Pentax K-01 Review

Conclusion

The Pentax K-01 represents the first of a new series of Pentax cameras which we hope will continue to expand and thrive in the near future.  It's also the only mirrorless interchangeable lens camera to support a full DSLR lens lineup; an industry first.  With this in mind, we believe that Pentax has done a good job with the K-01 and has delivered a high-quality product which will be appealing to current Pentax users and general consumers alike.

Unique products such as the K-01 represent a bold move by the manufacturer.  When Pentax designed this camera, they could only assume that a mirrorless K-mount camera, let alone one designed by a celebrity, would go over well.  Last year, Pentax released the Pentax Q, marketed as the smallest interchangeable lens camera in the world.  However, it hasn't seen much success (especially in the US) due to its high price tag and other limitations which we discuss in our in-depth review, linked above.  Fortunately, we believe that none of the shortcomings of the Q have been carried over to the K-01: its launch price is lower than that of the Q, and it is less than half the original MSRP of the K-5.  The image quality delivered by the K-01's sensor is already known to be superb, and it supports thousands of lenses which can satisfy any purpose and budget, giving it a much more universal appeal.

We had high expectations of the K-01 going in to our review, and we are happy to report that those expectations have been met.  The PRIME M image processor, as we had hoped, delivers improved image playback and recording speeds, and the latency in live view has been practically eliminated.  The improved performance also means that the K-01 makes for a great video camera, being the first Pentax to record 60fps HD video, offer full manual video controls, and record in the H.264 format. The image quality is also exceptional and we don't think it would be a stretch to say that the image quality of the K-01 is among the best in the mirrorless world, at least in its price class.  In the future, we plan on investigating this further as well as comparing the K-01 to highly-anticipated mirrorless cameras from Sony, Olympus, and Fujifilm.

The K-01 does have a few quirks, and it's certainly far from perfect.  We've been able to consistently reproduce scenarios in which the camera locks up and freezes, and have gotten user reports about an unresponsive on/off switch.  While we hope that these are firmware bugs rather than quality-control issues, only time will tell.  The design of the camera will likely be hit-and-miss among users, though we will leave it up to the reader to rate Marc Newson's work.  As far as the features of the camera itself are concerned, the K-01 could have included some of the more advanced settings found on the K-5.  While it's evident that the K-01 is targeted mostly for intro-level users, we believe that in order to be successful in the mirrorless camera sector, Pentax will have to start producing different bodies for different skill levels, or release cameras that can completely satisfy beginners and enthusiasts alike through a single package.

The AF system is the only major weak point of the K-01, and though it's adequate for many purposes, it doesn't do well in low light or for action photography.  The camera would have also been much more appealing had it been weather sealed (its design almost lends itself to it), but it would certainly be too much to expect a perfect camera in these early days of mirrorless bodies.  Finally, an articulating LCD screen would be a welcome addition, as it would make shooting outdoors more tolerable, as would an electronic viewfinder accessory.  We hope to see future Pentax mirrorless cameras come with one or both of these (as Pentax told us at CP+ that they will not be developing an EVF for the K-01)!

Some might say that the K-01 brings nothing new to the table compared to the K-r, a cheaper intro-level DSLR.  Unfortuantely, this is somewhat true, as the only thing the K-01 really has over the K-r is better image quality and improved video performance.  With that said, its live view performance is also vastly superior to that of the K-r, and users who are used to shooting with point-and-shoots would probably favor it.  However, once Pentax releases lenses that optically take advantage of the mirrorless construction of the K-01, or release a camera with an EVF/articulating screen, things might change.

The K-01 isn't a replacement for an advanced DSLR, either, but it certainly makes for an excellent camera if you want a more compact kit, especially with the small lenses we recommend.  Thus, user preference plays an interesting role with this camera: namely, how comfortable the user is with using the LCD to shoot, since as we've mentioned before, it might seem like a handicap for current DSLR users.

Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Superb Image QualityPoor low-light and video AF
Superb High-ISO PerformanceSingle-frame shooting not as snappy as on a DSLR
Good for novices and advanced users alikeMust re-focus even when in focus
Full manual video controlBad for action photography
H.264 video formatRelatively short battery life
Wide lens selectionGreen button hard to reach
Compatible with DSLR accessoriesLCD hard to see / not articulating
Good valueNo EVF available
Solid build qualityNo rear IR port / cable release
Focus peaking helpful for manual focus1 FPS in RAW / Small continuous buffer
Quiet shake reductionAnnoying SD card door
Prime M processor 

Rating

The build quality of the K-01 is superb overall.  There are many metal and rubber components which give it a solid feel and go along well with the Marc Newson design.  There isn't much to complain about here. Had the camera been weather sealed, we could have given it a perfect score!

Handling and ergonomics-wise, we did have a few complaints: the annoying placement of the green button, flimsy SD cover flap, and lack of external port labels.  The camera can be somewhat hard to hold at eye-level, especially with heavy or long lenses.  It's hard to see the LCD in the sun, and the dust removal system is loud.   On the plus side, we liked the unlimited JPEG and RAW buffer and focus peaking feature.  It would have been nice if a battery grip were made available to extend battery life and improve handling with larger lenses.

The user interface is intuitive, though there are a few inconsistencies, and the info screen lacks direct access to options such as focus peaking or AF autozoom.  The new processor really speeds up playback mode, and we liked that pressing the info button twice lets the user cycle between display settings.

The autofocus was by far the weakest aspect of the K-01.  We hated how it spends a lot of time re-confirming focus even if a photo is already in focus, and its inability to lock focus in dark situations and the poor tracking mode.

Regarding video mode, the only things we didn't like were how audible the scroll wheel is when you turn it, as well as the lack of AF confirmation while shooting.  We can't complain about the manual video controls or the video performance, although some might have liked to see 60 FPS recording in full HD.

The RAW image quality is identical to that of the K-5, which makes the K-01 comparable to other high-end DSLRs if one's primary purpose is to capture clear images.

At $749 (or less), the K-01 is priced very fairly, and we think it's a good deal given its image quality and large feature set, especially considering prices of bodies such as the NEX-7, Olympus OM-D, or Fuji X-Pro 1.  A comparable camera that's cheaper than the K-01 would be the Sony NEX-5n.

Pentax K-01: 8.3/10

Build Quality 
 9
Handling 
 6
User Interface 
 9
Image Quality 
 10
Autofocus 
 5
HD Video 
 9
Value 
 8
Overall 
 8.0 (Very Good)

See Also

We welcome user reviews of the K-01 in our camera database, as well as any further questions in the K-01 forum, as linked to above!

Read on for a selection of sample JPEGs and RAW images from the K-01 as well as some general FAQs.

All equipment used in this review was sponsored by PentaxForums.com.


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