Pentax KP Review

User Interface

The KP's top plate is very much like that of the K-1, except that there is no LCD screen on the top plate showing the set shutter speed and aperture etc. The key features lifted from the K-1 are the switch (1) with which to select between viewfinder mode, live view (LV) and movie mode, the Function Dial (2) and associated third command wheel (3), called the Setting Dial by Pentax. We like that LV has been added to the mode switch since it spares a push button on the back for other purposes.

Pentax KP top plate

The Function Dial (2) has been taken a step further than on the K-1 in that three of the settings are now customizable (marked C1, C2, and C3). While more customization is a good thing, how do you remember what you have assigned to the Function Dial? You don't have to remember it! The camera will show you:

When the Function Dial is turned, the rear monitor briefly displays the settings stored as a band of icons at the bottom of the screen, quite nice! In the illustration C2 is active and has been assigned manual setting of sensitivity (ISO). The third control wheel thus controls the ISO in this setup as the screen also highlights for you. As we can see from the band of icons, we have assigned C1 to exposure bracketing and C3 to assigned adjustment of the brightness of the screen. The remaining three positions cannot be customized and are controlling burst speed, HDR options, and meter pattern, respectively.

This concept of a customizable third control wheel is really useful and user friendly. The Function dial is customized through the Record Menu, tab 5:

The dial being customized is highlighted in blue on the second screen.

As another new feature of the user interface the EV compensation button can be assigned other functions if you so wish and is therefore labeled Fx3. The top plate has lost the ISO push button - it has been moved to the back replacing the custom image button of the four way controller.

Four Way Controller

The buttons of the four way controller (a) have two functions (besides menu navigation) as is customary for the Pentax user interface. They either open up their respective setting menus (ISO, drive modes, white balance, and flash) or they move the autofocus point or area around. A long press of the center button switches between the two modes. The status screen indicates which mode is active:

Back with four way controller and lit status screen

This dual use is not that user friendly; in the heat of a shoot one can easily find oneself open up a menu when the intent was to move the AF point. If your primary use of the four way controller is to move the AF point you can set custom function 18 to make that the default behavior when the camera is powered up or wakes up.

In typical Pentax fashion the status screen indicates which settings can be changed with the control wheels. In the example above the exposure mode is Av and we can see that the rear e-dial controls the aperture as indicated by the corresponding icon, and that the setting dial controls the metering pattern. We can also see that white balance is set to auto, ISO is set to auto, and that the drive mode is single shot (indicated by the green rectangle at the position og the drive mode button). The display in the viewfinder also indicates which settings can be controlled by underlining those items and the live view screen also has helpful hints in the form of a tick mark or icon identifying the settings that are controllable in the current configuration:

Live view screen with hints

In this example we see that the F-stop is adjustable with an e-dial and that the setting dial will switch from Auto ISO to manual input of the desired ISO value.

All in all, the Pentax user interface with its clear feedback is very user friendly.

The button upper left (b) on the back has a new function on the KP: It turns the display of the electronic level on and off, but can be customized to serve other purposes and is therefore marked Fx2. In playback mode its function is to delete images. In line with Pentax's entry level models the rear AF button and auto-exposure lock (c) are combined. We prefer that they had been separate like on flagship bodies.

Menu Appearance

The KP has the refined "face-lifted" menu design of the K-1 which features clearer icons than the K-3 and 645Z, better text readability, improved navigation, help text, and even some animations here and there.   Overall, these enhancements make the camera feel modern and up to date.

Several small yet time-saving enhancements have also been carried over from the K-1.  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. The e-dials will adjust these parameters directly.

Post Facelift (KP)
Pre Facelift (K-3)

Customizable Control Panel

The Control Panel is one of the most useful parts of the KP'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.

Customizable Control Panel (still photography)

A different version of the control panel is shown while in video mode.

You can customize which features should be included on the Control Panel by hitting the Fx3 button as per the hint in the lower right corner. Any tile in the stills version of the Control Panel can be customized to control one of the following settings:

  • Program Line
  • Shutter Mode (Mechanical or Electronic)
  • File Format, JPG Quality and Resolution
  • Shadow and Highlight Correction
  • Slow Shutter Speed Noise Reduction
  • High ISO Noise Reduction
  • Clarity
  • Skin Tone
  • Digital Filter
  • HDR Capture
  • Pixel Shift Resolution and Mode hereof
  • Astrotracer
  • Lens Corrections (4)
  • And many more!

