Special K? Pentax K-1 First Impressions Review
After years of promises and months of teasing, Ricoh has finally unveiled the Pentax K-1, a 36.4MP full-frame DSLR built around the K lens mount. It becomes the only conventional DSLR to offer a full frame sensor with image stabilization.
The camera is extensively sealed and features magnesium alloy construction. But despite its range-topping status and high-end build, it has a relatively low list price of $1799.
Pentax K-1 Key Specifications
- 36.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor with no anti-aliasing filter
- 5-axis image stabilization rated to 5 stops by CIPA standard testing
- 100% pentaprism viewfinder with 0.7x magnification
- 33-point AF system (25 cross-type)
- Extensive weather-sealing
- 1/200 sec flash sync speed
- 14-bit Raw recording (DNG or PEF)
- AA filter simulation
- Multi-shot Pixel Shift Resolution mode
- Built-in GPS with electro-magnetic compass and Astrotracer function
- 4.4 fps continuous shooting (6.5 fps in APS-C crop mode)
- 1080/30p video
As this list of spec highlights should make clear, the K-1 makes the most of its moveable sensor. As well as the image stabilization, which is rated to an impressive 5 stops, the camera offers a host of other clever features. These include anti-aliasing filter simulation which vibrates the sensor during exposure to intentionally blur high frequency detail across multiple pixels, to avoid moiré. Then there's the Pixel Shift Resolution mode that increases color resolution by shooting four consecutive images with the sensor moved by one pixel - effectively canceling the Bayer color filter array and lowering noise by image averaging.
The other sensor-shift modes are also clever: the K-1 includes Horizon Correction, which rotates the sensor if you hold the camera slightly off-level, and the Astrotracer system that uses the sensor's movement to cancel-out the effect of the Earth's rotation when taking images of stars (something it can calculate using its GPS).
Upgraded AF and metering
|The sensor at the heart of the SAFOX 12 AF module. It gives 33 AF points in all, 25 of which are cross type and three of which offer greater accuracy when paired with bright lenses.|
The camera gets a new AF module (called SAFOX 12) which features 33 focus points, 25 of which are cross type. The central three of these offer higher precision when used with F2.8 or faster lenses and the central 25 continue to focus down as far as -3EV.
An 86,000-pixel RGB metering sensor acts to offer 77-segment metering but also aids the camera's autofocus system, enabling scene analysis and subject detection to yield accurate exposures and automatically select the correct AF point to stay on your subject (subject tracking) when using continuous AF.
Overall, though, it's not the clever use of the sensor that most stands out about the K-1, it's Ricoh's obvious focus on the core photographic capabilities. There's a reason we chose to list the viewfinder size so far up the list of specifications - it's because we think it's something users coming from existing Pentax cameras will most appreciate. Sure, there are multiple exposure modes and time lapse options, but the things that most jumped out are the high resolution sensor, the well positioned dials, the large viewfinder and image stabilization - the core things that help you to get better images. Speaking of core things: some may bemoan the omission of a dedicated AF point control, though the four way controller can be re-purposed for this.
Which isn't to say the K-1 is entirely without the occasional flourish. Aside from clever sensor shift modes (that some - particularly landscape - photographers will surely come to love), the most obvious of these is its 'Cross-Tilt' LCD. The Cross-Tilt mechanism takes a tilting LCD cradle and mounts it on four legs that slide along a cross-shaped series of slots, allowing the screen to extend outwards and move in a complex manner, before the screen itself is tilted up/down.
|The K-1's Cross-Tilt LCD system has all the elegance of two deck chairs mating, but it provides a useful range of articulation.|
Mounted to the back of the LCD are four white LEDs that can be used to shed light on the rear controls. Another LED, whose behavior can be set independently, shines a light on the lens mount for easier alignment when swapping lenses in the dark. The camera's card bay and remote release port are also illuminated by LEDs.
For the most part, though, the camera's focus is very much toward a traditional approach to still photography. Video capture tops-out at 1080/30p (which can also be encoded as 60i, if you prefer), which is a long way from cutting edge, but we really doubt that Ricoh has would-be film makers in mind with this model.
Still shooters are likely to appreciate the camera's Smart Function system, which adds a third command dial to the top right corner of the camera and a further control to define its function. The three dials give direct control over three of the camera's parameters with the ability to customize one of them without going anywhere near a menu.
And how much does Ricoh want for this twin-dial, weather-sealed, magnesium alloy, image-stabilized full frame camera? The list price is a fiercely competitive $1799, body only. To put that in perspective, that's $200 lower than the launch price of Nikon's more basic D610 and $300 less than what Canon originally expected for the EOS 6D, meaning there's only a $100 premium over the list price of Sony's image-stabilized a7 II.
This is a very similar pattern we've seen from Ricoh before, with the company's models often including higher-end features (twin control dials, prism viewfinders and weather sealing) at a lower price than you'd need to spend to get them from one of the other DSLR makers.
At present, Pentax offers a mixture of full-frame compatible lenses, including a handful of screw-drive FA prime lenses from the film-era and the much-loved 31, 43 and 77mm FA Limiteds from the late '90s/early 2000s. However, the company is already starting to flesh-out a range of more modern 'D FA' zooms, including a 15-30mm F2.8, a 24-70mm F2.8 (both suspiciously reminiscent of certain current Tamron-branded zooms) a 70-200mm F2.8 and an 150-400mm F4.5-5.6. For now, though, those looking for modern, fast-focusing primes will be disappointed.
But that isn't the whole story, of course. Part of the reason for all the interest in a full-frame Pentax is the vast collection of K-mount lenses that exist around the world. The K-1 lets you use the aperture rings on these lenses and can give a focus confirmation beep with the central AF point, even with manual focus lenses. When you mount an older, manual lens the K-1 prompts you to manually specify the focal length so that the image stabilization can be tuned appropriately.
The K-1 can, of course, still use the Pentax DA lenses designed for the company's APS-C cameras. By default the camera will use a 15MP APS-C-sized crop of the sensor if a DA lens is mounted but can be made to use its full sensor region, if you'd prefer. Ricoh has published a list of those lenses that will produce relatively useable results in full frame mode, if the aperture is stopped down.
DA Prime Lens / Utility on K-1
|DA 14mm||Crop Mode Only||DA 50mm F1.8||Stopped-down|
|DA 21mm Limited||Crop Mode Only||DA* 55mm F1.4||Stopped-down|
|DA 15 F4 Limited||Crop Mode Only||DA 70mm Limited||Stopped-down|
|DA 35mm F2.4||Stopped-down||DA* 200mm F2.8 SDM||Fully Functional|
|DA 35mm F2.8 Macro||Stopped-down||DA* 300mm F4 SDM||Fully Functional|
|DA 40mm Limited||Stopped-down||DA 560mm F5.6||Fully Functional|
|DA 40mm XS||Stopped-down||RC1.4X||Crop Mode Only|
The company says that all of the DA zooms will only cover the crop sensor region.
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