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Pentax K-01 review: Pentax K-01

Pentax K-01

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
8 min read


Pentax K-01

The Good

The <b>Pentax K-01's</b> 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.

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
Click to view/download
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.

The K-01 is the slowest camera in its class. It takes 1.8 seconds to power on, focus, and shoot, which doesn't sound like much but it's enough to make you miss a shot. Time to focus and shoot in good conditions is 0.6 second and 0.9 in low-contrast settings; that's twice as slow as all its competitors and pretty poor for the price. JPEG shot-to-shot time is 1.6 seconds -- sluggish -- but for raw that jumps to a whopping 2.7 seconds. All that beautiful image processing takes its time toll, I guess. It's faster to use flash, which only takes about 1.8 seconds for two sequential shots. The continuous shooting runs about 2.9fps, but I really wouldn't buy this camera to shoot burst, so I don't weight that result very heavily. (The display blanks completely during continuous shooting and it fixes focus to the first frame.) The slap of the shutter curtain is also disconcertingly loud and introduces vibration.

The more I use these cameras the more I wished at least the expensive ones had an articulated display; this model, which is relatively large, should have at least the option of an EVF. The LCD is big and bright, but really difficult to use in bright sunlight. The only saving grace is the camera's peaking feature -- a camcorder carryover that highlights edges during focusing, which we're seeing a lot more frequently these days on cameras. It's the only thing that makes it possible to ascertain if the scene is framed correctly and in focus when shooting outdoors and off-angle.

Design and features
Love or hate how it looks, the design works overall and has just a few, um, well, let's call them "quirks." It's big -- there's no getting around that, since it needs to have a long flange-focus distance in order to work with standard K-mount lenses. And it's surprisingly heavy, given all that empty space between the lens and the sensor. Also, given the size, the grip could stand to be a little deeper. But it's covered with a ridged, rubberized material that helps, and the rest of the controls are big and (mostly) easy to identify and access.

Despite the modernist design, the K-01 actually has a pretty typical control layout. On top, the mode dial has the usual PASM, Bulb, scene program, and auto modes, plus a dedicated movie mode and three-shot HDR mode. Two unlabeled green and red buttons are separated by an adjustment dial. The green button defaults to program shift and the red to movie record, but they're both customizable. I do find the green button a bit out of the way; it's not easily operated with your thumb or forefinger. The other issue is that despite the large size, there's practically no left shoulder to the camera, and I frequently found myself hitting the button for the popup flash.

The controls on the back also follow convention. Autoexposure/autofocus lock, review, info (which calls up the interactive control panel rather than information), and menu buttons line the left side of the LCD, with four-way navigation buttons that access ISO, drive mode, white balance and flash settings.

The biggest problem with the design is the floppy rubber cover for the SD card slot and USB and HDMI connectors. It's very difficult to close -- it requires two hands -- and the two flimsy attachment points are probably easy to rip off. To compensate, Pentax added a separate plastic cover for the SD card slot. That said, at least the card slot is on the side of the camera instead of in the battery compartment.

  Nikon 1 V1 Olympus E-P3 Pentax K-01 Samsung NX200
Sensor (effective resolution) 10-megapixel CMOS 12.3-megapixel Live MOS
12 bit
16.3-megapixel CMOS
20.3-megapixel CMOS
13.2 x 8.8 mm 17.3mm x 13mm 23.7mm x 15.7mm 23.5mm x 15.7mm
Focal-length multiplier 2.7x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded) ISO 200 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 - ISO 12,800/25,600 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 12,800
Continuous shooting 5fps
(60fps with fixed AF and electronic shutter)
unlimited (LN) JPEG/17 raw
11 JPEG/9 raw
magnification/ effective magnification
0.47 inch
1.44 million dots
100% coverage
Optional None None
Autofocus 73-point
phase detection, 135-area contrast AF
35-area contrast AF 81-point contrast AF 15-point contrast AF
Autofocus sensitivity range n/a n/a 1 - 18 EV n/a
Shutter speed 30 - 1/16,000; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/4,000 FP sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes
Metering n/a 324 area 1024 segment 221 segment
Metering range n/a 0 to 20 EV -1 to 21 EV 0 to 17 EV
Flash Included optional Yes Yes Included optional
Image stabilization Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift Optical
Video 1080/60/ 30p; 720/60p H.264 MPEG-4 QuickTime MOV 1080/60i AVCHD @ 20, 17Mbps; 720/60p @ 13Mbps 1080/30p/25p/24p; 720/60p/50p/30p/ 25p/24p H.264 MPEG-4 1080/30p; 720/60p H.264 MPEG-4
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input stereo; mic input Stereo
LCD size 3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
3-inch fixed OLED
614,000 dots
3-inch fixed
921,000 dots
3-inch fixed AMOLED
614,000 dots
Battery life (CIPA rating) 350 shots 330 shots 540 shots 330 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.4 x 3.0 x 1.7 4.8 x 2.7 x 1.4 4.8 x 3.1 x 2.3 4.6 x 2.5 x 1.4
Body operating weight (ounces) 12 (est) 13 19.6 9.5
Mfr. price n/a n/a $749.95 (body only) n/a
$899.95 (with 10-30mm lens) $899.99 (with 14-42mm lens) $899.95 (with 40mm lens) $899.99 (with 18-55mm i-Function lens)
$1,149.95 (dual lens kit) $899.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens) n/a n/a
Ship date October 2011 August 2011 March 2012 September 2011

The menu interface is similarly straightforward, very similar to the company's dSLRs, as is the interactive control panel where you can adjust all the frequently needed settings that don't have direct-access buttons.

A few of the K-01's features stand out, though I don't think sufficiently to raise its features subrating given the price. In addition to an intervalometer mode (which shoots a maximum of 999 shots), the camera also has an Interval Movie mode, which does the same thing but can shoot for up to 99 hours and automatically saves the final file as an AVI movie. It also has a multiple exposure mode. The handful of shooting special effects are nothing special, but you can adjust a variety of parameters for each. It offers a three-shot automatic HDR mode with a range of up to three stops, and unlike some implementations, it's not completely automatic; you can still adjust ISO sensitivity and exposure compensation. And an interesting CTE (Color Temperature Enhancement) white-balance option will essentially override white-balance adjustments and preserve the color temperature of the ambient light. (For a full accounting of the K-01's features and operation, you can download a PDF of the manual.)

If you've got a stable of Pentax lenses -- especially good ones that can properly resolve to the sensor -- and feel like doing some creative shooting, especially with manual focus, then the K-01 is a great choice. For that, the benefits of lovely photo quality definitely outweigh the other drawbacks.

But if you're looking for an all-purpose ILC under $1,000, you may get frustrated with the K-01's slow performance and large, quirky design, and it's probably worth trading off a little on the photo quality for a better all-around camera, and likely a less expensive one.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1
Olympus PEN E-P3
Samsung NX200
Pentax K-01

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Pentax K-01


Pentax K-01

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Image quality 9