Pentax K-S1 Review

User Interface and Shooting Modes

The K-S1 sports an interface that is simple, intuitive, and easy to navigate— something that owners of recent Pentax models have grown accustomed to.  The layout of the various settings and the way they are accessed is in fact almost identical to what we saw on earlier models such as the K-50 and K-3, so existing Pentax users will feel very much at home with the K-S1.

Button Layout

K-S1 Button LayoutPentax K-S1 Button Layout

With the exception of the AF/MF switch (left), on/off/video switch (top), exposure compensation button (top), and green button (top) that you saw on the previous page, all of the K-S1's controls are located on the back of the camera, including the mode dial.  By default, the rear LCD shows a status screen that indicates current settings and the function of the 4-way controller.  Although the camera lacks context-sensitive tooltips that certain other brands offer, it is still user-friendly and easy for beginners to figure out thanks to its simplicity.

The only thing that's a bit confusing is how the OK button works.  By default, it controls the active AF points, both for regular shooting and in live view.  While in live view, however, it can also be used to zoom in on the image.  Holding the button down for two seconds will change its function when pressed, thus allowing you to zoom in.  To go back to controlling the AF points, hold it down again.

Button Customization

We've already stated that the placement of the mode dial on the back of the camera works well, as it makes it easier to quickly switch modes and to see what modes are available.  What doesn't work nearly as well is the fact that the K-S1 only has one control wheel, which takes away from its user-friendliness.  Among other things, this means that the K-S1 doesn't have the Hyper Program mode in which both the shutter speed and aperture can otherwise be overridden and manually dialed in at any time without leaving P mode.  This handy feature is found on all other current Pentax DSLR models.  Since the K-S1 only has one control wheel, it can either be used to shift the program line or manually override just the shutter speed or just the aperture, depending on how the dial is customized via the menu.

The K-S1 also lacks the customizable "RAW" button.  This leaves the camera with only one button that can be reassigned by the user: the green button.  Out of the box, the green button resets the exposure compensation and reverts to the shutter speed and/or aperture recommended by the camera: a useful function in itself.

http://www.pentaxforums.com/content/uploads/files/1/1197/IMG_1277.JPGCustomization Options for the Green Button

Remaining customization options control minor things such as the direction of the control wheel or the specific function of the AF button.

http://www.pentaxforums.com/content/uploads/files/1/1197/IMG_1276.JPG

http://www.pentaxforums.com/content/uploads/files/1/1197/IMG_1275.JPG

Finally, the K-S1 allows users to configure whether or not the lights in the grip should come on during self-timer/remote shooting.  The mode dial/OK button illumination cab also be dimmed or disabled.

Pentax K-S1 LightsLED Light Customization

Menu System

Pentax engineers have made a few menu enhancements just for this camera.  First of all, you will find new fonts and face-lifted icons throughout the K-S1's menu system.  Thanks to this, the UI feels modern and more inviting, and the screens are easier to read.  When you power the camera on for the first time, or through the main menu, you also have the option of selecting a color scheme other than the default blue pictured in our screenshots.

Second, the function of the Menu button is now context-sensitive.  For example, while in video mode, it will always bring up the video tab of the main menu, and when in live view, it will always bring up the live view sub-menu.

When switching modes, the camera will display the name of the current mode as well as the function of the AF button, green button, and control wheel, as shown in the screenshot below:

K-S1 BackK-S1 Status Screen & Illuminated Mode Dial

The camera's main menu is broken up into 5 categories: image capture settings, playback settings, video settings, system settings, and custom functions (advanced options).  For reference, the table below includes screenshots of all the menu tabs:

Quickly Accessing Settings

The key settings from the image capture menu are duplicated in a very useful quick-access screen called the Control Panel.  The Control Panel is accessed by pressing the Info button, and the settings shown will vary based on where you're shooting stills or videos.

Truth be told, the Control Panel is so useful that it lets you get away with rarely accessing the main menu itself.  It allows you to control the following camera settings:

  • Stills & Videos
    • Custom Image profile
    • Digital Filter
    • Shadow/Highlight Correction
    • Metering mode
    • Contrast Detect Autofocus Mode
    • AF Assist Light
    • Shake reduction
    • Focus peaking
    • Resolution
  • Stills
    • Lens corrections (distortion, aberrations, vignetting, diffraction)
    • High ISO noise reduction
    • Slow shutter speed noise reduction
    • File format
    • JPEG quality
    • Anti-moire (AA filter simulator)
  • Videos
    • Framerate
    • Microphone volume

Control Panel - Stills

Control Panel - Videos

Shooting Modes

The K-S1 includes the traditional suite of shooting modes consisting of P (program), Av (aperture priority), Tv (shutter priority), M (manual), and B (bulb).  It also offers TAv (manual exposure, auto ISO) and Sv (auto exposure, manual ISO), two handy modes that are unique to Pentax cameras.  With the appropriate menu settings, you can also shoot in aperture priority or shutter priority without leaving P mode, simply by turning the control wheel.  The green button can be used to snap back to the camera's recommended shutter speed and aperture at any time.

In addition, there are three beginner-friendly modes: Auto, SCN (scene) and EFFECT (special effects).  The latter is new to Pentax DSLRs but something similar was found on the compact mirrorless Pentax Q system.

