Pentax KP Review

Exposure Modes

Except for the "X" setting, the Pentax KP has the same exposure modes as the Pentax K-1 including five user modes made directly available on the mode dial. As an update over the K-1, four of the five user modes come preprogrammed, but they can of course be replaced with your own favorite settings.

Exposure Mode DialThe mode dial has the following settings:

  • Auto ("Green mode"): The KP 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. Combined with the various other green settings users new to Pentax can get up and running quickly. The user can then gradually "graduate" to the more advanced modes and settings.

  • P ("Program" mode): The camera sets shutter speed and aperture (and ISO if auto-ISO is engaged). The program mode of the KP incorporates what Pentax calls Hyper Program: 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. Hitting the green button will return both parameters to the program line and traditional program exposure mode where the camera sets aperture as well as shutter speed. In other words, this unique system allows you to instantly switch from P into Tv or Av mode. It is possible to forego Hyper Program and customize the e-dials to shift the program line and 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 also sets 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 ("Manual"): 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. Auto ISO is not available in this mode, you must set it manually.

  • B ("Bulb"): Aperture is set with the rear e-dial. The shutter stays open for as long the shutter button is held down. But there is a cool custom function that changes this behavior so that the first press of the shutter release opens the shutter and the next press closes the shutter. This makes for much more convenient night shooting. Perhaps even cooler is the timed exposure option. Hit the green button and you enable a timer that can be set to keep the shutter open between 10 seconds and 20 minutes.

  • 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
    U1 through U4 comes preset with settings for these four shooting conditions: HDR landscape, macro, astrophotography, and using a manual aperture lens.

The KP exposure mode dial cannot be knocked off its setting by accident. In order to turn the dial the button in the center must be pressed down. This lock function cannot be disengaged like it can on the K-1 and K-3. Some users may miss that feature.

The KP'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

  • Standard: 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. The MTF 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 find it the right choice by Pentax that auto ISO is disabled in manual exposure mode. This means that one always has full manual control of the three exposure parameters: 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 24 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 KP 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 in the view finder and on the rear monitor (if turned on).

The other option is to customize one of the C1 to C3 positions on the function dial (3) to EV compensation and then set the value with the third e-dial (4). This allows for faster operation and is a good option if you use EV compensation a lot.

Sensitivity

The sensitivity (ISO) can be set in the range from ISO 100 to ISO 819,200 by hitting the ISO button and then turning the rear e-dial. It can also be set by assigning ISO to one of the custom positions on the function dial and then turning the third e-dial like shown above for EV compensation adjustment. The sensitivity steps are full EV steps by default, but step size can be changed in the custom menu to follow the exposure steps you've set (1/2 EV or 1/3 EV). Auto ISO is engaged by hitting the ISO button followed by the green button.

The range and program line for auto ISO can be set on the first page of the capture menu. The ISO program line can be set to Slow, Normal, and Fast. The setting determines the eagerness with which the KP 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. We appreciate the flexibity the user has to customize these settings.

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 better visible. The extended dynamic range settings are most conveniently accessed from the control panel: Hit the INFO button, navigate to the desired feature and turn the rear e-dial. The 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 leave these set to Auto, which are the out-of-box defaults.

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.

Verdict

The KP is near perfect when it comes to the array of exposure related features and the many related customization options. It is also positive that the user interface in itself is customizable (buttons, dials, control menu) so to that the camera can be adapted to your way of working. The Hyper Program mode which is retained from previous models is another 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. Our only criticism is the KP's lack of a top LCD and we would also have preferred that the ISO button had found a place on the top plate. This would make it easier on photographers who switch back and forth between the KP and the K-3 or K-1 during a shoot.


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