UPDATED: Ricoh got back to us as of March 3, 2016 and has agreed to allow us to publish the K-1 samples here at a resolution of 2000px on the longest side. The images have been re-downsized in Photoshop from original JPEGs, re-uploaded, and are visible by clicking on the images to open them in a new tab or window.


Yes, we have already posted a fair amount about the full-frame Pentax K-1, and no, this does not mean that we are in Ricoh's pocket. But what Ricoh did offer us was a pre-production K-1 at CP+ 2016 in Yokohama, and the freedom to do whatever we wanted to with it (except post full-resolution images, for now). How could we not take advantage of that? 

The full-frame Pentax K-1 has been years in the making, and they've made it pretty darn good.

I am not a Pentaxian, just to get that out of the way. In fact, I'm not really a 'fanboi' of any particular brand, though I do continue to own, use and abuse Nikons of the not-so-distant past. That said, I've spent a lot of time with the K-3 II and 20-40mm F2.8-4 Limited lens, and the feature set combined with value for money make that camera pretty cream-of-the-crop. I loved the fast continuous shooting speed, large (for APS-C) optical finder, comfy grip, in-body image stabilization, and the confidence of shooting with a truly weather-sealed camera and lens in your typical Seattle downpours.

But it just didn't click with me. Maybe it was the shutter sound. Maybe it was the inconsistencies I experienced with the autofocus. Regardless of any quirks, and regardless of how technically great a camera might be, I admit that I find little photographic inspiration through using a device I don't truly love and enjoy. I'm always searching for cameras that I connect with on some intangible level that makes me want to go out shooting, and unfortunately, the K-3 II didn't fit that bill. Back onto the gear shelf it went.

And then, on the last day of CP+, Barney handed me a Pentax K-1 and told me I had until the end of the day to shoot with it. So I did. I didn't come away with my greatest work ever, which I'll blame more on the jet lag than the camera. No, more importantly, I liked the K-1, I had fun with it, and it made me want to keep wandering and keep shooting, even as I approached my end-of-day deadline and crossed the 10-mile mark on my phone's sketchy pedometer. 

Pentax digital, all grown up

That firmware version is why we aren't allowed to publish any full-res samples from the camera.

It's true at this point that a great many mirrorless cameras are highly capable, represent fantastic value, and are home to some pretty impressive tech. Despite this, for a lot of my more serious work, I keep coming back to the good old-fashioned DSLR. That's something that Pentax excels at, and it shines through with the K-1.

I will try to keep from repeating too much information that's already been well-covered in our Pentax K-1 First Impressions review, but a little repetition is necessary, if only for context. The body feels extremely well-built and sealed. The grip is excellent and makes holding this heavy camera a breeze. The control system is customizable, but even without much customization, everything is sensibly laid out. It reminds me of a mix of some of the best bits of both Canon and Nikon thrown onto a single camera body. If that sounds a bit confusing, it can be. But after some time with the camera, it comes together nicely.

The colors from the Pentax K-1, particularly reds, are very nice indeed. Watch for white balance that strays to the cool side, though, which has been corrected here. Photo by Carey Rose. Taken on an old Pentax SMC 24mm F2.8 lens, processed to taste from Raw. F4 | 1/200 | ISO 100

The actual shutter might be bigger than previous Pentax DSLR's, but it isn't appreciably louder - in fact, it's soft but not silent, though still with some of that Pentax-ness from APS-C models thrown in. It's nice in that you get an affirmative, audible signal that you've taken a photograph, but you don't have to deal with a loud 'clack' that you get from many other high-end full-frame bodies (though admittedly, many of those have a 'quiet' mode that sometimes helps).

What's new, what stands out and what actually matters

So, we're only allowed to show you VGA 2000px-size samples, but let's see what we can do with that.

Dynamic range

First of all, as to be expected, dynamic range from this sensor is excellent. For the image below, I used a base ISO of 100 and exposed for the sky, pulled the overall exposure up over two-and-a-half stops, lowered the highlights back down, and raised the shadows even more. Though there is some grain in the shadow areas, it isn't obtrusive, and there is no banding of any kind. (Ignore that pretty heavy vignetting from the non-spec hood on the old manual Pentax 24mm F2.8 I was using).

