8.11.2013

Pentax K-01. Please send me a case of these cameras. They are quirky, eccentric and fun. I want more...

I guess I should confess that, at this point in my career, I just don't really give much thought to SUPER CAMERAS. If you sent me a Leica S2 or a professional  Canon or Nikon I'd turn right around to sell it and buy more whimsical cameras that make good images and make me smile. Cameras like the Pentax K-01.

It's just a crazy little camera with an intriguing and counter-intuitive, modernist design and lots of happy eccentricity piled on top. I read all about it when it first came out but at the time I had such a strong prejudice against cameras without viewfinders that I literally couldn't see why anyone would plunk down eight hundred dollars or more for a camera that focused like molasses and had one big, reverse cyclops viewing mechanism on the back.  But times and tastes change. I'm hardly as serious about cameras as I had to be when cherry picking between models was a necessity. Now almost all cameras use some variant of a Sony sensor (except for Canon which seems to love sensors with low noise and even lower dynamic range...) and the quality from brand to brand is uniformly good.

I was at Precision Camera here in Austin yesterday and I saw a yellow Pentax K-01 on the shelf. I'd just seen the camera on the web in low res photos and I enjoyed the opportunity to hold it in my hand and check it out. I was delighted. I love the control designs. I love the chunkiness of it. I love the retro/jet age/modernist/metro clunkiness of the whole design. I think it's brilliant. After walking around the store with the yellow used one in my hands I couldn't resist so I bargained like a rug trader and paid less for it than I did for the first really high density memory card I bought. It was a 64 megabyte compact flash card and it seemed to modify and then fulfill Bill Gates assertion that no one would need more than 640 Kb of storage. Only upgraded to 64 megabytes.... (Funny that now gigabyte cards are about as expensive as Tic-Tacs or a Starbuck's latte).

The camera is slow to focus but I have high hopes as I just now upgraded the firmware from 1.00 to 1.03. I'll be happy if it's improved but I'll be fine if I need to use it in the manual focus/focus peaking mode for the rest of my life.

The camera is designed like a Metropolitan car. It's that boxy. I shot with it for a few hot hours this morning and there's nothing really to say. The files are sharp and saturated. The menus got mastered in minutes. The screen on the back is good. It's better with a Hoodman Loupe (I should buy their stock...).  It's a perfect camera for someone would works slowly and methodically. 

I'm finished writing this particular entry because I'm impatient to go to Amazon and find a couple more. If all your cameras are serious tools then you are NOT having enough fun doing photography. This failed and lovable camera is just a blast. I could use four more. And I'd like to get one of the rare blue ones....anybody?











DID I MENTION THAT IT SHOOTS SQUARES? DID I? JOY....


Studio Portrait Lighting

42 comments:

John Hall said...

Kirk, you are mad as a hatter.
I share your sentiment on the squares.
cheers,
john

atmtx said...

I do like your square compositions. It definitely works for you.

Claire said...

Now there you are ;-) That's exactly what I was talking about in yesterday's comment, eh eh....

ChazL said...

I picked up a K-01 as a complement to my Pentax DSLR's when they were on closeout and priced stupid-cheap. Just couldn't resist at the time.

I agree that the sensor is excellent and the image quality first rate. As good as the K-5, which I'm very fond of. But honestly, I just haven't been able to warm up to using the K-01. I'm almost as bad as you used to be about the need for a real viewfinder. Also, though the firmware upgrade gave some small improvement, focusing is still abysmally slow.

Nonetheless, your post has inspired me to give the K-01 another chance. Maybe the second time around will be the charm.

-Chaz

P.S. By the way, that B&W of the classic car window / interior is terrific.

P.P.S Why do you need a case of these things, anyway?

