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
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F2.8, 16 - 50 mm DA* lens ($1500) @ F7.1 - gets soft as soon as you leave the center of the frame
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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:
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:
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.
Design & Features
Love it or hate it, the Pentax K-01's design is certainly unique. When I first saw it's retro-modern design back at CES, I thought it looked like something that would carry a Fisher Price label, rather than Pentax. While it's appearance has grown on me since then, I'm still not a huge fan.
The K-01 is essentially shaped like a brick, albeit one with modern accents. The body is made almost entirely of metal, save for rubberized sections on the sides and front. The camera is well-built in nearly all respects, with my only complaint being the easy-to-bump power switch and the "rubber flap" that I'll get to later. The camera is very thick, and I think the grip is a bit too small considering that. While most buttons are well-placed, the green button is difficult to reach, and the flash release / delete photo button is right where you'd hold the camera with your left hand.
Image courtesy of Pentax
If you really want to show off the K-01's bold design, look no further than the yellow model you see above. For more conservative folks, there are also white and black models available.
The K-01 is a bit of a handful -- even with the 40 mm pancake lens attached
Now, here's a look at how the K-01 compares to other interchangeable lens cameras in terms of size and weight:
As you can see, the K-01 is much larger than other interchangeable lens cameras. The reason for this to its large flange-back distance, which is what allows it to support K-mount lenses. Since one of the big selling points of mirrorless cameras is their diminutive size, the K-01 seems a bit awkward. The only time you'll fit this camera in your pocket is with the pancake lens -- and that's assuming that you have large pockets! With any other lens, it'll be just like carrying around a regular D-SLR.
Let's tour the K-01 now, using our tabbed interface:
Here you can see the K-01 without a lens attached. If you haven't been following along, that's a K-mount in the picture, and it supports virtually every Pentax lens ever made. As always, there's a 1.5X crop factor to keep in mind, so that 40 mm pancake lens is equivalent to 60 mm.
You can see just how much empty space there is between the mount and the sensor (the flange-back distance) -- you could smuggle a mouse in there (not that I recommend it).
Speaking of the sensor, that's a 16.3 Megapixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor you're looking at. This is as large a sensor as you'll find in a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera.
This sensor is mounted on a movable plate, which is used for both image stabilization and dust removal. The stabilizer will provide up to 4 stops of shake correction on nearly every Pentax lens. In addition to reducing the likelihood of blurry photos, the shake reduction system smooths out your movies, as well. You can also have the camera "shake off" the dust when its powered on or off, though you need to turn that feature on in the setup menu.
The two pinholes that sit above the lens mount make up the K-01's stereo microphone.
Straight above the word "Pentax" is the K-01's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. This flash is the most powerful one available on an ILC, with a guide number of 12 meters at ISO 100. And, should you want more flash power, a hot shoe is available too.
The last items to see on the front of the camera can be found on the grip. The red-colored thing is the combination IR receiver (for the optional remote control) and self-timer lamp. Moving to the upper-right, you can see the K-01's AF-assist lamp, which puts out a blinding green light to help with low light focusing.
The back of the K-01 is relatively normal-looking compared to the rest of the camera. Being a mirrorless camera, you'll be composing all of your photos on the 3-inch LCD that's on display here (no EVF is available). This screen has 921,000, so everything's nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility was about average, and in low light the screen "gains up" nicely, so you can still see your subject.
For those wondering, the K-01 does not support an electronic viewfinder, which is too bad (there's certainly room for one).
To the right of the LCD we have four well-labeled buttons, which handle AE/AF lock, playback mode, toggling the info shown on the screen (and bringing up the shortcut menu), and entering the menu system.
To the right of those is the card access lamp, with the four-way controller under that. The controller is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos, and also serves as a shortcut for adjusting the ISO, flash, self-timer, and white balance. Pressing the "OK" button while you're manually focusing will enlarge the frame.
The most striking part of the K-01's design can be found in the top view. The most conventional-looking button is the flash release / delete photo button, located at the bottom-left of the photo.
