New Pentax K-5 with super sensor (San Diego Transcript)

Images I recently attended a wedding in New York and, knowing I'm a serious photographer, the father of the groom asked if I'd bring a camera to take pictures, supplementing the professional he had hired. I had just received a sample of the new Pentax K-5 and thought it would be a good opportunity to test it out.

The wedding was held in the evening at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and the venue was a huge glass-enclosed room with everything quite dark beyond the glass walls and ceilings, so the illumination levels were quite low. As I began shooting using the automatic program setting, I was surprised to see the camera selecting an ISO of 3200. I rarely shoot at speeds faster than 400, because my experience has been that the images are grainy and noisy. At first I thought the camera was defective, yet when I magnified the images to 20X on the rear LCD panel, details appeared crisp and skins were smooth with no signs of noise. What was going on? In fact, I was experiencing one of the biggest benefits of the K-5, the use of an entirely new sensor capable of shooting in very low light.

The K-5 is the successor to the highly praised K-7, and now is Pentax's top of the line DSLR. Both cameras have the same magnesium and stainless steel structure with silicone seals to weatherproof the body from moisture and dust. The K-5 uses a new Sony 16.3 megapixel CMOS sensor, designed to record up to an ISO of 51,200! While I wouldn't recommend this for most shooting, the ability to get terrific results at high ISO speeds opens up a new world of photography. It means that it's possible to take handheld images at very low light levels and to shoot with the built-in flash at much greater distances.

For example, if the flash worked to 15 feet before at an ISO of 400, it would now reach almost 50 feet at IS0 3200! And the built-in shake resistance mechanism, which works with every Pentax lens, allows handheld images with candlelit scenes to be made at 1/8 to 1/15 second. You can set the camera to determine how aggressively to correct for graininess at different ISO speeds.

The K-5 has a new auto focusing system that measures 11 points of the image and a 77-point light sensor to determine the exposure, based on its ability to detect the kind of scene. For example, it can detect when you're taking a portrait with a light or dark background and expose for the face.

It has a slightly larger program dial than on the K-7 for an easier grip; it can be set to eight different shooting modes and can be locked in place. The green mode, as with most cameras, makes it a fully automatic point-and-shoot camera, while the P (programming mode) lets you override some of the automatic selections. A new video mode lets you take HD videos, although you can't change focus while filming. It records at 1080p resolution at 25 frames per second, and has a built-in mic and a socket for an external mic. You can plug the camera into your TV using the HDMI port to play back the video and stills.

The K-5 can shoot at seven frames per second to capture that perfect fast action shot. Maximum shutter speed is 1/8000th sec.

Images are viewed on a three-inch high-resolution display of almost a million pixels, as good as those on camera twice its price. It's also possible to set the camera to its LiveView mode, and compose your scene on the display. Normally you would use the viewfinder, which shows 100 percent of the view using a glass pentaprism, not mirrors as on some other cameras.

One of the benefits of most serious cameras is that you can shoot in RAW, a format pros prefer, because it retains all of the original image data and allows you to make corrections using products such as Photoshop. The K-5 lets you default to RAW, record both a RAW and jpeg of each image, or record an occasional RAW image by pushing a button.

You can also do a variety of processing to the image in the camera. You can crop it, apply filters such as black and white, and create special effects. One feature I used is the electronic level, which prevents images with a tilted horizon. When you want to shoot on a tripod, to take HDR (high dynamic range) images, for example, you can bring up a huge electronic level on the display to adjust the camera.

As with any camera, it comes down to how the camera feels in the hand and the quality of the images. For me, with medium-size hands, the camera felt perfect. Images were well exposed and color was very accurate as judged by skin tones. There seemed to be a wider dynamic range that captured more details in the overly dark and bright areas than on the K-7. That's a function of the sensor and the in-camera processing. Exposure was always spot-on.

Pentax offers a wide assortment of lenses, some of which are water-resistant and some less than an inch thick. I used two lenses for my testing, the SMC Pentax-DA* 16-50mm F2.8 ($750) and the just-released SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 ($450) that's water resistant and makes a perfect travel lens. The second lens is available as a package with the camera for about $1,600, less than $200 more than the body alone.

Information about each lens fed to the camera, allowing the camera to provide correction to the image based on the lens' imperfections. This reduces typical artifacts found in high ratio zoom lenses, such as color fringing and distortion. When this option is chosen, there's a processing delay of a few seconds between taking and viewing the image.

The bottom line is this is an outstanding camera that more than competes with the big two, Canon and Nikon, because its superior sensor, metal construction and weatherproof design. When you're number three you try harder. (