The Pentax KP is loaded with features, but does it do enough to stand out from the big guns in the enthusiast DSLR market? Michael Topham put it through its paces
Pentax KP review – Autofocus
Pentax DSLRs have picked up some negative criticism in the past for lagging behind their peers with regard to their autofocus performance, so how does the KP fare? The SAFOX 11 AF system it uses isn’t as advanced as the SAFOX 12 system you’ll find in the Pentax K-1, but does benefit from a new AF algorithm that’s been fine-tuned in an attempt to improve autofocus speed.
You’re provided with 27 phase-detect points in total and of these, 25 are the cross-type variety. The two remaining linear AF sensor points are positioned either side. The central point, including those directly above and below it, are sensitive to f/2.8 and work in light as low as -3EV.
In use, I found the central 5×5 arrangement of central AF points sensitive enough to bring subjects into focus in a respectable time when shooting in bright conditions, but when the light levels drop you notice it takes longer for it to go about its business of acquiring focus and this is where the green AF assist beam can come into its own. It manages to track slow-moving subjects in its continuous focus (AF-C) mode provided you’re able to keep the central area of the frame over your subject; just don’t expect the same success rate as you’d get on a DSLR that’s built for speed and action like the Nikon D500 or Canon EOS 7D Mark II.
As we’ve mentioned before on other Pentax models, one distinct failing is the red targets that indicate the active AF area in the viewfinder. Not only are they tiny, they’re difficult to see in high-contrast conditions. On more than one occasion I found myself repositioning the AF point back to the centre simply because the off-centre position of the AF point wasn’t immediately obvious.
Switching between AF modes is simple enough – simply hold the AF mode button and use the rear command dial to scroll between Auto (27 points), Zone Select (nine points), Select (a user-selected single point), or Spot (the centre point). There’s also a select-area expansion mode for those who’d like to track a moving subject and let the camera follow the movement whilst automatically refocusing on it with the help of neighbouring points.
The performance of Autofocus in Live View is a similar affair to the Pentax K-70. It’s rather clunky, feels sluggish and has nothing on its mirrorless competitors or Canon DSLRs that boast Dual Pixel AF and deliver impressive continuous autofocus in Live View.
The viewfinder on the KP is really rather good and it’s great to know that what you see is what the sensor records thanks to its 100% field of view. The shooting settings don’t rotate in portrait mode like they do on many mirrorless cameras, but there is the option to swap the exposure scale for a sensitive electronic level to prevent shots being taken askew without taking your eye off the subject.