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I bought the Px Bumblebee at the beginning of this year when the prices had dropped sufficiently. Since I take my digital steps very slowly I saw this as relatively cheap and hopefully enjoyable sidetrack before deciding which system I should pick, if any, while at the same time adding an excellent and proven APS-C sensor cam to the existing stable of one, the Ricoh GRD III. I saw it as a slightly larger big sensor pocket cam. I thought I would use it in a very minimalistic way (remember, not intended as the entry to a system) with the pancake DA 40/2.8 XS and some adapted M42-lenses. Then I went to Tokyo for summer vacation and got the idea to keep the minimalistic concept but maximize the potential output by bying the best prime that I could afford to get me close to my favourite focal length of 50mm. Enter the Px 31/1.8 Limited. Beautiful old school attention to tactile quality and optical excellence. Now I have a minimalistic digital system of one funky but excellent camera/sensor and one great prime, giving me ~46mm-e FOV and the opportunity of slowly shooting high quality squares. That's really all I need. Will be interesting to watch if the Kirk Tuck stamp of approval will do anything to change the perception of this almost universally derided camera (until the price dropped and people actually bought it and discovered its loveliness) :). Not that I personally need that, I love the Bumblebee. Oh, and by the way, I saw the blue and white version in Tokyo. Lovely colour combination that seems to have earned the nick name The Smurf, which will do nothing to improve either the camera's or Pentax reputation. Best/Mattias

John Gordon said...

It's a fabulous, fun camera. And part of the fun is the Marc Newson design (google him!) that has won several international awards (Red Dot among them). Camera traditionalists could not come to terms with the design. Like you, I love the chunkiness and retro feel and wish now that I had also bought the yellow one to go with the white one that was my first choice.

Cheers,
John Gordon

Gregory Kurpiel said...

I also bought a K-01 when the price went down to $300. It is a great kick around camera that works with all my Pentax Limited lenses. I normally keep the Pentax 21mm Limited lens on it. So you are right that it is a fun camera that has the capability of taking some excellent images. It also makes a great backup for my K-5.
Cheers
GregJK

mike said...


I've always thought well of Pentax lenses, and just last week, I found the black K-01 at a closeout price with the flat 40mm I couldn't resist. I'm a manual focus, fixed focal length kind of guy, and it appears that the SMC-M K-mount lenses I have are about the worst choice for use on this camera, manual exposure only. But I can deal with that.

It's a solid chunky thing. Feels good in my sortof large hands. Focus with the little 40 seems reasonable, but I haven't tried to catch action. Image quality seems quite good to me.

I applaud Pentax (and others who fit) for the way lenses from the 70s are usable, not optimal, but usable on their current cameras. I know they got a lot of heat for a mirrorless camera with SLR flange-film dimensions. I'm mostly a medium-long lens user, so that aspect doesn't offend me. I'll admit that a "micro-K" with K-mount adapters (ala 4/3rds) would have been about equally appealing to me, and maybe more to the larger market.

I mostly shoot B/W film these days, but have wanted a nice digital for color, or for quick sharing. I'm liking this one so far.

-mike rosenlof

ajcarr said...

Kirk: I bought a K-01 when it was reduced to clear, and I was surprised by it, considering the poor reviews it got. It's really a backup to my K-5, and as such I can play with some of my fancy lenses on it. I assume that your K-01 came with the special version of the 40/2.8 Limited. May I suggest that you take a look at the following combination of Limiteds: 15/4, 35/2.8 Macro, 70/2.4 (this last is a beautiful portrait lens), giving 35 mm equivalents of 23 mm, 53 mm, and 105 mm? I use this combination as a replacement for my old OM-1 rig. The Limited lenses are things of beauty in their own right: lenses made the way they were 30 years ago. Anyhow, keep having fun! Alun

Paul Lamb said...

Reminds me that I sold my K-5 last year and still miss it.

Craig Yuill said...

A co-worker of mine has one of these and loves it. But ... given your tendency in the last couple of years to downsize/simplify your equipment, I am perplexed about why you would get yet another a camera in yet another mount. You seem to be straying from a logical path you set for yourself.

ginsbu said...

Kirk, you really need to try the Pentax 70/2.4 limited. I think you'll love that lens.

