Articles

Pentax K-1 Landscape Photography Review

This article is also published at The Luminous Landscape.

INTRODUCTION

When Pentax announced their new full frame 36mp K-1 body I was very interested in its potential to act as a backup and sidekick to my main landscape camera, the Pentax 645Z. I was also looking for a high resolution platform for some focal lengths that are difficult or impossible to achieve with the 645Z - particularly the ultra-wide focal lengths. I have been selling off much of my Canon equipment to fund a greater investment in gear that is optimized for landscape photography so the K-1 was my next purchase to this end. This is my initial field review after only a few weeks of ownership.

I'm not going to get too far into the weeds with the tech specs of this camera or conduct lab-style tests of image quality as I don't have the time to do that sort of review. I'm going to focus mainly on my experiences using it in the field and the features that make or break it as a landscape photographer's camera.

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OVERVIEW: THE PENTAX ADVANTAGE

IBIS

In a number of ways, the Pentax DSLR system is very different from the systems that Nikon and Canon produce. The most significant of these is In-Body-Image-Stabilization (IBIS). Other cameras include this (like the mirror-less Sony A7 series and some micro four-thirds cameras), but to the best of my knowledge Sony is the only other significant manufacturer who has included IBIS in some of its DSLR bodies.

Pentax's implementation of IBIS has a number of innovative uses that are of particular interest to a landscape photographer. These are features that Canon and Nikon (who use in-lens stabilization) simply can't provide. Even the IBIS of other manufactures can't match what Pentax does with it. Obviously the first and main usage of IBIS is for image stabilization. I actually prefer in-lens stabilization because I can see the effect of it through the viewfinder while shooting, however the in-body version does seem to do a good job. Image stabilization is only just the beginning though. Where IBIS potentially adds value to the camera for landscape photography is mainly in the Pixel-shift, Astro-tracer and Composition adjustment features. Another use of IBIS is an automatic horizon correction function that can straighten horizons that are up to 2 degrees off level by tilting the sensor.

Sony sensors

Pentax, like Nikon, uses Sony sensors. The 36mp sensor in the K1 is basically the same hardware as the sensor in the Nikon D810 but with Pentax's secret sauce data processing recipe. It is not a bad thing for Pentax to be using Sony sensors rather than try and develop their own since Sony are the biggest sensor manufacturer in the world and will continue to roll out new, industry leading sensors for the forseeable future. I think it is a fairly safe assumption that a future iteration of the K-1 (the K-1ii?) would have a variant of the 42mp sensor that the Sony A7Rii currently has, so there is a good upgrade path to come for Pentax users who crave even higher resolution.

All-weather bodies

Pentax is renowned for making incredibly well weather-sealed, tough, camera bodies. A quick search on you-tube will find you videos of people washing mud and dust off various Pentax bodies under a tap or a shower. The K-1 is perfect for an all-weather field camera. Paired with one of their all-weather (AW) lenses like the new 70-200 f2.8 the K-1 would handle just about any weather that you could throw at it. Unfortunately, the Tamron sourced 15-30 and 24-70 lenses don't quite make the AW grade as they are rated at the lower weather-resistant (WR) level but even this seems to be a cut above the average 'weather-sealed' lens rating.

I have already had several occasions when I was caught in the rain while shooting. When I was using my Canon I would be very nervous about water and usually would bag the camera till the rain stopped. I had an issue with a 7D once where a single drop of water that landed around the shutter button caused unstoppable, continuous shutter release. It dried out eventually and there was no permanent damage, but I never trusted my Canon bodies for wet weather use after that. Using the K-1 I have had the camera completely drenched in rain several times but I had no concerns and the camera and lens suffered no ill-effects. I won't be intentionally testing the camera's water-sealing limits with full submersion any time soon but it's nice to know it would probably be safe with a quick dunk should the worst happen!

K-mount

One of the reasons Pentax has some of the most loyal users in the photography world is that it has taken a very commendable approach to their lens mount. Unlike Canon and Nikon, the current Pentax K-mount is backwards compatible with lenses going all the way back to the 1970's. Even full manual lenses can be accommodated by using 'green button metering' and manually setting the lens focal length in the menu. Manual focus lenses with aperture rings that have an 'A' setting for aperture priority work perfectly. Auto focus lenses from the 80's and 90's which don't have their own AF motors are also accommodated for as the current generation DSLR bodies still include the built-in focusing motor. The new generation lenses obviously have in-lens motors and fully electronic aperture control. And of course IBIS works on any lens you can fit.

