Pentax K-S2 brings rugged versatility to the DSLR market

Pentax K-S2

This new enthusiast-orientated DSLR is the Pentax reference camera first shown at CES 2015 – and it's a far cry from the Pentax K-S1 model it launched last year. The sensor specs are the same, but where the K-S1 comes across as a neon-lit novelty (actually, it's better than that), the K-S2 is a much more sober release with a robust design and, for Pentax, some technological firsts.

One of these is its fully-articulating rear screen, seen plenty of times on other DSLRs but never before on a Pentax. This uses 'airless gap' technology to fill the space between the LCD and its protective cover and improve visibility in bright conditions.

Pentax K-S2

The Pentax K-S2's rear screen uses an 'airless gap' design for greater clarity in bright light.

Another first is the K-S2's built-in Wi-Fi and NFC communication. Again, this has been done plenty of times before, but not by Pentax. This works alongside a dedicated smartphone app and allows you to control the K-S2 remotely.

This makes it sound like Pentax is playing catch-up with other DSLR makers, but the appeal of Pentax cameras has often been in the engineering and mechanical specifications. The in-built sensor-based SR Shake Reduction system has proved very effective in the past, the K-S2 can shoot continuously at 5.5 frames per second and the maximum shutter speed is 1/6000sec – a whisker faster than the 1/4000sec maximum of most direct rivals.

Pentax K-S2

The retracting 18-50mm lens is much shorter than the typical DSLR kit lens, but it's still weatherproof.

It comes with a new kit lens, too – a retracting 18-50mm f/4-5.6 lens we first described back when the K-S2 was simply a Pentax reference camera. This camera/lens combination is still bulky if you compare it to compact system cameras, but it looks usefully smaller than the average DSLR/kit lens combination. Even though it uses a retracting mechanism, this lens is weather-resistant, just like the K-S2 itself.

Sensor facts

Inside, the K-S1 uses the same 20-megapixel APS-C size sensor as the K-S1, with a maximum sensitivity of ISO 51200.

Other makers are experimenting with the removal of the anti-aliasing, or low-pass filters in front of the sensor to increase the very fine detail rendition, but Pentax has found a novel way of offering both options in one camera. The sensor has no low-pass filter, so there is, in theory, the possibility that you may see moiré interference effects with very fine patterns and textures. If so, you can use the camera's anti-aliasing 'simulation' mode. This applies a tiny vibration to the sensor during the exposure to minutely shift the photosites and replicate the effect of a low pass filter.

Pentax K-S2

The K-S2 has a more conventional layout than the Pentax K-S1 with a mode dial on the top and twin control dials, one at the front one on the rear.

Exposure metering is taken care of by a 77-zone system which factors in subject position and distance, with centre-weighted and spot metering available too.

The autofocus system has 11 AF points, including 9 cross-type. It's not the most sophisticated, especially when it's paired up with cheaper Pentax lenses that don't have their own AF motors – but the new retracting kit lens has its own built-in DC motor, so the AF system should have a better chance to show its potential.

Design and build

The K-S2 uses a proper glass pentaprism for its viewing system, unlike the cheaper 'pentamirror' designs in entry-level DSLRs.

Pentax K-S2

The K-S2's viewfinder offers a near-100% field of view and uses a proper glass pentaprism.

Pentax K-S2

The rear screen can be folded back 'closed' against the camera body for extra protection.

The twin control dials make it much easier to apply manual shutter speed and lens aperture adjustments and are a must-have for most enthusiasts.

No lens is perfect, but the K-S2 can correct distortion, vignetting and color fringing internally (with Pentax lenses) and a new Clarity Enhancement option gives a localised contrast boost to your images for extra 'punch'.

The K-S2 also offers in-camera dynamic range control, raw processing and a wide range of digital filters.

It goes on sale at £650/US$800 (about AU$1037) with the retracting 18-50mm lens. You get a choice of colors (this is Pentax, after all) – the Nature Collection offers Forest Green, Desert Beige or Stone Gray, while the Sports Collection includes White x Lime, Black x Pink, White x Racing Stripe and Black x Racing Stripe. Other body/lens bundles will be available.

Rod Lawton is Head of Testing for Future Publishing’s photography magazines, including Digital Camera, N-Photo, PhotoPlus, Professional Photography, Photography Week and Practical Photoshop.