Pentax K-1 Review
As of its launch, the Pentax K-1 is the most feature-packed camera in the Pentax DSLR lineup. As a result, it has an extensive menu system and a sophisticated interface that seeks to make the many features as accessible as possible.
Pentax K-1 button reference - shown with grip attached
While most parts of the K-1's interface will seem familiar to users of other Pentax bodies, a number of changes have been made to the button layout. We will discuss all parts of the interface in detail on this page.
Like other recent Pentax models, the Pentax K-1's LCD screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio, which means that you do not see black bars in playback mode or in live view (except in movie mode of course). This makes photos appear larger and consequently, smaller details can be easier to discern.
Both the hue and brightness of the screen can be adjusted. In addition, a new separate outdoor view setting can greatly brighten or dim the backlight for shooting in hard sunlight and very low light, respectively.
LCD Color Settings
Outdoor View Setting
The K-1 has a new "face-lifted" menu design which features clearer icons than the K-3 and 645Z, better text readability, improved navigation, and even some animations here and there. Overall, these enhancements make the camera feel more modern than prior Pentax flagships. The face-lifted interface was originally rolled out in the Pentax K-S1 and K-S2, and has been refined on the K-1.
Several small yet time-saving enhancements have also been made. For example, when selecting the bracketing mode, it is no longer necessary to enter the sub-menu to change the number of exposures or EV spread.
Post Facelift (K-1)
Pre Facelift (K-3)
Although the Pentax K-1 has a multitude of dedicated buttons and dials, every setting save for the shooting mode, GPS state, and AF/MF switch is controlled electronically. This design allows the camera to save your favorite settings into the five customizable User modes found on the mode dial. It also allows for each dial or button to serve multiple purposes.
For example, by default the rear e-dial controls the aperture value in P, Av, TAv, and M mode. However, when the exposure compensation or ISO button is pressed beforehand (or held down), the e-dial will instead temporarily control the corresponding parameter. This system coupled with clever button positioning allows an experienced user to quickly change key settings without ever having to look away from the viewfinder.
K-1 Status Screen
A supplement to this design is the K-1's Status Screen, which lies at the heart of the user interface. This screen is on by default outside of live view mode, and for added convenience, the camera's orientation sensor will rotate it by any increment of 90 degrees depending on how you are holding the camera.
The Status Screen shows the current shooting settings and highlights parameters that can currently be controlled using the camera's dials. For example, if the user were to press the exposure compensation button, the EV scale would be highlighted in blue.
Similarly, while the metering mode button is held down, the rear e-dial will control the metering mode (spot, center-weighted, or matrix).
Metering mode button
Certain parameters are also highlighted in the viewfinder, including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, AF mode, metering mode, and exposure compensation.
K-1 Viewfinder Display
As you can see, the display in the viewfinder is quite robust. Refer to the viewfinder page later in this review for more details on what the viewfinder can show.
4-way pad and AF point selection button
A design aspect of all recent Pentax DSLRs is that the 4-way pad doubles as a gateway to sub-menus for drive mode, white balance, JPEG profiles (Custom Image), and possibly the flash menu (the "down" button can be customized on the K-1). A side-effect of this design is that the button duplication can at times be confusing. In a number of AF modes, the 4-way pad is also used to control the active AF point(s). To swap the function of the 4-way pad to control AF points, the user must press the small button directly above the "up" button.
The sub-menus normally accessible via the 4-way pad
The Status Screen shows the current function of the 4-way pad. There is also a small indicator in the viewfinder. Still, when shooting through the viewfinder, it's easy to accidentally enter one of the sub-menus instead of changing the AF point. The AF point selection button is hard to feel due to its small size, so it's not ideal to be pressing it while looking through the viewfinder.