The K-1 will even accept the full range of Pentax lenses that were designed for APS-C sensor cameras. To use a 'crop' lens the camera can automatically or manually implement a 'crop' mode which results in an approximately 15 mp file. As a bonus, working in crop mode boosts the frame rate to 6.5 fps which is not bad at all if you have some action to shoot and 15 mp files are enough for the job.

Value for Money

Pentax is a relatively small player in the camera market, with a tiny share of the DSLR segment compared to Canon and Nikon. Their marketing seems to be rather low-key but they are part of the huge imaging company of Ricoh. These factors somehow seem to translate into some of the best value for money camera's available. The K-1 is selling in Australia for approximately A$2,800. This seems a lot until you compare it with the 50mp Canon 5DSr for A$5000, the newly announced 30mp 5D Mark iv for A$5,000, the 36mp Nikon D810 for A$3,600 and the 42mp Sony A7Rii for A$4,100. The K-1 together with the 24-70 was less than the 5DSr on its own and yet it is a pro-grade, rugged, metal body built to be used in the field, with industry leading weather resistance and comes with every technology that Pentax has, shoehorned into it. For someone wanting to get started in a high megapixel system it makes an extremely attractive proposition.

Cool Factor

I don't mind admitting that I have a contrarian streak and I like the fact that Pentax is something of an underdog brand. Pentax cameras are seen as an unusual or even weird choice by Canon, Nikon and Sony users! I have gotten a little bored with Canon and buying into a new system has been an extremely enjoyable learning curve.


BODY AND HANDLING

Body

The Pentax K-1 is not a pretty camera but its rugged construction and knobbly dials make it the Toyota Landcruiser of DSLR's and I really like it. Size-wise it is more compact than a Canon 5D series camera but this is mainly due to it not being as wide. It is a similar height and deeper and it weighs slightly more. It is dense and chunky feeling in a good way, unlike the light and fiddly mirror-less bodies that seem to be in fashion at the moment. 

The dials and buttons all seem to work well together and felt familiar and intuitive to me because the Pentax 645Z that I am used to has the same DNA. The most significant button difference is the live view button that is in the top left corner instead of near the 4-way button pad but I got used to this quickly and actually prefer the new location. The buttons have a very tactile and precise feel, unlike the buttons on the 645Z which are spongy and have a deep depress. After some practice I find I am able to operate it almost as intuitively as I was able to operate my Canon bodies. The main thing that stops it being a total success is the AF point and AF mode selection which is not as quick as the Canon system with its thumb joystick system.

With the K-1, Pentax has implemented a 3rd scroll wheel on the top of the camera that provides customized adjustment of a range of functions. The function being adjusted is set by the 2nd chunky mode dial on the top plate and includes things like ISO, exposure compensation and HDR. I personally find ISO and EC easier to set by pressing the relevant buttons on the top plate and using the regular thumb dial but it is nice to be able to have a third scroll wheel to work with some other common adjustments without having to use the menu system. I did find the secondary dial a bit stiff to turn. The only downside is that the top LCD is considerably smaller than it could be. Frankly I don't much use the top LCD anyway as I am either looking at the main screen on the back or through the viewfinder.

I am a huge fan of Pentax's implementation of "User" modes. I am not new to this feature as Canon always has their three 'C' modes but Pentax builds in more customization like remembering or forgetting changes that were made during use of each mode when you click away from them. You can even change the exposure mode from Av to M or whatever without having to reprogram a whole mode from scratch like you have to do with a Canon C mode. Not only that but joy of joy's, Pentax has included FIVE user modes! I can have a M, B, Av, Crop Av and time-lapse setups all saved and only a dial click away. And also just like the 645Z you can give each mode a name which flashes up on the rear screen when you first click to it so that you can remember what setup you saved to what position. There are a few menu functions which don't seem to save with the User setting which is annoying occasionally - for example I would like to have image preview turned off when I go to my time-lapse User setting but instead I have to do this manually.

Thankfully there are dual SD card slots like all pro cameras should have. The 645Z has the same dual SD arrangement and I have resigned myself to a gradual divestment of the CF cards I have been using with Canon bodies for years. 

