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"Have you met with Pentax yet?" our friend and fellow tech journalist asked cheerily. We hadn't, but were en route at the time. "Whatever you do," he said, "don't laugh." We don't mean to insult anybody here, truthfully we weren't compelled to giggle when the Pentax representative later unveiled their new camera. We doubt our peer from across the web really was either, probably just some friendly photography banter between professionals. But this exchange should give you an idea of current prevailing thought regarding digital camera design. All models of a given type are expected to look and feel a certain way. It is in this climate Pentax decided to announce the totally unique K-01, the company's second mirrorless system camera, featuring a bold new design unlike any we've ever seen. That was six months ago, at CES 2012, and since then we've witnessed the public's initial reception, then heard rumors of an extremely capable image sensor, then saw some encouraging sample photos, and now here we are, ready for the full review which, as you'll soon read, will be rather favorable. Of course we have Marc Newson to thank for the K-01's look. He's a very famous industrial designer known for his style of furniture, jewelry, clothing, and even airplanes. This is Newson's first camera, and the result of a ground-up collaboration between he and the engineers at Pentax. We have our own opinions about the design, and feel only moderately-qualified to publicize them. But purely as a device for taking pictures, the Pentax K-01 shouldn't be overlooked.
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• Pentax K-01 digital camera • neck strap • AC cord • battery charger • Pentax D-LI90 rechargeable battery pack • microUSB cable • operating manual • quick guide • software CD-ROM • warranty information The K-01 is kitted with one of the coolest lenses we've ever seen. It's a 40mm pancake, with a profile no wider than your thumb. Given the huge, thick body of the K-01, we suppose a pancake is really the only type of lens that would've made any sense for this design. A manual focus ring encircles the outside edge of the "barrel" (which is hardly an appropriate word for such a lens) and this is a fully mechanical focus, not focus by wire, a very satisfying feature. A gorgeous nine blade aperture moderates the flow of light, though the opening itself is very tiny, only about one-fourth of the lens' total front-facing area. Unfortunately this leads to one inconvenient side effect, the tiny lens cap, which gets our vote for accessory you're most likely to lose. Like all Pentax DSLRs, the K-01 features the widely-used K mount. We transplanted our old 18-55mm kit lens from last year's K-5, and continued shooting and autofocusing without issue. The mount's hardware is just a sturdy as ever, and the lens release is located below and to the right.
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The image sensor is APS-C sized, just like Pentax's flagship K-5. The camera is not equipped with automatic dust cleaning, however the mechanical shutter drops down whenever the camera isn't in use, which provides some measure of protection while swapping lenses. Convergence areas of different sensor sizes compared Perhaps the strangest part of the sensor is just how deep in the body it's set. We get the sense this camera could've been a lot thinner were it not for the K mount, because the sensor is positioned at the end of a relatively long tunnel underneath the lens mount. Given how flat the lens is, the 40mm focal length seemed impossible. But once we checked the sensor, this finally added up. Without any viewfinder, framing is left to the rear LCD, which is adequate but far from perfect. The screen is plenty bright, and accurate when viewed straight on. However we had some issues with glare, even indoors, and viewing angle could be better, especially since this is a fixed position panel. At least responsiveness is good, we could detect only the slightest bit of image lag, which goes a long way toward accurate action shooting. The built-in flash bulb pops up and away from the rest of the body with a touch of the electronic release, located on the left side of the top plate. With a guide number of around 12 at ISO 100, this is a bright flash for a built-in one. Furthermore, the light cast isn't half bad. While nowhere near as natural as ambient light, shots using the built-in flash weren't as ugly as we've come to expect.
Flash Photo

Once released, the flash extends high above the body.

