Pentax K-50 First Impressions

New weather-sealed DSLR from Pentax

By PF Staff in Hands-On Tests on Jun 21, 2013
Pentax K-50 First Impressions

The Pentax K-50, successor to the K-30, is the latest weather-sealed DSLR from Pentax (pictured above with the Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 Contemporary).  As an upper entry-level camera, the K-50 is ideal for photographers who wish to step up to a high-quality DSLR without having to spend too much money.  In the US, the K-50 body-only price is $699, while the 18-55mm WR kit is available for $779.  This is $150 cheaper than what the K-30 cost when it was announced, and it's also below what the competition is currently asking.

In this post, we would like to introduce you to the Pentax K-50 in the context of what else is currently out there.  Having already used the K-50 for several days, we will also offer you some hands-on impressions about the new camera's performance and features.

Compared to competing entry-level DSLRs from Canon and Nikon, the K-50 is the only one to feature weather sealing.  The 16-megapixel sensor found in the K-50 (inherited from the K-30) has received much praise for its image quality and low noise, and it continues to be among the best APS-C sensors on the market today.  However, Nikon has recently pushed ahead in the megapixel race by deploying a 24-megapixel sensor in their D5200, and it turns out that their new sensor is in fact better in terms of noise performance as well as dynamic range.  Both the K-50 and the D5200 continue to be capable of delivering nicer files than current offerings from Canon, though Canon makes up for this in other areas: their Rebel T4i and T5i cameras both feature modern touchscreen LCDs, among other handy features.  Overall, all three manufacturers produce excellent cameras, and most of the differences between them are subtle.  If you're looking for a new DSLR, we recommend that you read our Pentax K-30 vs Nikon D5100 vs Canon T4i comparative review so that you can see which manufacturer delivers features that best fit your shooting style and needs.

If you are already a Pentax user, we can recommend the K-50 as an upgrade over older DSLRs such as the K10D, K20D, K200D, K-7, K-x, or K-r.  The new camera delivers better image quality and faster overall performance compared to all the aforementioned predecessors.  If you currently own a K-5 or a K-30, the K-50 would work well as a second body, but it is not really an upgrade.

Read on for our first impressions of the K-50.

Pentax K-50 BoxPentax K-50 Box

The Pentax K-50 is remarkably similar to the K-30.  Even though the K-50 has a more rounded external appearance that makes it look different, the way it handles and feels in your hand is the same as the K-30.  Beneath the rounded external styling, the K-50's SD card door has the same shape as that of its predecessor.  While the fact that nothing is really new may come as a disappointment to current Pentax users, we can confidently say that the K-50 is by far more comfortable to hold than any that the competition currently has to offer (thanks to its very large grip that fits the shape of your hand).

The K-50's menu system has seen only a few subtle changes, and it continues to be easy to navigate and intuitive.  Native eye-fi support has been added to the camera, and the way that the info button works in playback mode has been changed to be a bit more beginner-friendly (rather than cycling through different info screens, the button brings up a list of the available display options).  Other options and features are the same.

In terms of overall performance, it doesn't seem that anything has changed at all.  The K-50 offers speedy image playback just like the K-30 did.  Its card writing speed is still rather slow, however, and its 6FPS burst mode continues to be limited to 6 RAW files and about 20 JPEGs.  In the field, after we filled up the buffer, it took the camera just under 10 seconds to finish writing images to our UHS-I class 10 SD card.  For users who typically shoot in single-frame mode, however, this shouldn't be a problem at all, as the performance is quite good outside of burst mode.  Just like the K-30, the the K-50 has smooth live view performance.  The live view autofocus is quite good, though unlike the K-30, the K-50 does not magnify the image by default while focusing.  Although it is not class-leading, the viewfinder (phase detect) autofocus is speedy and decisive.

If you enjoy shooting videos, you will find that the K-50 supports automatic as well as manual video exposure, and in manual mode, you can set the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO before and during recording.  On-demand autofocus is also available during recording, although focus peaking is not.  The only issue with the K-50's video mode is that the sound is recorded in mono, and no external microphone can be connected.  Again, the K-30 has the same movie capatiblities/limitations as the K-50.

Pentax is bundling a new weather-sealed version of the DA L 18-55mm kit lens with the K-50.  This new lens is 50% cheaper than the normal DA 18-55mm WR (due to its plastic mount), but it still delivers the same image quality.  Compared to the non-sealed DA L kit lens, this new sealed version also has a better build quality.

Pentax DA L 18-55mm WR

The DA L 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 WR lens that ships with the K-50

Even with this basic lens, the K-50 takes excellent photos that usually look just fine straight out of the camera.  When we took the K-50 out, we were impressed by its accurate metering and white balance in JPEG mode using the default settings.  The default "custom image" profile produces vibrant colors that we think will please the majority of users.  It is of course possible to customize the way that the camera renders JPEG files, and for complete control over white balance and exposure, you can of also shoot in RAW (the K-50 records colors in 12-bit depth).

Pentax K-50 w/18-55mmSample photo: K-50 + DA L 18-55mm WR lens

Pentax has increased the K-50's maximum ISO rather to 51,200, up from 25,600 on the K-30.  This is the same maximum that the current high-end Pentax model (K-5/K-5 II/K-5 IIs) offers.  Frankly, this change is quite insignificant, however.  ISO 25,600 is already very noisy, and boosting the signal by another factor of two certainly does not make things any better.  To put things in perspective, out of the 16,000 K-5 photos that members have posted on our forum, only nine were taken at ISO 51,200.

Nevertheless, if a feature is new, then it must be tested.  We therefore shot a test photo in order to show you the difference between ISO 25,600 and 51,200 (when shot in RAW).  Here is a 100% crop of the scene at ISO 100:

And here are the high-ISO results:

ISO 25600
ISO 51200

We think these results speak for themselves.

The Bottom Line

The Pentax K-50 is an excellent DSLR that we are sure many will enjoy.  It has an intuitive menu system, it is easy to hold, and it's competitively-priced.  Its weather sealing and dual control wheels make it unique, and its image quality and other features place it in the upper end of the entry-level DSLR market.  The fact that it now comes with fully weather-sealed kit lenses is a blessing and also a new key selling point.

With that said, at this time we see no reason for the Pentax K-50 to be chosen over the K-30 given the fact that the K-30 is currently on sale for $499 and below.  The same camera with a slightly different look for $200 less is more than just a good bargain- it's a steal, but only while supplies last.

Get your K-30 at B&H Photo | Pre-order a K-50 WR lens kit

Pentax K-30

Unboxing Video

For those of you who want to hear the K-50's shutter sound and see more of the camera, here is an unboxing video:

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