Our latest test scene simulates both daylight and low light shooting. Pressing the 'lighting' buttons at the top of the widget switches between the two. The daylight scene is manually white balanced to give neutral grays, but the camera is left in its Auto setting for the low-light tests. Raw files are manually corrected. We offer three different viewing sizes: 'Full', 'Print', and 'Comp', with the latter two offering 'normalized' comparisons by using matched viewing sizes. The 'Comp' option chooses the largest-available resolution common to the cameras being compared.

JPEG

At base ISO, not much seems to have changed from the K-3 II. Historically we've found we much prefer the camera's 'Natural' Custom Image mode to the default 'Bright' setting, so have shot using that. The default sharpening can still be mushy, especially when compared to the much better efforts of the competition. Thankfully, there is the (sort of difficult to find) ability to switch to 'Fine' or 'Extra' sharpening in the 'Custom Image' menu for better fine detail (we'd suggest Fine +1).

Color offers something a bit different than the competition. Reds for the Pentax are a bit more magenta than Nikon's offering, and green ends up a bit too cool for our liking (though not as blue-shifted as Sony). Yellows are slightly desaturated and green, but aren't as off as Sony's unpleasant green-tinted yellows.

While the much-hyped ISO 819,200 spec is a bit outlandish and overall useless, the KP offers up extremely good high ISO JPEG performance. In fact, its noise reduction rivals the more expensive APS-C standout, the Sony a6500, although isn't applying anything as sophisticated as that's camera's context-sensitive approach. In other words, some noise is left behind, but so is a good amount of detail.

One of the major contributing factors to this performance is an updated noise reduction algorithm. It does a good job and isn't too aggressive, and doesn't cause mushy details either. It doesn't do a fantastic job with chroma noise in the background, manifesting itself as slight green or magenta tints in the shadows. That said, the updated JPEG engine leaves us impressed, which was certainly helped along by the KP's Raw performance (which also appears to employ some noise reduction).

Raw

It is at high ISOs where the KP really shines. Noise on the KP is incredibly low for an APS-C camera, besting both the K-3 II and D7200 at ISO 25,600. A jump up to ISO 51,200 widens the gap, showing the KP has a full stop better performance than its Nikon competition.

We're a bit surprised by this performance, as there was little information given to us on how Pentax actually achieved this performance. Given this sensor doesn't feature new technologies like BSI, we suspect there's some 'baking' done to the Raw files. There are clear signs of noise reduction upon further analysis of the Raw (the green channel shows blotches of no detail where other cameras do not). And this comes at a cost - sometimes decreased detail, and odd cross-hatch patterning throughout the image.

Thanks to the noise reduction, it even punches above its sensor size and price bracket, showing a similar performance to a D750, outperforming the X-T2 by nearly a stop, and coming close to the a7R II. All in all, Ricoh has done an excellent job squeezing out as much performance as possible from the KP's sensor.


Dynamic Range

Pentax cameras have always produced Raw files that cope with extreme processing well, and the KP is no exception. While there's a small cost to brightening shots taken at a low ISO versus shooting at higher ISO's, it still offers a ton of room to lift shadows, competing with the Nikon D7200 under extreme pushes.