Pentax K-1 Field Test

It's been a long time coming, but the first full-frame Pentax DSLR is well worth the wait!

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Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

95mm, 1/125 sec. @ f/7.1, ISO 1600

For Pentaxians like myself, the wait for a full-frame DSLR has been a lengthy one, and patience has long been our watchword. Some 15 years after I first handled a functional prototype of a full-frame Pentax DSLR at the Photo Marketing Association's annual tradeshow in the spring of 2001, that patience has been rewarded in spades with the arrival of the Pentax K-1, the company's first full-frame camera to reach retail.

I think it's fair to say that the Pentax K-1 represents my most-anticipated camera ever -- and now it's finally here! A decade and a half after the debut of the unnamed prototype which preceded it, the K-1 arrives in a very different world -- one where even full-frame cameras are now commonplace and quite affordable, and where competition is very brisk indeed.

All those years ago, the prototype camera generated significant excitement simply for the fact that it featured a full-frame sensor and a ground-up digital design. In today's market, though, a whole lot more is needed to make for a compelling full-frame camera. Even a quick glance at the Pentax K-1 is enough to make it clear that Ricoh understands the challenge it faces, and is willing to make the investment necessary to succeed.

There's a lot more to the Pentax K-1 than just a full-frame sensor

Instead of simply shoe-horning a larger sensor into one of its existing flagship APS-C bodies -- which we've long found to be comfortable, capable and exceptionally well-specified -- the Pentax K-1 is very much its own camera. From its unusual flexible-tilt LCD monitor and clever on-body lighting system to its rethought user interface, the K-1 has clearly been designed to stand out from the crowd as a product designed for -- and by -- photographers.

It's a very polished first effort which builds on Ricoh's long experience with APS-C and medium-format DSLRs, and I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that I've really enjoyed shooting with it. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's start off with my thoughts on its newly-designed body.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

100mm, 1/2,000 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 200

The K-1's styling looks a little chunky, but it's actually pretty compact

When I first handled a 3D-printed mockup of the Pentax K-1 a year or two back, my immediate concern was for its size. The company's flagship APS-C DSLR cameras have long stood out as unusually compact compared to their rivals, and while their all-metal bodies have had significant heft, they've barely been any larger in-hand than entry-level DSLRs from the likes of Canon or Nikon. The K-1 mockup felt rather chunkier by comparison.

Once I took the Pentax K-1 out of the box and placed it side-by-side with the K-3 II, though, my concern evaporated. Yes, the full-frame model is just fractionally wider than its APS-C sibling, and a bit taller and deeper as well, but the difference isn't as noticeable as it seemed in the mockup, or in photos of the K-1's body.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

105mm, 1/250 sec. @ f/13, ISO 800

I think the perception of greater size is perhaps influenced by two things -- the wider, more squat-looking pentaprism housing and the fact that while the handgrip is essentially the same size on both cameras, the K-1's body inside the grip is a bit thicker. (That's largely down to the protrusion on the rear for the articulated LCD monitor.) The added top-deck controls and smaller info LCD also tend to make the K-1 look larger than it is.

Very comfortable in-hand, if a little on the heavy side

In-hand, the Pentax K-1 is very comfortable indeed, something it shares in common with Ricoh's APS-C DSLRs. The handgrip is just deep enough that even with my large hands -- I'm 6' 1" tall -- my fingers didn't feel too cramped, and the grips both front and rear are profiled nicely for comfort too. The result is that even when shooting single-handed, the K-1 feels very secure and comfortable.

It's got enough heft that especially with a larger lens attached, I definitely preferred to shoot two-handed, though, cradling the lens in my left hand. I wouldn't say it was unduly heavy for a camera with a comprehensively weather-sealed, freezeproof magnesium-alloy body, and honestly I find that a bit of heft helps me hold the camera more steadily when shooting, but if you're stepping up from a polycarbonate-bodied consumer-grade camera, the extra weight will probably be the first thing you notice.

