In this article I’ll be comparing the new Pentax K-1 full frame DSLR versus three other FF cameras, the Nikon D750, D610 and Canon EOS 6D. All of the four are sub $2000 and around the $1400-$2000 price range. If you are interested in buying a new or upgrade to a full frame DSLR, this article is for you. It’s very interesting to see how the long-awaited Pentax FF can compete against the current Nikon and Canon offering.
We’ll start with an introduction to the new Pentax K-1 and than move on to the comparison section, where you’ll get to read and learn about the key differences between those four cameras.
February 18, 2016 is the date that Pentax finally and officially announced its first full frame digital SLR. This camera is a Pentaxian dream come true. Pentax users have been eagerly waiting for this camera to come for many years. some of them probably switched to Canon or Nikon when they realized that there is a small chance that Pentax will introduce such a camera. If you stayed loyal to Pentax, this is probably one of the happiest days for you as a photographer.
For Pentax users, the main problem was that they didn’t have any full frame camera to upgrade from their current APS-C one. Their only choice was to either wait for an APS-C replacement and continue shooting with APS-C cameras, or switch to the competition where they have not just one camera, but several full frame cameras to choose from (price may vary of course between the models).
The new K-1 FF camera has a really nice looking design. I personally like this compact design. It’s considerably narrower than Canon’s FF cameras, but also narrower than the Nikon’s FF ones. I’ve read an interview with Pentax representatives saying how important it was for Pentax to make relatively small FF camera. Pentax had the option to either create a new FF mirrorless mount and focus on mirrorless in the upcoming years, or to offer their loyal photographer with a new Full Frame upgrade path — Pentax, as we now know, went Full Frame.
I think it’s a very smart move, because it stays loyal to its current user base than trying to convince many of its costumers to switch to a new mount and find the holly grail there. People already own a bunch of Pentax lenses, and they just want to continue using those lenses. Pentax listened to them and the K1 was born.
The new K1 was built from the ground up to answer the demands of both enthusiasts and professional photographers. In some ways it’s very innovative, in other ways it does leave some things to be desired. At the heart of the camera is a new 36.4MP AA-filterless CMOS sensor, couples with the new PRIME IV image processor, offering 14-bit RAW-format image recording. This new full frame sensor is capable of shooting up to ISO 204800. Pentax has equipped the K-1 with technologies that we’ve already seen in other cameras, some are brand new.
The first and very exciting feature is the new SR II 5-axis 5-stops compensation in-body shake-reduction mechanism. It compensates for pitch, yaw, horizontal and vertical shift, as well as camera roll and compatible with panning shots. The K-1 utilizes this mechanism to produce very interesting features. The first one is the Pixel shift resolution technology. Using this technology, the camera captures four shots of the same scene, by using the SR unit to shift the pixels in each frame. This gives the camera the option to capture photos with full RGB color for each pixels. This technology has been used before, but this one is an improved version of it, now supporting correction of fine movements between frames (Pentax refers to it as “Motion Correction”). It is also used to provide a higher dynamic range image due to the four-frame capture (improvements up to 2 EV).
Another use for the SR mechanism is as an anti-aliasing filter simulator, where the SR mechanism vibrates to blur the light by one pixel and reduce the appearance of moire and false colors. The sensor itself doesn’t have an optical low-pass filter, so you can use this option in certain type of photos. The K-1 makes it even easier, by allowing you to capture both the filtered version and the original one and later choose which one you prefer to keep.
The K-1 also includes a built-in GPS and an electromagnetic compass. The camera can use this data in conjunction with a sensor movement to cancel the smearing appearance of stars during long exposure shots. Of course the camera can use this location and orientation data to embed it into the image metadata for later use by the photographer.
The camera body itself look pretty conventional inf first sight, but there are some important things to note here. First of all, the TOP LCD size has been reduced compared to the K-3 series to make room for the two dial buttons. There is a Multi Function Dial that allows to quickly change camera settings that are set by the labelled dial which is right next to it.
The K-1 has a magnesium alloy body with weather sealing which is dust-proof, weather-resistant and also cold-resistant (14-104°F / -10 to 40°C). One very unique feature that I really liked it the operation assist led lighting. Pentax equipped those in several areas, above the lens mount, at the memory card slot, at the cable switch terminal and above the rear LCD display. This makes it easier to for the photographer to changes a lens, a memory card and operate the camera buttons at the rear when shooting in dark areas.
The new K-1 also features a very unique mechanism for its rear monitor. The encasing in which the LCD sits in can be pulled our and be rotated in different angles. The LCD cable is cover with rubber to continue the weather sealing support when this LCD mechanism is used.
The Pentax K-1 uses a newly developed Safox 12 autofocus system with 33 AF points, from which 25 are cross-type. The center sensor and the ones below and above it supports F2.8 aperture. You also get an optical viewfinder with 0.7x magnification and nearly 100% field of view. It’s not as big as some other full frame cameras, but APS-C users will certainly feel the differences when coming from an APS-C camera. The image will be bigger and brighter.
Among its other features:
- An upgraded real-time scene recognition system with application of artificial intelligence technology.
- Auto Horizon Correction and compensation adjustment
- Digital level (detecting camera tilt while composing your shot via the viewfinder)
- Focus assist
- 16x times zoom display to confirm focus
- Grid display
- Automatic GPS logging function for tracking your movement
- Astrotracer – simplifies astronomical photography of celestial bodies
- A transparent LCD above the mirror allows displaying grid pattern, digital level, AF frame and spot metering frame. Each can be turned on or off depends on the situation.
