Pentax KP Review
Construction and Handling
The Pentax KP feels solid in the hand as the body is made of magnesium alloy on top of a stainless steel chassis. The top plate and prism house, though, is polycarbonate, but that doesn't take anything away from the overall impression of a sturdy camera. The body is weather sealed which, when used with a weather sealed lens, keeps dust and rain out. The camera is not water proof and should never be submerged in water.
Size and Heft
Visually the KP looks fairly compact due to its slim body and small hand grip. The mirror box, however, bumps the overall depth and height up to the same dimensions as the K-3 and the width is the same at 131.5 mm (5.18 inches).
The weight is close to that of the K-70 at 703 g loaded (24.8 oz.) in part thanks to the small and light D-LI109 battery (the same battery as the one used in the K-70).
Three hand grips are available. To the right the KP is shown with the smallest one, the one that comes with the camera. We used the KP for a full day photo shoot with the small grip and a Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC Macro zoom. Not even once did we miss a bigger grip with that combo. What helps making the small grip work with a lens that size is the large and properly shaped thumb rest on the back of the body:
If you use a heavier lens you may want to opt for one of the other two grips available. We tried all three grips with the FA* 300mm F4.5 and found that the KP handled well with the largest grip with this lens. We also found that you'd soon grow tired in your hand if you were to use the small grip with a lens this heavy. We have to admit, though, that the K-3/K-5 series handle better with big lenses due to the size and contoured shape of their built-in grip.
Buttons and Dials
Are the buttons and dials laid out for ease of use? Let's take a look:
The top plate is laid out largely as on the K-1 with the exposure mode dial to the left, the function dial introduced with the K-1 just to the right of the prism and a third control wheel rightmost on the top plate. Below the function dial we find a lever that switches between viewfinder photography, live view, and movie mode. The shutter button is designed like on a classic film camera surrounded by the on-off switch.
A new feature is the push button on the left hand side which now turns the electronic level on and off. This is most welcome since the exposure value metering bar in the viewfinder doubles as the electronic level display. It is therefore important that one easily can switch between the two modes of display. It is a draw back that viewfinder only shows the level for horizontal tilt; for a display of horizontal as well as vertical tilt one has to switch to live view or to the dedicated electronic level screen.
The exposure mode dial has a lock button. In order to turn the dial one must depress the center button. Unlike, say, the K-3, the lock mechanism cannot be disabled, something we didn't miss, though, but some users may prefer a freely spinning dial.
The front e-dial has a new placement which together with the top plate layout makes the camera look a bit retro. This new placement does not take anything away handling wise compared with the traditional placement found on the K-1, K-3, etc.
Handling wise all buttons and dials are within easy reach and feels placed just right. This also goes for the remaining buttons on the left hand side of the mirror box. We did find the buttons of the four way controller a bit on the small side and a bit cramped. It is easier to operate the one on a K-3 series camera.
The shutter release button provides very distinct resistance at the half way point so there is no risk of accidentally firing the shutter when you just want to keep the button half-pressed. The button feels much like the best mechanical shutter releases on the original K-mount cameras from the 1970'es.
The Pentax KP is perhaps the best handling Pentax DSLR ever together with its 35mm full frame cousin, the K-1. We do miss the K-1's top LCD showing shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, though the status screen flipped up is a solid alternative.
The rear monitor has an aspect ratio of 3:2 so it fits the aspect ratio of the images captured and there is no wasted space in the form of black bands along the sides. The monitor is of the flip up and down type which we prefer to the twist and turn type of, say, the K-70, which is more cumbersome to bring into position. The quality of the mechanism and hinges leave nothing to be desired.
The ability to flip up the monitor came in handy more than once during our photo shoot in a canyon, where we had to hold the camera an inch or so above the ground pointing it upwards in order to get shots like this of "The Wave".
The brightness level and color balance of the screen can be adjusted. The color scheme ("skin") can also be changed. Finally there is an outdoor view setting with five levels which, when cranked all the way up, makes the screen readable in strong sun light. It is then fine for operating settings and the menu, but not so much for viewing or evaluating the captured images. That's best done indoors with the normal setting of the back light, or you can use the histogram to evaluate exposure. The outdoor view setting can conveniently be assigned to one of the custom positions on the function dial. For handling the camera at night the screen has a red night view setting which we appreciate.
Ports and Doors
The hinged battery door is easy to open and doesn't accidentally open on its own. The weather seal is clearly visible. The camera only takes the smaller D-LI109 battery due to the limited space available. During our test we got just about 370 - 380 shots per charge so we recommend that you purchase at least one spare battery. The optional battery grip takes the D-LI109 as well as the larger D-LI90 battery used in he Pentax flagship models (the D-LI90 has about 80% more capacity than the D-LI109).
We're happy to see that the battery door is located far enough away from the tripod socket that the battery can be exchanged with the camera on a tripod even if the tripod has a good sized quick release plate.
In the image above we have removed the flap covering the contacts for the battery grip. Unless the battery grip is mounted the flap should of course remain installed so as to not compromise the weather sealing.
Above the SD card door is a rubber plug type port for the combined USB/HDMI port. An third party adapter is required in order to utilize the HDMI capability. It would have been nicer to have had a separate port for HDMI with a standard connector, but there is no room for one.
On the left hand side we find another two plug type doors, one for the microphone (doubling as a socket for the optional cable release CS310) and the DC input port for providing power from the household current via the optional AC adapter K-AC167.
While it is commendable that a cable release can be connected we miss the infra red port. The KP is the first and only Pentax DSLR that does not support the handy infrared controllers. As an alternative, though, the KP can be controlled via Wi-Fi from a smart phone.
Care must be taken when closing the ports to ensure that the rubber plugs are fully inserted. Otherwise the weather sealing is compromised.
The KP has a built-in pop-up flash. We're glad that the KP doesn't follow the recent trend of omitting the flash as we've seen on the K-1 and K-3II. The built-in flash is weak, though, with a guide number of just 6 (ISO 100/m) which is half that of the K-70, but what we find important is that it can work as a controller for wireless flash. Without it one would have to buy an extra external flash just for the purpose of acting as a controller.
A battery grip D-BG7 has been announced, but is was not available for our review. We'd expect that the battery grip would improve handling considerably with heavy lenses like the DA* 60-250mm, the DA* 300mm and the D FA 150-450 mm. The battery grip accommodates one Li-Ion battery, either a D-LI109 or the larger D-LI90. It does not accommodate AA battery cells as do some other Pentax battery grips.
Without going overboard in retro design the Pentax KP resembles classics like the Pentax LX and even the Pentax K of 1958! We like this design a lot, in particular since it doesn't take anything away from handling and ease of use.
Is the KP the best handling Pentax DSLR ever? It's close! We'd give the top spot to the K-1 due to its larger hand grip, but we can't fault Ricoh for the KP design with exchangeable grips. If you primarily shoot with small lenses like the DA series limited primes or a light zoom you may appreciate the option to be able to use a small grip making the rig that much more compact. With larger lenses, the K-3 and K-1 are still earlier to hold, in our opinion.
Buttons and dials are placed just in the right spots. Users of previous advanced models may need to take a few days to get used to the different layout.
The camera is of a solid construction with the outer shell made mostly of magnesium alloy and a weather sealed body. This comes at a price - the KP is relatively heavy in part also due to having a bright pentaprism viewfinder rather than a dim pentamirror viewfinder as used by some of the competitors. And while it lacks a top LCD which you'd find on a flagship body, the status screen display combined with the tilting monitor is a viable replacement.