My, there has been quite a build up to this camera, eh? For those paying attention, the mythical full frame Pentax DSLR has been a whisper on the ear for more than a year. Personally, I had been itching to lay hands on this new Pentax hardware since my out-of-body experience with the best camera I’ve ever used, the 645z. The wait is over, as today Pentax announced the full frame K-1 DSLR featuring an AA-filterless CMOS sensor with 36.4 megapixels and 14-bit raw in both Pentax raw format and DNG. I had a very limited time with this bad boy on the streets of San Francisco, but I do have a lot of information to share as well as a few sample photos.

PENTAX K-1_front_sensor PENTAX K-1_sensor

Pentax could have gone for higher megapixels with this sensor, but opted to stick roll with approximately 36.4 effective megapixels because they preferred the quality of images they were achieving over going something higher. As such, the sensor features an AA (anti-aliasing) filterless design that prioritizes image resolution. It is coupled with the new PRIME IV imaging engine, capable of 14-bit RAW-format image recording. The sensor can also shoot up to ISO 204800, so low light is not a problem.

The K-1 features a new-generation SR II five-axis stabilization system, an in-body mechanism that dramatically reduces camera shake. The SR II (Shake Reduction II) five-axis mechanism enables accurate control of the large full-frame image sensor with all compatible PENTAX interchangeable lenses. In addition to camera shake caused by pitch and yaw, it effectively compensates for camera shake caused by horizontal and vertical shift, as well as camera shake caused by roll, which is difficult to deal with by lens-installed shake reduction mechanisms. Even when taking a panning shot, this system automatically detects the direction of the camera’s movement, and efficiently controls the SR unit to always produce the best image possible. Based on the images I shot while wandering the Embarcadero in San Francisco, I was expecting many of them to be out of focus due to the nature of how I was shooting. I was wrong. Every shot I fired is crisp and sharp, which says a lot about the stabilization here.

Pentax K-1 First Impressions

PENTAX K-1_back_screen

A particularly interesting new feature of this camera is what Pentax is calling the “Pixel Shift Resolution System,” which uses the latest super-resolution technology and captures four images of the same scene by shifting the image sensor by a single pixel for each image and then synthesizing them into a single composite image. Compared to the conventional Bayer system, in which each pixel has only a single color data unit, this innovative system obtains all color data in each pixel.

Their new AA filter simulator minimizes moiré by applying microscopic vibrations to the image sensor. The K-1’s AA (anti-aliasing) filter simulator provides the same level of moiré reduction as an optical AA filter without the issues caused by traditional AA filters. 

PENTAX K-1_side L PENTAX K-1_side R

Astrophotographers are going to like this one: the K-1 is capable of adjusting its sensor’s position during shooting, which means it not only can be used to level out a frame when a tripod isn’t cutting it, but more importantly it can track stars using GPS and star maps to allow for longer exposures without star trails. I can’t wait to test out this feature, and Pentax is going to provide a time and place to do so in the near future, so hold tight for that.

This is not what I could classify as a “light” camera body, but you get a heck of a lot because of it. It’s tough, built of magnesium alloy with the inclusion of 87 sealing parts in the body. The K-1 also boasts a dustproof, weather-resistant and cold-resistant construction. You can take this camera and shoot with it virtually anywhere without fear of destroying it.

Perhaps you noticed this crazy new design for a rear LCD:

PENTAX K-1_back_2

PENTAX K-1_back_screen out_with hood PENTAX K-1_back_screen out_with hood_2

Pentax K-1 First Impressions

Pentax K-1 First Impressions

The K-1 features a newly designed, flexible tilt-type LCD monitor, which tilts horizontally, vertically or diagonally with a single action, without deviating from the lens’s optical axis. 35 degrees of horizontal and 44 degrees of vertical adjustment can be achieved, the LCD panel can even be layed flat up or down. The guys at Pentax have been calling it the “Lunar Lander” LCD, and I dig that. Additionally, the 3.2-inch LCD monitor features a tempered-glass front panel for added durability and a unique air-gapless construction effectively reduces  reflection, and a new Outdoor View Setting mode allows the user to instantly choose the desired monitor brightness level.

Moving on to the autofocus engine, the K-1 comes loaded with the newly-developed SAFOX 12 autofocus engine and features 33 points (25 cross-type sensors positioned in the middle). The center sensor and the two sensors located just above and below it are designed to detect the light flux of an F2.8 lens, making it easy to obtain pinpoint focus on a subject when using a large-aperture lens.

PENTAX K-1_front_no lense

Additionally, the K-1’s optical viewfinder provides a nearly 100% field of view and an approximately 0.7-times magnification. A Natural Bright Matt III focusing screen allows ease of focusingand a true-to-life rendition of defocused areas in the viewfinder image.

Generally we avoid the “green” setting, or “P,” but Pentax has put a lot of effort into their AUTO exposure mode. The K-1’s advanced PENTAX Real-Time Scene Analysis System performs near instant analysis of exposure, color, movement and other factors. Combining with  a breakthrough artificial intelligence technology called deep learning, the K-1 instantly optimizes settings for even the most difficult shooting situations.