Build quality is very impressive indeed. There's not the slightest hint of panel flex or creak anywhere. As it happens, I've spent the last few days shooting with one of Canon's pro-grade 1D-series DSLRs, and I'd say the Pentax K-1 feels just as reassuringly solid.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

73mm, 1/200 sec. @ f/4.5, ISO 400

The Pentax K-1's flexible-tilt LCD articulation takes a little bit of getting used to

Prior to getting my hands on the Pentax K-1, I'd had my concerns about its unusual flexible-tilt articulation mechanism for the rear-panel LCD monitor. It's perhaps the most eyecatchingly-different feature of the camera's exterior, and it definitely takes some getting used to. The LCD assembly sits atop four lunar lander-like struts which allow the screen to be tilted in any direction, or even rotated perhaps 30 degrees or so in either direction. In addition, the monitor is attached to its assembly with a hinge along its top edge, allowing it to be flipped upwards still further for waist-level or low-to-the-ground shooting.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

105mm, 1/125 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 6400

Having seen a few videos of the camera -- with lens attached -- being held by the LCD and vigorously shaken without harm, my concerns about the strength of the flexible-tilt system were pretty much allayed. And the ribbon cable which attaches camera body to display also seems pretty well-protected, being wrapped in a soft and very flexible rubber sheath which ensures that it, too, is weather-sealed. The ribbon cable doesn't seem like it could snag on or get pinched by the struts, and no matter how the display is moved, the cable itself doesn't actually have to bend very much. I think this, too, should last well so long as you keep your fingers out from behind the display.

The articulation mechanism is certainly rugged, but doesn't offer a big advantage over a tilt/swivel screen

With that said, I'm not entirely convinced that I prefer this rather complex arrangement to the more traditional side-mounted tilt/swivel screens found on some other cameras. For one thing, it doesn't allow the screen to be closed facing inwards for protection. It also has a more limited range of motion than a tilt/swivel screen, with the exception of the ability to rotate the screen around the central axis of the lens. It can't face all the way downwards or sideways, for example, only perhaps 30 degrees or so in any direction other than upwards.

In discussions with Ricoh, the company tells us that it sees the fact that the center of the screen is more closely aligned with the central axis of the lens to be a selling point for the display. And yes, with some subjects -- particularly when framing macros -- it does feel a little more natural to be framing without having to look off to one side of the camera body as you would with a tilt/swivel display.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

80mm, 1/100 sec. @ f/7.1, ISO 3200

Flexible-tilt strikes me as different for difference's sake, but I still prefer it to a fixed-position screen

I have a feeling, though, that the reason for the unusual mechanism comes down more to Ricoh wanting something that's different and eyecatching with which to draw some attention for its new product, perhaps combined with a need to avoid paying a licensing fee to use the more common tilt/swivel design. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I really don't see a big advantage for the flexible tilt system over a tilt/swivel. It's six of one and a half dozen of the other, really: Both designs will get the job done, and each has slight strengths or weaknesses in different shooting scenarios.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

43mm, 1/125 sec. @ f/11, ISO 1600

I'm certainly glad that there's articulation in the first place, though, and I hope to see it come to the company's APS-C flagships in the future as well. It makes a big difference to the camera's live view mode, making it much easier to frame subjects from difficult angles than it would be with a fixed-position display.

The Pentax K-1's outdoor view setting is an excellent (and easily accessed) feature

It didn't take long for me to fall in love with another feature of the Pentax K-1's display, though. As soon as I stumbled upon its outdoor view setting, which is very easily accessed by default with the Fx2 button. (That's the down-arrow button of the four-way controller.)

A quick press of this button brings up the outdoor view setting menu, with a five-step control over screen brightness. The left and right buttons then let you increase brightness by two steps from the default for a much brighter screen when shooting under harsh sunlight, or decrease it by two steps if you are shooting in a dimly-lit locale and want to reduce the impact upon your night vision.

Making this function so quick to access was an excellent design choice on Ricoh's part, and I found myself using it quite regularly when shooting under variable conditions, going from shooting outdoors to indoors or vice versa.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

53mm, 1/160 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400

On-body illumination is a superb idea which saves you getting out your flashlight

That's not the only trick up the Pentax K-1's sleeve, either. I shoot at night quite a bit, and once I found the illumination settings menu I quickly fell in love with one of the most interesting features of Pentax's new full-frame flagship -- an array of on-demand lights around its body.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

53mm, 1/20 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 3200

You can opt to enable or disable any of these through the menu, and a couple even provide two-step control over brightness. By default, pressing the lamp button on the K-1's top deck will illuminate only the info LCD panel, which has a two-step green backlight. A separate "backside controls" option illuminates four LCDs at the rear corners of the LCD monitor, which handily casts some light over the rear-panel controls if the LCD is pulled forwards first. These, too, have a two-step brightness control.

