Pentax KP Review
|Full model name:||Pentax KP|
(23.5mm x 15.6mm)
|Viewfinder:||Optical / LCD|
|Native ISO:||100 - 819,200|
|Extended ISO:||100 - 819,200|
|Shutter:||1/24000 - 30 seconds|
5.2 x 4.0 x 3.0 in.
(132 x 101 x 76 mm)
|Full specs:||Pentax KP specifications|
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Pentax KP Review -- Hands-on Preview
by Mike Tomkins
Preview posted: 01/25/2017
For many years now, we've been big fans of Ricoh's Pentax brand, and the oftentimes superb DSLRs it produces. The Pentax brand has a long history of making exceptionally fully-featured cameras that come complete with equally aggressive price tags. And while it's not necessarily true of every model the company has produced, Pentax has also earned itself something of a reputation for making cameras that are surprisingly compact by DSLR standards, given their feature-rich designs.
The 24-megapixel Pentax KP takes all of that to the next level, paring off as much of its remaining DSLR heft as possible to better compete with its smaller mirrorless camera rivals, while still offering up an extremely well-specified camera in that newer, smaller envelope. Obviously, since it's still a DSLR and so must make room for a DSLR-sized mirror box, there's a limit to how far this approach can be taken. What's impressive, though, is just how much Ricoh has been able to cram into the Pentax KP despite its compact proportions.
Want to read our full overview for a rundown of the Pentax KP's new features? If so click here, or read on for our real-world field test!
Pentax KP Field Test Part I
Compact, capable and customizable: Ricoh's alternative to mirrorless gets a real-world test!
By Mike Tomkins | Posted: 04/14/2017
Regular readers will know that I've long been a fan of Ricoh's Pentax DSLR lineup. In fact, when I don't have anything in hand to review -- admittedly, a somewhat rare occurrence -- and I want to shoot an interchangeable-lens camera, it's usually my own Pentax K-5 or K-3 II that I'll reach for, and I've been a K-series shooter for close to a decade now, all the way back to 2009's Pentax K-7. So when the Pentax KP arrived at Imaging Resource headquarters, there was no question who'd be handling the real-world portion of our testing!
I've been eagerly looking forward to reviewing the Pentax KP ever since I first had the chance to handle a pre-production camera early this year. In particular, I've found myself intrigued by its clever interchangeable handgrip design, which is one of the key factors behind the KP's compact size, by DSLR standards. I've also been keen to try out its high ISO capabilities, as well as its evolution of the Smart Function dial first seen in the K-1. And of course I've also been looking forward to trying out its uprated stabilization, autofocus and exposure options. And I'm thrilled with its new tethering capabilities, something I've been asking the company for over the course of more than a few reviews.
How the Pentax KP compares to its siblings
But before we get to all of that, let's start with a quick look at where the Pentax KP sits in the company's lineup. If you're not familiar with the Pentax brand, that can be a little less than obvious.
Looking at Ricoh's current lineup, probably the nearest models to the KP in terms of capabilities are the Pentax K-3 II and Pentax K-70, both of which I've previously reviewed. The K-3 II is technically the flagship sub-frame Pentax DSLR, although it's now rather long-in-the-tooth. It's fast approaching its second birthday, and the basic design is almost 3.5 years old, as it's a relatively modest update of the preceding Pentax K-3. The K-70, meanwhile, has been on the market for less than a year as of this writing (April 2017), but is aimed more at affordability than is the Pentax KP.
So what do you gain or lose over those cameras by opting for the Pentax KP? Let's find out! (If you want a little more detail than you'll find in the summaries below, click the links to see a more in-depth comparison against either model.)
Compared to the flagship K-3 II, there are a fair few significant enthusiast or pro-friendly features that the KP lacks. The K-3 II sports an in-camera GPS receiver for geotagging photos, as well as dual SD card slots for redundancy or better organisation, a somewhat higher burst capture rate with a much deeper buffer, a slightly larger and higher-res (and subjectively, brighter and richer) rear-deck LCD, a top-deck LCD info display for quick confirmation of basic setup, and more connectivity options including an HDMI video output and a headphone jack for levels monitoring. And yet because of its age, the K-3 II now lists for around US$100 less than does the KP, which is a spectacular deal if you don't need to be on the cutting edge.
But the Pentax KP bests the earlier model in several ways too, with a much higher maximum sensitivity despite the same resolution and sensor size, as well as a tilting LCD monitor instead of a fixed-position one, a built-in flash (something the K-3 II dropped from the earlier K-3 to make room for its GPS receiver), and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity instead of the somewhat clumsy Eye-Fi or FluCard-based Wi-Fi connectivity that was optional on the K-3 II. The Pentax KP also adds a swift 1/24,000-second electronic shutter (but the K-3 II's mechnical shutter is faster than that of the KP), and it's said to have better stabilization and autofocus than the flagship model, to boot. It also adds exposure features like such as depth-of-field or motion bracketing.
