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Review: Pentax K-01

by G Servo on 07/06/2012

There is a lot to be said for a company that tries something different and that changes something we are fundamentally familiar with. From a geeky point of view, this is what Pentax did with the K-01. They made us scratch our heads with what they consider a hybrid camera. Easily, the Pentax-DA 40mm f2.8 XS Lens is the best kit lens I’ve ever used. I love my 40mm f2.8 macro on my Nikon and the difference between the two was speed. The Pentax lens was faster and had macro capabilities. Because of its size I thought would have manual focusing issues but this lens proved me wrong.

Gear Used and Specifications

 
Pentax K-01 Digital Camera With 40mm Lens (Black) Specifications From B&H

Camera Format APS-C (1.5x Crop Factor)
Resolution Effective Pixels: 16.28 Megapixels
Max Resolution: 16 MP: 4928 x 3264
Sensor Type / Size CMOS, 23.7 x 15.7 mm
File Formats Still Images: JPEG, RAW
Movies: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
Audio: AAC
Bit Depth 8-bit
Dust Reduction System Y
Memory Card Type SD
SDHC
SDXC
Image Stabilization Mechanical
AV Recording
Video Recording Yes, NTSC/PAL
Aspect Ratio 1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9
Audio Recording With Video
Focus Control
Focus Type Auto & Manual
Focus Mode Single-servo AF (S), Manual Focus (M) , Focus Lock AF Area Mode
Autofocus Points 81
Viewfinder/Display
Display Screen 3″ Rear Screen   LCD (921000)
Screen Coverage 100%
Live View Yes
Exposure Control
ISO Sensitivity 100-25600
Shutter Type: Electronic
Speed: 30 – 1/4000 sec
Metering Method Spot metering, Center-weighted average metering, Multi-zone metering
Exposure Modes Modes: Aperture Priority, Auto, Manual, Program, Shutter Priority
Compensation: -3 EV to +3 EV (in 0.33 EV steps)
White Balance Modes Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Flash, Fluorescent, Fluorescent (Day White), Fluorescent (Natural White), Fluorescent (White), Manual, Shade, Tungsten
Flash
Built-in Flash Yes: Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Flash On w/ Red-eye Reduction, Forced On, Off, Red-eye Reduction, Second-curtain Sync, Slow Sync, Slow Sync./Red-eye Reduction
Max Sync Speed 1 / 180 sec
Continuous Shooting Up to 6 fps
External Flash Connection Hot Shoe
Kit Lens
Focal Length 40 mm
Comparable APS-C Focal Length: 61 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/2.8
Minimum: f/22
Angle of View 39°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.31′ (0.40 m)
Magnification 0.13x
Groups/Elements 4/5
Diaphragm Blades 9
Autofocus Yes
Filter Thread Front: 27 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.5 x 0.36″ (63.50 x 9.14 mm)
Weight 1.8 oz (51 g)

PENTAX-DA 40mm F2.8 XS Lens

The lens was sharp and crisp. On autofocus, it was also very efficient in nailing the right spot. If Nikon produced a lens like the PENTAX-DA 40mm F2.8 XS Lens, I would throw my money at them. Manually focusing with the lens was effortless, which is impressive on such a small lens with such a tiny manual focus ring. The 39 degree angle of view was nice for everyday shooting. With a fixed focal length of 40mm this prime lens is equivalent to 61mm in the 35mm format. The minimum focusing distance of 1.31’ (0.4m) was convenient in food photography situations as well as close portraits. The lens cap scared me because it was terribly small; I was always afraid of losing it. If I owned this lens I would buy a cap leash so that I may secure it. That was a minor issue.

Build Quality

It’s interesting. You can tell a lot of design work went into it. It is lacking, however, in some spots. The flap covers for the ports are flimsy when opened. If handled too roughly, I felt that I would break them. Because they were not used 100% of the time, they did not break. The camera was designed nicely.  In my hands I liked the Pentax K-01 more than I did on screen. I was happy to have had the black version. Yellow is not my style. Overall, though, the body was nicely built and not too heavy. The camera felt solid. You could not build a house with it but the K-01 could handle working with a Pentax lens like the Pentax DA Star 300mm F4 ED (IF).

Ergonomics

This camera was very interesting ergonomically. Out of the box, the first thing I thought was “weird brick”. Then I really held it, and made the mistake of putting it to my eye instinctively, only to find that a viewfinder was not there. The buttons seemed a little weird at first, but I found that they worked just fine. It’s like they looked at digital cameras, took the ergonomic bits that they liked, and made them slightly different but functional. I did not like manual shooting. While the buttons were easily accessible I could not adjust as fast as I liked. Overall though, everything was well placed. It is about being able to shoot easily and you could with the K-01.

Shooting with the K-01

It’s not that difficult to learn actually. In all honesty everything was where you expected to be on the K-01. The arrangement of the buttons is okay if you have medium to big hands. Those with smaller hands may have an issue with the spacing of a few of the buttons, but it’s nothing that would stop you from shooting. The camera was quiet. You could shoot and not annoy people. Don’t misunderstand me, it was not perfectly quiet, but it was nice. I had the K-01 with me in my office, on moving trains, next to sleeping people, and no one complained.

Menus

I hated seeing the designer screen after a while. I know who designed the camera. I don’t need to be constantly reminded.

The actual menus worked well. The camera was pretty intuitive when it came to the menus. They were easy to view and navigate.

The menu I used the most was the info menu. It had every setting I needed to shoot and I really did not need to go beyond it. This is a camera every owner will use differently. You will choose your settings depending on what style you are shooting. At one point I forgot about the other menus because this was all I was using. Eventually, for this review, I went through them all. It all comes down to personal preference. This camera is very customizable.