The K-1 can shoot at a relatively high-speed, using both a larger mirror and the PRIME IV imaging engine to let you continuously record as many as 23 images in the RAW format (or a maximum of 70 images in the JPEG Best format) in a single sequence, at a top speed of approximately 4.4 images per second.

Some other cool functions:

  • Operation assist light function, which provides LED lights above the lens mount, behind the LCD monitor, at the memory car slot, and at the cable switch terminal to facilitate fast and easy operation in poorly lit settings.
  • Key lock function, which prevents erroneous operation of the four-way controller and other exposure-related control buttons.
  • Smart Function, which allows the user to swiftly choose and set desired functions using just the function dial and the set dial on the camera’s upper panel, without referring to the menu screen on the LCD monitor.
  • Control panel customize function, allowing the user to change aspects of the on-screen menu.

Other cool stuff:

  • WiFi operation allowing camera control and image transfer to tablet or smartphone via the free ImageSync app
  • Full HD movie recording at 1920 x 1080 pixels in the H.264 recording format
  • Built-in GPS module and electronic compass
  • High-grade DRII (Dust Removal II) mechanism for effective elimination of dust on the image sensor using ultrasonic vibration
  • Crop mode with a choice of image area from AUTO, FF (Full Frame) and APS-C, to accommodate different types of lenses
  • Clarity control and Skin Tone correction functions, a pair of the latest image processing technologies developed by RICOH Central Laboratory
  • HDR (High Dynamic Range) shooting mode with RAW-format data filing, usable in handheld shooting
  • The PENTAX-invented hyper operating system for quick, accurate response to the photographer’s creative intentions
  • Dual SD card slots for memory card flexibility (compatible with SDXC UHS-1 speed class in SDR104 buss speed mode)
  • Compensation of various parameters: lens distortion, lateral chromatic aberration, diffraction, and brightness level at image-field edges. Fringe effect compensation is also available in RAW-format processing.
  • Compatibility with PENTAX Image Transmitter 2 tethering software (Software update required from RICOH IMAGING official website)
  • Digital Camera Utility 5 software (latest version) included

You’ll notice that not a lot was said about the video recording capabilities, and that’s because though it does have some, the K-1 is not a video camera. This is a still shooter’s camera, and that’s totally ok. Standard HD with 24p and 30p options is what you get here, but if you plan to shoot a lot of video, the K-1 might not be the best camera for the job. But stills? Yeah, this thing is designed for those.

So how does it shoot?

Pentax K1 Hands-On

Pentax K1 Hands-On

Pentax K1 Hands-On

If you’ve ever played with the Pentax 645z, the Pentax K-1 will feel extremely familiar. The menu system, handling, weight and even the grip all feel pretty familiar (though the grip is not the same, it does feel like it is carrying the “heritage” of what we loved in the 645z). Some takeaways:

  1. The autofocus is really reliable. I never felt like I was having to hunt for what I wanted it to focus on, and it did a good job of getting there fast.
  2. I think what is most impressive is something I already mentioned: the image stabilizer. I shot quickly and often from the hip, and looking back at the images I shot that morning, almost nothing is out of focus.
  3. I played with the sensor shift functionality to level out the plane. Though it’s cool and easy to use, often it’s going to be much simpler to level out the shot using the tripod. What I am very excited for is using that sensor shifting to follow stars, because there is absolutely no other camera that can currently do that.
  4. Highlight recovery is ok. I was hoping for a bit better in that department. Shadows though? Pretty great. Pentax K1 Hands-On Highlights Recovery Pentax K1 Hands-On Highlights Recovery
  5. The layout of the buttons and dials on the K-1 just makes sense. In fact, where we usually find an exposure compensation dial, Pentax has opted to place a multi-function dial that is the best use of that space I’ve seen yet. It is a much more versatile use of space and makes the camera feel more custom to what you want it to do. And yes, if you still want it to be exposure compensation, you can still set it for that. PENTAX K-1_top view
  6. Though you can shoot in Pentax RAW, even Pentax suggests that we shoot in DNG instead. I’m not one to argue.
  7. There are some nice touches on this camera that speak to actual photographic use. The multiple LEDs that light up specific spots on the camera, the placement of the button that releases the lens (it’s placed so you can replaces lenses with one hand), the aforementioned dials and sensor shifting tech, and the “little things” like providing a place to store extra memory cards in the base of the battery grip are all things that photographers would think of, and finally a camera company actually implemented stuff that feels like they asked actual photographers for their input.Pentax K-1 First Impressions
  8. Though they just announced two more, the lens lineup for the Pentax Full Frame body is pretty limited at (including the new lenses) 12 total.

PENTAX K-1_front angled_with hood PENTAX K-1_FA31Limited_WM

They aren’t the best, due to my short time with the camera, but here are some samples at full resolution to gander at. Right click and open in new tab to get them at maximum resolution.

Pentax K1 Hands-On Sample

Pentax K1 Hands-On Sample

Pentax K1 Hands-On Sample

Pentax K1 Hands-On Sample

Pentax K1 Hands-On Sample

The Pentax K-1 is slated to hit store shelves in April with an estimated price point of $1799.95. We will have a lot more on the K-1 as we spend more time with it and as we get closer to its release, and should have more to share in March specifically. For now, this camera is looking mighty impressive and should put Pentax back into the main conversation for a reliable pro camera.