At the center of the photo you can see the flash (closed here) and the hot shoe. The hot shoe will work best with the Pentax flashes I mentioned earlier, as they'll sync with its metering system, which allows for things like high speed flash sync. If you're using a third party flash, you'll probably have to set the exposure manually, and you're limited to an x-sync speed of 1/180 sec. Unlike Pentax's other cameras, the K-01 does not support wireless flash control.
Next to the pop-up flash is the camera's mode dial, which I'll describe in detail after the tour. Next to that is the uniquely designed power switch, which unfortunately moves a bit too easily. Inside the power switch is the shutter release button.
Below all that are three buttons: the famous Pentax green button (which, by default, resets the setting currently being adjusted), another for exposure compensation, and a third red button for movie recording. The function of both the red and green buttons can be customized.
In-between all those buttons is the camera's sole control dial, which you'll use for adjusting the exposure, navigating menus, and enlarging images in both record and playback mode.
There are just a few things to see on this side of the K-01. The first is the speaker (two small holes), which sits above the AF/MF switch, which does just as it sounds. I'll have a bit more on the camera's manual focus features after the tour.
Under the small rubber cover at the bottom of the photo is a external microphone input.
At first glance, it looks like there's nothing on this side of the K-01. However, if you peel back the rubber piece of the left side, you'll find this:
It's the I/O ports! They include the memory card slot (which has a cover of its own), the USB + A/V out port, and mini-HDMI.
The rubber cover that protects these ports leaves much to be desired. As you can see, it has just two small straps that attach it to the camera, and I don't know how long those will last. It's also surprisingly difficult to close properly. I don't know why Pentax didn't just put a traditional plastic door here and throw a rubberized texture on top.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount -- in-line with the lens -- and the battery compartment. The plastic door over the battery compartment is of decent quality.
Despite the fact that the K-01 is as large as some D-SLRs, it's still very much a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. That means that you'll compose all of your photos on the camera's 3-inch LCD display.
|The "view" in live view, with histogram||While it's difficult to see here, focus peaking is making the edges of the stapler look extra sharp, so I know it's in focus|
Before we get into features, I want to talk about the live view experience on the Pentax K-01. The image on the LCD is sharp and bright, with an excellent refresh rate. Options include grid lines, a live histogram, and highlighting of over and underexposed areas of the image. Unfortunately, an always-handy electronic level is not available. If you're manually focusing, you can not only enlarge the frame (as you can on almost every camera), you can also turn on something called focus peaking. Focus peaking sharply outlines the part of the frame that's in focus, which makes manual focusing a whole lot easier. The only other cameras I've seen this on are the Sony NEX ILCs.
Now let's get into the features that you access with the mode dial. First, a list of what you'll find on it:
The K-01 has shooting modes for just about everyone. Beginners will find a capable auto mode and a metric ton of scene modes. Enthusiasts have the usual manual exposure controls -- including a bulb mode -- plus RAW support, white balance fine-tuning, customizable buttons, and plenty of custom settings. I'll have more on that later.
Another nice thing on the mode dial is the camera's high dynamic range (HDR) mode. This improves contrast by combining three different exposures, each taken at a different value, into a single image. There are four HDR modes to choose from: auto and then HDR 1 - 3. The HDR modes basically control how strong the effect is, with higher numbers being more artistic than realistic. You can also set the interval between the exposures (by using the camera's main dial) from 1EV to 3EV.
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While the results are not as impressed as with the Sony cameras I reviewed recently, the K-01's HDR mode still produced more shadow detail and a bit less highlight clipping. The camera will align the images automatically, so a tripod is generally not needed. I should add that you can use HDR in any shooting mode via the main menu, though you can't adjust the exposure interval when you do that.
Now I'm going to talk about features controlled by buttons. The Info button usually toggles what's shown on the LCD, but it also opens the handy shortcut menu you see above. From here, you can adjust every important setting on the camera, without having to dive into the main menu.
