Camera Review: Pentax K-01

This is a fun camera, with some limitations. It was introduced in early 2012 at a relatively high price and received mixed reviews due to its size (bigger than other cameras in its “class”) and styling. Apparently it was a sales flop, because now you can get one for around $300 without a lens, or with a nice compact lens for another 100 bucks (these prices are more than 50% off the original street prices).

Pentax K-01 front
(With my lens.)

Pentax K-01 back

This is essentially a very compact entry-level DSLR without a viewfinder — you take pictures by looking at the rear LCD as on a point-and-shoot camera. Because it has an excellent DSLR-sized image sensor it is capable of extremely high-quality results, particularly in dim light. The camera also operates much more rapidly than a P&S. I decided to buy one because the price was right, I have some Pentax lenses and thought this might be a good camera for candid people photos. It is smaller and, because one uses the LCD to compose rather than a viewfinder, less conspicuous than my usual big black camera. And while bigger than a P&S it is also much more responsive with none of the infuriating shutter lag that makes P&S people photography so frustrating. So far I enjoy the camera and am glad I bought it. (Note that if you buy it from B&H via the links in this post the Chicagoboyz media empire will make a few shekels. Also, B&H has a generous return policy.)

I will skip the typical camera-review lists of menus and specs and instead list my impressions on the variables that I think are important.

-Superb image quality.
-Excellent JPEGs.
-Fast (~6 frames/sec) in JPEG continuous-shooting mode.
-Battery capacity seems excellent.
-Very nice LCD.
-Cheap (I assume while supplies last) for what you get.
-Seems well made overall.
-Menus and controls are thoughtfully designed and work well.
-Anti-shake system built into the camera.
-You can use any Pentax lens, even cheap old ones (though these will require manual focusing).
-Manual focusing via “focus peaking” — a software-generated shimmer that appears on the LCD in image areas that are in-focus — works very well, particularly in dim light. This is a big advantage over DSLRs where manual focusing through the viewfinder is difficult.

-Slow (~1 frame/sec) in RAW continuous-shooting mode.
-Not sealed against moisture.
-In manual mode, can only vary shutter speed. Must switch out of manual mode to change aperture. In practice this is probably not a big deal.
-Stylish soft-rubber cover over memory-card slot is easy to dislodge and looks like it won’t hold up over time. This is a design flaw that has been noted in many reviews.
-Bigger than competing “mirrorless” cameras (e.g., Sony NEX-5/6/7 series), though in each of these cases the camera size depends heavily on the specific lens used.
-Default autofocus system works poorly in dim light until upgraded with latest firmware. However, the upgrade is easy to do.

-The shape of the camera is a bid odd and many reviewers don’t like it. It seems OK to me, though you may find the finger rest on the right side to be too small for a comfortable one-handed grip. However, the camera’s shape facilitates other ways of holding it that may be quite useful. For example, the camera is comfortable to hold with all of your fingers wrapped around the grip and your thumb on the shutter button, a position that works well when you are photographing people and don’t want to raise the camera to your face.
-The boxy shape of the camera makes it easy to put it on a table or wall or whatever for time exposures. You can even prop the camera vertically without much effort.
-It is capable of professional-quality results but looks like a big P&S, particularly with the 40mm kit lens. You may be able to get away with bringing it into concerts, museums, ball games and so forth that forbid professional cameras.

Pentax K-01 with 40mm lens.

Pentax K-01, body only.

13 thoughts on “Camera Review: Pentax K-01”

  1. I gave my Nikon D 70 to my daughter. I’ve had it for years and just don’t use it. I’m not much of a photographer although many years ago, I did quite a bit with film cameras. I’m just content wit the little pocket models although I insist on the ones that use AA batteries for travel, especially with teenagers who can lose a charger cord a day. Try to find one in Paris !

  2. The pocket cameras are very good. The problem for those of us with Cartier-Bresson fantasies is that they are slow. You press the button when someone laughs and the picture shows him blinking a second later. There is a compact Ricoh model that is supposed to be very quick but it’s overpriced and I’ve never tried it.