I could have gone even more overboard with the HDR look by not pulling those blacks so far down, but this way of processing is a personal preference. I find that adding some contrast back in can partially negate the flatness that can occur with heavy shadow pushing.

Original, out-of-camera JPEG. F8 | 1/640 | ISO 100 Processed through Adobe Camera Raw, with the following adjustments: exposure +2.65, highlights -100, shadows +85, whites +15, blacks -67.

That weird screen

The tilting screen may seem gimmicky, and it kind of is. But it still works really well.

After watching Barney dangle the K-1 from its screen on the trade show floor (Ricoh said I could do it! - Ed.), I had a little more confidence in the design of Pentax's new screen articulation mechanism. After pulling it around, slamming it back in, and treating it more or less like the tilting and articulating screens on any other DSLR, I've got to say that it's really no more or less fiddly than a screen that fully articulates out to the side. In certain situations, such as having the camera on a low tripod and at an odd angle for astrophotography, I could see how it could be an advantage over more traditional mechanisms. Still, for a camera as sealed as the Pentax K-1 is purported to be, I'd be a little wary of getting too much moisture, dirt or mud behind there, if for no other reason than what some well-placed grit might do to the tiny ball joints. But overall durability over time still remains to be seen.

The articulating screen allowed me to get a lower angle in portrait mode without forcing me to crane my neck like an OVF or traditional tilting screen would. Photo by Carey Rose. Cropped and resized out-of-camera JPEG, taken on the Pentax 28-105 F3.5-5.6. F5.6 | 1/500 | ISO 200


There's not really much point in showing you samples at VGA 2000px-resolution of autofocus tracking from a slow-aperture kit zoom. So I won't. But I will say that for me, it worked better than or on par with previous Pentaxes, with a high degree of accuracy. This isn't a sports camera and it won't keep up with fast action or erratic subjects, but tracking, say, individuals walking down the street works just fine.

In what will go down as the worst product photo of all time, you can see the lenses I was able to use with the K-1 around Yokohama. I'm not a particularly big fan of kit zooms, but this one was sharp and felt better-built than I'm used to. It goes without saying that the all-metal primes felt great, even if I had to stop them down a bit for optimal performance.

One thing to note - the autofocus points are somewhat few for today's market (33), and the spread is a little strange. With the camera in landscape orientation, there's more than enough flexibility across the horizontal axis, but the vertical spread seemed limiting to me. Your mileage may vary.

Single-AF works quickly and accurately as well. For this, I pre-focused on the railing and fired off a quick burst. 4.4fps is a bit faster than you might think, but if you're used to the blazing speed of the K-3 II, you might be a bit disappointed. Taken on the Pentax 28-105 F3.5-5.6 lens. Photo by Carey Rose, processed to taste from Raw. F5.6 | 1/640 | ISO 100

So, then, let's talk about what it's like to use some old manual-focus primes on this 36MP digital beast. In two words, it's pretty good.

Manual-focusing using only the viewfinder and confirmation light works fairly well, if not as well as using an actual split prism, or maybe live-view focus with peaking. Of course, the K-1 has live view with peaking, but since I had such limited time with the camera, I opted to use a method Pentax users are quite proud of. It's called 'catch-in-focus.'

This method, enabled through a custom menu function, allows you to hold down the shutter release as you rack the lens through the range where the image would be in focus. Make sure you're in continuous shooting mode, and the camera will fire a burst when it detects you've reached the 'in-focus' range, and assuming a high enough shutter speed and moderate enough focus-racking speed, this method works very well, even for candids.

As far as metering with primes pre-dating even the SMC-A lenses, you place the camera in manual, dial in your desired aperture, and hit the green button on the rear of the camera. It will stop down and meter a shutter speed for you. Of course, you'll still need to remember your apertures - it doesn't record them in the Raw file. But, as I said, these are really old primes. Later SMC-A lenses may (and probably will) offer more functionality. One other downside of older primes, as we've mentioned before, is that they might not seem as amazing on 36MP as they did on film. But you can always downsize your files, stop the lens down, or do what I did: ignore it and get on with shooting.

