Review: Pentax K1 Mk II (A Camera That Was Born to be Wild)

gear doesn't matter
The Pentax K1 Mk II is a solid camera, but does it offer enough to make it a viable choice in 2019?

The Pentax K1 Mk II was launched in March of 2018 with little fanfare. Its predecessor the K1 launched in 2016 and made much more of an impact due to the fact that it was Pentax’s first Full Frame DSLR. The camera introduced features that had never been seen before in a DSLR, and the 36 Megapixel sensor was capable of producing beautiful images. So why was there so little excitement in regards to the K1 Mk II? The Pentax K1 Mk II is almost the exact same camera as the K1. The body is the same, the sensor is the same, the main image processing unit is the same; the only changes are an additional processing unit which works in tandem with the main processor, a slightly faster autofocusing system, higher ISO output, and a new handheld pixel shift mode. Are these updates really enough to make it a worthwhile buy over the now cheaper, Pentax K1?

It has taken a long time to get a Pentax K1 Mk II into our hands. It has been almost a full year since the camera’s launch, and much has changed in that short amount of time in regards to technology and the overall direction of the camera market place, but here we are with a K1 Mk II finally in our possession. After spending a couple of weeks with the Pentax K1 Mk II we’re ready to let you know if the camera is a good option for those that want to buy a Full Frame DSLR in 2019. Hold on. We’re in for a bumpy ride.

 

Pros and Cons

 

Pros

  • Enough weather sealing to last a lifetime
  • Rock solid build quality
  • Easy to read LCD Screen
  • In Body Image Stabilization / Pixel Shift
  • Gorgeous 100% coverage viewfinder
  • Excellent image quality
  • Dual SD Card slots
  • Great battery life
  • That little light above the lens mount

Cons

  • Only 33 focus points
  • Autofocus system won’t win any races
  • Extremely heavy
  • No touchscreen

 

Gear Used

 

We tested the Pentax K1 Mk II with the Pentax 24-70mm F2.8, and the Pentax 50mm f1.4.

 

Tech Specs

 

Here are the specifications taken from the LensRentals Pentax K-1 Mk II Listing

 

The Pentax K-1 Mark II is an enhanced follow-up to the original K-1, which was Pentax’s first flagship full-frame DSLR. It’s a professional-caliber DSLR at an enthusiast-level price. Key features include:

  • Updated PRIME IV processor with Accelerator Unit
  • 36.4MP full-frame CMOS sensor
  • Enhanced five-axis image stabilization
  • 33-point autofocus system

What’s New. While the K-1 II retains all of its predecessor’s features, its PRIME IV image sensor has been updated with an Accelerator Unit that boosts clarity and color accuracy, reduces noise, and extends ISO sensitivity to 819,200 for excellent low-light performance. Additionally, the improved Pixel Shift Resolution II setting gives you more robust image stabilization. All this power comes at a cost, though. You’ll get up to 670 shots per charge compared to 760 on the original K-1.

36.4MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor. This sensor—which lacks a low-pass filter—outputs high-resolution images with more depth and sharpness than possible with the previous APS-C offerings. The combination of this large sensor and the new Accelerator Unit provides outstanding high-ISO image quality with a range of 100-819,200—a serious leap from the original K1’s 209,400.

Five-Axis Image Stabilization. Rated for five stops of correction, this system does more than just keeping images free from camera shake across five axes. Thanks to some technical wizardry, the K-1 II’s stabilizer offers an updated Pixel Shift resolution mode, horizon correction, an AstroTracer function, and AA filter simulation. There are dedicated corners of the internet that go into detail on these unique features, so we’ll leave it at that.

Pixel Shift Resolution II. Using the above-mentioned in-camera stabilization unit, this mode composites four separate exposures into a single frame while moving the sensor in one-pixel increments. This all translates to higher-resolution images, more accurate color reproduction, and reduced high-sensitivity noise. On top of that, the combination of Pixel Shift Resolution II and the new Dynamic Pixel Shift Resolution mode lets you use image stabilization without a tripod, even in low light.