There's also a lamp above the lens mount, and another which illuminates the dual card slots and wired remote control connector terminal when their covers are opened. (Both of these only have a single brightness level.)

Pressing the top-deck lamp button a second time will cancel all of these lamps, making it very easy to see what you're doing for just as long as you need, and no longer. Really, the only thing you might need a flashlight for is the top-deck controls, as well as the controls and connectors on the left side of the body, but most of these quickly become second nature to locate by touch, while the left-side connectors aren't ones you'd likely be fiddling with in the dark anyway.

My recommendation: When you take the Pentax K-1 out of the box, make a visit to the illumination settings menu straight away to enable these on-demand lights if you do much night shooting. You might also want to visit the adjacent indicator lamps menu to reduce the default brightness of the Wi-Fi and GPS lights or disable them altogether, as well as the self-timer and remote control lamps, if you want to protect your night vision.

The top-deck status LCD is much smaller but still hits the basics

Compared to those on the earlier APS-C flagships, the full-frame Pentax K-1's top deck info / status LCD panel is barely one-quarter the size, a change that was necessary to free up room for the smart function controls, which I'll come back to in a moment.

It's a bit of a shame, because with so much less room this handy little display tells you much less about the camera's setup, sending you instead to the rear panel display or to check the various controls for more information. You do get to see the main exposure basics -- shutter speed, aperture, sensitivity, and an indication if exposure compensation is active, plus battery and card slot indicators -- but that's it.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

68mm, 1/100 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 12,800

No longer can you see autofocus, metering, drive or flash mode information, and nor can you get a quick glance to see how many shots you have remaining before you run out of card space. On the plus side, the new display is less cluttered, so you can take in what it does tell you more quickly. But it's a shame to lose so much of the information provided at a quick glance on earlier models.

The Smart Function control system is intuitive, but sometimes duplicates existing controls

The reason that the Pentax K-1's top-deck display had to shrink, as noted, is its new control system, which consists of the smart function and settings dials. Together, these can be used to adjust a wide range of settings, and it works in a very intuitive manner. Simply spin the smart function dial to the specific function you wish to adjust, and then turn the settings dial to select the value you want -- for example, choosing the ISO sensitivity, crop mode, bracketing, and so forth.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

105mm, 1/125 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 25,600

There is, however, a fair degree of duplication between this system and Pentax's existing control scheme, which in itself was already very intuitive. For example, you can as noted control ISO sensitivity using the smart function dial and settings dial together, but the same was already possible simply by holding down the adjacent ISO button on the top deck, and then spinning the rear dial.

The same is also true of exposure compensation, while drive modes and bracketing could be accessed by hitting the up arrow on the rear-panel four-way controller, then making your selection with the other four-way controller buttons. (On earlier models, you could also roll the front dial to switch between drive modes, but that no longer works on the K-1.)

And then there are the HDR and shake reduction functions, which couldn't be accessed directly like this before, but were still fairly easy to get to without entering the menu system using the control panel function. A press of the info button pulled this up, and a few four-way controller presses made your selection.

With that said, several features are quicker to access using the Smart Function dial

Of the available smart function selections, only a few couldn't be accessed without entering the menu system or control panel screen before: the on-demand viewfinder grid mode (not found in earlier Pentax cameras), crop function (ditto) and Wi-Fi function. (I'm going from memory on this last, as only the K-S series cameras have sported in-camera Wi-Fi before, and I don't have one in front of me to check at the moment.)

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

43mm, 1/60 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 3200

So on balance, although it certainly makes several functions quicker to access, they're mostly not ones you'll be changing very frequently in the first place. The functions you are likely to change frequently -- ISO sensitivity and exposure compensation -- could already be controlled quickly and without taking your eye from the viewfinder in earlier models.

