Pentax KP Review

March 16, 2017 | Mark Goldstein | |

Introduction

The Pentax KP is a new APS-C DSLR camera that inherits many of the key features of the range-topping K-1 camera. The KP has a high-sensitivity 24.32-megapixel sensor, ISO range of 100-819,200, 5-axis “Shake Reduction II” image stabilisation system, Pixel Shift Resolution technology which delivers super-high-resolution images with more accurate colour reproduction, finer detail and less noise, the latest PRIME IV imaging engine, 86,000-pixel RGB light-metering sensor, a tiltable 3” LCD screen with a resolution of 921K dots, and a pentaprism finder with 100% frame coverage and 0.95x magnification. The Pentax KP also features integrated Wi-Fi, 27-point AF system with 25 cross-type focus points, Full HD 1080p video at 60fps, a mechanical shutter with a maximum shutter speed of 1/6000s and an electronic shutter with a top shutter speed of 1/24000s, and 7fps continuous shooting. The Pentax KP is available in black for £1,099.99/$1,099.95 body-only.

Ease of Use

The Pentax KP is outwardly quite similar to the flagship K-1 camera, but it's both smaller - 101(H) x 131(W) x 76(D) - and much lighter, weighing in at 730g without the battery or memory card fitted, some 300g less than the K-1.

The KP's front, back and bottom exterior panels are all made of durable, lightweight magnesium alloy. The KP is dust, cold and water resistant, thanks to a system of 67 special seals used throughout the design, and it can operate at temperatures as low as -10°C. This shows itself most obviously via the battery compartment and the memory card slot.

The KP features both a mechanical shutter unit which provides a fast top shutter speed of 1/6000th second and an electronic shutter with a top shutter speed of 1/24000s. Rather than an optical anti-aliasing filter in the camera, the KP has an innovative anti-aliasing simulator instead, which can be turned off (default setting) or on to either the Type1 or Type2 setting, which adjusts the level of the effect.

Innovatively, the camera ships with three different sized handgrips that can be easily changed with the supplied allen key, with small, medium and large sizes supplied, all coated in a rubberized compound to aid grip. There is a generous contoured area on the rear where your right thumb sits, with the rest of the body finished in a textured matt black.

On the front of the Pentax KP is a RAW / Fx1 button, which instantly sets the image quality to whichever RAW format is selected in the menu system (either Pentax's PEF format or Adobe DNG), useful if you are shooting in JPEG and want to quickly switch to RAW mode for a particular image. This button can also be customised to optionally control either Exposure Bracketing, Digital Preview, Electronic Level or Composition Adjustment. Located underneath is the Autofocus Mode button, with three available modes (AF-S, AF-A and AF-C), and underneath a switch for changing between manual and auto focusing. Above is a small button for opening the pop-up flash, which extends quite high above the lens to help minimise red-eye.

Connecting to the Pentax KP’s built-in Wi-Fi is done through the main menu. Once you have the dedicated Image Sync app installed on your device and you’re connected, you can shoot remotely, and very pleasingly, you have pretty much complete control over the camera’s shooting capability. So, you can change aperture, ISO, shutter speed and more - the only thing you won’t be able to change is the focal length of the lens. On the whole it’s a great app to use, and other manufacturers could look to this app for inspiration on how to produce a genuinely useful smartphone remote control app. The other option you have is to download images taken on the camera across to your smartphone or tablet for quick sharing to social networks or email. There's also a special built-in Astrotracer function which calculates the earth's rotation to help ensure that stars are captured without streaking.

Pentax KP
Front of the Pentax KP

Using the in-body SR (shake reduction) mechanism, Pixel Shift Resolution works by shifting the image sensor by a single pixel in four different directions and merging four shots together, so that each photosite on the sensor captures red, green and blue from the colour filter array, rather than just a single colour as on a Bayer sensor. Pentax claims that this creates "super high-definition images" with more accurate colour reproduction, finer detail, elimination of false color aliasing and less noise. Images taken with the Pixel Shift Resolution function turned on can be processed on the camera and also developed using the included utility software. Note that you should use a tripod or other support when using this feature, plus one of the Self-timer, Remote Control, or Mirror Lock-up functions, although it can now be used more effectively for moving subjects thanks to the new Motion Correction function.

