Pen­tax K-1 Mark II

This 36MP full-frame DSLR still has plenty to of­fer Pen­tax fans, ac­cord­ing to Andy West­lake, but no es­sen­tial new fea­tures

Amateur Photographer - - 7days - Full de­tails of the K-1 up­date ser­vice to Mark II stan­dard can be found at ri­coh-imag­ing.co.uk/en/newspen­taxk1-up­grade-ser­vice.html. Own­ers are ad­vised to con­tact the ser­vice cen­tre first for full de­tails. The up­date of­fer runs from 21 May to 30 Septem­ber

a 36mP full-frame Dslr with plenty to of­fer, says andy West­lake

When the orig­i­nal Pen­tax K-1 ap­peared a lit­tle over two years ago, it gar­nered a lot of ex­cite­ment. Not only was it the first full-frame DSLR to sport the iconic Pen­tax brand, but at £1,600 it also of­fered re­mark­able value for money. Its 36MP sen­sor had only pre­vi­ously been seen in sub­stan­tially more ex­pen­sive cam­eras such as the Nikon D810 and Sony Al­pha 7R, and it in­cluded five-axis in-body im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion and an un­usual flex­i­ble-tilt rear LCD.

Now, par­ent com­pany Ri­coh has given us a re­place­ment: the Pen­tax K-1 Mark II. But it’s very much an it­er­a­tive up­grade, with few new fea­tures. The main ad­di­tion is an ‘ac­cel­er­a­tor unit’, which works in tan­dem with the PRIME IV im­age pro­ces­sor. As a re­sult, the Mark II of­fers an ex­tended sen­si­tiv­ity range, which now goes all the way to ISO 819,200 com­pared to ISO 209,400 on the orig­i­nal. There’s also an in­trigu­ing-sound­ing ver­sion of Pen­tax’s Pixel Shift Res­o­lu­tion mode that works for hand­held shoot­ing, and a prom­ise of faster AF with im­proved sub­ject tracking. But that’s the ex­tent of the changes.

Uniquely, ex­ist­ing Pen­tax K-1 own­ers can have their cam­eras up­graded to Mark II stan­dard. For around £450, the main cir­cuit board can be re­placed with the new ver­sion, en­abling the full set of up­dated fea­tures. The SR la­bel on the front plate will also be re­placed with a new ‘II’ badge.

On pa­per, the Mark II still stands up very well in com­par­i­son to its most ob­vi­ous com­peti­tors, the Canon EOS 6D Mark II and Nikon D750, both of which cost al­most ex­actly the same. How­ever, the

Sony Al­pha 7 III has re­de­fined our ex­pec­ta­tions of what a sub-£2,000 cam­era can of­fer. Com­pared to th­ese re­doubtable foes, the K-1 Mark II still of­fers higher res­o­lu­tion and max­i­mum ISO set­tings, but is this enough?

Fea­tures

At the K-1 Mark II’s core is a 36.4- mil­lion-pixel full-frame CMOS sen­sor, which for­goes an op­ti­cal low-pass fil­ter to de­liver max­i­mum de­tail. This usu­ally risks imag­ing arte­facts, but Pen­tax has a unique so­lu­tion. En­able its AA Sim­u­la­tor mode and the cam­era can use its in-body IS sys­tem to slightly blur the im­age pro­jected onto the sen­sor to com­bat alias­ing and moiré, with a choice of strengths. If you’re not sure whether you need this anti-alias­ing ef­fect, the cam­era can shoot a set of ex­po­sures with and with­out.

Core fea­tures are solid, if un­spec­tac­u­lar. The Mark II can shoot at 4.4fps at full res­o­lu­tion, with a 17-frame raw buf­fer; switch­ing to the 15MP APS- C crop mode en­ables 6.4fps with a 50-frame buf­fer. Me­ter­ing em­ploys an 86,000 pixel RGB sen­sor, with multi-seg­ment, cen­treweighted and spot modes avail­able.

Aut­o­fo­cus is pro­vided by the 33-point SAFOX 12 mod­ule, which in­cludes 25 cross-type points to­wards the cen­tre of the frame. The fo­cus points cover about half the im­age width and a third of its height – rea­son­able for a full-frame SLR but trounced by any mir­ror­less cam­era (and most APS- C DSLRs). Switch to live view, and the K-1 Mark II of­fers con­trast-de­tec­tion AF cov­er­ing 75% of the frame width and height.

