The Pentax K-01 produces some very nice images and some of the best high ISO performance in its class. However, at nearly the size and cost of a DSLR, it is significantly out-performed by more traditional digital cameras.
The Pentax K-01 is the company's second entry into the mirrorless, interchangeable lens class of digital cameras, following by less than a year their initial offering, the Pentax "Q." But while the Q uses a 1/2.3 inch compact point-and-shoot size sensor that helped Pentax make it the smallest platform in the field, the company has taken the opposite tack with the K-01. This is a large, boxy mirrorless interchangeable lens model; its 4.8 x 3.1 x 2.3 inch body-only dimensions and 16.9 ounce basic weight are not far off the 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8 inch and 20.8 ounce specifications of the recently announced K-30 DSLR.
Part of the size is no doubt attributable to the fact that the K-01 is packing a newly designed APS-C sensor with a 16 megapixel resolution, but an additional culprit is the Pentax KAF2 bayonet lens mount. This lens mount is compatible with KAF3, KAF2, KAF, and KA lenses; an adapter is required to utilize older K mount, screw mount and medium format lenses. At last count, Pentax had produced over 25 million lenses that are K-01 compatible and it seems likely the potential market with legacy glass owners was a significant factor in the camera's design.
Elsewhere, the body is stabilized, which means any of those 25 million lenses can benefit from stabilization when employed on a K-01. Native ISO range is 100 to 12800, expandable to 25600. There's a 3.0 inch LCD monitor, one touch 1080 HD video capture, built-in flash and hot shoe, an up to six frame per second (fps) continuous shooting rate and RAW/JPEG still image formats. In addition to automatic and scene shooting modes the camera has a full set of manual controls as well as an in-camera HDR mode and a new "Prime M" processing engine. The camera can utilize SD, SDHC and SDXC memory media (UHS Speed Class 1 supported) and is available in yellow, white or black bodies for $750. The camera is also available in a kit priced at $900 and featuring a purpose-designed 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens reported to be the world's thinnest. Pentax includes a lithium-ion battery and charger, hot shoe cover, lens mount cover, USB cable, camera strap, CD-ROM software and a complete printed user's manual with each camera.
Pentax devoted a fair amount of its press release on the K-01 to stress that the camera and pancake lens were designed by Marc Newson: "Internationally known for designing a wide range of furniture and household items such as bicycles, cars, aircraft and yachts, various Marc Newson collections have been on display in The Museum of Modern Art in New York City as well as many other major museums." This is Newson's first try at camera design, so let's see what Marc has wrought.
The K-01 offers a rectangular body with softly rounded edges, a slightly built-up handgrip at the right front of the body, the more prominent lens mount base on the left front and a camera top with a few protruding controls and a bulge for the built-in flash and hot shoe. The camera chassis is aluminum with a rubberized, ridged covering in the handgrip area of the front and sides; the camera back is in matte black paint. The terminal cover on the right side of the body is of the rubberized material but rather than featuring more traditional hinged attachment points is connected via a single loop of the rubberized stuff. The cover can be made to fit onto the camera body in such a way that it looks fairly integrated into the design, but it takes a bit of pushing and prodding to eliminate unsightly seams and bulges. Not sure what the thinking was on this one, but a plain old hinged cover with the rubberized material on the outside would have been my first choice. The camera is assembled in the Philippines and with the exception of the aforementioned terminal cover appears well-built.
Ergonomics and Controls
The built-up handgrip area on the K-01 offers some modest additional support when hand holding the camera and the matte black paint covering portions of the camera not clad in the rubberized material is not particularly slippery, but that's about the extent of any attempts to make the camera easier to grip. Controls are, for the most point, nicely positioned with the large mode dial, main switch/shutter button E dial and red and green buttons arrayed about the camera top to the right of the built-in flash/hot shoe. A button to manually deploy the flash sits atop the camera just to the left of the flash. The back of the camera is taken up in part by the 3.0 inch monitor, but due to the camera's size there's still plenty of room for AF/AE, play, info, and menu buttons along with an okay button incorporated into a four-way controller array.
The tip of my shooting finger falls naturally onto the shutter button when holding the camera with my right hand and the thumb lays on the camera back adjacent to the E dial - making camera setting changes by the E dial a simple process. While the red button which initiates one touch video capture is fairly easy to reach, the green button is another matter. The green button can be customized to provide certain camera functions when pushed, but its location doesn't make it easy to push without rearranging the grip of your right hand on the camera. The button could (and should) have been placed much closer to the shutter button and between the mode and the E dial where the shooting finger could easily reach it.
Menus and Modes
I found K-01 menus quite intuitive and easy to grasp without reference to the user's manual; one interesting aspect is that even in the automatic shooting mode the K-01 gives the user a fairly wide range of inputs. For example, most compact digitals shooting in the automatic mode establish ISO sensitivity automatically, but the K-01 allows the user to set a specific ISO sensitivity or, in the alternative, an ISO sensitivity range. The three page custom settings menu features 16 specific camera settings more generally associated with a DSLR, yet all are available in auto mode as well. Switch to any of the manual shooting modes and menu choices are expanded a bit, but the K-01 offers almost everything to the full auto shooter that it does to someone who never ventures away from the manual exposure modes.
Here's a look at the basic menu page in both auto and aperture priority modes - the only difference is that manual shooters have access to the "custom image" submenu, which provides a color palette of various picture styles. That's pretty much par for the course with this camera; auto shooters will lose a feature here and there but have access to the overwhelming majority of settings available in the K-01.
Shooting modes in the K-01 are pretty much what we've come to expect from mirrorless, interchangeable lens digitals: fully automatic and scene shooting modes along with a full set of manual controls and a video component, in this case full 1080 HD. The K-01 mode dial also includes a bulb setting as well as an HDR setting along with a "flash off" setting.
The 3.0 inch LCD monitor on the K-01 has an approximately 921,000 dot composition and is adjustable for 15 levels of brightness. The monitor also features color adjustment in the blue - amber and green - magenta spectrums. The monitor recorded a 648 nit peak brightness level and 1117:1 contrast ratio in our studio measurements - both figures above the 500 nit/500:1 contrast ratio thresholds that seem to designate better performing monitors in outdoor conditions.
As with most monitors, and even with its fairly decent range of adjustment for brightness, the K-01 monitor could be difficult to use in some bright outdoor conditions. The monitor was relatively usable outdoors overall, but there were occasions when I struggled in the image composition phase. Frankly, I'm surprised that a camera this large did not include a viewfinder, particularly in light of the lens mount that permits the usage of a wide variety of Pentax legacy lenses not sharing the light, compact nature of the kit lens provided with the K-01. More on this later.
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