Handling

My first gripe is the same one I have with the 645Z - the remote cable plug is in the palm area of the camera grip. Even though the camera is always tripod mounted when using a remote release, I still grasp the camera by the grip to re-compose and the cable makes this awkward. It is even worse than the 645Z which is at least mounted higher on the grip so that I can drop my hand position a bit to avoid it. At least it is only necessary to use the cable release during bulb mode and even this can be avoided by using a wireless remote.

The other less-than-optimal handling issue for me is that I find the grip too skinny and not quite deep enough. I have big hands and I find my fingers are hitting the front of the camera and leaving the camera slightly loose in my hand without the grip 'filling' the curl of my fingers. One of the reasons I still prefer DSLR's over mirror-less cameras is that they usually have decent grips and ergonomics. Unfortunately the K-1 is not quite as comfortable to hold as my Canon 5d mkiii and nowhere near as comfortable as the perfect grip of the 645Z. It's not a deal breaker though as it is not as bad as I have just made it sound. It is of course a non-issue when used on a tripod or if you have small hands.

Another area that I feel is not optimal is the AF selection method. There is a button on the side of the camera for AF type selection then you have to use the 4 way buttons on the back to move the zone or point. The buttons are a fair way from the rear AF button (which I use instead of having AF linked to the shutter button) so I find it a bit slower compared to the near-perfect system that Canon utilises. I'm sure time and muscle memory would make it feel more natural but it will never be the best system.

Using the camera in darkness is fantastic when you use the LED lighting system that Pentax has thoughtfully included. With the LCD pulled out the little lights on the back of the screen light up the controls on the back of the camera. Even the cable remote socket and lens mount lights up. These functions are of course able to be customised as well. I noticed that even when the camera is switched off, touching the illumination button lights up the lens mount so you can change lenses in the dark with the camera turned off. Why hasn't camera lighting been done before! It's a great feature and a testament to Pentax's throw-every-technology-available-into-the-camera philosophy.

For landscape photography one of Canon's downfalls is the fixed LCD's they have on their pro bodies like the 5D series. The tilt-able screen on the 645Z has been a god-send when using the camera down low (or even at normal tripod heights actually). The K-1 takes that idea and improves on it by putting the screen on a 'lunar landing' construction of four sliding stainless steel rods. The arrangement means that I can get enough side-tilt out of the screen that it is now nearly as comfortable to use when in portrait mode. It does not at all make you nervous to use as it looks and feels solidly made.

User Interface

I don't have much to say about the menu system. It is the comprehensive, well organised Pentax menu system that current Pentax users will be familiar with and new owner's will get used to quickly. Once you have the User modes and quick control screen setup you will rarely need to dive into the menu system. Like most DSLR's, all the main controls are to be found in the buttons and dials on the body that allow quick and intuitive usage. People that want touch screens on their camera's will be disappointed but since I've never owned a camera with this feature I don't miss it.

Performance

The shutter is silky smooth, beautifully damped and very quiet. There is no 'quiet shutter' mode but the normal shutter sound is so quiet it makes Canon's shutter sound seem noisy by comparison. Start-up time is practically instant. The time it takes to process an image and have it ready for preview and focus checking is decent but after a burst of images the cameras orange 'working' light stays on for quite a while. It is still possible to carry on shooting and eventually it catches up unless you hit the buffer. I think it is one of the few areas of the camera where Pentax cost-saving shows by not putting in a more powerful processor. Still it is not too bad and it does not hamper my normal shooting in any way.

Battery life is great. I haven't done any in-depth assessment of it but it is generally comparable to the Canon 5D mkiii and a bit better than the 645Z (which conveniently shares the same battery pack).

Recommended Accessories

The best L-plate currently available is from Kirk. An L-plate makes composition much more convenient and this particular one fits very solidly and snugly to the camera. It was not cheap with exchange rates and postage to Australia but it was worth it.

I use a Peak Design Slide strap which is a fantastic product. It is great to have a strap on a camera that is easily and quickly removable when needed. Straps on camera's that are tripod mounted are a tangle hazard and a vibration causing wind-trap so I usually shoot without one. The Slide makes it easy to reattach and use for two or three different cameras as needed.

