Pentax has a reputation for producing some of the hardiest DSLRs on the market, and with a magnesium alloy body and weather-sealing, the new K-1 is no exception. However, even knowing this we didn't envision that a few minutes into our hands-on with the full frame camera at the Photography Show 2016 that we'd be shaking it around by its rear monitor, but sometimes these things just happen.
The first thing you notice about the Pentax K-1 is that it's small for a full frame DSLR. In fact, we had to double-check the number on the front to be certain we hadn't picked up a Pentax K-3 II by mistake. Ricoh Imaging has done an impressive job of squeezing a full frame sensor into the camera, especially when you consider it's not sacrificed on its ruggedness.
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The new full frame camera looks a lot like a slightly overweight version of its APS-C sibling. This may not be a good thing if you're one of those people who say the K-3 II already has looks only a mother (or Pentax fan) could love. But as we found when we tested it, and again during our brief time with the K-1, the utilitarian design does the job of making the camera easy and pleasant to use.
One design feature which does stand out is the flexible tilt rear monitor. Rather than featuring the standard tilting or articulating mechanisms we're used to seeing on cameras, the K-1 monitor uses four legs to rise from the back of the camera before tilting. This gives the monitor a much more fluid feel than those on any other camera we've used. While we loved the movement, some have suggested that it feels flimsy.
However, we now know it's not. When we asked our friendly Pentax representative about it, they picked the camera up by the rear monitor and shook it around, and then invited us to do the same. Sure enough, the legs on the monitor held up as they knew they would, and this was with a battery grip attached along with a large 24-70 F2.8 lens. It's a shame it's not a touchscreen, but the engineering behind the monitor is impressive.
While we'll wait until we get to spend longer with a Pentax K-1 to take an in-depth review of the performance and image quality it can deliver, we did have a few observations from our brief hands-on. Autofocus speed was the one aspect of the camera which didn't wow us. Yes it was reasonable for this category of camera, and seems reliable, but devices like the Nikon D5 are in a different league, with many more AF points, modes, and speed.
The 36-megapixel sensor looks like it will be able to deliver the high resolution detailed images you might expect, but it's the sensor shift features which let the Pentax K-1 stand out from rival full frame DSLRs. The five-axis sensor-shift shake-reduction brings effective stabilization to a range of lenses, and in our tests shooting the provided floral displays, we'd say the advertised five exposure steps of stabilization are pretty much spot on.
We also snapped a few pictures with the new iteration of Pixel Shift Resolution, which combines four shots that are taken as the sensor moves to produce better quality results. Whereas you previously needed a static subject to get usable results from the feature, if the camera detects movement between the four images it will now just use the first shot for that part of the frame. This seems to work much better than previously.
Given we only had a short time with the K-1 we didn't get to put it through its paces fully … there wasn't much call for the Astrotracer mode in the exhibition hall. There are also plenty of other features we're looking forward to trying out when we get to spend longer with a review unit.
If you're a Pentax shooter of old and have a bag full of full frame legacy glass, the US$1,800 K-1 appears to be a no-brainer. When it is released next month, the camera will let you make the most of the lenses you already own. But even if you're not yet committed to Pentax already, the K-1 has a lot going for it. The camera offers a compelling selection of features and build-quality which other brands can't match at this price point.
Product page: Pentax K-1View gallery - 12 images