In a head-to-head comparison with the K-70, meanwhile, the Pentax KP fares rather better. The newer camera shoots images a bit faster than its mid-range sibling, has more sophisticated autofocus and (especially) metering systems, an uprated stabilization system, a much higher maximum sensitivity and a speedy electronic shutter option. It's also significantly lighter when loaded and ready to shoot, offers interchangeable handgrip options and an available portrait / battery grip, and has more exposure options including depth-of-field and motion bracketing.
But the K-70 still manages to best its higher-priced sibling in some respects. For example, it sports a more versatile side-mounted tilt/swivel display instead of the Pentax KP's tilt-only screen, adds on-chip phase-detection AF pixels for live view and movie shooting (although we didn't find movie AF on the K-70 to be terribly usable regardless), and also sports an HDMI port for high-definition video output. Its JPEG-mode buffer depth is also rather greater, although that's likely in part due to its slower capture rate. And of course, it's also quite a bit more affordable.
But enough of the on-paper spec comparisons, how does the Pentax KP handle in the real world? On taking the Pentax KP out for some real-world shooting, I have to say the answer is pretty darned well. It's surprisingly comfortable to shoot with, especially when paired with smaller, lighter optics like the excellent Pentax Limited prime lens lineup, even when shooting single-handed.
With somewhat larger optics like the 18-135mm travel zoom, I definitely preferred to shoot two-handed for better stability, but still found it perfectly comfortable to do so. The unusual vertically-mounted front dial might not look like the most ergonomic idea ever, but it's actually pretty easy to reach. And while it's not quite as comfortable as the more traditional front dial of the K-3 II, it's doubtless a contributor to the Pentax KP's much slimmer body.
For my review, I had all three handgrips available to me, and although I didn't have access to the optional portrait / battery grip with which the largest of the handgrip options is supposed to pair best, I gave all three a try. Of the trio, I found the mid-sized grip to be the most comfortable for my larger-than-average hands, its ergonomic counters allowing my middle finger to wrap around comfortably beneath the front control dial.
The smallest grip option was also perfectly comfortable with smaller lenses like the Limited primes, but with my larger hands I felt that it didn't give me as much purchase on the camera body, leading me to grip the camera tighter instead. For smaller hands, though, this might be the best option of the bunch.
Finally, the largest of the three grips was, for my money, the least comfortable because it lacks the mid-sized grip's contouring for your middle finger. In fairness, though, I didn't get to try this bundled front handgrip with the Pentax KP's optional portrait / battery grip accessory, with which it's really supposed to be paired. And its generous depth certainly gave it the most secure handhold of the trio.
With its smaller-than-typical body for a DSLR, the Pentax KP debuts a new control layout compared to past models. There are almost as many physical controls as there are on the K-3 II -- 24 for the Pentax KP, vs. 27 for the earlier flagship model, not counting the lens mount release button -- but the KP aims to make up for its slightly lesser selection of physical controls through the use of a Smart Function dial similar to that seen first on the full-frame Pentax K-1.
However, where the K-1 almost overloaded us with no less than nine different preset functions for this top-mounted control, the Pentax KP simplifies things by providing three preset functions, and a further three programmable functions. The presets are for exposure metering, HDR capture and continuous burst shooting speed, options which struck me as sensible to make easier to access.
And by default, these are joined by Custom Image mode, AA filter simulation and Outdoor View controls on the custom positions, which again seem to eminently sensible choices. If there's something else you'd prefer to control with the dial, though, there are a total of 15 different functions which can be assigned to these custom positions. And as in the K-1, there's also a Disable position on the dial to prevent accidental function changes if you turn the adjacent Set dial by mistake.
And as for the remainder of the control layout, I found everything positioned pretty well, and with good button feel. I definitely liked the new Live View / Movie lever, which sits under the Smart Function dial, as it's a little easier to use by touch than the equivalent control on the K-3 II, and the combined AE-L / AF button is also rather easier to reach than is the corner-mounted, dedicated AE-L button of the earlier flagship camera.
But I did miss the ability to temporarily disable the locking mechanism for the Mode dial, one of my favorite features of the K-3 II, since it prevents accidental mode changes most of the time, but lets me jump back and forth between modes more quickly and easily should the need arise. And I personally preferred the dedicated top-deck ISO button and decoupled AE-L / AF buttons of the K-3 II. Given the Pentax KP's much slimmer body though, that's pretty easy to overlook if wanting to travel light.