White balance fine-tuning
The four-way controller handles three important functions which are not available in the menus. They include:
- ISO sensitivity: crank it up manually from 100 to 12800, or choose an automatic range like 100-800
- Drive: here's where you'll find continuous, self-timer, and wireless remote control shooting, plus AE bracketing
- White balance: the usual presets are all here (including four fluorescent options), plus color temperature enhancement (CTE) which strengthens the color tone of the light source, and a custom mode; you can fine-tune white balance using the tool shown above; WB bracketing is not available, however.
We're going to move into the K-01's menu system now. Sadly, Marc Newson didn't touch the menus (aside from the background), which use the same antiquated design that Pentax has been using for who knows how long. While it's not pretty, it does get the job done though. Here are some of the highlights from the menu:
- Custom image: these are sets of image parameters that allow you to adjust saturation, high/low key, contrast, and sharpness; there are several presets available, including bright, portrait, landscape, bleach bypass, black and white, and cross-process
- Digital filter: special effects like extract color, toy camera, retro, and high contrast can be found here
- Image capture setting: here you can adjust the aspect ratio (16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 1:1), file format (JPEG, RAW, or both), resolution/quality, and color space
- AF/MF settings: choose the AF method (face detect, subject tracking, flexible spot, center), AF auto zoom (camera enlarges the focus point when you halfway-press the shutter release), and turn on focus peaking (discussed earlier)
- Lens correction: here you can turn on distortion correction (see example a bit later) and chromatic aberration correction (which is on by default)
- Multi-exposure: the K-01 can combine up to nine exposures into a single image, with auto EV adjustment
- Interval (time-lapse) shooting: the camera can take up to 999 images at intervals ranging from 1 second to 24 hours; you can set a start time, if you wish; tripod and AC adapter are essentially required for this; the K-01 can also do the same kind of things, but save the results as a Full HD movie instead of a bunch of stills
- D-Range setting: home of highlight and shadow correction; see below for examples of both
- Noise reduction: you can really fine-tune high ISO NR; slow shutter speed NR is auto/on/off
- Live view: turn on grid lines, a live histogram, or highlights for bright/dark areas
- Button customization: define what the green and red buttons do, as well as how the AE/AF lock button functions for both stills and movies; you can have the green/red buttons handle one-push file format switch, image previewing, focus peaking, and more
- Memory: choose what settings are stored when the camera is turned off
- Dust removal: remove dust now, or when the camera is turned on or off
In addition to the shooting and setup options, there are also sixteen custom settings. Some of the items of note here including EV/ISO steps, ISO expansion (which opens up ISO 25600), and shake reduction options.
Let's go over some of the "correction" options that I listed above. I'll start with distortion correction, which is strangely enough turned off by default. Since the 40 mm pancake lens isn't the kind of lens that has a lot of barrel distortion, I'm using my personal 18 - 55 mm lens for this example. Do note that this is probably not the same 18 - 55 that comes in the dual lens kit.
|Distortion correction off (default)||Distortion correction on|
As you can see, the distortion correction feature "flattened" the test chart, reducing the fairly strong barrel distortion on the 18-55 lens. If only it worked as well for vignetting!
Next up is highlight correction, which is found in the D-Range Correction options. This is set to "auto" by default. In order for the camera to do its thing, it will set the sensitivity to ISO 200. Here's a crop of our purple fringing tunnel showing what this feature can do:
|Highlight correction off||Highlight correction on|
While the highlight correction helps a little bit, it doesn't work miracles. The most obvious changes can be found by looking on the ground, to the left of the column -- you get some detail back there. The sky remains blown out -- it's supposed to be blue in reality. Even with the relatively minor improvements, I see no reason to change the setting from its default "auto" position.
The other half of the DR correction feature is shadow correction. As you might've guessed, this brightens the dark areas of your photos. You can choose from auto, low, medium, high, and off positions. Unfortunately, the effect is so subtle that I couldn't come up with a decent example for you (despite numerous attempts).
The K-01 has a pretty nice movie mode. It allows you to record Full HD video at 1920 x 1080 with your choice of frame rates: 24, 25, or 30 frames/sec. Sound is recorded in stereo, as you'd expect, and if you want to attach an external mic, there's a port for that. You can keep recording until the elapsed time reaches 25 minutes, or the file size hits 4 GB. If you're recording 1080p at the highest quality setting (***), it looks like you'll hit the file size limit in about 16 minutes. If 1080p is too much for you, the K-01 also supports 720p (at 60 fps) and VGA resolutions. At all resolutions, you can choose a quality setting ranging from one to three stars.
