Pentax in 2018: What the Brand Brings to the Table
Pentax is a Fine Choice
By PF Staff in Gear Guides on Nov 5, 2018
Ricoh’s sole announcement at Photokina 2018 was the development of the GR III, which has created some frustration and disappointment amongst some of our members. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what Pentax actually gives us today and how that leaves us with little excuse for not buying into Pentax and getting out and taking some wonderful images!
After all, were we always to be waiting for the next model, we’d never get anything, because there will always be a next model!
Pentax is Innovative
It would seem that Pentax gets little credit for being innovative. Unfortunately, they don’t do much
to tout their achievements in the marketplace so that could very well be a part of the explanation.
Pixel Shift Resolution
Pixel Shift Resolution gives us increased image quality over what a given sensor would otherwise be able to produce. When originally introduced, Pixel Shift Resolution only worked for static objects (like for architecture or product photos) and when using a tripod, then came the ability to handle scenes with movement, and lastly, with the K-1 II, we got dynamic pixel shift, which allows for shooting hand held with pixel shift.
All current K-mount DSLRs feature pixel shift resolution, even the entry level K-70, which sells for just US $ 599.
Anti-Alias Filter Simulator
Pentax was one of the first manufacturers with the courage to forego the Anti-Alias filter in front of
the sensor. Dropping the AA filter meant increased image quality albeit at the risk of moiré (false
color patterns) under certain conditions. Again, Pentax was innovative and utilized their sensor
based shake reduction (SR) to create an AA filter simulator, which would take care of moiré in
those few cases, where it would show up.
As if this wasn’t enough, Pentax also gave us an in-camera software option to reduce/remove moiré
after the shot is taken.
Again, the entire DSLR line has the AA filter technology, and that also goes for the coming GR III.
You can read about the pixel shift and AA filter technology in detail on this page.
Again utilizing the sensor shift mechanism, Pentax made the sensor counter the movement of the earth when taking pictures of the night sky. This feature is available on all current and recent K-mount models.
Cameras without built-in GPS need the GPS accessory to accomplish this feat.
Our guide on how to use the astrotracer can be found here.
How often do you need an expensive shift lens? Not that often and such investment could therefore
be hard to justify, but should you find yourself in the need for correcting perspective distortion, high
end K-mount cameras offer to accomplish this by shifting not the lens, but the sensor!
Broadest Product Range
With the introduction of the full frame K-1 in 2016 Pentax became the brand with the broadest product range probably only matched by Leica. Pentax supported compact mirrorless with the Q-S1 (5.7 x 7.4 mm), APS-C (18 x 24 mm), full frame (24 x 36 mm), and digital medium format (33 x 44 mm). Today, in 2018, this hasn't changed. Fuji is skipping FF, Nikon, Canon and Sony have no medium format, and while Panasonic just announced their entry into FF and may get there some day, they, too, have no medium format. Olympus apparently is stuck with the micro-four-thirds format, where the sensor measures a mere 13.7 x 18 mm. Add the Ricoh Theta V and SC 360 degree cameras, the Ricoh GR II compact with an APS-C sized sensor, and the underwater WG-50 to the mix and Pentax really has you covered!
High-end Features Galore
Glass Prism View Finder
Even the K-70 budget model features a glass pentaprism. With Pentax the days of the dim penta-mirror finders are gone. They can still be found in budget models from other brands.
All current Pentax K-mount cameras sport a viewfinder which shows 100% of the scene being
captured. We have to go all the way back to the K-r from 2010 to find a viewfinder showing less
than 100%. And the K-r was actually at a respectable 96%!
Low Light Capability
Usable High ISO settings combined with an autofocus working all the way down to -3 EV makes
any current DLSR including the 645Z a good choice for low light shooting. The recent models have added an accelerator chip, that helps reduce noise even more.
The Pentax DSLRs are weather sealed and many of the lenses offered today are as well, even budget priced lenses like the smc Pentax-DA 18-55 mm F3.5-5.6 AL WR standard zoom.
While the lens selection may not be as huge as that of some other brands, the important question to
ask is if the lenses you need are available and at an affordable price. Most likely the answer will
be yes. For APS-C you’d be hard pressed to find a larger range than what Pentax offers and many
of the lenses are even weather sealed. Where prime lenses for APS-C are concerned, Pentax has you covered from 14 mm to 560 mm including their lovable and compact, metal barrel Limited series.
For the full frame format Pentax had you covered at the pro level right out the chute with three F2.8 zooms together covering the range from 15 mm to 200 mm and, dropping a stop or two, you’re now also covered up to 450 mm zoom-wise. Their long primes top out at 560 mm. There is also no shortage of fast primes from 31 mm to 77 mm, with the top notch D FA* 50 mm F1.4 being the most recent addition.
Then there is a vast array of film era lenses available on the second hand market, many still at a very low price. Thanks to the backwards compatibility of the Pentax DSLR's, all of the legacy K-, M-, A-, F- and FA-series lenses can be used.
