Pentax K-01 Mirrorless CSC Full Review - The Pentax K-01 is the only mirrorless camera to accept the same lenses as the Pentax K mount Digital SLR series. Joshua Waller finds out how it performs in our full review.
The new Pentax K-01 is a brand-new mirrorless camera from Pentax, featuring a 16 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and K mount allowing you to use any K mount lens from Pentax. The camera is due to be available to buy in mid to end March, for £629 body only, or £679 with the new compact f/2.8 40mm lens shown. The camera is also available with an 18-55mm kit lens, as well as a 55-200mm zoom lens, the same lenses available with the Pentax K-r and Pentax K-5.
Pentax K-01 Features
Pentax K-01 Front Angle
Other features include 6 fps shooting, Full HD video with 30/25/24fps, a microphone socket, HDMI out and a colourful design that will be available in yellow and black, black and silver, or silver. With a white version available in certain markets. The new 40mm lens is said to be the World's smallest interchangeable lens available and was designed specifically for the Pentax K-01.
Pentax K-01 Pop Up Flash
16 megapixel APS-C Sensor
3inch screen, 921k dots
6fps continuous shooting
Sensor-shift Shake Reduction
Full HD video, 30/25/24fps
Stereo microphone socket
ISO100-12800, expandable to 25600
SD/SDHC card slot
500 shot battery life
Pentax K-01 Handling
Pentax K-01 Rear
Handling - The camera is surrounded by a rubber grip, apart from the back which is mostly black, or silver on the silver model and there is not a traditional thumb grip on the back of the camera. The memory and IO ports (AV/HDMI) are covered by a rubber cover, and on the very left of the camera (looking from the back) there is a microphone socket for video recording.
Design - The design of the camera is somewhat unique and is most certainly different, being available in a number of colours it certainly provokes a reaction when people see and touch the camera. Once you get used to the design, or learn to live with it, the camera is reasonably comfortable in the hand, although a deeper hand grip and rear thumb grip would help. The metal strap loops are unique and certainly seem very strong, although the camera doesn't feature a sensor plane marking - this seems to be the case on Pentax mirrorless cameras, although can be found on the majority of other mirrorless cameras as well as newer Pentax Digital SLRs.
Pentax K-01 Top
Buttons - The two red and green buttons on the top can be customised, with the red button defaulting to record video in any mode. The camera does not feature an electronic viewfinder, but could support an optical viewfinder in the flash hot shoe. The cameras screen is used for live view and focusing appeared reasonably quick, although not as quick as the quickest mirrorless cameras available.
Pentax K-01 Sensor
The Pentax K-01 can be held easily with one hand but the position of the mode dial is a little bit of a stretch for your hand. The rest of the controls on the back of the camera can be used easily with one hand and they are clearly labelled.
Menus - The Pentax K-01 has the same menu system as the Pentax Digital SLRs, as well as a control panel that can be accessed on the back of the screen by pressing the info button. It's also possible to turn the screen off. The screen is quite sharp and bright with good colour and viewing angles. Outdoors it is quite good, but bright sunlight can make it difficult to see the screen.
Pentax K-01 bottom, battery and side ports
Battery Life - The battery is a large Digital SLR sized battery with a rating of 1860mAh, so should offer good battery life and has a CIPA rating of 500 shots. We were able to take over 400 shots with the battery showing plenty of life left.
Speed - We tested each camera's performance at focusing, shutter response, shot-to-shot time, continuous shooting etc. and have posted the results below. To test this we took 6 or more shots and calculated the average, so that consistent results were produced.
Instant review was switched off, as was the start up screen, focus was set to centre spot. Focus speed is certainly slower than other mirrorless cameras, although is quick enough in most situations. Continuous shooting (High / Low) the screen blacks out, and it's only when shooting JPEG images that you can use the 6fps shooting mode, switching on RAW slows the camera to 1fps shooting.
Pentax K-01 Performance
We've taken a number of sample photos in a variety of situations, both in our studios and outdoors. Further sample photos are available in the to Equipment Database, where you can also add your own reviews and ratings.
Pentax K-01 Sample Photos
Sample photos - The camera produces pleasing images with bright saturated colours and good levels of detail. Photos with flash show very little or no red-eye, although some purple fringing was noticed in the reflection from the flash.
Pentax K-01 Lens test images
Lens test photos - The 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens performs well in a variety of situations with little flare even when shooting with the sun in the frame. Very little chromatic abberation was noticeable in the shot of the trees or the majority of other photos.
