The concept of a compact system camera (CSC) is an appealing one to anyone wanting to take a step up from a compact camera, or who wants something less hefty than a DSLR without compromising on image quality.
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Prime examples of these digital mirrorless cameras include Panasonic and Olympus' Micro Four Thirds system and Sony's NEX-5, a tiny camera with a large sensor inside. Not quite a compact system camera due to its size but not quite a DSLR due to the lack of a mirror box, the Pentax K-01 is in a little niche of its own between the two.
These CSCs are intended to be small and light, but at 480g (body only) this is hardly the case when it comes to the Pentax K-01. It's almost as heavy and hardly smaller than a DSLR. We found the retro-looking camera chunky, unwieldy and more than a little brick-like. Build quality is good though, with a solid aluminium body and rubber sections for grip.
Pentax K-01: Features
The stand-out feature of the Pentax K-01 is the inclusion of a K-mount (meaning you can use any of Pentax's 20 million lenses without an adaptor) – great if you own Pentax DSLR lenses already.
This does, however, mean the rear of the lens has to be a certain distance from the impressive Sony 16Mp sensor. This limits how small the body can feasibly be, hence the Pentax K-01's large size. Our review sample came bundled with an 18-55mm lens which provided attractive background blurring in portrait shots.
There's no optical viewfinder so you're left with a 3in LCD screen to compose images. Built-in image stabilisation helps to keep shots shake-free. The K-01 has a wide range of modes including bulb for night-photography enthusiasts and HDR, an addition which we particularly liked for creating high dynamic range pictures. We found the camera intuitive to use with easy to navigate menus and settings.
If you're used to the speed and ease of the autofocus on a DSLR, you may be a little frustrated by the slower autofocus here. We quickly switched to manual focus in order to avoid a lot of wasted time as it could often take a couple of seconds to lock on in low light.
Pentax K-01: Performance
But crucially, image quality is impressive, providing images which are sharp right to the corners of the frame. We also saw a very low level of noise, even in poor light. When lighting is too low, there's a pop-up flash.
The Pentax K-01 also provided good exposure and colour saturation in the majority of our images. Anyone searching for a camera capable of taking images comparable to those taken with a DSLR will find what they need here.
Video quality was also fairly good, which is to be hoped for a camera which shoots in full-HD resolution using the H264 codec. Video is captured up to 30fps, and this can be doubled if you drop the resolution to 720p. An HDMI output allows you to connect straight to a TV or monitor.
The Pentax K-01 offers adjustable aperture, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity during filming, though this can contribute to audible clicking sounds on your video. In video mode it does lack continuous autofocus though.
Audio quality is also good and there's a jack for an external microphone if you want to improve upon the built-in mic.