Diffraction Correction claims to make all your lenses better by reducing the effects of diffraction by around two f-stops. Depending on the quality of the lens, diffraction is commonly seen at f/16-f/22, so Diffraction Correction promises to make an image captured at f/22 look more like one captured at f/11 in terms of definition and sharpness.

On the bottom of the KP is the weather-sealed battery compartment, housing a rechargeable 105mAh D-LI109 lithium-ion battery. The KP managed around 400 shots using the supplied rechargeable Li-ion battery before being depleted. There's also a metal tripod mount that's perfectly in-line with the centre of the lens mount.

On the right-hand side of the KP is a weather-sealed SD / SDHC / SDXC dual memory card compartment that's compatible with SDXC UHS-1 speed cards. Located above is the USB 3.0 connector. On the left-hand side are two rubber flaps covering the shared remote/mic port and DC In connector. Note that the Pentax KP does not have an HDMI port, which has been removed - instead you need to buy a proprietary dongle.

The Pentax KP follows conventional DSLR design in having a shooting mode dial on the top-left of the camera, which allows you to select either one of the advanced mode like Aperture-priority, Shutter-Priority and Manual, or the more point-and-shoot Auto and Program modes. There are no scene modes on this camera, signaling its intent as a serious photographic tool.

Pentax KP
Rear of the Pentax KP

You'll instantly notice that the KP has a couple of unusual shooting modes that you won't have seen before on any other camera. These are the Sensitivity-Priority and Shutter & Aperture-Priority modes. Sensitivity-Priority automatically selects the best combination of aperture and shutter speed for your chosen ISO speed. The sensitivity can be shifted instantly (in 1/2 or 1/3 steps) by turning the rear control dial. This allows you to quickly select an ISO speed, without having to access the menu system, which is very useful in rapidly changing light conditions.

In the Shutter & Aperture-Priority mode the camera selects the most appropriate ISO speed for a shutter speed and aperture combination, allowing you to use ISO sensitivity as a third factor in determining the correct exposure. As digital cameras have always offered the unique ability to instantly change the sensitivity, it's surprising that Pentax are still the only manufacturer to allow you to use ISO in this way. Also commendable is the provision of no less than 5 custom shooting modes. In the middle of the shooting mode dial is a button which locks and unlocks the dial.

On the right-hand side of the top of the KP is the small shutter button, surrounded by the on/off switch. Located in front of the shutter button is one of the e-dials, predominately used to change the shutter speed, while to the right of it is the Exposure Compensation / FX3 button.

New to the KP is the Smart Function camera operation system, which is controlled via two dials. The first is marked with 7 different options ranging from AE metering to three Custom settings, while the second unmarked dial enables you to quickly set the chosen function. While this new system does group together the camera's key settings in one place, it does so at the expense of a traditional top LCD panel.

At the base of the first Smart Function dial is a switch for choosing between the optical viewfinder, Live View Stills, and Live View Movies. You can use the Live View mode to hold the KP at arm's length or mount the camera on a tripod. Focusing is achieved by pressing the small AF/AE-L button on the rear of the camera or by half-pressing the shutter-button. Alternatively you can use manual focus in Live View mode, with up to 10x magnification available via the OK button to help you fine-tune the focus (you can also use the OK button to magnify the subject by up to 10x when Auto Focus is on).

Pentax KP
Tilting LCD Screen

Most of the main camera settings are displayed in Live View, including a helpful electronic level that helps to keep your horizons straight, although a histogram is still conspicuous by its absence. You can change the aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO speed and a number of other settings when Live View is activated. Live View is fine for use with stationary subjects, but less useful if you want to track a moving subject, as the AF system in Live View mode takes a second or so to lock onto the subject, making it better suited to subjects that don't move.

