A Few Days with a Pentax KP Pre-production Camera

How does the KP fare in actual use?

By Albert Siegel in Hands-On Tests on Feb 22, 2017

The new Pentax KP is just hitting the market, but Ricoh was kind enough to provide me with a pre-production unit a few days ago.  Building upon my initial impressions from last week (link), I want to talk about my time using the camera for casual shooting.

The interface of the camera is very well-thought-out and the options are extensive.  I dare to say this camera offers far more than I expected considering it's not a "pro" model.  Personally, with the exception of maximum shutter speed in viewfinder mode and lack of a top LCD, I feel this camera offers so much more than what a top-end professional DSLR did less than a decade ago.  I guess some might say a that's a long time, but if you're like me, you tend to keep your gear as long as it can get the job done. Heck, I still use my original K-5 as my main body.

 I'm thrilled with the multiple customizable buttons, dials and quick menu.  This is by far the most customizable camera I've used.  And while it may seem intimidating at first, once you have everything set to your preferences, it truly becomes a personal camera.

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After I set up the KP to my needs, I decided to go out and test the image quality.  Do keep in mind that while I can post some samples, they are limited in size as per request from Ricoh since the pre-production unit does not necessarily represent the full quality of a final unit.  I'll leave all the Exif data intact.

My first shots were just to see how the camera would handle the harsh lighting of a clear winter day and what I could get out of the shadows.  Here you can see the out-of-camera JPEG compared to DNG format processed in Photoshop CS6.  The amount of detail with minimal noise you can pull from the shadows is indeed very impressive (click any image to enlarge and browse).

JPG out of camera
Processed from RAW DNG

Although not a measure of the camera's potential, I did enjoy the colors in the following shots and just wanted to share as the camera did a fine job of metering in AV mode not to blow the highlights even if a bit underexposed.  Still though, a little processing of the RAW files will bring out the best in any photo. These images were shot with the DA* 60-250mm F4 zoom lens. Click any image to enlarge and browse.

1/750 s, F5.6, ISO 400 1/250 s, F5.6, ISO 1600
1/750 s, F4, ISO 200 1/750 s, F4, ISO 1600

As it was just after sunset, I thought it a good idea to try out the high ISO ability of the camera in a difficult heavily shaded area.  These may not be pretty pictures, but they do show how good and how bad things can get.  The camera has excellent noise reduction up until ISO 25600 and is still usable until ISO 102400.  Even ISO 204800 might work out for a small print if you need it in a pinch, but above that is totally worthless in my opinion. Please do note that I accidentally moved the framing up when I took the final shot (ISO 819200), so it's not the camera doing something due to the ISO or anything like that. Click any image to enlarge and browse.

 Next up was giving the autofocus a go. The camera did not disappoint at all for any still subject even in the lowest of light.  What did surprise me was the AF tracking. Let's face it, Pentax cameras have a less than stellar reputation in this regard.  I mainly use the K-5, K-S2 and sometimes the K-01, all of which are great at autofocusing in difficult light, but don't do well  for anything faster than a snail in a three-legged race.

Although my test was tracking oncoming cars just after sunset, the KP was able to provide me with a very high keeper rate that I've not seen since my old Canon 1D Mk II and the results are definitely better than any of my Pentax bodies, including the still current K-S2.  I'm not sure how it compares to the K-3 or K-1 as I need to do more testing, but it's one of the best autofocusing Pentax bodies to date. Click any iamge to enlarge and browse.

Finally, I want to talk about movie mode.  I work with video quite a bit and movie mode is of great interest to me.  Let's be honest... Pentax cameras tend to be behind the competition in video quality.  The  bitrate of previous bodies have been low at between 17 Mbps to 20 Mbps with the exception of the K-5 series, which was much higher though captured as MJPEG rather than MP4.  The KP seems to record just above 24 Mbps, which is the same as the upper limit of regular AVCHD.  While not pro-level, it's still very good and a huge improvement.

Another area that has seen improvement is in the ISO limit for movies.  The KP can record video at up to ISO 25600!  While not clean by any measure, it's absolutely usable in a pinch.  It's far cleaner than what I was able to get out of a DSLR at ISO 3200 just a few years ago.  Personally, I would be fine with shooting up to ISO 12800 for news reports if needed. This might just be the first Pentax DSLR that I might consider using for work in addition to my professional video camera, though I would need to deal with XLR inputs with a separate audio recorder.  As for HDMI output... I do not have the accessories to try it out, so please wait for a future report.

While this article is just my personal view based on using a pre-production KP for a few days, I'm very much looking forward to testing out the final model and telling you all about it.  Please feel free to post any questions or requests you may have and I'll do my best to answer them in my free time.

Please also check the PentaxForums home page soon again for reports from CP+ which trade show begins on Thursday February 23.

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Pentax KP camera manual

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