The "first look" preview, hands-on preliminary review, raw files shot and processed analysis of the ancient Pentax K1. And a couple of lenses.

Okay. So the Pentax K-1 is a big fat, DSLR that sports the same basic 36 megapixel image sensor found in the Nikon D810 (which I used for nearly a year) and has lots of interesting features and user interfaces. I read the DP Review when the camera first came out but at the time it fell right off my radar as we were knee deep in either Sony or Nikon high resolution cameras (A7Rii and D810). The one Pentax camera I owned previously was an impulse purchase, a used K-01 concept camera; in bright yellow. I liked the files from that camera but ultimately sold it because I didn't like using cameras with no viewfinders.

I picked up the camera last week because it looked so cool sitting next to a growing display/pile of old Nikon cameras. I liked that the Pentax logo was big and bold and splashed across the front of the camera. So I bought it without having any lenses and without any real plan. But I will say that the price I ended up negotiating was hundreds of dollars under the prices I currently see on E-Bay and in Amazon's used gear. So, I brought the K-1 home with my usual plan of making this a personal "art" camera and not letting it grow and metastasize and take over my studio/office with yet another system binge and purge. But, of course, I would need a lens....

Which led me down multiple rabbit holes. Pentax was one of the last camera makers to stick a toe into producing full frame cameras and as a consequence there are many APS-C coverage lenses for the system but few, new, designed for digital, full frame lenses. Then there is a whole raft of zany lenses called "limiteds" which also feature zany focal lengths. Then there are transitional lenses which would have been designed for full frame film cameras and then carried over, unchanged,  into the digital age. It was a bit bewildering but once I put everything into a spreadsheet and started the analysis process I made a few blundering purchases. 

I'd read many, many good things about their new (2016) 28-105mm f3.5-5.6 lens and since it had so many clusters of letters I figured it must be good. It's HD + WR+DFA (digital full frame)+ ED+DC. The consensus out on the web is that this is a very, very sharp lens and my early use of it seems to bear that out. The lens does not feature image stabilization but that was a selling point of the camera (it has I.S.) so we're all good there. 

Everything you see here was shot with the zoom lens with the aperture mostly pegged at f5.6. I'm sure the camera is providing some internal software fixes but my take is that the lens is sharp and flare free. I'm thinking it may be one of those under-spec'd but over-engineered lenses that trades f-stop speed for sharpness and a general reduction of aberrations.  I was happy with everything I shot with this zoom. It's also small and light, and kinda pretty. 

In fact, I felt confident enough to bring the camera and the 28-105mm along with me to the technical rehearsal of the "Ann" play at Zach Theatre and to use it for about 100 of the photos (out of 650). Even though I had to increase the ISO to get in the same exposure ballpark as the faster Fuji lenses I didn't seem much of a performance hit or too much increased noise in the files. 

But, try as I might I never seem to be happy with an interchangeable lens camera until I've got a 50mm I can bolt on the front so back I went and searched until I found a 50mm f1.4 (not the $1,000 version!!!) for around $135. It's one of the old fashion screwdriver drive models but the camera handles it fine and it's not too noisy. I worked with it a bit today, just to test it, and I thought it was nice. Nice like a Nikon 50mm f1.4D or a Canon EF 50mm f`1.4. Mostly plastic on the outside but capable of making nice and detailed photographs once you've stopped it down past f2.0. By f4.0  or maybe f5.6 I'm sure it's nearly as sharp and contrasty as a Ming Thein approved Zeiss Otus.

Having been burned lately by USPS delivery, and seeing that my 50mm f1.4 AF Pentax lens was to be delivered via the same service, I also ordered one more 50mm 1.4 lens but this one is a manual focus SMC lens and it's coming via Amazon's own delivery service, sometime tomorrow. It was cheap and I bought it as insurance because I'm thinking of getting out of town this weekend and going down to San Antonio for a bit of street shooting. I thought a faster lens might come in handy when shooting in restaurants, museums and other interior spaces. And I had no confidence in the Postal Service. But they upped their game and delivered on time and, more importantly, to the correct address ---- this time.

I haven't had time to shoot a lot with the new K-1 camera and my growing coterie of lenses but I do have some favorite features and one or two gripes. 