Check out our lens finder tool when looking for lenses. The search results have a compatibility link, so that you can check if the lens fits your camera.
Ergonomics and Usability
Pentax cameras have traditionally been designed with the photographer in mind. This means that all buttons and controls are within easy reach, you have two or even three control wheels, and an amply sized grip. The most frequently settings can be done without having to dive into the menu system. Photographers using polarizing filters will appreciate the removable "door" in the lens hoods, which allows for adjusting (turning) the filter without having to remove the hood.
We should also mention the rear monitor's night mode, which protects your night vision when doing astro shooting. In bright sunlight the adjustment of the monitor brightness is easily accessible.
Outdoor View Setting
A push-button skortcut is available or can be set up through customization that provides easy access to adjustment of the brightness of the LCD monitor. This is very convenient in bright light outdoors, but can also be sued to dim the display when shooting indoors in dimply lit rooms.
Protecting Your Investment
With Pentax you're protecting your investment. Pentax cameras have always been backwards compatible, so that you can continue to use your lenses when you buy a new camera. This holds not only for the K-mount DSLRs which can be used with all K-, M-, A-, F-, and FA-series lenses, but also the 645 medium format cameras, which are fully compatible with film era 645 and 6x7 lenses.
With the K-1 II was introduced, Pentax went a step beyond what other manufactures have done and offered a hardware upgrade option for owners of the K-1 effectively turning it into a K-1 II.
What to Chose
The Budget Minded
The right DSLR for the budget minded would be the Pentax K-70. A lens selection for the budget minded could be one of these options:
- The K-70 with the DA L 18-50mm F4-5.6 DC WR RE retractable zoom lens or the DA L 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 AL WR zoom lens. A kit like this will have you covered in most of situations
- The K-70 with the smc Pentax-DA 18-135 mm F3.5-5.6 for more range at the long end. This combination can sometimes be had at a bargain price
- Or guy the K-70 bundled with an 18-55 mm zoom and add the inexpensive smc Pentax-DA 50-200 mm F4-5.6 to the kit to cover an even longer reach
For Traveling Light
- The K-70 with the DA L 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL WR Lens weights in at just 888 g ( 31 oz)
- Or without sacrificing much in image quality consider the RICOG GR II at 221 g (7.8 oz).
For Action Photography
For action photography a fast-focusing lens with good reach is required, which again translates into a lens without heavy glass elements. Add to that a camera with a high frame rate. The KP shoots at a respectable 7 fps, the K-1 at 6.4 fps with this lens (crop mode), and the K-70 at 6 fps.
- Any current Pentax DSLR and the HD Pentax-DA 55-300 mm ED PLM WR RE. The camera and the lens are weather resistant, so should you be out shooting in a drizzle your equipment can handle it
For Top Notch Image Quality (Without Breaking the Bank)
The 50 MP Pentax 645Z is the best value in medium format and is compatible with the film-era 645 and 6x7 format lenses, which can be had second hand at a fair price.
Or if you're not ready for medium format (yet), the 36 MP Pentax K-1 II full frame camera is available at a competitive price. Combine it with the HD Pentax-D FA 24-70 mm F2.8 and HD Pentax-D FA* 70-200 mm F2.8 pro-grade zoom lenses, or the new top shelf HD Pentax-D FA* 50 mm F1.4 prime lens which looks to be the best 50mm F1.4 lens ever from any brand.
For Astro Photography
Our preferred choice would be the K-1 II due to the night illumination of the buttons, lens mount, and SD card slot. Furthermore, the K-1 II does astrotracing without an external accessory. The other important features for night shooting are shared with the K-70 and KP: Built-in timer up to 5 minutes and rear monitor red night vision display.
For Macro Shooters
Any of the current DSLRs have what it takes to do the job: Viewfinders covering 100% of the scene (the 645Z 98%), live view with focus peaking, mirror-up shooting with self timer or remote control. K-mount macro lenses come in 35 mm, 50 mm, and 100 mm focal lengths and tops out at 1:1 magnification (for 645Z we have the HD Pentax-D FA 90 mm F2.8 Macro topping out at 0.5 x magnification). For more than life size magnification the smc Pentax-D FA 50 mm F2.8 Macro has an aperture ring which make it suitable for use with extension tubes or bellows.
The rolling out of new products may be slower than some will like, but even then Pentax has us covered product wise except perhaps in rare circumstances which most of us will never face. It is impressive how Pentax innovation has developed the in-body shake reduction system to also work as an astrotracer, composition adjustment replacing a shift lens, AA filter simulator and resolution enhancement device. We've come to take such inventions for granted and perhaps forget to give Pentax credit where credit is due. Backwards compatibility is also commendable and kudos are warranted for the hardware upgrade offer turning a K-1 into a K-1 II and serves to illustrate that an investment into Pentax is future proof.