Conclusion - Pros and Cons
- Excellent photos quality; 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)
- Autofocus system lags behind the competition, especially in low light
- Chunky body defeats the purpose of mirrorless design; ergonomics leave something to be desired
- Display on LCD screen can be hard to see in bright light
- Redeye a problem, no in-camera removal tool
- Unusually severe rolling shutter effect in movie mode, exacerbated by SR vibration reduction
- 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
- No built-in EVF, (and no provision for adding an external one)
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. Video footage is marred, however, by fairly severe rolling shutter, which depending on your focal length and the amount of camera movement, can give very wobbly footage. It's disappointing, too, that continuous AF is not possible in movie mode.
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. 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'. The camera keeps noise levels 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'.
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.
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!
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
Photographers who want a camera that'll garner attention and take great photos, who don't mind its size and below average performance.
Not so good for
People who take photos of moving subjects, or who want the main benefit of a mirrorless camera: a compact body.
The Pentax K-01 is a bit of an odd duck. It's a mirrorless camera that's as big as digital SLRs, which sort of defeats the purpose of being mirrorless in the first place. Photo quality is among the best out there, but other cameras offer better AF performance and more compact/usable designs.
- Pentax K-01 Hands-On Preview
- Samsung NX200 In-depth Review
- Sony Alpha NEX-5N In-depth Review
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 Review
- Olympus PEN E-P3 Review
- Pentax K-5 In-depth Review
About Jeff Keller
Jeff Keller is the Founder and Publisher of the Digital Camera Resource Page. When it was created in 1997, DCResource was the first digital camera news and review site on the Internet. Jeff's love of gadgetry introduced him to digital cameras in the mid-90's, from which his passion for photography developed. Jeff runs DCResource from his home in Oakland, CA, and is often found wandering the streets of San Francisco with a bag full of cameras.