This DSLR targets advanced photographers looking for a portable workhorse – but does it tick the right boxes?
Pentax is a company with a proven strategic approach to camera design. While highly successful in the analogue days, it was at risk of falling behind with the slew of new, feature-laden digital models released over the last decade. However, instead of trying to directly compete with the Big Two behemoths, Canon and Nikon, the firm has successfully focused on keeping a tight grip on its pre-existing fanbase, exploiting the extensive system back-compatibility the K-mount offers.
The company’s digital SLR cameras have become renowned for their build quality and the Pentax KP is no exception. For a camera of its size, the KP feels unexpectedly solid when picked up for the first time. Its tough body and highly textured, rubberised control dials give it an air of professionalism and reliability. It also maintains the high-quality weather-sealing of previous models and we felt perfectly comfortable testing the camera under wet conditions. Although there is widespread use of plastics in the camera’s construction, this doesn’t seem to negatively impact on the overall toughness – all ports and doors are reassuringly thick and flush with the body profile. The handling of the
KP is generally good; the grip is pleasingly contoured and the body is safely controllable when working single-handed. The dials are all well placed and fluid in use – the front dial has an unusual vertical orientation, but this in no way hinders the operation of the camera. With the 70mm prime and 20-40mm zoom lenses we paired with the KP for our test images, the camera felt fairly balanced, but when using larger telephoto or fast wide-angle optics, we can foresee the setup becoming significantly front-heavy. Another slight quibble with the body design is the removal of a top-plate LCD screen – this is not essential, but users of the Pentax K-3 II may miss reading camera settings from the top of the camera. Pentax makes up for this to some extent with a large, bright viewfinder, offering 100% coverage.
A main selling point of the KP is the sensor. The 24.3MP chip shares the majority of features with the K-3 II – such as resolution and lack of an anti-aliasing filter – but is of an updated design. The omission of the AA filter allows the capture of more detail, making the most of the total resolution, while in-camera processing assumes the role of
minimising moiré. Images from the KP are crisp, displaying plenty of fine detail – certainly matching those from rival cameras like the Nikon D7500. Colours are punchy but natural straight out of the camera and thanks to the new Prime IV image processing engine, noise is kept at bay well into the ISO range. Detail remains good and images more than usable for print up to ISO 12,800, with noise only becoming intrusive at ISO 25,600 and above. Overall, an impressive performance for a 24MP APS-C model.
The new processor also permits a very useful 7fps burst rate. Pentax makes great use of the sensor-shift technology, utilised by the effective Shake Reduction feature, but also employed by the KP’s Pixel Shift Resolution mode, which combines a sequence of shots taken with the sensor in multiple positions to produce a composite with better colour and sharpness. The new SAFOX 11 AF system is swift and ‘decisive’, complementing the burst rate. Unfortunately, the disappointing battery life of only 390 shots approximately prevents the KP from being a true action workhorse – an almost double shot capacity and 8.3fps shooting makes the K-3 II a better choice.
Below top REVISED TOP PLATE Pentax has replaced the top LCD with a new dial Below bottom ADVANCED SHAKE REDUCTION The sensor-based system can correct roll movements, unlike in-lens SR
Right COMPACT AND TOUGH No larger than some CSCs, the KP is professionally robust Below ART FILTERS The monochrome filters are attractive but HDR mode images are slightly jarring