Pentax K-1 Mark II Review

April 16, 2018 | Mark Goldstein |
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Introduction

The Pentax K-1 Mark II is a new professional full-frame DSLR camera that replaces the original K-1 model that was released in 2016. The Mark II is virtually identical to its predecessor in both form and function, incorporating a new accelerator unit to improve noise reduction and auto-focusing speed and adding an upgraded Pixel Shift Resolution System II with a newly developed Dynamic Pixel Shift Resolution mode for handheld shooting. In all other regards the two cameras are the same.

The Pentax K-1 Mark II is available in black for £1799 / $1999 body-only. In the US it will also be available with the FA 28-105mm F3.5-5.6 ED DC WR zoom lens for $2399.

Ease of Use

The Pentax K-1 Mark II is virtually identical to the original K-1 model, so if you don't know anything about that camera, we strongly suggest that you head over and read our in-depth Pentax K-1 review first. In this rather brief review, we're going to focus on the new features that the Mark II offers over and above the original version.

The new Mark II version differs in three main ways - it offers improved high sensitivity performance, high-speed Auto Focus, and image resolution through the new handheld Pixel Shift Resolution mode.

Pentax K-1 Mark II
Front of the Pentax K-1 Mark II

The ISO range of the K-1 II now runs from ISO 100 up to a whopping ISO 819200. As you'd maybe expect, the resulting images at such a high ISO speed are bordering on unusable (see our Image Quality page for 100% crops of each ISO speed), but more usefully ISO performance is about a stop better than on the original K-1, not really becoming visible until ISO 3200. So if you ever felt limited by the ISO range on the K-1, the new Mark II version slightly improves things.

The K-1 II's AF Tracking algorithm has been revised to improve tracking accuracy of fast-moving subjects in the AF Continuous mode. The original K-1 was pretty sluggish in this regard, and although the new Mark II is quicker at identifying the main subject and more reliable at tracking, we still wouldn't describe it as a great camera for sports photography.

Pentax K-1 Mark II
Rear of the Pentax K-1 Mark II

The new handheld Dynamic Pixel Shift Resolution mode is more successful, building on the original Pixel Shift Resolution offered by the K-1. The latter is still present, requiring the camera to be mounted on a tripod. The in-body SR (shake reduction) mechanism is used to move the image sensor unit by a single pixel pitch at a time to capture four shots, which are then merged into a single image to generate an ultra high-definition image.

The new handheld Dynamic Pixel Shift Resolution mode differs by switching on the image stabilisation system, taking four similar shots, then combining them into one aligned ultra high-definition image, all whilst hand-holding the camera. It's much like the method employed by recent smartphones like the Huawei P20 Pro, and it similarly works well with both still and moving subjects.

Pentax K-1 Mark II
Top of the Pentax K-1 Mark II

There are a couple of notable drawbacks, though. Firstly, you really need to use a shutter speed that's fast enough to avoid camera shake, and secondly, unlike the normal Pixel Shift Resolution mode, it doesn't cancel out the Bayer color array, which can lead to unwanted artifacts, moire and less detail in the resulting image. Finally, it also takes much longer for the camera to process the final image, about 20 seconds in total, so you'll only want to use it for that "special" shot, as it completely locks the camera up.

And that's it for the improvements offered by the Pentax K-I Mark II, other than a change to the name badge on the front and the base of the camera.

Pentax K-1 Mark II
The Pentax K-1 Mark II In-hand

Unfortunately, though, there is one area where the Mark II takes a backwards step, namely battery life. Whereas the original K-1 offered 760-shot battery life, the new K-1 II has 670-shot life according to CIPA standards, presumably because of the new accelerator unit.

Current Pentax K-1 owners can actually get their cameras upgraded to the new functions offered by the Mark II - simply send your camera back to Pentax between May 21st and 30th September, pay the $550 / £450 service charge, and voila, your camera's main circuit board will be replaced to add the new functions featured in the new Pentax K-1 MK II and  the current SR logo, positioned in the lower left corner of the camera’s front panel, will be replaced with the SR II logo. This is almost certainly a cheaper way of upgrading to the Mark II than selling your original camera and buying the newer model.