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Pentax K-01 Quick Review

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by stratokaster, May 12, 2012.

  1. stratokaster

    stratokaster SC Top Veteran

    886
    Dec 27, 2010
    Kiev, Ukraine
    Pavel
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    I understand that Pentax fans will hate me for this post, so I think it's important to emphasize that I am, in fact, really partial to Pentax. When I was younger I used to borrow my father's Canons, but the first SLR I bought with my own money was a Pentax. I was a Pentax user for several years and I was always fascinated by the quality of their lenses and their non-standard approach to camera design. I still think that Pentax has simply the best lens line-up for serious amateur shooters wanting the highest possible image quality without the excessive bulk and weight associated with full-frame cameras.

    However, they were late to the mirrorless party and their first entry — the Q — was nothing more than a glorified point-and-shoot selling for a ridiculous price. (I think it's worth to remember that Pentax was late to the DSLR party as well, and this delay contributed significantly to the company's decline.) Finally, almost a year later, they launched what can be considered the first REAL Pentax mirrorless — the K-01. This time Pentax wisely judged that they don't have enough resources to support yet another lens mount and made the K-01 fully compatible with the company's venerable K-mount, making it a compelling option (on paper, at least) for existing owners of Pentax lenses, both modern and legacy. What's more, the camera has the same excellent sensor as the flagship Pentax K-5, which makes it even more attractive.

    Body and design

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    Pentax hired famous designer Mark Newson to create the body of the K-01, and the final result is highly controversial. I think the K-01 is the most frequently bashed camera in the world simply because it looks different to other cameras. As for me, I quite like its boxy appearance, especially the bumblebee-colored version. And the camera feels very well made, too. Its body is entirely covered in metal with some rubber parts. All the switches and dials have a very solid feeling to them.

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    The K-01 is quite big. In its thickest part it's certainly thicker than the Panasonic GH2, which previously held the title of the biggest mirrorless camera in the world. Compared to the diminutive Panasonic GF2, the K-01 looks almost comically huge. The camera is also heavy for a mirrorless design: it weighs just 10 grams (about 1/3 oz) less than the company's entry level DSLR, the K-r.

    As nice as the K-01 body is, I have 2 problems with it. First of all, it has almost no handgrip. I have fairly large hands, but for me the smaller Panasonic GH2 is more comfortable to hold than the Pentax K-01. The second problem is that the rubber flap that covers the ports on the right-hand side of the camera is awful. Once opened, it's rather difficult to close, and it also manages to work itself loose every time I get the camera from my bag. Needless to say, this is quite annoying.

    The screen is the same VGA TFT panel used in the Pentax K-r. It's nice and sharp, but it has severe problems with visibility in broad daylight, even at the maximum brightness. Many of the photos I took with the K-01 featured uneven horizon or suboptimal composition simply because I could not see what exactly I am photographing.

    The kit lens

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    The K-01 is sold with the SMC-DA 40mm f/2.8 XS (eXtra Small?) lens, which is probably the most 'pancakish' pancake lens ever. It's absurdly thin and looks more like a body cap. Optically it's identical to the highly-regarded DA40 Limited lens. I can't say that I'm enamored with its focal length (the 60mm FOV is rather weird) or F-number (f/2.8 is not that fast by any standard), but at least this lens manages to disguise the true size of the camera. Oh, by the way, the rubber lens cap is as annoying as the aforementioned rubber flap on the camera itself.

    And, of course, the moment you mount any zoom lens on the camera, it becomes really huge.

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    Controls and menus

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    The menus and controls of the K-01 are essentially identical to those of the K-r. They are nicely done, all buttons are comfortable to reach. (Hint for Kai Wong of DigitalRev: don't try to press the green button with your index finger, use your thumb instead.) Compared to the Panasonic GH2 and even to the GF2, the menus are a bit sparse (meaning that the K-01 doesn't have as many options), but everything important is there.

    [​IMG]

    Shooting with the Pentax K-01

    I hate to admit it, but shooting with the Pentax K-01 is an exercise in frustration. No, the camera is not as clumsy as Sigma DP series (after all, Pentax is a much more mature camera company), but in many respects it is one of the worst cameras I have ever used.