Mark Clayton said...

Que hysteria at DPreview in 3 .. 2... 1 ...

But what about noise ?, but what about a small sensor ? What about ULTIMATE IQ..?
There's no way that you can get anything out of anything smaller than FF ,

Kirk Tuck said...

Oh no. I'm not buying any other lenses for the K-01. That 40mm is a jewel. I'm super-gluing it the body just to keep lens lust at bay....

Kirk Tuck said...

Craig, cameras come and go. Systems come and go. I just sold off an entire system because the Samsung stuff is arriving fast and furious. The Pentax was a cheap and tasty diversion. Nothing more. It's my current "eccentric" camera.

Bruce Rubenstein said...

I never really understood the purpose of this camera, since it is functionally nothing more than an emasculated DSLR. The price for being able to use any K mount lens, is that you can't use any other bayonet mount lens. What every, that's my take on it. I'm glad you like it. It also helps to make the point that once these "loser" mirror less cameras start selling at a price that's in line with their perceived value, they sell pretty well. Which brings me around to my current, "oh what the heck camera", the EOS-M. Even with the new firmware is slow and there's a lot of subjects it's not very suitable for, but for the subjects it is, it's very nice. The lens, with all its JPG compensations turned on is very good, and I was reminded that I like the 35mm FOV. Once I popped off the that finger "grip" thing and replaced it with a Flipbac grip, I even like the handling. To each his own.

Kirk Tuck said...

But Bruce, I didn't buy it as a DSLR substitute I bought it because it's really, really industrial art. That happens to make great images...

ajcarr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ajcarr said...

Ah, but just look at what the 70 mm 1:2.4 Limited can do, though. A friend brought his daughter in to our staff club, and she was incredibly photogenic. This was taken using my K-5 rather than my K-01 (same sensor, though). Available light.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ajcarr/6006859600/

Alun

Ron Zack said...

Are the colors really that good coming out of the K-01? Really? I'm impressed! While my quirky fun camera is the Olympus EP2, I could certainly see perhaps getting a K5 if the sensor produces files with that kind of color. Those blues are so deep and rich you could go swimming in them.

That's one thing I've always like about Olympus digital cameras: you can get super rich, saturated colors, even from their JPEG's. If the Pentax line can do that, I'm sold.

As far as file formats goes, I'm more of a 4:3 or 5:4 kinda guy, but I guess I could live with 3:2 if I had too.... :-)

Kirk Tuck said...

Yes Ron, the colors really are that good. It's a nicely done camera. Except for the sluggish (glacial?) AF...

Anonymous said...

Kirk honestly I like the images from this little Pentax more than the NX300 the colors just pop off my screen in a 3D kind of way just like my old KM7D!

Bruce Rubenstein said...

At the very top of the piece you made clear why you bought it. I have no issue with your reasons for buying it. "Quirky, eccentric and fun", is reason enough. "The SLR with its head chopped off" was my personal take on the camera. Just because I think it's sort of a dumb camera, with no great redeeming photographic value, in no way means that I think some one who buys on is dumb, etc.; they just have a different take on things.

Biro said...

Kirk, I own both the K-01 and the Pentax Q. Neither camera makes a whole lot of sense when assessed with traditional camera metrics (although the K-01's image quality is quite high). But both cameras are FUN! Many of my fellow Pentaxians still can't seem to wrap their heads around that fact. Enjoy!

Biro said...

Ron, if you would prefer the K-01's imaging in a more-traditional DSLR package, pick up a K-30 on closeout for $500 (maybe even under $400). If anything the imaging engine and auto-focus are bit better than the K-5 (I have all three cameras). The only advantage to the K-5 from an imaging standpoint as 14-bit raw as opposed to 12-bit.

Dwight Parker said...

