Pentax K-01 Review

April 10, 2012 | Mark Goldstein |


The Pentax K-01 is a new mirrorless compact system camera. Designed in collaboration with Marc Newson, the K-01 is based around a new 16.28-megapixel, APS-C sized CMOS image sensor and the Pentax K lens mount, as used in the company's long line of SLR cameras, making the K-01 compatible with no less than 214 lenses from launch. The striking Pentax K-01 also features an ISO range of 100-25600, 3 inch LCD with 921k dots, sensor-shift shake reduction, automatic dust removal, HDR mode, continuous shooting at 5fps, 19 digital filters, an external flash hotshoe and full 1080p HD video capture at either 24, 25 or 30 frames per second. The Pentax K-01 is available in three colour-ways, black with black grip, black with yellow grip and silver with black grip, for £629.99 / $749.95 body only or £679.99 / $899.95 with the new DA 40mm f/2.8 XS pancake lens, the world’s thinnest interchangeable lens. Other configurations include a bundle with the DAL 18-55mm lens for £679.99 and a double-zoom kit with the 18-55mm and the 50-200mm DAL lenses for £799.99.

Ease of Use

The Pentax K-01 has been designed from the ground up by Marc Newson, who works across a wide range of products and disciplines. This is his first attempt at camera design, and consequently the K-01 looks unlike any other current compact system camera, and indeed any other camera full stop. The K-01 has a love it or hate it simplicity, almost a toy camera look, with chunky dials and controls and an uncluttered interface that belies the it's extensive feature-set. It may have had its DSLR mirror removed, but it's still physically as big as many DSLRs, measuring 79 (H) x 121 (W) x 51 (D)mm and weighing 560g with the Li-ion battery and an SD card fitted, which isn't that much smaller or lighter than the Pentax K-5.

The large size is mostly because of the K-01's use of the K lens mount, which instantly makes the new system compatible with 214 Pentax lenses, 21 of which have been designed specifically for digital cameras. The K-01 doesn't rely on an adapter to fit the K-mount lenses, unlike Sony's NEX range and the A-mount lenses or the Olympus PEN and the full-size Micro Four Thirds lenses, which in turn means that the body has to be larger and deeper to accommodate the physically bigger mount and maintain the backfocus distance. If you're looking for a small and lightweight camera, the K-01 isn't it - indeed, this is one of the biggest and heaviest mirrorless camera bodies released to date.

The standard smc PENTAX-DA L 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 AL lens that Pentax supplied for this review feels well-matched to the K-01, although it's a rather slow lens at both ends of the focal length, is also rather noisy in operation and is again large compared to the standard kit zooms of other compact system cameras (it is, after all, the same lens that many Pentax DSLRs ship with). We've also briefly tried out the new DA 40mm f/2.8 XS pancake lens, which although something of a technological triumph at less than 1cms thick, feels a little out of of place on such a large, deep body.

As soon as you pick the K-01 up, though, you can instantly tell that it's a serious camera, feeling very solid indeed, due to the stainless-steel alloy frame. The right and left sides of the camera are wrapped in a a grooved, textured rubber, with a slight bulge on one side forming the hand-grip that enabled me to use three fingers to hold it and my right forefinger to operate the shutter button. There is just a smooth, bare area where your right thumb sits, with the rest of the body finished in a textured matt black.

Pentax K-01 Pentax K-01
Front Rear

From the front the K-01 has a pleasingly sparse, almost simplistic look, with only the metal lens mount, tiny AF assist lamp and the infrared remote port in the grip interrupting its clean lines. The quarter-shaped lens release button cunningly forms the bottom-left corner of the lens surround, with a handy MF/AF switch secreted away on the other side of the lens barrel. The K-01 has single, face detection, and tracking AF options, with the ability to select focus points automatically or manually or fixed to the centre point. The face detection system can identify up to 16 faces within the image frame. Interestingly the K-01 offers a Focus Peaking option when manual focusing. This outlines your main subject in an increasingly brighter white outline the closer you get to setting the focus correctly - very useful for manual focus users. Rising up from the top-left of the K-01's lens mount is a vertical barrel that cosmetically supports the Shooting Mode dial on top of the camera.

On top of the Pentax K-01 is a small button for opening the pop-up flash, which also doubles-up as the image delete button. The flash sits behind the lens, has a guide number of 12 meters at ISO 100 and extends quite high above the lens to help minimise red-eye. Behind is a flash hotshoe which accepts a compatible external flashgun. Note that there is no viewfinder built-into the K-01, and it doesn't accept an external viewfinder either, relying instead on the LCD screen for composition. On the right hand side of the top of the K-01 is the relatively small shutter button, surrounded by the chunky on/off switch. Located behind the shutter button is the unmarked silver e-dial, which is predominately used to change the aperture and shutter speed, while alongside are the Exposure Compensation and red Movie Record buttons.

The small green button is unique to Pentax cameras. On the K-01 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 K-01 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. Note that both the green and red buttons can be customised to suit your particular needs. There are also two well-designed strap eyelets on the left and right.

The Pentax K-01 follows conventional DSLR design by having a shooting mode dial on the top 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 19 scene modes on this camera, signaling its intent as both a beginner-friendly and more serious photographic tool. The K-01 also offers a Bulb mode for longer exposures than 30 seconds, a Flash Off mode and an HDR mode, which takes 3 se per ate shots at different exposures and aligns and combines them into a single image with greater dynamic range.

