What's new and how does it compare?

When Ricoh first launched the original K-1 in 2016 it was a huge deal – at last Pentax shooters had a full-frame digital camera to call their own. Now two years later, the K-1 II seeks to further refine the brand’s flagship full-frame offering. Glancing at a spec list, you might not notice much of a difference between these two cameras, but the K-1 II’s got a few tricks up its sleeve.

Key takeaways:

  • The camera has a new accelerator unit which acts as a pre-processor (sitting between the sensor and image processor); Ricoh says it increases the camera's signal-to-noise ratio, but it's actually just engaging noise reduction in Raw, which can't be turned off.
  • The 33-point AF system is unchanged, but AF tracking performance has been improved.
  • A new hand-held Pixel Shift mode stacks four photos into one, creating a super resolution file that can include more detail compared than a standalone file, but causes unwelcome artifacts.
  • Existing K-1 users can have their body upgraded for $550 in the US, $690 CAD in Canada, £450 in the UK and €500 in the rest of Europe. You must ship your camera to Ricoh before September 30th, 2018 to take advantage of this service.

Edited to taste in ACR.
ISO 100 | 1/320 sec | F2.8 | Pentax 24-70mm F2.8 at 58mm.


IQ and AF

The K-1 II's main addition is an 'accelerator unit,' a pre-processor that sits between the 36MP CMOS sensor and the PRIME IV image processor. Ricoh says that this pre-processor increases the signal-to-noise ratio, thus reducing overall noise. However our studio scene and independent analyses show that it is actually forcing noise reduction in Raw files, which can negatively impact the amount of detail captured as the ISO increases.

The camera's top ISO has also increased to 819,200 - a big jump from 209,400 on the original model, though you'd put hard pressed to get anything usable at that setting.

Other improvements come in the form of a tweaked AF Tracking algorithm that performs noticeably better than that of the K-1 - in our testing, the camera can actually track a subject with some success, unlike its predecessor.

Pixel Shift Resolution System II

A sample image shot using Dynamic Pixel Shift Resolution mode. Out of camera JPEG.
ISO 100 | 1/320 sec | F5.6 | Pentax Macro 50mm F2.8

Pentax's Pixel Shift suite has been updated in the K-1 II and now includes a hand-held mode called 'Dynamic Pixel Shift Resolution' - the standard tripod mode with and without motion correction are unchanged. As a refresher, these standard modes work by utilizing the IS system to shift the sensor four times in single-pixel increments.

This means that each of the original pixel positions gets sampled by a red, a blue and two green pixels. This removes the need to demosaic: you don’t have to interpolate data from the surrounding area to build up color information. The result is increased resolution, sharpness, better noise performance and the elimination of color aliasing artifacts.

The K-1 II's new hand-held pixel shift mode works differently: it relies on the photographer's natural shake or sway to shoot four slightly differently-framed images that are combined into one super resolution file. This process does not eliminate the CFA, and image quality improvements are far less noticeable than when using traditional pixel shift. It also results in some jagged artifacts. Read our detailed comparison of the two Pixel Shift modes.

Instead of using this mode, we recommend sticking to traditional pixel shift or simply creating your own super resolution photo in post using four image files.

Upgrading from a K-1

If you are a K-1 owner feeling left out by what the K-1 II gains, Pentax is offering users the chance to have their body converted for a price. Here are the details about upgrading:

Between May 21st and September 30th (in North America), K-1 owners can ship their cameras to a Ricoh service center, where the logic board will be replaced with the one found in the Mark II. Pricing for the upgrade is set at $550 in the US and $690 CAD in Canada. The upgrade will be available for the same period in Europe at a cost of £450 in the UK and €500 across the rest of Europe.

Compared to full frame rivals

The K-1 II has a body-only MSRP of just under $2000, which puts it up against other full frame cameras including the Sony a7 III and Nikon D750. Below we've compared it to those two models as well as the pricier Nikon D850, our current benchmark for full frame high-resolution DSLR's.

Pentax K-1 II Sony a7 III Nikon D750 Nikon D850
MSRP (body only) $2000 $2000 $2300 $3300
Pixel Count 36MP 24MP 24MP 46MP
Stabilization In-body In-body

Lens only Lens only
Cont. shooting rate (fps) 4.4 10 6.5 7

Rear LCD resolution

1.037M dots
/ 640 x 480
0.92M dots
/ 640 x 480
1.23M dots
/ 640 x 480

2.36M dots
/ 1024×768

Touchscreen

No Yes No Yes
Rear LCD articulation Articulating Tilt up/down Tilt up/down Tilt up/down
Viewfinder magn. 0.70x 0.78x 0.70x 0.75x
Viewfinder res (dots) N/A 2.36M N/A N/A
Highest video res 1080/30p UHD 4K/30p 1080/60p UHD 4K/30p
Max bitrate ~20 Mbps 100 Mbps ~24 Mbps ~144 Mbps
Mic / Headphn Yes / Yes Yes / Yes Yes / Yes Yes / Yes
Battery life (CIPA) 670 710/610 1230 1840
Weight (inc battery + card) 1010g 650g 740g 1005 g