Pentax Digital SLRs

The K-01: A Review.

Posted by: Dangermouse on Fri Mar 01, 2013 17:28
When the K-01 was launched I was amongst those who thought it ridiculously overpriced and a bad idea on the part of Pentax. It seemed like an attempt to follow other well-known tech manufacturers in turning products into "lifestyle statements" where the purchaser would be more interested in flaunting it around to show off their wealth rather than buying it because it was the best available for the money.

Fast-forward to the present day, and the K-01 doesn't seem to have been a huge success. It has in fact been discontinued, although the 40mm XS lens is apparently staying in the range. The planned XS wide angle and telephoto lenses have been cancelled and it looks as though Pentax will be working on the Q range for their mirrorless offering rather than anything with a K mount.

However, one side affect of this is that there are currently a lot of K-01s about at cut prices. Bear in mind that this body uses the same batteries, memory cards, and lenses as the K-5 (and anything else with a K mount which takes the D-LI90) and it now looks like a very decent option as a second body, or if you want the different capabilities it offers compared to a full DSLR. SRS currently have the black body and 40mm lens kit for £349, and their previous excellent service saw an order placed which arrived the following morning.
The K-01's differences to a DSLR are well known, but to recap you're essentially getting a K-5 minus the optical viewfinder, second control wheel and WR sealing. The sensor offers the same resolution, the firmware and processors have been slightly updated. Thanks to the lack of a mirror it's even more essential that you switch it off before changing lenses, as when it's switched on the shutter is open and the sensor exposed.

The more strident reviews on a well-known video site complain about the size of the camera, and yes, it's bigger than most mirrorless interchangeable lens systems. But that's mostly because it has to be in order to maintain the registration distance, which enables the use of all K lenses. Unlike competing products which either need an adaptor or a completely new lens collection you can swap lenses between this and your K mount DSLR.

Other complaints concern the rubber flap over the SD card and ports on the grip side of the camera. It isn't that hard to operate and providing that you're gentle with it I don't see it failing in a hurry. If you look closely the rubber part doesn't really need to bend much, and it fits back into place pretty easily with gentle finger pressure.

On to the good points. The control dials, strap lugs, power switch and flash housing are all metal. Other buttons are plastic and feel much the same as any current Pentax DSLR. The whole thing feels well made with no creaks or odd noises when handled. Both the camera and the 40mm lens have metal mounts, the lens also has a neat push-fit rubber cap which doesn't seem as though it'll fall out accidentally.

The handling has come in for some criticism too. It is different to a DSLR, being more like an overgrown compact. My only complaint is that the green and red buttons should have swapped places on the top plate, as you need to either swap hands or press it with your left hand in order to meter with older lenses. It feels rather like a thicker MX or K2 in terms of the weight and shape. Essentially, if you've got a Pentax DSLR you will be able to find your way around this without much trouble.

Image quality appears as good as you'd expect, given the ancestry. The mode dial has HDR and SCN settings, I wouldn't have minded seeing the former on the K-5 as it can be useful to expand the dynamic range. It's a very subtle HDR rather than the argh-my-eyeballs effect often seen online - think of it as approaching the dynamic range of print film rather than slides. The digital filters and "scene" effects are pretty much unchanged from other models.

Lens choice may make or break this. Certainly I wouldn't have wanted one with the 18-55mm zoom, and it's best suited to smaller primes. If you have a collection of FA or DA Ltds you'll love it, if your collection is mostly zooms then you may want to look for some primes to go with it. I'm probably going to hunt for an FA28 when my finances recover. Remember, as it can share with your DSLR any lenses you buy will have more than one use.

Which leads us neatly onto another very useful feature named Focus Peaking. When activated this places a white outline around those parts of the subject which are in focus, making it easy to use manual lenses. I spent some time with an M 135mm to test both this feature and how it handles exposure with older lenses. In short, it does very well. If you have a few of the smaller A series primes they'll be superb with this camera.

The green and red buttons can be programmed via the menu system. As delivered, the green button does exactly the same as on any Pentax DSLR while the red button switches to video recording. As I seldom use video (and would find it annoying if I accidentally pressed it) I swapped this to activate focus peaking.

AF performance is surprisingly capable. I had read complaints about the contrast detection-based system struggling, but with the V1.03 firmware update it seems fine. I suspect the K-5 would struggle in the conditions which gave it some difficulty. Don't expect ultra-fast AF, but it locks on in a timely and reliable fashion. So far I have tried the kit 40mm, an F 35-70mm, and the M 135mm. As may be expected AF in low light is more reliable with faster lenses. I will shortly be trying the Sigma 150-500mm on a tripod to see how it handles 3rd party lenses.

I've posted a few shots of the camera next to a K-7 and also a few test shots taken with the camera here, all of these shots were taken with the 40mm lens with the mono one using the relevant digital filter. I'm still getting used to the new angles that constant live view permits, having hardly ever used it on the K-5!

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