Pentax K-01 review: Pentax K-01

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.4
  • Design: 7.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 7.0
  • Image quality: 9.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Pentax K-01's strengths lie in its use of existing standards; it's designed to use older K-mount lenses without an adapter, and uses Adobe DNG as its raw format. That, plus it has terrific photo quality.

The Bad It's relatively large, and even if you love the design aesthetic it has some irritating operational quirks. The autofocus isn't up to par.

The Bottom Line It's a great option if you have a shelf full of K-mount lenses and don't mind missing some action shots, but the Pentax K-01 isn't such a great option for a typical amateur photographer.

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The Pentax K-01 mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera (ILC) certainly makes an impression. While it definitely looks like a camera -- unlike, say, the Lytro -- it has a distinctive aesthetic that I think most people will either love or hate. And as a camera it inspires some ambivalence as well. It's capable of delivering outstanding photo quality for its price class, and the ability to use K-mount lenses without an adapter is more than worth the tradeoff of the huge body. But the autofocus and image processing is sluggish, and a camera this large really should have at least the option of an add-on EVF and/or an articulated display. Plus, there are some aspects of the design that simply annoy.

Image quality
The K-01 has possibly the best midrange noise profile I've seen in a camera under $1,000. The Sony sensor produces extremely fine-grained noise, and Pentax's uncommonly intelligent JPEG processing results in generally clean images as high as ISO 800, and extremely usable ones through ISO 3200. I couldn't get better results processing the raw files (it uses DNG as its raw format) at any sensitivity. It doesn't even seem to exhibit any of the normal issues at high ISO sensitivities, such as hot pixels on dark backgrounds (like night skies).

Downloadable photo samples
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ISO 100

ISO 800
ISO 3200

By other measures the photo quality rates as excellent for its class as well. Though the default color setting of Bright is typical for Pentax -- it pushes the saturation and contrast until blues and purples shift surreally -- with the Natural Custom Image preset the colors look neutral and accurate with no loss of saturation or flat-looking contrast. Metering and exposure are consistent and appropriate, and there's a reasonable amount of recoverable detail in overexposed highlights and clipped shadows if you process the raw files.

The 40mm kit lens is quite sharp, and the photos come out sharp without looking overprocessed and without distortion. However, the lens seems to suffer from worse fringing that usual, which might be attributable to tradeoffs made to keep it so flat and its mismatch with the extremely deep flange focus distance necessary to support the K-mount lenses.

The video quality is a mixed bag, though. On one hand, it's bright, saturated, and sharp in good light. But there's also quite a bit of rolling shutter and some haloing on edges. Low-light video is soft and quite noisy.

100 percent crop from the inset video frame.

The kit lens is completely unsuited to autofocus during video as well, which is annoying. The AF stepping motor and aperture make loud noises which get picked up by the microphone, and I found the AF completely inconsistent and unreliable. However, the manual-focus lens ring works very well for video; it's servo-electronic, so it operates quietly and smoothly.

In fact, the autofocus system was generally disappointing, along with the shooting performance. The kit lens is especially infuriating: it's a prime, yet hunts for focus as if it's a zoom. After every shot, it resets, so when you're taking multiple shots of a stationary subject it iteratively refocuses every time. In low light, it can't find a lock more often and not; manual focus is faster.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Mar 15, 2012
  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 16.28 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical (image sensor shift mechanism)
  • Optical Sensor Size 15.7 x 23.7mm