As part of our review, we took the Pentax K-01 out for a 2-hour photo shoot together with the K-5, in order to compare and evaluate its image quality and overall handling. We also spent a lot of time testing it indoors, and shot several videos with it as well to see whether or not the sensor would overheat. Through this process, we were able to make several general observations about the K-01, which we outline below. A selection of photos from our shoot are available on the last page of our review.
Overall, we were quite pleased with how the K-01 handled. Its LCD viewfinder delivers a much different experience than the optical viewfinder of K-5, though Pentax have fortunately managed to practically eliminate all display lag, except when there is very little available light (and in those types of situations, the optical viewfinder cannot be beaten). In bright sunlight, the K-01's LCD is no easier to see than that of the K-5, which was somewhat disappointing. Furthermore, especially with the full info display enabled, the corners of the frame are quite hard to discern outdoors, meaning that it's more difficult to compose the image or video. For example, when we were shooting our third sample video (available on the "Movie Mode" page), we thought we managed to capture the entire train at the end, but upon review of the video, the front seemed to be cut off.
This shortcoming is countered by the K-01's intuitive menu system, which resembles that of the K-r and also borrows elements from the K-5 and Q. The info screen makes it very easy to change most settings on-the-fly, and this especially came in handy in video mode. Pentax has made improvements the setting descriptions and added new options, such as automatic shadow/highlight correction, which now includes a tooltip telling the user that the minimum ISO may increase to 200 when this setting is used (a very common questions our users ask on the forum). By pressing the info button twice when in a shooting mode, you are also able to quickly choose what information is displayed on the screen (you can also hide all of the shooting information or even disable the screen entirely). Finally, Pentax have greatly improved the image playback and instant review speed. Considering that the K-01 is nearly two years newer than that K-5, this was to be expected but is nevertheless welcome.
Our only complaint about the menu system is that focus peaking is not part of the info screen, and that some settings are not only redundantly placed in the main menu tabs, but also categorized illogically. Over time, Pentax have re-categorized many of their menu settings not necessarily to the better.
Even though the K-01 isn't meant to be in the same class as the K-5, we were disappointed to find that it didn't feature nearly as many bracketing options as the K-5: it is limited to 3 frames and extended bracketing is not supported.
With respect to dust removal, we noted that the K-01 uses the older, noisier DR system from the K-r/K-x/K20D/K10D, which is less effective and significantly louder than that of the ultrasonic DRII system on the K-7 and K-5. Even though the K-01's DR is loud, the Shake Reduction system is practically inaudible, which is a very good thing for video. It's interesting that Pentax decided not to upgrade to the quieter dust removal in a camera meant for consumers. One observation we made was that the dust removal operation runs for much longer than it did in earlier Pentax bodies when invoked manually via the menu, meaning that perhaps Pentax is trying to improve on the system via firmware rather than hardware.
Out in the field we really came to appreciate the K-01's ergonomics. Its flat sides and relatively small size make it very easy to hold and support as long as a relatively small lens is mounted (such as a limited prime or 18-135mm zoom), not only when shooting, but also when simply carrying it. The camera's handle doesn't bulge out as much as it does on the DSLRs, but there is still plenty to hold on to.
The main issue we ran into with the K-01 was that it's AF system isn't that great when using longer lenses or trying to photography moving subjects. The AF hunts a lot or simple doesn't lock focus in situations in which a DSLR would have no trouble. Thus, we cannot recommend the K-01 for any sort of action photography (although videography is a different story). Another interesting quirk is that the K-01 can easily detect faces (and it does a pretty good job of tracking them), but even when it sometimes locks on to a face, it has trouble focusing on it and often fails.
A histogram can be overlaid the image during playback. This is useful for checking the exposure, but the implementation is not ideal. The histogram display is enabled through the playback Info screen but it takes a total of four button presses. Since the histogram obscures a good part of the image we would have preferred that it would disappear after a set time, and the reappear when the next image is viewed. Instead the histogram can be dismissed with the OK button, but then it is not shown when the next image is displayed, so you must go back into the Info screen to turn it on again with the now tiresome four button pushes! This is too tedious to be of much use in the field.
Finally, we'd like to state that the image quality of the K-01 out of the box is among the best from Pentax. In auto mode and using auto ISO, the K-01 tries very hard to choose settings which will deliver clear and sharp images. Combined with shake reduction, it really is difficult to put the camera in a situation which it can't handle. The firmware has without a doubt seen enhancements to deliver even better JPG's than the K-5, which we believe uses the same sensor. The automatic shadow/highlight correction is just one (evident) example of these enhancements.