The Pentax KP has a traditional eye-level optical TTL viewfinder which offers an impressive 100% scene coverage and 0.95x magnification. Being able to see exactly what will be captured means that you can only blame yourself for poor composition and unwanted details creeping into the frame. The viewfinder is bright and free of any distortions or aberrations, making it suitable for both auto and manual focusing. It also features a Natural-Bright-Matte III focusing screen to improve focusing accuracy during manual-focus operation. An in-finder status LCD runs horizontally along the bottom and shows most of the camera's key settings.

On the rear of the KP is a tiltable 3 inch LCD screen with a respectable resolution of 921K dots. The brightness, saturation and colour temperature of the screen can be modified if you think it doesn't match that of your calibrated computer monitor. The KP's monitor can usefully be tilted up and down to almost 90-degrees for waist-level photography, although not out to the side as well.

The rear screen also doubles as a comprehensive status display, which can be called up by pressing the OK or Info buttons in record mode. If you then press the Info button again, you can also change all the settings right on the screen using a combination of the navigation pad and the rear e-dial. This ingenious solution spares you the pain of having to enter the menu, and makes most setting changes via the LCD screen very simple.

Located above the LCD screen and to the left of the viewfinder is the shared Delete / FX2 button, with the latter by default toggling the electronic level on and off. On the other side is the rear e-dial, mainly used for changing the aperture and zooming in/out during playback, and the shared the AF/AE-L button, which can either be used instead of half-pressing the shutter button to set autofocus, or for quickly locking the exposure.

Pentax KP
Top of the Pentax KP

Underneath is a rather innocuous looking button with a small green dot that's unique to Pentax DSLRs. It has two uses - firstly, when shooting in Manual mode, a single push of the green button allows you to instantly set the correct exposure for the subject, as calculated by the camera, useful if you need a starting point for your own exposure. Secondly, the KP offers a Hyper Program function which instantly switches to either the Shutter-Priority or Aperture-Priority mode from the Program mode, simply by turning either of the control dials on the grip. Pressing the Green button then returns to the Program mode.

The KP can record 1080 HD footage, recording high-definition video at 1920 x 1280 pixels at 60i/50i/30p/25p/24p or 1280 x 720 pixels at 60p/50p/30p/25p/24p in the Motion JPEG (MOV) format. An innovative interval movie mode captures a series of 4K-resolution movie clips (3840 x 2160 pixels) at a fixed interval. The maximum size of a single video clip is either 4 gigabytes or 25 minutes. There's a built-in microphone for stereo recording and a socket for connecting an external stereo microphone.

Importantly you can autofocus during movie recording, bringing the KP in-line with its main rivals. Unfortunately you still can't set the aperture from the camera during recording, only before, so you will want to use lenses that have an aperture ring if possible. The KP can be set to Auto Aperture Control, which removes the flexibility of being able to set the aperture yourself but at least enables the camera to change it during recording to suit the subject matter. The shutter speed cannot be set by the user in movie mode either, so you will have to rely on the camera's auto-exposure system while filming.

A traditional 4-way navigation pad is split into separate buttons, providing instant access to the ISO speed, drive mode/self-timer, white balance and flash settings, with the OK button confirming actions. The Menu button underneath accesses the main menu system, which has a fairly logical tabbed system with five main tabs, Camera, Movie, Playback, Set-Up and Custom Setting, each divided into several sub-pages, and it's easily readable with a bright display and a large font size making it perfectly visible even in low light.

The Pentax KP features an improved built-in Shake Reduction system. Turn it on via the main menu option and the KP automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds, now providing approximately 5 shutter stops of compensation thanks to a new 5-axis gyro-sensor. As this system is built-into the camera body, it works with almost any lens that you attach to the KP, providing a significant cost advantage over DSLRs from Canon and Nikon, which use a lens-based image stabilisation system (compatible lenses are the PENTAX K-, KA-, KAF-, KAF2- and KAF3-mount lenses; screw-mounted lenses (with an adapter); and 645- and 67-system lenses (with an adapter)). The KP displays a blur icon in the viewfinder to warn you that camera-shake may occur, regardless of whether or not Shake Reduction is on.

