Using the Pentax full frame K-1, a hands on review experience

mrt 03 2016

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The Pentax K-1, some first impressions

The full frame Pentax K-1 body that I was able to test for a few days, was a pre-production model with an early firmware. Although the camera was fully functional, these are my personal experiences and are to be interpreted as indicative of the final properties. It goes without saying that the statements in this text relate to a strictly personal opinion.

In 2001 Pentax was in the news with a prototype of its first digital full frame camera, the MZ-D.
Now, 15 years later, its first full frame camera is finally here. Spring 2016, the first digital full frame camera from Pentax is launched.

© Richard Guyt

© Richard Guyt


The past few days I have had the opportunity to work with this camera and I can already tell you now: it was love at first sight!
Following the K-7, K-5 and K-3 the ergonomics of this camera are very well thought out. Users who are familiar with Pentax’s digital system can start using the camera right away. No need to browse through extensive manuals!. The lines of the body and the notches in the hand grip are placed in exactly the right place. I also found that once again, the angle of the jog dial on the front is just right.
The prism in the viewfinder is obviously bigger and with its slightly raised dome it is reminiscent of the classic line of the Pentax 67 medium format camera.
I was also pleasantly surprised when I discovered that my Mestos L-bracket that normally sits under my K-3 also fits on the battery grip of the K-1. An indication that the camera is of similar size and dimension.
In time, I will have to replace this L-bracket though as the HDMI and battery doors are placed at a different position and are blocked by the bracket.

A* 200/4.0 - F5 - 1/3200s - ISO 250

A* 200/4.0 – F5 – 1/3200s – ISO 250

The LCD display at the top of the camera has become considerably smaller and the lost space is filled with two extra wheels to adjust camera settings. The wheel besides the prism selects one of the nine most frequently used settings such as ISO, exposure compensation, bracketing, etc. With the wheel above your thumb you change the selected value.
If you are shooting in manual mode, you can shoot without having to dig through menus. With your thumb you control aperture. Shutter speed is controlled with your index finger and the new dial can be set to control ISO.
All settings are available so you can focus entirely on getting the image right!
I personally use exposure compensation quite often and with gloves on this used to be tricky. This additional dial provides much easier access to this setting, even with gloves on.

A* 200/4.0 - F8.0 - 1/50s - ISO 250

A* 200/4.0 – F8.0 – 1/50s – ISO 250

New is also the high-quality 3.2″ display on the back of the camera. It can not only be folded upwards, but also lateral adjustments are possible. It ensures a good line of sight on your screen in most situations. Previously I rarely made use of live view. The often uncomfortable position that I had to place myself in to watch the creen made it awkward. I noticed immediately that this screen really makes things much easier. When making double-exposures live view even gives a preview of your final results for the two (or more) combined images.

As a nature and wildlife photographer, Pentax continues to amaze me with their useful additions to new models. The highly durable magnesium alloy frame inside the camera creates an extremely sturdy camera that can take a beating. 87(!) weather seals protect it from moisture and dust. Once I picked the camera up, I instantly got the feeling that his body will not let you down.
The built in GPS also has its advantages. No more writing in my little black book to pen down potentially interesting photo places; I can look up the coordinates just by looking into the image info!
If it’s the middle of the day and you are asking yourself where the sun rises or sets in a new location? The compass on the back shows me where East and West is located
Changing your lens, memory card or settings in a pitch-dark place? The Pentax K-1 has a series of white LED lights on the body that can be switched on to help out in these situations. Handy!

FA* 28-70/2.8 - F11 - 1/40s - ISO 100

FA* 28-70/2.8 – F11 – 1/40s – ISO 100

User experiences.
The camera was delivered with the DFA 150-450mm (already known and used by me), the new and compact DFA 28-105mm and a DFA* 70-200/2.8.
With such an early production model and the early version of the firmware, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the final autofocus performance, but the camera felt very accurate. Focus lock (also indicated by a subtle flash of red in the viewfinder, but which can also be put off) was achieved fast and the selected focus point was very sharp in the final image.
Pentax writes in its press release the following:
“The center sensor and the two sensors located just above and below it are designed to detect the light flux of an F2.8 lens, making it easy to obtain pinpoint focus on a subject when using a large-aperture lens.”
Using my own (and older) FA* f2.8 lenses I indeed noticed a significant improvement over previous bodies. Good to experience that this is not an empty marketing slogan!

