Pentax K-S1 Review

February 4, 2015 | Jack Baker |


The Pentax K-S1 is set to replace the K-500 as Pentax/Ricoh’s new entry-level DSLR. Available in an 18-55mm lens kit for around £440/$650, it takes on the Canon EOS 100D and Nikon D3300.

Key features include a new 20.1-megapixel APS-C sensor with a sensitivity range of ISO100-51200 and Pentax’s sensor-shift Shake Reduction system that provides image stabilisation with virtually any K-mount lens.

The Pentax K-S1 will also record Full HD video and shoot continuously at 5.4fps, but its real selling point is style. Not only is the camera available in twelve different body colour combinations, but new Indicator Lamps illuminate key buttons to help guide you around the camera, plus there’s a strip of lights down the hand grip for extra visual assistance.

If you’re fed up with boring black DSLRs but can’t stretch to one of the Pentax K-50’s 120 colour combinations, then this could be the camera for you.

Ease of Use

We were big fans of the Pentax K-500 when it was released back in 2013, but the entry-level DSLR sector is a cut-throat market and with strong competition from Canon and Nikon, Pentax has attempted to carve a more distinct niche for its replacement. At 120 x 92.5 x 69.5mm, the Pentax K-S1 is noticeably smaller than the K-500, and it’s nearly 100g lighter. That makes it just fractionally larger than the tiny Canon 100D. But the K-S1 isn’t just petite; it’s also dressed to impress.

Pentax K-S1
Front of the Pentax K-S1

Turn the Pentax K-S1 on and you’re greeted by a glowing green ring around the shutter release and a strip of five green lights running down the front of the hand grip. The shutter release light then turns red when you rotate the on/off ring to its video record position, plus there’s additional lighting on the rear panel to highlight the ‘OK’ button and shooting modes. Along with the dozen body colour options (the kit lens is only available in black or white), it certainly makes the camera stand out, though the lighting is also meant to make the K-S1 easier to use. In reality, the illuminated buttons aren’t really an advantage over conventional labels and it’s tough to see them as much more than a style-driven gimmick. The row of lamps running down the hand grip are of more use, offering a visual countdown when using the self-timer and indicating face detection, but they’re hardly a must-have feature.

Pentax K-S1
Rear of the Pentax K-S1

In fact, the bold styling of the Pentax K-S1 isn’t just gimmicky; it can also be rather annoying. Ditching a typical black rubberised hand grip in favour of coloured plastic panels makes the camera much more slippery than its rivals. Relocating the mode dial from the top to the rear of the camera also results in the thumb grip being unusually small, and it too offers little grip. Consequently the K-S1 doesn’t sit well in the hand, and if you’ve got large paws, it’s even more uncomfortable.

Thankfully, apart from the position of the mode dial, the control layout is sensible and intuitive. The playback and main menu buttons are both easily reachable, as is the control wheel. Right in front of this is a conveniently located exposure compensation button, cited alongside the Green button. This will reset any value currently being adjusted, or you can customise it to temporarily change the file format, AF point, or activate a depth of field preview.

Pentax K-S1
Top of the Pentax K-S1

The mode dial includes the typical shooting modes, plus a dedicated Bulb Exposure mode for setting an indefinite shutter speed, which is particularly useful when shooting fireworks. There’s also a TAv Shutter & Aperture Priority mode, whereby you define both the aperture and shutter speed and the camera determines the correct exposure by adjusting ISO sensitivity. Finally, turn to the Effects setting and you’ll find a selection of ten different effects filters including various retro and monochrome looks.

Within the mode dial there are buttons to change the drive mode, white balance, flash mode and ISO sensitivity. The latter can be manually defined, or you’re free to adjust the upper limit of auto ISO from anywhere between ISO200 and ISO51200. Where some entry-level DSLRs hide key functions like these away in menus, it’s great that the K-S1 lets you adjust them directly. These buttons encircle the illuminated OK button, which can also change the focus area. Irritatingly this particular button is stiffer and spongier than all the other controls, requiring more of a prod to engage.

Pentax K-S1
The Pentax K-S1 In-hand

Naturally the rear panel is dominated by the 3.0” LCD monitor. Given that the Pentax K-S1 is clearly aimed at the fashion-conscious, it’s a pity the screen isn’t touch-sensitive, but it does nail the essentials. Colour accuracy and viewing angles are first class, whilst the 921k-dot resolution is high enough for accurately judging focus when using Live View. The screen also does justice to Pentax’s new menu design. This is a tweaked version of the company’s existing DSLR menu, which now features a graphical representation of the K-S1’s button layout within the mode dial. It’s still not the most visually impressive interface, but it’s very easy to use and if you press the Info button at the bottom of the rear panel, up pops a quick-reference page displaying a grid of twenty common settings available for fast adjustment.

When it’s time to shoot, the Pentax K-S1 powers up and fires a shot in a nippy 1.5 seconds. Autofocussing is rapid and usually accurate, but very noisy. Where comparable 18-55mm kit lenses from Canon and Nikon include whisper-quiet built-in autofocus motors, the K-S1’s kit lens is driven by a traditional screw drive motor mounted in the camera body. This means you can forget about taking a stealthy shot, but on the upside you will be able to autofocus pretty much any K-mount lens, and you can always upgrade to a Pentax SDM-equipped lens with an internal autofocus motor if you want to quieten things down. By contrast, the Nikon D3300 – or even the mid-range D5500 – don’t have in-body autofocus motors at all, thereby limiting your lens choice you to modern lenses with autofocussing capability. Switching between manual and auto focussing is done using the dial located on the side of the camera, by your left hand. It’s a convenient location – if a little too convenient – as it can easily be knocked into manual focus mode without you realising, or until you wonder why the camera has gone so quiet.

Pentax K-S1
Battery Compartment / Memory Card Slot

The Pentax K-S1’s SAFOX IXi+ autofocus system uses 11 autofocus points, of which nine are the more accurate cross type. The focus points aren’t spread across a particularly large area of frame, but the active focus point is now visible in the viewfinder. A major shortcoming with the outgoing K-500 was its lack of autofocus point display, so it’s good to see that Pentax has restored this key shooting aid. The viewfinder itself also offers a 100% field of view, which is a rarity at this price point and gives you more precise compositional control.

Another useful feature of the K-S1 that the direct competition can’t match is its image stabilisation system. Where most DSLRs rely on a movable glass element within the attached lens to compensate for camera shake, the K-S1 uses a movable sensor. The result is a 2.5-4-stop reduction in shutter speed, but more impressive is that you can achieve this with any K-, KA-, KAF-, KAF2- and KAF3-mount lens and also screw-mounted lenses (with an adapter), plus 645- and 67-system lenses (also with an adapter).