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Pentax KP – A Hands on Review

feb 22 2017

The Pentax KP, some first impressions

The Pentax KP body that I was able to review for a few days, was a test model with firmware 1.0.  These are my personal experiences and it goes without saying that the statements in this text relate to a strictly personal opinion.


Ricoh’s Pentax KP features a new 24MP APS-C sensor with a maximum ISO of 819200. That’s twice the limit of the Sony A7S II, a camera that can practically see in the dark. Images taken at 819,200 are going to look pretty messy of course, but sometimes you just need the shot and flaws in image quality will be taken for granted.
Its mechanical shutter will operate at 1/6000s, but its electronic shutter can reach 1/24000 sec. Its ‘Shake Reduction II’ 5-axis in-body image stabilization will effectively reduce shake by up to 5 stops with nearly any lens you attach. The SAFOX 11 autofocus system features 27 points, 25 of which are cross-type. New autofocus algorithms should be able to boast its performance by 40% over previous APS-C models.

The Pentax KP comes in either black or silver.

The compact body (comparable in size to some of the mirrorless bodies on the market!) is weather-sealed and will still work at tempatures down to -10C. The camera comes equipped with 3 replaceable grips of various size, making it comfortable to hold for everyone. In line with Pentax’ heritage, the KP has a pentaprism optical viewfinder with 100% coverage and a 0.95x magnification. A tilting 3″ screen LCD completes the camera.

The KP can shoot continuously at up to 7 fps and can capture video at up to 1080/60i.
(Update from the 2017 CP+ show: According to Ricoh Imaging representatives, video improvements have been made to the KP, and soon both the KP and K-1 will have access to sensor-shift stabilization in video via a firmware update)
Wi-Fi is built-in and the camera uses the familiar D-LI109 battery and can take up to 390 shots per charge. When equipped with the optional grip, the LI-90 batteries can be used to increase the number of shots the camera can take.

Ergonomics

Pentax’s approach to the manufacturing of its cameras is one of its most popular selling points, and the KP with its durable and lightweight magnesium alloy construction, won’t disappoint. It’s smaller than the K-3 II at 132 x 101 x 76mm (W x H x D) and its body has an entirely new design. It weighs in at only 703g (incl. battery). With it’s 67 seals across its body, the camera is weather-resistant, dustproof and freezeproof to -10°C. Whatever the elements you find yourself battling out on location, this level of sealing means that the KP should handle it all with ease.

The exterior casing is made of highly rigid, lightweight magnesium alloy with remarkable durability and outstanding electromagnetic-shielding performance. Coupled with a high-rigidity, corrosion-resistant metallic chassis, it forms an extremely durable, dependable body structure.

The camera features a grip replacement system that allows users to quickly change from the standard S grip to one of two larger replacement options (Grip M and L) that come shipped with it. This enables photographers to alter the KP’s ergonomics to suit their personal preference or balance the currently attached lens. All three grips are shipped with the camera. I was particularly pleased with the rubber feel of the finger-grip, that really makes for a comfortable hold while there is no fear of dropping the camera.
I’m personally using the larger full frame lenses with this body and my hands are on the larger side. The optimum configuration for me would be Grip-L with the addition of the optimal battery grip DBG-7

Pentax KP – DFA* 70-200/2.8 – ISO 200 – 1/320s – F 7.1

The vertical placed front e-dial may seem a bit oddly placed, but in practice it handles very well. It’s well-positioned and has a good feel to it.  The KP continues the highly acclaimed three e-dial layout from the K-1, but with slight changes to labelling and customization. Your two regular dials, control aperture and shutter speed and the (new) third dial has 4 fixed setting: Disable, AE metering, HDR capture, and continuous shooting mode change. Three additional modes can be configured by the user. I’ve added ISO sensitivity (my default setting), Grid display and bracket value to my custom buttons.
The top LCD is absent to make space for the function dial and so far I did not miss it. All information is also present on the LCD display on the back.

That 3″ LCD display is smaller than the K-3 series and the edge around the screen seems a bit on the thick side. The quality of the display is very high though with vivid colours and crisp images. The tilting function of the screen is similar to that of the Pentax 645Z rather than the more complex design of the K-1. The edge of the screen goes all the way down to the bottom of the camera and the attachments of camera plates is not hindered by that.