Pentax K-01 Pentax K-01
Pop-up Flash


On the right-hand side of the K-01 is the SD / SDHC / SDXC memory card slot, with the DC In, AV Out and HDMI connectors underneath, all protected by a large vertical rubber flap. The HDMI port allows you to connect the K-01 to a high-def TV set, but only if you purchase an optional HDMI mini-cable. One the left-hand side is a handy Mic port for connecting an external microphone, again protected by a rubber cover.

On the bottom of the K-01 is the battery compartment, housing the same rechargeable 1860mAh D-LI90 lithium-ion battery as used by the K-7 and K-5 DSLRs. The camera managed a good performance of over 500 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. Marc Newson's signature completes the bottom of the K-01.

The rear of the camera is dominated by the large 3 inch LCD screen. The K-01's LCD screen has a very high resolution of 920K dots, wide viewing angle and it remains visible outdoors in all but the brightest of conditions, making it one of the better LCD screens that we've seen on a compact system camera. The colour temperature of the screen can be modified if you think it doesn't match that of your calibrated computer monitor, but the contrast and gamma cannot be altered. The rear screen also doubles as a comprehensive status display, which can be called up by pressing the Info button in record mode. You can then 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 very simple.

All of the K-01's rear controls are located to the right of the LCD screen. Starting from the top, there's a combined AF/AE-L button, handily placed for either auto-focusing or locking the exposure. Next is the self-explanatory Play button, followed by the the afore-mentioned Info button and then the Menu button, which accesses all of the 64 different menu options that the camera offers, reflecting the fact that despite outward appearances this a complex and customisable camera. Thankfully you will only have to set about half of the settings once and can then forget about them. The menu system has a fairly logical tabbed system with five main tabs, Record, 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 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.

Pentax K-01 Pentax K-01
Side Front

The Pentax K-01 can shoot Full 1080p HD video at 1920 x 1280 pixels at 30/25/24fps or 720p HD at 60/50/30/25/24fps in the MPEG-4 H.264 format. There's a built-in microphone for mono recording and also a socket for connecting an external stereo microphone. It also has an HDMI port for playback on a HD TV, using the industry-standard HDMI mini-out connection, but note that you'll need to purchase a suitable cable separately. You can also still connect the K-01 to a standard TV set via NTSC/PAL. You can autofocus during recording and the K-01 offers three exposure settings for movies - Program, Aperture-Priority and Manual - although just the shutter speed cannot be independently set by the user in movie mode, so you will have to rely on the camera's auto-exposure system while filming.

The Pentax K-01 features a built-in Shake Reduction system. Turn it on via the main menu option and the K-01 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds, providing approximately 2.5 to 4 shutter steps of compensation. As this system is built-into the camera body, it works with almost any lens that you attach to the K-01. In practice I found that it does make a noticeable difference, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when Shake Reduction is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos. The K-01 also displays a blur icon in the viewfinder to warn you that camera-shake may occur, regardless of whether or not Shake Reduction is on.

The K-01's Dust Removal mechanism 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. 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. Metering options include an impressive 1,024 area multi-segment metering mode, plus center-weighted and spot metering.

The Pentax K-01's High Dynamic Range (HDR) Capture option (only available for JPEGs) takes three images with different exposures, with three different strengths and three different looks on offer (plus an Auto mode), 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 Setting 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 K-01 also has a multi exposure mode that allows you to combine between two and nine different JPEG or RAW images into a single photo.

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 11 options. The Pentax K-01 additionally offers seven 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 K-01 can also be set to automatically compensate for both distortion and lateral chromatic aberration of any DA- and DFA-series lenses.

Pentax K-01 Pentax K-01
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

The start-up time of the Pentax K-01, from turning the camera on to being ready to take a photo, is very quick for at around 1 second (providing you turn off the Macro Newson startup screen). Focusing is also quick and consistent in good light with the standard 18-55mm kit lens, and the camera happily achieves focus indoors and in low-light situations. Note that the 18-55mm lens has an annoyingly loud focusing mechanism though. The AF Assist lamp can be used even if the built-in flash isn't raised.

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 K-01 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 6 shots per second in the Hi mode or 3fps in the Lo mode. The camera 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.

Once you have captured a photo, the Pentax K-01 has a good range of options for playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view up to 81 thumbnails, zoom in and out up to a magnification of 16x, and see very detailed information about each image by pressing the Info button. You can also delete, rotate, resize, protect and crop an an image, view a slideshow and set various printing options.

There are an expanded range of 19 digital effects available which can be applied to JPEGs plus a Custom option to create your own unique effect. The camera shows you a preview of what the effect will look like when applied, and the effect is applied to a copy of your image, thus preserving the original intact.

The Index option creates an index print from up to 36 images and RAW Development converts a RAW file into a JPEG or TIFF with various conversion parameters available. Move Editing lets you divide or extract segments from your movies. Importantly the Pentax K-01 offers a histogram after taking a photo which is a great help in evaluating the exposure, plus any areas that are over-exposed flash on and off in the LCD preview to show you want you should be compensating for with your next attempt.