FA* 300/2.8 - f4 - 1/800s - ISO 200

FA* 300/2.8 – f4 – 1/800s – ISO 200

Although I am not allowed to show images at 100%, I’ve obviously done a brick wall test. The resolution of this sensor without a fixed AA filter is breathtaking. It boasts a sharpness that we (apart from the Pentax 645Z) have not seen previously in a Pentax product.
As expected, the results of digitally optimized lenses were very good, but my older favorites like the A* 200/4.0 macro, the A* 85/1.4 and the FA* 28-70/2.8 showed that they were also capable of delivering excellent results in combination with this sensor. I expect that many users with older lenses of good optical quality will be very happy with this camera.
The improved 5-axis shake-reduction allows for a theoretical improvement of five stops. For example, where we previously needed a shutter speed of 1/500s, we now come away with 1/15s! An amazing piece of technology where all K-mount lenses ever produced will benefit from.
The K-1 is provided with a Pixel Shift Resolution System. This function captures four sequential images, shifting the Shake Reduction sensor-shift assembly by one pixel between shots. The result is both full color capture at every pixel location, and reduced noise levels as well. The Pentax K-1 can now detect and account for subjects that moved between frames. I shot some handheld images and my first impression is that there is indeed an increased resolution noticeable. All these images are also saved in the final file. A K-1 DNG file is approximately 50 megapixels, the files with pixel shift resolution turned on approximately 170 megabytes in size.

DFA * 70-200/2.8 - F11/F2.8 - 1/6s - ISO 200 (Double exposure)

DFA * 70-200/2.8 – F11/F2.8 – 1/6s – ISO 200 (Double exposure)

I often photograph moving subjects and compared to the 8.3 frames per second of the Pentax K-3, the 4.4 frames per second feel somewhat meager on paper. Although I have not photographed some real action yet, this rate was still more than enough to make a small (sharp) series of a heron in flight.
For additional fps speed you can switch back to the crop mode in which all APS-C lenses can be used. The images that you are left with are over 15 megapixels in size and the rate will be 6.5 frames per second with a buffer of 50 RAW images instead of 17 images.
The new AF frame in the viewfinder is enlarged so that the 33 AF points have a good coverage of the sensor. The AF point is black (formerly bright red) in focusing and a subtle red flash indicates that proper focus is achieved. I found that this new viewfinder gives a more pleasant experience for me.

In previous models, switching on all in-camera lens corrections were giving some delay in processing and writing of the image files. With the K-1 I did not have the feeling that there was any lag in processing these corrections. I am in favor of getting the best possible images straight from the camera, so when lens distortion, aberration, vignetting and diffraction are already corrected in the camera, all the better!

DFA 150-450mm - F6.3 - 1/640s - ISO 800

DFA 150-450mm – F6.3 – 1/640s – ISO 800

The manufacturer rated 300.000(!) Shutter movements are obviously fantastic, especially considering the fact that previous models were guaranteed to 150.000. The K-1 can measure itself here with the top models from other manufacturers. The shutter sound is quiet and is not intrusive at all. In both the observation of wildlife as in working in quiet surroundings no disturbing factor.

The time was unfortunately too short to test the film qualities and therefore I won’t comment of this part of the camera.
The Pentax K-1 is without a doubt a very well equipped camera, with a clear “outdoor” DNA. The features that make the life of a nature and wildlife photographer easier are all back from previous models and have been enhanced with new techniques and possibilities. I expect that the developers again managed to make the most of this 36 megapixel sensor for a faithful reproduction of the scenes in front of us.
Am I surprised by this camera? No not really. With the K-3 and the 645Z, Ricoh-Pentax has already shown that they make excellent cameras. The price-quality value of this camera is fantastic and it will not surprise me that this camera is going to be very well received by the general public.

DFA 150-450mm - F 7.1 - 1/8000s - ISO 800

DFA 150-450mm – F 7.1 – 1/8000s – ISO 800

Mike Muizebelt

Mike Muizebelt is a nature photographer with over 30 years of experience. His goal and passion is to discover, document and share the beauty of our nature. During his travels to Africa and Asia, but also to the unspoiled parts of Europe, he photographs images that stimulate the senses and let the viewer enjoy the beauty of nature and wildlife around us. He is a versatile photographer who creates landscapes, macro images, abstracts or intimate portraits with the same enthusiasm.
Stay in touch with Mike by liking his facebook page


  1. Larry Weathers 

    If Canon doesn’t match, or top this with a 4th gen 5D, I may buy one. Already have 645Z & love it’s design

    Does the K-1 have a BSI sensor?

