talkin bout camerasa blog by Branden Frederick

Pentax K-01

Published 31 Dec 1969 – Updated 1 Mar 2018

The Brick

This camera is infamous among photographers for being boxy and toy-like in design. At a time when other cameras were either getting progressively "sleeker", or going the opposite and looking "retro", Pentax went off in a third direction, and released this. Designed by Marc Newson and sold with a new XS-series 40mm pancake lens, the camera was very much a designers' camera. While it does natively support much of Pentax's back catalog of lenses, the rest of the camera's features were designed more around looks than function.

Here is a review of this camera I wrote for eBay.

First off, if you don't already know, the design of this camera is infamous in the photography world for being boxy and toy-ish.

But history aside, how is it to actually use this camera?

Well, yes, the boxiness does actually sometimes get in your way. By this I mean, that it sacrifices feeling good in your hand for looking good to your eye. The corners sometimes stick out in ways that don't feel "right", and some of the buttons are placed in areas where you'll hit them by accident, or not hit them when you mean to. These problems are not deal-killers, and are overcome-able, but I did want to get this issue stated.

The image quality on this camera is good -- not knock your socks off amazing, but good. By this I mean that the colors are bright, the details are clear, and the sensor-based image stabilization is great. This camera excels at taking photos of people, both in events and portraiture. Coupled with the eye-catching way the camera looks, and also the matching 40mm f/2.8 XS lens, it feels like it was designed for people photos. If you're going to an event, taking this camera and the XS lens would be a great combination.

Where there are some drawbacks, though, are on the landscape side of photography. Some modern features, like automatic distortion and aberration corrections are absent, and the weird shape to the body doesn't lend itself to carefully studying a view to make a precise landscape image. But more importantly, the digital viewfinder isn't bright enough! Light falling on the screen isn't too much an issue, but if sunlight is falling on your face, your own reflection on the viewfinder glass is so bright you can't see the camera's image. I end up having to shade my own face to use this camera at times.

Ok, now how about all that whizbangery that the software does? Well, the Pentax menus are pretty easy to use, but not remarkably different than other cameras I've used. The built-in HDR mode works, but I personally don't care for the results (this is a taste thing, try it yourself and see). The auto ISO feature is very reliable, and I use it most of the time. The focus peaking feature doesn't work how I'd expect it to -- rather than showing you a full-size crop of your image, it instead just add white outlines to lines that are "in focus", even though I've found that the outlining isn't as precise as I'd like for manual focusing, so it's a bit of guesswork when your manual lens is at a wide aperture.

Movie recording is a breeze, and I've done it both with the built-in mic and a shotgun mic plugged into the accessory port and both ways work fine. This isn't a feature I use much, though, so I don't have much to say about it.

So what's the verdict? If you're fascinated by weird cameras, like me, then definitely get this. If you're a Pentax aficionado, get this. If you're looking for your first foray into interchangeable lens cameras, this isn't a bad choice, but it is weird enough that your experiences here won't carry over much to other cameras. But if you're primarily interested in having a unique, attention-getting, high-quality camera, then this is a solid choice.

Here are some of my favorite photos taken with this camera, so far.

about Branden Frederick

I am a photographer: I have fun taking photos, and I always have.

I've had a camera in my hand my whole life, a 110 camera as a kid, and the high school's 35mm SLR later. In 2008 I spent six months doing nothing but taking photos and loved it. From that point on I've had my camera surgically attached to my hand (I lie). I went digital in the year 2000, and I came back to film in 2013. My parents tell me my photos are "nice".