Pentax K-01 ISO test images
ISO Noise Performance - The camera has a default ISO range of ISO100 to ISO12800, with ISO25600 available if you enable it in the custom options menu. ISO100 and 200 show very low levels of noise. At ISO400 noise is low, with a very slight increase in noise in darker colours, if you view images at 100%. ISO800 shows another increase in noise, but the levels are still low. At ISO1600 noise increases again and becomes more noticeable and there is a slight decrease in detail. At ISO3200 noise is stronger and the decrease in detail is more noticeable. Again at ISO6400 noise increases as detail decreases, although images are still usable. It's not until ISO12800 that noise becomes a bigger issue and it's at this setting that you might decide you need to resize, convert to black and white or apply further noise reduction manually. ISO25600 shows the highest levels of noise and you may find this setting best avoided depending on your needs.
Pentax K-01 White-balance test images
White Balance Performance - Auto white balance (AWB) under tungsten light leaves a warm cast, and using the tungsten preset gives a much better result. There is the option to increase the strength of AWB under tungsten lighting, in this shot subtle correction used, strong correction is also an option. AWB under fluorescent lighting gives a yellow/green cast and the fluorescent preset gives a magenta cast. Colours are brightly saturated.
Pentax K-01 Digital filters
Digital Filters - HDR takes three shots and merges these in camera, however the shot-to-shot time seemed quite slow as it didn't seem possible to use this feature handheld without some ghosting appearing in the final image. The digital filters available are shown above, with each one offering a number of customisation options. As well as this there are a number of scene modes and colour options. The camera doesn't feature a built in panoramic mode.
Video Sample - Video options include full HD, at 30/25/24fps selectable. Shake Reduction is enabled while recording and videos appeared very smooth. You can manually adjust the internal microphone level, as well as the extenal microphone level.
Value For Money
The price of £629 body only prices it above entry level Digital SLR cameras, but put it in the middle of the pack with regards to other mirrorless cameras and one would expect the price to drop over time. The K-01 is available for £679 with the 40mm pancake or the 18-55mm kit lens. Alternatives you could look at include the Pentax K-r (£399), Pentax K-5 (£699) or from the mirrorless / compact system camera market, the Panasonic Lumix GX1, Olympus PEN E-PL3, Sony NEX-5N, Samsung NX200, Nikon 1 J1 are all competitors available for around the same price, with some costing noticeably less, although only the Sony and Samsung cameras have APS-C sized sensors, with the others featuring smaller sensors.
Pentax K-01 Verdict
The Pentax K-01 is a bold new camera from Pentax and is certainly different to anything else made by anyone else - and perhaps that's what Marc Newson and Pentax intended with the design of this new camera. It's also the first mirrorless camera ever to use a full Digital SLR lens mount, supporting existing Digital SLR lenses. This causes the camera size to be larger than most other mirrorless cameras as the distance from the sensor to the lens has to be the same as that of a traditional DSLR camera, although the new 40mm f/2.8 lens certainly helps reduce the size. The design of the camera certainly seemed to divide opinion when it was revealed and it still creates a reaction when used.
If you look beyond the design, the camera is easy to use, has a large number of options and controls and importantly is capable of producing high quality images with strong colour, good detail and low noise levels. If you have a large range of Pentax K mount lenses then the Pentax K-01 could be a good way to get the most from them, without having to buy the Pentax K-5, although if you shoot RAW you may find the camera's speed a little disappointing. The price of the camera is very similar to the K-5 price and the K-01 isn't massively smaller than the Pentax K-r, which has the benefit of an optical viewfinder and a much lower price. So while this camera does take great photos, the handling could be much better and for value for money the Pentax K-5 with optical viewfinder definitely scores very highly. If however, you can wait, then perhaps the next version of this camera will be more traditionally styled if you're not a fan of the design.
The Pentax K-01 has advanced features and excellent noise performance.
Pentax K-01 Pros
Low noise at high ISO settings
Access to all K-mount lenses
Good battery life
40mm f/2.8 pancake lens is extremely small
6fps continuous shooting (JPEG only)
Pentax K-01 Cons
1fps continuous shooting in RAW
Rubber ports cover difficult to close
Handling could be better
Not much smaller than the Pentax K-r
VALUE FOR MONEY
Additional sample photos and photos of the Pentax K-01 compared to a Pentax Digital SLR can be viewed on Pentax User.