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PENTAX K-1 Review: Should You Buy this Camera?

Pentax K-1 Review

Design - 86%
Build - 84%
Handling - 85%
Performance - 85%
Image Quality - 86%

85%

Overall Score

Ricoh’s full-frame DSLR from the Pentax K series

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PENTAX K-1 Review

Key Features

  • 2MP full-frame CMOS image sensor with no anti-aliasing filter
  • Extensive weather-sealed body
  • 2-inch 1037K dots articulated LCD display with an aspect ratio of 3:2
  • 5-axis image stabilization rated to 5 stops (CIPA standards)
  • 33-point AF system (25 cross-type)
  • 1/200 sec flash sync speed
  • PRIME IV 14-bit image processor
  • 100-204,800 ISO sensitivity
  • 86K pixel RGB metering sensor
  • 14-bit Raw recording (DNF or PEF)
  • AA filter simulation
  • Multi-shot Pixel Shift Resolution mode with Motion Correction
  • Pentaprism viewfinder with 100% frame coverage and 0.7x magnification
  • 4 fps continuous shooting (6.5 fps in APS-C crop mode)
  • 1080/30p video, built-in stereo mic
  • Built-in Wi-Fi, and GPS with electromagnetic compass and Astrotracer function

Introduction

Ricoh’s new flagship K-mount camera Pentax K-1 was made available in April 2016. The camera includes a number of new and improved features such as 5-axis SR II in-body image stabilization, an articulated LCD, a better autofocus, and an improved metering system. Even after the release of the camera, Ricoh has provided the users with free downloadable firmware updates. These updates have also added new specs like a timer for bulb mode and a night vision mode to the camera.
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Design, Build, and Handling

The Pentax K-1 is a well-designed weather-sealed camera with a nice build quality. It feels quite solid and sturdy in the hands. There is a rubberised hand grip on both the sides of the camera. There is also a rubberised thumb rest on the rear that has a nice grip which allows you to hold the camera even with one hand.

 

The mode dial on the top has almost every usual mode and also, five custom user modes. There is a switch to lock and unlock the locking mode dial. You just need to press the button in the middle to change the mode. On the right, there is a new top dial that allows you to set a new command wheel operation. For example, if the dial is set to ISO, you can have a direct access to change the ISO settings.

PENTAX K-1 Controls

The camera’s Auto ISO implementation is pretty nice that allows you to set maximum ISO and (Slow, Standard, and Fast) a rate that selects an appropriate shutter speed depending on the selected focal length. Sadly, you don’t have the option to set a particular shutter speed. Many of us will be surprised to know the fact that Pentax was the company to identify the idea of specifying the shutter speed and aperture manually. The TAv mode gives you a full exposure mode with much fewer restrictions.

The small LCD screen on the top can be illuminated which assists lights and shows you the button controls, SD memory card slot, lens mount and remote release socket. To use this feature for illuminating the rear controls, you need to keep the screen away from the camera as the LEDs are placed in the back of the LCD screen. However, these options are switched off by default but you have the option to choose the ones you wish to have switched on.

PENTAX K-1 Design

The pentaprism viewfinder is large and clear with a good visibility of information that includes dual-axis spirit levels, and the number of focus points in use. There is also a dioptre adjustment for better convenience.

The 3.2-inch fully flex-tilt display screen which is quite clear with a nice visibility and better viewing angles. There is also a bright display mode that is designed to work outdoors. The screen can be tilted up, down, left and right as per your convenience. The customizable info screen gives you a quick access to settings.

PENTAX K-1 Display

There are dual DS (UHS-I) memory card slots which can be used to save both the RAW and JPEGs separately. The built-in GPS receiver and Wi-Fi add more convenience to the camera. You also get an optional weather-sealed battery grip to enhance the battery life.

PENTAX K-1 Dual Card Slots

Performance and Image Quality

The camera features an upgraded autofocus system as compared to its predecessor, K3 II. The new AF module has 33 focus points, 25 points being cross-type. Out of these focus points, the central three offers higher precision when used with F2.8 or above lenses. And the central 25 points focus down as far as -3EV.

The 86K pixel RGB metering sensor acts as an assistant to the camera’s AF system. For example, it enables scene analysis and subject detection that helps the camera to provide accurate exposures. It also selects the appropriate AF point automatically so that the camera stays on your subject when continuous AF is in use.

I would like to mention that these improvements do not seem to be great when it is compared to a modern DSLR focusing system. Even in the AF-S mode with the center point, the autofocus is not as consistently fast as compared to most of the similarly-priced Nikon and Canon DSLRs. The focus falling behind the subject is more noticeable in AF-C mode. Moreover, the focus points are not illuminated in the optical viewfinder until the focus is locked. Therefore, you might struggle a bit to lock focus in low-lit conditions.

