Fear­less in theFaroes

Pen­tax’s first full-frame DSLR may of­ten be over­looked by land­scape pho­tog­ra­phers but, as Matty Gra­ham dis­cov­ers, this ul­tra-tough beast is per­fect for a trip to the rugged Faroe Is­lands

Amateur Photographer - - Testbench In The Field -

Pen­tax had a tricky job on its hands when launch­ing the K-1 back in 2016. The full-frame mar­ket has al­ways been a con­gested space and the ‘big two’ of Canon and Nikon have en­joyed years of lead­ing the mar­ket with tried-andtested DSLRs from the 5D and D800 (lat­terly D850) line-ups. Plus, the emer­gence of Sony’s ac­claimed mir­ror­less A7 se­ries added fur­ther traf­fic and choice. How­ever, it could be ar­gued that the lack of ex­pec­ta­tion on the brand freed up the R&D de­sign­ers at Pen­tax to throw off the shack­les and try adding some gen­uinely new fea­tures to its first full-frame DSLR.

Pick up this cam­era and the first thing you’ll no­tice is its weight and bulk. Users of ul­tra­lightweight mir­ror­less cam­eras may want to hit the gym for a few weeks be­fore us­ing the K-1 as it tips the scales at 1,010g, mak­ing it heav­ier than the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (890g) and the Sony Al­pha 7R III (657g). Put sim­ply, the mag­ne­sium-al­loy K-1 is built like a tank, and that’s a good thing, es­pe­cially when you’re head­ing to the Faroe Is­lands – a group of small is­lands in the mid­dle of the North At­lantic, roughly half­way be­tween Scot­land and Ice­land. A place where you can ex­pe­ri­ence rain, snow and sun­shine in one hour, let alone one day, the Faroes are a land­scape shooter’s dream. It’s the ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion for test­ing a cam­era like the K-1, with its 87 weather seals and tem­per­a­ture pro­tec­tion that al­lows for op­er­a­tion down to -10°C. This harsh land­scape is no place for a flimsy plas­tic cam­era that runs out of bat­tery in a cou­ple of hours.

Com­pet­i­tive spec­i­fi­ca­tions

The K-1 is two years old now and although the K-1 Mark II was re­cently re­leased (see AP 9 June), there re­ally wasn’t that much new on the up­dated cam­era (see ‘ What’s new with the Mk II?’ over­leaf). So, for a cam­era that’s been around a while al­ready, the spec­i­fi­ca­tions of the K-1 still im­press as much as they did when the cam­era was re­leased. At the heart of the Pen­tax is a 36-megapixel full-frame CMOS sen­sor. Mea­sur­ing 36x24mm, the sen­sor has no op­ti­cal low-pass (anti-alias­ing) fil­ter, which will re­sult in sharper im­ages at the in­creased risk of moiré. This puts the K-1 well ahead of the sim­i­larly-priced Canon EOS 6D Mark II (26.2MP) and 24MP Nikon D750. Ob­vi­ously, the Pen­tax K-1 can’t match the Nikon D850 (45MP) or Canon’s EOS 5DS R (50MP), but then it has a much lower price tag, and if you do need big­ger files, you can take ad­van­tage of the Pixel-Shift Res­o­lu­tion fea­ture. Sim­ply place the K-1 on a tri­pod and the cam­era can cap­ture four im­ages, shift­ing the sen­sor by a sin­gle pixel for each ex­po­sure be­fore com­pil­ing the mul­ti­ple shots into one 175MB raw file. In fact, this is a good time for the re­al­ity check that the K-1 cur­rently re­tails for around £1,600. That’s an ul­tra- com­pet­i­tive price for such spec­i­fi­ca­tions and res­o­lu­tion. Granted, most deal­ers now stock the Mark II, which is around £100-£150 more ex­pen­sive, but that’s still way, way more af­ford­able than com­par­a­tive mod­els from other brands.