Both output terminals are thoroughly concealed underneath the rubber of the right panel. We don't have any problem with the connectors themselves, there's a microUSB and a miniHDMI here, but the rubber covering is flimsy, and feels like it could wear out or tear off at any time. Worst of all, it's annoying. The rubber surface doesn't fit easily into its closed position, so you'll need to fiddle with it every time you remove the memory card or attach a cable. We don't perform battery testing but the included pack is rated to 500 consecutive shots according to CIPA standards. That's quite a bit, and come to think of it, we rarely charged the K-01 during our time with it.
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The battery is huge, but capable of many consecutive shots.

The memory slot gets an extra door, this one made of plastic. Again, while we have no complaints here, the fact that it's hidden under the inconvenient rubber stopper is annoying.
Memory Photo

The sturdy media door is a strange juxtaposition to the flimsy rubber cover on top.

The K-01 produces some of the most attractive images we've seen so far this year. Sharpness scores were off the chart, noise reduction is moderated, and maximum dynamic range is just over 7 full stops. Look forward to great shots in almost any situation. What a season this has been for sharpness. Had we reviewed the K-01 a few weeks ago, it would've been the sharpest camera we've ever tested. Unfortunately for Pentax, that distinction now goes to the Fujifilm X-Pro1, and its selection of outstanding prime lenses. But the K-01 comes in at a respectable 2nd place, thanks to _its_ prime kit lens. Although the end-result was mathematically similar, the way the K-01 achieved such a sky-high score was quite different from the X-Pro1. While the Fujifilm produced consistent detail throughout the entire frame, the K-01 has peaks and valleys. There aren't any terribly unsharp regions of a shot from the K-01, however the center of the frame is treated to incredible levels of detail, at times in excess of 3500 MTF50s. Some of this is due to artificial oversharpening, which can distract, but the results are impressive nonetheless. Edges, by comparison, came in at an average of under 1500 MTF50s. [More on how we test sharpness.](/content/How-we-test-digital-cameras-20069.htm#resolution)
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Our image stabilization tests perform consistent, rapid movement across a horizontal plane. Under these conditions, the K-01's sensor-shift shake reduction was not effective. In fact, sharpness actually decreased by 2%. That's probably insufficient cause for us to recommend leaving shake reduction turned off at all times, but our test could detect no improvement. The K-01 offers color accuracy that is above average, but not too far above. We recorded a minimum error value of 2.76, with very minor oversaturation (less than 4%). Errors are spread out evenly across the gamut, with just as many problems in the yellows as there are in the reds, or greens, or blues. None of the errors are particularly severe, there's just a lot of them. [More on how we test color.](/content/How-we-test-digital-cameras-20069.htm#color) *NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.* This is the best score of our comparison group, which represents a few different cameras in this price range and class. Color scores are also very slightly better than the Pentax K-5, which earned a decent score last year. Other mirrorless cameras, like the Sony NEX-5N and the Nikon J1, lag behind, and so does the fixed-lens Canon G1 X. 11 color modes are available from the "Custom Image" setting on the main menu. Aside from the basics like Vibrant and Muted, a few more interesting ones have also been included. Radiant is like Vibrant but emphasizes yellows and blues. Cross Processing mixes up color channels deliberately, and may even be set to random. The Natural mode is aptly named, because it is the most accurate one. We used this setting for all remaining tests. White balance accuracy was strong overall, but fell victim to the same trends we almost always see: poor results under incandescent light, better in all other lighting conditions. #### Automatic White Balance () Using the automatic white balance system, color temperature was off by more than 1500 Kelvin under incandescent tungsten light. This is highly inaccurate, though still consistent with this camera's peers. Under fluorescent and daylight, these errors drop to 220 and 175 Kelvin respectively on average. #### Custom White Balance () Custom white balance, as it always does, produced the most accurate color temperature settings. Incandescent light becomes more accurate than any source would've been if using automatic white balance: off by only 95 Kelvin. Daylight is only 35 degrees too cool, and fluorescent light produced the most accurate scores of all, off by only 15 Kelvin. These scores won't ruin any shots, but they are the worst in our group of similar cameras. Strangely, the scores are worse