- Crop mode – when using lenses designed for APS-C (DA), an smaller image area is used (results in 15.36MP image). Like the Nikon cropped mode, this also provides better AF coverage because of the reduce image area.
You can also choose to capture full frame image with DA-series lenses, but this can obviously affect the image, resulting in a drop of brightness and loss of image data outside the APS-C image area coverage
- 2 function buttons (Fx1,Fx2)
- Lock button – to prevent accidental setting changes (three types: lock button and dials, disable exposure setting changes, prevent operational setting changes)
- Floating mirror structure to allow nearly 100% FOV in such a compact camera body
- 86,000-pixel RGB light metering sensor
- Multi-mode AR system
- 1/8000 sec shutter speed
- 70 JPEG / 17 RAW buffer at CH setting, and up to 100 JPEG / 100 RAW at the lowest CL setting in continuous shooting mode
- Hyper Program and Hyper Manual modes
- Custom image effect modes
- In-camera Clarity control and Skin tone correction
- Multi exposure shot (2 to 2000 images)
- Color Temperature Enhancement (CTE) mode, overriding the natural look for a more bold and saturated rendering
- 4K-compatible Interval Movie shooting
- IMAGE Transmitter 2 comparability
- Dual card slot (two SD cards)
- In-body RAW development
- In-camera Lens aberration correction and fringe compensation
- Sharpness enhancing tools
In my opinion, the Pentax K-1 brings an excellent package and some innovative features that you cannot find in other cameras; all for a very good price tag. The AF system is quite a disappointment for me, mainly because it covers only a small fraction of the frame. So if your main is fast-action photography, you probably want to wait for some professional evaluative testing to see it performs in the field.
Let’s not forget that the K-1 still needs to compete against some of market leaders, and this isn’t an easy task. Both Canon, Nikon and Sony has produces some excellent FF cameras over the years. Some people might think that it was a mistake made by Pentax for not jumping into the mirrorless market, but I think that their current costumers demanded a full frame camera. If Pentax have went with more mirrorless models, I think that many of its loyal customers would have switched to the competition. There are already many Pentax lenses available, and this lens selection is important for enthusiast and professional photographers. This lens selection takes a long time to build, so I think Pentax made a smart move focusing on the K-1 than other things. I admire Pentax commitment to its loyal customers and the fact that it brought am innovative FF camera for a very good price.
K-1 vs D610 vs D750 vs 6D Comparison
Now let’s take a look at the key differences between these four cameras.
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Let’s take a look at a price comparison reference. The prices are rounded up prices, body only, and accurate as of the time of writing (2.19.2016) via amazon.com. Visit amazon.com to see the updated prices.
- Pentax K-1 (body) – $1800
- Nikon D610 (body) – $1500
- Nikon D750 (body) – $2000
- Canon EOS 6D (body) – $1400
The Pentax K-1 is the second most expensive camera among the three. I think that people spending more than $1400 on a camera will also consider some of the more expensive offering. The K-1 is a really impressive camera for stills photography, but less impressive for videos. If you are searching for a high-quality Hybrid camera, there are better options out there. The video options in the K-1 are excellent for the average user that wants to capture high-quality footage every now and then. The K-1 AF system is good, but the AF coverage when shooting in non-crop mode doesn’t cover a very large portion of the frame, which makes it less ideal for fast-action photography.
In fact, the K-1 shines when it comes to shooting static scenes, or at least in areas where a super fast tracking performance is needed like in sports photography. It has some features that none of the other cameras have, including a built-in 5-axis shake reduction mechanism AA filter simulation (and bracketing mode for it), Full color capture using the Pixel Shift Resolution System. This technology will allow you to capture super sharp and detailed images when capturing a static scene. But even if there are some slight movement, the K-1 new Motion Correction function can minimize the negative effect during the synthesizing process.
The K-1 offers the highest resolution images among the four cameras with whopping 36.4MP resolution. You can use it to make large prints and have much more room for editing your images in post production. The Operation Assist Light is a great feature that makes it easier to operate your camera in dark areas. The K-1 LCD is the most unique I’ve seen in any camera. It’s not as flexible as a vari-angle display, but more flexible then the conventional tilting mechanism.
The K-1 has the most durable body among the four, including 300,000 cycles shutter durability, highly rigid body construction, cold proof, shock-resistant, dust-proof and excellent weather-resistant capability. One thing that I am a bit worry though is how people will gloves on will be able to operate it. Sometimes it might be better to have a slightly larger camera with better layout, especially if the camera is intended to use in harsh weather environments, especially in snowy places where people will wear gloves during shooting.
The new Smart Function dual-dial at the top of the camera is a really useful way to save space at the top of the camera while still offering a very easy camera operation system. When you look at what the other cameras has to offer, you can see what makes the K-1 such a unique camera. The other cameras might provide better subject tracking performance and better AF performance in genera and better video functions, but for stills photography, I think that the K-1 can stand proud against the D750, D610 and 6D with what it has to offer. It’s not just another DSLR camera, but one that offers a wide-range of useful features that can really help out in taking better photos.
Some people might question the lens selection compared to the competition. This is something that you need to go over yourself and see if Pentax had you covered. The K-1 price is very tempting, especially for photographers who already own an APS-C camera and lenses and searching for a body to upgrade to. This camera is amazing for landscapes and nature photography, but I think that some people will find it limited for shooting fast-moving subjects.
So overall, I am very impressed with the Pentax K-1, especially considering its price tag. I’m sure that it can attract, not just Pentaxians, but also photographers that were leaning towards Nikon and Canon to move to Pentax now.
What’s your opinion? Do you like the Pentax K-1 features or found it lacking in some way? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below and thank for reading.