So, the K-1 is wal­let friendly, but the spec sheet de­liv­ers even bet­ter news. The K-1 of­fers a built-in five-axis im­age-sta­bil­i­sa­tion sys­tem, mean­ing ev­ery lens you pair with this cam­era ben­e­fits from the tech­nol­ogy and helps you cap­ture sharper im­ages, with less risk of blur – again, this is some­thing miss­ing from Canon or Nikon DSLRs. What’s more, one of the most in­ter­est­ing fea­tures em­ployed by the Pen­tax de­sign­ers is the cool 3.2in LCD,

which is ma­noeu­vrable, thanks to in­no­va­tive stilts that sus­pend the LCD. In the field, this sys­tem is great for po­si­tion­ing the screen ex­actly where you want it to be and is far more use­ful than a fixed LCD. The mon­i­tor unit fea­tures Air Gap­less tech­nol­ogy, mean­ing it has spe­cial resin layer ap­plied be­tween the pro­tec­tive panel and the LCD, which Pen­tax say cuts down on re­flec­tions. I cer­tainly didn’t have any prob­lem view­ing the mon­i­tor on the few oc­ca­sions in the Faroes when the clouds parted and the sun­shine hit the LCD. How­ever, there is one nig­gle, which is that the mon­i­tor is not touch-sen­si­tive, so users have to rely on com­mand wheels and d-pads rather than be­ing able to sim­ply swipe or press with a fin­ger like the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

Dur­ing my trip to the Faroes, I got caught up in end­less snow­storms and plenty of rain, so it was re­as­sur­ing that the body of the K-1 is weath­ersealed, and the cam­era’s bulk en­abled me to get a firm grip, par­tic­u­larly when I was head­ing up moun­tains try­ing to tra­verse a rugged stretch of coast­line. When paired with a typ­i­cally fast aper­ture lens (I used the Pen­tax 24-70mm f/2.8 for the ma­jor­ity of my pho­tog­ra­phy), the weight of the cam­era helps bal­ance out this big glass so it doesn’t feel top heavy and pull for­ward while around your neck. Of course, you don’t want to be hold­ing it all day as it’s heavy, but when you do, it feels nice and safe in the hand and I cer­tainly didn’t mind us­ing it in snow or rain. I’m sure it isn’t, but it feels pretty in­de­struc­tible and that’s ap­peal­ing when you’re miles from a cam­era re­pair shop. To fur­ther em­pha­sise the K-1’s dura­bil­ity, the shut­ter unit is rated to with­stand 300,000 ac­tu­a­tions, re­in­forc­ing its cre­den­tials as a DSLr suit­able for pro­fes­sional use.

Com­pro­mises

While there’s lots to ad­mire in the K-1’s fea­tures sheet, some spec­i­fi­ca­tions are frus­trat­ing when out in the field. A to­tal of 33 aut­o­fo­cus points is a low count com­pared to the 61 from the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV or even the 51 from the nikon D750. That said, in the real world, the aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem per­forms per­fectly well for land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy – even in low light it can lock on to sub­jects quickly and ac­cu­rately. If you are shoot­ing ac­tion pho­tog­ra­phy, how­ever, then the sys­tem will cause more of a headache, es­pe­cially when you shoot in bursts, as the K-1 man­ages a mere 4.4 frames per sec­ond – fairly pedes­trian com­pared to the 7fps from the 5D Mark IV or the 6.5fps from the D750. Again, though, for land­scape pho­tog­ra­phers this isn’t likely to be a deal-breaker.

That said, there are still more fea­tures that aren’t seen on other cam­eras, and this is where the Pen­tax de­sign­ers seemed to have lis­tened very care­fully to their cus­tomers. For ex­am­ple, there’s a num­ber of LEDs (Pen­tax calls them Op­er­a­tion As­sist Lights) to il­lu­mi­nate im­por­tant ar­eas that pho­tog­ra­phers need to

see in low light – in­clud­ing the front of the mount so you can line up a lens prop­erly when chang­ing op­tics in low light, and the mem­ory card slots, so you don’t find your­self flap­ping around with the SD cards.