While we found this aspect of the interface to be somewhat annoying in the K-3, Pentax has addressed the issue on the K-1: a custom function (C20) allows the user to invert the default role of the 4-way pad. With this setting enabled, the 4-way pad will always control AF points rather than providing access to sub-menus. One must then press the AF point selection button to get the 4-way pad to change the drive mode, white balance, etc. Since you'll likely be looking at the Status Screen while trying to access these menus, using this new custom function makes perfect sense. It will also reduce the risk of inadvertent settings changes.
Since the K-1's viewfinder lacks an eye sensor, it may at times be desirable to disable the Status Screen entirely. This can be done by pressing the INFO button twice.
Double press the INFO button to choose to disable the Status Screen
Now that you know the basics of changing the K-1's settings, let's revisit the customizable User modes, as they can be a little bit tricky to set up. You can go in to the main menu at any time and use the "Save Settings" option to register the current camera settings to be used in either U1, U2, U3, U4, or U5. You can of course also register them to the currently User mode if one is selected on the mode dial. The camera will remember the shooting mode, AF mode, JPEG profiles, drive mode, post-processing settings, file format, and more.
User mode configuration
The User modes are convenient as each can be tailored to a particular shooting scenario. For example, you could have separate User modes for bracketing, burst, and HDR. When switching in and out of User modes, the camera shows the screen above to indicate the selected settings.
Customizable Control Panel
The Control Panel is one of the most useful parts of the K-1's menu system. This screen is accessed through a single press of the INFO button and it contains shortcuts to change common camera settings, any of which can be changed simply by turning the rear e-dial.
A different version of the control panel is shown while in video mode.
|Control Panel (Stills)||Control Panel (Video)|
New to the K-1 is the ability to customize the screen. Any tile in the stills version of the Control Panel can be customized to control the following 38 settings:
- File format, JPEG size, JPEG quality
- Minimum and maximum auto ISO
- AF.S/AF.C, AF points, AF area
- Metering mode
- AF assist light
- Flash mode and flash EV compensation
- Program line
- SD card options
- Crop mode
- Focus peaking
- Shadow/highlight correction, noise reduction (2)
- Clarify enhancement, skin tone, digital filters, HDR
- Pixel Shift, Astrotracer, AA Filter Simulator
- Shake Reduction, Composition Adjustment, Horizon correction
- Lens corrections (4)
- SR focal length (manual lenses only)
- Viewfinder gird, electronic level
- Wi-Fi on/off
The exposure compensation button is used to access the customization options. The same setting cannot be placed in two different squares, but any square can be mapped to having no function.
|Grid Selection ||Setting Selection |
Overall, we see this feature as the single greatest enhancement to the K-1's user interface compared to previous Pentax models. With the increasing number of features, other cameras had to make compromises in which settings were available via the Control Panel. On the K-1, you're instead able to select the settings that you use the most frequently.
Interestingly, customization is also possible in video mode, even though there are only 14 options in that mode.
You may have noticed that the K-1 has a large unlabeled e-dial to the right of the top LCD. This dial is accompanied by the function dial shown below, which also contains the switch to access movie mode.
The function dial lets you select the role of the third e-dial, which is also referred to as the settings dial. This role will be reflected on the Status Screen and in the viewfinder (for certain settings). While there is a bit of redundancy between this dial and other buttons/dials and menus, overall it adds a degree of flexibility to the camera: for example, the settings dial can permanently be set to control the ISO. The dial is unique to the K-1.
There are still some quirks with this system. For example, when BKT is selected, the third dial can get the camera to enter bracketing mode, but you won't be able to exit it without either accessing the menu or first switching to CH/CL and then turning the e-dial (update as of 9/16: this was resolved via firmware version 1.30, which now also allows you to disable bracketing while CH/CL is selected). Also, since the viewfinder LCD will display the remaining frame count in between shots (rather than the ISO), using the settings dial to control the ISO while looking through the viewfinder can cause confusion.
