Pentax K-S2 First Impressions Review

New Wi-Fi enabled weather sealed DSLR

By PF Staff in Hands-On Tests on Apr 6, 2015
Pentax K-S2 First Impressions Review

Today we will be taking a closer look at the Pentax K-S2, Pentax's latest mid-range DSLR that has now been on the market for about six weeks.  We find the K-S2 to be one of the best Pentax DSLRs to date. In addition to being a highly-attractive camera for just about anyone who wants to make a serious entry into the world of photography, the K-S2 also presents itself as a viable upgrade path for existing Pentax users who are still shooting with older bodies.  In terms of performance and image quality, only the K-3 flagship tops it.

The K-S2 introduces a host of new refinements on top of the already-impressive range of features offered by its predecessor, the Pentax K-50.  Most notably, the K-S2 is the first Pentax DSLR to offer built-in Wi-Fi and a fully-articulating LCD screen. In addition, its sensor, autofocus module, and menu systems have been upgraded.  Like the K-50, weather sealing protects it from the elements, and dual control wheels ensure easy access to key shooting settings. 

Another important improvement to the K-S2 lies in its kit lens: the new Pentax 18-50mm features silent autofocus, weather-sealing, and an ultra-compact collapsible design.

It might be tempting to see the K-S2 as a successor to the Pentax K-S1, but this is not the case.  While the K-S2 does inherit some hardware from the K-S1, the design philosophy behind it is much more traditional and in line with previous mid-range cameras like the K-50, K-30, and K200D.

At a glance: K-S2 vs K-50

  • Higher resolution 20-megapixel sensor
  • Filterless sensor design, AA filter simulator
  • Articulating LCD screen
  • 3:2 LCD aspect ratio
  • Built-in Wi-Fi/NFC for tethering
  • Low-light AF support (-3EV)
  • New in-camera image processing options
  • Face-lifted menu system
  • Redesigned kit lens w/ silent AF
  • External mic and HDMI
  • (-) Slightly slower burst shooting
  • (-) No AA adapter support

See also: our first impressions of the SMC Pentax-DA L 18-50mm F4-5.6 DC WR RE

Now, without further ado, let us see what the K-S2 is capable of and how its new features work.

Menu System

The Pentax K-S2's menu system has been face-lifted with more appealing fonts and graphics compared to older models.  You will even find a few animations here and there!  Improvements go beyond what we found in the K-S1: several screens have been changed to make features easier to access and to give users quicker a faster overview of status and key settings.

Status ScreenStandard status screen


Easy AF point selection

http://www.pentaxforums.com/content/uploads/files/1/p1560/IMG_2194.png
Drive mode menu w/advanced settings
Control panel
Control panel w/quick settings access

Seasoned shooters will be thrilled to hear that the K-S2's drive mode menu contains interval shooting, interval composites, and standard composites in addition to the traditional modes.

Image Quality

The Pentax K-S2's 20-megapixel sensor paired with the Prime M II processor delivers the same performance as the Pentax K-S1, so for a more detailed look at its capabilities, including comparisons with other DSLRs, see our K-S1 image quality tests.

Generally-speaking, one can quickly come to appreciate the K-S2's increased resolution and filterless sensor design when comparing it to the previous generation of 16-megapixel bodies.  Its RAW files are still only 12-bit, but the K-S2 does pull ahead in terms of in-camera JPEG processing.  Specifically, three new features have been added that will let you create JPEG files that hardly need any desktop processing, if you so desire:

  • Clarity enhancement
  • Diffraction correction (sharpening)
  • Auto peripheral illumination correction (vignetting)

Clarity Enhancement

The most exciting of these is of course the clarity enhancement, which is currently unique to the K-S2.  Clarity enhancement runs at the time of image capture to boost contrast (by adjusting shadows and highlights) to yield a more dynamic image.  It adds about 2 seconds of down time after each photo, but can be well worth it if you want your photos to head straight to an album.

Refer to the images below to see how clarity enhancement works.  Click on any thumbnail to enlarge:


Unedited JPEG

Clarity enhancement

Lens corrections

Clarity enhancement + lens corrections

Photoshop auto levels

RAW conversion w/shadow lift

As you can see, the in-camera clarity enhancement delivers results very similar to Photoshop's auto levels tool, though you do get slightly more shadow detail through Photoshop.  Also, as always, you'll be able to squeeze out a lot more detail from the RAW file and edit it as desired.

