DCRP

Pentax K-01 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: May 5, 2012

Last Updated: September 15, 2012

The Pentax K-01 (from $749) is a mirrorless interchangeable with a most unusual design. Created by Australian designer Marc Newson (whom, admittedly, I'd never heard of before the K-01), the modern look of the K-01 will certainly turn heads (especially if you get the yellow one).

Aside from its unique looks, the K-01 is also a full-featured interchangeable lens camera. It has a 16 Megapixel CMOS sensor, K-mount lens support with built-in image stabilization, lots of manual controls, a boatload of scene modes and special effects, an HDR function, and 1080p video recording.

Ready to learn more about this ILC with a one-of-a-kind design? Keep reading: our review starts now.

What's in the Box?

The K-01 is available in three kits in three colors (black, white, yellow). You can go body only for $749, add a 40mm pancake lens (pictured in this review) for $899, or get a dual lens kit with more traditional-looking 18 - 55 and 50 - 200 mm zooms for $999. Here's what you'll find in the box for each of those:

  • The 16.3 effective Megapixel Pentax K-01 camera body
  • F2.8, 40mm Pentax DA XS lens [40mm lens kit only]
  • F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm Pentax DA lens [dual lens kit only]
  • F4.0-5.6, 50 - 200 mm Pentax DA lens [dual lens kit only]
  • D-LI90 lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM featuring SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0
  • Fold-out Quick Start Guide + 265 page Operating Manual (printed)


The incredibly thin 40 mm pancake lens

The camera can come with three possible lenses, including the F2.8, 40 mm pancake lens you see above. This is the thinnest lens I've seen (0.36 inches!), and really a marvel of engineering. The lens, also designed by Marc Newson, is very light (51 g) and is equivalent to 60 mm when attached to the K-01. The thing that bugged me the most about the lens is the small rubber lens cap that you snap into place -- it doesn't like to stay put. The other two lenses are standard Pentax kit lenses, neither of which will win any awards. Whichever lens you end up using, don't forget that there's a 1.5X crop factor to keep in mind. And, since image stabilization is built into the body, every lens you attach (and you can use almost any K-mount lens on the face of the Earth) will have shake reduction.

I want to expand on my experiences with Pentax quality control (or lack of it). The weeks I spent with the K-01 were frustrating. My original K-01 would produce out-of-focus photos about 50% of the time, with multiple lenses. I exchanged it for a second body, which did not have that issue. Lenses were a different story -- here's a quick summary of my experiences:

  • F2.8, 40 mm pancake: my kit lens worked great -- no complaints!
  • F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm #1: returned it early on due to the blurry photos issue mentioned above; seemed okay aside from corner blurring.
  • F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm #2: this lens arrived to replace 18-55 #1, and was a brand new water resistent (WR) model; it was decentered, meaning that sharpness drops off rapidly as you move away from the center of the frame; I did not have focusing problems with this particular lens.
  • F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm #3: I bought this lens years ago just to have around, and used it to reshoot the photos taken with the WR model; this lens had the same blurriness issues as lens #1 did with my original K-01 body, but it did okay with the second one; this is a Mark I lens, so it had issues with vignetting that the other two 18-55's did not.
  • F2.8, 16 - 50 mm: this $1500 lens is in Pentax's DA* lineup, so I was expecting great things; it arrived brand new and guess what -- it was decentered, too. My 18-55 actually produced sharper photos (see example below), with one exception.
  • F4.0-5.6, 50 - 200 mm: another one of the possible kit lenses, this lens also appeared to be decentered, and had horrible purple fringing in my first pass of night test shots.
  • F2.8, 50 - 135 mm: borrowed this $1600 DA* lens from a friend to take over night shot duty, and it worked great.

Below are crops from the third 18-55 ($200) and the 16-50 ($1500). If you've been to this site before, you probably know where I took this photo. In case you're wondering, the center area of this photo was sharp with both lenses.