For the 'catch-in-focus' feature, I held down the shutter button, and racked focus on the old manual-focus 24mm F2.8 lens until the camera detected focus and fired off this candid portrait. Because I was mistakenly only in single-shot mode, the resulting shot was very slightly front-focused. But for 36MP paired with a lens older than I am, I found it more than acceptable. Photo by Carey Rose and processed to taste from Raw. F2.8 | 1/125 | ISO 200

The moving sensor

The Pentax K-1 isn't the first full-frame camera to have a moveable sensor for stabilization, but it is the first to offer a mode that Ricoh calls Pixel Shift Resolution. As we've explained before, this mode works by taking four offset shots that increase color resolution by shooting the scene with a different colored capture pixel for each shot. The end result should be that you end up with better resolution, and potentially less noise at medium/high ISO sensitivities.

The video below gives you an idea of how long the whole process takes - and thus why it may work with things like rustling leaves, but not larger movements such as cars driving through your scene. It also shows a noticeable increase in fine detail.

As for stabilization, it works, as expected, rather well. And it's not just for stabilizing telephoto shots: stopping down (a lot), I was able to pull off a 1/30 exposure in daytime for some blur on the carnival ride, while maintaining details elsewhere in the frame. Of course, shooting at F29 will rob you of some overall sharpness. I should have remembered some ND filters.

Slight motion blur on the ride while maintaining detail elsewhere courtesy of a stabilized sensor and slower-than-normal shutter speed. Photo by Carey Rose, processed to taste from Raw. 1/30 | F29 | ISO 200

The wrap

As so often happens with these shooting experience pieces, it comes down to two fairly simple questions. Who is this camera for, and will they buy it? It seems there's a bit of variety here.

Old-school lenses and old-school motorcycles have a lot in common. Yes, they're often imperfect and idiosyncratic. But they're also charming, with character that can be hard to find in the modern age. Photo by Carey Rose, processed to taste from Raw. Taken on the SMC Pentax 50mm F1.7. F-something (forgot this one) | 1/400 | ISO 100

Pentax has said that the K-1 is primarily targeted at existing Pentax owners. But then they priced it at an MSRP of $1,799. At that price, it seems to me they might be targeting just about anyone.

Whether you need a full-frame camera is a matter of personal choice, and needs. Many people don't, and that is totally fine. In fact, for a good number of photographers, the increase in depth-of-field control is as much a disadvantage as it is an advantage. 

But for Pentaxians especially, who may have a good number of lenses that are inherently limited by the crop factor of the company's APS-C DSLR cameras, the K-1 is a godsend. It represents a return to glory for all those Pentax primes. And for those of us on the sidelines who perhaps shoot different systems, the Pentax K-1 represents a great many things. 

It represents an increase in competition, which always bodes well for the consumer. It offers some features, such as sensor-shift capability for increased color resolution, Astrotracer, and its uniquely articulating rear screen, that no other manufacturer can meet in any form. 

If you're a Pentaxian, time to pop that cork - the K-1 is the camera you've been waiting for, and then some. Photo by Carey Rose. Taken on the SMC Pentax 24mm F2.8, processed to taste from Raw. F4 | 1/125 | ISO 200

And Pentax has a few decent modern prime lenses and a growing number of professional-grade zoom lenses to help make the K-1 even more relevant. Hell, given a Pentax K-1 and a 43mm F1.9 Limited, your average prime-lens shooter (this photographer included) would have a killer combination for just about anything. 

From what I've seen from its files, the Pentax K-1 has earned its position as a flagship camera for the Pentax brand (excluding the 645Z of course). Not so long ago, if you were an advanced amateur photographer and looking to break into the 'full frame' DSLR market, I would have told you to go put your hands on a Canon 6D or Nikon D610 and pick what feels best. Now, for a very similar price, I'm comfortable adding the Pentax K-1 to that list as well.

Until next time, Yokohama. Thanks for hosting us. Photo by Carey Rose, processed to taste from Raw. F5.6 | 1/500 | ISO 200