Conclusion

What we like What we don't
  • Raw files offer excellent detail near base ISO
  • Good Raw dynamic range
  • Improved AF tracking over predecessor
  • Weather-sealed body is rugged, built to survive the elements
  • 5-axis sensor-based IS provides between 2.3 and 3.6 stops
  • Tripod Pixel Shift mode improves detail, noise and resolution
  • Pixel Shift JPEGs look good right out-of-camera
  • Horizon correction and Astrotracer mode useful for landscape shooters
  • Excellent ergonomics, ample control points
  • LEDs on camera body aide setup when shooting at night
  • Dedicated 'outdoor viewing' button useful when shooting in bright sun
  • Dual card slots
  • Headphone and microphone jack
  • PC sync port
  • Built-in GPS
  • New pre-processor bakes noise reduction into Raws, impacting detail as ISO increases and can't be turned off
  • Aggressive JPEG noise reduction smears detail (non Pixel Shift)
  • Continuous AF performance still lags behind the competition
  • Though improved, AF tracking unreliable
  • AF points difficult to see in the dark
  • AF point coverage limited by 2018 standards
  • 4.4 fps max burst feels limited by 2018 standards
  • No 4K capture, soft Full HD video
  • Lack of focus peaking in video
  • No Phase Detect AF in video
  • New hand-held Pixel Shift mode (called Dynamic Pixel Shift Resolution) leaves artifacts
  • Mirror/shutter-shock can decrease sharpness at some shutter speeds
  • Camera is quite heavy and bulky
  • Limited modern full-frame lens selection

Overall conclusion

The Pentax K-1 Mark II is a unique DSLR to review. In many aspects we regard as crucial when testing, like autofocus performance and video capabilities, it lags behind the competition. But it's got a tried and true 36MP full-frame sensor, offers great ergonomics, is seriously weather-sealed and has a ton of cool features not found on other cameras.

Unfortunately, the K-1 II's image quality takes a hit compared to its predecessor due to forced noise reduction in Raw files resulting in less overall detail. At base ISO, there's no real difference, but as the ISO increases detail loss becomes increasingly noticeable. We've reached out to Pentax about the possibility that this might be remedied via firmware. For now, astrophotographers in particular may want to avoid this camera since the baked-in Raw noise reduction may affect the rendition of starry skies at higher ISOs.

The K-1 II's image quality takes a hit compared to its predecessor

Subject tracking during autofocus is improved though - the original K-1 utterly failed in this regard - but ultimately it's still too sluggish and unreliable for us to recommend. Similarly, the new hand-held Pixel Shift mode, which creates in-camera Super Resolution images by stacking four files, offers some image quality advantage over a standalone file, but it can also result in unwanted artifacts you can avoid by creating super-resolution files yourself.

Thanks to in-body stablization - a feature rarely offered by DSLRs - this shot could be hand-held at 1/10 sec without any shake. Edited to taste in ACR.
ISO 800 | 1/10 sec | F2.8 | Pentax 55mm F1.4

We reviewed the K-1 two years ago and it scored an 84%. Since that time, our expectations of what a camera at this price point should be capable of have evolved. That fact, coupled with noise reduction's disappointing impact on Raw image quality has resulted in the K-1 II having a lower score than its predecessor. Ultimately, if you're interested in the K-1 II, the Pentax K-1 may actually be a better choice. The K-1 is still a good option for static-subject shooters wanting a high-resolution sensor wrapped in a supremely rugged body, but for those wishing to point their camera at moving subjects, or wanting to capture decent video, a lot of other cameras would serve you better.


What we think

We make sure that cameras change hands many times over the course of a review because, as a staff, we all have different photographic backgrounds and approach photography in different ways. Here's what some other members of the staff thought about the Pentax K-1 II.