F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm DA lens ($200) @ F7.1 -- this is lens #3 mentioned above
View Full Size Image

F2.8, 16 - 50 mm DA* lens ($1500) @ F7.1 - gets soft as soon as you leave the center of the frame
View Full Size Image

Unless I've had an incredible run of bad luck, it seems that quality control at Pentax needs some work. Having a defective camera body and two brand new decentered lenses is not what I'd expect from them. If you get a lens that is properly built and calibrated, then you'll get very nice results. If something seems amiss, however, keep exchanging it until you're happy. To be fair, Pentax isn't the only manufacturer with these kinds of issues (hello, Fujifilm), though this was considerably worse than my usual experiences.

Returning to the review now, let's talk about memory cards. Interchangeable lens cameras like the K-01 never come with memory cards. So, if you don't have one already, you'll need to pick one up. The K-01 supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC media, and I'd recommend picking up a 4GB if you'll be taking mostly still photos, and 8 - 16 GB if you'll be recording a lot of Full HD videos.

The K-01 uses the D-LI90 lithium-ion battery for power. It has a whopping 14 Wh of energy, which is at least twice as much as the battery in your typical interchangeable lens camera. If you think that's going to give the K-01 some big battery life numbers, you're right. Here's how it comes to other ILCs:

Camera Battery life w/live view
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Nikon 1 J1 230 shots EN-EL20
Olympus E-P3 300 shots BLS-1 / BLS-5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 300 shots * DMW-BLD10
Pentax K-01 500 shots D-LI90
Samsung NX210 320 shots BP1030
Sony Alpha NEX-5N 430 shots NP-FW50

* With the 14 - 42 mm kit lens

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

Sure enough, the Pentax K-01 has the best battery life in the group, beating the second place Sony NEX-5N by about 16%. If you do feel the need to get a spare battery, an extra D-LI90 will set you back just shy of $50.

When it's time to charge the D-LI90, just pop it into the included charger. And then go for a long drive, as it'll take a lengthy 320 minutes for the battery to charge. I guess that's the price you pay for having such great battery life!

The K-01 has a pretty good set of accessories, though one missing item that I think a lot of people would've liked is an electronic viewfinder. Here are the most exciting accessories for the K-01:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies You can use any K-mount lens with the K-01, with a 1.5X crop factor.
External flash

AF200FG
AF360FGZ
AF540FGZ

From $154
From $340
From $490
The AF200FG is a basic external flash with a guide number of 20 meters. The two higher-end models are much more powerful, can tilt/rotate, and support high speed x-sync.
GPS receiver O-GPS1 From $225 Tag your location and direction with this GPS, which can be controlled right from the camera menu. GPS is self-powered.
Wireless remote control Remote Ctrl F
O-RC1
$20
$30
Remote Control F is a old model which simply releases the shutter. The O-RC1 is waterproof and has a few additional buttons.
A/V cable I-AVC7 From $16 A composite A/V cable for connecting to older TVs.
AC adapter K-AC1202 ?? Power the camera without using your battery.
Camera case O-CC120 ?? The manual mentions this case, but I can't seem to find any details on it. May be a Japan-only product.
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

There are a couple of things available, including a macro ring flash and various hot shoe accessories.

Pentax includes SilkyPix Developer Studio for Pentax version 3.0 with the K-01. SilkyPix is included by many manufacturers (Panasonic most notably), so there's a good chance that you've used it before. SilkyPix is a capable editor for both JPEG and RAW images, though it's interface is clunky, with some poor Japanese to English translations. That said, it will edit all kinds of RAW (DNG) properties, including exposure, dynamic range, white balance, noise reduction, sharpness, and color. If you'd rather use Photoshop, that's no problem, since the K-01 uses Adobe's own DNG format for its RAW images.

Pentax doesn't provide anything for editing movies, though the software that comes with Mac OS or Windows should be fine for basic edits.

While other camera companies skimp on their documentation, usually providing them in PDF format, Pentax still spends the money on a full, printed manual. The manual is lengthy, detailed, and fairly user-friendly. Instructions for using the included software will be installed onto your Mac or PC.

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