So, to sum things up, Pentax's new clarity enhnacement is a great tool for situations in which you want to skip desktop processing.  We are sure that it will prove to be especially useful with legacy lenses and lower-end glass that might otherwise produce hazy images.  You won't always be using this feature, but having that extra bit of flexibility is nice.

Advanced HDR

The K-S2 has a new mode dial setting: A-HDR, or Advanced HDR.  We are still in the process of testing this shooting mode, but in a nutshell, the camera will automatically take and combine 3 photos to create a strong HDR image with a surreal look.  This mode only outputs JPEGs.  Automatic compensation of camera shake is included.

Advanced HDR ExampleA-HDR Example (Click to enlarge)

A menu setting allows you to control the strength of the HDR effect, but for the scene above, we were unable to obtain anything more moderate.  Compare the A-HDR image to an HDR we created manually from a single RAW file:

HDR from RAWHDR from single RAW (Click to enlarge)

Which type do you prefer?

Sharpness

Thanks to all those megapixels and the lack of an AA filter, you can extract an enormous amount of small details from the K-S2's files.  Let's take the hand-held full-size image below as an example:

K-S2 SampleSample photo taken with the 18-50mm kit lens (click for original)

We find this degree of detail to be impressive for such a simple snapshot.  Things get even better with a dedicated macro lens:

Sample macro photoSample photo taken with the D FA 100mm macro (click to enlarge, or view original)

You can safely increase the ISO during the day and still get plenty of detail

ISO 800 macroSample macro at ISO 800 (click to enlarge, or view original)

All three of the images above are unedited files straight out of camera.

Low-Light Shooting and Autofocus

The K-S2's improved autofocus system (which is borrowed from the Pentax K-5 II) allows it to focus in near darkness, or in ambient light levels as low as -3EV.  The system works as advertised and it's a blessing if you do a lot of indoor or nighttime photography.

We decided to test the K-S2 inside a cave with a kit lens, no tripod, and no AF assist light.  It passed with flying colors:

ISO 12,800 hand-held sample

The new sensor's excellent noise performance is a perfect match for the improved autofocus system.

As a side note, the K-S2 has also been fitted with the K-3's improved screwdrive AF motor, so you will be able to enjoy faster focusing speeds with screwdrive lenses compared to the K-50 or K-5 II.

Color

With default settings, the K-S2 produces rich, vibrant colors.  Its JPEG engine behaves in much the same way as in other Pentax cameras.  It also uses the same metering and white balance system as the K-50, so ignoring the new processing features that we mentioned above, expect very similar JPEGs.

Most of the time, the default "bright" JPEG profile delivers excellent images.  JPEG rendering can also be customized to suit your needs, not only through a host of Custom Image presets, but also through fine adjustments of parameters such as saturation, contrast, sharpness, and others:

Custom Image SettingsCustom Image settings

Still, one shortcoming of the default profile is exaggeration of reds and oranges.  This can lead to loss of detail in brightly-colored subjects such as these flowers (click to enlarge):


JPEG

RAW

In this scenario we would recommend either using a different JPEG preset (such as "natural" with reduced saturation) or simply shooting in RAW.

LCD Screen

The K-S2's articulating (vari-angle) LCD screen has been a long-awaited feature by the community.  In addition to being used like any orginary screen on the back of the camera, it can be flipped out and then be turned, tilted, or even inverted.  This capability is very helpful for shooting videos, macros, or events.

The screen can also be closed for additional protection— or simply to flaunt to big Pentax logo placed on the back (some K-3 users might get the K-3 for this logo alone!).


Normal

Closed
Flipped out Inverted

When the screen is inverted, the Wi-Fi button on top of the camera acts as a shutter release button, allowing you to take selfies.  This likely won't be used by many, but the second button does improve the ergonomics considerably.

The only downside to the articulating LCD is the slew of health & safety warnings that is revealed when the screen is flipped outward.  Why aren't these underneath the camera?

Thanks to the way the screen is designed, it hardly adds any overall thickness to the body.

Wi-Fi Remote Control

We are happy to report that the K-S2's Wi-Fi (thanks in part to the presence of NFC) is easy to set up and use.  Without even glancing at the manual, we were able to get the Image Sync app download and connected in under a minute.  If your phone or tablet does not have NFC, it might take a little bit longer, but it's still very straight forward.

Refer to the video below to learn how you connect to the camera and what features are available via Image Sync:

The range of the K-S2's native Wi-Fi is vastly superior to what was offered by the O-FC1 FluCard, which should now be seen as obsolete.  Expect to maintain a reliable connection dozens of meters away as long as you are in direct line of sight (signal strength will vary based on the client device and its position relative to the camera).  While indoors, the signal strength is more than sufficient for you to be in a different room, as long as it isn't too far away.  The overall performance is similar to what we've observed in other cameras, such as the recently-reviewed Leica D-Lux Typ 109.

