Pentax K-1 Review

Exposure Modes

The Pentax K-1 has the same exposure modes as the Pentax K-3 with the welcome change that the number of user modes has been increased to 5. The larger exposure mode dial made this possible. We applaud that the user modes are directly accessible on a dial rather than being accessed via a menu.

Exposure Mode DialThe mode dial has the following settings:

  • Auto: The K-1 analyzes the scene and selects what it determines to be the optimal exposure. A number of advanced settings are disabled in green mode so that a novice user can safely use this mode without getting in trouble with the more complex settings and concepts. We like that Pentax has retained this setting even on a pro camera since this combined with the various other green settings allow users new to Pentax to get up and running quickly. The user can then gradually "graduate" to the more advanced modes and settings.

  • P: Hyper Program mode. The camera sets shutter speed and aperture (and ISO if auto-ISO is engaged). Turning the front e-dial will set the shutter speed to a user selected value (and keep that value for subsequent shots) while the camera then adjusts aperture automatically; turning the rear e-dial will set the aperture (and keep that value for subsequent shots) and the camera will now adjust the shutter speed to match. The green button reverts both parameters to the program line and traditional program exposure mode where the camera sets aperture as well as shutter speed. The behavior of retaining the aperture value or shutter speed from shot to shot in P mode is called Hyper Program. It is possible to forego Hyper Program and customize the e-dials to shift the program line, set the ISO and/or adjust exposure compensation.

  • Sv ("Sensitivity value" mode): This is an exclusive Pentax exposure mode. The user sets the ISO with the rear e-dial and the camera will set shutter speed and aperture to match.

  • Tv ("Time value"): Shutter speed priority, the user sets the shutter speed with the front e-dial. The camera sets a matching aperture (and ISO if auto-ISO is engaged).

  • Av ("Aperture value"): Aperture priority mode, the user sets the aperture with the rear e-dial, the camera sets a shutter speed to match (and ISO if auto-ISO is engaged).

  • TAv ("Time and Aperture value"): This is another Pentax special. The user sets the shutter speed with the front e-dial and the aperture with the rear e-dial, and the camera adjusts the ISO to match.  Think of it as M mode with auto ISO.

  • M: Metered manual exposure mode. The user sets shutter speed and aperture, the camera meter is active and indicates how much the exposure is off the metered value.  ISO cannot be set to auto in this mode.

  • B ("Bulb"): Aperture is set with the rear e-dial. The shutter stays open for as long the shutter button is held down. What we particularly like is that a custom function can change this behavior so that the first press of the shutter release opens the shutter and the next press closes the shutter. The same behavior can be obtained when using the infrared remote control. This makes for much more convenient night shooting.

  • X ("X-sync"): This setting is handy when using third party flash guns or when a flash is connected to the X-sync terminal rather than the hot shoe: The shutter is set to the flash sync speed and the aperture can be adjusted with the rear e-dial. The flash sync speed can be adjusted in custom function no. 7 in steps from 1/90 s to 1/200s.

  • U1 through U5: These are the customizable user modes. Not only will these settings recall the exposure mode the user as stored (like Av, Tv, etc.), but several other of the user's preferred settings can be stored in these user memory banks, hereunder:
    • Sensitivity (ISO)
    • EV compensation
    • Metering pattern 
    • AF mode and number of AF points
    • Drive mode
    • White balance
    • Custom image
    • And many more. Refer the Operations Manual for the complete list

The exposure lock dial can be operated in two ways:

  1. It can be locked so that it can't accidentally be knocked of its setting. To lock it the lever (2) must be pushed to the right so that the index park aligns with the lock setting (3). In order to turn the dial one must then press down on the center button (1). Turning the mode dial and holding down (1) can easily be done with one hand.
  2. Unlocked. The dial can be turned freely. To operate in the unlocked mode the lever (2) must be set to the leftmost position. This is the position shown in the illustration. The click stops between the settings of the exposure mode dial are quite firm.

We like that Pentax offers the user both choices. Even though the click stops are firm one can still inadvertently change the setting when retrieving the camera from the camera bag in a rush.

The K-1's program line can be configured through the menu (capture menu page 1) so that it matches your intended shooting style.  The program line selected affects which aperture and/or shutter speed the camera selects in the fully automatic (P, Sv) exposure modes. The following options are available:

  • Auto: The camera selects what would be optimal based on some unpublished criteria

  • Normal: All-around, middle-of-the-road mode

  • High-Speed Priority: Sets the shutter speed as fast as reasonable possible for action photography

  • DOF priority (deep): Intended for landscape photography. Sets a small aperture so as to maximize the depth of field (objects from near to far are rendered sharp)

  • DOF priority (shallow): Intended for portraits and for when you want to isolate a subject from the background. Opens up the aperture to create a shallow depth of field

  • MTF (with FA lenses and newer). When possible given the light and lens in use, the MTF program sets the aperture to or near the F-stop where the lens has the highest resolution. This program line is a Pentax invention back from the film days and it is still unique to Pentax

Setting the Program Line

The different program lines may be a help to some and it is therefore nice to see the many options provided. Seasoned shooters will probably want to take charge of the exposure and use one of the semi-automatic exposure modes (Tv, Av, TAv), or manual exposure mode (M) in which case the setting of the program line becomes of less interest.

