To say the Pentax K-01 has unconventional looks would be an understatement. While most manufacturers are working hard to slim down their offerings, Pentax has gone in the opposite direction.
The K-01 has all the curves of a slightly rounded brick. It's fat, a little heavy, and looks more like a stylish toy than a £500 semi-pro camera, with its chunky buttons and switches and ends encased in ribbed rubber.
Pentax called on the services of designer Marc Newson to come up with the styling, which does exude a certain retro charm, but won't be to everyone's taste. There's a very good reason for its shape and size though, which I'll come to later.
Whatever you think of its outward appearance, you can't argue with the quality of its shots.
I tested the K-01 using a 40mm prime lens with a maximum aperture size of f/2.8 and a minimum of f/22. I performed most of my tests with the camera set to aperture priority mode so I could control the depth of field, while allowing the camera to make all other decisions concerning exposure and sensitivity. I occasionally also switched to the full auto and refreshingly light-of-touch HDR mode, the latter of which avoids over-egging the effect and producing unattractive haloes around hard contrasts.
I shot raw (native Digital Negative DNG files in the case of the K-01) and JPEGs side by side and found that the K-01 performed consistently well.
Low light performance is excellent, with well controlled grain allowing for a high level of retained detail and very accurate colour reproduction. To shoot this image of a cat below, the K-01 was set to aperture priority and it self-selected a sensitivity setting of ISO 6,400. The fur is clearly rendered and easy to see and the stripes accurately placed. The catchlight in the cat's left eye is sharp and the noise pattern is a light, even grain, without any false colours and so doesn't distract from the subject.
In better lit conditions, where it could reduce the sensitivity, the results were very clean indeed. In the shot below, the subject's skin tones are realistic on both the lit and shaded sides of the face and the only blemishes on the entire frame are natural, not digital. The focus is spot-on with this lens, as is particularly clearly illustrated by the fidelity of the strands of hair that pass in front of the bokehed light at the back of the scene.
The performance you'll achieve will depend on which lens you use, but I found that the high-resolution APS-C-sized sensor delivered extraordinary levels of detail in all lighting conditions.
The air line in the shot below is a case in point. It's starting to show its age, with paint peeling from the gauge and dirt marks soiling its face. Even from a couple of metres away and using a lens with no zoom, the K-01 had no trouble picking these out, with sharp edges and a good, clean focus.
You might put this down to the fact that the dial sits close to the centre of the frame, but the level of focus and detail retention was pretty uniform right across each image in my tests.
In the shot below, the trees at the edges and encroaching into the corners of the frame are sharp and detailed. There's no evidence of them being smeared where the lens has had trouble focusing the light accurately on the sensor, at the points where light has had to be bent to the most extreme degree.
Neither is there any sign of chromatic aberration, which is an unwanted colour fringing effect caused by a lens not quite focusing each wavelength of light in unison with the rest of the visible spectrum. This earns the K-01 extra points for a very impressive performance overall.