Pentax K-1 First Shots: Finally, the first full-frame DSLR from Pentax goes head-to-head with its rivals


posted Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 4:59 AM EST


Finally, Pentaxians -- the moment you've been waiting for has arrived. The long-awaited Pentax K-1, the company's first full-frame DSLR to reach retail, has just landed in our lab, and we've got the first shots to prove it!

Not to toot our own horn too much, but our first shots are big news if you've been waiting on tenterhooks to compare the Pentax K1 to its rivals. That's because now that we've had a chance to shoot the first raft of our standardized lab testing samples, you can now compare the K-1's output side-by-side with not just the cameras we choose, but any that you like as well.

Want to see how the Pentax K-1 compares to your current camera, say, or to another model that you've been considering purchasing? Now you can! Just click on over to our Comparometer and start making your own comparisons now, or head to our Pentax K-1 samples page for a direct look there.

We like to make things easy for you around these parts, though, and so we've also offered up some initial comparisons below. We hemmed and hawed for a little while as to which cameras would make for the best (and fairest) head-to-head choices, and ended up settling on four full-frame models, along with one APS-C camera.


Compared to Nikon

Not too surprisingly the Nikon D810 made the cut, since the rumor mill has it that the K1's 36.4-megapixel full-frame image sensor is closely related to that used in the Nikon. The D810 carries a list price of around US$1,000 more than the Pentax K-1, however, so we also added the Nikon D750 into the mix for a closer comparison on price. Of course, the D750 has rather lower 24.3-megapixel resolution, so which you think is the more direct rival is really up to you to decide.

Compared to Canon

That's true of the 22.3-megapixel chip in the Canon 5D III, which also joined the group for a side-by-side with the Pentax K1. For higher resolution from Canon, you have to step up to either the 5DS or 5DS R, which cost roughly twice as much as the Pentax. That didn't strike us as fair, so if you want to compare against either model, we'll leave that to you in the Comparometer.

Compared to Sony

And while everything else in this comparison was a DSLR, we figured that we'd be remiss if we didn't also include the Sony A7R. Yes, there's the newer and higher-res A7R II to consider, but again, that's well above the Pentax K-1's list price, so we figured it'd be fairer to pit the K-1 against the previous version, which is still widely available at retail.

Compared to its siblings

And finally, since a lot of Pentaxians will be stepping up to full-frame from their existing APS-C sensored camera we thought it might be helpful to see how the image quality compares here, too. We opted for the most recent APS-C flagship, the Pentax K-3 II, and especially at higher sensitivity it makes for a very interesting matchup indeed!


Camera settings used

For all five matchups, we provided results at base sensitivity. For all but one model that's ISO 100-equivalent, but base sensitivity on the Nikon D810 is actually at ISO 64, giving it a slight advantage here. And at the top end of the scale, we settled on ISO 12,800-equivalent, as being the highest sensitivity available on all five cameras without enabling ISO expansion to access sensitivities that the manufacturer considers to be less than optimal. All five cameras were set to their default noise reduction: Auto for the Pentax cameras, and level two for the rest.

Initial thoughts

So how did the Pentax K1 fare? Pretty darned well, we'd have to say. Default noise reduction levels are clearly much lower than that used by the Sony A7R, which is rather heavy-handed by comparison, so bear that in mind when looking at these two. The Canon 5D III and Nikon D750 are flattered at high ISO by their larger pixels, but trade off some fine detail at base sensitivity as a result. The Nikon D810 is clearly the closest match, but its default noise reduction leaves noticeably more chroma noise, giving a less attractive look. And as for the K-3 II... well, thanks for all the money you've saved us, APS-C, but Pentaxians who want to shoot in low light will want to consider an upgrade, it seems!

Pentax K-1 vs. Canon 5D III

Base ISO: Pentax K-1 (left) vs. Canon 5D III (right)

ISO 12,800: Pentax K-1 (left) vs. Canon 5D III (right)

Pentax K-1 vs. Nikon D750

Base ISO: Pentax K-1 (left) vs. Nikon D750 (right)

ISO 12,800: Pentax K-1 (left) vs. Nikon D750 (right)

Pentax K-1 vs. Nikon D810

Base ISO: Pentax K-1 (left) vs. Nikon D810 (right)

ISO 12,800: Pentax K-1 (left) vs. Nikon D810 (right)

Pentax K-1 vs. Pentax K-3 II

Base ISO: Pentax K-1 (left) vs. Pentax K-3 II (right)

ISO 12,800: Pentax K-1 (left) vs. Pentax K-3 II (right)

Pentax K-1 vs. Sony A7R

Base ISO: Pentax K-1 (left) vs. Sony A7R (right)

ISO 12,800: Pentax K-1 (left) vs. Sony A7R (right)

Stay tuned for more to come on the full frame Pentax K1!

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