Pentax KP – DFA* 70-200/2.8 – IS0 200 – 1/320s – F5

The Pentax KP has a single SD slot, but in reality, this is not a deal breaker for me. In my experiences the extra slots in the K-3 and K-1 are used mainly as an SD card holder.  Others might miss the second slot, but with good quality SD cards, the need to work with backup images is only needed by a handful of pro’s.

The shutter is extremely smooth and surprisingly quiet, in combination with the small limited lenses it would make a great package for candid street photography or indoor event shooting where one would try to avoid attracting attention. The KP’s shutter unit has  a proven durability of 100,000 shutter release actions.

The KP has inbuilt Wi-Fi for image transfer and remote control from a smart device. However, the camera has no inbuilt GPS as found in its lower level brother, meaning that an O-GPS1 GPS Unit is required by users looking to add location information to their files at the time of shooting or to take advantage of Pentax’s ASTROTRACER function.

Pentax KP – DFA* 70-200/2.8 – ISO 400 – 1/50s – F18

User Experiences

Before I headed out with the camera, it was time to configure it to my personal shooting style.
With each new release Pentax seems to add more customizations to their bodies and this is no exception. There is the previously mentioned function dial on top, there are 3 FX buttons and the ability to save up to 5 personal user modes. On top of that there is the LCD control panel display with a list of the available functions (20!) and their status, allowing you to confirm current settings at a glance and swiftly change them to accommodate your creative intention or shooting style. You can easily customize the layout to your preference by placing frequently used functions in the most accessible positions.

One of the first things I always enable is the Auto Horizon Correction function. It rotates the image sensor to compensate for the camera’s horizontal tilt based on the data collected by the digital level, making it useful in handheld shooting. It’s a life saver in post processing, up to 2% tilt can be corrected in the camera.
I like to work in Adobe RGB so that’s selected and of course the images are saved in Pentax’ .PEF raw format. As I’m not sure if the KP is supported by adobe yet, it’s currently set to the universal .DNG raw format. Judging from test images I have seen, the camera may automatically increase ISO to 6400.
Image mode is set to neutral and my exposure and shutter-speed steps are set to 1/3 increments.

I took the camera with me for a stroll along the Dutch coast line in the greater Wassenaar area. As a nature photographer with an interest in animals, I was of course very interested in the improvements that were made with the autofocus algorithms. My tested settings were AF-C, AF area either on single point or small, 1st frame action to focus-priority and AF-C continuous also to focus-priority, hold AF set to LOW. I’m always more interested in collecting keepers than in a memory card full of images that lack proper focus.
Tracking of birds in flight was done very well and I indeed sensed considerable improvement over previous models. Even tracking of subjects against trees or waves, situations where the camera would normally hunt, was good. In a few weeks time I’ll be travelling Africa again and I will have some more time to do a side by side comparison with the K-1 to see which one I prefer.

Pentax KP – DFA* 70-200/2/8 – ISO 200 – 1/2500s – F6.3

A new function for the camera is Aperture bracketing. You select a starting aperture and the camera will either step down or step up with the number of stops you selected in the menu. The same can be done with your shutter speed to select different kinds of movement in for instance a waterfall.
In my case I went from f2.8 to f4.5 and f7.1.
It’s not hard to see the uses for aperture bracketing and I can imagine that it will be a great feature for model and portrait work as well.

Pentax KP aperture bracketing with the DFA* 70-200/2.8. (F2.8, F4.5 and F7.1)

Pentax Pixel Shift Resolution System

The KP body features Pentax’s acclaimed system to optimize the high-pixel sensor’s imaging power for true-to-life color reproduction. Driven by the camera’s in-body SR (Shake-Reduction) mechanism, this innovative system captures four images of the same scene by shifting the image sensor by a single pixel for each image, then synthesizing them into a single composite image.
Because it obtains all the colour data in each pixel to compose the image, it delivers super-high-resolution images which are far more truthful than those captured by normal shooting processes. It assures true-to-life colour reproduction without false colours, while effectively reducing annoying noise. When the Motion Correction function is activated, it automatically detects the amount of the subject’s movement during exposure, and minimizes negative effects during the synthesizing process.

