Pentax K-1 Review
Highlights and New Features
While Pentax has historically been known to effectively recycle hardware from previous models, the K-1 is a departure from the norm in the sense that the majority of its internal components have either been updated or designed from scratch. This, in part, contributed to the delay in the camera's initial announcement.
Pentax K-1 with 24-70mm F2.8
With this in mind, there are quite a few highlights for us to cover. Most interestingly, many of these features are not something that you would find when browsing through the K-1's key specifications.
Pixel Shift Super Resolution
The K-1's sensor can use microscopic vibrations to greatly enhance image resolution, eliminate artifacts, and reduce noise by several stops when photographing still subjects. It is one of only a handful of digital cameras that natively include this technology, and the only full-frame DSLR to date. We dedicate an entire page of our review to this feature.
Advanced Sensor Features
The Pentax K-1's 36-megapixel sensor is based on the tried-and-tested Sony chip originally used in the Nikon D800. The ISO range has been expanded to top out at ISO 204,800. On Pentax, this sensor is also complemented by an on-demand AA (anti-aliasing) filter simulator option that microscopically vibrates the sensor to significantly reduce moire. This feature continues to be unique to Pentax DSLRs. Ultrasonic vibration (Dust Removal II) is also present to keep the sensor clean.
Shake Reduction II with 5-axis Operation
Pentax has developed an all-new Shake Reduction II (SR II) system to stabilize the K-1's larger sensor. Engineers have also enhanced it to offer the highest degree of stabilization to date in a Pentax: up to 5 stops, or half a stop more than the K-3 II and a full stop more than other Pentax bodies.
SR II works along 5 axes, including pitch, yaw, horizontal and vertical shift, and now roll.
During field testing we have found SR II to be exceptionally effective at slow shutter speeds.
Shutter Rated for 300,000 Exposures
Even though the K-1 requires a considerably larger shutter than previous K-mount bodies, the redesigned mechanism has been rated for 300,000 actuations— the best in the industry outside of the professional sports DSLR market segment, and 100,000 more than the Pentax K-3 and K-3 II (and Nikon D810).
Newly-developed shutter mechanism
Improved Viewfinder, Autofocus, and Electronic Level
The K-1's viewfinder has been upgraded with a customizable LCD overlay. You can choose which of the many components (shown below) you want to enable, and the electronic level how has a dedicated dual-axis readout in the viewfinder.
Pentax K-1 Viewfinder Diagram
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.
Thanks to this new LCD overlay, the K-1's new SAFOX 12 autofocus system can display multiple in-focus points at once. The total number of AF points has been increased to 33, and additional AF options have been added to optimize tracking performance.
Wi-Fi and USB Tethering
The K-1 is the first Pentax to support tethered shooting using both a USB cord and native Wi-Fi. Wired tethering with a PC is possible via Image Transmitter 2 (sold separately) or via Ricoh's free Adobe Lightroom plugin, 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 Logo
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. Similarly, at the -2 setting, the screen will not blind you at night.
The outdoor view setting can also be added to the Control Panel.
Outdoor View screen brightness changes
Thus, 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 upward tilt, 45-degree downward tilt, about 40 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.
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).
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 slots 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 at the press of the illumination button, even while the camera is off.
Third Control Wheel
The K-1's front and rear e-dials are supplemented by a third multi-function control wheel called the settings dial, and corresponding function dial. The dial can be configured to control the ISO, exposure compensation, burst mode, bracketing, HDR mode, 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 motion artifacts when in pixel shift mode.
While the K-1 is not marketed as a camera specifically designed for astrophotography, it certainly could be.
Thanks to its built-in GPS module and the Shake Reduction system, the K-1 can track the motion of 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.
In addition to standard intervalometer and composite shooting modes, the K-1 also introduces the Star Steam mode, combines photos shot at an interval into a 4K video file.
Star Stream mode
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 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.
Two SD Card Slots
The K-1 has two SD card slots. With two memory cards inserted, the options for image storage are:
- When card #1 runs full, writing continues on card #2
- Write to both cards in parallel (thus creating a backup)
- In RAW+ mode: Write RAWs to one card and JPGs to the other card
In movie mode, you can select which of the two cards is used for file storage. You cannot do so in sequential mode for stills, however: a strange omission carried over from earlier models. To force the camera to switch to a specific slot, you must remove the card in the other slot and power cycle the camera.
From a physical standpoint, the Pentax K-1 has everything you would expect from a professional-grade camera: a magnesium-alloy body, metal chassis, and full weather sealing.
Next, we will take a look at lenses compatible with the K-1.