Jan 13, 2015

Pentax K-S1 Review

Introduction

The Pentax K-S1, originally announced in September 2014, is Pentax's first adaptation of a DSLR for the changing consumer market.  The design philosophy behind this camera is centered around younger generations of photographers, as Ricoh Imaging has specifically stated that it is meant to appeal to smartphone users without sacrificing any of the functionality that more advanced users and current Pentax owners have come to expect.

Pentax K-S1Blue/Black Pentax K-S1 with 43mm Limited Lens

So, what did Pentax engineers come up with?  First, they started by minimizing the camera's size and giving it a stylish appearance with plenty of color options along with flashy LED lights.  Second, they gave the menu system a face lift with updated fonts, icons, and backgrounds.  They also did away with the traditional mode dial and top LCD and instead placed a mode dial on the back of the camera, right next to the monitor.  Finally, they equipped it with a new 20-megapixel sensor and incorporated plenty of top-shelf features, such as the hardware moire suppression system ("AA filter simulator") from the K-3.

K-S1 Mode Dial and Status ScreenK-S1 Rear Mode Dial and Status Screen

At Photokina 2014, Ricoh Imaging representatives were very optimistic that this camera would fill a key gap in the camera market, catering to new users interested in upgrading to a capable DSLR camera that looks and feels like a premium piece of equipment yet is intuitive to operate.  The K-S1 was the start of a new kind of product line rather than just another entry-level camera, and to reflect this, it was initially priced at $749 in the US ($799 with lens).

Just weeks after launch however, the US retail price of the K-S1 was reduced by $50, and 3 additional colors were introduced.  Still, the price continued to tumble, and as of early December 2014, the body was selling for as little as $496 at authorized retailers, and even less from grey market outlets.  It is evident that the K-S1 simply isn't selling.  The Camera Store in Canada even rated it the worst camera of 2014 because "nobody knows about it, nobody owns one, and it has no reason to exist."

The K-S1 reminds us of the K-01, which was Pentax's first attempt at a K-mount mirrorless body.  While it was a bold move by the company accompanied by an initial burst of optimism, the K-01 did not enjoy much commercial success. It ended up selling for less than 40% of its original price before being discontinued less than a year after launch.  The K-01 crashed and burned not only due to its appearance, which received mixed reviews, but also due to the fact that it was a rather unappealing product within its market segment: a mirrorless that's just as big as a DSLR, slow to focus, and without a viewfinder.  Ricoh has fortunately learned from some of its mistakes.  Not only does the K-S1 look much better than the K-01, but it's also smaller and has a proper 100%-coverage optical viewfinder.  This in itself makes it a much more viable product right from the start.

We should note that even though the K-01 failed to sell at the original sticker price, it gained quite a following among our members after the fire sale.  Despite its quirks, the K-01 takes great pictures.  The K-S1 does too: in fact, we've found it to deliver image quality noticeably superior to that of the current Pentax K-50 DSLR.  Because of that, we believe that the K-S1 is worthy of a second look, so we invite you to read on for our in-depth analysis!


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