Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thought Of The Day: Pentax K-01, K-5, or K-30?

Three days ago I talked a little about the Pentax K-01, K-5 and K-30 digital cameras. Someone asked me which one of the three they should buy.

All three cameras are based around the same 16 megapixel APS-C sized Sony sensor. The sensor, processor and software are the same, with only some minor differences.

So what's the difference between these three cameras? Which one is better? Which should you buy?

The K-5 DSLR is the oldest of the three, first available in October 2010 (yes, digitally speaking, that's old). It made waves because it performed exceptionally well, arguably better than any other digital camera with an APS-C sized sensor, and right up there with full-frame and even some medium-format digital cameras. DxOMark ranks it tied for seventh best. With an MSRP of $1,100 (body only), it's a good value. It was an excellent value when it first came out, but over the last year-and-a-half digital cameras have become both better and cheaper.

The K-30 DSLR is the latest from Pentax, available in about a month. The only major change from the K-5 is a (supposedly) improved auto-focus system and the addition of some auto-modes for beginners. Pentax also changed the design of the body slightly and gave it a price tag of $850 (body only). Beyond that, they are the same camera, but the K-30 is $250 less.

The K-01 is a compact interchangeable-lens camera, not a DSLR like the K-5 and K-30. That means there is no mirror and (in this case) no viewfinder, but the camera is much smaller and lighter. In fact, with the stock 40mm lens, it can fit into a large pocket. Compact interchangeable-lens cameras are much more enjoyable to travel with. The K-01 didn't score quite as high as the K-5 in DxOMark's tests, even though the cameras have the same sensor, processor, software and lenses. For whatever reason, Pentax is getting slightly more out of the K-5 than the K-01. Even so, the differences are minor and the K-01 still scored pretty high. This camera has an MSRP of $900 (including a lens).

If I were trying to decide between these three cameras, I'd go with the K-30. I think Pentax sees it as the K-5's replacement, and, since they're basically the same except for one is cheaper, you might as well save $250. An alternative would be Nikon's D3200, which DxOMark just finished testing. The D3200 ranks one spot lower than the K-5, but it's pretty darn close and has an MSRP of only $700 (with a lens), making it significantly cheaper.

If size and weight are important, the K-01 might be a good choice. The compact interchangeable-lens market has been pretty hot, and the K-01 is not the best or cheapest in that category. There are a lot of other options to consider, including the Samsung NX200.

In conclusion, the K-01, K-5 and K-30 are all excellent cameras that are reasonably priced, and none are significantly better or worse than the others. But with advancements by Nikon and some other companies, Pentax may need to lower their price tag to stay competitive. 


  1. Actually, you can now buy the K-5 (body only) for $919 from Pentax authorized dealers. Click here and then click the $919 below the image of the K-5 to go to the online store. Disclaimer: I do not work for that store nor for the web site to which I have linked you. I live in the middle of nowhere, about 1500 miles from each of them. ;-)

    We have yet to see any images from the K-30, so one cannot say for sure how they will compare to those produced by the K-5. Having the same sensor is only part of the overall equation when it comes to Pentax. The K-30 uses only 12-bit RAW, while the K-5 uses 14-bit RAW. That means the latter can process more colors and pull more detail out of the shadows and highlights in post processing (as you probably know).

    The K-01 also uses only 12-bit RAW, and there are slight differences in the quality of the images it produces compared to the K-5 (this is true even in RAW, not just in the JPEGs you will see at that link); therefore, the same may or may not be true of the K-30's images.

    As for the K-01 itself, it produces very nice images, but it is, overall, a very weak (underpowered) camera with annoying limitations (no viewfinder, among other things, which matters to some people).

    Maybe 12-bits versus 14-bits isn't something that will matter to the person who asked you which one he/she should get. In that case, the K-30 would be an excellent choice. You can get it with the 18-55 (non-WR) kit lens for $899, which is only $50 more than body only.

  2. I forgot to say that Amazon is also now selling the K-5 for $919, and at least one of its third-party resellers is now selling it for just under $900.

  3. Thanks for the comments, MJW.

    I failed to look at the RAW bits (12 vs 14) and that would explain why the K-5 did slightly better in DxOMark's test than the K-01. I imagine then that the K-30 will score very close to the K-01, which is still excellent, but not quite as good as the K-5.

    In any event, there is no significant difference in actual image quality between the K-5 and K-01 (and most likely the K-30) for anyone to worry about. Maybe a close side-by-side look might show some very minor differences, but nothing that would be noticed real-world.

    It's always best to shop around and get the absolute best possible price for a camera. I never pay full price. Amazon is a great place to look for deals. If you can find the K-5 and K-30 for the same (or nearly the same) price, the K-5 might be the better (or, at least, safer) choice.

    Honestly, I don't think anyone could go wrong with the K-5, K-30 or K-01.