The autofocus hardware in the Pentax K-1 II is unchanged from its predecessor, however the camera benefits from a new tracking algorithm.

Key takeaways:

  • AF subject tracking shows improvements over the K-1, but still lags in reliability behind similar models from Sony and Nikon.
  • The K-1 II uses the same 33 point AF system as the K-1. AF Points are concentrated toward the center of the frame. By 2018 standards AF point coverage is quite limited.
  • The camera has the same 86K-pixel RGB metering sensor as the K-1, which aides in subject recognition during tracking.
  • AF points barely light up (and not until focus is confirmed) making it difficult to see your chosen point of focus in dark environments.
  • The K-1 II can focus in very low light - the central points are rated to -3 EV - however focus speed can be very slow when using AF-S. Stick to AF-C in the dark for best results.

In depth

The K-1 II's AF module, called SAFOX 12, is the same as that of the K-1. It comprises 33 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. The camera's 86K-pixel RGB metering sensor is also the same as the K-1.

The K-1 II's AF point coverage is limited by 2018 standards.

AF point coverage on the K-1 II feels quite limited by today's standards, especially given cameras like the a7 III offer 693 phase detect points with 93% coverage.

AF points also do not illuminate until focus is confirmed, at which point they glow red, but barely. This can make it really hard to shoot with the K-1 II in low light, despite its -3EV sensitivity rating for central points. You can see an example of AF point illumination in our close-range AF demo at the bottom of this page. Best practice in our opinion is to illuminate the AF point red as soon as you half-press the shutter (or AF-On) as well as when focus is achieved.

Low light shooting

Low light AF performance from the K-1 II is unchanged compared to the K-1. If you are shooting in a dark environment using AF-S (default settings) the K-1 is often reliably able to acquire precise focus (even on very low contrast subjects), but you may wish to switch the camera to AF-C, or set up AF-S for release-priority, to speed up shutter release. Do note, this can sometimes come at the cost of accuracy, with the camera potentially firing when focus hasn't yet been perfectly achieved.

Depth Tracking

Our first demonstration looks at how well the K-1 II can assess depth and refocus on a subject well-separated from the background, moving toward the camera. This demo, along with the following bike test were done at the camera's max burst speed of 4.4 fps using the Pentax 70-200mm F2.8 at 200mm, F2.8.

In short, we're not seeing a ton of improvement when it comes to depth tracking compared to the Pentax K-1. It seems the K-1 II knows where focus needs to be, but struggles to keep up with the movement of the cyclist.

Subject tracking

Next up is our weaving demonstration which looks at how the camera handles a subject moving in an irregular pattern. To enable the camera's subject tracking mode for this test, we set the camera's AF area mode to: Select Area Large. This puts all 33 points in play for tracking purposes. And users can pick which individual point they want to use as their starting point.

The results of this test are encouraging. Though this represents one of the more successful runs from our bike testing, we must give credit: the K-1 II can track far more successfully than the K-1, which utterly failed this test.

However, though it is improved, the hit rate still lags behind what we've come to expect from cameras in this class. That said, missed shots again seem to be a result of focus not being able to keep up, rather than subject tracking confusion.

Close-up AF

This final AF test is meant to demonstrate performance when photographing in a casual social situation under dim lighting, like at a bar or restaurant. The K-1 II has no Face Detect feature so we used the same subject tracking mode as the test above.

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We tested the original K-1 before this test become protocol in all reviews. But if the bike test is any indictor, the K-1 also would have struggled here. The K-1 II however did ok. To be fair, we tested it at F2.8 (due to lenses available) when we ordinarily test Full Frame cameras at F1.4.

That said, if you watch the video above, you'll notice the camera's AF points (I know they're hard to see) are actually doing a pretty good job sticking to our subject as the photographer moves around. At no point does the camera seem to get really tripped up and lose our subjects, though the point does often lag, sometimes disappearing briefly altogether. If you click into the gallery you'll notice four or five images with missed focus, or focus that is somewhat close to correct but not bang-on. It's also worth noting that initial acquisition and confirmation is relatively slow compared to the competition.