Pros Cons
  • Excellent image quality and dynamic range
  • High resolution imaging capabilities (Pixel Shift Resolution)
  • Extensive control over JPEG settings
  • Well designed ergonomics, handling and a large, useful LCD screen
  • Unique and innovative external LED lighting
  • Extensive weather sealing and temperature resistance
  • 5-axis In-Body Image Stabilization
  • Sensor Shift Shooting Modes (Pixel Shift, Astrotracer, Horizon Correction and AA Filter Simulation)
  • Utilizes all K-mount lenses
  • Price Point
  • Hesitant Single-AF acquisition
  • Continuous-AF not up to contemporary standards
  • No dedicated AF point selector (though it can be set as four-way default)
  • Limited modern full-frame lens selection
  • Limited uses for Pixel Shift Resolution shooting modes (static environments)
  • Limited Raw support for Pixel Shift Files
  • Low-spec video and limited focus control in video mode
  • Nested menu layout
  • Limited control customization
  • Poor default JPEG settings

Overall Conclusion

The Pentax K-1 is Ricoh's flagship full-frame DSLR. It offers a wide range of features for a modest price of just under $1800. The K-1 provides flashes of Pentax's past with its unique styling, while still offering the functionality and performance of modern day full frame DSLRs. The AF system has seen an upgrade from the K3 II and the Pixel Shift Resolution technology now offers a Motion Correction setting.

The K-1 also offers some of best dynamic range on the market (falling just short of the Nikon D810 at base ISO) and the image quality is some of the best offered at this price point even before implementing the Pixel Shift shooting modes.

This scene taken during a recent Seattle Mariners' game had a fairly large dynamic range and I was able to recover the shadows with no issues in post. No Pixel Shift modes enabled. Edited to taste in Adobe LR.

HD Pentax D FA 24-70mm F2.8 ED SDM WR @24mm. 24mm, ISO 200, F4.5, 1/50th

For existing Pentax shooters this camera comes with the added bonus of being able to utilize all of your existing K-mount lenses (with some limitations). Landscape shooters will love the extensive weather sealing, Astrotracer feature to track the stars, horizon correction and the customizable external LED lighting. The K-1 doesn't come without its quirks and frustrations, but at this price point you are getting a lot of camera for your money.

Body and Handling

The K-1 is very comfortable to shoot with on a daily basis thanks in large part to the generous grip that Pentax designed. Exposure parameters are easily adjusted on the fly, and the large 3.2" articulating viewfinder makes shooting in tricky conditions a great deal easier. The unique external LED lighting is a well thought out added bonus that makes shooting in low light conditions a lot less frustrating. The weather sealing is very comprehensive and the camera body itself can really take a beating from all of the elements that mother nature can throw at it.

The K-1 is very aesthetically pleasing and the body offers great functionality to go with the styling.

Settings and Menu Navigation

Adjusting the aperture, ISO and shutter speed while shooting in manual mode is actually really quite easy once you've got the layout figured out; you can easily adjust each of these settings with one hand and with minimal effort, thanks to the three dedicated dials.

Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO can all be adjusted easily using the command dials and respective buttons found on the K1.

The menus themselves, however, can be a bit cumbersome to navigate through due to their nested design logic. A handful of the main settings (Pixel Shift modes, AF settings, Raw/JPEG settings etc.) are easily accessed through the first main camera menu heading, but others are buried in subfolders found within the main pages. The illumination settings, for instance, take a bit of digging to find; that's one of the settings that I wish they would have added to the first main menu. That said, once configured, the lighting has a dedicated button on the top plate, so turning the LEDs on and off is a breeze.

This 'light bulb' setting allows users to easily toggle the external LED lighting off and on once you have configured the areas you wish to be illuminated.

It's also worth noting that the Live-view image preview is extremely soft, so manually focusing without Focus Peaking enabled can be a very tricky ordeal. Getting things pin-sharp is critical with the K-1's large 36MP sensor, and even more so when the Pixel Shift shooting modes are enabled.

Autofocus

While the AF system of the K-1 can't keep up with some of its peers, it is an improvement over previous Pentax DSLRs.

Single point AF-C, which we expect DSLRs to excel at, proved to be highly inconsistent and failed about half of the time, while subject tracking proved to be even more problematic in our bike test- failing more than 85% of the time. Another point of frustration was the fact that the focus points aren't illuminated in the viewfinder until focus is confirmed, which makes it hard to even find your AF point to know where to place it in low light conditions. This can be remedied, somewhat, If you press the focus mode button (on the side of the body) while you are focusing. All of the active AF points (1, 9, 25 or 33 depending on your settings) and the entire screen inside the view finder will be illuminated in red. The lack of a dedicated AF point switch definitely made moving the focus point more tedious. The K-1 is a rated at a modest 4.4fps shooting rate (6.5fps in APS-C), which places it slightly below competitors like the Sony a7 II.

It's also worth mentioning that the battery life is rated at 760 shots per charge which, while better than full-frame mirrorless models, falls behind most full-frame DSLRs.

Subject tracking is definitely the biggest challenge for the 33-point AF system in the K-1. It failed nearly 85% of the time in our testing and made no attempt at re-acquisition (fell to back focusing and hunting in most cases) once subject focus was lost.

