We have to admit that prior to arriving at Photokina, we were not overly-impressed by Pentax's announcement of the K-5 II and K-5 IIs. The two new cameras seemed to share almost everything in common with their predecessor except for a few minor changes, and they were already outclassed in some areas by Pentax's mid-range K-30, which was launched this summer.
However, after trying the camera out and gaining a deeper insight into the hardware after our interview with Pentax, we're confident that the K-5 IIs is in fact a significant upgrade over the K-5 in terms of not only autofocus and handling, but also, and most notably, image quality.
In total, four major changes distinguish the K-5 II from its predecessor:
- A new autofocus system with improved accuracy and reduced latency, able to make measurements in as little as -3EV ambient light
- A new air-gap-less LCD screen designed to be easy to see when outdoors
- Improved firmware with better stability and new AF features, including AF area expansion
- Removal of the anti-aliasing filter from the sensor, resulting in greatly increased resolution at the risk of seeing moire in images (K-5 IIs only)
Here you can see that the K-5 II LCD has much lower reflectance than that of the original K-5, and consequently you'll be able to see it much more clearly even in bright light. Thanks to this, the viewing angle is also much bigger. Click on the image to enlarge.
Next, let's talk about the two things most users will find the most important: the autofocus and the image quality. We did have the opportunity to sit down with a K-5 IIs behind-the-scenes and test it for a good while, although the conditions were nowhere near good enough for us to be able to perform a fully controlled test. What we ended up doing is a rudimentary AF accuracy test: we placed two objects in front of the camera, one three feet in behind the other. We selected continuous autofocus mode (AF.C) and cut loose at max FPS until the buffer filled up, constantly switching between the two targets. This test was repeated with the same lens (DA 50mm F1.8) and settings (using focus priority rather than release priority) on the old K-5 and found that all but one image from the K-5 IIs was perfectly in focus, while about half a dozen of the ones from the K-5 were soft. Below is a video showing our technique:
Here's a more casual test, albeit with a nicer lens:
While we were not allowed to bring any sample photos from the K-5 IIs home, we took several while we were there, and they sure looked sharp! Just about any camera can take a sharp test photo, though. What convinced us that the removal of the AA filter wasn't a mere gimmick, however, was an internal study that Pentax conducted with the camera- it surprised even their own engineers, who jokingly said that K-5 IIs has the ability to reveal facial features that you never thought were there! We saw a side-by-side comparison of a photo from the K-5 II and the same photo from the K-5 IIs and were (almost) instantly sold. The K-5 IIs appeared to have a very clear increase in resolution (but of course you do have to factor in the risk of seeing moire patterns in your images)! Pentax claimed that this sort of resultion was "unprecendented" in its class. Pentax also promised to send us these sample photos, and we will post them as soon as they do.
The Pentax K-5 II and K-5 IIs are scheduled to start shipping on October 15th, and can already be pre-ordered. Rest assured that we'll be among the first to receive a copy and formally test it against the K-5!
Pentax Ricoh's decision to keep the K-5 in its product lineup by releasing an upgraded version makes sense. They were able to address two key user complaints (screen visibility in the outdoors, and AF performance) without having to redesign the whole body or camera firmware, saving a great deal of development overhead and cost. This means that the new "mark II" version of the tried-and-tested K-5 is being launched at an MSRP which is $550 lower than the original price of the $1749 (the K-5 II is available for pre-order for just $1199, while the K-5 IIs is only $100 more in the US and 200 euros more in Europe). Another big pro of a move like this is that it's almost certain that the K-5 II will not suffer from any quality-control issues, considering that most of its components have been in production for at least two years now. Likewise, all of your current accessories will continue working with this camera!
Pentax made it fairly clear to us in their interview that they plan on expanding their DSLR lineup and that they are looking to product a professional DSLR body. This camera may well be a stop-gap measure. But, even if we do see such an upgraded body in the near future, its price will almost certainly be closer to what the K-5 originally launched at, and due to its low launch price, we expect the K-5 II to maintain its value quite well. For now, all we know is that based on what we've seen and tried, the K-5 II seems like a fine camera.
So, if you're a current Pentax K-5 user and have an extra couple hundred bucks lying around, we can definitely recommend upgrading to a K-5 IIs (and selling your K-5 without fees on the Marketplace). We're going to stay clear of just the regular K-5 II, however- the upgrade, in our opinion, is only worth it if it includes better image quality! The upgraded autofocus and screen are nice to have, but nowhere near as "essential" as a sharper image. If you don't alredy have a K-5, though, it's a different story, and then the K-5 II may seem like a natural choice, costing $100 less.