1. I got a professional, full frame, high resolution camera with a fairly modern Sony sensor inside for a song. 

2. If I turn off the LCD I get tons of life out of one battery (but, of course, I did buy one aftermarket battery as a back up). 

3. The camera has lights all over the place that you can turn on by pushing one button and they light up the exterior the camera body enough to do things like see how to orient and attach lenses in an otherwise dark environment, or which buttons on the rear of the camera do what. There's even an LED in the memory card compartment to show you the slot for easier insertion. Very cool. 

4. I tried out the multi-shot feature which shoots four frames and combines them in camera. It works! Big files and nice detail when using the modern, 28-105mm lens. Not so much difference with the older 50mms. 

5. Contrary to earlier reviews it focuses just fine. Using live view you can even get rudimentary face detect AF. 

6. Did I mention the huge logo across the front of the pentaprism finder? Based on my years of experience there won't be anybody else at your next professional shoot sporting a bunch of Pentax gear. It seems like a lonely, lonely system. Just be sure to have your Pentax Manifesto ready to go in case someone challenges your choices....

7. It's a delicious antidote to the overweaning crowd of technophiles chasing the latest and greatest stuff. They may not even be aware that Pentax cameras exist, much less that there is a semi-modern, full frame model. You may take the awards for eccentricity on parade. What???? No 4K Video???

8. Believe it or not but the battery is sooooo interchangeable. It's the same one as used by the Panasonic GH5!!! WooHoo! Pure battery re-use. 


1. Every old codger who still shoots with Pentax can't wait to tell you about those fabulous legacy lenses from the 1960's, 70's, 80's and 1990's. Even the ones that really suck (because they have amazing bokeh....). 

2. You can't just stumble over to Amazon.com and pick up a new 85mm f1.8 because....most lenses don't exist in the Pentax universe (well, except the ones from yesteryear. But we're mostly over manually focusing and stopping down...). 

3. Sony and Nikon users will tease you for owning a dead system. Canon users are too scared these days to have opinions. 

4. I'm downrating it from a Gold at 99% to a Silver at 80% because the K-1 doesn't have an EVF. 

5. I'm further downrating it to a 78% Copper rating because it's too customizable. 

I'm keeping it around for all those (once a year) times when an art director thinks they might need a full frame camera file. And sure, I'll eventually buy a fast 85, 90, or 105 so I can show off that artsy, shallow depth of field. 

Now, here are some photographs....


atmtx said...

"Canon users are too scared these days to have opinions.", I just love this. So funny.

Hey I can bust out my yellow Pentax K-01 and we can form a Pentax users group. Plus the Pentax Q7 system, the smallest interchangeable mirrorless system ever made. Pentax has made some zany cameras.

Anthony Bridges said...

My first serious camera was a Pentax. I bought it here in Dallas back in the 1980's. At the time I saw multiple Pentax cameras but that was 30 + years ago. Now, not so much.

Ronman said...

I've recently been engaged in acquiring some vintage M42 Pentax Takumar lenses just to remind myself how craftsmanship has slowly been eroded with automation . And while I'm guilty as charged for being one of the many seduced by the new technology, I'm now enjoying the charms and gaining a new appreciation for the the craft by virtue of being fully engaged in the process . Fun stuff!

Abacus Photography said...

This is slightly tongue in cheek Kirk, but what your review demonstrates is that if put any half decent camera in the hands of a good photographer you'll get superb pictures! Pity the public at large doesn't get this. Mind you, the camera manufacturers would be out of business if they did!

JereK said...

Just sold my best pentax lens. The 135mm smc f2.8. Lovely autofocus and the bokeh.. A bit of aberrations at f2. 8 but a lovely lens. It was either sell it or buy a k1. Unfortunately no cheap k1 nearby for sale so opted to sell. The money will go to a Fuji lens.

Mitch said...

The big "Pentax" splashed across the front, I offer, will attract as much attention as I have since the early digital days with my now de rigeur practice of gaff taping over my Nikon nameplate and model number.

Freaks people out when they don't know what you are shooting so they don't have their favorite metric available to judge you as a photographer.

John Krumm said...

