DCRP

Pentax K-01 Review

Conclusion

If you're with a bunch of photographers and want to get noticed, just pull out a Pentax K-01. Love it or hate it, the Marc Newson-designed camera has a one-of-a-kind style that'll certainly turn heads. The K-01 is about more than just looks, though -- it's a capable interchangeable lens camera, with some of the best photo quality you'll find on an ILC. Its biggest problem is autofocus performance -- but more on that in a minute.

The K-01 is, by far, the largest mirrorless ILC on the market, due to its native support for K-mount lenses. It's about as large as an entry-level D-SLR, which sort of defeats the purpose of being mirrorless in the first place. It's shaped a lot like a brick, with a slight curve for its small grip. Build quality is solid all around, though you will quickly grow to dislike the rubber flap that covers the memory card slot and I/O ports. Some of the controls, such as the flash release / delete photo and "green" buttons are awkwardly placed, as well. As I mentioned, the camera supports all K-mount lenses, with a 1.5X crop factor. The sensor-shift image stabilization system means that every lens you attach will have shake reduction. On the back of the camera you'll find a sharp 3-inch LCD with average outdoor and better-than-average low light visibility. A viewfinder is not available for the K-01. As you'd expect given its size, the K-01 has a built-in flash -- and a very powerful one, at that. If you want more flash power and less redeye, you can attach an external flash to the camera's hot shoe.

There's no denying that the K-01 is loaded with features. Those seeking the point-and-shoot experience will find an auto mode with scene selection handled by the camera, plenty of scene modes you can pick yourself, and numerous special effects. The HDR mode makes taking photos with improved contrast simple, and enthusiasts will appreciate the ability to adjust the exposure interval. Speaking of enthusiasts, they'll find full manual controls on the K-01, including those for exposure (with bulb mode), white balance, focus (with handy focus peaking feature), plus support for the RAW (DNG) format. Both the red and green buttons on the top of the camera can have their functions redefined, and there are sixteen custom settings available, as well. You can also edit RAW images in playback mode, which is handy when you're on the go. The K-01's movie mode is nothing to sneeze at, with the ability to record 1080/30p video with stereo sound, image stabilization, and manual controls. One thing that's unfortunately not supported in movie mode is continuous autofocus.

Camera performance is where the K-01 starts to fall behind the competition. The camera starts up fast enough (in just over a second), assuming that you've turned off the startup screen. It's the K-01's autofocus speeds that are its weak point. They'll vary wildly depends on your choice of lens, but regardless, they're noticeably slower than other interchangeable lens cameras, especially when light levels start to drop. In good lighting the K-01 is slightly slower than other ILCs, but indoors or in low light the lens may grind away for a second or two, only to have the end up with a focus lock error. The K-01 is not well suited for taking pictures of moving subjects in my opinion -- it's just not responsive enough. Thankfully, shutter lag isn't an issue, and shot-to-shot times were relatively brief. One nice feature found only on Pentax cameras is automatic RAW buffering, which means that you can save the last photo taken in RAW format at the push of a button (as long as you don't turn off the camera). The K-01 is capable of shooting JPEGs as fast as 5.2 frames/second, though only for ten photos. At the "lo" speed, you can keep shooting at just under 3 frames/second. If you're taking RAW images, the frame rate is a sluggish 1 frame/second. While I just named some areas in which the K-01 isn't a good as the competition, battery life is not one of them. While many mirrorless cameras require a spare battery, the K-01 can take 500 shots on a single charge -- and that's using the flash 50% of the time.

If you read the introduction to this review then you know that I had some frustrating experiences with the K-01 and several lenses. It took two K-01 bodies and seven lenses to complete this review -- double what was expected. I don't know if I've been cursed by angry Pentaxians or if there's a genuine problem with Pentax quality control, but check your gear thoroughly before your return/exchange period ends!

That leads us to photo quality, which is excellent, assuming that your lens is working properly. Photos were well-exposed, with highlight clipping kept to a relative minimum. Colors are what us reviewer folks call "consumer friendly", which means "very saturated". Subjects have the smooth look that one comes to expect from D-SLRs and ILCs, though plenty of detail is still captured. The camera keeps noise levels very low through ISO 1600 in low light and ISO 6400 in good light. If you want better results at those sensitivities (or higher), then shoot RAW and do some easy post-processing. Purple fringing depends on your choice of lens, and it ranged from low to moderate (and that was on a $1500 DA* lens). Redeye is a problem, unfortunately, and since there's no removal tool on the camera, you'll have to fix it in "post-production".

The Pentax K-01 is a bulky yet stylish camera that offers excellent image quality when paired with a quality lens. The size and ergonomics are certainly not for everyone, and the autofocus is way too slow for action shooters. If you've got a collection of K-mount lenses and want a full-featured camera for still lifes and landscapes, then the K-01 is well worth looking at. If you're taking photos of your kids or pets or want something a little less chunky, then I would consider one of the other excellent interchangeable lens cameras out there.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photos quality (assuming your lens works properly); low noise through ISO 1600 in low light and 6400 in good light
  • Eye-catching design (love it or hate it) with solid build quality
  • Huge lens selection due to use of K-mount; all lenses will have shake reduction built-in, courtesy of sensor-shift IS system
  • Lots of manual controls, two customizable buttons, and sixteen custom settings
  • Beginners will appreciate auto scene selection, tons of scene modes and special effects
  • HDR and highlight correction features improve image contrast
  • Handy focus peaking feature makes manual focusing a snap
  • Time-lapse (still and movie) and multiple exposure features
  • In-camera RAW editing
  • Records Full HD video (1080/30p) with stereo sound, full manual controls, and image stabilization
  • Powerful flash for an ILC
  • Stereo mic input
  • Best-in-class battery life
  • Full, printed manual in the box (a rarity these days)

What I didn't care for:

  • Autofocus system lags behind the competition, especially in low light
  • Chunky body defeats the purpose of mirrorless design; ergonomics leave something to be desired
  • Redeye a problem, no in-camera removal tool
  • Questionable quality control for body and lenses
  • No continuous autofocus in movie mode
  • Frustrating rubber flap over memory card slot and I/O ports; some buttons are hard to reach
  • Continuous shooting in RAW mode limited to 1 frame/sec
  • Electronic viewfinder would've been nice

Some other interchangeable lens cameras worth considering include the Nikon 1 J1, Olympus E-P3, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1, Samsung NX210, and the Sony Alpha NEX-5N.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the K-01 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out our K-01 photo gallery to see how the image quality looks!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.