Pentax K-1 Review
|Full model name:
(35.9mm x 24.0mm)
|Optical / LCD
|100 - 204,800
|100 - 204,800
|1/8000 - 30 sec
5.4 x 4.3 x 3.4 in.
(137 x 110 x 86 mm)
|Pentax K-1 specifications
For its first-ever full-frame DSLR, Ricoh offers up the Pentax K-1 -- and what a beauty it is! With a superb design, features aplenty, great image quality and a solid, comfortable all-weather body, the K-1 is a no-brainer upgrade for Pentaxians looking to go full-frame. But what if you're shooting a rival system: Would this awesome-yet-affordable full-frame camera be right for you? Find out now in our in-depth Pentax K-1 review!Pros
Unlocks the full potential of full-frame Pentax lenses; Excellent image quality; Great ergonomics and build; Very compact for full-frame; Decent performance; Fast autofocus with great low-light capabilities; Very wide sensitivity range; Bright, accurate viewfinder; Articulated LCD; Stabilization, Wi-Fi and GPS in-cameraCons
No built-in flash strobe; Quite heavy compared to APS-C flagships; Somewhat soft images and blown highlights by default in JPEG mode; Warm Auto white balance indoors; Slow startup and buffer clearing; Small top-deck status display; Weak viewfinder illumination; Below-average battery life for DSLRPrice and availability
The Pentax K-1 began shipping in the US market from the beginning of May 2016. Pricing is set at around US$1,800 body-only. Available accessories include a weather-sealed battery grip, model number D-BG6, with duplicated controls for portrait shooting. Pricing for this accessory is set at US$200.Imaging Resource rating
4.5 out of 5.0
Pentax K-1 Review
by Mike Tomkins
Preview posted: 02/17/2016
Last updated: 01/25/2017
02/18/2016: Technical Info posted!
05/03/2016: First Shots posted!
05/06/2016: Pixel Shift Resolution analysis posted!
05/17/2016: Performance test results posted!
06/28/2016: Image Quality Comparison and Print Quality posted!
06/29/2016: Real-world Field Test posted!
07/18/2016: Conclusion posted!
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The long-awaited Pentax K-1 is, hands-down, the most exciting digital camera that Ricoh has ever made! Sitting above the K-3 II sub-frame DSLR and below the larger, pricier 645Z medium format DSLR, the feature-rich and high-performing Pentax K-1 earned itself high-praise in our 2016 Camera of the Year awards in the Professional DSLR category.
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Pentaxians, your wait is finally at its end! After years of rumors, Ricoh has answered the pleas of its customers and brought its K-series DSLR lineup into a new era with the Pentax K-1, its first full-frame digital camera. Bridging the gap between its epic medium-format cameras and its affordable APS-C DSLRs, the K-1 is one very impressive full-frame camera indeed -- and it ships at a pricetag that should be easy for many to justify!
The Pentax K-1 is Ricoh's new flagship K-mount camera
It might be affordable, but that doesn't mean Ricoh has skimped on features in the least. On the contrary, this is a clear flagship model which debuts a brand-new, comprehensively weather-sealed body design. Crafted from magnesium alloy, the Pentax K-1 is freezeproof to 14°F (-10°C), and thanks to a generous array of 87 different seals, it's also dustproof and weather-resistant. (And if you opt to purchase the available battery grip, you'll find that this has a further 47 seals.)
The Pentax K1's body is very comfortable
The Pentax K-1's brand-new body feels very good in-hand, with a nice grip that's both deep enough that your fingers don't press uncomfortably into the camera body if you have large hands, yet thin enough that those of you with smaller hands should be able to hold it comfortably as well. The thumbrest on the top right rear corner of the camera is nicely curved, and sticks out enough to contribute to what is, overall, a very secure-feeling grip on the body.
