PENTAX K-01 Hybrid Camera Review

When it comes to mirrorless system cameras, most people automatically think of either the wide range of Micro Four-Thirds cameras or the Sony NEX series. These cameras have proven to be quite popular with consumers which is why Nikon has the Nikon 1 series of cameras and Canon will soon have their EOS-M series. Another manufacturer that has what they call a hybrid camera is PENTAX with their K-01 designed by Marc Newson. The K-01 is a mirrorless camera, but is quite different from those we see from other manufacturers, in fact, it’s really the only one of its kind. Whereas other manufacturers forgo the mirror in order to place the lens as close to the sensor as possible making the body much smaller than that of a traditional DSLR, PENTAX instead also forgoes the mirror, but doesn’t reduce the distance from the lens to the sensor. This makes the body much larger that those you see from other but it has a distinct advantage over those other systems. Due to its size, the K-01 is able to use any of the already available K-mount lenses on the market without need for an adapter. That means that the PENTAX K-01 hybrid camera has the largest selection of lenses on the market.

Now why hasn’t the PENTAX K-01 taken off? Well, if you’ve been following the K-01, you’ll know that its design hasn’t exactly taken off with consumers. In fact, it’s one of those things where you either really love it or you really hate it, and in this case, it’s because most people just dislike the way it looks, which is a real shame because the K-01 has been on of the easiest cameras I’ve used and has been a joy to shoot with. Sure the K-01 has a few little quirks here and there, but for the most part, I’ve enjoyed my time with it and have been quite impressed with the image quality the K-01 is capable of.

Body & Design

If you haven’t already, I suggest reading my hands-on preview of the PENTAX K-01 here as it contains quite a bit of information about the exterior of the camera itself based on initial impressions. It has lots of useful information such as all the exterior design elements, buttons, and materials. The bulk of this portion of the review here though will deal with real world usage and how the body and design felt and functioned under real situations.

For starters, just judging it from the way it looks would be very disrespectful of it. When handled, it gives off a much different feeling to it than when just viewed. The camera is very solid and heavy in your hands and feels very sturdy. The size of it makes it very easy to hold though the shape of the body doesn’t make it the most comfortable of cameras. If you hold it in one hand, the bottom corner kind of pocks you right in the palm and can get uncomfortable after some time. There also isn’t a thumb grip or a place to really rest your thumb on. I suggest using both hands to shoot with the K-01 as it does make handling the camera a lot easier. I also suggest using some kind of strap to keep it from falling out of your hands.

The rubber covers on the K-01 were also a bit problematic as they would pop off occasionally in my bag or while I was holding the camera. They are great in that they blend in nicely with the K-01 but not so great in staying shut.

I will say though that all the buttons and dials are well placed and I had no trouble getting to any of the functions. The only button that seems hard to get to easily is the green function button which is placed a little too far in to the camera and makes it hard to press with your hands in a natural shooting position. Instead, you have to kind of grip the camera in your left hand and reach over with your thumb to get at it.

Now, here’s something that I have no seen before with popup flashes but I’m glad PENTAX implemented it here. You see, when the camera is off, there is no way to pop the flash out. You can push the button as much as you want, it isn’t opening. This is great as we all know that when a camera sits in a bag, it has the possibility to push all sorts of buttons and if the flash gets engaged in your bag, it could possible break if caught on something. With the PENTAX K-01, power must be on in order to engage the flash mechanism. I do like the fact too that there is a hot shoe so that you can use better flash accessories, however I’m not so happy that there isn’t some kind of EVF accessory. An EVF would make shooting a bit easier, especially on a camera this size and once you get into using much larger lenses, it just makes holding and shooting the camera much more natural feeling.

Overall though, the PENTAX K-01 is a very well made camera and built like a tank. Feels like one too. The body is sturdy and solid and I noticed no flexing in the body or any noticeable creeks. The lens mounts on tight with zero give to it once it’s on. Speaking of the lens, the 40mm PENTAX DA XS lens is tiny! It is by far the smallest pancake lens I have ever seen. It does however protrude out when focusing but still remains small. The only downside to the lens however is how loud it is in autofocus mode. The focusing motor is very loud, in fact, because of this, I used it mainly in manual focus mode which kept it nice and quite. That’s my only real gripe about the lens.

 

Operations & Features

PENTAX makes the K-01 very easy to shoot with thanks in part to it’s user interface which is very easy to use and operate. There are actually two ways to adjust setting within the camera. The first is the traditional method which you find by pressing the “Menu” button. Here, all the options are arranged in tab form and you scroll down to adjust each option. It’s not the most efficient way of adjusting settings, but it’s very clearly laid out and most users should have no trouble using it. I used this method when initially setting up the camera, but quickly started using the other method of adjusting shooting function which was quicker, but requires you to learn what each icon was.

