Thursday , April 18 2024
Are you wanting to try out one of the new mirrorless cameras?

Product Review – K-01 From Pentax

The K-01 is the latest mirrorless camera offering from Pentax. The sensor is larger than the Pentax Q, and, because this camera is based on the sensor that came with the Pentax K-5, it really means that the Pentax K-01 should not be overlooked as a serious camera when comparing to the world of the DLSRs. The K-01 has a very stylish design that comes in three colors as well as having HD video capability.

The Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera (MILC) is the fastest growing sector in camera technology and design. While mirriorless cameras have been around since 2009, they really began take off in 2011. The MILC is somewhat of a hybrid between the compact digital cameras which have no interchangeable lenses, and the Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera which does have the ability to change lenses, but uses a set of mirrors which, by default, make for a larger camera body.

What mirrorless technology brings is the ability to have interchangeable lenses, but with a much more compact body design. The sensor size on a MILC is generally smaller than that of full size sensor on a DSLR, but also larger than a Point and Shoot (P&S) camera thus providing more of the quality of a DSLR, but more of the size of the P&S.

The other thing to consider when looking at mirrorless cameras is that you no longer have a viewfinder to look through. Instead you now look on the LCD on the back of the camera to frame your shot. This can take some getting used to for those who have use a viewfinder for any stretch of time. Some cameras provide a look through viewfinder, but the K-01 does not.

The Pentax K-01, along with having a sensor based on the Pentax K-5, is capable of capturing 16.28-megapixel images and as well as 1080p video. It has an APS-C sensor and unique in its design is that it is able to use the standard Pentax K-mount lenses. This makes the body thicker than many of its rivals, but unlike its rivals who have chosen to create a whole new system of lenses, the K-01 gives you the ability to reuse your existing lenses.

The camera itself has a chunky feel to it – this comes from its thicker body which results from the distance it needed for the use of existing lenses, but this also gives it its very solid feel. The size of the camera is 4.8 x 3.1 x 2.3 inches and weighs in at 19.8 ounces. It comes with a 40mm prime lens that is incredibly thin and weighs in at 1.8 ounces.

The Pentax K-01 was developed in conjunction with renowned designer Mark Newson who “wanted to come back to the roots of quality of the brand and try to create something which was really unique, and which was very iconic too”. The body itself is of solid metal, but it has a rubberized grip that makes it feel firm in the hands. Its chunkiness adds to this feel but this also makes it easy for the dials and buttons to be presented in good locations with respect to holding the camera. One of the colors that the camera comes in is Newson’s iconic yellow as well.

Using the Pentax K-01

As I said, the Pentax K-01 does not have an electronic viewfinder nor does it have an option to add one as some other camera models. There is a large 920k-dot display on the back of the camera which is very bright, crisp, and clear, but it is also fixed in place and does not have the option to tilt. This requires you to hold it out to get the composition and during certain conditions such as in extreme sun, can sometimes cause challenges.

After getting use to the lack of viewfinder, you quickly find that it has a good weight and balance that makes it feel steady in your hands. The rubberized grips that surround the left and right sides make it feel like you are holding something securely. There is a nice little indent on the front side of the camera that allows you to hold it with three fingers and have your thumb support the back, and your index finger to snap the shutter in a one handed mode.

It uses SD, SDHC, SDXC (UHS Speed Class 1 supported) memory and this is inserted on the right side of the camera by pulling back the rubberized coating to expose the memory slot as well as a receptacle for a pc/av cable as well as an HDMI cable. Once open, you just pull back a small cap to expose the slot, slide in the card, replace the cap, replace the cover and you’re good to go.

There are a series of controls on the back including a menu button where you can manage most of your settings from the display. The menu contains five tabs with a varying amount of information to work with. The first tab is the camera tab where you have the ability to set image capture settings, AE Metering, noise reduction, shake reduction, instant review, and more.

The second tab controls your movie capture settings, sound levels, and the type of exposure settings. The third tab controls your playback settings such as slideshow, zoom, rotation, and deleting of images. The fourth tab handles global setting such as language, time, LCD display, copyright information, power settings, and formatting of your card. The final tab manages custom function capabilities like EV steps, Bulb mode options, white balance when using flash, shake reduction options, and more.

There are additional buttons on the back of the camera including the play back button which allows you to view your photos and videos on the LCD screen, the info button which displays the control panel with the first push and the type of info display on the LCD with the second push. There is the four way control which provides navigational movement as well as setting ISO, time delay, multiple shots, and more.

On the top of the camera are your shutter release mechanisms, your main power switch, mode dial, green function button, pop-up flash button, E-dial which sets the shutter speed, aperture, and EV compensation values. Next to it is the AV button which controls the E-dial, and the red button which controls the recording of movies as well as being able to be assigned a custom function as well.

The Internals of the Pentax K-01

As I said before the sensor is based on the K-5 sensor which is a good thing since the K-5 provided really high quality photographic results. It is an APS-C sized (23.7 x 15.7 mm) RGB CMOS chip which is what is used in all of the Pentax DSLRs as well. The effective resolution is 16.28 megapixels and offers an image resolution of 4928 x 3264 pixels at 3:2 aspect ratios. There are also three other aspect ratios – 4:3, 16:9, and 1:1 which can affect the resolution as well.

