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Pentax K-01 - Performance, Image Quality and Verdict

Audley Jarvis

By Audley Jarvis



Our Score:


As regards performance, the K-01 is something of a mixed bag. Start-up (ie - the time taken from switching the camera on to it being focused and ready to shoot) clocks in at around 2.5seconds, which isn’t particularly speedy but should be adequate for most people’s needs. Processing times aren’t too bad, although continuous shooting speeds are hampered somewhat by the K-01’s slow autofocus (more on that in a moment). In single-shot drive mode, we were able to shoot five frames inside ten seconds, which equates to 0.5fps. At this setting there is no upper limit on the number of consecutive shots you can take.

Pentax K-01 17

The K-01 offers a choice of two Continuous drive mode options; a 3fps ‘Lo’ setting and a 5fps ‘High’ one. While we were able to record 30 consecutive full-resolution JPEG images in the Low setting without any slowdown, the High setting isn’t able to maintain 5fps for more than about one second, after which it slows to nearer 2.5fps. Processing waits aren’t bad at all though, with the K-01’s processor pretty quick at clearing the backlog once you take your finger off the shutter button.

So far, so good. The main gripe we have with the K-01’s performance, however, is with the lacklustre speed and excessive noise of the K-01’s autofocus system. The 81-point contrast-detect AF is by no means the fastest we’ve seen on a camera of this type, and lags well behind all of its main competitors. Focus hunting (where the camera repeatedly zooms in and out trying to ascertain focus) is common too, even in good light and this can be really quite annoying thanks to the fact that the K-01’s AF system is one of the noisiest we’ve ever encountered.

Indeed, the highly audible whirrs and mechanical grinding sounds the K-01 makes as it attempts to gain focus are, in our opinion, the camera’s single biggest failing. The problem doesn’t appear to be specific to any particular lens either – we experienced exactly the same issue with both the 40mm f/2.8 XS and with an 18-55mm SMC Pentax kit zoom that our review sample came supplied with. Given this, we really can’t recommend the K-01 as a camera to shoot quiet occasions (weddings, christenings etc) with.

Pentax K-01 9

Thankfully, the problems with sluggish and noisy AF are somewhat offset by the high standard of overall image quality produced by the K-01’s 16.2MP sensor – the same (albeit Pentax modified) Sony-made chip that’s found inside the Sony NEX-5n and Nikon D7000, both of which also scored very highly in terms of overall image quality. Not only is this particular CMOS chip able to resolve plenty of fine detail at lower sensitivity settings, it also perform very well at higher sensitivities too, keeping noise under control well into the mid-range ISO settings. The K-01 also offers built-in image stabilisation technology in the shape of Pentax's propitiatory Shake Reduction and this works well, enabling you to get sharp shots at speeds and extended focal lengths that might otherwise come out blurred.

While Raw shooters are well catered for thanks to the storage of lossless files in the widely accessible Adobe .DNG format, JPEG shooters will also find that the K-01 offers plenty of scope to create your own look with thanks to the various Custom Image and Digital Filter options. Indeed, until you’ve explored them all fully it can sometimes be tricky to decide which one (or indeed combination of the two) will best suit your subject. Still, that’s not a bad dilemma to face – especially if you’re primarily a JPEG shooter looking for a camera that can produce interesting effects straight out of camera without the aid of any image editing software.

The tone and colour produced by the K-01 will vary depending on your choice of Custom Image setting. During our test we tended to stick with the ‘Bright’ Custom Image setting (with the digital filters switched off), which produces images with slightly more punch and clarity than the ‘Natural’ setting, but with less saturation than the ‘Vivid’ setting. We also developed a bit of a soft spot for the ‘Reversal Film’ setting that, as the name implies, mimics the feel and tone of old slide film. Of course, the beauty of having so many options to hand is that you can either find a setting you like and stick with it, or mix and match as the situation demands.

Pentax K-01 7

Metering options extend to a multi-segment, centre-weighted and spot options. Pentax doesn’t specify how many pixels the metering module employs, but when used on multi-segment mode we found it to be extremely reliable. The K-01 is able to capture a good dynamic range even with the Highlight and Shadow Correction tools switched off. Should you feel the need to use either of these tools then they are both quite good at what they do, although ultimately you’ll be better off shooting in Raw and processing the image yourself. In addition to these the K-01 also offers built-in software to correct fringing and lens distortion, and while they both work quite well they do prolong processing times quite dramatically. We didn’t encounter any problems of note with the K-01’s Automatic White Balance either, although there are of course options to set colour temperature yourself.

ISO performance is another area where the K-01’s CMOS sensor performs very well. At lower settings of ISO 100 to 400 noise isn’t at issue at all, with mid-range settings of ISO 800 to 1600 also exceptionally clean and free of image degrading noise too. Indeed, noise only starts to make a small impact at ISO 3200, with the setting still perfectly usable to make smaller sized images with. ISO 6400 is the cut-off point in terms of overall quality, with noise much more visible – even at smaller image sizes. This trend accelerates as you hit the top two settings of ISO 12,800 and 25,600 (the latter actually being an ‘extended’ setting). Overall though, the K-01 is undoubtedly one of the better cameras on the market in terms of controlling unsightly noise.