Shut­ter speeds range from 30sec to 1/8000sec, with 1/200sec flash sync. The mir­ror and shut­ter mech­a­nism are quiet and well damped, and in the usual Pen­tax fash­ion, en­abling the 2sec self-timer en­gages mir­ror pre-fire to fur­ther re­duce any risk of blur from me­chan­i­cal vi­bra­tions. Delve into the menus and you’ll find a silent elec­tronic shut­ter, al­though the cam­era isn’t com­pletely noise­less due to its me­chan­i­cal aper­ture op­er­a­tion.

Based around the Pen­tax K mount, the K-1 Mark II is com­pat­i­ble with a huge range of lenses dat­ing back to 1975. It’ll work best with aut­o­fo­cus lenses, of course, but is also per­fectly happy with man­ual-fo­cus KA lenses that have elec­tri­cal con­tacts to pass aper­ture in­for­ma­tion to the cam­era. It can even work with purely me­chan­i­cal K lenses, but only in man­ual- ex­po­sure mode us­ing stop- down me­ter­ing.

Other fea­tures in­clude high­dy­namic-range shoot­ing; in­de­pen­dent shadow and high­light tonal-range ad­just­ment; in­cam­era lens corrections; a mul­ti­ple- ex­po­sure mode, and an in­ter­val­ome­ter with a huge range of pro­gram­mable op­tions. In- cam­era raw de­vel­op­ment is avail­able, and built-in Wi- Fi al­lows you to copy im­ages to your smart de­vice, or con­trol the cam­era re­motely us­ing the Pen­tax Im­age Sync app.

How­ever, it’s the in-body IS that de­liv­ers most of the K-1 Mark II’s best tricks. Most ob­vi­ously, it prom­ises sharper im­ages at slow shut­ter speeds with al­most any lens, giv­ing up to five stops of sta­bil­i­sa­tion. This means it works with lens types that aren’t usu­ally sta­bilised, such as widean­gles and fast primes. It’ll even work with old, me­chan­i­cal K-mount lenses: turn the

cam­era on af­ter chang­ing lenses and it will prompt you to se­lect the fo­cal length.

The Mark II also in­cludes the Pixel Shift Res­o­lu­tion mode seen on many re­cent Pen­tax cam­eras. In its con­ven­tional form, this re­quires the cam­era to be fixed to a tri­pod, and makes four ex­po­sures while shift­ing the sen­sor one pixel be­tween each. This al­lows it to cap­ture full- colour in­for­ma­tion at each point in the im­age, giv­ing vis­i­bly higher de­tail. A Mo­tion Cor­rec­tion op­tion aims to re­duce im­age arte­facts with sub­jects that move be­tween ex­po­sures. But brand new is a hand­held pixel-shift mode, which I’ll ex­am­ine in de­tail later.

Other clever fea­tures en­abled by the sta­bil­i­sa­tion sys­tem in­clude Astro­tracer, which works with the built-in GPS unit to move the sen­sor for cap­tur­ing sharp long- ex­po­sure pho­to­graphs of star fields. It’s also pos­si­ble to use the IS mech­a­nism to fine-tune your com­po­si­tion when shoot­ing from a tri­pod. Last but not least, there’s a rather bril­liant func­tion that can au­to­mat­i­cally level your im­ages dur­ing hand­held shoot­ing.

Build and han­dling

The K-1 Mark II is a brute; at 1,010g it’s heav­ier than even the Nikon D850. Its body is nar­row but deep, mea­sur­ing 86mm from the front of the prism to the back of the LCD. This re­flects the need to house the in-body im­ages tabil­i­sa­tion unit, along with the screen-ar­tic­u­la­tion mech­a­nism.

Pen­tax has a rep­u­ta­tion for rugged, weather-sealed bod­ies, and the K-1 Mark II is no dif­fer­ent. Its mag­ne­sium-al­loy body feels rock solid – you can even pick it up by the ar­tic­u­lated LCD screen and shake it around, with no ill- ef­fect. The large hand­grip is coated with thick, tex­tured rub­ber and pro­vides a very se­cure hold.

Al­most ev­ery avail­able sur­face is cov­ered with but­tons, di­als and switches. Un­like other DSLRs, the K-1 Mark II has three di­als that you can use for chang­ing ex­po­sure set­tings, rather than two: Ri­coh has cot­toned on to the fact that you might want quick ac­cess to ISO and ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion as well as shut­ter speed and aper­ture – an in­sight that has so far eluded Canon and Nikon. You can con­fig­ure the front and rear di­als to your own pref­er­ence sep­a­rately for each ex­po­sure mode, then change the func­tion of the top-plate dial on the fly us­ing the ad­ja­cent se­lec­tion dial.

