Operation and controls

Top of camera controls

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 Pentax K-01 offers eminently useful controls across its rather large top plate. Yet we can't help feeling that form trumped function when it came to button placement. While the shutter release sits comfortably at the front edge of the camera, we find it distinctly uncomfortable to reach either the red or exposure compensation buttons with our hand in the shooting position. And this becomes literally impossible when trying to reach the green button. With so much excess room along the camera plate we find it baffling that such primary shooting controls have been placed in such awkward locations.

Button Customization

The Pentax K01 features two customizable buttons - the red button (which by default initiates movie recording) and the standard Pentax green button. Pressing the green button causes the camera to jump to the shutter speed and aperture values that Program mode would have given. This behavior can be fine-tuned in Manual mode so that pressing the green button only affects the shutter speed or the aperture value, rather than resetting both.

The K-01 includes Pentax's TAv (Shutter Speed and Aperture Priority) mode, in which the aperture and shutter speed are user set, but ISO is automatically adjusted to match the metered value. Unlike the K-5, which gives it its own position on the mode dial, on the K01 TAv is effectively a sub-option within manual mode. To set TAv mode with the K01 you simply turn the exposure mode dial to 'M' and then set the ISO sensitivity to Auto.

Along with the ability to fine-tune the behavior of the green button, it's also possible to influence what effect the control dial has in Program mode, effectively giving you the choice of jumping into Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority mode, rather than conventional Programm Shift. Customization options for the red button are more limited, but simpler. As well as initiating movie recording (default) you can re-assign it to five other functions. Customization options for both buttons are detailed in the table below.

Button Custom Options
Green Button  • Green Button (default)

 • Action in M/TAv mode:
 Reset shutter speed and aperture to program line
 Set shutter speed for correct exposure (leaves aperture)
 Set aperture for correct exposure (leaves shutter speed)
 Off (disables green button operation in manual exposure)

 • E-dial behavior in Program mode:
 Program shift
 Switches to shutter priority (E-dial adjusts shutter)
 Switches to aperture priority (E-dial adjusts aperture)
 Off (E-dial does nothing)
Red Button  • Movie Recording (default)
 • One Push File format (JPEG, RAW/Raw+JPEG)
 • Preview
 • Focus Peaking
 • Custom Image
 • Digital Filter

All these options may sound a little unfamiliar if you've used other camera systems but they offer interesting ways of interacting with exposure that Pentax users have come to appreciate.

Rear controls

On the rear of the camera you have access to four large well-marked and vertically aligned buttons. A smaller-sized 4-way controller sits beneath a write lamp that glows orange while the camera writes data to the SD card.

The rear of the camera sports a 3 inch 921,000 dot resolution LCD screen. The four vertically aligned buttons are large and easy to press, though we do find the tactile feedback to be a bit mushy. The buttons on the 4-way controller feel a touch small, particularly given how much space is available on the rear of the camera. Again, we're given the distinct impression that functionality and operational ease took a back seat in the design of the camera.

First impressions

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, reactions to the Pentax K-01 are mixed here in our Seattle office. We've no doubt that the camera will attract its share of ardent admirers and passionate detractors. Yet these are secondary concerns when evaluating a camera as a photographic tool, rather than an avatar of modern design. And there's no escaping that fact that the K-01 is a heavy camera that is not particularly comfortable to hold without using a second hand supporting the lens.

We certainly applaud Pentax's rather bold decision to develop a camera that is natively compatible with its vast range of K-mount lenses. Yet the potential downside of using a camera with a contrast-detect AF system on legacy lenses designed to work with a phase-detection AF gives us pause. One would reasonably expect relatively slow AF performance. And in our relatively limited handling with an admittedly pre-production model, we find nothing to suggest AF times are going to be very rapid.

For exisiting Pentax users the trump card of the K-01 may very well lie in its from-the-ground-up live view implementation. With its mirrorless design and MF peaking capability, the K-01 has the potential to offer significantly better shooting experience with legacy manual focus lenses than the K-5. Of course,we await the chance to put a production model through our studio tests and thoroughly evaluate operational speed and image quality.