than the year-old K-5, along with many other mirrorless cameras. White balance settings get their own button, down on the directional pad, allowing the user to select from one of ten color temperature presets, including four different varieties of fluorescent, one for the built-in flash, and one for custom temperature enhancement. All presets, as well as automatic and custom settings, are compatible with color shift, which is simple to adjust and features a realtime preview. Setting a custom white balance, and can be performed with only two buttons presses. This camera does an excellent job keeping distracting image noise below 1.00% through ISO 3200, even with noise reduction software turned completely off. At ISO 6400 and above, noise rates increase exponentially (though this is expected), up to 3.37% at ISO 25600. By comparison, the sensor only produces 0.40% noise at ISO 100. [More on how we test noise.](/content/How-we-test-digital-cameras-20069.htm#noise)
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The K-01's ISO sensitivities start at 100 and stretch all the way to 25,600. It's not every camera that can go this far, both the Nikon J1 and Canon G1 X cannot. One convenient feature is the ability to customize the automatic ISO function to meter between 100 and any other sensitivity, including 25,600.
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At the minimum sensitivity, the K-01 is capable of achieving just over 7 stops of dynamic range. That's excellent, and to give you an idea of what sort of range 7 full stops looks like, be sure to check out our second [sample photo](https://www.reviewed.com/cameras/content/Pentax-K-01-Digital-Camera-Review/Sample-Photos.htm). Only ISO 100 can reach 7 stops. After that, 6 stops becomes the norm until around ISO 1600. We were very impressed how far into the ISO spectrum this camera retained its dynamic range. After ISO 1600, performance drops off more sharply. Only 5 stops are possible at ISO 3200, almost 4 stops at 6400, 2.7 stops at 12800, and finally 1.8 stops at 25600. [More on how we test dynamic range.](/content/How-we-test-digital-cameras-20069.htm#dynamicrange) These are great results, surpassing even the mighty Pentax K-5. The only comparable camera to post a better score was the Sony NEX-5N, which is part of a model line known for its dynamic range. This camera does an excellent job keeping distracting image noise below 1.00% through ISO 3200, even with noise reduction software turned completely off. At ISO 6400 and above, noise rates increase exponentially (though this is expected), up to 3.37% at ISO 25600. By comparison, the sensor only produces 0.40% noise at ISO 100. [More on how we test noise.](/content/How-we-test-digital-cameras-20069.htm#noise) The K-01's ISO sensitivities start at 100 and stretch all the way to 25,600. It's not every camera that can go this far, both the Nikon J1 and Canon G1 X cannot. One convenient feature is the ability to customize the automatic ISO function to meter between 100 and any other sensitivity, including 25,600. We haven't yet implemented our focus speed test, but, on an observational level, the K-01 has few problems locking focus on subjects within its listed focus distance. The same goes for low light in most cases. It's likely the reason low light doesn't impact sharpness too severely is because the camera is just so sensitive. In order to gather 50 IRE of image data, the sensor needed only 3 lux of ambient illumination. That's quite an amazing result, placing the K-01 on par with not only the best SLRs, but the best camcorders as well. Chromatic aberration is visible in the extreme edges and corners of the frame (as shown in the chart below), but nowhere else. Prime lenses with a fixed zoom ratio often boast this advantage, and this 40mm kit lens is no different. The K-01 is equipped with chromatic aberration correction, however we did not find this feature to be effective. Distortion isn't too bad. We detected about 0.74% barrel distortion is our resolution test, but this number can be brought down to 0% by activating the K-01's distortion correction feature. Both distortion correction and chromatic aberration correction add extra processing to each shot, so this will slow down continuous burst shooting. For this reason, we left both features off most of the time. Videos are captured at 30 frames per second, so they're not quite as smooth as 60 fps content, but still free of trailing and judder. Artifacting is also barely noticeable, making the K-01's videos very attractive overall. [More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.](/content/How-we-test-digital-cameras-20069.htm#videomotion)

Sharpness takes a hit during video, even though this is a Full HD 1080p device. The camera was able to resolve 525 lw/ph horizontally and 500 vertically. Pretty average. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

With only 60 lux of ambient illumination, video sharpness is a tiny bit worse. This time, the sensor achieved 500 lw/ph horizontally and only 475 vertically.