The same setting  cannot be placed in two different squares, but any square can be mapped to having no function.

Grid Selection
Feature Selection

Overall, we see this feature as a key feature of the KP's interface and the way it works is excellent!  With the increasing number of features, other camera makers have had to make compromises in which settings were available via the Control Panel.  On the KP, you're instead able to select the settings that you use the most frequently.

Interestingly, customization is also possible in video mode, even though with just 15 video setting options the panel isn't filled. But you can of course remove those you don't want to see.

AF Mode Selection

With the exception of the AF/MF setting (controlled by the physical AF/MF switch), the KP'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), AF.C (continuous AF), and AF.A (camera decides) and the rear e-dial to change the number of points (1 (center), 1 (select), 9 (auto), or 27 (auto)). If you have picked 1 (select) or 9 (auto) you can move the point or area, respectively, by using the four way controller while shooting.

The above procedure is for view finder mode. In Live View mode the procedure is similar, but only the rear e-dial makes changes and it switches between Spot (center), 1 (select), Multiple, Tracking, and Face Detect.

These settings can also be changed from the main menu as well as from the control panel.

While the AF MODE button is pressed, the monitor as well as the viewfinder shows the current AF mode and the changes you make. Using the AF Mode button to change settings is convenient and fast to do.

On this side of the camera we also find the last of the three customizable push buttons, the RAW/Fx1 button. Its default is to switch from shooting JPG to RAW, but it can be set to a host of other functions. The Fx buttons and the AF/AE-L buttons are customized from tab 5 in the Record menu:

Customization of push buttons

The Fx buttons are set to their defaults in the screen shot above. The AF button set to mode 2 which disables AF with the shutter release button.

E-dials and Other Customization

The E-dials can be customized separately for each exposure mode P, Sv, etc.

Customizing of E-dials

The E-dials have their default settings in the screen shots above. Note in the second screen shot how the buttons and dials under customization are highlighted. In most modes one of the E-dials can be set to control ISO.

Other customization options include the choice between optical preview (i.e. stopping down the aperture) and digital preview, and selecting which settings the camera will remember after being powered off.

Electronic Level

The KP's two-axis electronic level has a dedicated screen in addition to the indicator in the viewfinder  and the indicators on the live view screen. The level display in the viewfinder doubles as the exposure meter scale so you can only view one or the other. We would have preferred them to be separate.

The level display on the rear monitor It is called up by hitting INFO twice. This brings up the screen shot to the left below which allows for selecting the electronic level screen. The other options are the Status Screen, a blank screen, and GPS/Compass (the latter requires the optional GPS/Astrotracer accessory O-GPS1).

Live View

The KP's still and video live view can be customized to show some, all, or no shooting information.  The frame rate 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 onto an external monitor or TV. One can also play back images from the SD card.  The resolution of the output feed is set automatically to match the external monitor, but can also be set manually from the Setup menu (up to 1080i). The native resolution of the camera's rear monitor is just over VGA.

A minor nuisance in relation 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.

Main Menu

The KP's main menu is laid out across five sections: the record menu, movie menu, playback menu, settings menu, and custom function menu. There is a good deal of duplication between the menu settings, Control Panel, and buttons on the camera.  Thanks to the customizable Control Panel most users will rarely find themselves accessing the main menu once initial configuration is complete.

Below we offer screenshots of every top level menu page for reference. Click any thumbnail to enlarge and browse.

Record Menu

Pentax KP Record Menu

Pentax KP Record Menu

Movie Menu

Play Back Menu

Settings Menu

Customization Menu

UI Verdict

The Pentax user interface has been honed over time and has with the KP reached a very high level of customization paired with ease of use and useful hints and icons. The option to have the four-way controller default to moving the AF point around helps reduce the negative impact of button duplication, which can otherwise at times trip you up. A few quirks remain, however, such as the behavior of the rear e-dial in instant review while the camera is aperture priority mode (the e-dial will zoom the preview image rather than change the aperture).  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 not only gives the user excellent awareness of current camera settings, but also hints at which button controls which setting.

The function dial and third control wheel first introduced with the K-1 is a very cool feature and has been improved over the K-1 by making some of the positions on the function dial customizable. We do miss a top LCD showing the key exposure settings, but that's a fair price to pay for making room for the function dial on a compact body.

Bottom line, we consider the UI excellent and easy to use. PentaxForums @PentaxForums News | Reviews | Forum

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