10 Things that Make the Pentax K-1 Unique

Why the K-1 is a true photographer's camera

By PF Staff in Gear Guides on Mar 30, 2016
10 Things that Make the Pentax K-1 Unique

At first glance, the Pentax K-1 catches the eye thanks to key features like its full-frame sensor, ISO 204800, pixel shift resolution, built-in 5-axis stabilization, backwards lens compatibility, and so on.

But what really makes the K-1 special?  Let's take a look beyond the obvious to discover things that make the K-1 is a true photographer's camera. 

Outdoor-Friendly Monitor Brightness Adjustment

When shooting in bright sunlight, a camera's LCD monitor can often be hard to see.  Similarly, at night, the screen's backlight alone can be blinding or distracting.

In anticipation of these conditions, the "down" button on the K-1's four-way controller is now customizable.  By default, it provides quick access to a new outdoor brightness setting that can dramatically dim or brighten the screen backlight.  Even in the harshest light, the LCD is easily viewable when the +2 setting is enabled. 

This setting can also be added to the control panel.

Outdoor View screen brightness changes

When it comes to outdoor viewing, with the K-1 you no longer have to adjust the intensity of the backlight through the setup menu, which was a slow, tedious, and less effective process on earlier bodies.  Of course, the K-1 retains these additional screen settings should you wish to fine tune the default backlight intensity or color hue.

The Multi-Way Tiltable Monitor

The K-1's LCD screen is uniquely hinged to provide 90-degree tilting capabilities in addition to about 30 degrees of sideways deflection and a small amount of rotation.  Four movable titanium rods let you pull the monitor away from the camera and angle it to your liking.

This design gives you more flexibility than the 645Z's tilting monitor, and is faster to work with than a traditional articulating screen such as the one found on the Pentax K-S2.

Pentax K-1 with LCD extended and tilted (Click to enlarge)

Of course, the monitor is still fully weather sealed, and the titanium rods can easily bear the weight of the camera plus a heavy lens (though it might perhaps not be the best idea to suspend something like a 600mm F4 lens using the screen).

External Illumination

The K-1 takes things to the next level when it comes to working in the dark.  Pentax didn't go with this screen design just for the sake of tilting alone. Built-in LEDs behind the monitor can be activated at the push of a button to light up the back of the camera and make the controls easier to see.  Since you can move the screen around, the lights can be pointed in a specific direction.

Four LEDs are mounted on the back side of the screen

When the screen is stowed in its default position, the light travels through the inside of the camera to light up the SD card slot and remote control port.

Lens mount illumination

Finally, a light just below the prism housing illuminates the lens mount to make swapping lenses easier, or to allow you to see the aperture ring on manual lenses.

All of the K-1's lighting features can be used even while the camera is off.

Improved Viewfinder and Electronic Level

Gone are the days of the electronic level taking the place of the EV scale in the viewfinder.  In addition to having its own dedicated display for the horizontal level, the viewfinder now also shows the vertical tilt near the right edge of the frame.

Pentax K-1 Viewfinder Diagram
Pentax K-1 Viewfinder Diagram

In addition, the viewfinder itself has been upgraded with a LCD overlay that's highly customizable.  You can choose which of the many components (shown above) you want to enable.

Although this is the first time a viewfinder of this type has been fitted on a Pentax camera, owners of other high-end DSLR systems will find it to be similar to what they're already accustomed to.

Learn more about the K-1's viewfinder in our hands-on viewfinder overview.

Third Control Wheel

The K-1's front and rear e-dials are supplemented by a third multi-function control wheel and settings dial.  The third wheel can be configured to control the ISO, exposure compensation, burst speed, bracketing, HDR strength, stabilization, crop mode, and wi-fi.

This dial lets the photographer tailor the camera controls to his or her exact needs, depending on the current shooting conditions.  In addition, it allows the user to bypass the rear LCD and adjust settings that were previously only available via the main menu.

Customizable Control Panel

The ever-increasing number of settings and features in modern DSLRs can eventually backfire and cause excessive menu clutter.  To counter this, the K-1 allows the user to customize each of the 25 tiles in the Control Panel.  This convenient improvement has the potential to greatly speed up everyday shooting.

K-1 control panel customization

A few handy new JPEG processing options have made their way into the Control Panel, too. Existing Pentax users will find that the K-1 has all the familiar Custom Image, white balance, and HDR settings found on other models. But the K-1 takes things to the next level by offering variable strength clarity enhancement, skin tone correction, and automatic correction of artifacts when in pixel shift mode.

Fewer Button Presses

Small tweaks have been made to the K-1's sub-menus to reduce the overall number of button pushes needed to accomplish everyday tasks.  For example, bracketing is now much easier to adjust through the drive mode menu.  Furthermore, in addition to all the new flexibility afforded by the third control wheel, the K-1's Fx1 (RAW) and Fx2 (down) buttons can control more functions.

Two Ways to Tether

The K-1 is the first Pentax to support tethered shooting using both a USB cord and Wi-Fi.  Wired tethering with a PC is possible via Image Transmitter 2 (sold separately), while the free Image Sync app enables wireless control, live view, and playback on Android and iOS devices.  Since the K-1 has built-in Wi-Fi, no additional accessories are needed.

Image Sync LogoImage Sync Logo

An Adobe Lightroom plugin is currently being developed and will offer functionality similar to what is currently supported by the Pentax 645Z.  While the features of this plugin and tethering software are fairly basic in comparison to what Canon and Nikon support, they should be sufficient for everyday studio use.


While the K-1 is not marketed as a camera specifically designed for Astrophotography, it certainly deserves to be.

Thanks to its built-in GPS module and the Shake Reduction system, the K-1 can track the motion stars for up to 300 seconds (Astrotracer mode) without the need for external accessories.  Apart from it and K-3 II, all other Pentax bodies require the O-GPS1 hotshoe unit, which is sold separately.

Freeze the movement of stars with the Astrotracer

In addition to standard intervalometer and composite shooting modes, the K-1 also introduces the Star Steam mode, which can progressively stack star trails on top of a well-exposed foreground image.

Star Stream mode

When used properly, this feature can completely eliminate the need for post-processing software to create good star trail timelapses.

Finally, the utility of the K-1's LED illumination cannot be overlooked while you're out shooting the stars in a remote area.  Swapping lenses, changing settings, or inserting a new memory card should be a breeze.

Improved Flash Sync Speed

Through the K-1, Pentax engineers have increased the maximum flash sync speed for the first time in over a decade.  The K-1 can sync at up to 1/200s, up from 1/180s on other models.  Note that the K-1 has no on-board flash, but it does support the full lineup of Pentax P-TTL flashes and can be used with older manual units in manual mode.

AF 360 FGZ II - A weather-sealed flash

While the K-1 is not industry-leading in terms of flash sync speed or third-party support, a step forward in this area is always welcome.  If you're interested in high-speed strobes, check out the Priolite system.


The Pentax K-1 has seen practical improvements in just about every key area pertaining to still photography.  With so many features that enhance usability in the field, the K-1 is not only the most versatile Pentax K-mount body to date, but also unique among full-frame DSLRs currently on the market.  Who can say no to all these features in a 36-megapixel full-frame body priced below $1800?

Learn More

Additional K-1 resources:

The Pentax K-1 is available for $1796.95 in the US and is expected to start shipping on April 25th, 2016.  Follow these links to pre-order the K-1 and support the forum:

Don't miss the pre-order giveaway if you do place an order— we have $600 in gift cards for four lucky winners.




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