The exposure in the P automatic mode and in some of the semi-automatic modes (Av, Tv) is also affected by auto ISO, if set. Auto ISO has its own program line of sorts, refer below.

Comments on Manual Exposure Mode

Setting of the shutter speed and aperture is assisted by an easy to read exposure bar calibrated in on-third or half stops (customizable). The exposure meter bar is displayed in the viewfinder and on the status screen on the rear monitor (this screen can be turned off if you find it distracting). The scale can also be shown on the live view screen. We're sad to see that the exposure bar is not displayed on the top LCD. The reduced size compared to previous models leaves no room for this scale.

The exposure meter readout on the Status Screen

We're glad to see that auto ISO is disabled in manual exposure mode so that one always has full manual control of the three exposure settings, shutter speed, aperture, and sensitivity. Manual exposure mode is also the mode to use with legacy K-mount lenses with an aperture ring and no "A" setting: Hit the green button and the camera will stop down the lens, meter, set a shutter speed matching the chosen aperture, and open up the lens again (for this to work custom function 26 must be set to "enable"). Av mode is the more convenient mode with screw-mount lenses (or other lenses that cannot be stopped down by the camera): Manually stop down to the desired aperture and hit the shutter button. The camera will select the appropriate shutter speed.

Other Features that Affect Exposure

EV Compensation

The exposure value set by the camera's meter can be adjusted in the range from -5 EV to +5 EV.

On the K-1 this can of course be done as on previous models by hitting the +/- button (1) and then turning the rear e-dial (2). You can follow the value being set on the top LCD as shown here, in the view finder, and on the rear monitor (if turned on).

New with the K-1 is the option of setting the function dial (a) to +/-. The EV compensation value can then be set with the setting dial (b). This allows for faster operation and is a good option if you use EV compensation a lot.


The sensitivity (ISO) also affects exposure. It can be set in the range from ISO 100 to ISO 204800 in a manner similar to the EV compensation setting illustrated above (ISO button plus rear e-dial, or function dial at ISO plus setting dial). The steps are full EV steps by default, but step size can be changed in custom setting no. 2 to follow the exposure steps (1/2 EV or 1/3 EV). Auto ISO is engaged by hitting the ISO button followed by the green button.

When the rear monitor is turned on icons will show which dial controls which setting. The screenshot to the right thus shows that the setting dial is set to control ISO and the rear e-dial to control aperture. These hints are well thought out and makes the user interface that much more friendly. The features assigned to the four way controller are also indicated.

The range for auto ISO can be set in the menu. A program line of sorts can also be selected. This feature can be set to Slow, Normal, and Fast. The setting determines the eagerness with which the K-1 will increase ISO rather than opening up the aperture or slowing the shutter speed. The minimum and maximum ISO values of the auto ISO range can also be set in the control panel.

Extended Dynamic Range

The dynamic range can be extended like on previous Pentax models. The highlights can be held back to reduce the risk of clipping, and details in the shadows can be lifted so that they become visible. The extended dynamic range settings are most conveniently accessed from the control panel shown to the right: Hit the info button, navigate to the desired feature and turn the rear e-dial. In the screen shotshown here we have selected Highlight Correction. These settings are also available via the menu system.

The settings available are:

  • Highlight Correction: Auto, On, Off (below ISO 200 highlight correction cannot be set to On)
  • Shadow Correction: Auto, 1, 2, 3, Off

Expanded dynamic range works well and we recommend that you set both to Auto.

Highlight Correction works by underexposing by a stop (halving the ISO) and then lifting shadows, and can therefore affect RAW files. Shadow Correction simply lifts shadows.

Live View Lighting

In all shooting modes other than M, the camera seeks to maintain a well-lit live view image.  It will automatically vary the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to accomplish this, so the live view bokeh may vary (note that during focusing, the lens aperture will always open up all the way, however).

In M mode, on the other hand, the camera seeks to provide an accurate preview of the exposure that will result after image capture.  To this end, the image will brighten or darken by up to 5EV depending on the selected combination of settings.

Since this behavior cannot be overridden by the user, an interesting scenario can occur when manually exposing with a manual flash.  The camera has no way of predicting the effect of the flash, so in M mode, the live view image will often be far darker than the actual exposure.  To eliminate this behavior, we've discovered a simple (albeit obscure) workaround: set the camera to TAv mode and limit the auto ISO range to a small interval (i.e. ISO 100-160).  This essentially allows you to retain full manual control while also being able to view a well-lit live view image.

We hope that in the future, a menu setting is added to allow the user to configure or disable the live view exposure preview. 

Note that since this feature relies on the camera's knowledge of both the shutter speed and the aperture, it does not function with manual lenses (M series, K series, and lenses attached using an adapter).  Thus, whenever you a manual lens, the live view image will always be nice and bright.


We like that the exposure related settings are highly customizable and that the user interface itself is also customizable (buttons, dials, control menu) so to that it all can be adapted to your way of working. This is the typical Pentax thoughtfulness. The Hyper Program mode which is retained from previous models is also positive because it makes it fast and convenient to switch between P, Tv and Av. Finally, the exposure system's compatibility with Pentax legacy glass is a big plus. The K-1 leaves nothing to be desired regarding exposure modes and customization. PentaxForums @PentaxForums News | Reviews | Forum

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