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Pentax K-1 – Hands-on Review by Maxby Chan

 

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I have been a Pentax user since the launch of the Pentax K-20. Since then I have owned a few updated bodies from K-5 to K-3. So when the new K-1, the “much awaited” full-framed sensor camera body was announced, I was really excited. It has been a painful wait for Pentax users the world over. A number of users who could not wait have changed to other camera systems.

Many friends have asked me why I bought the Pentax system in the first place? Well, I was just starting out in my travels around the world at that time and all the time I was using film cameras ranging from Nikon FM2, Olympus OM-1, Konica III, Kiev,Leica M-3, Mamiya C-330, Rolleiflex, Hasselblad 500CM and Mamiya Pro-S. Most of these cameras are mechanical and the controls were on the camera bodies. Looking around at what was available at that time, the Pentax camera body design suits my workflow. Most of the camera functions were placed onto the camera body and not hidden in the confusing menus.

The second reason was that this camera was developed and built by engineers not marketers. Pentax’s top model will have the best engineering function built into it. Unlike other brands that tried very hard at segmenting the markets. They often built a high-end model and start eliminating features for cheaper models targeting at different market segments.

Thirdly, the weather sealing of the camera body and lens suits my philosophy of using the camera to its extreme instead of nursing it and hoping to get a good resale value in the aftermarket. Weather sealing is a crucial consideration for those who loves to travel.

Fourthly, the mounts are backward compatible to earlier manual lenses with K-mounts and the shake reduction function was inbuilt with the camera and not lens. Thus making all lenses a VR lens.

Lastly, the price point is often cheaper than those bigger brands that have more marketing muscles. One can afford to thrash this camera or lose it without feeling very painful.

Pentax K-1 with 31mm f1.8 lens

Mt Bromo at night.- Pentax K-1 with 31mm f1.8 lens

My first impression of the Pentax K-1

The camera looks more angular, a reminiscence of the Pentax 6×7 era. It is slightly larger than the K-3 and heavier too. However, the body grip is better designed. It feels very comfortable to hold. In fact, the grip is better designed than the K-3.

Pentax K-1 with 31mm f1.8 lens

Mt Bromo at sunrise Pentax K-1 with 31mm f1.8 lens

So what is new?

Here is a list of what is new:-

  1. A new 36 mp full frame sensor. It is rumored to be the same Sony sensor as the Sony A7R.
  2. A new multi-directional adjustable LCD screen. I must say the mounting design is unique and it serves its purpose. I love this feature. It makes the photographing experience similar to that of a waist level finder of the medium format camera.
  3. Built-in GPS – not many models at this price point have this feature.
  4. A suspended sensor mounting that is capable of shaking off dust, shifts the sensor by one pixel in X-Y direction, shift the screen in X-Y-Z direction for reducing camera body shakes, tracing stars as it speed across the sky and a host of other applications a suspended sensor can do. This is uniquely a Pentax innovation.
  5. “Pixel-shift” – as tested to Dpreview, – “the K-1 gives one of the best Raw dynamic range results we’ve ever seen when shooting in single shot mode and absolutely outstanding results in circumstances where you can use the pixel shift mode. The multiple sampling of the same scene effectively gives a 2EV dynamic range boost, meaning it out-performs both the D810 and the 645Z by a comfortable margin. Less noise (though multiple captures) and multiple 14-bit values at every pixel mean it can give outstanding levels of DR for static scenes where you can use the Pixel Shift mode”.
  6. Improved autofocusing system. It is about twice as responsive as the K-3. The improvements are real not just marketing talk.
  7. There are more buttons and dials on the body to control most aspects of the picture taking workflow. There is a new dial on the right top side
  8. The LV (live view) button has moved from the right side to the place where the review button was and vise verse.
  9. I loved the new shutter. It is quiet and precise. There is hardly any shutter lag. The best shutter I have ever used is the Leica M-3. For those who have not tried it, you owe it to yourself to experience it at least once in your lifetime.
  10. For more information on the technical specifications, please refer to Pentax K-1 by Ricoh Imaging
Penta K-1 with 31mm f1.8 lens

Bromo Village at sunrise – Pentax K-1 with 31mm f1.8 lens

My hands-on experience

A friend of mine called up if I would like to fondle and test the Pentax K-1. It was an opportunity that was hard to decline. It so happened that I was going for a photosafari trip to Mt Bromo with a group of 15 participants.

