Pentax K-01

 Pentax users

A designer CSC with looks so divisive, you canhelp but have an opinion. Herewhat we thought about the K-01...

How do you stand out in todayCompact System Camera market? By looking to the past, according to the Pentax K-01. Its boxy, toylike appearance is down to designer Marc Newson whobetter known for his futuristic furniture and transport creations. Corners are rounded, lines are bold and colours are striking (available in yellow, black and silver). Out of the box, youeither fall for its retro charms or not be willing to give it a second glance such is the striking fagade. To be fair to Newson, it was always going to have a chunky chassis because of the manufacturerdecision to make the model compatible with all K-mount lenses. This will be a huge selling point for loyal Pentax users with a hoard of lenses ready to attach, but newcomers are presented with a camera that s stuck in limbo: itthe size of a DSLR but less capable.

Inside, it s incorporated the tried-and-tested 16.28-million-pixel APS-C-sized sensor that can also be found in the Pentax K-5 and, being a Sony-manufactured unit, it s also in the NEX-5N and the Nikon D7000. True to form, it produced excellent low-light images with good colour rendition and barely noticeable noise at the far end of the sensitivity scale. The mode dial sits just out of reach of your thumb, next to the pop-up flash, and bears the full range of manual and automatic modes that you would expect to find on an advanced model such as this. There is also a HDR mode that captures three images at different exposure levels and blends them into a single frame with enhanced highlights and shadows. Pentax promises this will work well even when handheld, but in practice we had to use a tripod for perfect clarity.

 Pentax users

Autofocus modes include single, spot, tracking and face detection, with the latter capable of recognising an impressive 16 faces within one frame. Due to the absence of a mirrorbox, the camera employs contrast-detect autofocus rather than phase-detection, meaning it labours to latch onto the subject in good time. Other mirrorless models have proven this sensor-based system can perform reasonably quickly, such as PanasonicLumix GF5 or the Olympus PEN E-P3, but this camera lags behind, hunting noisily. It s no surprise that the worst cases are indoors or on overcast days when thereless light available. Coming to its aid is the LED autofocus assist lamp and accuracy can be judged with the autozoom function, which enlarges the subject just by pressing the OK button and using the E-dial to change the magnification from 2x to 6x.

Italso possible to focus manually, which is made more enjoyable by the new Focus Peaking feature previously seen on the Sony NEX series. This gives a sharp white outline to the parts of the frame that are in focus. It s a useful tool that works best in bright light, because in darker scenarios the white line barely registers. Incidentally, the LCD screen is the very same as the one found on the K-5 and it dominates the rear of the camera. Ita shame there are no extra abilities beyond the super-sharp 921,000-dot monitor, as competitors offer vari-angle screens that can enhance composition. It boldly forgoes a viewfinder altogether and with no option to buy an external one for the hotshoe, it could prove unpopular with the long-term Pentax users this model is surely aimed at.

 Pentax users

While in your hands, the K-01 feels weighty thanks to the quality aluminium body, but the handling is far from comfortable. The grip barely protrudes and the ridged rubber material that occupies this area doesn t help to give you a better purchase, which would become an issue when attaching telephoto lenses that may be in some users’arsenal. This patch also doubles as a cover for the SD, USB and HDMI ports but feels worryingly flimsy and tucks back into place rather than the satisfying click of a door and the slide of a catch. However, everything else is made more straightforward thanks to the well-labelled controls that fall more naturally under your digits, speeding up shooting.

Two of the most noticeable buttons are the red and green ones that flank the E-dial. The green button can be customised and the red will immediately start and stop video recording, which is capable of shooting full-HD 1080p movies at a rate of 30 frames per second. In addition, the K-01 also gives you the chance to alter shutter speed, aperture and ISO sensitivity during movie capture, whereas previous Pentax models could only muster program or aperture priority. This good news unfortunately comes with a ’meaning you can only change these settings via the E-dial that makes a loud, unwanted click with each turn that registers when using the internal microphone. Itbeen elevated from mono to stereo sound and there is an external mic jack on board too, with Shake Reduction and a wind-noise suppression function for better visuals and realistic audio. This Shake Reduction mechanism also makes a noticeable difference when recording stills. The sensor shifts to help stabilise shots for sharper images and handheld pictures were sharp even in low light. The system is also compatible with all Pentax lenses, including those produced for film-format SLR cameras.

This is just further evidence that the K-01 is a CSC pitched at Pentax traditionalists, giving it the edge over competitors with a more limited range of lenses. It could have been an ideal second shooter had it capitalised on the key advantage of a mirrorless camera-the fact it can be more compact-but instead the result is far from portable. The bulky size coupled with the high price point could mean it gets bypassed altogether in favour of a DSLR that fires on all cylinders like the K-5, or the more pocketable systems available from other manufacturers. Ultimately, the emphasis is on the design more than shooting experience; youreminded of Marc Newson by his signature on the battery compartment door and itthe first thing you see every time the camera is switched on. It s an uncomfortable model to shoot with, the autofocus is noisy and slow, and whilst there are plus points for the Pentax user, therejust not enough I there to entice the newcomer.

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