratings – although I would continue to use the camera on a tripod for
close-up and macro work with static subjects, at ISO 100-400, the
ability to use ISO 3200 for hand-held insect stalking is a real bonus.
The artificial horizon and video capability are also a real improvement
over older models, and the separation of mirror lock-up from delayed
shutter release is an excellent facility.
All in all I was very impressed by the K-5 and would love to try it out
in the summer, when subjects are more readily available! I will
certainly be upgrading to this camera in the near future.