SAFOX 12 Autofocus System. The updated SAFOX 12 autofocus module features 33 total autofocus points, 25 of which are cross-type. Three central points are optimized for performance with f/2.8 and faster lenses, while all but the outer eight points offer focusing down to -3EV.

Full HD Video. It’s definitely not a flagship feature, but the K-1 II shoots Full HD 1080/30p video using H.264 compression. There’s a built-in stereo mic for in-camera audio, as well as external mic and headphone jacks for higher-quality audio.

Professional Build. It wouldn’t be a Pentax camera if the build quality wasn’t up to snuff. Rest assured there’s no skimping here. The magnesium-alloy body has the usual elaborate weather sealing for peace of mind. There’s more customization than you can shake a stick at, yet the core manual controls and ergonomics remain the design’s primary focus. The 3.2-inch Cross-Tilt LCD gives you the ability to position the screen in ways you didn’t think was possible, and the large optical viewfinder’s 0.7x magnification gives you 100% coverage.

Other Notable Features. Built-in Wi-Fi allows wireless image transfer and camera control from a smartphone, and the in-camera GPS module does just what you’d expect. There are LEDs strategically placed behind the rear LCD and above the lens mount to help you see what you’re doing in complete darkness. There are dual SD slots for recording images and video, and the included rechargeable D-LI90 battery is rated for 670 shots per charge.

Ergonomics

 

If you’ve ever used a Pentax camera before, you’ll feel right at home with the K1 Mk II. If you’re coming from any other camera brand, brace yourselves for button and control overload. The Pentax K1 Mk II is a really nicely designed DSLR. From the front the camera looks quite plain, and is clearly dominated by the deep hand grip and large lens mount.

Aside from the lens release and the shutter dial, there is a small light that sits above the lens mount. If you find yourself in a dark location and need to change lenses, that little light is a life saver.

The top of the camera is a stark contrast from the front of the camera. Here you will find the main mode selection dial, a small LCD display which displays shutter speed, fstop, ISO, battery life, which memory card slots are active, and exposure compensation.

The two dials that surround the LCD work together in a quite unique way. The top mode dial allows you to choose a parameter, and the dial to the right of the LCD lets you change the settings on the mode you have selected. It’s really quite a nice feature that I came to love quite quickly. You’ll also see a Wi-Fi indicator light, the power toggle, a light control, ISO control, and the exposure compensation button. Next to the viewfinder you’ll also find the GPS on/off switch.

The left hand side of the camera is full of controls too. Here you’re going to find the af/mf switch, an autofocus mode selection button, a RAW/Fx button which allows you to switch between file formats or assign a custom control, and a lock button.

In the above images, you can also see the where the inputs are for HDMI, microphone, headphones, micro USB, and a DC connector all live. The rubber flap is incredibly meaty and seals against the body very tightly. You can also see the overly engineered tilt and swivel mechanism that the 3.2 LCD is attached to. It does a wonderful job of articulating the screen, but it adds so much bulk to the back of the camera. You cannot see them here but there are lights on the back of the LCD that put out enough illumination to light up the whole back side of the camera.

The right hand side of the camera is quite sparse compared to the left side. Here you’ll find the access door to the dual SD card slots, and underneath that is the connector for a remote cable release. A really nice feature that I tried to capture in this image is the light that sits in SD card bay. Look closely at the SD card in slot two and you’ll see the light. It does a great job of lighting up the compartment in low light scenarios; perfect for when you need to switch out cards while out on an astrophotography shoot.

The back is dominated by the easy to read 3.2-inch LCD. It’s not a touchscreen which is a shame, but it does what it needs to do, and does it well. The screen is easy to pull away from the body, and the tilt/swivel function is incredibly unique. The screen rotates and pivots on metal arms that extend from the back of the body, and the screen also flips up 45 degrees. Quirky? Yes, but it works well.