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      As you already have the 645Z, you’ll have no problem at all with the menu structure and button layout of the K-1. Pentax is so consistent in getting the ergonomics right in their models. It will be a breeze 🙂
      Word is that they used the Sony sensor also used in the D810, but tweaked and adjusted to their preferences.

  2. Joost Dikker Hupkes 

    While yours is not the first K-1 (p)review I have read, it certainly is the first to back it up with really beautiful images. Thank you for showing and telling what is possible with this camera, in the right hands.

  3. Lauri Koivuluoma 

    Finally we have some inspiring photos taken with K-1 and overall very well written article! After reading this I’d be very happy to have this great camera on my hands but I still have to wait some weeks..

  4. polaco 

    Impressive quality. I’m waiting anxiously a full review of this lady. Maybe in a year or two i might get one, I have recently acquired a K3II

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      Thank you Polaco, thw K-3 II is a very capable camera! I’m certain of one thing, even after I have the K-1 in my bag, the K-3 will always travel with me as well because of it’s crop factor and slightly higher fps count in situations where I might need that

  5. john 

    A fascinating view from someone who thinks in terms of using the camera for nature photography. These reviews are priceless, for those of us who have similar photographic interests. And the images were fantastic. Thanks for making this one of the best reviews I have read.

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      Hi John, I’m super glad you like the review that much! I indeed tend to look at my cameras as a tool which lets me create the images that I have formed in my head. I don’t worry about technical specs that much. 24 or 36 megapixels? It’s no deal breaker for me. 4 or 6 fps? ditto.
      The K-1 is durable, ergonomic and has some nice outdoor features. All that I wish for seems to be there. Can’t wait to get my hands on my final copy 🙂

  6. Anoop 

    Hi…just wanted to know if all the optical correction in camera applies to raw files and manual lenses?

    Beautiful samples even for such old glass. Great work

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      First of all, let me say thanks for the kind words Anoop 🙂
      The lens corrections don’t work for every lens produced. The manual focus lenses were not supported and my FA* 24mm also not. The others were. It applies to RAW files as well, zo any correction done in camera is saved.
      The automatic horizon correction is also back of course, a great feature!

      • Antoine 

        Great article 🙂 and congratulations for your lecture at Landschap! It was amazing 🙂

        Is this feature (applying corretions on RAW DNG files) new? I don’t think it’s the case on my K3, but I might be wrong.


  7. gregg 

    Thank you for your thoughts and images. I enjoyed your writing style and appreciate your feedback on a K1 (using pre-production firmaware). I used to have a K1000 (like many) and have had a K5, K7, and now own a k5ii and two K3 bodies. I really am looking forward to the K1. I tend to shoot MMA and martial arts events. I typically shoot with primes and own the three FA Limiteds. Having an additional stop of low light performance (which seems to be the realistic expected performance improvement) will be very helpful to me. All of the additional usability features will make the camera even more enjoyable to use.

  8. Shanti 

    Hi Thanks for the review..can you say how the AFC was with the 150-450,as that is my main lens on K3II,& really hope it works faster/more accurate with the K1.
    And does 5 axis work with the 150-450,or how slow could you shoot & get a sharp image. And any comments on high ISO–like 3200-6400– good enough for birds?
    Cheers S

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      Hi Shanti, I managed to use AF-C to track both deer and a bird in flight with the 150-450. I see no reason why that woud not work. It’s more difficult though when a subject moves with high speed straight at you. It’s hard to tell though how the performance will be with a later firmware. Speed was very good overall

  9. Jonathan Gorse 


    I can only agree with what others have said, this is the first time anyone has truly shown what the K1 can do! All your images are just stunning – do you use the 645Z normally or the K3? I have a sub folder in my browser called ‘World class photographers’ where I only put a very select few and I’m pleased to say you’ve just joined them!! May I ask who did your website because I love it!! Is it a template or custom built? I use Zenfolio but my pictures are always too small to have any real impact. Grateful for any insights.

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      Hi Jonathan, normally the K3 is my camera of choice. It’s smaller and faster and suits my wildlife oriented style better. The 645Z onthe other hand is unbeatable for landscape work. I feel flattered having made it to your world class group 🙂
      The site is build in wordpress and I use a thema called Hiker. It’s not a free theme, but I really like the layout and flexibility.

  10. John Bursnalll 


    Apart from repeating my thanks for an excellent hands-on review, and my delight at seeing such beautiful images, I would like to ask two practical questions. Have you seen much vignetting on the DA 60-250mm lens that many of us love for wildlife photography? My other question is regarding the use of the DA Pentax 1.4 converter. Does it work with minimal vignetting when used with lenses such as the DA 100mm macro or the DA 300mm talephoto? If you have any input on these issues, I would be most grateful.