While I like the smart function control system for its intuitive nature, I think I would've preferred the larger status LCD panel of earlier models remain for the K-1 instead of this new feature. I typically found myself just leaving the smart function dial on its crop setting, and then occasionally switching it to control bracketing and drive modes as needed, with its other options going little-used.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

43mm, 1/60 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 6400

The Pentax K-1 sports a really great, high-tech viewfinder

One of the really nice things about shooting with a full-frame DSLR is how much roomier the viewfinders can be than can those on APS-C models, while still remaining bright and clear. The Pentax K-1's viewfinder is really great: On bringing it to my eye for the first time after having shot with the K-3 II, I felt I could almost fall into it, so generous was its view.

But while its size and image impressed, that wasn't what I liked most about the Pentax K-1's viewfinder. Instead, it was a feature which rivals have had for a while now, and which finally makes itself known in a Pentax DSLR. Courtesy of an LCD panel inside the viewfinder's optical path, there are now on-demand displays within the viewfinder image.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

105mm, 1/250 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 800

You can opt for a combined rule-of-thirds overlay with diagonals at the corners, dual-axis electronic level displays at right and bottom of the screen, a frame around the autofocus area, a spot metering circle, and a display of the autofocus points which are currently indicating a focus lock. In addition, the K-1 also shows a crop frame indicating the active image area when operating in its APS-C crop mode.

With the exception of the crop frame, which appears or disappears automatically as needed, each of these can be enabled or disabled independently of the other indications. And each is shown in a not-too-distracting black color for daytime shooting, with a red illumination for any active display elements in low light.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

43mm, 3 sec. @ f/1.9, ISO 100

The viewfinder overlay illumination is too dim to be really useful

Really, my only criticism of the function is that the red illumination is quite dim. Initially, I said it was also too brief, but readers have since pointed out a feature that I missed -- -- apparently pressing the AF mode button will illuminate them once more, something I didn't realize. Mea culpa! In my defense, my time with the camera was a bit limited as our review sample had to be returned, and I spent rather too long sick and having to travel during the review. Honestly, though, it simply didn't occur to me to try this button when experiencing the brief flash of the viewfinder overlays.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

28mm, 1/50 sec. @ f/5.0, ISO 25,600

I'd still like to see both the duration and brightness of the illumination available to the user to control, along with an option to have the viewfinder overlay illuminated whenever the metering system is active. But with the ability to bring the lighting back as needed, it's the lack of brightness that's the real issue for me here.

I didn't get to test the battery grip, but it's likely a worthwhile buy

For one other point regarding handling of the Pentax K-1, I'll unfortunately have to rely on my experience with past models. Sadly, the optional portrait / battery grip wasn't available to me during my review, and since it's specific to this particular model due to its dimensions differing from those of past APS-C format cameras, I couldn't use one of my own grips.

With that said, I've owned several generations of Pentax DSLRs myself, and with each I've also purchased the battery grip. Although the button layouts don't match those for landscape-orientation shooting, I've found past grips to be well-built, and as well as providing access to the main controls without needing to be a contortionist, they also give room for a second battery pack (or optionally, a set of AA batteries if you get stuck away from a charger for too long).

For relatively little cost compared to that of the camera itself, I've always felt these to be a good buy. And while I can't say that with 100% certainty without getting the opportunity to test the K-1's battery grip, I'd guess that's likely the case here too. (It's also nice that the grips are weather-sealed to the same degree as the camera body.)

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

43mm, 2.5 sec. @ f/1.9, ISO 100

Fairly good performance for its class, but not a sports shooter by any means

But enough of its physical nature: How does the Pentax K-1 perform in the real world? Well, it's not a camera aimed at sports photography by any means. If you're looking for the best possible performance in a Pentax DSLR, you'll want to consider the company's APS-C flagship Pentax K-3 II instead.

With that said, burst performance was pretty close to that of the Nikon D810 which I reviewed last year, and which has similar resolution. Our lab testing suggests that the D810 has a slight edge in full-frame burst capture rate, but only by around a half-frame per second. The D810 was also able to provide a greater raw buffer depth, but the Pentax K-1 bested it by quite some distance in terms of JPEG buffer depth. Neither is going to compare to a pro or even enthusiast-grade DSLR designed with sports and high burst rates in mind, though, but that's not really the point of cameras like these.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

105mm, 1/250 sec. @ f/8.0, ISO 25,600

Autofocus performance was swift, comparing well with the Pentax K-3 II in my informal, real-world testing. (And our lab testing likewise found autofocus performance to be a strength of the Pentax K-1.)

