Pentax Unveils First Full Frame DSLR: the Long Awaited 36.4MP Pentax K-1 (Hands-On Photos)

Pentax’s parent company, Ricoh Imaging, has been teasing that it would be announcing a new full frame digital SLR for several months now and today that phantom camera was finally unveiled. Ricoh just introduced the long awaited Pentax K-1, which is equipped with a 36.4-megapixel full frame CMOS sensor about the size of a piece of 35mm film.

Yes, Pentax might be late to the full frame DSLR party but it looks like they brought dessert. The Pentax K-1, which will go on sale in mid-April 2016 for $1799.95 (body only), is impressive considering it’s surprisingly moderate price.

We had some hands-on time with an early version of the K-1 during a pre-release press briefing last week and loved the way this robust yet relatively compact DSLR felt in our hands. (Pentax is calling it the “narrowest and shortest DSLR with a viewfinder.”)

We’ve included some hands-on photos of the Pentax K-1 with this story, several of which show off the camera’s innovative LED assist lighting, which helps you operate the camera and make adjustments in dark conditions.

Pentax also just announced two new lenses designed explicitly for the full frame K-1: the HD Pentax-D FA 15-30mm f.2.8 ($1,499.95) ultra-wide angle zoom lens, and the HD Pentax-D FA 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 ($499.95), a compact, lightweight zoom lens. The K-1 is also compatible with 10 other full frame-friendly lenses from Pentax.

The main features of the Pentax K-1 are as interesting as its aggressive pricing. Here’s a rundown of the highlights of the K-1.

photo ©Dan Havlik

• 36.4MP Full Frame (35.9 x 24mm, 4.9 micron pixel size) CMOS sensor features an AA (anti-aliasing) filterless design. Combined with the new PRIME IV imaging engine, it’s capable of 14-bit Raw-format image recording. The K-1’s full frame sensor and imaging engine design lets you shoot at a range of ISO 100-204800.

• New SR II Five-Axis System is an in-body SR mechanism designed for better shake reduction performance The SR II (Shake Reduction II) five-axis mechanism enables better control of the large full-frame image sensor with all compatible Pentax interchangeable lenses. In addition to camera shake caused by pitch and yaw, it compensates for camera shake caused by horizontal and vertical shift, as well as camera shake caused by roll. Even when taking a panning shot, this system is designed to automatically detect the direction of the camera’s movement, and control the SR unit

• Pixel Shift Resolution System with a new motion correction function captures four images of the same scene by shifting the image sensor by a single pixel for each image, then synthesizes them into a single composite image. Compared to the conventional Bayer system, in which each pixel has only a single color data unit, this system is designed to obtain all color data in each pixel. The system provides a new motion correction function, which automatically detects a moving object during continuous shooting and minimizes negative Innovative AA filter simulator to minimize moiré.

• Since the K-1’s SR unit has a flexible design that tilts the image sensor unit in all directions, it provides several shooting functions, including auto level compensation, image-composition fine-adjustment, and Astro Tracer, which simplifies advanced astronomical photography using a built-in GPS module.

• Flexible tilt-type LCD monitor is designed to accommodate various shooting angles. The K-1’s flexible tilt-type LCD monitor tilts horizontally, vertically or diagonally with a single action, without deviating from the lens’s optical axis. It offers 35 degrees of horizontal and 44 degrees of vertical adjustment. The LCD panel can even be positioned flat up or down. The 3.2-inch LCD monitor features a tempered-glass front panel for added durability and an air-gapless construction designed to reduce reflection. There’s also a new Outdoor View Setting mode that lets the user to choose the desired monitor brightness level.

• Newly developed SAFOX 12 with 33 sensor points and full-frame-proportioned AF frame. The SAFOX 12 AF sensor module features 33 AF sensors (25 cross-type sensors positioned in the middle). The center sensor and the two sensors located just above and below it are designed to detect the light flux of an F2.8 lens, making it easier to obtain pinpoint focus on a subject when using a large-aperture lens.

photo ©Dan Havlik

• Upgraded Pentax Real-Time Scene Analysis System, with application of artificial intelligence technology. The K-1’s advanced Pentax Real-Time Scene Analysis System performs fast analysis of exposure, color, movement and other factors. Combining with  a breakthrough artificial intelligence technology called deep learning, the K-1 is designed to optimize settings even in difficult shooting situations.

• Easy-to-focus optical viewfinder with nearly 100-percent field of view and approximately 0.7-times magnification. A Natural Bright Matt III focusing screen allows ease of focusing and a truer rendition of defocused areas in the viewfinder image.

• Several new shooting functions designed to make it easier to take pictures including:

  • Operation assist light function, which provides LED lights above the lens mount, behind the LCD monitor, at the memory card slot, and at the cable switch terminal to facilitate fast and easy operation in poorly lit settings.
  • Key lock function, which prevents erroneous operation of the four-way controller and other exposure-related control buttons.
  • Smart Function, which allows the user to swiftly choose and set desired functions using just the function dial and the set dial on the camera’s upper panel, without referring to the menu screen on the LCD monitor.
  • Control panel customize function, allowing the user to change aspects of the on-screen menu.

• Compact, solid body with dustproof, weather-resistant construction. The Pentax K-1 is made of sturdy yet lightweight magnesium alloy with the 87 sealing parts in the body. The K-1 is dustproof, weather-resistant and cold-resistant.

• Other features:

  • WiFi operation allowing camera control and image transfer to tablet or smartphone via the free ImageSync app
  • Full HD movie recording at 1920 x 1080 pixels in the H.264 recording format
  • Built-in GPS module and electronic compass
  • DRII (Dust Removal II) mechanism to help eliminate dust on the image sensor using ultrasonic vibration
  • Crop mode with a choice of image area from AUTO, FF (Full Frame) and APS-C, to accommodate different types of lenses
  • Clarity control and Skin Tone correction functions, a pair of the latest image processing technologies developed by RICOH Central Laboratory
  • HDR (High Dynamic Range) shooting mode with Raw-format data filing, usable in handheld shooting
  • Pentax’s hyper operating system for quick, accurate response to the photographer's creative intentions
  • Dual SD card slots for memory card flexibility (compatible with SDXC UHS-1 speed class in SDR104 buss speed mode)
  • Compensation of various parameters: lens distortion, lateral chromatic aberration, diffraction, and brightness level at image-field edges. Fringe effect compensation is also available in Raw-format processing.

photo ©Dan Havlik

Pentax also announced the D-BG6 ($199.99) accessory today, which is a battery grip made exclusviely for the Pentax K-1 camera body. It’s designed to facilitate vertical-position shooting, and provides a shutter release button, a set of control buttons (AE lock, AF, ISO, exposure compensation, green), a preview lever, and dual electronic dials. It also features the dustproof, weather-resistant construction identical to the Pentax K-1 camera body. In addition to the dedicated lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, it also accepts six AA-size batteries.

photo ©Dan Havlik

photo ©Dan Havlik