Camera Review: Hands-On With Pentax’s KP DSLR
September 13, 2017
If you’ve followed the evolution of the Pentax product line, the KP is an extremely familiar species. It’s weatherproof, bedecked with dials and outfitted with the by-now-familiar suite of niche features that set Pentax models apart from the competition. But the KP boasts a few unique touches all its own.
The KP features a 24-megapixel, APS-C-sized CMOS image sensor. The ISO range stretches from 100 to the rather unorthodox value of 819,200 (Pentax doesn’t publish a native range).
You’ll enjoy in-body five axis image stabilization good for up to five stops of correction, per CIPA standards. Like most of the Pentax DSLR lineup, the shifting sensor plays a starring role in several unique features. First there’s the AA Filter Simulator which can mimic the effect of an anti-aliasing filter when you want to reduce the chance of moiré (it can be turned off and bracketed as well).
There’s also a Pixel Shift Resolution mode that compiles a series of images by shifting the image sensor in tiny increments and then combining the images in camera to create a single photo with less noise and more accurate colors. The KP adds a motion correction function to Pixel Shift Resolution which can compensate for subject movement and prevent or reduce image blur if a subject sways during an exposure.
The KP uses a 27-point AF system with 25 cross-type points with metering available down to -3 EV. The mechanical shutter tops off at 1/6000 sec. but there’s also an electronic shutter to push speeds up to 1/24,000 sec.
You’ll have Wi-Fi for remote control and image transfers. The camera doesn’t offer built-in GPS but can work with an accessory unit to enable Pentax’s ASTROTRACER feature for shooting long exposures of the night sky without losing the stars in blur.
One of the distinguishing features of the KP is its design. The camera features an interchangeable hand grip. You’ll get one grip (attached) in the box but Pentax sells two additional grips for $50. You can remove the grip using a hex key and the screw remains in place inside the grip so it won’t pop out and (inevitably) disappear in the grass. It’s a simple process that takes under a minute.
The KP is compact, rugged and weather-sealed. Despite its robust build, it’s lighter than both the Canon 80D and Nikon D7500.
The camera’s tilting 3-inch monitor affords some good shooting angles. It has a clever Night Vision function, which turns the display a bright red for easier viewing in the dark. There’s a nice amount of customization that you can do with the camera’s external controls as well. There are three user-programmable Fx buttons on the exterior and you can re-map several other dials and buttons to new functions in the camera’s menu.
On balance the KP delivers solid image quality and strong high-ISO performance and dynamic range. While Pentax doesn’t advertise a native ISO range, we enjoyed the best results when the camera was below 12,800. You should see excellent results from ISO 3200 and 6400.
Pentax’s Pixel Shift Resolution mode has become more practical thanks to a motion correction function that can account for slight subject motion. With earlier iterations, Pixel Shift could only be used on completely lifeless and stationary objects. But we found the motion correction allowed us to get mostly sharp results with subjects prone to very slight movement. We tried it on a sleeping cat and found some slight blur around the nose but otherwise sharp results.
The KP records full HD video at 30p though you’ll want to disable autofocus during filming as the camera will struggle with moving objects.
The KP clips along at 7 fps in continuous shooting mode, on par with the Canon 80D and slightly slower than Nikon’s new (and pricier) D7500. However, once it hits the seventh image (in RAW+JPEG) it slows dramatically as the memory clears. You can still fire off a frame here or there but you’ll lose access to continuous speeds. Set to JPEG only and you’ll get closer to 20-25 frames before buffering kicks in.
The KP can acquire focus quickly and in relatively low light, but did struggle a bit when set to continuous focus. We also found live view AF performance to be fairly sluggish.
The image stabilization system in the camera proved up to the task of shooting at 1/30 sec. handheld. The KP has a rather disappointing battery life of 390 images, per CIPA.
The KP is a clear example of Pentax’s strengths, fusing a rugged, ergonomic design with solid image quality and novel features. It’s also a reminder of the company’s weaknesses—lackluster video features and middling autofocus performance being top among them. Notwithstanding its weaknesses, the KP is a solid APS-C DSLR for the price.