The thinking behind the camera was outside the box and it shows in the menus.

When I changed the mode dial, this was a nice notification informing me how the camera was set.

The view screen was fantastic, it was like viewing your image on a small HD TV. It made it easy to zoom in and make sure everything was sharp.

Autofocus

Focusing with this camera was quick. The only time I missed a shot was when I did something silly. The camera performed as I expected it to. The autofocus was not as fast as my Nikon DSLR but it did put the Leica X-10 to shame. The autofocus was relatively fast and I got the shots I wanted to without the focus hunting.

At Night or in Really Low light

As long as you had a contrasting spot, you could focus in low light. It was not perfect, however. At night, the autofocus would hunt every so often. I would switch to manual at that point. What you get are decent shots with a little patience. Long exposure shots were good. Just turn on the timer while the camera is on a stable surface or on a tripod and you get your shot. Nothing remarkable really, it just worked.

Image Quality

The images came out great, with no editing. That was nice. If I did not have Lightroom, I would still be okay with this camera. Shooting in JPEG would be fine. When things were exposed correctly, colors popped. The contrast was great. I had no complaints. I had no problem with putting an image or two on my 500px page against everything else I edited. The sensor and the lens in conjunction created very smooth bokeh.

The Flash

The on camera flash was good as a simple fill flash for me. With the K-01, however, I preferred natural light. The ISO quality of this camera allowed for going with out the flash.

High ISO

ISO 3200

I must admit the ISO was on par or better than my D90. This camera has the same sensor as the K-05. When we did our torture test, it left us impressed. In the k-01 it was the same for me. For a mirroless camera, sensor wise, it’s phenomenal.

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

Color

The colors were vibrant. Objects popped and were rendered nicely. Its white balance was always spot on and I never adjusted it. In essence with everything properly exposed things were balanced. Colors looked as they should have.

Battery Life

A majority of shooting was done on one charge which was nice. With average shooting you can shoot for a long time with one battery.

Food Photography

The k-01 with the 40 mm lens was great in a restaurant. Its size and unique design made it seem less conspicuous. I was able to place the camera on the table and not have anything said. The camera focused pretty well in low light situations allowing me to get the shot quickly and enjoy my meal.

Street Photography

All I could think was, “watch me disappear.” The look of the camera enabled me to take pictures without being noticed. The k-01 was so much fun to go on photo walk with. It was light so it never bothered my hand, and was easy to put away when the weather got bad. The only issue I had was worrying about the lens cap. I made sure I had a free pocket to keep it in or in my wallet. When it came to settings, I used it like my d700 or d90. I bumped up the ISO so the shutter speed stayed around 1/100 at f8. I had no worries with this camera.

Portraits

The K-01 handles portraits nicely. Composing a quick shot of a person was painless. The face auto detection kicked in and everything was sharp. It’s easy to take quick portraits both indoors and out. This, however, is where I wish I had a view finder. When taking portraits, I felt like a tourist.

Video Test

I took the camera out on my morning commute. Shooting video with this camera was actually quite easy. All you had to do was set the mode dial to the video symbol, focus with the shutter button then hit the red button to record. The camera also has a mic input. You have image stabilized 1080p video with manual audio tunings. The video was all shot hand held. The audio came through nicely. It was much easier to use, video wise, than my D90. This would be great to use on a vacation or at a small event.

User Friendliness

Honestly, this camera is easy to use. Out the box to shooting was easy. Putting it in a kid’s hand it was a little bulky. My bride had an easier time with it. For someone who doesn’t want to pay too much attention to customization, this camera is a great buy.

Shake Reduction System

Taking long exposure images handheld, was very nice.

f5.6 1/60 sec

Without a tripod I was able to get a usable image with a 1/4 second exposure.

f22 1/4 sec

My Major Issue

I like to believe a camera could have been designed to be the best it could. I realize this camera is trying to fill a niche with its fantastic features. The one thing that really burns me about this camera, however, is the lack of a viewfinder. The engineering may be good, but a little detail like this could be a deal killer for some.

Cost

Thinking about taking the leap with this camera? With the PENTAX-DA 40mm F2.8 XS Lens, the K-01 is $896.95 used while the body alone is $746.95. Very decent compared to the likes of the Nikon 1 $746.95 + and adapter to use f mount lenses at $219.95 = $966.90. Love it or hated, for this class of mirror-less camera, the Pentax is a better value, especially if you are currently a Pentax DSLR user.  You have the option of purchasing used Pentax lenses, so if you are staring out you can get more for your money over all.

Who is the Camera and Lens for?

The Pentax K-01 is for people wanting to make the jump from point and shoot. They will do very well with this camera. It’s a good tool to learn more photography fundamentals with while maintaining some familiarity. The K-01 will also appeal to a Pentax shooter who wants a second body for vacations. Unlike other cameras, like the Nikon 1, the K-01 can use DSLR lenses without an adapter.

In the End

The design of this camera is unique, a great idea which was decently executed. It moved the cozy traditional stuff to the side and dared to be different. The K-01 could have been better though. The great thing is that this is a 01. It leaves room for lots of improvement. From a geeky engineering standpoint the technology is appreciated. The fact you can use DSLR lenses on a mirror less is brilliant. The range of lenses available for this camera is spectacular. I hope to see a K-02 which takes this tech and adds everything that I think is missing, especially a viewfinder. This is a niche camera with tons of potential. I am glad Pentax took a chance and produced it.

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