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The advent of mirrorless has offered camera makers the chance to move beyond the film-era definitions of just how a camera should look. And few have embraced this opportunity to defy convention as enthusiastically as Pentax. For a company that makes admirably no-nonsense DSLRs, its two mirrorless offerings are both interesting expressions of creative design. The Pentax Q is easily the smallest mirrorless camera on the market, with a sensor size to match while, with the K-01, Pentax also claims the crown for the largest mirrorless camera we've yet seen.

While the K-01 may (intentionally) look un-camera-like, its combination of mirrorless design and a sensor inherited from the excellent K-5 means it shouldn't be dismissed. If the K-01 can successfully combine best-in-class image quality with a dedicated live view camera and many of the K-5's photographic features, then it'll really be the worth some attention.

The K-01 is a camera that's likely to polarize opinion at first glance. Its bulky cuboid design is an inevitable consequence of having a full-depth K-mount. Its rather toy-like buttons and switches, however, were voluntary design choices that will put some people off. Aesthetics aside, it's another consequence of using a conventional K-mount that may present the K-01 with its greatest challenge. On the one hand, the K-mount means that the camera can use a vast range of legacy and current Pentax lenses - avoiding the lens drought that early system adopters usually have to endure. On the other hand, the K-01 is a contrast-detect camera in a system designed for phase-detection autofocus, a combination that has rarely resulted in great AF speed.

Also, because the K-01 doesn't have an aperture coupling, it has no way of working out what aperture a pre-1983 (pre-KA) lens is set to. Instead you have to use the green button, which stops down the lens and sets the shutter speed to the metered value for that aperture. This isn't necessary for KA and newer lenses.

With a list price of $749/£629/€823 body-only, it's a much cheaper camera than the K-5 and, with its unconventional styling, manual focusing aids and decent video specifications, there may yet be niches for the K-01 to thrive in. And that's before you start considering how many people would like a body on which to use their existing K lenses.

The lens mount on the Pentax K-01 is compatible with all of the company's K-mount lenses, with no adapter needed.

Pentax K-01 specification highlights:

  • 16MP APS-C
  • 6 frame per second shooting
  • Built-in image stabilization
  • Lens distortion and chromatic aberration correction
  • 1080p video (30, 25 or 24)
  • Microphone socket with adjustable volume level
  • MF focus assist 'peaking'
  • Built-in HDR

Compared to the Pentax K-5

The K-01 is noticeably smaller in height than the Pentax K-5. The flat surfaces of the K-01 contrast sharply with the traditional DSLR styling of gentle contours and sloped edges.
The K-01 offers fewer rear body controls than the K-5, with a clean vertical alignment extending from the thumb dial to the Menu button. The buttons on the 4-way controller are smaller on the K-01.
This top-down view offers perhaps the clearest design distinction between the two cameras. The K-01's button arrangement reflects a purposeful use of negative space in a layout that appears designed for form, if not necessarily function.