    Let's start with the AF performance. I have only two words to describe it, and those two words are 'pain' and 'misery.' According to Imaging-Resource.com, focus acquisition times in most cases are close to a full second, and I'd say this is most certainly true. In low light the camera focuses even slower. Another problem is that the smallest size of the AF area is not small at all, and the camera happily focuses on anything that falls within the AF frame — just not on the object you want it to focus on. Another thing to consider: if you're shooting near the minimum focusing distance of the lens, the AF system sometimes produces false positives. The camera beeps and the AF frame turns green, but the image is visibly misfocused. And finally, most Pentax lenses (including all DA and FA Limiteds) don't have built-in focusing motors and are driven mechanically from the camera body. Such lenses make really scary sounds when they are focusing.

    [video=youtube;X-zH0D8kWVk]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-zH0D8kWVk[/video]

    I've seen an argument that the AF performance should be better with CDAF-optimized lenses. This is probably true, but the ugly truth is that Pentax currently has 0 (zero) CDAF-optimized lenses, nobody knows when such lenses will be announced and how many of them (if any) we will see during the lifetime of the camera.

    Manual focus has its share of problems as well. The camera has both 'focus peaking' and on-screen magnification. However, there is one big gotcha: in bright light the camera randomly stops down the aperture (probably to maintain a well-exposed live view image) making it difficult to assess both focus and depth of field.

    Another problem with the K-01 is the speed of continuous shooting, or lack thereof. As a RAW shooter, I was unpleasantly surprised by 1 (one) fps continuous shooting speed.

    I was also not pleased by the K-01's exposure meter. It's simply not consistent enough to be reliable: the camera both over- and underexposes as it sees fit. On more than one occasion I got shots like this:

    [​IMG]

    Or this:

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    I can also say with confidence that my own Panasonic GH2, while not having the awesome dynamic range of the K-01, consistently did a much better job of squeezing tough scenes into the dynamic range of its sensor, which speaks volumes about how unreliable the metering of the Pentax K-01 is. This is a bigger issue than it should be partly because the screen is so difficult to see in the sunlight.

    Ok, enough grumbling, let's say something positive for a change.

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    The K-01 uses the same battery as K-5 and K-7. This battery is very big and has almost twice the capacity of the Panasonic GH2 battery. In my experience, battery life of the K-01 is awesome. The camera easily has the longest battery life of all the mirrorless cameras out there.

    Another nice touch is the shutter sound. It's very soft, much softer and nicer than the shutter sound of the Panasonic GH2.

    Image quality

    As frustrating as the K-01 is, its image quality is nothing short of spectacular. DNG files produced by this camera show exquisite color and very smooth tonal gradation. The richness and delicacy of the images is truly remarkable.

    Surprisingly, while the high ISO performance (ISO 3200 and higher) is better than the GH2, the difference is only about half a stop which is less than I expected. It's at the lower ISOs (100-800) where the K-01 is miles ahead of the GH2, let alone the GF2.

    Interestingly, the images from the K-01 (both DNGs and JPEGs) require an ungodly amount of sharpening before actually looking sharp. But once properly sharpened, they really shine.

    Some sample images from the K-01 (mostly shot on my recent trip to Istanbul):

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    Full size: http://photo.torba.com/images/pavel.urusov/f/UmeQrKuf1vMcSKoznpwr.jpg

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    Full size: http://photo.torba.com/images/pavel.urusov/f/3eq6jZZgy7yabgIhHS2x.jpg

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    Full size: http://photo.torba.com/images/pavel.urusov/f/hSKt5HMHVLG3OoOkzLLI.jpg

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    Full size: http://photo.torba.com/images/pavel.urusov/f/HMm94NqpURpAoI0B6lEd.jpg

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    Full size: http://photo.torba.com/images/pavel.urusov/f/yvmEDxKSW0Wn7jnHwNEg.jpg

    pDHKBbkHbQOYmQrt8SHN.
    Full size: http://photo.torba.com/images/pavel.urusov/f/pDHKBbkHbQOYmQrt8SHN.jpg

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    Full size: http://photo.torba.com/images/pavel.urusov/f/D5rpaQDAX5tXwoSQOdLv.jpg

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    Full size: http://photo.torba.com/images/pavel.urusov/f/lHaaB35253IjklDr7L5W.jpg

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    Full size: http://photo.torba.com/images/pavel.urusov/f/oxz5cbXtIy2F7UxuW4vg.jpg

    Final words

    The Pentax K-01 is a very controversial camera. I like its unusual appearance and love its image quality, but shooting with it proved to be frustrating. Compared to modern mirrorless cameras from Panasonic, Olympus, Sony, Nikon or Samsung the K-01 is slow and clunky. It feels unnecessarily crude, almost like something from the Stone Age.

