Hands on: Pentax K-01 review with video
3rd Feb 2012 | 17:18
First look at new designer camera
Pentax has launched a new mirrorless model into the market, following on from last year's Q. This time however, they've decided to introduce a compact system camera with appeal to Pentax legacy users, with a body that features a K-mount compatible with all previous Pentax K lenses.
The Pentax K-01 is designed by Marc Newson, who's well known for creating furniture and watches among other things. It has been designed, in all senses of the word, to appeal to those with image in mind as well as those primarily concerned with image quality.
It features a new 16 million pixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor, and boasts other impressive specs such as a sensitivity ranging from ISO 100 all the way up to ISO 25,600, Full HD video recording, 81 selectable AF points and a range of manual shooting modes.
Available to buy from March, it will be accompanied by a new 40mm pancake lens, which is billed as the world's thinnest interchangeable lens, coming in at just 0.36 inches. It was also designed by Marc Newson.
Pentax was bought out by Ricoh last year, with it now being rebranded as "Pentax: A Ricoh company", so although this product had been in development since before the merger, this is the first opportunity the company has had to show how it is working under new management.
We spent some time with the new camera at its official launch in London, read on to find out how we got on.
Build quality and handling
When it comes to its design, we can see the Pentax K-01 splitting opinion. While some will appreciate the chunky aesthetic, there will be others who are less than appreciative.
Once you've decided whether you love or loathe the look of it, what you will find is a fairly chunky camera that's carrying some decent weight. It's made from aluminium and feels as though it's well put together.
From the front, the K-01 is reasonably similar in appearance to other mirrorless models on the market, but turn it sideways and you'll see that the body has a surprising amount of depth. This has been necessary in order to incorporate the design for the K-mount.
This size, according to Pentax means that there should be less vignetting in images because the back focus distance is longer.
The controls on the K-01 are well designed and thought out, with most controls directly accessible either through a dedicated button or through the handy quick menu which can be accessed via the Info button. There's a useful direct video record button on the top plate of the camera, while a second button can be customised to be used with a number of different settings.
One handy feature is the ability to set the range of the camera's automatic sensitivity. So, you can limit this to between ISO 100-200 if you wished, or set a number of different options all the way up to ISO 100-12800. This is a good way to prevent having to constantly mess around with ISO options.
Dials and buttons are quick and satisfying to use, which is especially true of the large top mode dial which features a number of different selectable modes, including aperture priority, shutter priority, scene modes and HDR mode.
The lens release button is built in flush to the lens mount, which gives a nice rounded aesthetic to the front of the camera. However, the new 40mm lens can be a little fiddly to remove and reattach, owing to its thin size.
On the back of the camera is a large 3 inch LCD screen, which has been equipped with anti-reflective coating for improved visibility in bright light. It's difficult to pass comment on the effectiveness of this as we were inside while using the camera, but this something we'll be keen to test out when we get the camera in for a full review.
Surprisingly, the K-01 is not fitted with a viewfinder, and there's no opportunity to buy one as an extra either. Considering this camera is being pitched at Pentax traditionalists, we're not sure how well this will go down.
The in-built pop-up flash can be activated via a small button to the side of the flash, and it feels reasonably sturdy and well built. A hotshoe on top of the camera means that any Pentax compatible flashes (or indeed any other accessory) can be used with the camera as well.
As this was a pre-production model of the camera, we weren't able to fully test out the image quality of the K-01, but initial impressions are favourable.
Fitted with a large APS-C sized sensor and with the ability to shoot up to ISO 25,800 should mean the camera performs well in low light, especially when coupled with the bright f/2.8 40mm kit lens.
Pentax is using a new Prime M processing engine for the K-01, which should mean that HD video recording is smooth and fast. A variety of different frame rates all the way up to 60fps are available.
During our time with the camera, we found that it was able to lock on to and focus on subjects reasonably quickly, but it was no match for the near instant autofocus systems that have recently been incorporated into the likes of the Olympus PEN E-P3, or the Panasonic GX1. This is something we will be very keen to re-test during our full review.
The camera comes with 19 different filters that can be used while shooting or added afterwards. These include options such as "toy camera" and "retro". We tested a couple of these out, and while they're not as impressive as some of those found on its rivals (most notably the Olympus PEN E-P3), it is fairly likely that these won't be overly used by large segments of the target audience. It is worth noting however that when shooting with a filter in place during our initial tests, the K-01 did take a couple of seconds to process the image once taken.
The Pentax K-01 is clearly an attempt by Pentax to stand out from the wide variety of options that are now available in the ever expanding compact system camera market.
It seems unlikely that the company would ever be able to take on the marketing might of existing giants such as Panasonic, Sony, Nikon and Olympus, so it needs to do something to create waves. That's exactly what the K-01 achieves. Whether or not those waves are for the right reason, is difficult to tell.
Though it's likely to cause some division, the design is sturdy and it feels like a "proper" camera that has been built to last. The extra appeal of the large variety of Pentax lenses already on the market also sets it apart from its rivals who have a much more limited range.
It's difficult to tell at the moment who will want to buy this camera. It seems obvious that existing Pentax users looking for a pocketable alternative to their main camera body would be interested. But given its large size and weight (it's not too far off the size of an entry level DSLR), some may not consider it portable enough to do that job.
Time will tell if the Pentax K-01 can maintain the buzz surrounding its launch and translate that into actual camera sales, and we'll be very keen to put it through its paces once a full review sample is available.