  3. @Michael – I have a good friend – retired photographer for our major (CA) newspaper – 46 years – who just sold his Nikon D-Something-a-ruther. It was $5,000 whatever it was. Its jpeg size for a photo averaged 30 mega pixels, the resolution was so fine.

    I took a tour of the newspaper facility and what a lesson in technology change I had – they used to have a major investment in darkroom facilities – of course, shooting a picture of a news-worthy subject – that picture had to be out – and ready – for the evening news.

    Now they just shoot pictures on cameras like this Pentax, upload it via their laptops (or tablets – i am behind on consumer electronics).

    But these days he just shoots pics off his iPhone. I’d have to think the quality isn’t what his Nikon was but it is the same reason I like my “old” (“obsolete”) Canon G7. Small and easy to take.

    I asked him what I should do with my trusty Nikon F3 – used for 20 years – he said – its market value is about nothing – use it as a paperweight?

    As to the charging vs AA batteries – I have noted those cameras chew though AA batteries like nothing – but if you have lost your charging connection – or don’t want to take a laptop….

    @Jonathan – I am amazed that among photographers value “styling” so important. Those that do are the fools. It’s what they can do for the price. And if this camera is 50% off because of it’s looks than it is a bargain.

    I noted something similar in my search for a 10 year old – or more – Mercedes SL. They changed V8s in mid 1998. The old V8 was a thing of beauty – the M119. Even used a derivative of it at LeMans with a team.

    Camshaft covers machined aluminum, held to the block by nicely machined allen bolts (so it seems).

    It’s replacement, the M113 (never could figure out Mercedes nomenclature) is – ugly. Nothing you’d want to admire under that plastic engine fascia that the manufacturers seem to be doing these days.

    But it has a coil for each cylinder that fires 2 spark plugs per cylinder. No distributors; all spark timing from the computer.

    Meaning after all this it gets about 10% better mileage than its predecessor, the pretty engine.

    I’ll take the ugly one, if I can find one.

  4. “I noted something similar in my search for a 10 year old – or more – Mercedes SL.”

    I was offered a 300 SL roadster in 1973 for $6000 but didn’t take it. A few years later a friend offered me a restored 300SL gullwing for $ 19,000. I have several stories like that.

    I still like the 1926 Bentley roadster hat pulled in behind me in a La Jolla gas station last year.

  5. A Club member bought a ’57 300SL roadster in the early 70s for – well, I am sure something similar. They are beautiful cars but cost a fortune to maintain. Last summer, before selling his Gullwing, another member offered to let me drive it. After I moments thought I thanked him but had to decline. I figured if I scratch the paint or get a crack in the windshield….

    The insurance companies these days dictate how you will keep the car. And it isn’t a car you c an jump in and park at the mall!

    I wish I could find that pic I took of about 20 of those Bentleys – from the mid 20s to early 30s – all lined up and all BRG at Monterey. But I think they got lost into the digital bit bucket ;-)

    One of the few disadvantages of a digital format but it is here to stay.

  6. I think I am going to spring for one too. I have been waiting to get a dslr for a while and now that the price is so low I am going to take the plunge. My pocket camera has its place but this will be a nice addition.

  7. Oy.

    A camera with a real TTL viewfinder, plus the additional steadiness from holding the camera firmly against the bones around the eyesocket, are what I (and presumably others) need an SLR for in the first place. No wonder this didn’t sell…

  8. @Kirk – for a guy like me that never took one photo in my life with a view finder (definitely an amateur photographer), the deal on this dslr is what I have been waiting for to make the leap out of my pocket camera and into something with higher quality. I am sure that with this piece of equipment when I go to the Pyrenees to ride this summer that my photos will be much better than the last few times with my pocket cam.

  9. I just received my camera. It was a bit intimidating. I will put up a review on it.

    I updated the firmware, something I wouldn’t bother to do with a typical point and shoot.

    I never had a detachable lens before – I put it in wrong initially and it took me a lot of searching to figure out how that was the problem.

    But I started taking pictures and they are great. I will actually try to read the manual this time.

    I went up to you tube and there are videos up there describing the camera (although Jonathan’s was better) and I can probably pick up some tips, too.

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