Pentax KP
The Pentax KP In-hand

If you've had a bad experience with DSLRs and dust in the past, the KP offers the Dust Removal II mechanism. This automatically shifts the low-pass filter located in front of the CMOS image sensor at very high speed, shaking the dust off the low-pass filter. If you do still notice any dust, there's a neat feature called Dust Alert which is designed to show exactly where the dust is on the image sensor. A vertically and laterally correct image of the sensor shot at f/16 is shown on the LCD screen, indicate exactly where any stubborn dust particles may be lurking. While this feature won't prevent dust from getting onto the sensor, it does provide a quick and easy way of checking for it. In addition Dust Removal can be set to activate whenever the camera is turned on, and you can also use the built-in Sensor Cleaning function to lift the mirror and clean the image sensor with a blower brush or third-party cleaning solution.

The Pentax KP's High Dynamic Range (HDR) Capture option takes three images with different exposures, with 3 different strengths on offer, and then records a single image that combines the properly exposed parts of each one, expanding its dynamic range. It's important to always use a tripod to prevent camera shake from blurring the HDR image, and it doesn't work very well for moving subjects. Similar to Nikon's D-lighting, Sony's DRO, and Olympus' Shadow Adjustment Technology, Pentax's D-Range allows you to correct the highlights (On or Off) and/or the shadows (3 different levels) before taking a JPEG or RAW image. Although this option is always at your disposal, remember that it is meant to be used in strong, contrasty lighting at base ISO. The Pentax KP also has a multi-exposure mode that allows you to combine between two and 2,000(!) different JPEG or RAW images into a single photo and a Cross Processing mode with four built-in effects and custom options that replicates the traditional effect of cross-processing film.

Pentax's Custom Images, similar to Nikon's Picture Styles and Canon's Picture Controls, are preset combinations of different sharpness, contrast, saturation and colour tone settings. You can change the saturation, hue, high/low key, contrast and sharpness for each of the ten options”. The Pentax KP additionally offers nine different Digital Filters, which allow you to quickly apply an artistic effect to a photo before taking it (JPEG images only). Note that applying the Digital Filters slows the camera down somewhat, as it has to process the image for a few seconds after it's taken. The KP can also be set to automatically compensate for both distortion and lateral chromatic aberration of any DA- and DFA-series lenses.

The rather innocuous-sounding AF Fine Adjustment custom function will be of particular interest to current Pentax owners. If you have a collection of older Pentax lenses and you've never been quite sure how accurate they focus when mounted on a DSLR, this is the function for you. Essentially it allows you to alter the focus of each lens. You can use a focusing target to test if the lens focuses correctly, and if it doesn't alter it slightly using the AF Fine Adjustment option, then test again until perfect focus is achieved. With most other DSLR systems you'd have to send the camera and lens off for calibration (and maybe even have to pay for it), but with the KP, you can calibrate all of your lenses in the comfort of your own home.

The start-up time of the Pentax KP, from turning the camera on to being ready to take a photo, is very quick for at around 1 second. Focusing is snappy even in low-light thanks to the high-speed SAFOX 11 phase-matching AF sensor module, which has 25 cross-type sensors positioned in the middle and is able to focus on a subject in a minimum brightness level as low as -3 EV. It takes about 1 second to store a JPEG image at the highest quality setting with no discernible lockup between taking shots, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card. For RAW images the Pentax KP takes about 2 seconds to store an image and again there is no lockup between shots. In the continuous shooting mode you can hold down the shutter button and take 7 shots per second for up to 28 JPEGs or 8 RAW files, or 3fps for up to 70 JPEGs or 15 RAW files. The KP does lock up for a few seconds once the maximum number of shots is reached, although you can continue to shoot continuously, just at a much slower rate.

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