Hey, we have the same kits now sort of. I recently bought an XH-1 and totally love it. Still have my K1 and also love it, but will slowly sell many of the various lenses I have for it to pay for the Fuji, keeping the older and manual ones I can use on both. I have a very heavy but absolutely gorgeous DFA50 1.4 I will be selling soon if you are interested. : )

I have to figure out why the Fuji keeps changing focus spots when I walk with it. Do I trigger the touch screen and need to turn that off? Or do I trigger the back knob with my belly and need to be more careful? That's one thing about basic dslr's, they tend to be predictable and less sensitive to that sort of thing.

granitix said...

I recently returned to Pentax with a gently-used K-5 Silver special, 18-50mm re(tractable) and 50-200WR. Weather protected from 27-300mm/e, silent focus with 18-50 and all of $300. Pentax is video-averse and AF isn't their main -er focus, but it all takes great photos and will sub for a pick-axe in an emergency. My GX1 will take the moving pictures just fine, esp with the galaXian hack for higher video/audio specs.

Welcome to the Xatnep family, we're different (some would indeed say 'backward') and enjoy it. Hope you like the manual 50, much quieter than a screwdrive!

Ray said...

I changed camera systems recently and am having a great time setting up/playing with my new camera. I can see why you're so addicted to buying new toys.

Dan Boney said...

Well, if you're going to flirt with an OVF it might as well be a really nice, big FF one as in the K-1. And Pentax still gets the ergonomics much better than most, their bodies feel great to shoot with... It's little brother, the K-P is also well thought out... I once had a K-5 and four Limited lenses and mostly regret selling them, but in the end switching lenses constantly from 15-70mm (APSC) become a chore. For some odd reason, I still have the compact MX-1 P&S which is quite fun with a very nice 4X lens, multiple aspect ratios, a flip screen, and brass body with large controls - feels amazingly rugged compared to others, not worth selling because very few would appreciate it... I also have a Q-7 I acquired after the positive experience of the MX-1, the Q in a bold orange and brown color scheme (the 200+ color combos you could order one with was an experience in itself...).

tsj said...

Great camera and the 28-105mm is a gem. I've used Pentax since 1972 and currently have a 645Z as well; in PS mode the K-1 rivals the Z and has less noise.

tex andrews said...

I am actually somewhat shocked to read this news. Even for someone who prides himself on being somewhat contrarian, this latest excursion into cameraland seems beyond the pale, Kirk. I'm saying this as both a 645Z and K1 owner ( I even did the upgrade for the K1 to the K1 mk II---almost as much to reward Pentax/Ricoh for even doing such a thing as actually needing the upgrade...), with more lenses in the system than I've ever had with any system in 40 years of camera ownership. And I came to Pentax from Sony---and I loved Sony and think they are great.

But I'm glad you did it, because it's good to see serious pros look seriously at this fine equipment.

CWM said...

Kirk, you said the 77 was a bit short. Highly recommend the 100 macro. It is weather resistant, has “completely rounded” aperture blades, very compact and was released in the “digital” age with modern coatings. You can shoot it wide open (2.8) for lovely portraits. Stopped down two, it is as sharp as any 100 macro I’ve used. Strangely, the Pentax site lists it at 449.95. Amazon and Adorama show it at 550. I bought a new one several years ago at 3 and change. Worth trying!

Unknown said...

Love your tongue in cheek humour - so apt.

Anonymous said...

I agree with CWM about the 100mm macro. This was my first Pentax lens, and still may be my favorite for portraits. It's color representation is simply gorgeous. I love the 200mm f/2.8 as well. Photos from this lens just pop out from any group of mixed lens shots. I would recommend the Limited 43mm over the cheaper 50mm's. Besides producing noteworthy images, it is so light and compact, and the focal length is usually just right in use. Finally, if you are not especially interested ultra wide angle shots (and I'm not), the Limited 31mm is a photographically superb tool. Have fun, and please spend lots of money. Pentax needs all the help it can get.

jtsmall said...

Honeywell Spotmatic in chrome with 50mm Super Takumar f/1.4 lens, new. Shortly added a Super Takumar 105mm f/2.8 used. That was my first SLR, 1970. Took it everywhere. Saw me through the age of the darkroom.

So thumbs up!