Body & Design

Love it or hate it, the Pentax K-01's design is certainly unique. When I first saw it's retro-modern design back at CES, I thought it looked like something that would carry a Fisher Price label, rather than Pentax. While it's appearance has grown on me since then, I'm still not a huge fan.

The K-01 is essentially shaped like a brick, albeit one with modern accents. The body is made almost entirely of metal, save for rubberized sections on the sides and front. The camera is well-built in nearly all respects, with my only complaint being the easy-to-bump power switch and the 'rubber flap' that I'll get to later. The camera is very thick, and I think the grip is a bit too small considering that. While most buttons are well-placed, the green button is difficult to reach, and the flash release / delete photo button is right where you'd hold the camera with your left hand.

The K-01 is much larger than other mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. The reason for this to its large flange-back distance, which is what allows it to support K-mount lenses. Since one of the big selling points of mirrorless cameras is their diminutive size, the K-01 seems a bit awkward. The only time you'll fit this camera in your pocket is with the pancake lens - and that's assuming that you have large pockets! With any other lens, it'll be just like carrying around a regular D-SLR.

If you take the lens off the K-01 you'll actually be able to see just how much empty space there is between the mount and the sensor (the flange-back distance) - you could smuggle a mouse in there (not that I recommend it). This sensor itself is mounted on a movable plate, which is used for both image stabilization and dust removal.

The back of the K-01 is relatively normal-looking compared to the rest of the camera. Being a mirrorless camera, you'll be composing all of your photos on the 3-inch LCD that's on display here (no EVF is available). This screen has 921,000, so everything's nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility was about average, and in low light the screen 'gains up' nicely, so you can still see your subject. For those wondering, the K-01 does not support an electronic viewfinder, which is too bad (since there's certainly room for one).

To the right of the LCD we have four well-labeled buttons, which handle AE/AF lock, playback mode, toggling the info shown on the screen (and bringing up the shortcut menu), and entering the menu system. To the right of those is the card access lamp, with the four-way controller under that. The controller is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos, and also serves as a shortcut for adjusting the ISO, flash, self-timer, and white balance. Pressing the 'OK' button while you're manually focusing will enlarge the frame.

Taking each of the cardinal points of the four-way controller in turn, ISO sensitivity can be manually adjusted from 100 to 12800, or you can choose an automatic range like 100-800. Depending on what exposure mode you're in, flash mode can be set to manual, manual with red-eye reduction, slow-speed sync, slow speed sync with red-eye reduction, and 'trailing' (second) curtain sync. Drive options include continuous, self-timer, and wireless remote control shooting, plus AE bracketing. As far as white balance is concerned, the usual presets are all here (including four fluorescent options), plus color temperature enhancement (CTE) which strengthens the color tone of the light source, and a custom mode; you can fine-tune white balance but WB bracketing is not available.

The K-01 offers a mode dial, two customizable buttons (green and red), an exposure compensation button and an 'UP' button which opens the built-in flash. The rear thumb dial sits flush with the top plate of the camera. A large on/off switch surrounds the shutter release.

The most striking part of the K-01's design can be found in the top view. The most conventional-looking button is the flash release / delete photo button, located at the bottom-left of the photo. Next to the pop-up flash is the camera's mode dial. Next to that is the uniquely designed power switch, which unfortunately moves a bit too easily. Inside the power switch is the shutter release button.

Below all that are three buttons: the famous Pentax green button (which, by default, resets the setting currently being adjusted), another for exposure compensation, and a third red button for movie recording. The function of both the red and green buttons can be customized. In-between all those buttons is the camera's sole control dial, which you'll use for adjusting the exposure, navigating menus, and enlarging images in both record and playback mode.

Despite the fact that the K-01 is as large as some D-SLRs, it's still very much a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. That means that you'll compose all of your photos on the camera's 3-inch LCD display. Fortunately the image on the K-01's LCD is sharp and bright, with an excellent refresh rate. Options include grid lines, a live histogram, and highlighting of over and underexposed areas of the image.

Unfortunately, an always-handy electronic level is not available. If you're manually focusing, you can not only enlarge the frame (as you can on almost every camera), you can also turn on something called focus peaking. Focus peaking sharply outlines the part of the frame that's in focus, which makes manual focusing a whole lot easier.

The 'view' in live view, with histogram While it's difficult to see here, focus peaking is making the edges of the stapler look extra sharp, so I know it's in focus

Size and Weight Compared

I've talked about how much bulkier the K-01 is compared to its competitors and here's a look at how the K-01 compares to other interchangeable lens cameras in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Nikon 1 J1 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.2 in. 12.7 cu in. 234 g
Olympus E-P3 4.8 x 2.7 x 1.4 in. 18.1 cu in. 321 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 4.6 x 2.7 x 1.6 in. 19.9 cu in. 272 g
Pentax K-01 4.8 x 3.1 x 2.3 in. 34.2 cu in. 479 g
Samsung NX210 4.6 x 2.5 x 1.4 in. 16.1 cu in. 222 g
Sony Alpha NEX-5N 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6 in. 16.9 cu in. 210 g