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 24mm, f16, 1 sec, ISO 100

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 24mm, f16, 1 sec, ISO 100


LENSES

Pentax Lens Decisions

Many long-term Pentax owner's will likely have a slew of Pentax film-era lenses and newer APS-C format digital era lenses (DA, DA Ltd, DA* series) that they will be very keen to use on this new body. Since I am not one of those long term "Pentaxians" and I am interested in sharpness and high image quality above all else for landscape images, I have only considered the current crop of new 'Full-frame' (D-FA series) lenses. I would be remiss if I did not mention the legendary Limited series of primes that are still manufactured. The 31, 43 & 77mm FA lenses are by all accounts beautiful and popular lenses but they were designed for the film era and use the camera driven AF system that is noisy and slow. I hope Pentax update these classics.

I bought the K-1 along with the new 'pro-standard' DFA 24-70 F2.8 ED WR. This lens serves as an essential general purpose lens - the first member of the 'holy trinity' f2.8 zoom lens kit. I did consider the DFA 28-105 F3.5-5.6 ED DC WR but its rather slow variable aperture range and old fashioned 28mm wide end made it seem like less of a long term prospect.

One of the most important decisions for me was an ultra-wide lens since there currently exists no 645Z compatible lens that has a field of view equivalent (in std 35mm terms) wider than 20mm (the out-of-production 25 DFA which I don't own) or 22mm (the 28-45 zoom that I use mainly). Pentax has introduced the DFA 15-30 F2.8 ED WR but it has a major inconvenience - filters. Its bulging front element and fixed hood means I would have to purchase a special filter kit (Such as the Lee SW150) with huge 150-150 filters. Filters have always been essential to my landscape photography as I do not do HDR or image blending. Having to buy a second filter kit - and a bulky one at that, is something of a pain.

Until Pentax fill out the promised road-map of DF-A lenses, we have to look to 3rd party manufacturers for other lens options in this focal range. A second option is the Samyang 14mm F2.8 which is a manual focus lens that has a great reputation for night photography but has the same issue with filters because of it's bulging front element and is not weather-sealed or as solidly built. It is also a fairly cheap lens that does have some quality control issues (reportedly). A more promising third option is the just announced Irix 15mm F2.4. If this lens lives up to the marketing hype, it will be an ultra-high quality, durable, weather-sealed, lens that would fit the bill very well. Like all ultra-wide lenses, it has a very large front element, but it will come with a 95mm filter thread, to which Irix screw-on ND and CPL filters can be fitted, plus a rear gel filter slot for ND filters.

In the end though after a few weeks using just the 24-70 I purchased the Pentax 15-30 based on its reputation in both its Pentax and Tamron variants and because it is a zoom which makes it a more versatile long-term option. I have yet to figure out my solution for filters but it will likely be the Lee system if I get one at all.

PENTAX DFA 24-70 F2.8 ED SDM WR

The Pentax 24-70 f2.8 is manufactured by Tamron (like the 15-30) and based on their equivalent lens that is available for Canon & Nikon mounts. It seems that Tamron is building it to Pentax's aesthetic requirements, removing the vibration reduction unit and possibly adding Pentax lens coatings. It's possible the weather-sealing is to Pentax spec too but I haven't seen any technical info on this.

The lens is engineering grade plastic construction like most lenses these days but it feels very solid and well made. The knurled zoom and focus rings are very grippy with the wide zoom ring closest to the end and the narrow focus ring closest to the camera. My only real complaint as far as usage goes is that the focus ring does not have anywhere near enough throw. There is only about a quarter of a turn from lock to lock. I manual focus in live view when shooting on a tripod and it is really noticeable how high the 'gearing' of the ring is. I find it more difficult to find the focus sweet-spot than I would like.

When I first started doing some test shots I was not that impressed by the focus accuracy when shooting hand-held. With AF micro-adjustment I managed to get much better results but I was maxed out at the highest micro-adjust level of +10. I found this a little disconcerting but I guess that is what micro-adjust is for. I have done very little shooting wide open but for what I have done (some family portraits) it seems very sharp at least in the centre. Closed down to landscape apertures of f8 - f16 it is also very good but not in the 'stunning' category. I have noticed while pixel peeping that edge sharpness is often noticeably softer than the centre. This is not always an issue as usually the point of interest is not at the edges of an image but landscape photographers do like edge to edge sharpness.