The image processor is totally new in the K-01. Called “PRIME M” this is Pentax Real Image Engine which replaces the PRIME II which has been around for a while. This new engine was created to ensure high quality movie recording performance in a digital interchangeable lens camera while offering a very wide sensitivity range from ISO 100 – 12800 – even to 25600 when expanded to its max via a custom function.

While not up to par with the company’s DSLRs, the burst mode shooting is rated at six-frames per second in JPEG mode in continuous high mode, three-frames per second in low mode, and based on my tests with using high quality RAW I could knock out six shots in about five seconds before the writing of data to the card slowed things down. One thing to note is that the K-01 is very quiet while shooting in burst mode.

The K-01 is a contrast detect camera which is not a speedy method of autofocus, but for the most part I would not consider it slow and in bright light it can really be pretty snappy. This is the same kind of system that almost all mirrorless systems use and it requires data that is provided by the image sensor. It has an EV range of around 1 to 18 at ISO 100. It offers single, face detection, and tracking autofocus. You can also focus manually as well.

Other features that are included in the K-01 include shake reduction, sensor cleaning, and dust removal. There is also a 1024 segment metering system that has a working range of EV -1 to 21 at ISO 100. It can be center-weighted as well as used for spot metering. On the back there is a dedicated AF/AE-L button that allows you to lock the metered exposure.

The exposure modes offered contain the standard Program, Manual, Bulb, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes, but there are also and HDR mode, Flash off mode, and a Movie mode. Also included are a large number of scene modes including Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sunset, Pet, Moving Object, Blue Sky, Forest, Night Scene, Night Scene HDR, Night Snap, Food, Kids, and more.

The shutter itself is an electronically controlled unit that is capable of up to 1/4000 of a second and a minimum of 30 second – there is also the bulb mode when longer times are required. White balance has a number of presets including Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Warm Florescent, Cool Florescent, Tungsten, and more.

The movie capabilities are similar to the Pentax Q in that it records videos with the H.264/MPEG-4 AVC compression. It is able to capture full HD video (1,080p; 1920 x 1080 pixel) at a rate of 30 frames per second with the option to also capture at 25 (the rate of the K-5) as well as 24 FPS. Two other resolutions are also available in 720P (1280 x720 pixel), and VGA (640 x 480).

You also have the ability to capture in program mode, aperture priority, or shutter priority modes as well. You can create time-lapse movies where you can set the interval from 1 second to 1 hour per frame and a recording time from 4 seconds to 99 hours. You can record audio from the built in microphone or plug in your own into the stereo mic jack.

The Pentax K-01 uses the D-LI90 lithium-ion battery which is the same battery that the K-5 and K-7 uses. I found that there was no problem with battery life between charges for me. The rating is around 500 shots with 50% flash usage and 320 minutes of playback. I went out on a 3 hour photo walk with the camera as one of my tests and after 300 shots (no flash) I still had more than half the charge.


So what did I think of the Pentax K-01? Overall, I liked it. I liked the fact that there are a lot of existing lenses that can be used with it (I have heard numbers that exceed 200). This means that you, especially if you are a Pentax user, get to upgrade a high quality camera, and not have to invest a ton into new lenses.

The lens that came with the Pentax K-01 is a 40mm f/2.8 produces images that are sharp, crisp, and clear. The ISO levels using JPEG are really great all the way up to ISO 3200 with very little noise that is noticeable. At ISO 6400 you can begin to notice some noise and loss of detail. If you shoot RAW, this doesn’t happen until ISO 12800 and so you can get really great images even in really low light.

The video and recording capabilities are really good as well. There are some features that I wish were there such as continuous autofocus for video – you can hit a button to refocus or manually refocus, but this is slow and cumbersome, but the quality of the video itself is extremely good. If you use the autofocus – or in Aperture or Shutter priority modes, the sound of the lens can clearly be heard on the audio track so for these situations it would be best to use an external microphone.

I tried out three different lenses with the K-01. The first was with a Tamron SP AF 28-75 f/2.8, the second was a Samsung D-Xenon 18-55 f/3.6-5.6, and the third was a Promaster EDO AF LD 70-300 f/4-5.6 LD Macro AF Zoom. All three worked great with the camera and took very clear images.

I was extremely pleased with the very high quality lens that comes with the kit, the ISO capabilities, the compatibility with existing lens, and overall pleased with the video. My biggest problems were with the lack of continuous autofocus on the video, and the fixed rear LCD. Also, a little thing, was the lens cap is a rubber device the snaps on, but I felt that it could easily be bumped off and lost without much problem. It never happened but it had me concerned.

I understand that for some, the goal in a mirrorless camera is having a smaller body size while still being able to have additional lenses. To me that goal may be a worthy one in some cases, but should not be the only goal. I think that this new technology is a trend toward what may become a new standard in photographic technology and that means that it should not be limited to smaller cameras. I would like to see this technology move toward full frame sensors and so I personally like the direction that Pentax took with the K-01. My personal opinion is that if you want to try out this new mirrorless technology and especially if you are a Pentax user with existing K-mount lenses, then I really have to highly recommend this camera.

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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