Pentax add the mirrorless, interchangeable-lens K-01 to its K series. Tim Coleman gives his first impression following a hand-on first look on the camera

AP hands-on … Pentax K-01

The K-01 is Pentax?s latest addition to its K series of interchangeable-lens cameras. Unlike the company?s DSLRs, the K-01 uses a mirrorless system that enables a more compact build. In what is a first, the K-01 combines the mirrorless system with an established DSLR mount ? the company?s K mount. Pentax users will be happy to know that all K-mount lenses, of which there are many, are compatible with the K-01.

The new camera was created in collaboration with the Australian designer Marc Newson. Marc gave a presentation to journalists at the camera?s launch, during which he said that the ?K-01 targets people with an interest in design?. In an interview with Pentax, AP was told that ?we hope the K-01 will attract a new audience?. Certainly, on a first impression, the K-01 is an altogether different camera.

In conjunction with the K-01, the ?world?s thinnest interchangeable lens? has been launched ? the smc Pentax-DA 40mm f/2.8 XS (61mm equivalent). According to Pentax, the lens has a measured depth of 9.2mm.

Features


Pentax K-01

The Pentax K-01 uses a 16.28-million-pixel, APS-C (23.7×15.7mm), CMOS sensor. Image stabilisation is built into the sensor itself, which also uses ultrasonic vibration for dust removal. Although the sensor is the same size and resolution as that found in the Pentax K-5, it has been optimised for video use and to preserve battery life. AP was informed by Steven Sanderson of Pentax that the revised sensor is designed by Sony.

It is claimed the new ?Prime M? imaging engine will improve recording performance. Videos can be recorded in full HD (1920×1080-pixel) H.264 format at 30fps, 25fps or 24fps. Still images are recorded in 12-bit raw DNG or JPEG capture, with a high-speed continuous shooting rate of up to 6fps. The ISO range can be extended from its native 100-12,800 rating to ISO 25,600.

Other shooting modes include a number of digital filters, such as toy camera, extract color and high contrast ? all of which can be used in both still and video recording.

Build and handling


In Europe, the K-01 is available in three different colours

At first glance, the Pentax K-01 looks undeniably different. Its retro-styled cuboid shape is encased in a ribbed rubber finish. In Europe, the K-01 is available in all black, black and silver, or black and yellow. The rubber finish conceals the HMDi, Av out and mic ports, as well as the SD memory-card slot. On the underside of the camera is the battery compartment. The K-01 uses the same battery as its DSLR counterparts, the Pentax K-x, K-r and K-5.

A mirrorless, interchangeable-lens camera has the potential for a more compact size. Although the K-01 is approximately 30% smaller than the Pentax K-r (by volume), it is bulky compared to other mirrorless cameras. In using the K mount with an APS-C-sized sensor, the K-01 requires the same distance between the sensor and lens mount (flange depth) as Pentax?s DSLRs. The main part of the K-01?s bulk, then, is in its depth, which measures 59mm. This is almost twice the size of many other compact system cameras. And not only is the K-01 large for its type, but it is also a heavy beast, weighing in at 560g with battery and card.


The Pentax-D FA 645 55mm f/2.8 AL (IF) SDM AW lens attached to the K-01

Thanks largely to the size of the body, the dials and controls on the exterior feel well spaced apart and simply laid out. Dials are chunky and satisfyingly resistant to operate. On the shooting-mode dial is the usual PASM exposure control, plus the interesting inclusion of a high dynamic range (HDR) shooting mode. This mode offers three levels of strength for a wide dynamic range.

The one-push red button on the top is for video recording, while the green button is a customisable function button. A four-way pad on the rear is used for the key controls of ISO, white balance, flash and drive mode controls.


Dials on the top of the K-01 are big, bold and spaced well apart

On the top of the body is a hotshoe mount and a built-in flashgun that is more powerful than most (GN 12m @ ISO 100). What is missing, however, is a viewfinder ? and Pentax says there are currently no plans to make one. There is no accessory port by which to attach a potential EVF, so the only remaining possibility is for an optical unit that cannot be linked to the lens. Instead of a viewfinder, the photographer must rely on the 921,600-dot LCD screen to view and compose images. In indoors light, the LCD has a very crisp and bright output, but in strong sunlight it is difficult to see what is on the screen.

This reliance on the LCD screen means that battery life is of a greater concern than with a viewfinder-equipped DSLR. The K-01?s specification quotes up to a 540-shot life from a full charge, which is respectable.


Pentax K-mount cameras have a wide range of lenses available

Pentax users will be familiar with the in-camera menus. All the usual shooting modes are present, including lens-distortion corrections, interval shooting and multiple-exposure modes.

In a market where the greatest level of control is wanted in the smallest possible camera body, the Pentax K-01 stands out as being something different. The camera is worlds apart from the Pentax Q. Yet how popular the K-01?s design will be is, of course, down to personal taste.

When I used the new 40mm lens on the K-01, I found it so thin that it was fiddly to remove. Larger, existing K-mount lenses are easily handled, though.


Although the K-01 is a mirrorless camera, its 59mm depth means

it is unlikely to fit in a pocket


Performance

Only pre-production units were available at the launch, so I was not able to record any images with the camera or judge the AF performance fairly, and that included using the older K-mount lenses. I could, however, view images on screen, and my early impressions are that they are very good indeed. As the K-01 uses virtually the same sensor as the K-5, we can expect excellent image quality from the new camera. From the pre-production sample, autofocus seems fast enough, but not quite as snappy as other compact system cameras.

Prices

The Pentax K-01 will be available at the end of March, price £629.99 body only or £679.99 with the smc DA 40mm f/2.8 XS lens. The camera will also be available with the standard 18-55mm and 55-200mm optics. The company?s timeline for future lens releases was also revealed at the launch, and we can expect to see a DA 50mm standard lens this year, as well as a number of prime and zoom optics over the next two years.

  • Martin Hanly

    Pentax have completely missed the point of compact system cameras with this one. It should have a much shorter flange to sensor distance to allow experimenting with classic optics such as leica etc. A double K mount would have been great with a section removable to enable this as well as compatibility with Pentax K lenses.

    An EVF viewfinder is also a must, or at least two different models, to allow a choice.

    How can Pentax re-establish it’s place in the market?

    Re invent the simple SLR. Digital Pentax MX. Full frame 36 megapixle sensor, aperture ring, depth of field scales and fast F 1.4 fixed focal legnth lenses from 20mm to 100mm. Price agressively.

    The other area for creating a truely small SLR would be a digital version of the old Pentax 110 using the 4/3 sensor, about the same size as the 110 film format.

    The lenses are truly tiny yet still produce excellent images on the olympus pen etc.

    This would show just how small a digital SLR could be. It’s bound to be a hit with the ladies.

    Last but not least. WHERE IS THE 24 megapixel REPLACEMENT FOR THE K5.

    I’ve been a Pentax user for over 40 years. When Nikon launched the 800 this year was a moment of regret that Pentax have nothing to touch it.