It’s just a shame the K-1 Mark II doesn’t have a joy­stick con­troller for mov­ing the fo­cus point; in­stead, you’re sup­posed to use the d-pad. The com­pli­ca­tion is, you also use the d-pad for chang­ing drive mode, white bal­ance, colour mode and LCD bright­ness, tog­gling be­tween the func­tions us­ing a small but­ton above the ‘up’ key. It’s easy to lose track of which mode the d-pad is in, and in­ad­ver­tently change set­tings when you wanted to move the fo­cus point.

Other but­tons on the body give di­rect ac­cess to me­ter­ing and aut­o­fo­cus modes, and there’s even one for tem­po­rar­ily turn­ing on raw record­ing. Yet more func­tions can be ac­cessed quickly via the Info but­ton, which calls up an on-screen quick menu. Only a cou­ple of but­tons are cus­tomis­able, but that’s no prob­lem as it’s dif­fi­cult to think of any­thing you might as­sign to them that’s not al­ready eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble.

This com­plex con­trol lay­out takes a bit of get­ting used to, but it’s ac­tu­ally a re­ally quick way of work­ing. It’s not for the faint­hearted, but if you’re step­ping up from a high- end Pen­tax APS- C body such as the K-3 II, most of the in­ter­face will be fa­mil­iar. How­ever, I can’t help but feel that Ri­coh could ben­e­fit from mak­ing a sim­pler full-frame model, too.

A small top-plate LCD shows ba­sic shoot­ing in­for­ma­tion, with the rear LCD used to dis­play the main set­tings. One odd­ity is that if you turn off this screen, then press­ing a func­tion but­ton or spin­ning the top-plate dial won’t re­ac­ti­vate it, even tem­po­rar­ily. This means that it’s pos­si­ble to change cer­tain set­tings such as HDR mode or con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing speed with­out the cam­era telling you what you’ve done.

Viewfinder and screen

The K-1 Mark II is unashamedly a tra­di­tional DSLR, de­signed to be used pri­mar­ily with the op­ti­cal viewfinder. For­tu­nately, the finder is very good, with a mag­ni­fi­ca­tion of 0.7x and al­most 100% cov­er­age of the scene. The im­age is rea­son­ably bright, and there’s just about enough ‘snap’ to fo­cus man­u­ally with f/2.8 lenses. What you don’t get, of course, is the ac­cu­rate pre­view of ex­po­sure,

colour, white bal­ance and depth- of-field that’s of­fered by a good elec­tronic viewfinder.

Full ex­po­sure in­for­ma­tion is dis­played be­neath the fo­cus­ing screen, and you can over­lay elec­tronic level and grid­line dis­plays if you want. How­ever, the aut­o­fo­cus points can be dif­fi­cult to see when you’re mov­ing be­tween them, as they’re out­lined in black. But, like al­most any­thing else on the cam­era, this be­hav­iour can be changed, and I set the cam­era to high­light the ac­tive AF point in red.

Be­low the viewfinder is the 3.2in LCD, which is mounted on one of the most com­pli­cated ar­tic­u­la­tion sys­tems ever de­vised. The unit is at­tached to the cam­era via four metal struts, al­low­ing it to be tilted up, down, left or right. An ad­di­tional hinge at the top of the sup­port mech­a­nism en­ables the screen to be set hor­i­zon­tally for waist-level shoot­ing.

This flex­i­ble-tilt screen is par­tic­u­larly handy when shoot­ing in live view with the cam­era on a tri­pod. Un­like the tilt- only screens on the Nikon D850 and Sony Al­pha 7 III, it con­tin­ues to be use­ful when you’re shoot­ing in por­trait for­mat, al­though here the max­i­mum tilt an­gle up or down is lim­ited, at less than 45¡.

Thank­fully, the LCD it­self is very good and ac­cu­rately colour cal­i­brated. One neat touch is that you can ad­just the bright­ness be­tween five very dif­fer­ent set­tings us­ing the down but­ton of the d-pad, with the bright­est be­ing use­ful in strong sun­light, while the dark­est won’t blind you at night. The screen isn’t touch sen­si­tive, though, which th­ese days feels like an anachro­nism.