It's likely the reason low light doesn't impact sharpness too severely is because the camera is just so sensitive. In order to gather 50 IRE of image data, the sensor needed only 3 lux of ambient illumination. That's quite an amazing result, placing the K-01 on par with not only the best SLRs, but the best camcorders as well.

The experimental body design means physically handling the K-01 is uncomfortable and unstable. Furthermore, some elements of the control layout also fall victim to the design, leaving at least one button completely out of place. Other than that, the camera is equipped with plenty of detailed controls and shooting modes.

The K-01 is equipped with a fully automatic "green" mode, easily accessible from the mode dial. But this doesn't necessarily dumb down the shooting experience. Pentax has opted not to lock out most menu settings, leaving control in the hands of the user rather than the camera's software. We certainly appreciate Pentax's confidence in their users, just be aware this will slightly complicate those situations where it's necessary to hand off your camera to an inexperienced shooter.

On the top plate, two colored buttons are important to Newson's design. The green button is patently useless, but can be customized if you like, while the red button is best as a video recording hotkey, though it too may be customized. There's also an EV button here, not the best place for it in our opinion, and the electronic flash release key is positioned way off to the far left. Thankfully the shutter release button is excellent, with nice long action and confident tactile feedback.

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19 different scene modes are available from the appropriate stop on the mode dial, and these will automatically adjust shooting parameters for subjects like Moving Object, Sunset, Blue Sky, Forest, etc. We never use scene modes, but we can't complain about the large selection.

Digital filters are separate, and may be selected from the main menu. Actually, they're given a position of prominence right at the top of the first page. Since filters and scene modes are independent, this mean it's possible to combine them. Want to use Pet mode with color extract? Go ahead.

Minus some cosmetic Mark Newson branding, Pentax has made no changes to their 2011 menu interface. This is a horizontal tabbed layout which is operated via a combination of the directional pad and the rotating rear dial. The menu isn't bad but the layout is a bit unintuitive and the proper way to navigate isn't always obvious. For example, certain options may be sub-settings of something else, even if that "something" seems unrelated to the option you're looking for.

For simpler choices, pressing the Info button opens up the quick menu, which allows the user to rapidly change the most common shooting variables and then get back to the action. We found ourselves using this convenient method very often during testing.

Pentax is usually pretty good about shipping their cameras with detailed printed manuals. The K-01 is certainly no exception, but although this guide is fairly large, it's deceptively light on detail. We needed one or two additional online sources to finish our review.

The K-01's experimental design may be aesthetically appealing, but the shape doesn't translate well to handling. We often pejoratively refer to cameras as "brick-like," but the K-01 takes this to a whole new level. The body is enormous for a mirrorless camera. In fact, when we stop to think about it, Pentax actually could've fit a mirror inside the bulky frame.

The front panel has a shallow grip for the right hand, and although it's covered in a rubber surface, the camera still doesn't feel comfortable in the hand.

Handling Photo 1

Grip and balance are challenging due to the camera's shape.

The rear panel is smooth and devoid of ergonomic features. Pentax left plenty of room for a thumb rest here, but there isn't one. The left side of the body also has a rubberized surface, and you'll need it, because this hefty camera will require two hands after awhile.

At least the dials feel great. The mode dial is taller than most, and fun to grip and use. The rear rotating dial also has a satisfying click, and lies within easy reach of the thumb.

Handling Photo 2

There is no grip on the rear panel.

On the top plate, two colored buttons are important to Newson's design. The green button is patently useless, but can be customized if you like, while the red button is best as a video recording hotkey, though it too may be customized. There's also an EV button here, not the best place for it in our opinion, and the electronic flash release key is positioned way off to the far left. Thankfully the shutter release button is excellent, with nice long action and confident tactile feedback.