My biggest gripe with lenses is usually chromatic aberration, something I have found that many of my first generation Canon L-lenses suffered from. So far I have not really noticed any with this lens but time will be needed to assess this further in a wider range of conditions.

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 70mm, f16, 0.6 sec, ISO 100

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 70mm, f16, 0.6 sec, ISO 100

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 70mm, f16, 1/60 sec, ISO 100

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 70mm, f16, 1/60 sec, ISO 100

PENTAX DFA 15-30 F2.8 ED SDM WR

My experiences with this lens so far have been great. The construction is very much like the 24-70. It is chunky and solid with high quality plastics and a very similar design aesthetic. The lens hood is built-in and not detachable because of the bulbous front element. Speaking of the front element it seems to be well coated, as water droplets wipe off very easily. It has a deep lens cap that fits over the hood and holds very securely in place by friction only.

It has the same arrangement and rotation direction of lens rings as the 24-70 but the focus ring is wider, better damped and has a little more throw which makes accurate focusing easier during live view. It is a heavy lens no-doubt but feels fine to handhold and walk around with as it balances well with the K-1 body. I suspect it would feel front-heavy on the smaller APS-C Pentax bodies. Auto focus was spot-on straight out of the box with no AF micro-adjustment needed. As with the 24-70, the auto focus is quick and quiet. 

Image quality is noticeably better than the 24-70. Even during image preview on the LCD I was impressed with how crisp the images were looking. Distortion is not usually very noticeable when shooting natural shapes but even so it seems to be well controlled. Like the 24-70 I have not noticed any chromatic aberrations yet.

A fast f2.8 lens in this focal range can be a great candidate for astrophotography. Combined with the fantastic K-1 sensor which has remarkably low noise at high ISO's I think I now have a great platform for some night-time photography - especially if I can find some success using the astro-tracer function. The milky way image below was not shot using the astro-tracer function but even so it is still the best image of its type that I have ever shot because previously I was hampered by having an F4 ultra-wide and the noisier canon sensor.

Pentax K-1, 15-30 @ 15mm, f16, 3 sec, ISO 100

Pentax K-1, 15-30 @ 15mm, f16, 3 sec, ISO 100

Pentax K-1, 15-30 @ 15mm, f2.8, 30 sec, ISO 100

Pentax K-1, 15-30 @ 15mm, f2.8, 30 sec, ISO 100


PENTAX K-1 IMAGE QUALITY

Image Quality & Resolution

The K-1 has an incredible sensor and it should be no surprise to anyone that it performs exceptionally well. It's output is limited mostly by the user's skill and the glass in front of it. The DXOMark website has just published the results of its sensor benchmark testing on the K-1 and it has, unsurprisingly, scored a fourth place. It is marginally behind only the Sony A7Rii, Nikon D810 and Sony RX1Rii (all cameras that are nearly twice the price) and well ahead of Canon's best, the 5Dmkiv with a 14th placing. Canon's high resolution camera the 5DS scores a 29th place and my trusty old Canon 5Dmkiii comes in at number 54. DXO scores are just lab-scores and people probably put too much stock in them but it's still an encouraging result.

When shooting landscapes, I rarely deviate from an ISO setting of 100 as this is where the best dynamic range is to be found. Due to ISO variance I can get better results by underexposing at ISO 100 and recovering shadows in post than exposing at higher ISOs for a 'correct' exposure. There are of course occasions when higher ISO's are called for, especially for astro photography and where it is necessary to stop movement. I have found the noise levels at the lower ISO's to be non-existent for normal exposures and amazingly low for high ISO settings. I would not hesitate to shoot this camera at 3200 or even 6400 when needed for low-light photographic situations. Long exposures of 30 seconds and up do not introduce much noise.

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 24mm, f16, 1 sec, ISO 100

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 24mm, f16, 1 sec, ISO 100

A 36mp sensor promises bags of large print resolution and glorious detail for the landscape photographer. All it takes is a good lens to make the most of it. The K-1 delivers resolution in spades and the better the lens in front of it the better the results. The 15-30 lens is the best choice for maximum resolution but the 24-70 is not too shabby either.