The Pentax K1 is also pretty compact for a full-frame DSLR
The top and rear-panel controls on the Pentax K-1 are arranged very conveniently, although operating some of the latter will necessitate a two-handed grip. The K-1's body is relatively compact compared to cameras like the Nikon D810 or Canon EOS 5DS R, but it's obviously larger than a full-frame mirrorless camera like, say, the Sony A7R II.
A bright, roomy viewfinder and unique LCD monitor for the K1
As you'd expect, there's a newly-designed pentaprism viewfinder which boasts near-100% coverage and a generous 0.7x magnification. In a departure from past models, focus points are no longer simply illuminated with LEDs, but instead there is now an illuminated LCD overlay in the viewfinder. This also provides a customizable grid display, an indication of the crop area if applicable, and a dual-axis level gauge function.
There's also a 3.2-inch LCD monitor which has a unique articulation mechanism, something we'd seen when the camera was shown under glass a few times over the last year or so, and which we'd been keen to get our hands on.
The monitor itself sits atop four struts which allow it not only to be angled to face up, down, left or right, but even swiveled somewhat. These struts provide for +/-35 degrees of side-to-side adjustment, and +/-44 degrees of vertical tilt. Once they reach their maximum extent, a secondary hinge allows the screen tilt to continue upwards to the 90-degree position for waist-level or low-to-the-ground shots. It's a bit tricky to describe, but certainly provides a much wider range of motion than competing designs.
Of course, it can't be angled forwards for selfie shooting, but that's hardly a major use case for a full-frame camera. The one obvious downside compared to a more traditional tilt/swivel mechanism is that the display can't be closed facing inwards for added protection.
The Pentax K-1's on-demand lighting helps see what you're doing
But that's pretty easy to overlook once you see another unique feature of the Pentax K-1. On the outside of the body are an array of lights, but unlike those on the entry-level Pentax K-S1, these are no mere fashion accent. Instead, they illuminate the camera body to help make it easier to see what you're doing when fiddling with controls, changing lenses and so forth after dark.
One such LED sits beneath the pentaprism assembly on the front of the camera, providing illumination for the lens mount. More can be found on the rear of the LCD monitor, and light up the rear-panel controls once the display is tipped or pulled outwards from the camera body. Further LEDs cast some light on the K-1's flash card slots and cable connectors. It's a really nice detail which makes it much easier to handle the K-1 at night. Hindsight is 20/20, but we can't help wondering why nobody thought of this before now.
The K-1's Smart Function Dial keeps you out of the menu system
Another rather unusual touch is the Pentax K-1's new Smart Function dial, which is paired with a new Set dial on the camera's top deck. This supplements the existing twin control dials -- one apiece on the front and rear of the body as in almost all enthusiast-oriented cameras at this price point -- and helps to keep you out of the menus. Spin the Smart Function dial, and the Set dial will be reconfigured to control features like exposure compensation, bracketing, sensitivity, cropping, high dynamic range imaging, and plenty else besides, and all without having to enter the menu system at all.
We found ourselves mostly leaving the Smart Function dial set to the crop function, occasionally switching it to control bracketing or drive modes as needed. (And when we did need to access one of the other settings, it took just a moment to tweak both dials appropriately and then return the Smart Function dial to crop mode when we were done.) Why didn't we opt for ISO sensitivity or exposure compensation, you might ask? Well, both of these are already quick to change by simply holding down the relevant top-deck button and then spinning the rear dial.
36 megapixels means the Pentax K-1 compares well to rivals
But enough of the new body, what about the components housed beneath its skin? There's some pretty impressive tech to be found inside the Pentax K-1, as well. Based around a 36.4-megapixel image sensor, the K-1 matches Nikon's D800 / D810 for resolution, but at a much lower pricetag. (The D800 is discontinued these days, but the D810 currently lists for US$3,300, and even after a generous US$500 instant discount is a full US$1,000 more expensive than its Pentax rival, body-only.)