And it's worth noting that the Raw/FX, horizon correction and exposure compensation buttons are all programmable, so if like me you want to see a dedicated control for ISO sensitivity rather than simply placing it as a secondary function of the four-way controller's Up button where it's harder to locate by feel, well... you can fix that. And I have to say that I thought it was rather cool to see the horizon correction function surfaced on its own control. In the past, I've tended to leave this on all of the time, but now it's much quicker and easier to enable or disable on the fly by default.
Among the features Ricoh called particular attention to when unveiling the Pentax KP was its autofocus system. It's based around the same 27-point SAFOX 11 autofocus system as used in the flagship K-3 II, and it offers up a generous 25 cross-type AF points that are sensitive to detail on both the horizontal and vertical axes. (Basically, there's a five-by-five grid of cross-type AF points at frame center, with a single linear AF point to the left and right of this main array.)
As in past models, I found the Pentax KP to have swift and confident autofocus that was able to achieve an accurate focus lock on the first attempt the overwhelming majority of the time, even in surprisingly low light. If I was able to see my subject through the viewfinder well enough to accurately frame it, the camera was usually able to focus on it too, even if I'd have struggled to do so manually without switching to live view mode.) Continuous autofocus performance isn't quite up to the best from Canon and Nikon at this price point, but it's pretty close, and should satisfy most users, I'd say.
But as for that autofocus improvement, which was said to have been achieved in software through updated algorithms... Well, I struggled to notice any difference, if I'm honest. Even shooting the Pentax KP and K-3 II side-by-side with the same lens model on both cameras, I really didn't think there was a significant difference in AF speed or accuracy, with both cameras managing about equally well.
I should note, though, that it's quite possible that the K-3 II itself has already achieved the same improvements in firmware updates issued since its release, given that the improvements apparently don't involve hardware tweaks. If so, I wouldn't have expected to notice a difference. Either way, I think the Pentax KP does pretty well in this area.
The Pentax KP also shares its 86,000-pixel RGB metering sensor with the K-3 II, while the K-70 relies on a much coarser-grained 77-segment metering system. I found that exposures were metered pretty accurately most of the time, with perhaps a slightly greater tendency to overexpose than the K-3 II, but only by perhaps 1/3 to 2/3 EV. (And I was frequently shooting under late afternoon sunlight with a mixture of bright skies and partly-shaded subjects, conditions under which many cameras would've faced similar issues.)
In terms of performance, the Pentax KP sits nicely in between the K-3 II and K-70. Its burst capture rate tested at around 7.0-7.1 frames per second which is right on the money for Ricoh's claimed performance, just a tad slower than the K-3 II's 8.1-8.2 fps, but equally a tad ahead of the K-70's 6.1 fps. Depending upon the file format, though, buffer sizes were about 1/2 to 2/3 less than for the K-3 II, and the KP actually trailed the K-70 a little in JPEG mode as well. (Although in fairness, it was shooting more images than that camera in any given timeframe.)
If you're a sports shooter -- and especially if you shoot raw files -- I'd recommend looking to the K-3 II instead because of this. The limited buffer size is not ideal if you're needing to keep up with the action, or you're a fan of the spray-and-pray approach. But for most other purposes, or for lighter sports fare like the kids' football games or something along those lines, the KP should offer plenty of performance and seldom keep you waiting. Buffer clearing times are still a weak spot as is usually the case for Pentax DSLRs, but that's less of a concern since you can change settings and keep shooting without first having to wait for the buffer to clear entirely as in some cameras.
Thus far, my shooting with the Pentax KP has predominantly been in the daytime with good lighting, so my verdict on high sensitivity capture is still to come in my second Field Test. However, thus far I'm really liking what I'm seeing from the Pentax KP. With a sharp lens mounted on the camera, it delivers clean, attractive images with loads of detail, and if your subject is amenable to a multi-shot approach, its Pixel Shift Resolution function can deliver even more fine detail straight out of the camera.
Colors are pretty lifelike, too, if perhaps a little on the consumer-friendly (read: oversaturated) side by default. (Pro tip from a long-time Pentaxian: If you want more realistic color straight out of the camera, then try changing the custom image mode to "natural".) And I thought the white balance system did a great job almost all of the time, with no untoward color casts and keeping hold of just enough golden hour warmth without going overboard.
Of course, before I can render a final verdict, I'll want to do some high ISO / low light / long exposure shooting, something I've not yet finished with. You can expect to hear more on this front, as well as a look at the new electronic shutter function, bracketing functions and the Pentax KP's movie capture capabilities. Watch this space for my second field test, coming soon!