Pentax K-1, 15-30 @ 24mm, f11, 1/250 sec, ISO 100

Pentax K-1, 15-30 @ 24mm, f11, 1/250 sec, ISO 100

100% crop from centre of frame

100% crop from centre of frame

Dynamic Range Torture Test

Given that this camera has a Sony sensor I expected to see pretty good results in this area. I have not been disappointed. I don't think it is as good as that achieved by the unbelievable 645Z but it is still extremely good. The following example was a result of me trying to make images without a graduated filter and making sure I kept maximum highlight detail in the sky. I ended up underexposing quite a bit because I had hit the 30 second exposure limit of manual mode. Needless to say, a lot of shadow recovery was needed in post. You can see from the 100% crop below that the final image has no ugly colour noise or banding in the recovered shadow area's and low noise levels overall. In a print the noise that is present would be imperceptible.

Pentax K-1, 15-30 @ 15mm, f11, 30 sec, ISO 100 (out of camera)

Pentax K-1, 15-30 @ 15mm, f11, 30 sec, ISO 100 (out of camera)

Pentax K-1, 15-30 @ 15mm, f11, 30 sec, ISO 100 (final processed image)

Pentax K-1, 15-30 @ 15mm, f11, 30 sec, ISO 100 (final processed image)

100% Crop

100% Crop


VALUE-ADDED FEATURES

Composition Adjustment

I'm not aware of any other camera on the market that has this feature and I was very keen to try it. Composition adjustment utilizes the IBIS sensor in an interesting way. It allows you to manually move the sensor up, down, left, right or even rotate it. Doing this takes advantage of the lens image circle being a little larger than the sensor. To do this traditionally you would need an expensive tilt-shift lens. 

The amount of 'shift' available with the composition adjustment is not as great as with a dedicated lens so it will not be as useful for perspective correction for architectural photography. My main interest in this function though, is for stitching two images together to increase image size. One of my favorite features of the 645Z is the 4:3 image ratio which for some reason I find very appealing. The K-1, like other 35mm 'full frame' camera's, has a 2:3 ratio and if I was to crop an image down to a 4:3 ratio I am left with a 32mp file.

The following images show the amount of vertical shift available. I stitched these together in Lightroom and, after some edge clean-up, I was left with a perfect 4:3 ratio 36mp file. Obviously you could also move the sensor left and right to create a longer ratio image as well and I certainly will try that sometime.

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 24mm, f11, 1/125 sec, ISO 100

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 24mm, f11, 1/125 sec, ISO 100

Pixelshift

This feature is a way for the sensor to capture an image with improved colour accuracy, resolution and dynamic range by taking four images, with the sensor moving in a 4 pixel square grid so every pixel has the full colour range recorded. These four images are then merged into a single (very large) RAW file. There is even a motion correction function (MC) that tries to detect movement in the image and cancels out the blending in these areas. 

Before purchasing the camera, I was skeptical about the usefulness of Pixelshift for shooting landscapes which are rarely, if ever, completely still. After testing out the feature I remain skeptical. I have found that there does seem to be a marginal improvement in detail but it comes at the cost of artifacts - especially with any areas of movement. The artifacts present as red and green pix-elating to the edge of moving objects and I even saw some ghosting for a stationary object in one test shot. It seems to be a little random whether MC works or not so I would suggest taking several MC versions then also one with Pixelshift turned off as a fail-safe. 

Using the software that Pentax provides called Digital Camera Utlity 5 (DCU5) is essential since Lightroom does not have the processing engine to get good results with the merged pixelshift files. This is a nuisance for those used to a Lightroom workflow.  I should add that DCU5 is really awful software that looks about 10 years out of date as far as the UI goes.

I'm sure in a perfectly controlled studio environment the results would be much more pleasing but for shooting landscapes where image quality is everything and scenes are never entirely still, results leave a lot to be desired. I doubt I will ever have the patience to use pixel shift again.

Astro-tracer

This feature is a really innovative idea which, as far as I am aware, is not available in any other camera. Using the GPS function and the IBIS feature, the camera will actually move the sensor to adjust for the earth's rotation and allow the capture of stars with much longer exposure times than would normally be possible without getting star trails. In fact, Pentax claims a 5-minute exposure as the maximum amount of time so theoretically it should be possible to get astro-images with amazingly low ISOs that would not have been possible before now except with expensive tracking rigs. Obviously any static landscape objects in the image would be blurred with the feature turned on so one would have to take two images - one of the stars with Astrotracer on then another image with Astrotracer off then merge them in Photoshop.