HD Pentax D FA* 70-200mm f/2.8 ED DC AW

Image Quality

Image Quality is where the K-1 definitely outshines the majority of its competition at this price point, with the camera giving one of the best Raw dynamic range results we've ever seen, falling just short of the industry-leading Nikon D810. Low light Raw image quality is a match for just about anything on the market, falling just short of the class-leading Sony a7R II.

Unfortunately, the out-of-camera JPEGs don't fare quite as well as the Raws: the images are soft due to lack of sharpening (default settings), and very conservative noise reduction at high ISO sensitivities means that while detail is retained, images remain fairly noisy. The camera does offer different sharpening modes for JPEGs and turning off the default noise reduction does improve the overall JPEG quality, so it's worth some experimentation. The colors are pleasing, though greens and reds can appear rather garish, so we'd tend to use the 'Natural' Image Finishing Tone, rather than the default 'Bright' setting. There are also two options for increasing dynamic range in the JPEG files.

This is a Pixel Shift exposure taken with Motion Correction turned on. This was processed in SilkyPix and Adobe LR.

HD Pentax D FA 24-70mm F2.8 ED SDM WR @70mm, ISO 100, F8, 1/640th

And, while single shot image quality is extremely good, it becomes absolutely outstanding in circumstances where you can use the Pixel Shift mode. This mode is a bit limited though as moving scene elements can cause artifacts, even after the camera's attempts at correction, leaving them useful exclusively for tripod-based work. Studio photographers may be frustrated by the fact that the Pixel Shift shooting modes cannot be used in conjunction with flash, so they will need to utilize continuous lighting to get the most out of the shooting mode. It should also be noted that Raw support for Pixel Shift files somewhat limited right now to SilkyPix and a handful of other converters.

Lens Availability

If the K-1 has one weakness that may keep some non-Pentax shooters from jumping on board; it's high quality full-frame lens availability. There are a number of old Pentax K mount lens options on the market but modern full frame lenses are lacking. It's also worth noting that some older K-mount lenses risk being shown-up by the 36MP sensor, especially in the Pixel Shift shooting modes, where the resolution demands placed upon them are significantly higher than would ever have been made by film.

Ricoh is in the process of addressing this issue and has promised that a number of FF lenses will be released, but they have a long ways to go to catch up to Canon and Nikon in that regard. Sigma also currently has its 35mm F1.4 Art prime (although you'll want to get your lens updated by Sigma) available in K-mount as well and it sounds as though more may be on the way. Only time will tell.

Video Performance

The video capabilities in the K1 are a bit on the modest side compared to other cameras at this price point. The K-1 includes Full HD/1080p recording capability at 30/fps. In movie mode the K-1 switches to contrast detection autofocus only.

These are the very limited AF settings that you have to choose from. Keep in mind that the majority of these settings will not work while recording is taking place.

Autofocus is possible before movie capture, but only manual focus is available while recording- meaning that full-time AF is not available while in recording mode. Manual focus peaking can be used before you begin shooting to dial in your focusing, but the feature is disabled while recording is in progress. Clean HDMI output is also unavailable on the K-1; couple that with limited video support tools and it's clear that video isn't the K-1's strong suite.

The Final Word

The K-1's 36MP full-frame sensor offers some of the best dynamic range and image quality available on the market, with results falling just short of the class-leading Nikon D810 in typical shooting, yet exceeding it in Pixel Shift mode. That's very impressive in and of itself, but couple that with a price point of below $2000 and you're really getting a lot of camera for the money. The wide range of features, extensively weather sealed body and the ability to utilize Pixel Shift resolution shooting modes when conditions allow for it make the K-1 an impressive offering for landscape photographers. The unique exterior LED lighting and clever sensor shift features such as the Astrotracer and horizon correction definitely show a great deal of innovation on Ricoh's part and cement its status as an excellent bargain.

Reflection Lakes, Mt. Rainier National Park, WA

Pentax HD PENTAX-D FA 15-30mm f/2.8 ED SDM WR Lens @22mm, ISO 100, F9, 1/400th

Photo: Chris Williams

Overall the K-1 is an impressive feature packed full-frame DSLR that comes at a bargain price. However, the lack of a proficient AF system, mediocre video performance and the limited high quality full-frame lens selection really make this camera suitable for a relatively small portion of buyers in the full-frame DSLR market. As such, it misses out on a Gold award. With that said, the K-1 is well suited to serve enthusiast, landscape, still life and some studio photographers with outstanding image quality and a number of fantastic features that simply can't be matched at this price point.

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
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 is a 36MP fully weather sealed, image stabilized full-frame DSLR that offers an enormous amount of features at a bargain price. Although the autofocus system fails to catch up with some of its peers the image quality that the K-1 offers is some of the best on the market and users will enjoy the ability to utilize the K-1's clever sensor shift technology.
Good for
Landscape photography, Full Frame DSLR buyers on a budget, still life and macro photographers, existing Pentax shooters
Not so good for
Sporting event photography, photographing moving subjects (e.g. children), wildlife photography, those with specialized lens needs
84%
Overall score

Sample Gallery

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Pentax K-1 Sample Image Gallery

68 images • Posted on May 23, 2016 • View album
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