There is a small amount of latency present, and the live view framerate isn't amazing, but it will get the job done.  Again, the performance here is very similar to other cameras with Wi-Fi.

Finally, one last piece of good news: even while the Wi-Fi is connected to Image Sync, the controls on the camera will continue to function so you can carry on shooting using either the app or the camera without having to disconnect.

The presence of Wi-Fi opens up many new possibilities, and we hope to see this feature become standard on all future Pentax DSLRs (industry trends support this).

Handling

Like the Pentax K-50, the K-S2 sports a weather-sealed body which when paired with a WR or AW lens (such as the 18-50mm kit lens) will protect the camera from rain and snow.  This alone makes the K-S2 unique within its market segment.

http://www.pentaxforums.com/content/uploads/files/1/p1513/K-S2_weather_sealing.jpgPentax K-S2 Weather Sealing

Overall, the K-S2 handles very well as it has dual control wheels, buttons within easy reach, and a face-lifted user interface (which was already fairly intuitive to begin with).  Physically, the camera is rather compact: it is narrower and not as tall as the K-50. At 678g loaded and ready, the body balances well with small and medium lenses, and it will never be cumbersome to take on trips thanks to Pentax's lineup of lightweight/pancake lenses.

See also: building the ultimate compact Pentax lens kit

Pentax K-S2K-S2 frontal view with 18-50mm kit lens, collapsed

The K-S2's movie mode is accessed via the on/off switch, which is a considerable improvement over having it on the mode dial in our opinion.

The main grip of the K-S2 is slightly smaller than that of the K-50, unfortunately.  This makes it slightly more difficult to hold the camera, since the grip will not allow you to wrap your fingers around as comfortably.  The ergonomics of the thumb rest on the back of the camera are also just a hint worse than that of the K-50, in our opinion.  Still, after several days with the camera you will get used to its grip and hardly notice that it's a slight downgrade.

You will find three decorative LEDs on the K-S2: one around the OK button on the back that is lit by default (blue), one around the Wi-Fi button (blue) that lights up when the camera is in selfie mode, and one around the on/off switch (green).  The LED lights can be customized or disabled via the menu.

K-S2 BackK-S2 Rear Panel

We only find three annoyances when it comes to the user interface and handling.  First of all, the Live View button is still secluded on the left side of the camera and thus cannot be accessed during single-handed operation.  All Pentax mid-range/entry-level DSLRs since 2012 have had this "flaw" despite the existence of a centrally-placed live view button the K-x (2009), K-5 (2010) and K-3 (2013).

The second annoyance is the fact that the OK button doubles as a toggle for AF point selection.  It must be held down for two seconds to put the camera in SEL mode (for both live view and viewfinder AF).  When in this mode, the 4-way pad no longer provides access to the ISO, drive mode, white balance, and flash sub-menus.  This can get annoying at times but you can learn to live with it.

Finally, the K-S2 has a relatively loud shutter: the same as the one in the K-50 and K-30.

More details on the K-S2's build quality, handling, and user interface will be presented in our upcoming in-depth review.

Video Mode

The Pentax K-S2 has been fitted with microphone and HDMI ports which make it almost as capable of an HDSLR as the Pentax K-3 (read more here).  The camera's electronic video stabilization is still a slight disappointment, but we really can't ask for more in an entry-level body now that the aforementioned ports have been added.

Preliminary Verdict

The Pentax K-S2 is a true winner because it combines a host of tried-and-tested and advanced Pentax features with innovation in areas that matter to the average user: image quality, wireless connectivity, an intuitive interface, and an articulating LCD screen.  With Pentax-unique features such as the AA filter simulator, in-body Shake Reduction, and advanced shooting modes, you really get a lot of bang for your buck.  But despite having a host of pro-grade features, the K-S2 continues to be beginner-friendly thanks to the way its menus and dials are designed. 

The issues we have found with the K-S2 are minor in comparison to the performance and functionality it delivers.  We highly recommend this camera and can only speculate how big of a success it could have been it and its modern features (Wi-Fi, NFC) had been launched earlier.

In the current K-mount lineup, the K-S2 is second only to the Pentax K-3.  It will be replacing the K-50 in our studios as our primary test camera for consumer lenses.

Finally, the K-S2 is a key competitor to the Nikon D5500, which also has wireless connectivity and a vari-angle screen, but lacks weather sealing.