Presently I have had only one occasion to test out the Astrotracer function. The milky way image shown above is from that session but it was not taken with the Astrotracer engaged. I did several trial images with Astrotracer, being sure to calibrate the GPS and use an exposure time of about two minutes. Unfortunately, I still got short star trails so either the feature is not working quite as advertised or there was some user or GPS calibration error that I have not ironed out yet. I plan on testing this out again as I suspect the latter reason.

Time-lapses

The K-1 has a really good built-in implementation of various time-lapse functions. There is a regular timelapse function that allows down to 1 second intervals (which can be customized to be either 1 second regular intervals or 1 sec from the end of the previous exposure which is handy for shooting intervals with long exposures). There is also an interval composite function which will create a single still image with stacked exposures, and a star stream function.

The only function that I have tested out so far is the built-in Interval Movie Record which automatically creates up to a 4K movie. The curious thing about this is the final videos seem to end up being about twice as long as they should. I calculated the number of shots I thought I needed for a 30 second time-lapse and it ended being a minute long. Because of this the cloud movement was rather jerky and didn't look very good as a time-lapse. This doesn't seem like a huge problem though since after the files were imported into video editing software I was able to double the play-back speed for a much smoother result.

Better time-lapse results will always come from shooting the individual images rather than letting the camera create the video. The biggest disappointment for this strategy is the lack of reduced size RAW files. The K-1 will shoot full size 36mp RAW's only (or APS-C size cropped RAW). I am used to Canon's fantastic feature of having medium and small RAW files that are still full frame. When shooting a lot of images for a time-lapse there is no point filling your cards with full size RAW's when they have to be downsized for the final video anyway. You can shoot JPG of course but this sacrifices some post processing ability.


PENTAX DISADVANTAGES

Lenses

Buying into the Pentax system does come with some disadvantages, the chief one being lens selection. Pentax simply does not have the same enormous range of modern lenses that either Canon or Nikon have. Yes, they have a very big range of lenses (I've seen figures of 200+) if you include all the historical and out of production glass. Many of these do actually have very good reputations for image quality but, as charming as they are, they were not made for high resolution digital sensors. Pentax does at least have the holy trinity of fast f2.8 lenses (15-30, 24-70, 70-200), a high quality 150-450 telephoto zoom and a 560mm telephoto prime but if you desire more specialist native mount lenses or fast primes, the pickings are thin. Samyang at least make a full range of fast primes and even a tilt-shift lens in K-mount. A notable and highly regarded Sigma lens the 35mm f1.4 ART is also available in K-mount and maybe Sigma will make more of their art lenses available in the future if the K-1 sells well. Tamron will likely not expand their range of K-mount lenses since they manufacture lenses for Pentax already. Other high end lens manufacturers like Zeiss are not likely to manufacture their premium lenses for the K-mount.

When calculating the cost of purchasing into the Pentax system one should also account for the lenses. It is obvious that the K-1 body is incredibly well priced but should a buyer wish to pair it with new f2.8 zooms like I have, it is worthwhile at least considering other comparisons. A Canon 5d mkiv or 5DS plus latest generation canon f2.8 zooms will be significantly higher in cost than the Pentax versions. However, the Pentax zooms are essentially Tamron lenses at heart and both of the Tamron variants are available for Canon or Nikon bodies at lower prices. That comparison works out to be a lot closer in price but still quite a bit higher. If you decide to factor in the availability of the good F4 zooms that both Canon and Nikon have the price equation closes further. Also you pay an early adopter penalty as the used marked for these Pentax lenses is limited at the moment but you could buy used Canon or Nikon equipment readily if budget is tight. So it really depends on what type of lens set you require and what value you place on the feature set of the K-1 itself.

It's not all bad though as Pentax has plans to release about 6 more full frame primes over the next year or two so hopefully they complete this program without too much delay otherwise they could miss out on a lot of potential buyers for what is a great camera. One can only hope that there will be some high end D-FA f4 zooms produced by Pentax in the future but they have not announced any yet. I will be interested in their new 50mm prime when it is available at which point in time I may well be prepared to part with my much-loved Canon 50mm F1.2.

