Pentax may be considered the underdog compared to DSLR giants like Nikon and Canon, but the weather-sealed, colorful 2013 release, the K-50, isn't a model to gloss over. Sitting pretty at about $780 MSRP, the K-50 has a feature set and capability range that may make its more expensive competitors blush.
Comparable to the K-30, the K-50 starts out at around $100 less than the price it's older sibling was introduced at. But don't let the cost or name fool you, there are quite a few features hidden inside the K-50 that makes it a mid-range DSLR worth considering.
Pentax K-50: Body and Design
Pentax scores first on the design—Pentax is the only manufacturer currently offering a weather-sealed DSLR to date. The sealing prevents rain and dust from getting inside the camera, making it an excellent outdoor shooter. The design also allows the K-50 to operate in colder temperatures, down to -10 degrees C. The weather-sealing also gives the camera's exterior a comfortable texture.
|The K-50 has a comfortable, durable design.|
The weather-sealing isn't the only perk the Pentax designers thought of though. The K-50 includes a lithium ion battery—but it's also compatible with AAs. Lithium ion batteries are the clear winner in terms of battery life and expense, but the ability to stash a few AAs in the camera bag in case the battery does run out of juice is a nice feature.
Pentax also includes more modes on the K-50's dial than other manufacturers typically use. Bulb is a separate setting, which eliminates the sometimes lengthy process of dialing the shutter speeds all the way down to bulb in manual mode. There's also two different slots to save custom settings.
|Settings on the K-50 are easy to adjust.|
The K-50 is very comfortable camera. The grip is a good size (plus it's textured). The index finger has easy access to the shutter, front control wheel, exposure button, on/off switch and a nifty little button to return all the settings to the default. The thumb rests comfortably between the mode dial and back control wheel.
At the back of the camera, there's the usual gamut of menu control buttons, with shortcuts for ISO, flash, timer/burst and white balance. There's also an option for live view to use the screen instead of the viewfinder and an autofocus/exposure lock.
Where the left hand rests, Pentax included a RAW button, so switching between file types can be done without ever accessing the menu. The autofocus switch includes both continuous, single and manual, again making adjustments faster.
When you do need to access the menu, it's straightforward and well organized. All the menu options are there no matter what mode you are in—if a certain option isn't available with the current settings, it's still there, so you don't end up continuing to search as you adjust to the new camera.
Pentax K-50: User Experience and Performance
|The variety of available modes and settings on the K-50 allow for some stunning images.|
Pentax's DSLRs have more manual modes than their competitors; along with the usual manual, aperture priority, shutter priority and programed auto, the K-50 includes sensitivity priority as well as shutter and aperture priority combined. Sensitivity priority keeps the exposure and ISO consistent by automatically adjusting shutter and aperture as the light changes. Shutter and aperture priority is similar to full manual mode in that you can adjust both the shutter and the aperture, but unlike manual, the exposure is automatic. While you could achieve the same results using the the four manual modes, the two extra modes can simplify things a bit. The Pentax K-50 includes all the scene modes you would expect from a mid-range DSLR, along with a few nonstandard ones like Night HDR and Stage Lighting. Pentax included a few fun digital filters too, including selective color and retro. The K-50 can also take time lapse photos without an extra intervalometer.
For speed, the K-50 sits right in line with similar cameras. Start-up, autofocus and playback speeds are what you'd expect from a mid-range DSLR. There is a noticeable delay in viewing photos after a burt of ten shots or more, and while the playback isn't available right away, the camera is still ready for another shot. With a burst speed of 6 fps, the K-50 is a fairly fast shooter for the category.
There were a few instances where the K-50's performance wasn't quite consistent. When shooting in the morning on a bright, sunny day, the programmed auto couldn't decide between two different settings, and depending which setting the picture was taken at, some of those photos turned out almost black. Later that day, the auto white balance wasn't up to it's previous performance. But, it was on a 90 degree day in full sun, and we couldn't get the camera to act that way a second time.
Pentax K-50: Image Quality
For a mid-range DSLR that's a bit nicer on price, there's no sacrificing on image quality. Lines are sharp and the images are detailed. Action is frozen at fast shutter speeds.
Colors are accurate about 95 percent of the time with the vibrancy settings left untouched. One shot of a flower seemed over saturated, but the magenta color is one that tends to be difficult for most cameras to capture. Color can be easily adjusted from the quick menu using a preset or custom set.
The K-50's 18-55mm kit lens produced a surprisingly nice depth of field.The subject remained clear and sharp while the background had a nice, yet not unrealistic, blur.
|The colors on this flower are over-saturated, but many cameras have difficulty with this color.|
In low light, the K-50 performed similar to other mid-range DSLRs. In ideal lighting conditions, ISOs as high as 3200 still produced excellent results, with the noise becoming distracting about 20000. In dimmer scenarios, the noise is noticeable a bit earlier. ISOs reach all the way up to 51200, but the highest settings shouldn't be used unless intentionally adding grain.
Video shot with the K-50 has nice sound and vibration reduction, but isn't otherwise impressive. The autofocus isn't available while recording (and the loud motor would probably be audible in the video anyway). There's also an audible click at the end of the footage from hitting the shutter to end the clip.
Pentax K-50: Conclusion
|Images from the K-50 have a nice depth of field.|
The Pentax K-50 is uniquely weather-sealed and sits at a nice price without sacrificing image quality. The design is excellent and comfortable, performance is on track and image quality is quite good. The video isn't as good as a Canon and the autofocus is much louder than a Nikon, but Pentax offers several unique features that make the K-50 one of the top contenders for mid-range DSLRs.
Pentax is the only manufacturer currently offering colorful, weather-sealed DSLRs, and the K-50 is being introduced at about $780. Canon's T5i has many similar specs, but is priced above $1,000. The Rebel SL1 is more competitive in price with the K-50 and also offers a touchscreen, but has a slower burst speed. Nikon's D3200, as last year's model, is also competitive with the K-50's pricing and has more megapixels but also has slower burst shooting.
Overall, the K-50 is fun to use and offers some quirky and some excellent extra features that you won't find with another manufacturer. The weather-sealing makes the K-50 a great option for the outdoor shooter and the fast burst mode makes it a nice camera for sports.