Pentax KP: DFA* 24-70, Pixel Shift On, 8s, F13, ISO 100

I photographed the Dutch Kurhaus hotel in Scheveningen both with this system enabled and not enabled. The resulting RAW files vary considerably in size; 30.4 MB for the image without Pixel Shift resolution and 113 MB for the image with Pixel Shift enabled. The result is quite clearly visible though as you can see in the image below.
The image on the right clearly shows better detail as can be seen on the stairs and stone wall. Colour reproduction and saturation are also better. A great feature that I would make use of if every little bit of extra details matters.

Pentax KP, Pixel shift comparison. (PS off on the left, PS on to the right)

ISO 819200

The KP boasts he the highest sensitivity in PENTAX APS-C-format digital history, but is it any good?
The PENTAX KP couples a new-generation CMOS image sensor with the PRIME IV imaging engine and an accelerator unit to greatly expand the upper limit of its sensitivity range without generating annoying noise. There are already a few high ISO examples out there so I won’t bother you all with examples. The question that I find most important, is to what extend I would use the images professionally. ISO 819200 suggests that the upper limit would be pushed further up from previous models.
With the Pentax K-3 bodies I would use images up to ISO 3200 and in very rare cases, if the scene was very special, ISO 6400. My findings for the KP indicate that I will be using the camera at ISO 6400 without any doubt. ISO 12.800 is still very good and the digital noise at ISO 25.600 is also quite good to control in post-processing. The ISO capabilities are indeed significantly improved!

Pentax KP – DFA* 24-70/2.8 – ISO 12.800 – 1/15s – F13

 The above being said, the photographer in me still thinks that using your tripod and a low ISO value should be the way to go, but I’ll happily make use of the KP’s ISO capabilities next time I’ll be photographing wildlife during dusk and dawn 😉

Pentax KP – DFA* 24-70/2.8 – ISO 400 – 4s – F10

Conclusion

My first concerns are always the imaging capabilities of newly released cameras. Does the Pentax KP deliver in this regard? It most definitely does. The 5 stop image stabilisation help out when I’m shooting hand-held and of course the build quality and weather sealing are a must have for any serious outdoor photographer. I still want to see how it performs with a starry night as it should be a VERY interesting camera for astro photography.
But during the two days I was working with the camera, it earned a place in my bag and I won’t hesitate to use it next to the K-1. It delivers good quality images and has the benefit of the added 50% reach for those subjects that are too far out to photograph with the full framed K-1

Let me know your thoughts!

 

 

  1. Roland Delhomme 

    Terrific review, Mike; the ISO performance and increased latitude offered by the IBIS are compelling. I’m curious about handheld shooting in pixel shift; most often, I can find something to brace against, and handheld shots are not impossible; between the innovative grip system and the stability that, and the battery grip can offer, plus IBIS, are we looking at even better pixel shift options than perhaps a K-1 shot freehand, minus a grip?
    With its compact form and high IQ, sealing against dust, I think KP may well find favor among some drone operators that mount a full on DSLR for for their toughest assignments. In high vibration environments, a good mount ordinarily offers some attenuation, but solid stabilization us welcome. In another application, one friend of mine just did some intervalometer triggered shots with a Nikon D750 mounted externally to an aircraft’s wing strut (on a Piper Cub), so here again, potential for the KP to excel in extreme environments and unusual applications. The D750 and other bodies would not be anywhere close to KP or K-1 in VR and dust/moisture tolerance.

    Very compelling write up and I’m looking forward to your wildlife and astro shots too, if opportunity offers. It might have taken months for as thorough a review to emerge; very grateful for the time and care you put into this!

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      Hello Roland, to my experience the best results with pixel shift are obtained from a tripod. Most of the positive effects that pixel shift can bring to your final images will be nullified due to slight movements of the camera.
      I indeed follow your thought line that the KP would be great for drone operators. It’s small size, high iso capability and sturdiness would indeed make it an ideal candidate!
      I’ll have use of this body for another week and if I have the chance to test some more or write a new blog I’ll add it to this one.
      And thanks for your nice words, they are much appreciated!

  2. Mercury 

    I like the sound of all this. Some very nice photos here–love that crane flying overhead for the detail.

    You need to proofread a bit–all those ‘it’s’ when you want ‘its’ … but well done.

    I loathe the grey version, but that’s just me; who cares about the colour of the camera? Well, I do. (In the main image, the black of the black KP looks more faded than the black of the grey KP, but that must be identical…

    Thanks for the hands-on experience reveal.