Sure, the K-1 still trails Canon's EOS 5DS and 5DSR by quite some way in terms of sensor resolution, but it's also much more affordable than either model. (The Canon siblings list for US$3,700 and US$3,900 respectively, with a $200 instant discount available. That put them at around twice the cost of the Pentax K-1. And Ricoh would doubtless point out that its medium-format Pentax 645D and 645Z are worthy challengers to Canon's high-res 5DS-siblings, while the Pentax K-1 bests the rest of Canon's DSLR lineup for maximum sensor resolution. The 645D even lists at around the same price as the much smaller-sensored Canon models, these days.)
Perhaps the Pentax K-1's nearest rivals in terms of cost and resolution are to be found in Sony's Alpha A7 series, but these mirrorless cameras all lack the K-1's optical viewfinder. Chances are that you've already made your mind up whether or not you're willing to live with an electronic viewfinder as in those cameras. If you don't need their size advantage, there's a lot to be said for the lag-free feeling of connection to your subject that an optical viewfinder can give you -- and that tips the balance in the K-1's favor.
The Pentax K1 sports even better Shake Reduction
Creating a brand-new full-frame camera from scratch is no small task. As well as its image sensor, the Pentax K-1 sports a variety of brand-new technology aimed at extracting the best from the sensor. They might resemble features of the company's APS-C sensored cameras, but the K-1's in-body Shake Reduction and autofocus systems, too, are newly-designed.
We'll come back to autofocus in a moment, and discuss Shake reduction first. Despite needing to deal with a much larger, heavier sensor assembly, the Pentax K-1's five-axis Shake Reduction system now has an even greater corrective ability than ever, now being rated by its maker as capable of a five-stop correction.
The K-1 gives you crisper images with Pixel Shift Resolution
Ricoh has retained its Pixel Shift Resolution feature, which debuted on the Pentax K-3 II, for the new Pentax K-1. As in that camera, the function captures four sequential images, shifting the Shake Reduction sensor-shift assembly by one pixel between shots. The result is both full color capture at every pixel location, and reduced noise levels as well. But where the K-3 II could only use the function for completely static subjects -- at least officially -- the Pentax K-1 can now detect and account for subjects that moved between frames.
In a nutshell, the camera is now doing what I did manually in my field test of the K-3 II by only applying the pixel-shift technique to static areas, while ignoring those areas where there was subject motion. This technique can give you the best of both worlds, boosting resolution for most of your scene while avoiding artifacts for the moving subjects. Although as you'll see in my field test, it's better able to deal with larger moving subjects than with the subtle motion you'll find in foliage, water, and so forth.
Want to know a whole lot more? Read my in-depth Pentax K-1 Pixel Shift Resolution analysis!
Fight moire with the Pentax K1's Anti-Aliasing Filter Simulator
Also retained from Ricoh's APS-C DSLR lineup is the Pentax K-1's Anti-Aliasing Filter Simulator function. It's no longer completely unique, as Sony has achieved the same thing in hardware in some of its latest cameras, but it's still pretty special. There's no resolution-sapping optical low-pass filter over the image sensor -- something most interchangeable-lens cameras also lack these days -- but unlike the competition, the K-1 can emulate it by moving the image sensor just slightly during the exposure. This can slightly soften the image as the low-pass filter would have done, and in the process help to prevent moiré and false-color effects.
The K-1's autofocus has been updated, too
And while the K-1's new 33-point SAFOX 12 autofocus system does bear a strong resemblance to the SAFOX 11 system in recent APS-C cameras, it too has been updated. For one thing, it has been redesigned to better-cover a 35mm image frame, instead of simply providing a dense cluster of points towards the center of the frame. It also sports an additional six focus points that fill the gaps between the main focus array and the two outermost points in the previous-generation SAFOX chip.
As in the earlier design, though, all 25 points in the central array are cross-types, while the centermost point and those directly above or below it are also capable of working at f/2.8 for more accurate focusing with wide-aperture lenses. (These three points are also now more light-sensitive than ever before, working all the way down to -3EV.) The six new points, as well as the existing leftmost and rightmost points are still linear sensors, meanwhile.
