Pentax K-1 review: The Pentax K-1 delivers a fine full-frame value for the photo-focused

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The Good The Pentax K-1 delivers excellent photo quality and a ton of features in a sturdy, well-designed body.

The Bad The autofocus is inconsistent and the image stabilization isn't as good as competitors'.

The Bottom Line For photographers who want great photo quality for less than $2,000, the Pentax K-1 hits the bullseye.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 8

Pentax's full-frame dSLR debut, the K-1, hits at an opportune time. Canon hasn't updated its 6D or 5D Mark III in at least a couple of years, nor has Nikon done so with its D750 or D610. That makes a new model at an aggressive price a welcome option. The K-1 offers a ton of features with excellent photo quality and a great shooting design, but it also has one of the least-sophisticated autofocus systems and occasionally sluggish performance.

The K-1 costs $1,800 (£1,600, AU$2,900) for the body. Pentax recently released two lenses optimized for the camera: the company's K mount works for both APS-C and full frame, but the older lenses aren't designed for the K-1's high-resolution, 36-megapixel sensor. There's the fast, wide-angle HD Pentax-D FA 15-30mm F2.8ED SDM WR ($1,450, £1,550, AU$1,350) and a more consumer-focused, less-expensive HD Pentax-D FA 28-105mm F3.5-5.6ED DC WR ($500, £580 and AU$850).

I tested it with the 28-105mm. While it's nice that Pentax offers a relatively inexpensive lens for the K-1, I really didn't like it much. It feels very much like an APS-C kit lens: I do recommend it for Pentax's other cameras, but it just doesn't do the K-1 justice.

Great photos, at its own pace

The camera's photo quality is generally excellent. I don't like the default Bright image setting, which overdoes contrast and saturation, but Pentax gives you plenty of options to fine-tune the options to your taste, and the camera can produce quite accurate colors. I'm a Natural girl.

JPEGs look clean through ISO 1600 and depending upon the image, remain usable at least up through ISO 12800. The JPEG processing is pretty good, too; while you can get a little more detail shooting raw, out-of-the-camera JPEGs will suit a lot of people.

The camera retains color well as sensitivity rises, too, though the raw files show a lot of hot pixels in dark images. That said, between the high resolution and solid dynamic range, I was able to get decent results cropping way into photos where I had to bring the exposure up five stops because the flash didn't fire (not Pentax's fault). I wouldn't count on photos beyond ISO 51200, though. Blown out highlights are more hit-and-miss when it comes to recoverability.

I didn't see much moire in stills; there was a bit in video, though. The video quality is OK. You'll need to play with the settings to retain highlights (there's a flat image profile), and it's just not very sharp.

Analysis samples

The K-1's JPEGs are clean through ISO 800. They're not exceptionally sharp at ISO 800, but I think that's just the lens I used for testing.

Lori Grunin/CNET

You can see some blurring at ISO 3200, but JPEGs aren't bad through ISO 12800.

Lori Grunin/CNET

Depending upon the scene, you can still get usable JPEGs through ISO 51200. Above that they're pretty noisy.

Lori Grunin/CNET

With the Natural image settings, the colors are quite accurate.

Lori Grunin/CNET

Even as high as ISO 51200 you can recover some highlight detail.

Lori Grunin/CNET

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