Buttons Photo 1

That green button sure is pointless.

On back the button layout is notably simple. Four keys are arranged in a straight vertical line, while a small directional pad provides shortcuts to other functions like ISO, flash, and drive modes. The panel was easy to get used to and we memorized it quickly. We're especially grateful that Pentax's efforts to reduce complexity didn't mean stripping out the AF/AE-L button, which is convenient and customizable from a menu setting.

Buttons Photo 2

We like the simple rear control layout.

Without any viewfinder, framing is left to the rear LCD, which is adequate but far from perfect. The screen is plenty bright, and accurate when viewed straight on. However we had some issues with glare, even indoors, and viewing angle could be better, especially since this is a fixed position panel. At least responsiveness is good, we could detect only the slightest bit of image lag, which goes a long way toward accurate action shooting.

Our image stabilization tests perform consistent, rapid movement across a horizontal plane. Under these conditions, the K-01's sensor-shift shake reduction was not effective. In fact, sharpness actually decreased by 2%. That's probably insufficient cause for us to recommend leaving shake reduction turned off at all times, but our test could detect no improvement.

The K-01 is equipped with a full size hardware mode dial that includes dedicated stops for HDR shooting, scene mode options, bulb mode, no flash, video, and the remaining "PASM" modes.

The best manual control is the thin focus ring on the K-01's 40mm kit lens. This isn't focus by wire, the ring actually moves glass mechanically, so you'll be able to achieve excellent precision. Other than that, most variables can be set manually, including program shift and auto ISO range.

We haven't yet implemented our focus speed test, but, on an observational level, the K-01 has few problems locking focus on subjects within its listed focus distance. The same goes for low light in most cases.

Plenty of autofocus methods are available, like face detection, tracking, custom zone, and center; but the real fun is manual focus. The 40mm kit lens features an all-mechanical focus ring. This isn't electronic focus by wire, the glass is instantly responsive and very fun to use. Swapping between manual and automatic focus is simply a matter of toggling a small switch with the left hand.

Four aspect ratios are supported, and for each of these four resolution settings of varying size are available. RAW and JPEG+RAW shooting is available, and all resolutions supported for JPEG are also supported for RAW.

Pressing right on the rear directional pad opens up the drive mode menu. Here you'll find options for continuous shooting, self-timer, remote controls, and exposure bracketing. Pentax lists continuous shooting performance at a maximum of 6 frames per second (3 fps for the "Lo" setting).

In reality, we clocked continuous shooting at just over 5.2 frames per second, and this rate slows considerably when the buffer fills up after 7 shots or so. This speed is also limited by a few menu settings. Activating extras like digital filters or chromatic aberration correction cause shooting speed to plummet. RAW shooting is limited to 1 frame per second.

Self-timer options are quite basic, only ten-second and two-second countdowns are available. Interval shooting for time-lapse photography is possible, however this functionality is buried in the video tab of the main menu, and is only accessible while using the video shooting mode. Intervals cannot be customized precisely but you're given the option to select between one, five, ten, or thirty seconds; one, five, ten, or thirty minutes, or one hour.

We haven't yet implemented our focus speed test, but, on an observational level, the K-01 has few problems locking focus on subjects within its listed focus distance. The same goes for low light in most cases.

Plenty of autofocus methods are available, like face detection, tracking, custom zone, and center; but the real fun is manual focus. The 40mm kit lens features an all-mechanical focus ring. This isn't electronic focus by wire, the glass is instantly responsive and very fun to use. Swapping between manual and automatic focus is simply a matter of toggling a small switch with the left hand.

The K-01 is feature-rich, with plenty of extra shooting modes, effects, filters, and techniques. Video shooting is a bit light on controls, but sufficient for medium-duty recording.

19 different scene modes are available from the appropriate stop on the mode dial, and these will automatically adjust shooting parameters for subjects like Moving Object, Sunset, Blue Sky, Forest, etc. We never use scene modes, but we can't complain about the large selection.