The LCD Menu dis­play will look a lit­tle dated if you are used to Canon or Nikon cam­eras, but is ac­tu­ally well thought out and is easy to nav­i­gate around, es­pe­cially when you’ve been us­ing the K-1 for a few days. I en­coun­tered a lot of chang­ing light con­di­tions when shoot­ing in the Faroe Is­lands, so I ap­pre­ci­ated how easy it was to dive in and change ex­po­sure set­tings quickly. Land­scape pho­tog­ra­phers are likely to spend a lit­tle more time to set up cus­tom set­tings so they can work even quicker and the main dial ar­range­ment also aids the speed of op­er­a­tion. The ex­po­sure mode dial and the com­mand dial are noth­ing new, but the third ‘Smart Func­tion’ dial is the key to this rapid op­er­a­tion, which en­ables pho­tog­ra­phers to quickly se­lect op­tions like HDR, Wi- Fi, Drive mode, Ex­po­sure Com­pen­sa­tion or ISO at the turn of the wheel. In the field, you have to keep re­mind­ing your­self that these op­tions are lit­er­ally at your fin­ger­tips rather than search­ing through the Menu screens.

A sys­tem to grow with

Land­scape pho­tog­ra­phers who also like to shoot when dark­ness falls will ap­pre­ci­ate the Astro­tracer mode found on the K-1. The mode works by util­is­ing the tech­nol­ogy of the GPS and elec­tric com­pass to move and tilt the sen­sor dur­ing a long ex­po­sure. This re­sults in stun­ning long- ex­po­sure night im­ages with sharp stars in the sky, rather than the unattrac­tive blurred trails you’d get from a stan­dard-sen­sor cam­era. What’s more, the mode is ver­sa­tile – you don’t have to do much set­ting up with the cam­era and this ad­vanced fea­ture means you don’t need any ex­tra equip­ment (such as an equa­to­rial te­le­scope) to cap­ture views of ce­les­tial sights, so it ac­tu­ally saves you money. Un­for­tu­nately, while in the Faroes, cloud cover dur­ing the nights meant I didn’t get to make the most of this cut­ting- edge fea­ture.

Pho­tog­ra­phers con­sid­er­ing adding the K-1 to their short­list when buy­ing a new cam­era may hear the faint sound of alarm bells when they think about the lens se­lec­tion at their dis­posal. It’s a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that Pen­tax has a lim­ited range of op­tics, so any­one con­sid­er­ing the K-1 should know that there are in fact plenty of lenses to choose from. Pen­tax’s own-brand full-frame lenses range from 15mm right up to 560mm, with a raft of ver­sa­tile zooms and fast-aper­ture primes in be­tween. Plus, when you then add in all the Pen­tax-fit lenses avail­able from third-party man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Sigma and Tam­ron, Pen­tax users are ac­tu­ally spoilt for choice. Given there are plenty of op­tics on of­fer, the ap­peal of the K-1 is fur­ther en­hanced but the proof of any cam­era is in the qual­ity of its im­agery, so how does the K-1 per­form?

Punch­ing above its weight

Given the bulk of the K-1, it’s still no over­state­ment to say it punches above its weight when it comes to im­age qual­ity. JPEGs can be finely tuned, with users able to al­ter pa­ram­e­ters such as sat­u­ra­tion and con­trast, but se­ri­ous land­scape pho­tog­ra­phers are likely to by­pass the JPEG file for­mat in favour of the edit­ing po­ten­tial of the K-1’s raw files. The K-1 is able to record ei­ther PEF raw files, or straight DNGs.

What struck me from my time us­ing the cam­era in the Faroe Is­lands was the im­pres­sive dy­namic range of the files and the low noise, even at raised ISOs. Let’s talk about the dy­namic range first. In the Faroes, I did take along a num­ber of ND and ND grad filters, but due to the ter­rain, there were plenty of oc­ca­sions when I didn’t have time to add the adapter ring and slide in the glass. This could have been when I was dodg­ing waves and spray while shoot­ing by the coast­line, or when I trekked up the Faroes’ high­est moun­tain – a snowy peak called Slæt­taratin­dur, where I was more con­cerned with not slip­ping down the slopes than get­ting my ex­po­sure bal­ance ab­so­lutely spot on. Ei­ther way, the dy­namic range was a big safety net and the amount of tonal in­for­ma­tion these files cap­ture is vast.