If you press the “Info” button while in any of the shooting modes, it’ll bring up a quick menu of sorts. It will bring up an onscreen table of icons, each of which represents a specific camera function. Each icon will quickly show you the current camera setup at a glance. To adjust each setting, just scroll over to the desired icon in which you want to change the setting for and then use the top control dial with your thumb to quickly change those settings. It makes adjusting settings a bit easier, though you’ll need to memorize what each of the icons represent. It’s not too hard to learn though.

As I stated in the body & design section, using autofocus on the 40mm lens is very loud. You can hear the motor turning each time you try to focus and it gets quite annoying after a while. Because of this, I used the K-01 mainly in manual focus mode and in all honesty, the camera functions quite well like this thanks in part to Focus Peaking. My first experiences with focus peaking came with using the excellent Sony NEX-5N. The K-01 also features focus peaking but seems to be a bit more accurate than on the Sony. On the K-01, it never had a problem showing you what was in focus and what wasn’t. The only problem I had with it is that it only highlights objects in a default white color which at times, can be hard to see depending on your subject matter. It would have been nice if PENTAX allowed you to change the focus peaking highlight color like the Sony allows for, this way you could choose a color with more contrast depending on what you were shooting. Other than that however, focus peaking on the PENTAX is brilliant and it’s something every camera with a manual focus option should offer.

Honestly, using the PENTAX K-01 was a hassle free affair. It was one of the easiest cameras for me to setup and operating it was also hassle free. Turn the mode dial to choose which shooting mode you want to be in and you’re pretty much set. Even though I complained about the autofocus noise, those who don’t mind it will find that the autofocus is very fast and locks on with no problems at all with sufficient light. It does tend to hunt a bit in low light situations, but what camera doesn’t? Changing settings is made simple thanks to the “Info” menu and the use of the control dial and I never felt like I had to go searching through the manual to figure out how to use the K-01. In fact, I never even opened it.

Overall, a very enjoyable camera to use.

Image Quality

As I stated in my sample images post here, I am very impressed with the image quality on the PENTAX K-01. Despite what many may think of it, it deserves serious consideration if you’re looking for a hybrid/mirrorless camera that produces excellent photos. Sure I’ve only been able to use the camera with the includes 40mm f/2.8 lens, but what I’ve seen so far from it has completed made me a huge fan of the K-01.

Photos are very sharp and detailed where you want them to be and color rendering is spot on when set to normal. The images were never overexposed, if maybe a tiny bit underexposed, but that’s easily fixed in Lightroom. However, I had no problems using the photos as-is from right off the camera and in fact, you probably wouldn’t even need to do anything to them for the most part. All the sample images I had were unedited and they looked really good to me to the point where I decided not to edit them.

 

I love the fact that images for the most part, are noise free and even in the upper ISO settings, noise is at a minimum. The only camera that comes to mind that I own in which I would say image quality is on par would be my NEX-5N which also has a 16mp sensor, and as you know, that is one of my favorite cameras to use. The fact that the PENTAX K-01 produces similarly quality images is a huge plus in my book.

I’ve always been the type where features on a camera are important to me, but the image quality a camera can produce is far more important and if a camera can produce amazing photos, I don’t really care what it looks like.

Final Thoughts

Judging the PENTAX K-01 solely on its looks would be a shame because the K-01 really does take some awesome photos. If you can get past its bulky design and strange looks, you’ll find a camera that does pretty much everything you want it to do. Great images, check. Easy to use, check. Huge selection of lenses, check. Yes, PENTAX took a much different direction with mirrorless than all the other manufacturers but they had their reasons for it. The K-01 definitely stands out in a crowd, whether it be good or bad, but it backs up its polarizing looks with solid features and image quality that would even give a DSLR a run for its money.

I will say that I was definitely one of those people who was turned off by its looks, but my opinions of it soon changed after finally being able to see it in person and handle it properly. It is as boxy as it looks, but its actually more comfortable to use than what you would think. The size makes it easy to hold and it is solid like a brick so it feels nice and sturdy. Build quality is excellent and I really love the fact that it uses regular PENTAX K0mount lenses. That means that there are no shortage of available lenses for it like you’ll find with other systems.

There are a few shortcoming however that I hope PENTAX will address if they ever decide to update this camera or introduce a new K-02. For starters, I’d really love to see PENTAX either include a built in electronic viewfinder or at least an optional EVF. It’s one of the few gripes I have with the K-01 as sometimes, using the rear viewscreen just doesn’t cut it, especially in bright sunlight. Other than that, there’s nothing about the K-01 I would change, not its looks, its excellent image quality, or its ease of use.

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