Unlock the potential of your Pentax full-frame lenses
While making the leap to full-frame clearly required a significant investment on Ricoh's part -- and we'd guess that's why it has taken a while to accomplish -- it was clearly very worthwhile because it unlocks the full potential of a great many full-frame optics, both old and new. In total, there are a dozen Pentax full-frame lenses which are either available currently or on the way in the not-too-distant future, and many, many more from years gone by will doubtless be used on Pentaxians' cameras once they get a hold of the K-1.
Of course, not everybody has a big collection of full-frame glass, nor would they necessarily want to use it all the time if they did. Over the last decade, a great many Pentax lenses have been released with sub-frame sensors in mind, and these, too, can be used on the Pentax K-1. Mount a lens designed for an APS-C body on your Pentax K-1, and the sensor data will be cropped automatically, yielding a 15.3-megapixel image. (And you can save this cropped image in raw format too, should you desire.)
You can, however, choose to enable or disable the crop manually, should you prefer. That means you can still use your full-frame glass in cropped mode if you're shooting a distant subject and want to crop in more tightly to reduce file sizes, improve the burst capture rate and depth, and save yourself time in editing later. It also means that you can use the full image circle of your sub-frame lenses, if they happen to provide noticeably greater than APS-C coverage. (Of course, not all will, and even for those which do you may notice degraded quality outside the intended image circle of the lens. Still, it's nice to have the option.)
The Pentax K-1's sensitivity and performance are good for the class
As you'd expect of a full-frame camera, the K-1 offers a wide sensitivity range and delivers good low-light shooting potential. For its class, performance is also reasonably swift. Ricoh rates the K-1 as capable of 4.4 frames-per-second burst shooting at full resolution, or 6.5 frames in APS-C crop mode -- and this with a burst depth of 23 or 50 raw frames depending on your crop mode. ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 204,800 equivalents.
Shutter speeds range from 1/8,000 to 30 seconds plus bulb, and exposures are determined with an 86,000-pixel RGB metering sensor, just as in the company's recent APS-C sensored cameras. All of the exposure modes you'd expect on a Pentax camera are present and accounted for, including not just the typical PASM (Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority or Manual) found on almost all DSLRs, but also Sensitivity-priority and Shutter-and-Aperture-priority as found on Pentax DSLRs. There are also bulb, X-sync and a very generous five user modes.
The Real Time Scene Analysis system of the Pentax K-1 has been upgraded compared to those of earlier models, and is said to allow even better automatic exposures when shooting in the new Scene Analyze Auto mode using the Auto Select custom image mode. There are also some new technologies derived from Ricoh's labs in the K-1, including clarity control and skin-tone correction.
No built-in flash, as you'd expect in a full-frame flagship like the K1
One important point to note if you're coming from a subframe Pentax DSLR is that unlike most of the company's DSLRs, the Pentax K-1 lacks a built-in flash. That's a common design choice in higher-end cameras aimed at more experienced shooters, where popup flash strobes are seen as a potential breakage concern, and of limited use due to their unflatteringly-harsh light. As in the Pentax K-3 II, the location that would have been occupied by a popup flash strobe is instead given over to the GPS radio.
With the high sensitivity of the camera itself -- and the opportunities for available-light shooting that it brings -- we rather doubt too many photographers will mourn the absence of a popup flash, but one time where you might find yourself wishing for an internal flash is if you're planning on wireless flash photography. Where most other Pentax DSLRs allow this out of the box, using the internal flash as a controller, this isn't possible with the Pentax K-1. Instead, you'll need to supply an extra strobe on the camera to control your wireless setup, even if that strobe won't be taking part in the final exposure.
