Image Quality

Our latest test scene is designed to simulate both daylight and low-light shooting. Pressing the 'lighting' buttons at the top of the widget allows you to switch between the two. The daylight scene is shot with manually set white balance aimed at achieving neutral grays, but the camera is left in its Auto setting for the low-light tests (except Raw, which is manually corrected during conversion). We also offer three different viewing sizes: 'Full', 'Print', and 'Comp', with the latter two offering 'normalized' comparisons to more fairly compare cameras of differing resolutions by using matched viewing sizes. The 'Comp' option chooses the largest-available resolution common to the cameras being compared.

Raw

At high-ISOs the K-1 performs on par or better than its peers, such as the Nikon D810, with results comparable to the Sony a7r II. It even out performs the D810 in ISO's that exceed 6400 which is very impressive for a camera at this price point. The low light performance performance of the K-1 is surprisingly nearly on par with 645Z. When comparing the K-1 to full frame cameras at its price point such as the Sony a7 ii, the camera out performs its competition in nearly every aspect. The K-1 does experience some aliasing, but that can be alleviated by using the anti-aliasing setting or shooting in the Pixel Shift shooting modes.

JPEG

The out of camera JPEGs don't fair nearly as well as the RAWs. The noise reduction at high ISOs seems to be quite restrained- so details are retained but the noise is still very evident. The default JPEG sharpening is fairly minimal as well, so the images can appear a bit soft. It should be noted that this can be adjusted and fine tuned using the different sharpening settings available on the K-1 and that turning the default noise reduction settings off can improve the JPEG quality as well (thanks to Pentax forum user left eye for the suggested settings). The colors are pleasing and the skin tones are quite nice, but can appear slightly muted and look very much like the results from the D810. It's also worth noting that greens and reds tend to lean toward an iridescent color profile. With the Pixel Shift modes and the outstanding Raw performance, the K-1 begs to be shot in Raw to really take full advantage of the camera's 36MP full-frame sensor.

Pixel Shift

It's worth calling out in particular one of the major highlights of the K-1: its Pixel Shift Resolution mode that debuted in the APS-C format K-3 II last spring.

The K-1's Pixel Shift Resolution mode takes four consecutive shots and moves the sensor by a single pixel each time. This means that each of the original pixel positions gets sampled by a red, a blue and two green pixels. This has a few major benefits. First, it removes the need to demosaic: you don’t have to interpolate data from the surrounding area to build up color information, which leads to less color aliasing. It also brings a modest increase in resolution because you're sampling luminance information at every pixel position and not effectively blurring it by borrowing it from surrounding pixels. The increased resolution can easily be seen by looking at the color resolution targets, or looking at the text in the center of the studio scene, which shows no aliasing and can be read down to the very last line.

Another benefit to Pixel Shift is better noise performance: because you’re taking four shots, the camera essentially captures four times as much light, which decreases relative shot noise contributions. The decreased noise levels lead to better high ISO performance, and increased dynamic range.

There's yet another benefit to Pixel Shift: the camera locks up the mechanical shutter and mirror, and uses a fully electronic shutter instead. This removes any risk of vibrations that might be caused by the mechanical shutter. For example, there's a very tiny amount of blur in single shot mode at 1/40 sec, although it's near-imperceptible without a direct comparison to a sharper, Pixel Shift image.