Along these lines, one annoyance resulting from button duplication is that while instant review is on, the rear e-dial will zoom in on the image instead of performing its assigned shooting role (i.e. changing the aperture or exposure compensation). This can get particularly frustrating and cause confusion while shooting through the viewfinder. The third e-dial can also control the zoom, though, so we're surprised that Pentax hasn't corrected the behavior of the rear e-dial in playback mode now that another dial is present. This issue could potentially be addressed via firmware.
To make room for the function dial and third control wheel, the K-1's top LCD has been shrunk and simplified quite a bit. After being spoiled by the 645Z's huge top display, the small size of the text on this screen leaves something to be desired.
K-1 top LCD
Despite the reduction in size, the K-1's top LCD still shows all of the key shooting parameters, including shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. You also get a battery indicator and an indicator showing the current SD card.
In certain situations, the screen can display other information, such as the current AF points, exposure compensation or the remaining frame count. The main limitation is that everything can't be shown at once, and that the text can at times be hard to see. The camera also cannot show which shooting parameter is actively being modified, though this information is available in the viewfinder and on the Status Screen.
AF Mode Selection
With the exception of the AF/MF setting (controlled by the physical AF/MF switch), the K-1's AF settings (points and mode) are controlled electronically. The main method to change the AF mode is to hold down the AF MODE button directly above the AF/MF switch, and then turn the front e-dial to switch between AF.S (single AF) and AF.C (continuous AF) and the rear e-dial to change the number of points (1, 9, 33, or select).
These settings can also be changed from the main menu as well as the control panel, which we will discuss later.
While the AF MODE button is pressed, the top LCD shows the current AF mode. In addition, this causes the LCD overlay in the viewfinder to be illuminated, and the LCD display in the viewfinder will also show the AF mode.
Top LCD while the AF MODE button is pressed
Above the AF MODE button you'll find the customizable Fx1 button, as well as a new lock button which can be configured to lock two different sets of buttons.
Currently, the things that the Fx1 button can control are limited to what's shown in the screenshot below. Note that the Fx2 button ("down" on the 4-way pad) can also be mapped to any of the same settings. The default functions are One Push File Format (JPEG -> RAW) and Outdoor View Setting, respectively.
Fx1 Button Customization (also applies to Fx2)
There's certainly room for improvement in this area, as there are countless other settings that the button could be mapped to (such as enabling the AA filter simulator or changing the JPEG resolution). Since we expect that most users will always shoot RAW with the K-1, a good alternative function for this button from among the available settings is to control the pixel shift setting. Pressing it once enables pixel shift, whereas another press would disables it.
Other customization options include the choice between optical preview (i.e. stopping down the aperture) vs. digital preview, disabling autofocus on half-press, and an extensive array of e-dial options. In most modes, the e-dials can be configured to control the exposure compensation. It is also possible to swap mappings and reversing the direction that the e-dials are turned.
Finally, the user can select which settings the camera will remember after being powered off.
Electronic Level, Compass, and GPS
The K-1's two-axis electronic level has a dedicated screen in addition to the indicators found in the viewfinder and in live view.
Dedicated electronic level screen
The on-board GPS is paired with an electronic compass that works even when the GPS is powered off. Both the electronic compass and the level can be accessed through the overlay menu shown after pressing the INFO button twice.
Compass and location screen
When the GPS is on, the screen above will also show the current time, date, and location.
The only way to enable the GPS on the K-1 is to press the GPS button to the right of the hotshoe. Once the GPS acquires a location, the red satellite icon will turn white and GPS coordinates will be stored in all captured photos.
GPS acquisition performance will vary based on the camera's geographical location and the visibility of the sky. Generally-speaking, it will have trouble getting a fix indoors unless the camera is close to a window. Outdoors, the first acquisition can take up to a minute, but subsequent iterations can be much faster, often nearly instant.
The GPS will remember its power setting even after the camera is power cycled. This makes it easy to both completely ignore the feature, or to use it permanently.
The K-1's still and video live view can be customized to show some, all, or no shooting information. The framerate is generally smooth, though it can slow down at times in very low light.
