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Pentax K-01 Review

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Image Quality

General Image Quality

The general image quality of the K-01 is excellent, and at par with the Pentax K-5 as we shall see later tests.

Our first example is handheld, JPG straight from camera, reduced in resolution to fit the page. ISO 100, 1/500s, F8 with the DA 40mm XS lens.

whatClick on the image for a larger version

Our second image is also a JPG straight form the camera with the DA 40mm XS lens. handheld with shake reduction, ISO 100, 1/500s, F5.

2nd sampleClick on the image for a larger version

Our test scene which we have used also in other reviews. We used manual focus, and focused on the plant marked with a rectangle. The camera was on a tripod, the image was converted from RAW, and resolution reduced to fit the page. The lens was again the DA 40mm XS, set at F11 and 1/200s. ISO was 100, EV compensation -0.3.

Sample 1Click on the image for a larger version

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Shooting

hdr modeThe K-01 is the first Pentax to have an HDR position on the exposure mode dial. This is an excellent improvement because it makes it so much easier to enter HDR shooting mode which again means that this mode will probably be used more and whenever called for. In HDR exposure mode the camera makes three exposures in rapid succession and merges these into one image. These three exposures are made with -3 EV, 0 EV and +3EV exposure compensation respectively.

There are four variants of HDR shooting: HDR Auto (the camera decides the strength of the effect), HDR 1 (the weakest effect), HDR 2, and HDR 3 (the strongest effect).  The desired HDR effect is set on the Control Panel, which is brought up by one push of the Info button. The HDR effect set here will be recalled and used whenever the mode dial is turned to the HDR position.

Control panel - HDR

Alternatively, the HDR effect can be set from within the menu system and it also in the menu you will find the auto-align setting which makes hand held HDR shooting a viable option:

Auto Align

Below we show the same scene shot without HDR, with HDR (auto), and HDR 1 through 3. Click on an image for a larger version.

No correction HDR Auto
No HDR HDR Auto
HDR1 HDR2
HDR1 HDR2
HDR3 HDRspacer
HDR3

We are not big fans of HDR in the first place (we like contrasty images) and find that the uncorrected image of the scene above is best since (more contrast) followed by the HDR Auto version. The strong settings produces an exaggerated effect that has little to do with extension of the dynamic range. Other scenes may be better suited for HDR.

The above images were taken with the camera on a tripod and we would normally recommend the use of a tripod for HDR shooting. However, the Pentax K-01 has an auto-align setting which makes it perfectly viable to take handheld HDR shots as the photo below illustrates. Note the needles on the cactus - they are perfectly sharp even though the camera had to merge three handheld shots!

Handheld HDR auto

HDR auto with HDR auto-align

Shadow/Highlight Correction

This feature is found on the last several models of Pentax cameras but the K-01 adds an auto-setting so that the extended dynamic range setting only gets deployed when deemed needed by the camera.

Like on the recent Pentax DSLRs the dynamic range can be extended in three steps in the shadow area, whereas the highlight setting can be either on or off only (or auto).

Drange Hi Shadow

The "on" highlight setting is quite efficient in preventing blown highlights. We'd recommend to always leave the highlight setting on. No general recommendation can be made for the shadow setting - what's best really depends on how contrasty you want the image. Note the shadow areas on the fountain for the effect of the shadow correction. This is best seen on a the larger version of the image (click on an image for a 1 MB version).

SH No correction SH Auto
No correction Shadow correction auto, highlight correction auto
SH1 SH2
Shadow correction 1, highlight correction on Shadow correction 2, highlight correction on
SH3 HDRspacer
Shadow correction 3, highlight correction on

High ISO Performance

For this test we photographed the below scene from ISO 100 through 25,600. We set the lens to F4.5 which gave a shutter speed of 0.6 seconds at ISO 100. We used the DA 18-135mm lens set at 36mm focal length.

nra scene

We left the camera's high ISO noise reduction at the default setting, which is Auto. Users who want to exert more control can set the strength of the noise reduction individually for each major ISO step 100, 200, 400, ..., 25600. There are three levels to chose from, low, medium, and strong. The drop down below contains 100% crops of the images straight from the camera.

custom high iso nr settings

High ISO Performance

100% crop, no post processing

Note the exceptional clarity of the colors at ISO 100. The image quality remains excellent up through ISO 3,200, with ISO 6,400 only slightly worse and ISO 12,800 still good. ISO 25,600 which is disabled by default, is quite noisy but still useable in a pinch.

The Bottom Line on Image Quality

The image quality is excellent across the board - in daylight, and in low light. At low ISOs the clarity is astonishing, and we can recommend high ISO shooting without any reservations up to ISO 6,400 with ISO 12,800 still quite useable. The JPGs generated by the camera are excellent, much much better than the early generation DSLRs could produce.

 
Buy the Pentax K-01