Camera Review: Ricoh Pentax K-1 Full-Frame DSLR
November 16, 2016
The world has known a full-frame Pentax DSLR was in the offing since 2014, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the long-awaited K-1 arrived. Like Ricoh’s approach to medium format, the K-1 carves out its niche as an ultra-rugged camera that packs more than its fair share of technical goodies for the price. We teamed with NJ photographer and director David Patiño to put the K-1 through its paces.
The K-1 boasts a 36.4-megapixel CMOS sensor with no anti-aliasing filter. There is, however, an AA filter simulation mode that can mimic the effect of an optical low pass filter by slightly shifting the image sensor. The shifting sensor is also responsible for in-camera image stabilization good for up to five stops of correction, per CIPA standards.
The autofocusing system uses 33 phase detect points (including 25 cross type focus points in the center) when focusing through the viewfinder, and contrast detection when in live view. It’s capable of focusing in low light down to -3 EV.
There are a pair of SD card slots, built-in Wi-Fi and GPS. The GPS not only provides location tags for images but combines with the built-in compass and shifting sensor to enable’s Ricoh’s ASTROTRACER function, which lets you keep stars sharp during long exposures of the night sky.
There’s no missing the K-1. Ricoh clearly unleashed their engineers to cram as many buttons and dials onto the body as humanly possible. It looks like a camera that a camera nerd would build (we say that lovingly). It has absolutely terrific ergonomics and is rugged and weatherproof to boot. Its durability comes at a price, though, as the K-1 is heftier than competitive DSLRs like Canon’s 6D or Nikon’s D610.
Ricoh gets design points for a few clever features. The first is the rear “cross tilt” LCD, which pulls away from the camera and can be swiveled not just up and down, but diagonally as well—something no other camera display can do. It’s great for those times when the camera is mounted at difficult angles, but does also lead to some extra fiddling in the process of pushing the display back in place. There are also tiny LED lights placed strategically around the camera to illuminate things like the memory card door or lens mount when you’re working in the dark. Very neat.
Patiño did have a few quibbles with the design, though. For one, the mode dial has two locks, which can get cumbersome as you’re adjusting on the fly. The top LED display is rather small to accommodate two large dials, making camera info trickier to read from the top down.
The K-1 uses a slow USB 2.0 port, which makes tethered shooting something of a no-no with this camera, Patiño says.
The K-1 produces “super punchy” JPEGs, Patiño says. The camera shows an excellent dynamic range but its ISO performance in JPEGs isn’t topping its full-frame peers. There’s a fairly sharp drop in image quality in JPEGs moving from ISO 3200 to ISO 6400. RAW images are clean to ISO 1600. There’s plenty of latitude to remove RAW noise from images through ISO 6400 without sacrificing undue detail. Somewhat confusingly, Pentax doesn’t distinguish between native ISO settings and expandable settings. In practice, we’d tread cautiously above ISO 6400 unless you’re using the camera’s Pixel Shift mode.
Like the older K-3, the K-1 uses Ricoh’s Pixel Shift mode to coax more detail and color accuracy from images with much less noise. As the name implies, the mode works by moving the image sensor four times by the width of a pixel to record four exposures that are automatically merged in the camera to create one super sharp image. The images need to be processed using Ricoh’s Silky Pix Pro software (free) to get the maximum benefit as the software supports a motion correction feature to combat image blur. Speaking of blur, Pixel Shift mode is ideal for completely motionless (read: lifeless) subjects with the K-1 locked down on a tripod as even tiny movements of subject or camera will produce pronounced blur.
Patiño used Pixel Shift Resolution in several interiors he shot for a supermarket design firm. When processed through Ricoh’s Silky Pix Pro software, the results were significantly sharper and more colorful than processing the files in Lightroom—or from standard images
shot without the benefit of Pixel Shift. That said, Patiño says that while the images were pristine, Silky Pix software was significantly slower and more crash-prone than Lightroom.
The K-1 records full HD video at up to 30p in camera with an option to capture 1280 x 720 video at 60p and no support for clean HDMI output. It trails most of its up-market mirrorless and DSLR competitors in terms of video feature set, though casual users won’t mind the image quality. There is a mic input and headphone jack, which is useful.
The autofocusing system isn’t the speediest he’s used, Patiño relates. The K-1 would sometimes struggle to keep focus locked on moving subjects in continuous mode. There’s plenty of focus hunting in video using the D FA 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.
The camera’s 4.4 fps continuous shooting mode is also on the slow side for full-frame models in this price range, though not egregiously so.
On the plus side, the K-1’s in-camera image stabilization is first rate. Patiño says it rivaled the performance he enjoys on his Sony a7 R II. We enjoyed sharp handheld shots down to an impressive 1/8 sec. shutter speed.
The K-1’s battery life is relatively meager compared to its similarly priced DSLR peers. You’ll enjoy 760 shots per charge, behind the 900 shots delivered by Nikon’s D610 and significantly fewer than Canon’s 6D.
At $1,800, the K-1’s primary competitors are the aging Canon 6D and Nikon’s D610. The K-1 offers a higher resolution sensor than both, with no optical low-pass filter and the option for super crisp images using the Pixel Shift mode. It lags the 6D in video and the D610 in autofocusing. It’s bulkier than both but offers superior weather proofing and a solid, if occasionally niche, feature set.
Ricoh will need to move quickly to build out its assortment of full-frame glass, but the future looks promising as we think the company got a lot right in this first foray into full-frame digital photography. “For the price, you’re getting a beautiful image,” Patiño says.
Ricoh Pentax K-1
PROS: Rugged design; great ergonomics; excellent value; superb image stabilization; Pixel Shift mode.
CONS: AF not as speedy as competition; meager video feature set; battery life underwhelming.