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 therefore we fully expect the overall look (not to mention the dimensions) of the K-01 to suitably divide opinion. At the UK launch we overheard all kinds of whispered opinions, ranging from the somewhat diplomatic “bold” to the altogether less complimentary “boxy” and “brick-like”.
Either way, there’s certainly no denying that the K-01 is an altogether chunky bit of kit – especially for a compact system camera. Looking at this objectively, it’s almost entirely due to the 59cm depth of the K-0’s body. This, in turn, is down to the 45.6mm flange distance of the Pentax K-mount that the K-01 uses.
During the launch presentation Pentax was at pains to stress the practical benefits of the K-mount’s relatively large flange distance in terms of reduced vignetting. While this might indeed work well on a DSLR where the expectation of a bigger camera body means it can be more easily hidden, the reality for a compact system camera appears to be that the ‘compact’ part of the equation largely goes out of the window.
Indeed, by way of comparison, the body of the Sony NEX-7 (minus the lens mount) measures around 25mm deep, while the Nikon J1 is about 35mm deep. If the NEX-7 and J1 can therefore be described as size-zero models, the Pentax K-01 is undoubtedly their plus-size antithesis.
Still, the extra waistline does at least enable you to get a good, firm grip of the camera. The finger grip itself is squared rather than rounded, and not particularly deep either. However, there’s plenty to get hold of and the rubberised finish helps to ensure your fingers don’t slide off it either. Also, rather than simply going with the traditional faux leather finish for the rubberised bits, Newson has instead opted for thin vertical ridges. We couldn’t really say if this improves the overall grip in any way, but it does contribute to the K-01’s unique aesthetic.
Being a designer-designed camera, many of the camera’s physical buttons have been given a makeover too. The main mode dial, thumb-wheel and the triangular on/off switch are all constructed from precision-milled aluminium, which lends the K-01 a premium feel. Looking at the other buttons, the red plastic button to the right of thumb-wheel acts as the one-touch movie record button while the green plastic button acts as a user-defined Fn button. One other notable 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 will be instantly familiar to Pentax users and is simple enough to navigate with a good choice of customisation options on offer.
As regards performance and image quality, the hands-on samples at the official launch presentation were all pre-production models and Pentax wasn’t keen on anyone taking any sample images with them. For this reason, we’re unable at this stage to comment on general image quality. Given what we’ve seen with recent Pentax DSLRs though, we remain hopeful that this will be one of the K-01’s strongest assets.
Putting the review samples through their paces as best we could in the limited time we had it did seem to us that the 81-point contrast-detect AF system wasn’t the fastest we’ve seen on a camera of this type, even with the relatively fast and all-new Pentax DA 40mm F2.8 XS lens (the “worlds thinnest prime lens”) attached. More worryingly, the AF system was also one of the noisiest we’ve encountered, producing all kinds of audible whirrs and mechanical sounds as it locked on to its subject. We’ll certainly be keen to have a closer look at this when review samples arrive to see whether it’s unique to the new 40mm prime, or a more general AF performance issue.
The decision to give an internationally acclaimed designer free reign over the styling and design of the K-01 is unquestionably a bold move by Pentax, not to mention a risky one. While a niche of design enthusiasts will undoubtedly champion what Marc Newson has created, it remains to be seen whether the average consumer will be quite so keen. This is especially so given how the K-01 flies in the face of the current trend – especially within compact system circles – for ever smaller camera bodies. That said, we very much look forward to testing a full-review sample to see if the image quality matches the same high quality attained by recent Pentax DSLR releases.