Aut­o­fo­cus

Ri­coh has used the same SAFOX 12 aut­o­fo­cus mod­ule as the orig­i­nal K-1, which pro­vides 33 fo­cus points grouped to­wards the cen­tre of the frame, in­clud­ing 25 cross-type points that can de­tect both hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal de­tail. Flick­ing a switch on the lens throat se­lects be­tween auto and man­ual fo­cus, while press­ing a but­ton above it and spin­ning the con­trol di­als se­lects be­tween sin­gle-shot and con­tin­u­ous AF, and auto or man­ual se­lec­tion of fo­cus area. You can choose be­tween us­ing just a sin­gle point or sur­round­ing points as well, which can be use­ful when tracking mov­ing sub­jects.

In prin­ci­ple, the AF is now faster, with im­proved tracking, but with­out a K-1 to test side-by-side I couldn’t ver­ify any im­prove­ment. Suf­fice to say the Mark II worked well with the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens I had for test­ing. While it’s no­tice­ably slower than ri­val cam­eras, it should be fine un­less you plan on reg­u­larly shoot­ing fast-mov­ing sub­jects. How­ever, be­ing ac­cus­tomed to the abil­ity of mir­ror­less cam­eras to fo­cus any­where in the frame, I found the re­stricted

AF area cov­er­age that’s in­her­ent to full-frame DSLRs to be rather lim­it­ing.

Switch to live view and you get a much wider fo­cus area, cov­er­ing 75% of the frame height and width. Un­for­tu­nately, the con­trast- de­tec­tion aut­o­fo­cus isn’t very fast, and is rather prone to hunt­ing. But it’s us­able for static sub­jects and is ac­cu­rate. Live view also pro­vides the most ac­cu­rate pos­si­ble man­ual fo­cus, achieved by press­ing the OK but­ton to en­gage mag­ni­fied view.

Per­for­mance

As you’d ex­pect from an £1,800 cam­era, the Pen­tax K-1 Mark II is a pretty ac­com­plished per­former. It’s re­spon­sive in al­most ev­ery as­pect of its op­er­a­tion, with only a few ex­cep­tions. My big­gest ir­ri­ta­tion is that it takes a sec­ond or two to wake up when you half-press the shut­ter but­ton af­ter auto power- off, which can re­sult in missed shots. Also, if you have in­stant re­view en­abled for check­ing im­ages af­ter they’ve been shot, the cam­era ig­nores the con­trol di­als un­til play­back has been dis­missed, so you can’t change set­tings quickly for a sec­ond shot. But if you find this to be a prob­lem, sim­ply turn off in­stant re­view.

Me­ter­ing and auto white bal­ance are both pretty re­li­able, cour­tesy of the 86,000px RGB sen­sor, and in gen­eral the K-1 Mark II re­turns at­trac­tive JPEG files. If you want to pep up its out­put, there’s a good ar­ray of JPEG colour modes avail­able. On dull days, though, it tends to un­der­ex­pose slightly.

One key ad­van­tage of the K-1 Mark II over other DSLRs is its in-body im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion. I found this worked well, and us­ing the Pen­tax 24-70mm f/2.8 I could get con­sis­tently sharp shots hand­held at shut­ter speeds as low as 1/4sec at widean­gle, or 1/15sec at tele­photo, equat­ing to around three stops ben­e­fit. The big ad­van­tage, of course, is that it works with ev­ery lens, al­though un­like op­ti­cal sys­tems or in-body sta­bil­i­sa­tion on mir­ror­less cam­eras, you don’t get the ben­e­fit of a sta­bilised viewfinder with tele­photo lenses.

Im­age qual­ity is ex­cel­lent, with the 36MP sen­sor de­liv­er­ing as much de­tail as you’ll see from any cam­era that costs un­der £2,000. Dy­namic range is im­pres­sive, too. But its ad­di­tional high ISO set­tings are com­pletely spu­ri­ous, giv­ing lit­tle more than an uniden­ti­fi­able mess. I’d be loath to shoot at any­thing much above ISO 12,800.

The Pen­tax K-1 Mark II cap­tures highly de­tailed im­ages with huge dy­namic range Pen­tax 24-70mm f/2.8 at 31mm, 1/60sec at f/16, ISO 100

The K-1 Mark II can work with a huge range of old K-mount lenses. I shot this with an old, fully man­ual tele­photo prime Tam­ron SP 300mm f/5.6, 1/4sec at f/5.6, ISO 100

Pen­tax 24-70mm f/2.8 at 70mm, 1/125sec at f/16, ISO 32,000

Bold colours are main­tained even at quite high ISO set­tings

Good im­age qual­ity is main­tained up to ISO 12,800 at least Pen­tax 24-70mm f/2.8 at 24mm, 1/10sec at f/8, ISO 12,800

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