Designed by Marc Newson, does the Pentax K-01 bring the anything new to the Compact System Camera market? What Digital Camera's Pentax K-01 Hands-On First Look Review takes a look...

The Pentax K-01 lays to rest the rumours that the company would be
releasing a new Compact System Camera. After the slow uptake of the
Pentax Q, the K-01 takes a very different approach: It’s designed by
acclaimed designer Marc Newson, and utilises the very same K-mount as
found in Pentax DSLR cameras. Is the K-01 a clever, innovative mix or a
recipe for disaster?

Pentax K-01: Highlights At A Glance

–   Pentax K-mount
–   16-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
–   Sensor-based image stabilisation
–   New 40mm f/2.8 ‘world’s thinnest’ lens
–   3in, 921k-dot LCD
–   1080p HD movie mode
–   81-segment focus system
–   Designed by Marc Newson

Pentax K-01: It’s still a K-mount

The K-mount has seen some 214 lenses released in its 36-year history, and each and every one of them will work with the K-01. So that’s availability covered.

However, and this is a crucial point, the very same 45.6mm flange back distance means the K-01 is, well, huge. That flange back depth alone is more than two and a quarter times longer than the Micro Four Thirds system… it’s even greater than that of a Nikon DSLR.

Sit the K-01 side-by-side with a Pentax K-r DSLR and there’s little difference in width or depth between the two.

The lack of an accessory port also means an electronic viewfinder (EVF) isn’t possible to add on to the body. Even designer Marc Newson stated in an interview that, ‘given the technical specifications of the camera [a viewfinder] was never in the brief.’

For Pentax to have introduced yet another lens mount for the K-01 would have been expensive to produce and potentially confusing to the market. But for the camera to rest on the K-mount feels like a big ask. That’s not to challenge the K-01’s 16-megapixel sensor’s abilities – if the Pentax K-5’s exceptional results are anything to go by then the K-01 might yet show off the best Compact System Camera quality of anything on the market. We’ll be testing that thoroughly when we get out hands on a final release model.

Pentax K-01: Is Newson’s design significant?

Getting designer Marc Newson on board to design the K-01 is a definite headline-grabbing message to the design community. But will this mean much to an average consumer? As much as features and performance are both crucial, thoughtful design and aesthetics are also just as important for some.

The K-01’s design is unlike anything else out there. It’s big, bold and angular with subtle organic curves incorporated to some edges and a rubber-like texture around the front and sides.

Paradoxically it’s remarkable and unremarkable in equal measure. Some elements may reference Marc’s design heritage and yet, as a camera, it’s none too pretty in our opinion.

The fact the K-mount, sensor size and provision of certain control buttons was a necessity in the brief prior to Marc’s involvement will have led to a number of restrictions in the design process, something which he found to be, ‘part of the challenge.’

In use the camera is comfortable with a small lens on the front. The green (Green button) and red (one touch movie) buttons atop the camera are
customisable and so can be used to adjust other features. The rear directional controls feel natural just like a
Pentax DSLR and the same can be said for the menu design.

Pentax K-01: new 40mm lens

Also released in conjunction with the K-01 is the world’s smallest interchangeable lens, the brand new DA 40mm f/2.8 XS lens. In contrast to the K-01 body the new lens is an impressive and dinky optic and weighs just 52g.

Paired up with the K-01 the autofocus was swift and capable, using the camera’s new 81-segment system to great effect, even in low light. Set to manual focus via the flick of a switch and the 40mm has a wonderfully smooth manual ring motion that made light work of obtaining sharp-looking shots. Without further knowledge of optical quality, the 40mm’s one disadvantage has to be the sheer amount of noise it makes whilst autofocusing. It’s a noisy lens.

After switching lenses to a DA* 200mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM lens the K-01’s autofocus system took a sharp turn for the worse. With the traditional size K-mount lens the focus was far slower in use and often unable to acquire focus despite on-screen confirmation suggesting otherwise.

As with all Compact System Cameras the lack of a mirror box in the design also means no phase-detection sensor is able to take control of autofocus. Instead autofocus takes place on the sensor itself using contrast-detection – a system that, although no slower than phase-detection systems in modern camera releases, isn’t as efficient in capturing moving subjects or for low-light scenarios.

It’s hard to figure out where the K-01 will sit in this department as the 40mm lens’ performance was good, but the other K-mount lenses tested on the camera were unable to deliver the same efficient results.

However, we must point out that the K-01 we used was running firmware 0.35 and so is far from a finished product – we hope to see significant compatibility improvements for the final release.  

Pentax K-01: In Conclusion

With the Pentax Q the company achieved a quirky, small Compact System Camera that took the ‘compact’ element a stage beyond what most consumers sought. In the K-01 it’s quite the reverse: somehow Pentax has incorporated all the build of a mirrorless camera in a near-DSLR-sized body with few of the advantages a mirrorless design should bring.

Image quality may be the camera’s saving grace, along with its unique design that will appeal to a niche audience.