The Pentax K-1 boasts instant sharing, and geotagging too
We mentioned that the Pentax K-1 includes a built-in GPS receiver, just as did the K-3 II before it, but the new model goes a step further in its radio connectivity than did that earlier camera. Where the K-3 II had to rely on a rebranded Trek FluCard flash card to provide for wireless data transfer, the Pentax K-1 now sports built-in Wi-Fi. That's big news if you need to get your photos off the camera and uploading as quickly as possible, whether to social networks or to put them into the hands of your client, ASAP.
The GPS, meanwhile, allows your photos to be tagged with their capture location. And thanks to an electronic compass, the K-1 will also record the direction you're facing. You can also take advantage of these features to access the K-1's AstroTracer function, which freezes the motion of stars to help you capture a longer exposure without visible star trails.
If there's a weak point in the Pentax K1, it's probably video
Although its cameras have long offered video capture capability -- and indeed, were among the very first DSLR models to do so -- Ricoh continues not to put a big emphasis on video capture with the Pentax K-1. If you're planning on infrequent video capture, you'll doubtless still appreciate the availability of Full HD capture at up to 30p / 60i frame rates, as well as a stereo microphone, mic input jack, headphone jack for levels monitoring, and the ability to adjust audio levels manually. If video is a primary goal, though, the Pentax K-1 likely won't tick the right boxes for you, as it lacks 4K video capture, high framerate video at above HD resolution, or clean HDMI output.
The K-1 sports a familiar battery and dual card slots
In a rather nice touch for Pentaxians, Ricoh has retained the exact same battery pack for the Pentax K-1 as have been used in all of the company's higher-end DSLRs (even medium-format models) dating right back to the Pentax K-7. That's right, you can share packs with your Pentax K-3, K-5, K-7, K-01 or (if you're lucky enough to own one) your 645-series digital camera!
When used with a Pentax K-1, the D-LI90 battery pack is rated as good for 760 shots on a charge, or 390 minutes of playback. That's just slightly better than the K-3 II in record mode, as that model was rated for 720 shots on a charge. Note that when comparing with other models, you'll need to account for the lack of a flash strobe in the K-1. (The standard CIPA test uses the flash for every other shot if the camera has one, increasing power consumption.)
Add on the optional portrait / battery grip, and you'll be able to put a second battery pack in the camera for double the battery life. (You'll also be able to use six standard AA batteries in the grip if you can't get to a charger, and a spare flash card can be stored in one of the two battery inserts that are supplied with it.)
Storage is catered for with dual SD card slots. These are compatible with both the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC cards, as well as the higher UHS-I cards, the latter up to the maximum bus speed of 104MB/second.
No more SuperSpeed USB for the flagship Pentax
One feature present in recent Pentax flagship DSLRs is surprisingly absent from the K-1, perhaps suggesting that the company feels it doesn't see sufficient use to justify the cost. Where the earlier K-3 and K-3 II sported USB 3.0 SuperSpeed data connectivity, the K-1 reverts back to the far more common -- but rather slower -- USB 2.0 High Speed. If you prefer to swap your SD card to another device instead of transferring data through a cable, then you'll not even notice the change. If you appreciated the higher transfer rates possible with the K-3 siblings, though, it might be time to invest in a fast card reader and change your habits.
Pentax K-1 Field Test
Finally, there's a new lease on life for your full-frame Pentax lenses!
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.
Pentax K-1 Pixel Shift Resolution Mode Analysis
Higher resolution and lower noise from multiple shots
Pixel Shift Resolution worked similarly to the High-Res Shot mode of the Olympus E-M5 II, which predated the K-3 II by a couple of months, although there were some important differences between the two. (We'll come back to those in a moment.) Olympus has since taken its rival feature into an even smaller camera with the handsome Olympus PEN-F. Now Ricoh heads in the opposite direction with the Pentax K-1, the subject of this review and the first full-frame camera to include such a feature.
Pentax K-1 Technical Info
A detailed look at the company's first full-frame DSLR
The Pentax K-1 sports a brand-new, weather-sealed body constructed from magnesium alloy. It's comprehensively weatherproofed, with a total of 87 seals protecting seams, compartments and controls alike from ingress of dust or moisture. And if you purchase the optional portrait / battery grip, this has a further 47 seals. Of course, you'll also need to be using a weather-sealed lens for proper protection.
