Hands On With The New Pentax K-1

To say that Pentax shooters (Pentaxians, as some call themselves) were rabidly anticipating the new Pentax K-1—the company’s first full-frame digital camera–would be an understatement. When the company first started indicating that a new camera was coming with the launch of a full-frame lens (when they only had APS-C cameras available) months ago, the speculation about a new camera reached a fever pitch.

For die-hard Pentaxians and new customers alike, the company didn’t disappoint with the new Pentax K-1, and at the WPPI trade show in Las Vegas this week, I was one of just a few journalists to play with a pre-production K1.

 

The camera, with a Sony-designed 36 MP sensor and a host of “why didn’t I think of that?” features was dropped in my hands with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens and the solidity of the camera was instantly noticeable. With 87 points of moisture and dust sealing, the camera is built, as Outdoor Photographer editor Wes Pitts said, “like a tank, but in a good way.” My father, a lifelong audiophile used to judge equipment by its build quality and its density, and he would have certainly approved of the K-1.

While a full review of the camera will come when we’ve had time to work with a full production model, what I experienced with this almost-production body was enough to sell me on the Pentax design ideals for the camera.

 

In March I wrote an article in Digital Photo (available soon here on our website) asking why camera companies weren’t taking advantage of technology in the same way that smartphone manufacturers were. Why, I opined, doesn’t every camera have built-in WiFi and GPS, better user interfaces and better control systems.

As if reading my mind, Pentax delivered many of the features I wished for in the K-1, and took some up a notch as well. Not only, for example, does the camera have built-in GPS (that’s easy to activate and deactivate with a dedicated button) but an electronic compass lets the camera log the direction of any image, while the sensor-based image stabilization system with it’s accelerometer and electronic level can determine the angle of the camera during shooting.

 

That image-stabilized system, which is based on a magnetically controlled sensor, can be used in other incredible ways as well. It allows for panned images with greater clarity because the accelerometer talks to the image stabilization sensor, and accounts for shooter motion and moves the sensor accordingly.

The list of excellent features is too long for a quick preview (and we will cover it in depth in our full review), but all the bells and whistles wouldn’t amount to anything without a good-looking image, and the Pentax K-1 deliveres there as well. While our sample JPEG images from this pre-production camera were a touch flat, the raw files were not. (Pentax confirmed this with us and mentioned that the “natural” JPEG in the final system will be more saturated than the pre-production units.

Picking up the camera just before noon meant that I’d be doing a good bit of shooting in harsh, direct sun, but the camera held up and created images that were well-saturated and vibrant. When shooting portraits in open shade, the image quality from the K-1 was exceptional and the 24-70mm lens created a soft background blur that’s not as pronounced as something like an f/1.8 lens would be, but much better than many similar zooms I’ve looked at.

 

As the sun set, I headed to the room of my friend, photographer Sara France, and she modeled for me as the desert sky turned to a glowing, royal blue. Lacking any lighting equipment, we lugged a (heavy) floor lamp out to the balcony and illuminated the scene with tungsten light in the foreground and sunset glow in the background, and the camera managed to make the skin tones pop while also capturing the richness of the Vegas skyline.

Pentax shooters that have been looking forward to this camera now have a reward for their loyalty, and shooters looking for a powerful and well-designed full-frame DSLR now have a new option.

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