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

The company's debut full-frame camera delivers excellent photo quality for less than $2,000.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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4 min read

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.

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8.2

Pentax K-1

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.

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.

Pentax K-1 full-resolution photo samples

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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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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The camera tests competitively fast, and when it's slow it's because of the slow-driving lens and file operations bogged down by the amount of data it has to process. I also experienced problems with the autofocus locking -- or more accurately, not locking -- even in good light. And its shake reduction just doesn't seem to be as effective as other systems.

Shooting speed

Pentax K-1 0.5 0.5 0.2 0.2 1.5Nikon D750 0.4 0.4 0.2 0.2 0.2
  • Shutter lag (typical)
  • Shutter lag (dim)
  • Typical shot-to-shot time
  • Raw shot-to-shot time
  • Time to first shot
Note: Seconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)

Continuous-shooting speed

Pentax K-1 4.4Nikon D750 6.6
Note: Frames per second (longer bars indicate better performance)

Featurama

The K-1 isn't the prettiest camera, and it's on the heavy side, but for the most part the dust-and-weather-sealed body has an excellent shooting design and is packed with features for prosumer and working photographers.

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The camera's dedicated function and settings dials provide persistent access to frequently needed settings.

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The camera has some useful design novelties. The function dial with its dedicated settings dial provides direct access to nine frequently used options, such as ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation and Wi-Fi. That means you don't have individual controls taking up space on the body, and if (like me) you're constantly changing one setting -- in my case, ISO sensitivity -- it's the fastest way to do it. Even faster than the dedicated ISO button. The one drawback is that you have to look at the dial to change the function; it doesn't appear in the viewfinder.

The variable-angle display is also very nice -- being able to tilt left and right is a handy perk -- and Pentax puts quick access to display brightness on one of the navigation buttons. There are also lights on the back of the display to illuminate the side controls in the dark, along with lights on the lens mount and card slots.

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The variable-angle display tilts in every direction.

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Those are in addition to a broad set of features, including a built-in GPS, interval shooting, five saved User-mode settings slots on the mode dial (with the ability to name the user modes), dual SD card slots and Pentax's sensitivity-priority mode (which floats ISO sensitivity for a fixed shutter speed and aperture combination).

The feature set is also deep in important places as well. For instance, there are a ton of white balance options, including the ability to set color temperature in mireds, a scale optimized for color perception rather than wavelength.

I'm not crazy about some aspects of the design, though. Notably, you record video via the shutter button rather than a soft, direct control.

Conclusion

For predominantly shooting stills without fast action, the Pentax K-1 is a great full-frame option for less than $2,000, though the more expensive Nikon D750 still outclasses it with better performance and a better selection of lenses. The K-1's not quite as appealing in the UK and Australia, where the more well-rounded D750 can be found for significantly less.

Comparative specifications

Nikon D610Nikon D750Pentax K-1
Sensor effective resolution "24.3MP CMOS 14-bit""24.3MP CMOS 14-bit""36.4MP CMOS 14-bit"
Sensor size 35.8 x 24mm35.9 x 24mm35.9 mm x 24mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.0x1.0x1.0x
OLPF YesYesNo
Sensitivity range ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp)ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 12800/51200 (exp)ISO 100 - ISO 204,800
Burst shooting "6fps n/a""6.5fps n/a""4.4fps 70 JPEG/23 raw (6.5fps in APS-C crop mode)"
"Viewfinder (mag/ effective mag)" "Optical 100% coverage 0.70x/0.7x""Optical 100% coverage 0.70x/0.70x""Optical 100% coverage 0.70x/0.70x"
Hot shoe YesYesYes
Autofocus "39-pt 9 cross type (Multi-CAM 4800-FX)""51-pt 15 cross type 11 cross type to f8 (Multi-CAM 3500-FX II)""33-point phase detection 25 cross type (SAFOX 12)"
"AF sensitivity (at center point)" -1 - 19 EV-3 - 19 EV-3 - 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/4,000 to 30 sec.; bulb; 1/200 sec. x-sync1/4,000 to 30 sec.; bulb; 1/200 sec. x-sync1/8,000 to 30 sec.; bulb; 1/200 sec. x-sync
Shutter durability 150,000 cycles150,000 cycles300,000 cycles
Metering 2,016-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering II91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III86,000-pixel RGB
Metering sensitivity 0 - 20 EV0 - 20 EV-3 - 20 EV
Best video "H.264 Quicktime MOV 1080/30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p, 50p, 25p, 24p""H.264 Quicktime MOV 1080/60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p"H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p, 720/60p
Audio mono; mic input; headphone jackstereo; mic input; headphone jackstereo, mic input, headphone jack
Manual aperture and shutter in video YesYesYes
Maximum best-quality recording time 20 minutes20 minutes4GB/25 minutes
Clean HDMI out NoYesYes
IS OpticalOptical"Sensor shift 5-axis"
LCD "3.2 in./8cm Fixed 921,000 dots""3.2 in./8cm Tilting 921,000 dots plus extra set of white dots""3.2 in./8cm Variable angle 1.04m dots"
Memory slots 2 x SDXC2 x SDXC2 x SDXC
Wireless connection Via optional WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter Wi-FiWi-Fi, NFC
Flash YesYesNo
Wireless flash YesYesYes
Battery life (CIPA rating) "900 shots (1,900mAh)""1,230 shots (1,900mAh)""760 shots (1,860mAh)"
Size (WHD) "5.5 x 4.5 x 3.2 in. 140.0 x 114.3 x 81.3mm""5.6 x 4.5 x 3.1 in. 140.5 x 113 x 78mm""5.4 x 4.3 x 3.4 in. 137 x 110 x 86mm"
Body operating weight "30.1 oz. 853.3g""29.6 oz. 840g""35.8 oz. 1,014g"
Mfr. price (body only) "$1,500 £1,250 AU$2,300""$2,000 £1,650 AU$2,900""$1,800 £1,600 AU$2,900"
Release date October 2013September 2014April 2016
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8.2

Pentax K-1

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 7Image quality 8
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