The top left of the camera is home to the live view and metering controls, while the top right has the aperture selection dial, a back-button focus button and the AE-L control button. On the right hand side of the screen you’ll find an auto exposure button, the image playback button, shooting mode, self timer buttons, white balance, scene profile button, an in-body image stabilization button, which is also programmable to any function, and the menu and info buttons.

Overall the camera’s ports and controls are laid out nicely. I had no real issues with the design, but was disappointed to not see a thumb stick for focus point selection. I’ve got large hands and had no issues with the camera and its layout. A friend of mine with smaller hands was also comfortable while handling the camera too, so you really should have no issues here. It’s a great feeling camera.

 

Build Quality

 

Let’s talk about the obvious thing here. The Pentax K1 Mk II is huge. My daily shooter is a Fujifilm X-T3, so to say it was a shock to go back to a camera like the Pentax K1 Mk II is an understatement.

The Pentax K1 Mk II is bigger and heavier than the already large Nikon D850 which weighs 2.01lbs. The Pentax K1 Mk II weighs in at a whopping 2.22lbs. This weight is in part due to the magnesium alloy body that is hidden underneath the wonderfully textured body covering. The plus side to this weight is that I have seen notable gains in both my forearms, and upper arms over the last two weeks since using the K1 Mk II.

This camera is designed to be used out in the wild where the elements can get in its face. I took this camera out into the pouring rain, heavy snow, dense fog, 45 mph winds, and into temperatures that dropped to -3 Fahrenheit and it never missed a beat thanks to the 87 weather sealing points found around the body.

The Pentax K1 Mk II is built like a tank. The camera is so tough and well built, that if you dropped it, the floor would probably break. Let’s just say you’re going to know you’re carrying this camera around. Slap a lens like the Pentax 24-70mm f2.8 on it and you’re carrying around just a hair under 4lbs. Having said that though, I do have to say that the camera is comfortable to hold and use. It fits in the hands well, and the grip feels great.

The weight is a negative for sure, and if you like to travel light, this is not the camera for you. If you don’t mind a little heft though, and want to have the most ripped upper body out of all of your photography friends, you’ll get along with the Pentax K1 Mk II just fine.

 

Ease of Use

 

The Pentax K1 Mk II is a fairly easy camera to use; just be ready for a menu overload. The menu system that Pentax uses is well laid out, but my goodness there are 17 pages of options. The pages are grouped together into categories so they are easy to navigate, but just be prepared to go down a very deep rabbit hole. You will need to spend a good portion of time with the manual to understand all of the functions, and to get the most out of this camera.

In terms of navigating the menu it’s a straightforward affair. After about 15 minutes I was navigating the menus with ease. The menus look a little dated, but it’s a menu system and it doesn’t have to wow people, it just needs to do its job, and I can say that it does it well.

Sensor Stabilization test: Shot handheld at 1/10th second

There are several features on the Pentax K1 Mk II that really make it stand out from other DSLR’s. First up would be the sensor stabilization. I found that this works very well indeed. The above image was shot hand held at 1/10th of a second. That’s seriously impressive. When viewed at 100% the rocks to the top side of the pool are crisp, clean, and sharp. It’s rated by Pentax at five stops, so shooting in low light situations will be a breeze.

Another great feature that astrophotographers will love is the Astrotracer technology. This technology works in conjunction with the built in GPS to make sure you get beautiful star and Milky Way shots. The Astrotracer takes into account the rotation of the earth as you perform long exposures on the night sky. I did try the feature but given the time of the year, the fact that there was a almost a full moon during my testing, it was windy, there were partly cloudy skies, and ambient city lights, I wasn’t able to get amazing astro shots; in fact I was surprised I even got as many stars as I did in the above below. I have no doubt that in the right conditions this feature will prove to be invaluable to astrophotographers.

 

The Pentax K1 featured Pentax’s pixel shift technology, and I am pleased to say that the K1 Mk II also features this tech. The MK II also has a new handheld version of this technology too, but I have to say that I am not overly impressed with its performance.