    It is also worth noting that the K-01 does not have the flexibility of other mirrorless cameras in terms of compatibility with legacy lenses. The only lenses you can mount on the K-01 are either K-mount or M42 (aka Pentax Screw Mount) ones. Which is a pity because the K-01 would make a great camera for legacy glass.

    In the end I don't know who should buy this camera. Existing Pentax users will be better served by one of Pentax DSLRs, and for everybody else the Sony NEX-5N will provide the same great image quality, but with fast and silent AF and in a package twice as small.

    That said, there is no doubt that after I became accustomed to quirks and limitations of the K-01, I could take pictures with it just fine (unless I was shooting moving subjects). If it was my camera, I'd add something like Hoodman Hoodloupe to the kit (to mitigate the absence of the viewfinder) and use mostly legacy glass, simply because the AF performance of the K-01 is abysmal and manual focusing with legacy lenses is really good. In such configuration, it will make a great camera for landscapes, macro and even portraiture.
     
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  2. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    Hi Pavel, thanks for an excellent review! I quite like the Newson design as well (especially in yellow), and the files look fantastic.

    Just a note to our members and readers: Paul Giguere has also sent me a review of this camera, which I'll be publishing soon!
     
    • Like Like x 1
  3. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Luke
    At first I was put off the design. I quite love it now, but wonder about its' ergonomics. Sounds like a typical Pentax.......lovely images and frustrating usbaility. I'm not sure that is acceptable in today's marketplace. There are way too many cameras that make great images. It makes a great second body for a Pentaxian, but I'm not sure who else would use one. But the shots I've seen from them in this forum and on flickr are outstanding.
     
  4. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    Luke, do you find that the Pentax DSLRs are frustrating in terms of usability as well? I've only ever had the K-5, but I never found that camera frustrating. It's still the DSLR I would buy if I were going to use a DSLR.
     
  5. stratokaster

    stratokaster SC Top Veteran

    886
    Dec 27, 2010
    Kiev, Ukraine
    Pavel
    As for me, I think the K-5 is the best APS-C DSLR currently on the market. The same specs as the Nikon D7000, but with better color and less expensive. Not to mention the huge quantity of high quality glass designed specifically for APS-C DSLRs (Nikon's DX lens line-up is still lacking).
     
  6. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nic
    Thanks for the review. I just wonder where Pentax goes from here, since I can't see a mirrorless camera with a DSLR lens mount being a long-term solution. Still, the K-01 strikes me as being a camera with enough good qualities that you could still learn to love it in spite of it's quirks.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  7. stratokaster

    stratokaster SC Top Veteran

    886
    Dec 27, 2010
    Kiev, Ukraine
    Pavel
    I've heard rumors that Pentax will produce K-mount lenses with shorter register distance that will protrude into the camera body to reduce the overall size of the package. Obviously, such lenses won't be compatible with K-mount DSLRs.
     
  8. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Luke
    My only experience was with a K-r. The racket it made while focusing (and the whallop of the shutter) was a bit off-putting. But after the first time I took a shot and looked at the LCD to review the photo and saw an hourglass (!) before I was shown the photo sealed the deal. Maybe usability is the wrong word. "Operational clumsiness" might be a better term. I had always dreamt of the K-5 and thought it would be my dream camera (despite being against the DSLR form factor), but it was out of my financial reach. I tried a used K-r figuring it would be close. The initial few minutes of use turned me off so bad I sold it before even viewing the images....it was that bad (to me). I felt like I was a DSLR from the 90s. Micro four-thirds did everything at 2-4 times the speed. IQ was not going to overcome that. Now maybe the K-5 doesn't have those issues, but once I started running the numbers for a K-5 and the lenses I would want, it was clear to me the for a system, I was staying in m4/3 world.
     