Pentax KP Overview
By Mike Tomkins | Posted: 01/25/2017
To date, the smallest true DSLR we've reviewed has been the Canon SL1, a camera which is aimed at entry-level shooters rather than the more experienced photographers Ricoh is courting with the Pentax KP. Ricoh's new camera sports a body that's not a whole lot bigger than that of the Canon SL1. At 5.2 x 4.0 x 3.0 inches (W x H x D), it's barely 10-12% larger in each dimension, yet the Pentax KP packs in far more features than did the SL1. (And if anything, those dimension figures read as being misleadingly high. Much of the KP's body is far slimmer and less tall than the numbers suggest, with only the central mirror box portion of the camera occupying the full height and depth.)
The Pentax KP sports a feature-packed, weather-sealed mag-alloy body
The magnesium alloy-bodied Pentax KP has a glass pentaprism viewfinder with near-100% coverage, for example, where the Canon SL1 instead opted for a smaller, dimmer and less accurate pentamirror finder. The Pentax KP also boasts a twin-dial design with full dust, weather and freeze-proofing, a tilting LCD monitor, an uprated in-body shake reduction system and in-camera Wi-Fi -- all features that Canon's smallest DSLR lacked -- as well as plenty else besides.
Admittedly, the Pentax KP is also 50% heavier than was the Canon SL1 when loaded and ready to shoot, but without the lens. That's a difference which is pretty easy to understand, though, when one considers that Canon's beginner-friendly design lacked so many of the Pentax KP's features, and placed them inside a predominantly plastic body. The Pentax KP, by contrast, has magnesium-alloy panels at front, back and on the bottom, relying on polycarbonate only on its top deck.
So how has Ricoh been able to achieve this degree of miniaturization while retaining so many features, and how does the Pentax KP handle? Well to answer that second question first, the answer is very well -- surprisingly so given its compact size. The KP has been redesigned from the ground-up, with Ricoh rethinking the positions of controls and internal components to make best use of available space.
Externally, this is most noticeable in the change to a vertically-mounted front control dial, rather than the near-horizontal front dial of past models. I found this new dial to be quite comfortable in use, and it's paired with a new interchangeable hand-grip design, with a total of three grip options available. (Grips are exchanged by simply loosening a socket-head screw with a provided hex key.) At launch, Pentax will be including all three grips in the product bundle in the US market, although in other markets it's possible that some of the grips may instead be sold separately from the camera.
Tune the Pentax KP to your tastes with its clever interchangeable grips
In my hands-on time with the Pentax KP, I was able to try out the most compact of the trio, the Grip S (shown attached). Despite its relatively shallow profile and my larger-than-average hands, I felt this pairing was quite secure in my grip, and my fingers didn't really feel unnecessarily cramped. I'm definitely looking forward to trying out the medium and large-sized Grip M and Grip L, though, as for a slight increase in weight and grip depth, these look to provide even more purchase for a more secure hand-hold. While I've not yet gotten a chance to try these on the camera (the required hex key having gotten misplaced), I can say that each of these accessory grips felt sturdy, and had a good-sized piece of metal inset in their back surface to help ensure a tight, creak-free fit against the camera body.
Also new to the Pentax APS-C camera line is the Smart Function Dial which was introduced on the Pentax K-1. This clever control saves you delving through the menu system, keeping more than just the exposure basics handy for quick adjustments. Sadly, there's not space on the Pentax KP's top deck to include the Smart Function Dial alongside of an LCD info display, and so this model relies solely on its viewfinder and rear-deck 3.0-inch tilting LCD monitor to provide information on camera setup.
A brand-new sensor should give the Pentax KP spectacular high ISO performance
But enough of the body, what's new under the skin? Perhaps the most important change of the bunch is a brand-new APS-C sized 24-megapixel image sensor which we're told is an improved version of that featured previously in the Pentax K-70. This is said to bring with it improved high ISO noise performance, and according to Ricoh's reps, should allow the Pentax KP to come "very close" to the image quality of the full-frame Pentax K-1, even as high as ISO 51,200-equivalent. And that's nowhere near the upper limit of this camera's range, incidentally. The Pentax KP offers everything from ISO 100 to 819,200-equivalents, a truly staggering range for an APS-C sensor-based camera.
