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The Pentax K-1. Worth Its Weight?

Hi. George McKenzie here for PhotoShelter. I’ve been working with the team for the past few months helping build community through Instagram (che...

Hi. George McKenzie here for PhotoShelter. I’ve been working with the team for the past few months helping build community through Instagram (check out our feed, if you haven’t lately) and events with emerging photographers here in NYC. I also run partnerships for Street Dreams Visual Agency. Lately I’ve been itching to get my hands on a few new cameras to review. First up, the Pentax K-1.

I’m going to admit it right up front: I really love this camera. It has its drawbacks, of course, but I was really surprised by the attention to detail Pentax put into it. Full disclosure: I normally shoot with a 5D Mark III with the 24-70mm f/2.8II. I used the Pentax K-1 exclusively for about two months to shoot jobs for clients along with a few personal projects. Thanks to the team at B&H for the loaner!

A couple of highlights:

In an age when most manufacturers are attempting to make cameras lighter and smaller, the K-1 is a very robust camera to the touch with a beautiful magnesium alloy finish, multiple buttons and a smart dial. I have big hands, and the K-1 fit well into them.

I jumped right outside with a few friends to get a few shots just for an initial test. And immediately liked what I saw. Amazing color replication on the LCD. The same on my retina display Macbook when I got back to my desk.


Jon and Ciera, NYC. Shot with Pentax K-1, 24-70mm f/2.8. ISO 100. SS 1/1250. Focal length: 45mm.

For what you get, you can’t beat the price. The Pentax K-1 system comes in around 30% cheaper than the Nikon D810 and almost 40% cheaper than the Canon 5DSR.

Overall the Pentax K-1 brings all of Pentax’s great technology along with a rugged weather sealed body. Here are the details:


  • SRII: SRII is what Pentax calls the Sensor Stabilization on the K-1. It’s built into the body of the K-1, and it’s just better than anything that Canon and Nikon have. Here’s why: When you make a stabilized lens, you have to put extra optics in it — and extra electronics. Anytime you put more elements in a lens, you’re going to reduce the sharpness, the contrast and all the things that makes a lens great. It’s the same reason zoom lenses are less sharp than prime lenses. They are inherently more complex.
  • Cross Tilt LCD Monitor: I’ve never seen a monitor like this before on a full frame camera. When you’re shooting landscapes or cityscapes, it really does make a difference. It just much easier to to compose when you don’t find yourself laying on the ground to try and view your LCD. Both Canon and Nikon are missing this on their high megapixel count cameras.
  • GPS: The K-1 is the only high megapixel DSLR with GPS. Having GPS is great when you’re looking for images or you need to remember a location and find directions on how to get there. This isn’t available on the Canon 5DSR or the Nikon D810.
  • Smart Dial: The Smart Dial is one of the best features on the K-1. It can be reconfigured to control features like exposure compensation, bracketing, ISO sensitivity, cropping, high dynamic range imaging, even to turn on WiFi. No messing with menus here.
  • ISO: The K-1 ISO ranges from 100 up to 204,800, and the low light capability blows the Canon’s 5DSR and Nikon D810 away.  I personally didn’t start seeing noise in my images until I reached ISO 12,800.

Birthday NYC. Shot with Pentax K-1, 24-70mm f/2.8. ISO 6400. SS 1/40. Focal length: 50mm.

  • WiFi: Yes the K-1 has WiFi. It’s not the best WiFi application; it doesn’t come close to what Sony or Fuji offer with regards to app functionationaly. But, it’s the only large megapixel full frame camera that has WiFi. Again, something missing on the Canon and Nikon 5DSR and D810 models respectively.
  • Dual Card Slots: This is extremely important because memory cards fail. If you’ve never had a memory card fail on you, it’s only a matter of time. The ability to write to both cards at the same time is extremely handy.

Occulus, NYC. Shot with Pentax K-1, 24-70mm f/2.8. ISO 100. SS 1/1250. Focal length: 45mm.


  • Lens: Pentax doesn’t have many full frame lenses for the K-1 — yet. The current lineup for the Pentax K-1 listed on Ricoh’s website totals 7 versus Canon and Nikon, both of  whom have hundreds of lenses for their full frame line up, whether manufactured by themselves or third parties. Pentax does say you can use your crop sensor lens on the K-1. And, yes, you can but using the crop sensor lens on the K-1 misses the whole point of the full frame as it drives the resolution down from 36 megapixels to 16.
  • Pixel shift resolution: This is the feature where the K-1 takes the Red, Blue and Green pixels on the sensor and moves them down and to the side, stacking four consecutive images so that every pixel gets the entire range of color information. While you do get a superior image quality in this mode, it’s not the easiest for shooting. The problem is that the K-1 is stacking four separate RAW files together, and things can move in the time that the images are captured. It’s best not to use this mode if you don’t have a sturdy tripod.
  • Video: IMO, video on all DSLR’s is terrible, but the video on the K-1 isn’t anything to write home about, either. It’s shooting 1080p at 30fps and the auto-focus while recording leaves a lot to be desired. I can shoot 4K with my iPhone.
  • FPS: The K-1 comes in at 4.4fps vs Canon’s 5DSR and Nikon’s D810 that both come in at 5fps. The K-1 isn’t your camera if you’re attempting to do sports photography or even high speed portraits. You’re not going to get the performance from the K-1 that you would from the Canon 5D Mark III.
  • USB 2.0: If you tether, then it will drive you insane. You’re pushing 4000mb files through a USB 2.0 connection when Nikon’s D810 and Canon’s 5DSR are both using USB 3.0.
  • Auto Focus: All the focusing points are crammed into the middle so there’s no real choice about the composition of your shot, especially without a thumbstick to allow you to quickly change the focal points. Trying to use the directional pad isn’t easy. The focusing system is slow and you’ll have a hard time tracking focus shots with the K-1.

Price & Features Comparison:

Pricing has been one of the great interest points with the Pentax K-1. You can’t beat it, even for the full kit with multiple lenses, when looking at the comparable Nikon and Canon models (see below*). It’s 30% cheaper than the Nikon D810 and almost 40% cheaper than the Canon 5DSR. The Nikon D810 nor the Canon 5DSR compete with the Pentax K1 in ISO performance. Neither has WiFi, GPS, cross-tilt LCD, smart dial or a weather sealed body.

Given all of the advantages that the Pentax K-1 offers, it’s hard to see why the K-1 wouldn’t be a valid option. Yes, Canon and Nikon offer a more robust lens lineup. But, that’s the issue: you’re usually paying for better image stabilization and a somewhat questionable improvement in the optics. Since the K-1 has stabilization built into the body, a lens can be a lens.

D810 (body only)