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      Hi Mercury, thanks for proof reading for me 😉 Just kidding, you are right, but as a non-native English speaker I didn’t do too shabby I think…
      As for colour, I have to admit that I ordered the black version as well. Somehow that conveys “camera” for me in a more professional way.
      Thanks again for getting in touch!

      Best regards,
      Mike

  3. Deep 

    Excellent review and really nice supporting photographs, Mike. As for the proof reading bit, can you confirm if the KP has a touch screen, as mentioned by you in the review? I read this somewhere else also and I am pretty sure it’s a misconception rather than an overlooked feature.

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      Thanks for the feedback Deep! I have to admit I copy-pasted the specs from another site. Seems we were at the same site as I copied the mistake as well ;-0
      The KP indeed does not have a touch screen….. it’s corrected in the review!
      Best regards,
      Mike

  4. Mihael 

    As K-5ii user without FF lens except 70-200 Tamron, I find to big of an investment into FF Pentax and all new lenses for weddings (the HD trinity). It is Nikon set way cheaper than. But with KP I can get that 1 f-stop of missing light that I would need to be more confident in dim enviroment and use all my lenses I like (Sigma 18-35 for instance). KP as far as it seems brings more than one f-stop benefit over previous models. I would only miss whole day battery life from K-5ii with camera+grip 🙂

    Thank you for honest and real life review / experience.

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      Hello Steve,
      I am swapping my K-3’s for the KP. The image quality has improved considerably and the improvement is enough to warrant an upgrade to the KP. My main work-horse is the Pentax K-1 so battery live is not so important. But that being said…. the K-3 has excellent image quality as well, and high iso performance is a non issue if you use a tripod 😉

      • Andrew Pickup 

        I’ve just ordered a KP, selling my two-month old K3-II. Why? Because of the articulated screen. I love the K3, but as my knees are not what they were i can’t really take low-level shots. The little flash will also be useful as a fill-in for backlight. Only issue might be if it saves in DNG as well as Pentax raw. i do hope so, love DNG.

  5. Chad 

    Thank you for the great write up! Best and only one I have seen that is close to the release date. I am coming from a ks2 which I enjoyed. The kp, to me at least, seems the perfect upgrade. I am very happen to hear their is an improvement with the continuous focus. Pentax camera have always been sharp performers when pair with a proper lense and I am happen to here that has improved as well. This camera is coming with me to hike Mount St. Helen’s this year. Thank you again from Seattle, Washington USA

  6. Stig Vidar 

    Thank you for a good review of something that looks like a nice camera. I currently is on a K-3 and have not decided what my upgrade pathis going to be. I have o mix of full frame and aps-c lenses and many of my old lenses are with screwdrive focus. (FA*300/2,8 and F*250-600/5,6)

    Do you know if the improvments on AF (especially on AF-C) are for lenses with internal focus motor only or are there noticable improvments on the screw drive, too.

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      Hello Stig Vidar,
      I did not have the chance to test the Pentax KP with older screw mount lenses (yet). I got most of the newer FF lensen and am using them of course as thay are optically better as the older generation.

  7. Jackie S 

    I would like to handle this camera, one of the most important camera tests for me but my nearest dealer is a two hour flight away. It is my sense that this design restores some of the magic that older Pentax cameras were noted for but maybe it is my imagination.
    Two questions – how satisfied are you with the auto focus and in your experience would it be useful for fast changing street photography? The view finder – any noticeable improvement there?
    Anyhow, a sensitive, informative review that is most welcome. Typo errors? Whose is worried? Not me.

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      Hi Jackie, as far as autofocus is concerned I’m quite happy with it’s performance. It held autofocus in changing curcumstances. Normally these are situations where a camera would hunt. The viewfinder is very good and in line Pentax’s previous models; nearly 100% coverage and 0.95 magnification iirc.

  8. Mugundhan 

    Hi, Thanks for the review especially regarding AF tracking abilities. I look forward to your Africa trip experience!
    Did you try the video capture? I am interested in the AF capabilities for video, if you have any feedback, please let me know

    Thanks,
    Mugundhan

  9. Kevin 

    Very good information, I am making the switch to Pentax, from Fuji (a bit let down with the x-t2) So thought I would venture back to Pentax, started my photography with them (had a k-7 as well) Anyway… Very good info I feel more confident buying the KP !!

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