Not surprisingly, you can zoom in and out to your heart's content when recording movies on the K-01. The camera does not offer continuous autofocus, but you can refocus the camera by pressing the AE/AF lock button. That's not a great idea, though, as the refocusing can be slow and noisy. The image stabilizer is available and does a nice job of smoothing out the "bumps" in your videos.
The K-01 supports full manual control over exposure while you're taking a movie. You can adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity, along with the microphone level. About the only thing missing here is a wind filter. As I touched on earlier, the camera can take a serious of photos over time and compile them into a time-lapse movie. The K-01 does not permit you to take stills while simultaneously recording video.
Videos are recorded using the H.264 codec, and saved in QuickTime format. Here's a sample for you, taken at the highest quality setting:
The quality's not wondrous, but it'll probably be good enough for most folks. I did notice that if you have focus peaking turned on, the first few frames of a movie will show that effect. I trimmed that out of this clip.
|Press "down" on the four-way controller to access the "real" playback menu||RAW editing tool|
The Pentax K-01 has a pretty nice playback mode for an interchangeable lens camera. Here are some of the highlights:
- Quick Zoom: instantly jump to a set magnification when zooming in playback mode
- Image rotation/resizing/cropping: gotta have these
- Digital Filter: apply one of 21 special effects to photos you've taken
- RAW development: edit RAW images right in the camera; you can adjust white balance, exposure, ISO, lens correction, and more; the results are saved as a JPEG
- Movie editing: divide a movie into two parts, or just extract a segment
By default, the K-01 shows just basic information about your photos. However, press the Info button and you can choose from various other screens, which include tons of details about settings, plus your choice of histograms.
The camera moves from photo-to-photo without delay.
Performance & Photo Quality
Performance is kind of a mixed bag on the K-01, especially when it comes to autofocus. One thing you can speed up easily is startup time, simply by turning off the stylish Marc Newson startup screen in the setup menu. The table below summarizes the camera's performance in a number of areas:
The K-01 is definitely not the performance champ when it comes to autofocus speeds. Speeds vary depending on the lens you're using, with the 40 mm kit lens being one of the better ones. The 18-55 and 16-50 zooms I used were decent most of the time, though if the camera has to "hunt", you will be looking at 1 second focus times. In low light the camera really struggles, with the lens grinding away for 1-2 seconds and quite often not locking focus. If your previous live view experience was on a D-SLR, then you might not be bothered by the K-01's performance. However, if you've tried out interchangeable lens cameras from everyone else, then the K-01 is pretty sluggish.
Thankfully, the camera does a bit better when it comes to shot-to-shot speeds. I like how the K-01 will buffer a RAW image with every shot. You can save this RAW image during post-shot review or in playback mode. Once you take another shot or turn off the camera, that option disappears.
Okay, now let's move onto burst mode performance. There are two speeds to choose from, appropriately named "lo" and "hi". Unfortunately, the high speed option is only available for JPEGs. Here are the results of my continuous shooting speed tests:
The K-01's JPEG burst shooting isn't bad. For the high speed mode, the camera will keep shooting after those ten shots are done, at a rate of 2.5 fps. RAW burst shooting isn't nearly as nice, with a burst rate of just 1 frame/second.
But enough about that -- let's get into photo quality now.
I took our standard macro test shot with the 40 mm kit lens, and it looks great. The subject is nice and sharp, yet has the "smooth" look that you usually find on large-sensored cameras. The colors are very saturated -- maybe a bit more than they are in reality. I do see a slight brownish cast on the white background, which is fairly common under my studio lamps. I don't see any signs of noise, nor would I expect to.
The minimum distance to your subject depends on the lens you're using. The 40 mm kit lens has a minimum focus distance of 40 cm. If you want a dedicated macro lens, Pentax has four available, ranging from 35 to 100 mm.