Well, here is an over-priced link to a blue one on eBay, but they are asking a premium...
http://www.ebay.com/itm/NEW-PENTAX-K-01-WHITE-BLUE-digital-camera-100-Authentic-/251308019164?pt=Digital_Cameras&hash=item3a83200ddc

Anonymous said...

kirk. I have a yellow and a white one. the white one has a 50mm a macro glued to it and set to focus peaking. the yellow one has a 15mm ltd lens. where these cameras shine is in a slow down type of shot. you said you were not lusting after any lenses, but resistance is futile. actually the best suited lens is the 35mm 2.4 and is under $200 or cheaper yet a zenitar k2 which is a k-mount helios 58mm f2 . so yes same image quality as all the other recent cameras .use what gives you joy and puts a smile to your face.

Ron Zack said...

Thanks Biro. I'm interested in the K-5 II, mainly because it has the ability to be used with a battery grip. But certainly the close-out K-30's would be a great way to get into the Pentax line for a rather modest outlay. And I really do like the K-30's futuristic styling! The fact that the K-5 II and K-30 are fully weather sealed is a nice bonus.

I've seen Kirk post hundreds of photos on his blog, but I've never been so impressed with the color as I have been from these K-01 shots. I've heard that Pentax can get more out of those Sony 16mp sensors than even Sony can, and it certainly looks that way from what I've seen.

arg said...

A camera has the photographic value that it inspires in its owner!

Claire said...

The entire system that you sold, is that your NEX ?? I get a hunch it is...

Anonymous said...

I started out with a Pentax SLR. The lenses are lovely, just love the way they render images.

Ron Hendriks said...

Congrats on your K-01, it is the most fun camera in my bag.

Don't forget to Holga your world!

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/20195454/_IGP0393.jpg

Claire said...

I concur, they're like in a completely different league...

Stephen said...

Nice article sometimes the fun of photography is lost in the race for the latest and greatest.This wee camera sure puts a smile on my face and although occasionally frustrating with a little effort and slowing down to enjoy the process its very capable.Been loving your writing lately by the way.

Dave said...

Kirk when I think square you always come to mind :)

Nice highlighting of a fascinating camera.

Zvonimir said...

I was intrigued by your adjectives, "This failed and lovable camera …"
For some reason, it seems there is an idea in photo gear forums that Pentax K-01 was a total miss, a failure, "why Pentax even bothered with it?", "a strange looking box that claims to be a camera", "who was the fool who gave the project to a modern lounge chair designer to design a camera?", etc.
Shall we say, is it surprising it mere looks leads to hostility in gear forums?
On the other hand, I had a chance to confirm from many sources, that K-01 was a highly successful project for Pentax/Ricoh. It was sold-out several months before the planned production end, and the production was re-started for Japanese and Chinese market, all because of extra demand.
It conveys quite a different story than a massive involuntary inventory build up Canon and Nikon are experiencing now i.e. they have made more cameras they can sell.

jet tilton said...

Don't forget the bargain-basement Nikon V1, I bought a NEW V1 with 10-30mm lens and 10mm f2.8 lens for only $449....and from a real camera shop in Arlington, TX....

kent noble said...

I have three. I attached a magnetic loupe to one for sunny days

Spodeworld said...

I have 2 now and with the firmware upgrade the AF isn't bad at all considering it is contrast focus. They boast fabulous image quality and are fun to use and look at. I was surprised at the vitriol spewed their way on the pentax forums by traditionalists who couldn't wrap their minds around the funky, modern art industrial design that I find so appealing. It does have its faults (get a delkin LCD shade!) but it is a terrific camera in its own right.

Anonymous said...

Nebraska Furniture Mart in Omaha (owned by Warren Buffet) has these in stock at mid-$400.00 with lens as of yesterday. They also negotiate. You can find them on the web, if you are still looking for any.

C.GARRARD said...

Kirk, working on my own review right now, I wholeheartedly agree with the spirit (and contents) of your articles on the K-01- just ran into them this morning while preparing my own.

Zvonimir- What are your sources for those claims? I talk directly to Ricoh/Pentax USA and I'll be asking them about this myself.

Thanks,

Carl

Love Photography said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)