Autofocus

Pentax auto-focus leaves a little bit to be desired. I can't comment fully because I have not had the chance to shoot any action yet but in my limited testing, and judging by what others have said online, it is pretty clear that Pentax AF technology is at least a generation behind the kings of AF: Canon and Nikon. I would not suggest that this camera can't be used for action photography though. User skill and practice can overcome some short-comings in an AF system. I have seen some very fine examples of wildlife photography on the internet from many happy Pentax users. My first trip to Africa was done with Canon 5D mkii bodies that had a pathetic 9 point AF system and I still got plenty of great photos. The K-1 has a much better AF system than that particular camera so all is not lost. Even so, photographers who need a state-of-the-art system for pro sports shooting or serious wildlife action will have to look elsewhere.

Video

Since this is a landscape biased photography review I haven't mentioned video yet. Yes, the K-1 does video. I have tried this once for a few seconds to see if it worked the day I got it but haven't done anything since. It does have headphone and mic ports, but otherwise the video specs are pretty standard and there is no 4K video. 4K seems to be expected by video-centric photographers these days. The video quality reportedly is okay but not great. It is obvious that Pentax does not make its cameras with video at the forefront and I don't think that will be a concern to most potential buyers, but it is worth mentioning and may discourage photojournalist or wedding photographer types who need a more advanced video capability.

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 24mm, f11, 8 sec, ISO 125

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 24mm, f11, 8 sec, ISO 125


CONCLUSION

It is difficult to see how the K-1 could have been made better by Pentax without increasing its amazingly competitive retail price. It is easy to criticise the features of any camera but the truth is that all of the camera's available today make fantastic images in the right hands. The differences between them are becoming more a matter of specialist requirements or image resolution. The K-1 is a fantastic camera body. A rugged field camera that will suit the requirements of many photographers, especially those interested in landscapes.

If I did not already own the Pentax 645Z (a camera I consider a landscape photography benchmark) I would be very happy to be using the Pentax K-1 as my main landscape body. It is a testament to how comfortable I am shooting the K-1 that I have at times found myself shooting both the 645Z and K-1 simultaneously. I carry a second smaller tripod on my pack which I can quickly set up and then I can work a scene with both cameras, getting the ultra-wide angle compositions with the K-1 and my bread and butter focal lengths with the 645Z. This is very handy when doing long exposures as I can be setting up and shooting one camera while the other is exposing a different scene.

I do not hesitate in recommending the K-1 to anyone currently invested in the Pentax system. I would encourage anyone interested in purchasing a high resolution landscaper's camera but not yet invested in Pentax, to consider the K-1 seriously but to take into account the whole system with the lenses that are available and your intended usage before making a choice. Anyone looking to buy the K-1 for other types of photography like street, studio or sports will need to evaluate the system from that perspective. There is no one camera recommendation that will suit everyone. It is incumbent on the individual to find the camera or system that works best for them. I personally am very satisfied that my Pentax system of two cameras will perform the way I need them to for predominantly landscape imaging but I am keeping one foot in the Canon camp for other uses. I can't bring myself to part with my much loved Canon 5Dmkiii and 50mm F1.2 combination or the ability to use Canon mount super telephoto lenses.

I am lukewarm in my opinion of the 24-70 lens. It is well built and will perform well for my intended purpose (general purpose shooting and some occasional landscape work) but I am a bit disappointed it wasn't better. I don't think the across the frame or even centre sharpness is quite as good as it should be for a marque pro-grade lens. It is possible I have a less than perfect copy of this lens so your mileage may vary. I also really dislike the focusing ring. Having said that it is easy to be overly critical today when our cameras and lenses are all so good, and this lens will doubtless perform very well for many people in many situations.

The Pentax 15-30 is an amazing lens! Once you have crossed the hurdle of a filter system you have a simply fantastic tool for ultra-wide angle photography. Unless you are happy with a prime lens like the Irix, I would suggest that this is a must-have lens for a K-1 shooter, especially for landscapes. I will doubtless find other uses for it. It is a lens that encourages creativity with its very close minimum focusing distance, wide angle of view and wide aperture. I do not hesitate in recommending it to Pentax K-1 owner's.

Whatever system you choose to use get out and shoot as our photography skills is what will make the most difference in the end.

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 24mm, f16, 2.5 sec, ISO 100

Pentax K-1, 24-70 @ 24mm, f16, 2.5 sec, ISO 100

Morden O'Hare18 Comments