    Regards, John

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      Hi John, thanks for the nice compliments! I did not have the time (or intention) to test the DA lenses with the K-1.
      I will keep shooting with APS-C cameras as well, but in time I will have all my lenses replaced with full-frame versions. As a travelling photographer there is only so much I can take with me so the DA lenses all have to go.

  11. Arin Waldan 

    Hi Mike your preview is very inspiring and I can’t wait to try the K-1. I hope I could make amazing shot as you done with this camera. By the way could you give advice about choosing SD cards because it’s a nightmare to have real feedback on the subject.

  12. Wim (ishpuini) 

    Hi Mike,

    Long time since we met (remember Paris with Brett?).

    I’m currently in a dilemma whether to upgrade to the K-1 or stick with my K-3II until a new APS-C flagship is announced.

    There are various reasons why I am hesitating (many crop lenses in my collection, esp my travel zooms; inability to use custom focus screen (1:1 crop); compatibility and coverage of VF loupe; …), but for one aspect I’m interested to hear your take on things:
    The K-3II’s 24MP are great for extra crop possibilities for wildlife, and even though the 150-450 has great reach I found this crop capability essential for lots of images (I’m just back from SA BTW). The FoV of this lens on the K-1 will be wider be a factor 1.5x of course, decreasing its reach, and in crop mode there’s only 15MP left, so cropping further will be less forgiving. However, can we bluntly compare the cropped IQ with say the K-5 (similar MP count at APS-C) or does the FF sensor provide additional IQ that reflects on improved cropping capability?

    In other words: will the K-1 replace APS-C as your preferred wildlife camera or will you stick to APS-C for some of your work?

    Tx & greetings!!


    • Mike Muizebelt 

      Hi Wim,
      Nice to hear from you again! Of course I do remember 🙂
      Personally I have already said goodbye to my 60-250mm and also the 50-135mm is for sale. The K-1 is indeed the way to go for me. The image quality from the K-1 is so much better that I won’t sell myself short in that department. I suspect that only in extreme cases I will revert to using the crop mode on the K-1 to get more reach. A K-3 or successor will have aplace a place in my bag as well though for these situations where the 1.5 crop comes in handy.
      Bottomline: the full frame really delivers the best quality possible and even comes close tot the resolution of the 645Z.

  13. Greg Young 

    Hi Mike,
    I have owned a K10, K7 and K3 , I have DA* 16-50mm, DA* 50-135mm and 17-70mm and 60-250mm both F4’s so i have a lot of money tied up in crop sensor lenses and i am very happy with my K3.
    My question to you is the new Pentax K1 that much better than the K3 and i need to spend over $8000 for two lenses and camera for a new complete system AGAIN

    • Mike Muizebelt 

      Hello Greg,

      For me the biggest reason to upgrade to the K-1 is it’s high iso performance. As a wildlife photographer the best light is usually to be found around dusk or dawn. Every bit of extra shutterspeed I can pull out of a camera help.
      Apart from that, the dynamic range and resolution is significantly sharper that the K-3 offers.
      Nevertheless, I’m keeping the K-3 for it’s extra reach and it’s not a bad performer either!
      Carrying two sets of lenses is a no go of course so I did already sell my 16-50/2.8, 50-135/2.8 and the 60-250….

  14. Randy Stephens 

    Hello Mike,

    Great review. I am getting the K1 for landscapes and keeping my canon 7d2 for birds in flight etc. (coupled with the 100-400ii I just get to many excellent shots to part with it..) I have read many great reviews with Pentax and the K1 specifically.

    Plus, I feel that Pentax is giving the best bang for the buck with the K1 over Canon. I sold my 5D3 and was looking at the 5D4 but feel I would be paying for the 4k video and Canon’s commercials. The pixel shift, astrotracer and stabilization are really appealing to me.

    Plus, I am really after dynamic range and low light performance. Your review along with Morden Ohare’s, Jonathan Gorse’s and Tony Northrup’s all emphasize this camera for landscape photography.

    My specific need of help is picking out 2 or 3 of the Pentax film lenses that would work well with the Pentax K1 and not cost a fortune. I have gotten lost with Pentax’s nomenclature. If you have a minute could you please jot down a few of the lenses that would produce sharp images with good bokeh? I will probably get the 15-30mm or 24-70mm lens with the camera.

    Thanks for your time and a great review with great images.



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