The original Pixel Shift when used on a tripod produces incredibly detailed images. Four images are captured with the sensor shifting over one pixel every time one of the pictures is taken. This allows the camera to render incredibly detailed shots that have wonderfully graduated colors, higher resolution, less noise, and less moire. The hand held version of this is supposed to do the same, but alas, it’s just not quite there. Yes, there is a very small improvement over a regular shot from the 36.4 Megapixel sensor, but with file sizes taking up 180MB a piece, I don’t think there’s enough difference to justify that much storage space being used.

The tripod version of this technology is fantastic though. Just be warned that Pixel Shift files aren’t recognized in Lightroom. If you try to use it to see your file you’ll be greeted to strange artifacts as it can only read the first of the four images in the RAW file. You’ll need to use Pentax’s Pixel Shift processing software or RawTherapee. The above image was taken using the hand held pixel shift mode. It’s great, but not much better than a regular image the camera can put out.

Apart from the features listed above, everything else on the K1 Mk II is pretty straight forward. The Wi-Fi works great, and the app used to sync to the phone is easy to use. Menus are easy to navigate, the tilt screen is easy to move into position, and the pentaprism view finder is excellent. Settings such as ISO, shutter speed, and aperture are changed the same way they always have been.

The battery life is decent too. I shot around 500 images with the camera with a mixture of live view and viewfinder shooting. I flipped through the images frequently on the LCD, transferred multiple images to my phone, had GPS turned on, and put the camera’s Pixel Shift technology to good use too, and there was still 25% of the battery remaining.

If you’ve used a DSLR before, you’ll be able to pick up the Pentax K1 Mk II and will be just fine for the most part. There’s nothing alien about this camera at all.

 

Autofocus

 

This is an area I have a few concerns with on Pentax K1 Mk II. The autofocus system honestly limits what the camera can be used for unless you have exceptional technique. To start with there are only 33 focus points. If you take the camera for what it is, and look at who it’s marketed towards (landscape photographers and portrait photographers), the amount of focus points is fine, but in a day and age where focus points in the hundreds is the norm, it seems like the camera is lagging behind severely, and anyone looking at a spec sheet will be put off instantly.

As you can see in the image above, the focus points are grouped into the center of the sensor, so just know that there will be a lot of focus and recomposing going on, which isn’t a big deal if it’s something you have lived with before.

You’ll find that the focusing system is somewhat slower than the competition too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not so slow that you’re going to miss a ton of shots, but by today’s standards, it’s quite slow. The extra image processing chip in the Pentax K1 Mk II does mean that the auto focus is faster then the original K1, but honestly not by a whole lot. What the Pentax K1 Mk II doesn’t have in speed though, it makes up for in focus accuracy. Pick your focus point, half press the shutter, and the focus will be nailed for your selected point every single time without fail. The same applies when using the camera in live view mode too.

If you shoot sports, wildlife, or any action photography and aren’t an experienced photographer who can anticipate action, who knows how to pan, and can’t work with the limitation of 4.4 frames per second, coupled with some slower autofocus speeds, stick with a camera that will let you spray and pray. If you just shoot landscapes and portraits, you’ll do just fine with this camera regardless of skill level.

Once you understand that this camera is not designed to be a speed demon you begin to appreciate it for what it is. It’s a camera that forces you to slow down. It forces you to think about your compositions, and it forces you to really put some thought into what you’re doing. Quite often the Pentax K1 Mk II makes you use all the skills you have learned over years of practicing photography, and that is never a bad thing. When you nail a shot with this camera you appreciate it more because you had to work for it.

