Pentax's latest mirrorless camera is neither DSLR nor CSC. Is Marc Newson's distinctive design a big enough sell? The What Digital Camera Pentax K-01 review...
Pentax K-01 review – Image Quality
This is the area where the K-01 is certainly a winner. Ignoring the performance-based issues and there’s no doubt that the K-01 produces detailed, well-exposed images.
Pentax K-01 review: Tone & Exposure:
We’ve often thought Pentax DSLR cameras underexpose a little, but the K-01 is, at least in general, rather different when it comes to exposure. Shots are well balanced across the board in a variety of lighting conditions. Occasional exposure compensation to offset backlighting was required from time to time – but nothing out of the ordinary, and the Exp Comp button on the top of the camera makes it quick and easy to make adjustments.
Tonally shots are rather ‘mute’ by default, but a Custom Image option within the menu offers bags of user control. As well as Cross Processing, Black & White and other effects, there are also Natural, Vibrant, Bright and many options to choose from. But best of all they’re customisable through nine levels of Saturation, Hue, High/Low Key Adjustment, Contrast and Sharpness (some modes offer different options, such as Black & White’s Toning and Filter Effect options).
Pentax K-01 review: White Balance & Colour:
Colours are natural yet punchy, and even more vibrant in (standard) JPEG files then their Raw equivalents. Auto White Balance is accurate throughout a variety of scenes, though Raw files are often a little more magenta.
The inclusion of an HDR mode on the main mode dial is there to make multiple exposures and blend them into a single file for shadow and highlight exposure. The Auto HDR mode works handheld if the shutter is high enough, while modes 1-3 offer different looks ranging from subtle to more extreme – but the latter three will require a tripod to avoid ghosting!
Pentax K-01 review: ISO Sensitivity & Image Noise:
The sensor is pinched directly from the K-5 model, which already sets the K-01 in good stead. It does a fantastic job of dealing with image noise, even at the mid-high ISO settings, which means even low-light shooting (ignoring the autofocus system) will produce great results.
The level of detail up to ISO 3200 is impressive, though this dips at ISO 6400, then dives into far noisier, less usable territory at ISO 12,800 and above. But compared to the competition, as the example above shows, shots really aren’t *that* bad at these heights of sensitivity. It’s impressive stuff. Although the K-01 isn’t a DSLR, there’s no doubt it produces DSLR-quality images.
Pentax K-01 review: Sharpness & Detail:
On account of ISO settings the overall detail does diminish as sensitivity increases – but performance is still very impressive. From ISO 100-800 it’s possible to see minute, hairline details in shots.
Pinpoint focusing can be tricky due to the focusing system, but when shots are spot on they are very pleasing indeed. All Pentax K-mount lenses can be used with the K-01 system that, in turn, opens up a huge archive of potential glass.
Pentax K-01 review: Raw vs JPEG:
The untouched Raw files have some key differences to their JPEG counterparts. Firstly they’re less sharp, as is to be expected, but do retain that extra lick of detail. This does mean that there’s plenty more potential that can be squeezed out of them.
Colours, too, are also manipulated in the JPEG files. For example: A magenta cast in a sky will be a more vibrant blue in the JPEG version.
An in-camera Distortion Control setting is also something that may ‘stretch’ the JPEG appearance compared to the original Raw file. On many occasions this does well to counteract lens distortion, though the difference may be too significant for some, particularly wide-angle closeup shots where it can adversely ‘bloat’ the shot.