Using an HDMI cord, it is possible to project the contents of the live view display and information overlays. A menu setting controls the resolution of the output feed, up to 1080i (the native resolution of the display is just over VGA).
The main nuisance surrounding live view is that the mirror will flip down whenever you try to access the main menu or Control Panel. However, the mirror stays up when changing the shooting mode, drive mode, white balance, flash mode, or custom image settings.
Unlike on previous Pentax flagships, the live view button on the K-1 is located in the upper-left corner of the camera. While this prevents single-handed access to live view, we agree with the design decision to make the playback button more accessible instead.
The K-1's main menu is laid out across five sections: the record menu, movie menu, playback menu, settings menu, and custom function menu. On the next page, we offer recommendations as to how to optimally configure some of the settings.
There is a good deal of duplication between the menu settings, Control Panel, and buttons on the camera. Thanks to the customizable Control Panel, though, most users will rarely find themselves accessing the main menu once initial configuration is complete.
Below we offer screenshots of every menu page for reference.
The K-1's playback mode is fairly simple self-explanatory. The front e-dial and the left and right buttons can be used to cycle through images, while the rear e-dial zooms is used to zoom in on an image or out to a thumbnail/folder view.
Playback mode with basic shooting info
One small quirk specific to the K-1 is that diagonal scrolling through a zoomed image is not possible.
A notable feature of all Pentax cameras is a collection of robust thumbnail options and easy access to entire folders. Since the camera defaults to creating a new folder each day, it's very easy to mass-delete photos that have already been transferred. It is also possible to delete photos directly from the thumbnail view.
Thumbnail and folder view
The small button directly above the "up" button on the 4-way pad is used to switch between the two SD cards. At any given card, only photos from a single card are shown.
In addition to the standard information display, playback mode can also show a histogram overlay, RBG histograms, detailed metadata or just the plain photo. The INFO button is used to switch between these screens. Multiple button presses are required, as each screen can only be accessed through an intermediate overlay menu. This behavior is a little bit annoying but surely someone you can get accustomed to.
Playback information displays
The "down" button on the 4-way pad provides access to post-processing options, including software moire correction, cropping, digital filters, and transferring between SD cards. You can also develop RAW files in-camera and save them as JPEG or TIFF. All in-camera editing will create a copy of the original file rather than replacing it.
We'd like to point out that the in-camera development menu is currently the only place in which clarity enhancement and skin tone correction can be carried out post-capture, as these functions have not yet been added to the Pentax Digital Camera Utility software (which otherwise mimics all in-camera Custom Image settings). On the K-1, we've also spotted a new Color Fringe Correction setting, which has 3 strengths and an Auto mode. It is disabled by default.
A handy feature of the in-camera development system is that it makes it easy to process the same photo in multiple ways, as you will be asked if you wish to continue developing after every file you save.
While you can save processed photos in JPEG or TIFF, the TIFF files also only contain 8 bits per color channel, and thus its only advantage of those files is that they're not subject to lossy compression, which itself isn't discernible in most cases.
The Pentax K-1's face-lifted menu system greatly improves user-friendliness compared to previous flagship models. Pentax engineers have made tweaks to various options to reduce the negative impact of button duplication, which can otherwise at times cause a little bit of confusion, especially for users who are not accustomed to the K-1. A few quirks remain, however, such as the behavior of the rear e-dial in instant review while the camera is aperture priority mode. Overall, the interface feels professionally-designed, and the number of customizable settings is impressive.
We are very pleased by the customizable Control Panel and how the Status Screen and viewfinder LCD/overlay work together to give the user excellent awareness of current camera settings.
While the new function dial and third control wheel is a unique addition to the K-1, we feel that it can be quite redundant at times. The dial itself is also a bit harder to turn that the standard front and rear e-dials. A larger top LCD would have been nice, as the third dial reduces it to less than half the normal size.
Next, we will take a look at a number of recommended settings that we believe will enhance the K-1 experience for most users.