 

Image Quality

 

Pentax K1 MK II

The images the Pentax K1 Mk II can produce are exceptional. The 36.4 Megapixel Full Frame sensor hasn’t changed since the first K1, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

RAW File Versatility

The RAW files that are produced by the Pentax K1 Mk II are very versatile. Perhaps not as versatile as the Fujifilm X-T3 that I use daily, but there’s more than enough wiggle room in the RAW files to create truly stunning results. I used Lightroom to edit the RAW files here as Capture One 12 does not support the Pentax K1 Mk II. You can pull a ton of detail out of the shadows and highlights thanks to the cameras great dynamic range, and the colors that are produced are nice and natural; which is exactly what landscape and portrait photographers need.

The images that this camera can produce will be more than enough for almost every photographer out there. In terms of resolution the only cameras that will really produce images better than this will be Medium Format cameras, and even then, when you use the pixel shift mode on a tripod and get those images combined, I wouldn’t be surprised if detail levels weren’t far off of what some Medium Format cameras can produce.

Pentax K1 MK II

Handheld on a moving tram 1/30 sec

Pentax K1 MK II

Pentax K1 MK II

Pentax K1 MK II

Pentax K1 MK II

Pentax K1 MK II

Pentax K1 MK II

 

JPEG Quality

 

Straight out of camera JPEG with no adjustments made. ISO 3200

JPEG’s right out of the camera are pretty good. The colors look nice and are true to how things were in person. If you plan on using the Wi-Fi feature to beam images to your phone or tablet so you can post to social media sites you’ll be quite happy. You can make any adjustments needed to the files with editing apps on your phone. I am really quite pleased with the results though. The above image was shot at ISO 3200 in a dimly lit coffee shop. The JPEGS are perfectly fine, and are more than usable.

 

High ISO Output

 

Pentax K1 MK II

ISO 3200

The Pentax K1 Mk II does really well when it comes to high ISO’s. Between ISO 100 and 1000 there is hardly any shift in detail quality at all, and between ISO 1000 and 3200 images look the same too. ISO 6400 is when you’ll see the image start to fall apart. The image below was shot at ISO 6400. The image starts to show some detail fall off. but it’s perfectly usable. You’ll have no issues shooting at ISO 6400 at all.

 

ISO 6400

ISO 12,800

Jump up to ISO 12,800 and the image continues it’s downward slide. The picture is still usable and will be fine for an image that’s going to be used online, but I would say at this point printing at any meaningful size would be a bad idea. Go past ISO 12,800 and things turn from okay to disastrous pretty quickly. The last image in this series was shot at the max ISO of 819,200. You just have to ask yourself why this option was even included to begin with.

ISO 25,600

ISO 51,200

ISO 102,400

ISO 819,200

 

Conclusions

 

 

Likes

  • Exceptional image quality
  • Traditional Pixel Shift creates detail dense images
  • It’s built to last a life time

Dislikes

  • I wish the autofocus system was just a little faster
  • Hand held Pixel Shift mode is disappointing
  • It’s. So. Heavy!

I have been incredibly impressed with the Pentax K1 Mk II despite its quirks. This camera is not for the faint of heart. It’s certainly not a camera I would recommend to a new or inexperienced photographer, and if you like to travel light stay away.

If however you know how to get the best out of a camera, and don’t mind slowing down to take in the whole experience that photography has to offer, then the Pentax K1 Mk II is a camera you’ll enjoy. It’s not just point, shoot and be done, you have to work to get the best out of it. It’s incredibly satisfying when it all of your efforts come together and you see the amazing images it can capture.

I would recommend this camera for landscape photographers and portrait artists. It’s a great camera to step up to if you have been using an APS-C camera, especially if you have Pentax lenses already. If you’re a current Pentax K1 user I would say stick with what you have, but if you’re thinking about changing brands, or stepping up from APS-C then this is an option that deserves a closer look. There are some nice lenses available for the camera, and it can use any K mount lens that has been made since 1975, so there are plenty of lens options out there for users. Put the work in with the Pentax K1 Mk II and you’ll get a whole lot out of it.

 

The Pentax K1 Mk II receives a well earned overall rating of four out of five stars. If you’d like one you can grab one at Adorama for $1,796.95