Im­ages with blown- out skies were res­cued thanks to the high­lights in­for­ma­tion in the raw file, and even tricky scenes such as a snowywhite moun­tain and a darker over­cast sky could be bal­anced out with the shad­ows and high­lights slid­ers in Light­room. But the im­age qual­ity goes be­yond sim­ply sav­ing badly ex­posed im­ages. The ISO lev­els show low noise, even when I was shoot­ing hand­held around the har­bour of Tor­shavn, cap­i­tal of the Faroe Is­lands, in low light. Know­ing the K-1 won’t let you down in this re­gard gives you a great amount of con­fi­dence to work fre­quently in low light. Colour ren­di­tion is also good, and it’s worth not­ing that the K-1’s big­gest pic­ture size mea­sures 7360 x 4912 pix­els. This is a huge file size that means pho­tog­ra­phers can

‘Given the bulk of the K-1, it’s still no over­state­ment to say it punches above its weight when it comes to im­age qual­ity’

cre­ate big prints (well in ex­cess of A2) – per­fect for land­scape pho­tog­ra­phers who wish to cre­ate large prints to sell or ex­hibit. The large file sizes have a sec­ondary ben­e­fit to the pho­tog­ra­pher, be­cause they al­low the shooter to heav­ily crop an im­age with­out af­fect­ing im­age qual­ity. This af­fords the pho­tog­ra­pher a sec­ond chance at com­po­si­tion if they are not com­pletely happy with their first at­tempt as taken in- cam­era.

More than a one-trick pony

The K-1 is some­what of an enigma in the DSLR world. On one hand, it boasts a num­ber of in­no­va­tive fea­tures, no­tably the Astro­tracer mode, the LED lights and that quirky LCD stilts de­sign, yet on the other, it does fall be­hind in terms of burst speed and fo­cus points when com­pared to its ri­vals. What can’t be ar­gued is the value for money this cam­era rep­re­sents – of­fer­ing big megapix­els and dooms­day-proof weather and tem­per­a­ture pro­tec­tion, all at a very at­trac­tive price point. If you’re a pho­tog­ra­pher who doesn’t have any al­le­giance or de­pen­dency on other brands, and are com­ing into land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy look­ing for a cam­era that gives you ex­cel­lent im­age qual­ity on a sen­si­ble bud­get – as well as be­ing able to take the knocks and beat­ings of ev­ery­day pro­fes­sional use – you’ll find few cam­eras, if any, that are ca­pa­ble of stack­ing up to the K-1. Get­ting to the Faroe Is­lands is easy, with flights from Ed­in­burgh tak­ing just over an hour to reach Vagur air­port. Hir­ing a rental car is highly rec­om­mended, although there is a bus ser­vice that con­nects the air­port to the cap­i­tal, Tor­shavn. To find out more, visit www.vis­it­faroeis­lands.com.

Pen­tax 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/50sec at f/8, ISO 100

Gjogv’s colour­ful houses sport a spec­trum of hues on their walls and roofs

Pen­tax 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/100sec at f/8, ISO 100

Sun­set falls over the is­land of Strey­moy, not far from the cap­i­tal Tor­shavn

Pen­tax 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/320sec at f/11, ISO 200

The rugged coast­line near the vil­lage of Gjogv, where the surf rolls in high from the turquoise wa­ters of the north At­lantic ocean

Pen­tax 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/250sec at f/11, ISO 200

Faroe’s huts, roofed with grass, are sur­rounded by

snow af­ter a bliz­zard

Pen­tax 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/200sec at f/9, ISO 100

A frozen tarn pro­vided fore­ground in­ter­est for an­other shot of Sak­sun Church

Pen­tax 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/250sec at f/13, ISO 200

Morn­ing light over the cap­i­tal of Tor­shavn. This im­age was taken from the com­fort of my ho­tel room

Pen­tax 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/250sec at f/10, ISO 400

These steps down to the nat­u­ral har­bour pro­vide a strong lead­ing line to di­rect the viewer’s eye

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