To choose a weather-sealed lens, look for either the AW or WR designation on a full-frame or sub-frame optic / rear converter, or the DA* designation indicating a premium sub-frame optic. (All of the latter are weather-sealed, but note that the same is not true of FA*-badged lenses.) Continuing the weather-sealed system, the Pentax AF360FGZ II and AF540FGZ II flash strobes are also weather-sealed, as is the O-RC1 remote control.
As well as dust and water-resistance, the Pentax K-1 is also freezeproof, able to operate in temperatures as low as 14°F (-10°C).
Pentax K-1 Image Quality
Comparing the first full-frame Pentax DSLR to the competition
To see how the K-1's Pixel Shift Resolution feature compares to single-shot mode, as well as to other cameras, please visit our Pentax K-1 Pixel Shift Resolution Mode page.
NOTE: These images are from best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera. For those interested in working with the RAW files involved: click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page: Pentax K-1, Pentax K-3 II, Canon 5DS R, Nikon D810, Pentax 645Z and Sony A7R II-- links to the RAW files appear beneath those for the JPEG images, wherever we have them. And remember, you can always go to our world-renowned Comparometer to compare the Pentax K-1 to any camera we've ever tested!
Pentax K-1 Print Quality
How will your photos look once it comes to to make prints?
The 36-megapixel full-frame Pentax K-1 abounds with the potential to deliver stunning prints at the lower ISOs, and your printer will love you for it. As the gain rises the K-1 continues to offer the ability to produce large prints all the way to a 16 x 20 at ISO 3200. After that, the camera becomes a mere mortal again but still delivers about as good as most other full-frame models we've tested, though not as good as some of them. However when employing PSR mode you'll gain even more resolution and lower noise, and can therefore produce even larger prints. Given the excellent single-shot printing performance up to ISO 3200, we give the Pentax K-1 high marks in the print quality department.
Pentax K-1 Conclusion
Could this be the most impressive Pentax DSLR ever?
With the arrival of the full-frame Pentax K-1, we finally have an answer to all of those questions. It's a landmark product for Pentax and its brand-owner Ricoh, and one which finally plugs the sizeable gap between the company's impressive APS-C cameras, and its mighty 645-series medium format models. And doubly so because it finally unlocks the potential in countless full-frame Pentax K-mount lenses which have been released over the decades, bringing full-circle a product line which has long been known for its impressive backwards-compatibility.
In the Box
The Pentax K-1 retail box ships with the following items:
- Pentax K-1 camera body
- Body cap
- D-LI90 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack
- K-BC90 battery charger kit
- Hot shoe cover FK
- Eyepiece cup FT
- Shoulder strap O-ST162
- Finder cap ME
- PC socket cap
- Instruction manual
- Software CD-ROM S-SW162 with Digital Camera Utility 5 software (based on Silkypix)
- Extra D-LI90 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack for extended outings
- D-BG6 battery grip (if you want portrait-orientation controls, and extended battery life with a second pack)
- Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory cards. Given the high resolution and large file sizes of the K-1, 32GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. If you plan to capture HD movie clips, shoot image bursts, or shoot in RAW format, look for cards with UHS-I markings. And remember there are two card slots, for double the storage.
- External shoe mount flash / video light (AF540FGZ II, AF540FGZ, AF360FGZ II, AF360FGZ) or other accessory flash
- K-AC132 power supply kit with DC coupler
- External stereo microphone
- O-RC1 or F remote controls
- CS-205 cable switch
- Medium to large camera bag
Buy the Pentax K-1
$2499.00 (100% more)
30.4 MP (20% less)
Also has viewfinder
$1301.00 (100% more)
26.2 MP (39% less)
Also has viewfinder
$2999.00 (100% more)
20.2 MP (80% less)
Also has viewfinder