I initially took the night shots with the 50 - 200 mm kit lens, and the results were pretty awful, with loads of purple fringing and noticeable blurring as you moved from the center of the frame. I switched to a friend's F2.8, 50 - 135 mm DA* lens, and it performed extremely well, as it should for its $1600 price tag. The scene here looks great, with plenty of light taken in. Unlike the 50-200, the 50-135 was sharp from edge-to-edge. Noise is non-existent, highlight clipping is well controlled, and purple fringing levels are relatively low.
Now let's use this same night scene to see how the K-01 performed at higher sensitivities:
The first three crops are all very clean. You start to see the effects of noise reduction at ISO 800, but details remain intact. Detail loss becomes more evident at ISO 1600, which may reduce your output size (unless you're shooting RAW). Things get pretty soft and mushy at ISO 3200, so I'd save this for small prints only. I'd avoid the ISO 6400 and 12800 settings, at least when using the JPEG format (more on RAW in a second). I left out the ISO 25600 sensitivity, which you must turn on in the custom settings menu, for obvious reasons.
It's usually the case that shooting RAW can improve image quality at high sensitivities. Does that work on the K-01 too? Let's take a look:
You definitely get a lot of detail back by shooting RAW on the K-01. You also get a bit less highlight clipping, and more pleasing colors. It's not going to work miracles at high ISOs (at least in low light), but it's still well worth using once the sensitivity crosses 3200 or so.
We'll do this test again in normal light in a moment.
I was surprised to see that the K-01 had a redeye problem, since it's flash pops up pretty far away from the lens. The camera doesn't have any digital removal tools, so you'll have to fix this on your Mac or PC.
You already saw this test earlier, back when I showed you how distortion correct works. Unlike the 18-55 lens I showed in that example, the 40 mm pancake lens that comes with most K-01s has very little in the line of barrel distortion. This lens also has good edge-to-edge sharpness and no vignetting.
It's time now for our studio comparison, which was taken with the 40 mm kit lens. Since the lighting never changes, you can compare the results from this test with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Remember that the crops below only show a small portion of the scene, so view the full size images too! And with that, let's travel through the full ISO range, from 100 to 25600:
The crops all look great through ISO 800. There's a slight softening at ISO 1600, but it's not going to hold you back in any way. Noise starts to appear at ISO 3200 and gets worse at ISO 6400, though large prints are still very possible at both of those settings. ISO 12800 has a fair amount of noise and detail loss, so I'd probably stop here if you're shooting JPEGs. While the ISO 25600 shot isn't as bad as one would expect, it's best saved for desperation only -- at least if you're using the JPEG format.
Let's run the same RAW vs. JPEG comparison that we did for the night shots, but this time at even higher sensitivities:
I don't really need to explain anything here, as the benefits to shooting RAW are quite apparent. By spending 30 seconds in Photoshop, your ISO 12800 photos can now be printed even larger, and ISO 25600 suddenly becomes a lot more useful. I highly recommend shooting RAW once the ISO gets to 6400 in good light, and a few stops earlier in low light.
Overall, the K-01's photo quality ranks among the best interchangeable lens cameras (assuming that you have better luck with lenses than I did). Exposures were almost always spot-on, with relatively low levels of highlight clipping. Colors look great, with really saturated (read: consumer friendly) color. Subjects have the "smooth" look that is common on large-sensored cameras, but that doesn't mean that they're soft, either. As the previous tests illustrated, the K-01 keeps noise levels very low, allowing you to shoot JPEGs through ISO 1600 in low light and ISO 6400 in good light. These same examples show that you can more detail can be extracted from high ISO images by shooting RAW. Purple fringing is usually a lens issue, and it wasn't a problem on most of the lenses I tested, save for the 50-200 (from my first night shot outing) and (surprisingly) the 16-50 DA* that I was originally hoping to reshoot the entire gallery with.
Now, I invite you to visit our K-01 photo gallery. Browse through the photos, maybe printing a few if you can, and then hopefully you'll be able to decide if the K-01 meets your expectations!
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
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!
Check out our K-01 photo gallery to see how the image quality looks!