With the mirrorless interchangeable lens compact digital camera party in full swing, the First Four (Olympus, Panasonic, Sony, Samsung) were all on next generation offerings before latecomers Nikon and Pentax even arrived at the door. When they did, their offerings provided a stark contrast with the established names in the class when it came to sensor size.
Olympus and Panasonic provided Micro Four Thirds system standard sensors that were the same physical size as an Olympus DSLR. Sony and Samsung were using APS-C sized sensors, same as a Sony DSLR. Nikon's J1/V1 offered a sub-MFT system size sensor Nikon dubbed "CX" while the Pentax Q carried a sensor straight out of a compact digital point-and-shoot - a relatively tiny backside-illuminated 1/2.3-inch wafer. That small sensor helped Pentax to make the Q the smallest interchangeable lens mirrorless camera on the market.
The Q and the J1/V1 have been in the market for less than a year and while Nikon is carrying on with their two initial offerings at this point, Pentax is back with another mirrorless interchangeable lens model. With the small platform end of the market addressed by the Q, Pentax has opted to go to the opposite extreme with the K-01. This is a big, bulky mirrorless interchangeable lens camera whose dimensions are within fractions of an inch and whose weight is within four ounces of the fully weather sealed K-30 DSLR body.
That near-DSLR size is complemented by an MSRP of $900 with a 40mm prime kit lens - same as the $900 MSRP for a K-30 with an 18-55 kit lens. But that's probably only fair since the K-01 carries an APS-C sensor with a 16 megapixel resolution as well as the Pentax KAF2 bayonet lens mount that accepts Pentax KAF3, KAF2, KAF, and KA lenses; older K mount, screw mount and medium format lenses may be used with suitable adapters. The K-01 is also available as a body only for $750.
While Pentax will be more than happy to sell the K-01 to first-time buyers, the inclusion of the KAF2 mount in the camera's design indicates Pentax hopes to attract the owners of some 25 million compatible Pentax lenses already in circulation. The camera has auto and scene shooting modes along with full manual controls, built-in flash, a 3.0-inch LCD monitor and full 1080 HD video capability via one- touch operation. There is no viewfinder. Available in black, white and yellow versions, our black review sample carried the 40mm f/2.8 pancake kit lens.
While the camera's automatic and scene modes should appeal to folks who are really content to just point the camera and let it do the rest, advanced users will be pleased to discover a DSLR-like menu of settings that can customize the K-01 performance parameters for a wide variety of shooting styles. Even better, the extensive menus that allow these adjustments appear to be quite simple and intuitive. Default image quality looks good at this point, and shutter lag appears to be minimal. The camera has proven to be a little fussy in autofocus, taking a bit more time than the best cameras in the class - the delay is not excruciatingly long but noticeable compared to speedy focusers like the Nikon J1/V1 and the Olympus OM-D E-M5.
We've just begun the shooting regimen for the K-01 and there's a ways to go before we produce the final review on this latest offering from Pentax. The question that immediately springs to mind is with the scheduled arrival of the K-30 DSLR in July 2012 do the small size and weight advantages enjoyed by the K-01 make this the must-have body for all those Pentax legacy glass owners looking for a newer platform for their lenses? We'll have that answer along with others on the K-01 in our full review in the not-too-distant future.