  • Auto mode
    Fully automatic exposure.  Restricted access to advanced settings and menu tabs.
  • Scene mode
    A collection of presets for common shooting scenarios such sports, landscapes, night scenes, etc.
  • Effect mode
    Fully automatic exposure with artistic effects to quickly spice up your photos.

The variety of modes offered by this cameras will satisfy beginners and advanced photographers alike.

Electronic Level

Surprisingly, the K-S1 has no electronic level, a feature currently found in nearly every current Pentax camera, including some compacts.   This means that the menu screens will not rotate based on the camera's orientation.  No artificial horizon or tilt display is available in live view or through the viewfinder, and automatic horizon correction is not available.  And most importantly, orientation information won't be embedded in your photos, so you may have to manually rotate verticals.

This unfortunately gives the Pentax K-50 yet another advantage over the K-S1.

4-Way Controller, Flash, Drive Modes

Outside of playback more, the 4-way controllers doubles as a quick way of accessing the white balance, drive mode, flash and ISO settings.  Like other parts of the menu, the four screens shown below have been face-lifted.

Drive Modes

The right directional button on the 4-way pad takes you to the drive mode menu, which lets you access the K-S1's various drive modes:

  • Single shot
    Captures one photo every time the shutter button is depressed
  • Continuous burst (high)
    Captures photos at the maximum framerate (5.4 FPS) as long as the shutter button is held down, until the buffer is full
  • Continuous burst (low)
    Captures photos at a reduced framerate (3 FPS) as long as the shutter button is held down, until the buffer is full
  • Self-timer
    Captures a single photo after a 12-second delay
  • Self-timer (2s)
    Captures a single photo after a 2-second delay
  • Remote shooting
    Captures a single photo when triggered by an infrared remote control (i.e. the Remote Control F)
  • Remote shooting (3s)
    Captures a single photo after a 3-second delay when triggered by an infrared remote control
  • Exposure bracketing
    Captures a 3-photo burst with varying exposure

The only other drive mode we would have really liked to see is remote/self-timer bracketing, present on higher-end bodies.

Flash

The K-S1's flash is mechanically released, which means that it will only fire when popped up by the user.  Consequently, there is no "auto" flash setting in the flash menu; the flash will always fire when opened (unless it's still charging in between shots) and never fire when closed. We tend to prefer this type of flash in advanced cameras, but in this case we feel that the K-S1 would have been better off with an electronically-released flash.

The flash menu offers a host of advanced settings in addition to "flash on":

  • Red-eye Reduction
    Effective in avoiding the red-eye effect when shooting group photos
  • Slow-speed Sync
    Enables the flash to act as a secondary source of illumination while the camera uses a shutter speed below the flash sync speed of 1/180s; sometimes referred to as "fill flash"
  • Slow-speed Sync + Red-eye Reduction
    The same as above with red-eye reduction added
  • Rear Curtain Sync
    The flash will fire just before the shutter closes, rather than at the time the shutter opens; otherwise the same as slow-speed sync
  • Manual
    The flash will fire at a set power; controllable at fractional increments

Advanced users will appreciate the presence of manual flash power control, a setting otherwise unheard of in entry-level cameras.

White Balance

There are far too many white balance settings for a camera otherwise meant to be simple, so we won't be covering them all here.  What's worth mentioning is that in addition to auto white balance, the K-S1 has a "multi-segment auto white balance" setting which can vary the white balance in different parts of the image.  This can really come in handy in scenarios with varied artificial light sources, such as concert stages or clubs.

We recommend using auto white balance for everyday photos.  If you choose to shoot in RAW or RAW+, you can of course always change the white balance when processing the file.

ISO Menu

The ISO menu allows you to either manually set the ISO (between 100 and 51,200 and 1/3, 1/2, or full stop increments), or change the auto ISO range.  Note that the minimum ISO in auto mode is fixed at 100.  The ISO steps can be configured in the custom function menu.

Playback Mode

The K-S1's playback mode makes it easy to view and browse photos.  The 3:2 LCD aspect ratio means that photos fill the entire screen and thus appear bigger than on previous-generation Pentax cameras.

Using the control wheel, you can either zoom in on the current image or view a thumbnail, filmstrip/calendar, or folder view.  By default, the camera creates a new folder for each day, which makes it easy to locate photos and keep track of how many you've taken.

Pressing the Info button while viewing an image displays an overlay menu that allows you to pull up a histogram overlay, color histogram, or detailed metadata.

The screenshots below illustrate these features:

Finally, pressing the down button while viewing an photo will bring up a retouch menu that lets you perform basic editing, such as cropping and RAW development (not pictured).

Verdict

The Pentax K-S1's user interface can be compared to a late production run of a car model.  Its appearance has been face-lifted and it is thus more appealing and more desirable, but functionally, very little is new compared to other Pentax models.  The new fonts and graphics look great and we hope they are kept on future models.

Facelifted CarsK-S1 Interface (left) vs Original Interface (right) Photo Credits

Overall, we are pleased with the K-S1's interface as it enables quick access to key shooting settings and is easy to navigate.  Users will rarely feel lost while digging using this camera.  While it only has a few small quirks, (and surprises, like advanced features) we do have to call it out on the lack of a second control wheel.  This trivial addition would have made the camera more comfortable to use in the hands of beginners and more powerful in the hands of seasoned shooters.


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