The beast

This is the Pentax K-01. It is a crop-sensor mirrorless digital camera that can work with many decades of Pentax's legacy lenses, as well as everything modern. It has in-body image stabilization and all other Pentax digital camera standard features. But the elephant in the camera, is its design.

Pentax brought in industrial designer Marc Newson to style it, and style it he did. Brightly colored rubber wraps around the body, and marbled hard plastic holds it together. The buttons are toy-like in look, and some are marked only by their color, with no label. Additionally, a new lens, a 40mm f/2.8 ultra-pancake, was created specifically for this camera. Adding it all together, you get a camera that, if nothing else, stands out in a crowd.

So it looks good (subject to opinion) on a shelf. But this is not just a showpiece, it is a camera. And this is the issue: as a camera, it sucks. The software is standard-issue Pentax, there's no problem there. But using this box to make photos is cumbersome. Yes, the bundled 40mm pancake pairs nicely with the camera, the optics really shine and you get a great short portrait lens. But I shoot wide, which is why in these photos you see attached a Pentax 21mm f/3.8 limited lens.

This, too, is a small lens, but any bigger than this, and the camera becomes clumsy to hold. The boxy shape is not great for supporting heavy optics. But even with these small lenses attached, there are still complications. The buttons may be laid out in a aesthetic manner, but not in one that allows for easy muscle memory. The lack of viewfinder makes you rely on the viewscreen, which is not bright enough and not detailed enough. The memory card is inserted underneath the yellow rubber, which must be peeled back to access the card slot. But the rubber doesn't stay closed during operation. The battery life on this camera is abysmal.

I have listed many complaints about this camera. But I never had any issue with its image quality. Here, Pentax is on full display showcasing their lens and sensor technology, features that are the only thing capable of redeeming this camera. I used this camera side-by-side with digital cameras from other makers, and the Pentax handling of colors really shine through. But unfortunately, if what you want is the Pentax look, I would stick with something more traditional.

Final thoughts

This K-01 was not a big seller. I do not believe Pentax will ever release a successor to this camera, or another in the "XS" line of super-pancake lenses. So this camera remains unique, and will probably continue to do so. If you are a collector, I recommend adding one of these to your collection. But otherwise, there are better Pentax options.