The Pentax K-01 is a relatively unique looking compact system camera that has already divided opinion over its bold styling. You’ll either love the look of it, or write it off as a bit of a brick. As this is really a matter of personal taste it’s not for us to say either way. Judged purely on its merits as a digital camera though the K-01 has much going for it but also comes with some fairly major flaws. On the plus side it’s undoubtedly a well featured and easy-to-use camera that’s capable of very good image quality. On the downside, however, the K-01 is pretty bulky for a CSC and the autofocus system is sluggish and far too noisy. All in all then, a brave move from Pentax, but one that requires some refinement before it’s fully worthy of a TrustedReviews ‘Recommended’ badge.

Martin Daler

February 3, 2012, 2:49 pm

I hate to trample in with a negative comment...
They seem to have taken the best aspects of both CSC and SLR design, and then removed them. What remains is the K-01.
So I'm not sure if this is a Compact System Camera which is not compact, or a Single Lens Reflex without the reflex viewfinder. Either way, I'm searching in vain for anything which compensates for the loss.

But on a positive note, thank you for finally allowing my browser to do its job and furnish my login credentials so that I don't have to type them in manually :)


February 3, 2012, 5:04 pm

I think it's best viewed as a smaller DSLR rather than a CSC. The fact that it takes k-mount glass natively is really great!

This is a camera that K5 owners will pick up and take on holidays, utilizing the lenses they already own without any adaptors.

I don't think this is going to do much in the way of attracting people to the Pentax brand though. The design is growing on me but you can't deny it gets a lot of WTF? reactions.

Martin Daler

February 3, 2012, 5:44 pm

But why? If you already have the lenses then I'm guessing you already have the Pentax D-SLR to match. So why would you pay all that money just to leave the viewfinder at home?


February 3, 2012, 10:39 pm

I don't know, I think there's something of a misconception that CSCs have to be as small as possible. Once you've put lenses on any of them they end up bulky. It's just nice that they're a little bit smaller and lighter (which this one is - 122 x 79 x 58 mm vs 125 x 97 x 68 mm), are better at video and that they're making companies innovate in terms of included features and lenses. Personally I think this camera looks great, like it could handle really well and love that it can be used with all the old Pentax lenses.

Martin Daler

February 4, 2012, 12:05 am

Well, the clue is in the name - Compact System Camera.
But I take your point, once you put the lenses on a NEX is no more pocketable than a D-SLR, although presumably it weighs less which counts on a long hike, and if you must you can fit a pancake lens and have something truly pocketable.
The existing lens compatibility is only a benefit to existing Pentax D-SLR system owners - is the modest size and weight saving of this camera really enough to justify it a place alongside your existing Pentax D-SLR?
Meanwhile, retaining that compatibility means there is no size benefit from losing the mirror box - the void is still there but without the mirror, taking up as much room as ever and robbing the k-01 of much of its potential to be compact. On balance, I would think Nikon's solution of an adaptor to fit existing SLR lenses would be better.

I must say I was not aware that CSC's were inherently any better at video than DSLRs - what is behind that? Other than that possibility, what else does the k-01 offer that a similarly sized DSLR does not, to make up for the loss of optical viewfinder?


February 4, 2012, 1:26 am

I feel this camera could provide an intermediate link between the much loved superzoom and DSLR.

I have sat and looked at the developing compact system camera developments and not been convinced that this would answer my needs for a decent all round camera with printable macro shooting abilities.

I do not like heaving around a vast array of equipment in order to shoot small objects/models in support of my freelance article writing. The fact that this camera will accept established lenses make me wonder why other manufacturers have not gone down this route.

A K-mount macro lens is an expensive assemblage of glass but if this camera can produce needle-sharp pictures, it will tick a few more boxes than the Ricoh GXR with its dedicated lens and sensor unit. A 'link' camera that was on my to buy list until the negative quality of the hardware changed my mind.

I just hope the actual review indicates that this is camera will mark the next step on my path to improved macro photography.

Martin Daler

February 4, 2012, 3:12 pm

"The fact that this camera will accept established lenses make me wonder why other manufacturers have not gone down this route."

Some have, like the Nikon V/J 1. But they use an adaptor. The trouble with existing D-SLR lenses is that they are designed to accommodate the mirror box, so the rear focus distance is necessarily large. CSCs don't have a mirror box, so they can be much more compact, but then existing D-SLR lenses would not be able to handle the much shorter distance from flange to sensor.

So the adaptor solution gives the best of both - you can fit existing Nikon lenses on a diminutive J1, and the J1 can be much smaller than it would otherwise need t be to accommodate existing lenses.

john m flores

April 20, 2012, 4:47 pm

I have officially retired from guessing whether the latest and greatest new camera will be a hit in the market or for whom said cameras are intended for. Instead, I evaluate a camera based on my needs as a photographer, not as an internet pundit. I've had the Pentax K-01 for just over a month and have put it through some of my paces. No test charts, just real shooting. Photos and thoughts are here - http://whatblogisthis.blogs...


June 19, 2012, 3:36 pm

I'm in agreement that there is no need for CSC to be very small. Just compact is fine. I love my K5 and would be interested in this ... but 1/ It would need to be quiet and 2/ it needs in IMHO an articulated screen. I hate holding a camera out in front but the old Roleiflex position is fine by me ... so for me it is clear that a camera without a viewfinder needs this

Jerome Nolas

June 20, 2012, 10:55 pm

Very good IQ in "unwanted" body...maybe they could create a camera like Fuji X 100 or Canon G1X...

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