Carey Rose
Reviews Editor
I was a big fan of the original K-1 for its blend of value, rugged build and impressive image quality. Unfortunately though, two years is a long time in the digital camera industry, and the K-1 Mark II falls a little flat in 2018. Sure, it is absolutely capable of taking fantastic photographs, feels great in the hand and has some unique features like Pixel Shift and Astrotracer. But it's impossible to ignore the great strides that the K-1 II's competitors have taken, and I find that the K-1 Mark II is a difficult camera to recommend in today's market.


Jeff Keller
Writer
Like the K-1 before it, the K-1 Mark II is a hulking mass of a camera. It can be a bit much to carry around, especially with a long lens attached. I appreciate the little extras Ricoh has put into the K-1, like the flexible LCD (with a handy outdoor mode), backlit buttons and LED on the lens mount so you don't need to fumble around with your phone's flashlight. The K-1 II's AF system won't win any awards, but as someone who doesn't shoot fast action, I find that its Raw image quality near base ISO and excellent 5-axis image stabilization system make it an appealing choice.

Compared to other full-frame cameras

Edited to taste in ACR.
ISO 125 | 1/320 sec | F5.6 | Pentax 24-70mm F2.8 at 70mm

Earlier in the review we examined how the Pentax K-1 II stacks up in terms of specification, against some of its similar priced full-frame competitors. Below we've dug a little deeper and compared those same models to the K-1 II, based on our studio testing.

Pentax K-1 The K-1 II offers some small advantages over the original K-1, like slightly more reliable AF Tracking and a hand-held Pixel Shift mode that is mediocre at best. But the original K-1 has better image quality at higher ISO values, which is why we recommend it over the K-1 II. You'll still get all the most important camera features found in the K-1 II, like the original Pixel Shift mode, as well as a tough-built, weather-sealed body.

Sony a7 III In terms of image quality performance, the K-1 II has a higher-res sensor, giving its Raw files an advantage at base ISO, but Sony Raw files don't force noise reduction at higher ISO values. Sony also has much more detailed JPEGs. Performance-wise, the a7 III absolutely smokes the K-1 II, with far superior AF reliability and coverage, a faster burst rate and better battery life. The Sony also shoots excellent quality 4K video, compared to mediocre 1080p on the Pentax. Additionally, the Sony offers tons of movie making tools including reliable video AF. In terms of build, the K-1 II is bulkier than the a7 III but better weather-sealed. Taken as a whole though, the a7 III is a much more well-rounded camera.

Nikon D750 Again, due to its higher-res sensor, the K-1 II produces better base ISO Raw files, but Nikon Raw files look better at higher ISO sensitivity settings. And while the Nikon's AF points cover only a bit more of the frame, 3D Tracking on the D750 is solid as a rock. The Nikon also has a faster burst rate and better battery life. Video resolution is capped at 1080p on both cameras but the D750 can shoot decent-looking 1080/60p. And while both cameras offer exceptional build quality and great weather-sealing, the Nikon is 3/4's the weight of the Pentax. That said, the K-1 II does have sensor shift, giving it a stabilization and Pixel Shift advantage over the D750.

Nikon D850 The D850 has a higher-resolution sensor and is much pricier than the K-1 II, but the Pentax offers Raw detail nearly as good as the Nikon at base ISO. However, the detail similarities slip away as the ISO increases. In terms of JPEGs, AF, video, battery life... the D850's got the K-1 II beat, which is why it remains the high-res full-frame champ, for now. Still, the D850 lacks a stabilized sensor, and doesn't offer an equivalent to the K-1 II's Pixel Shift mode.


Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category. Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Pentax K-1 Mark II
Category: Mid Range Full Frame Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Pentax K-1 II features a stabilized 36MP Full Frame sensor and one of the toughest-built bodies on the market. Jam-packed with unique features to aide those shooting under harsh conditions, we're big fans of its many control points and great ergonomics. However, its image quality offers no improvement over that of its predecessor. Its autofocus performance and video capabilities also lag greatly behind the competition.
Good for
Landscape and adventure shooters needing a camera as tough as they are. Still life and macro photographers.
Not so good for
Those wishing to photograph sports, action or active children. Video shooters. Those seeking an unobtrusive and/or light camera body.
80%
Overall score