Special K? Pentax K-1 Review

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After years of promises and months of teasing, Ricoh has finally unveiled the Pentax K-1, a 36.4MP full-frame DSLR built around the K lens mount. It becomes the only conventional DSLR to offer a full frame sensor with image stabilization.

The camera is extensively sealed and features magnesium alloy construction. But despite its range-topping status and high-end build, it has a relatively low list price of $1799.

Pentax K-1 Key Specifications

  • 36.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor with no anti-aliasing filter
  • 5-axis image stabilization rated to 5 stops by CIPA standard testing
  • 100% pentaprism viewfinder with 0.7x magnification
  • 33-point AF system (25 cross-type)
  • Extensive weather-sealing
  • 1/200 sec flash sync speed
  • 14-bit Raw recording (DNG or PEF)
  • AA filter simulation
  • Multi-shot Pixel Shift Resolution mode
  • Built-in GPS with electro-magnetic compass and Astrotracer function
  • 4.4 fps continuous shooting (6.5 fps in APS-C crop mode)
  • Wi-Fi
  • 1080/30p video

Sensor-shift cleverness

As this list of spec highlights should make clear, the K-1 makes the most of its moveable sensor. As well as the image stabilization, which is rated to an impressive 5 stops, the camera offers a host of other clever features. These include anti-aliasing filter simulation which vibrates the sensor during exposure to intentionally blur high frequency detail across multiple pixels, to avoid moiré. Then there’s the Pixel Shift Resolution mode that increases color resolution by shooting four consecutive images with the sensor moved by one pixel – effectively canceling the Bayer color filter array and lowering noise by image averaging.

The other sensor-shift modes are also clever: the K-1 includes Horizon Correction, which rotates the sensor if you hold the camera slightly off-level, and the Astrotracer system that uses the sensor’s movement to cancel-out the effect of the Earth’s rotation when taking images of stars (something it can calculate using its GPS).

Upgraded AF and metering

The sensor at the heart of the SAFOX 12 AF module. It gives 33 AF points in all, 25 of which are cross type and three of which offer greater accuracy when paired with bright lenses.

The camera gets a new AF module (called SAFOX 12) which features 33 focus points, 25 of which are cross type. The central three of these offer higher precision when used with F2.8 or faster lenses and the central 25 continue to focus down as far as -3EV.

An 86,000-pixel RGB metering sensor acts to offer 77-segment metering but also aids the camera’s autofocus system, enabling scene analysis and subject detection to yield accurate exposures and automatically select the correct AF point to stay on your subject (subject tracking) when using continuous AF.

Core competence

Overall, though, it’s not the clever use of the sensor that most stands out about the K-1, it’s Ricoh’s obvious focus on the core photographic capabilities. There’s a reason we chose to list the viewfinder size so far up the list of specifications – it’s because we think it’s something users coming from existing Pentax cameras will most appreciate. Sure, there are multiple exposure modes and time lapse options, but the things that most jumped out are the high resolution sensor, the well positioned dials, the large viewfinder and image stabilization – the core things that help you to get better images. Speaking of core things: some may bemoan the omission of a dedicated AF point control, though the four way controller can be re-purposed for this.

Which isn’t to say the K-1 is entirely without the occasional flourish. Aside from clever sensor shift modes (that some – particularly landscape – photographers will surely come to love), the most obvious of these is its ‘Cross-Tilt’ LCD. The Cross-Tilt mechanism takes a tilting LCD cradle and mounts it on four legs that slide along a cross-shaped series of slots, allowing the screen to extend outwards and move in a complex manner, before the screen itself is tilted up/down.

The K-1’s Cross-Tilt LCD system has all the elegance of two deck chairs mating, but it provides a useful range of articulation.

Mounted to the back of the LCD are four white LEDs that can be used to shed light on the rear controls. Another LED, whose behavior can be set independently, shines a light on the lens mount for easier alignment when swapping lenses in the dark. The camera’s card bay and remote release port are also illuminated by LEDs.



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