Buffer clearing was rather glacial, though, but that's been the case with the company's APS-C DSLRs as well, so it's not really a surprise. Hopefully Ricoh can address this in the next generation, but in the meantime just get the fastest UHS-I flash card you can afford and try not to fill the buffer if you don't need to. That way, the buffer clearing time is less of an issue.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

43mm, 2.5 sec. @ f/1.9, ISO 100

Great image quality and oodles of fine detail, albeit with a tendency to punchy, consumer-friendly color by default

During my real-world testing of the Pentax K-1, I came away quite impressed by its image quality. The K-1's images are typically punchy and saturated at default settings, something it shares in common with Ricoh's APS-C DSLRs. If that doesn't match your tastes, though, plenty of scope is provided for tuning the look of the K-1's images to your own needs.

Exposures were for the most part accurate, although I did notice a tendency to underexpose a bit towards the upper end of the sensitivity scale. Auto white balance performed pretty well, too, although under the complex lighting at night in downtown Knoxville, it did tend a bit on the cool side. (That's easily-enough fixed in post processing, though.)

And the K-1's images are absolutely packed with detail if you are shooting with a suitably high-quality lens. In fact, they were sharp enough that while Ricoh's clever multi-shot, resolution-boosting Pixel Shift Resolution function certainly still improves the finer details, it wasn't nearly the revelation that it was in the K-3 II.

Great image quality at ISO 12,800 or below, and up to ISO 51,200 is worthwhile if you have no alternative

Of course, that's at base sensitivity. As the ISO rating climbed, so too did noise levels as you'd expect. Speaking personally, I was happy to roam as high as ISO 12,800-equivalent in typical shooting, with perhaps the occasional shot at ISO 25,600 or even ISO 51,200-equivalent if I wasn't going to be pixel-peeping or cropping significantly.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

53mm, 1/50 sec. @ f/4.5, ISO 51,200

Beyond that point, image quality degraded significantly, and I wouldn't personally be happy with higher for more than a very small print if there were no other option in terms of a longer exposure or casting some more light on my subject.

The APS-C crop mode is relatively low-res by modern camera standards, but worthwhile in a pinch

I found myself using the Pentax K-1's APS-C crop mode relatively little, simply because if I wanted to, I could always crop my images in later. Of course, you save on some storage space by cropping at capture time, and you also get a bit of a boost in terms of burst capture rate, but you're still not going to rival the performance of a dedicated APS-C body like the K-3 II, and resolution will be pretty limited by modern camera standards.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

105mm, 1/160 sec. @ f/9.0, ISO 102,400

Consider that the K-3 II will give you around eight frames per second with ~24-megapixel resolution out of the box, and the K-1's APS-C mode rate of around 6.5 frames per second at 15-megapixel resolution feels a bit limited. Still, if you have a large stock of APS-C lenses and won't be upgrading them right away or keeping an APS-C body with which to use them, it's nice that you can still shoot them on your K-1, even if performance and resolution won't match a top-of-the-line APS-C body.

As noted previously, you'll get an APS-C crop guideline in the viewfinder while shooting. Outside of this crop line, you'll be able to see your subject, which can be nice if you want to anticipate it entering the frame and be ready to trip the shutter at just the right moment. It can also be a bit distracting, though, and I felt it was a shame that it's not possible to black out everything beyond the APS-C frame if you prefer, when shooting with a sub-frame lens.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

53mm, 1/250 sec. @ f/9.0, ISO 204,800

In-camera GPS is great for outdoors types and travel fans, but the lack of built-in flash is a pity

Like the K-3 II before it, the Pentax K-1 lacks an onboard flash, opting instead for a built-in GPS receiver. The latter is really nice to have, making light work of geotagging your images so you can easily locate them on a map once you're back home. If you travel a lot, it can make it really easy to find the images you're after without having to lift a finger.