I have owned a few Pentax lenses, the 17-70mm f4 DA, 31mm f1.8 FA, 200mm f2.8 DA and the 10-17mm DA fisheye lens. The 200mm f2.8DA lens is actually a FA lens marketed as a DA lens. This lens can be used on the K-1 as a full-frame lens.

Pentax K-1 with 31mm f1.8 lens

Wild Wild West – Pentax K-1 with 31mm f1.8 lens

The Pentax K-1 now has more physical dials and buttons placed on the bodies controlling most aspects of the photo taking workflow. You do not need to go to the menu in order to change the settings. Advanced settings such as pixel shift, HDR, lens correction etc, are within easy reach from the info button and you just need to scroll down to the particular function to change it. Credit must be given to the Pentax engineers for designing such an excellent user experience interface.

Setting up the camera on a tripod especially in the dark is a breeze; there are LED lights that light up the aperture, focusing rings and changing lenses (especially if you forgot to bring a torch light). There is also an in-built electronic level for leveling the camera.

I have tried various shooting modes including “pixel shift” and HDR. I will discuss these modes in a later article.

Pentax K-1 with 31mm f1.8 lens

Bromo Savannah – Pentax K-1 with 31mm f1.8 lens

What do I like about the camera?

  1. A good user interface that is intuitive, both physical buttons and an “info” menu. New users should be able to get up to speed pretty fast. For those who have been using Pentax cameras both the cropped format and the medium format should not have any problems adapting to this new K-1.
  2. Improve focusing speed.
  3. Image quality is excellent. I find the exposure latitude or dynamic range has improved by about 1 to 1.5 stops over the already very good K-3 sensor.
  4. There is a new color profile feature for shooting portraiture. It gives a better tonal range and also guarantees to make beautifully challenged people beautiful…nah, just joking. I have not tried this feature. I think it should have a good tonal curve tailored for photographing people.
  5. Rotating back LED screen is an innovation. The viewing screen can be rotated in X-Y-Z direction. Though I find the most useful is the horizontal tilt that makes the camera feels like a medium format camera with a waist level finder.
  6. There is now a GPS feature to plot which part of the world you are shooting. I like this feature for my worldwide travels.
  7. Pixel shift feature that is only unique to the Pentax K-1, is a feature that takes 4 images, shifting each image by a pixel apart, and combining it into one. This feature gives more details and also improves the ISO capabilities in the captured image. However, the image file will increase to about 120mb.
  8. The astrotracer feature is another great for those who want to photograph auroras, Milky Way, and the night sky. This should give pin-sharp star images.
  9. The battery is the same as the batteries used from Pentax K-5 to K-1. This is great for Pentax users. There is no need to carry different batteries or chargers if you are carrying a couple of Pentax bodies. The battery life is about 500 shots per charge without the use of live view.
  10. Twin SD card slots
Pentax K-1 with 31mm f1.8 lens

Journey to the West. -Pentax K-1 with 31mm f1.8 lens

What do I not like about the camera?

My main complaint is the continuous drive. The fastest is 4.4fps at full frame and 6.5fps at APS mode. This is a big let down. The Pentax K-3 in comparison has a burst speed of 8.3fps. Come on Pentax, you can do better than that.

Pentax K-1 with 200mm f2.8 lens

A moment of glory – Pentax K-1 with 200mm f2.8 lens

Comparison of the features and prices of the various camera

Comparison done by ephotozine.com

Comparison by ephotozine.com

Will I buy one?

This is a million dollar question. The Pentax K-1 has so much more to offer than the previous K-3II model. The use of a full frame sensor alone is a compelling reason to upgrade. Coupled with a multi-directional LED screen and the pixel shift feature, this camera is not eye candy. It is built for the serious photographer. At the price point of below RM8,000 for the body only, at street price, it is the cheapest well featured full frame camera comparing with the likes of the Nikon 810, Canon 5D MkIII and the Sony A7RII. My unit is on order and it should come very soon.

 

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