Pricing

The K-S2 body currently retails for $699 USD / £549 GBP / $849 CAD / $925 AUD and it is available in a variety of colors.

Get your K-S2 today:

Pentax K-S2 White (Top View)White Pentax K-S2 with Collapsed Kit Lens

Sample Photos

Click on any thumbnail below to view the photo in a larger size.  Full-size files will accompany our in-depth review.

Specifications

Pentax K-S2

Pentax K-S2

Pentax K-50

K-50

Year Launched Q1 2015 Q2 2013
Launch Price (USA)

$749 (18-50mm DC WR kit)
$699 (body only)

$779 (18-55mm WR kit)
$699 (body only)
Street Price (4/2015) $419 (18-55mm WR kit)
$399 (body only)
Sensor
Resolution

20.2 megapixels
(5472 x 3648 px)

No AA filter
Hardware moire suppression

16.2 megapixels
(4928 x 3264 px)

AA filter

Sensor Size 15.6 x 23.5mm (APS-C) 15.7 x 23.7mm (APS-C)
ISO Range 100-51,200
Stabilization Mechanical Sensor-Shift Shake Reduction (SR)
Dust Removal Yes (DR)
CPU PRIME M II PRIME M
Image Capture
Shooting Modes

Hyper P, Sv, Av, Tv, TAv, M, B
Auto-Pict, Scene modes
Advanced HDR

Hyper P, Sv, Av, Tv, TAv, M, B
Auto-Pict, Scene modes

Shutter Speeds 30s - 1/6000s

30s - 1/6000s

File formats DNG RAW, PEF RAW (12-bit)
JPEG
DNG RAW (12-bit)
JPEG
Electronic Level Yes
Exposure Compensation +/- 5EV
Continuous Shooting Hi: 5.4 fps up to 20 JPG, 5 RAW
Lo: 3 fps up to 100 frames (JPG), 8 RAW
Hi: 6 fps up to 30 JPG, 8 RAW
Lo: 3 fps until card is full (JPG), 10 RAW
AF System SAFOX X, 11 focus points SAFOX IXi+, 11 focus points
AF Modes AF.A, AF.S, AF.C
AF Operating Range -3 to 18 EV -1 to 18 EV
Metering System 77-segment metering
0 to 22 EV
Lens Compatibility

All genuine Pentax K-mount lenses since 1975
Most third-party K-mount lenses

With adapter: M42 lenses

Lenses with an aperture ring but no "A" setting require stop-down metering

Flash
Built-In Flash GN 10 (ISO 100) GN 12 (ISO 100)
Flash Sync. Speed 1/180s
Hot Shoe Yes
Movie Mode
Resolution/Framerates 1920x1080p @ 30/25/24 FPS
1280x720p @ 60/50 FPS
1920x1080p @ 30/25/24 FPS
1280x720p @ 60/50/30/25/24 FPS
640x480p @ 30/25/24 FPS
File format H.264 MOV
Exposure Modes P, M, Av, TAv

Focus Peaking

Not available during recording
AF During Recording On demand via AF button
Stabilization Electronic
HDMI Yes N/A
Built-in Microphone Stereo Mono
External Microphone Yes N/A
Interface
Control Wheels 2
Optical Viewfinder 100% coverage
0.95x magnification
100% coverage
0.92x magnification
LCD Screen 3.0", 921k dots
3:2 aspect ratio
Vari-angle
3.0", 921k dots
4:3 aspect ratio
Focus Peaking Yes
IR Remote Ports 1 (front)
Customization AF Button
Green Button
E-dial
RAW Button
LEDs
AF Button
Green Button
E-dials
RAW Button
General
Lens Mount Pentax KAF2 Mount
Media Slot 1x SD, SDHC, or SDXC card
Connectivity Mini HDMI, USB2, Eye-Fi, IR, NFC
Wi-Fi tablet/smartphone tethering
USB2, Eye-Fi, IR, Wired Remote
Body Material
Plastic
Weather Sealed Yes
Dimensions (WxHxD) 122 x 91 x 72.5 mm
4.8 x 3.6 x 2.85 in.
129 x 96.5 x 70mm
(5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8 in.)
Battery Life ~480 shots ~480 shots (D-LI 109 battery)
~1250 shots (AA lithium batteries)
Battery Model D-LI 109 (included) D-LI 109 (included)
Optional AA battery adapter
Weight (Loaded) 678 g (23.9 oz) 650 g (23 oz)
Origin Assembled in the Philippines

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