  9. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    The K-5 definitely didn't have any of those issues other than some noise during AF, which I didn't mind. I hear you about the price though. Size/weight can get up there too, especially with certain fast FA Limited lenses.
     
  10. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Luke
    The E-M5 has eliminated my curiosity and longing for the K-5 with the added benefit of already having the lenses. I'm done buying cameras, I think.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  11. stratokaster

    stratokaster SC Top Veteran

    886
    Dec 27, 2010
    Kiev, Ukraine
    Pavel
    Pentax cameras can be indeed a bit slow if you have lens corrections enabled. While Micro 4/3 cameras correct for aberrations and distortions in real time, Pentaxes do this after the shot is taken. This significantly contributes to the feeling of "operational clumsiness". Obviousbly, such corrections are of no use for RAW shooters and are better switched off.
     
  12. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nic
    Yeah, I've heard the same speculation but it still doesn't seem like an optimal (or logical) solution. It seems like it would be a very clumsy way to produce mirrorless specific lenses when a new lens mount with a K-mount adapter would be much cleaner.
     
  13. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    The E-M5 is definitely a camera I can settle down with too.
     
  14. christilou

    christilou SC Hall of Famer

    Jul 13, 2010
    Sunny Frimley
    I sold my K-01. I was really pleased with it's IQ and already had 3 other Pentax lenses to use. For me it was the lack of viewfinder in really bright sunlight and the AF. The focus box was too big and I was unable to get accurate focus for macro photos. When I look at the photos I got with it though .......... :)
     
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  15. krugorg

    krugorg SC All-Pro

    Sep 26, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    Kyle Krug
    Fair review, I think, strat and great images!

    I picked mine up to drive a few Ltd lenses... makes for a small kit actually. The plan was to use the 15mm (23mm equiv.) for landscape stuff and then the DA 70 for portraits. The only problem with my plan is that I ended up preferring my Oly 12 (and E-M5) for landscapes. Then I had a crazy idea to order the FA 31, chasing the pixie dust. So now, the FA 31mm pretty much lives on my K-01 and I am using the E-M5 for everything else.

    A bit over extended with both the Oly and Pentax in house, so some stuff is going to have to go. I am going to try to hold on to the K-01/31 combo if I can. I wish it had a viewfinder, but for slow stuff, I can make it work, even in the sun (actually find it above average versus other LCDs I have used). Also, for the price, I was able to get the body and the expensive FA 31 for the same price as just the Fujifilm X-Pro1 body.

    One last comment, I think the Pentax UI is quite good... right up there with Ricoh in my book (tiny little book of knowledge, 1 page, big fonts, triple spaced, with legal disclaimers).
     
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  16. Tonto

    Tonto SC Rookie

    Im a Pentax fan and I hate you!.....;p just kidding just a few points to add though.
    I've heard the LCD is quite viewable on max brightness.
    JPEG instead of RAW gets you to 6 FPS although 1 FPS in RAW I totally agree in sucking.
    Yes the rubber door is annoying, its the same as the one covering the HDMI port on the K5/K7, I would seriously contemplate a Wifi card so I don't need to open it!
    That picture of the zoom on the K-01 was a little unfair, since when did the Pana have a 26-105 equivelent F4 lens? (Sarcasam off ) Maybe fit the more compact DA 18-55 which is bundled in the twin lens kits of this camera ;p
    Your report on the AF performance worries me so I'll see if the next review reports the same thing-I've heard it sits in between the K20 and K5. I wouldn't expect it to keep up with the Nikon/Olympus or Panasonic cameras though.
     
  17. stratokaster

    stratokaster SC Top Veteran

    886
    Dec 27, 2010
    Kiev, Ukraine
    Pavel
    I guess it depends on where you are. In Istanbul, where I was shooting with the camera extensively, the sun is very bright and the screen was almost useless :(

    This is true. But the DA 18-55 L is just about 1.5 cm shorter than the DA 17-70 SDM. Even with the smaller zoom, the camera will still be quite a bit larger than the GH2 (which was the largest mirrorless camera in the world before the K-01).
     
  18. madmaxmedia

    madmaxmedia SC Veteran

    242
    Nov 10, 2010
    Los Angeles
    That is somewhat interesting- You could produce a lens that is practically concave, imagine taking the Samsung NX pancake optical formula and creating a K-mount mirrorless lens with it.