In my review of the K-3 II, though, I said I could live with the lack of a built-in flash given that the lightly-modified variant of the K-3 really had nowhere else to put a GPS receiver but where the flash had previously been located in the earlier camera. (And of course, if you preferred to have that flash, you could always have opted to buy the K-3 instead.) For the K-1, you have no such choice, and nor is there an obvious design reason to forgo the built-in strobe in order to free up room for the GPS antenna.

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

105mm, 1/15 sec. @ f/9.0, ISO 51,200

It's not so much that I'd want to use a built-in strobe on a camera like this, although as a belt-and-suspenders type it's nice to have the option if you get caught without an external strobe when an unexpected (and poorly-lit) photo opportunity presents itself. The real pity, though, is that without an onboard strobe you can't take advantage of Pentax's off-camera wireless flash control system. (At least, not without supplying an extra strobe with which to trigger the remote one(s).

In-camera stabilization with every lens (and a whole lot else besides)

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

43mm, 1/800 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 100
Click links to see Pixel Shift Resolution versions, either with or without motion compensation

Of course, something that the Pentax K-1 shares in common with Ricoh's APS-C DSLRs is an in-camera, sensor shift-type image stabilization system which works with most every lens out there. (Even third-party glass, if you input the correct focal length through the camera's menu system.) It won't fix issues with moving subjects, but it can help make up for the lack of a built-in flash strobe if you need to use slower shutter speeds with a relatively static subject.

According to Ricoh, the system works on five axes: front/back pitch, side-to-side yaw, roll around the central axis of the lens, and horizontal / vertical translational motion. It's said to have a five-stop corrective strength to CIPA testing standards when using the HD PENTAX-D FA 28-105mm F3.5-5.6ED DC WR lens at its telephoto position, and while I can't confirm the precise degree of corrective strength, I can say that I shot plenty of tack-sharp handheld images at very low shutter speeds. (Above, you can seen an example shot handheld at 105mm focal length with a shutter speed of just 1/15th second, which nicely demonstrates this.)

The sensor-shift system isn't just used for stabilization, either. As in past Pentax cameras, it can also be used to simulate an anti-aliasing filter, automatically level your horizons for you, fine-tune your composition when shooting on a tripod, freeze star trails in long exposures, or for the aforementioned Pixel Shift Resolution function.

Pixel Shift Resolution's new motion compensation function isn't a magic bullet, but it certainly helps

One change of note in this department is the addition of motion compensation to the Pixel Shift Resolution function. If you read my review of the Pentax K-3 II, you will have seen my suggestion of how to deal with moving subjects manually when shooting with Pixel Shift Resolution. (If you haven't, the nutshell version is this: Shoot in raw mode, unstack the multi-shot raw images, then layer one single-shot frame on top of your multi-shot image and use it to paint in the details wherever your subject was moving.)

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo
Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo
Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

Pixel Shift Resolution comparison: At left is a 100% crop from the image shown above right, shot as a single-frame capture. At center is a multi-shot version captured using Pixel Shift Resolution, but with motion compensation disabled. Finally, at right is another Pixel Shift Resolution version with motion compensation enabled. As you can clearly see, the motion compensation function easily detects and corrects for the significant motion caused by the water fountain, making for a much more usable final result without any manual intervention.

In essence, this is what Ricoh is now trying to do for you automatically in-camera. Does it work with every subject? No, most definitely not. In my real-world testing, I found that it still struggles with subtler motion. Things like ripples in water, leaves moving in trees, and the like can still show fairly noticeable artifacts. Where there is more significant motion in the frame though -- things like people, animals or vehicles moving around, and so on -- it works very nicely indeed, and honestly it's these areas in which you're most likely to notice issues in the first place. (You have to really pixel peep to notice the finer artifacts, although in fairness you also have to pixel peep to notice the finer details which Pixel Shift Resolution is rescuing in the first place.)

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo
Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo
Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

Pixel Shift Resolution comparison: Although the Pixel Shift Resolution images (center and right) clearly hold onto more detail in the foliage at top right of these 100% crops, they also show some pretty obvious artifacts in the water that aren't present in the single-shot capture (left). Here, the relatively subtle motion of the ripples isn't detected by the motion compensation function, and so the rightmost crop looks no better than that shot with motion compensation disabled (center).

