Following on from the Pentax Q that was launched last year to a somewhat mixed reaction, the K-01 is Pentax’s second compact system camera. Fair to say, however, that the two cameras are very different beasts. Whereas the Q used a regular compact-sized 1/2.3in sensor, Pentax has opted to go down the APS-C route with the K-01 and to give it the same K-mount lens mount that’s used on Pentax DSLRs. Not only that, but in a brave move Pentax has also decided to call in the services of acclaimed Australian designer Marc Newson to help with the design of the K-01 and to that effect it even bears his signature. Of course, Newson has been better known for designing luxury departure lounges for business-class Qantas passengers in the past, so how does this collaboration with Pentax shape up?
The upshot of this is that, unlike the pocket-friendly Q, the K-01 is a substantially bigger and heavier camera – indeed, it’s practically DSLR like in terms of its overall dimensions. At its heart it uses a newly developed APS-C CMOS chip that produces an effective output of 16.2MP in the default 3:2 aspect, although it’s also possible to lower the resolution to 10MP, 6MP and 2MP, and to alter the aspect to 1:1, 4:3 or 16:9. The K-01 is able to record JPEG (three quality levels), Raw or simultaneous JPEG and Raw images. Sensitivity, meanwhile, stretches from ISO 100 to 12,800 in standard mode, expandable to ISO 25,600 in extended mode.
Complementing the new APS-C sensor is the latest generation of Pentax’s PRIME ‘M’ image processor. This enables the K-01 to shoot continuously at a maximum of 5fps and to capture 1080p Full HD movies at 30fps. Movie sound is recorded in stereo by default and enthusiastic video shooters will also be pleased to discover that there’s an external microphone port on the side of the body.
Elsewhere, and in spite of the relatively unconventional styling, the K-01 follows other recent Pentax digital camera releases, with an especially generous range of image-shaping options in the form of 11 Custom Image image-processing settings and seven Digital Filters. These can be applied to movies as well as stills, either pre- or post-capture. The Custom Image options are especially varied with more unusual options such as ‘Reversal Film’ and ‘Bleach Bypass’ sitting alongside more traditional settings such as ‘Natural’, ‘Vivid’ and ‘Muted’. The digital filters include most of the regular favourites (‘Toy Camera’, ‘Selective Colour’, and ‘Retro’ for example) although oddly there’s no miniaturisation effect on offer.
Exposure options include the standard ‘PASM’ settings of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual. These are accompanied by an Automatic shooting mode; 19 individually selectable Scene modes; a Forced flash-off mode for when flash is prohibited; a dedicated Bulb setting for long-exposures (a common sight on old-school film SLRs, but somewhat unusual to see on a digital camera), a dedicated HDR mode (the first time this has been included as a standalone option on a Pentax exposure mode dial), and last but not least, the aforementioned Movie mode.
On the back of the K-01 sits a 3inch, 921k-dot LCD monitor that produces a bright, sharp image. There’s no way to attach an electronic viewfinder though, so unless Pentax decide to release an optical attachment in the future, you’ll have to use the rear monitor. We did encounter some problems using the screen in direct sunlight (even with the screen brightness turned all the way up) as it’s quite reflective. In all other situations though the screen provides a detailed and sharp picture to compose and review your images with. We also like how you can easily toggle the display to include detailed shooting information and/or a histogram. On top of the camera there’s a pop-up flash with a GN12 rating, which is opened via a button on the left shoulder. The hot-shoe behind the pop-up is a standard three-pin affair that can accommodate Pentax’s range of flashguns should you want to attach something with a bit more power and range.
So then, given that the K-01 has been designed by an internationally acclaimed designer what’s the general verdict on his, err, design? Well, of course, taste is very much a subjective thing and the overall look (not to mention the dimensions) of the K-01 has already divided opinion among camera enthusiasts. You’ve probably already made up your own mind as to whether you like the look of it or not. Either way, available in a range of colour schemes (yellow/black, all-black and the black/silver model we have here) it certainly stands out from the CSC pack.
One thing that is indisputable though, is the size of the K-01 – it’s an altogether chunky camera. In fact, we can’t think of a bigger compact system camera currently on the market. The K-01’s not inconsiderable size is almost entirely down to the 59cm depth of the K-01’s body, which in turn has been designed to accommodate the 45.6mm flange distance of the Pentax K-mount system. While Marc Newson has undoubtedly had a hand in the design, it’s not been a completely free hand in this respect.
Pentax claims that the K-mount’s relatively large flange distance has some practical real-world benefits in terms of reduced vignetting. While this might be fine on a DSLR where the expectation of a bigger camera body means it isn’t really an issue, the reality for a compact system camera like the K-01 appears to be that the ‘compact’ part of the equation is rendered null and void.
Still, the added girth does at least give you something substantial to hold on to. The finger grip is squared rather than rounded, and not particularly deep either. That said, the rubberised finish does help to ensure your fingers don’t slide off it. And rather than simply going with the traditional faux leather or smooth rubber finish, Newson has instead opted for thin vertical ridges. Not only does this improve the overall grip, but it also contributes to the K-01’s unique aesthetic. We’re not quite so convinced about the decision to cover the memory-card slot and connectivity panel with this rubber though; it might look good but it feels flimsy and doesn’t offer much protection against dust and dirt either. No doubt this is why the SD memory-card slot has been given an additional snap-shut cover.
Being a designer-designed camera, many of the camera’s physical buttons have been given something a makeover too. The main mode dial, thumb-wheel and the triangular on/off switch are all constructed from precision-milled aluminium, and both look quite stylish. However, what really catches the eye are the red and green plastic buttons. These can be assigned as you see fit (within certain limits), so that you can, for example, have the red button as the one-touch movie record button while the green plastic button acts as a one-touch Raw recording button. One further design aspect is the lens-release button, which is rather neatly built into the corner of the lens mount itself.
On the back of the camera are a number of additional buttons that can be used to directly access often-used settings such as ISO, WB and Flash. There are also two menu buttons: a main Menu button that accesses the full in-camera menu and an Info button that calls up a kind of quick menu, as seen on other Pentax models. The in-camera menu itself is well laid out and simple enough to navigate with a good choice of customisation options on offer for advanced users. Indeed, one of the principle strengths of the K-01 is that it’s a very easy and straightforward camera to operate and use.