Digital filters are separate, and may be selected from the main menu. Actually, they're given a position of prominence right at the top of the first page. Since filters and scene modes are independent, this mean it's possible to combine them. Want to use Pet mode with color extract? Go ahead.

Videos may be recorded in 1080p, 720p, or 480p. Frame rate is also customizable, with settings for 30, 25, or 24 frames per second. Compression quality is user-configurable to your choice of one, two, or three "stars." Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

In addition to focus, which can be set manually using the lens ring, the K-01 has the ability to adjust shutter speed, aperture, and ISO in video mode. Not only are these three exposure controls adjustable in movie mode, but they can also be set manually during recording. You just have to make sure the camcorder is set to manual exposure control in the video menu first (the menu also has options for Program and Aperture-priority video recording).

The K-01 is not equipped with a wind cut feature, however sound levels for both the internal stereo mics and any optional external mic may be adjusted independently.

Is it unique...or odd? Futuristic...or toyish? Bold...or blind? Whatever the case, if you find yourself attracted to the K-01 based solely on its forward-thinking exterior design, then you'll be happy to know that underneath it all is a rather excellent camera.

Dreamed up by legendary industrial designer Marc Newson, Pentax's latest mirrorless camera bucks nearly every imaging trend. It's thick, heavy, and looks quite unlike every other system camera out there. We can hardly blame Pentax for refusing to fire conventional weapons in the war of mirrorless cameras, especially as new offerings from Nikon, Sony, and presumably Canon sometime in the future, reach the already-saturated market.

The K-01 is therefore a gimmick, in the truest sense of the word. We are neither qualified to, nor interested in commenting on the aesthetic design at any sophisticated level, other than to say the body is bulky and difficult to handle. Beyond this, regarded purely as a device for taking pictures, the K-01 succeeds on almost every level.

Resolution of detail is the camera's greatest strength. Thanks to an excellent APS-C image sensor, plus the very high quality kit lens, the K-01 achieved the second-best sharpness scores we've ever recorded. Speaking of the kit lens, it's a marvel of engineering: a 40mm pancake, no wider in entirety than your thumb, and equipped with a smooth mechanical manual focus ring. Remarkably, you'll find a Pentax "K" lens mount on the camera, meaning the K-01 is compatible with just about every lens Pentax has ever produced.

The K-01 is also very useful in dim lighting conditions, thanks largely to its low noise levels. Even with noise reduction turned completely off, image noise did not become distracting until ISO 6400, though artifacting quickly spiked from there. In fact autofocus is likely to be the limiting factor for low light, not noise, though the system rarely misses.

Video recording is also pretty respectable. Clips aren't the smoothest we've seen, since the footage maxes out at 30 frames per second, however sharpness is decent and compression artifacts are absent. Best of all, only the tiniest bit of ambient light is required to shoot a properly exposed video, such as during dusk or inside a dim bar.

The lack of any viewfinder was disappointing, though the rear 3-inch LCD monitor is responsive enough for accurate framing and focusing. We've already mentioned the handling difficulties that result from this experimental body design, and also found ourselves confused by parts of the button layout as well. The customizable green button, for example, is so far out of reach that it's effectively useless. Continuous shooting speed isn't quite as advertised either. Pentax claims 6 frames per second is possible, but we clocked the K-01 at only 5.2. These issues will all be natural improvements should we ever see a K-02 someday.

We met the Pentax K-01 with skepticism, but ultimately stood corrected. Fans of the aesthetic will be more than satisfied with performance under the hood. The capabilities of this camera are on equal footing with Pentax's top consumer DSLR, the K-5, and with a $900 MSRP, we'd actually consider the K-01 a decent deal. If you appreciate this model's design, or can at least put up with it, the K-01 comes highly recommended.

Meet the tester

Christopher Snow

Christopher Snow

Managing Editor

@BlameSnow

Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.

See all of Christopher Snow's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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