We're still a long way away from the ideal of being able to capture a multi-shot Pixel Shift Resolution image handheld, and to be honest, I don't see that happening any time soon. What we do now have, though, is a much more useful Pixel Shift Resolution function which can handle your subject moving around a bit. And if there are finer details that still throw up some problems, well -- you can still use the trick from my K-3 II review to fix these, so long as you're willing to deal with the mammoth raw file sizes when shooting PSR raws on the K-1. (And I do mean mammoth: You'll find a few examples in the gallery, and they're all in the region of around 160-180MB of data per file.)

Video is still not a focus for Ricoh, but quality is fairly good if you avoid interlacing

There's one final point I want to touch upon before I conclude my review, and it's rather fitting that I've saved it for the end, because it's clearly still not the highest priority on Ricoh's list either. Yes, the Pentax K-1 can shoot full-frame video in-camera, and no that still doesn't include 4K. (At least, not unless you count the 4K time-lapse video function, which I don't really.)

Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo
Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo
Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo
Pentax K-1 review -- Sample photo

Pixel Shift Resolution comparison: Again, if you compare the 100% crops from the image above, the Pixel Shift Resolution versions (center and right) clearly pick up more of the fine detail in the bridge pier compared to the single-shot version, but the subtle motion in the rippled water proves too great a challenge for the motion compensation function in the rightmost crop, yielding a near-indistinguishable result from the version with motion compensation disabled (center).

Resolution tops out at Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels), and just as in the Pentax K-3 II, the K-1 offers a choice of up to 30 frames per second or 60 interlaced fields per second capture rates. Image quality is fairly good for 30 fps capture, although if you leave image stabilization enabled it can cause an unsightly jello-like effect, since it's not using the mechanical image stabilization system. I personally would avoid the 60i interlaced capture, though, as it degrades image quality noticeably, yielding a noticeably softer image and a bit more moiré. (Not that 30p capture is immune to the effects of moiré either.)

For the time being, I still see video in Ricoh's Pentax DSLR line as a stopgap. You'll certainly find better video quality and feature sets in competing cameras, even ones which cost noticeably less. However, if all you need is short clips, and you're willing to do a little work to avoid moiré issues in the first place, you can certainly get some reasonably good footage from the K-1 without having to lug a second camera everywhere you go.

Daytime video: The Pentax K-1 can shoot Full HD clips at up to 30 progressive-scan frames or 60 interlaced fields per second. Comparing the two side-by-side, the 30 fps clip (top) isn't as smooth when panning, but shows noticeably better detail than the 60 fps clip (bottom). Note also the somewhat unsightly jello-like distortion, which is caused by the software shake reduction on these handheld clip. (It's easiest to see in the lamp posts, and can be avoided by disabling shake reduction when shooting video.)

For a first effort, the Pentax K-1 is a truly impressive full-frame camera at a very competitive price

And with that, we reach the end of my Pentax K-1 field test. Has it lived up to my wishes? I'd answer that with an unqualified "Yes!" Sure, there are some areas where I'd like to see tweaks, predominantly in the viewfinder overlay illumination, performance (particularly card clearing), and video departments. Few if any cameras can claim to be perfect, though, and if you've been waiting for a Pentax DSLR body that could take advantage of your full-frame optics, well... The decision to upgrade to a Pentax K-1 body should be a very easy one indeed.

Nighttime video: As in the day, the 30 fps clip (top) stutters more when panning, but captures more fine detail than the 60 fps clip (bottom). Moiré is visible in both clips in the finer, repeating patterns of bricks and the like.

This is an extremely capable camera, able to provide very high-quality imagery with a relatively modest learning curve. I don't think I'm exaggerating in the least when I say I think this is the most impressive Pentax DSLR to date -- and that's saying something, when one considers the award-winning and much-lauded APS-C DSLRs which have preceded this full-frame beauty. The Pentax K-1 is one heck of a camera, and were I able to justify the cost myself right now, I'd pick one up in a heartbeat. I'm sure I'll own one sooner or later, and I highly recommend any Pentaxians interested in the advantages of full-frame to consider adding one to your camera bag, too!

 



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