Pentax K-01 Digital Camera Review$899.95
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.