And as if that broad sensitivity range wasn't already enough to ensure blur-free shots in low-light shooting, the Pentax KP also debuts a newly-uprated, five-axis image stabilization system dubbed Shake Reduction II. (We've seen this SR II system previously in the full-frame Pentax K-1, but it's never been featured in an APS-C based camera body before now.) Ricoh's new SR II system corrects for pitch, yaw, roll, and both horizontal and vertical motion, and now has a claimed five-stop corrective strength to CIPA testing standards when using the smc PENTAX-DA 18-135mmF3.5-5.6ED AL [IF] DC WR lens at the telephoto position.
The uprated Shake Reduction II system includes automatic panning detection, and the sensor shift assembly which sits at its heart can also be used for a wide variety of purposes beyond image stabilization. Pentax's Pixel Shift Resolution function, for example, uses the SR II system to boost per-pixel resolution for relatively static scenes by capturing and combining several shots, while very precisely moving the sensor in between captures. The Pentax KP also retains the clever AA Filter Simulator function which recreates the moiré and false color-fighting effects of an optical low-pass filter by precisely moving the image sensor during exposure.
And like its predecessors, the Pentax KP can also automatically level horizons for you if you're holding the camera just slightly off-kilter, let you fine-tune your image composition when shooting with the camera mounted on a tripod, and even freeze star trails in long exposures, functions which are achieved using the same sensor shift mechanism that helps stabilize your shots at slower shutter speeds. (You'll need to pick up the optional O-GPS1 GPS receiver accessory if you want to use the star trail-freezing AstroTracer system though, as the camera itself lacks a built-in GPS receiver.)
Burst performance, while not manufacturer-rated as being quite as fast as the company's APS-C flagship Pentax K-3 and K-3 II -- which remain on sale alongside the KP which slots in underneath them in the lineup -- is still very generous. Ricoh rates the Pentax KP as capable of up to seven frames per second for as many as 28 full-resolution JPEG, eight raw or seven raw+JPEG frames. That's just a touch slower than the 8.3 fps manufacturer rating of the K-3 and K-3 II, although the much more abbreviated buffer of the Pentax KP will make these flagships the better option for sports shooters. (The K-3 and K-3 II are capable of 60 JPEG or 23 raw frames in a burst, double to triple the burst depth of the Pentax KP.)
The Pentax KP brings some worthwhile tweaks to autofocus and exposure
Exposure options are in most respects similar to the Pentax K-3 and K-3 II, with the Pentax KP using the same 27-point SAFOX 11 autofocus systems as in those cameras, complete with 25 cross-type points that are sensitive to detail on both horizontal and vertical axes. And the KP also retains the same 86,000 pixel RGB metering system as in its flagship siblings. However, there are some important differences.
Perhaps most significantly, Ricoh notes that it has improved its autofocus algorithms such that the Pentax KP should offer noticeably better AF performance and accuracy than past models using the same AF sensor. And while the Pentax KP has a fastest mechanical shutter speed of 1/6,000-second, not quite as swift as the 1/8,000-second shutter of the K3-series models, it also now sports an electronic shutter function which tops out at 1/24,000-second.
The Pentax KP also brings with it some new bracketing functionality not seen in past models. For example, Depth-of-Field bracketing allows you to bracket the camera's selected aperture value, while Motion Bracketing allows you to do much the same with shutter speeds.
Another piece of great news is that the Pentax KP will support remote tethered shooting using the company's optional Pentax Image Transmitter 2 software and its related Lightroom plugin. That's huge news, as until now the software has been reserved for Pentax's medium-format and full-frame DSLR models, with APS-C shooters having to rely on reverse-engineered third-party solutions for tethered shooting. We're thrilled to see Ricoh has decided to bring tethering back for subframe shooters, as it's something we've been asking about for years!
Available since February 25th, 2017, the Pentax KP is sold in the US market at a list price of around US$1,100 body-only. The D-BG7 battery grip is priced at around US$230, and will ship from May 2017 in the US market.
Pentax KP Technical Info
A look at what's on the inside of this compact DSLR
At the heart of the Pentax KP is a brand-new image sensor based on that featured previously in the Pentax K-70. It's a 24.32-megapixel CMOS image sensor with a Bayer RGBG color filter array. Dimensions are 23.5 x 15.6mm, and total resolution is 24.96 megapixels. Maximum image size is 6,016 x 4,000 pixels.
Note that both the total and effective resolution counts are just slightly higher than their K-70 counterparts, although the output image resolution is unchanged. We're speculating here, but our guess is that the difference comes down to one feature subtraction from the K-70: The Pentax KP forgoes that camera's on-chip phase-detection autofocus pixels, meaning that it relies solely on contrast-detection autofocus during live view or movie shooting. Freeing up those pixels for imaging instead of phase-detect AF likely answers why the pixel counts have increased, however.
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