The moving subject AF performance is even worst. The camera struggles a lot in capturing moving subjects. The AF continues to lose and re-acquire focus throughout all our frames. Moreover, you do not have a single dedicated button to zoom in your focus point when viewing the images.

One thing we are happy to inform you that the Pentax K-1 is capable of focusing in very dark conditions. The camera performs pretty nice in AF-C mode with a better balance of focusing and taking the shot. However, the camera struggles when in AF-S mode as it has to adjust the focus over and over again. We would recommend you to set the camera to release-priority (to speed up the shutter release) if you wish to take shots in AF-S mode.

Pentax K-1 has one of the better Raw dynamic range results especially when you are shooting in single shot mode. The Pixel Shift mode produces even better results. There is much less noise and the multiple 14-bit values at every pixel give outstanding levels of dynamic range for static scenes.

The camera has an ISO range of 100-204800. The images came out to be quite sharp with a good level of details. However, noise starts to creep in at ISO6400. You can use the custom noise option that lowers the amount of noise and retains details. Although, the noise is quite grainy with a very few red, blue, and green dots at ISO12800 but the results are still usable. The noise becomes stronger at ISO25600 and therefore we recommend you to avoid this setting unless you process the Raw files and resize it to use on the web. The after-processing images shot at ISO51200 are still usable. But setting the camera at ISO102400 and ISO204800 produces unpleasant noise and the images are not usable enough even after processing.

The camera’s Auto White Balance provides warm results in tungsten lighting with the multi-area Auto White Balance giving a less warm and more accurate result. You have four fluorescent presets that mostly give a color cast. We would recommend you to use the manual white balance for better results.

The Pixel Shift Resolution mode is one of the main highlights of Pentax K-1 as it provides a huge difference to the image quality. This mode has four different exposures at single pixel increments. Moreover, the camera offers a new ‘Motion Correction’ option which is designed to provide a better final output.

The automatic ‘Horizon Correction’ option uses the clever sensor-shift technology and allows you to make the correction to the minor horizon issues. Another feature ‘AA Filter Simulator’ utilizes the sensor shake technology to marginally blur the light across more than one pixel during the exposure. There is a feature called ‘Astrotracer’ that was also available in the Pentax K-3 II.

Coming to the video, the camera is capable of recording full HD/1080p at 30fps. However, it lacks the option for 4K video recording. The autofocus and the manual focus peaking is possible before you begin your recording but is not available when the shooting is in progress. The camera has a clean HDMI output and a built-in stereo mic to record sound. You also get the options for setting the sound level, headphone volume, and wind noise reduction. But the camera has limited video tools that make the camera an average camera for those who wish to shoot videos quite often. The built-in image stabilization seems to work pretty well but the quality suffered a bit when walking along with the camera handheld.

PENTAX K-1 Connectivity

Pentax K-1 has a support for built-in Wi-Fi. For this, you need to first install the Ricoh Image Sync app that is available for both Android and iOS devices. You have to enter the password from the camera to establish the connection. But once it is done, you can download the pictures to your phone for easy editing and sharing. The app also allows you to use live view to adjust aperture, focus, and other settings directly from your smartphone. Pentax K-1 ships with a rechargeable lithium-ion D-LI90P battery that is capable of providing up to CIPA rated 760 shots and a playback time of approx 390 minutes.

Should You Buy the Pentax K-1 camera?

The Pentax K-1 is Ricoh’s flagship full-frame DSLR which is priced at $1796.95. The camera offers a wide range of features for a modest price point with new functionalities and convenience. Pentax K-1 offers some of the better dynamic range available on the market. The Pixel Shift Resolution mode adds a new Motion Correction option offering a better image quality.

The extensive weather-sealed body serves plus point for the landscape shooters. The customizable external LED lighting provides an improved low-light shooting. The camera might not please those who are mostly inclined to shooting videos. Overall, the Pentax K-1 is quite impressive and is a good value for money.

Pros

  • Excellent high-resolution image quality and dynamic range
  • Good ergonomics, handling, and weather-sealing with temperature resistance
  • JPEG settings can be controlled extensively
  • 5-axis image stabilization
  • Wide sensitivity range
  • Decent performance with fast AF and good low-light capabilities
  • Sensor shift shooting modes
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and GPS
  • Good value for money

Cons

  • Heavy as compared to APS-C flagships
  • Slow start up and buffer clearing
  • Continuous AF is not up to the contemporary standards
  • Absence of a dedicated AF point selector
  • Limited use for Pixel Shift Resolution shooting modes
  • Focus control in video mode is not as good as compared to its counterparts
  • Average battery life

 

 

About Richard Smith

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