When I had the opportunity to try out Pentax's mid-range, weather-resistent dSLR, the K-30, I came away thinking that it was a camera whose autofocus needed some serious help but nevertheless offered terrific value for money. A year on, or thereabouts, and Pentax has announced the K-30's successor, the K-50. Are we looking at a major upgrade or some minor tweaking here?
The K-30 had a 16.3 megapixel sensor powered by a Prime M engine, capable of shooting upto six frames-per-second in JPEG format. Those specs are just the same in the K-50, but there has been a significant expansion in sensitivity. Instead of a top ISO of 12,800 that could be expanded to ISO 25,600 with customisation, you're now looking at ISO 51,200.
My most serious gripe with the K-30 was its poor auto-focusing capabilities but I'm not sure how much of an improvement the K-50 is able to offer here. It is still using the SAFOX IXi+ autofocus engine with 11 sensors and nine cross-type sensors in the middle of the frame. If there hasn't been any significant improvement here, I will be disappointed.
Like the K-30, the K-50 makes use of Pentax's SR (Shake Reduction) mechanism to help elimate camera shake in low-light situations or when you're using a long lenses, and it's compatible with almost all of Pentax's interchangeable lenses, even those produced for film cameras. It's still got the horizon correction function and the astro tracer mode that you can use in conjunction with the O-GPS1 GPS unit to help with your astrophotography.
The K-50 retains the weather-proofing, dust-proofing, and ability to withstand temperatures as low as -10° of the K-30; there's also the to-be-expected range of scene modes (19), custom image options (11), and filters (19). Its full HD video function (1290 by 1080p) captures in the H.264 recording format and you can choose between 30, 25 or 24 frames per second. And like the K-30, you can use AA batteries to power it if you can't charge the Li-ion battery.
Pentax has never been a company to shy away from introducing colour to its hardware, but they've absolutely pushed the boat out for the K-50. It is available with no fewer than 120 colour combinations. There's a choice of 20 body colours and six grip colours. Choose a camera and lens kit with a black, red, white, or pink body and black grip and your 18-55mm F3.5-5.6AL WR lens will come in the identical colour. Go for any other body colour and your lens will be a far more traditional black.
Speaking of lenses, two new weather-resistent models are being unveiled alongside the K-50: the smc PENTAX-DA L 18-55mm F3.5-5.6AL WR, and the smc PENTAX-DA L 50-200 F4-5.6ED WR.
At around £530 body-only or £600 with the 18-55mm DAL WR lens, the K-50 is cheaper than the K-30 was at launch. Seeing as the upgrade appears to be minimal, and if that auto-focus hasn't been kicked into touch, that's a good thing. If that auto-focus has been brought upto speed, you're looking at a very good value for money camera. It should be available from the end of June 2013.
Should you think that you can live without the weather sealing and the 120 colour options, take a look at the new K-500. The insides are virtually the same, but the outsides are different, and for that you'll pay about £450 with a 18-55 mm DAL lens.