Handling and User Interface (UI): Pentax makes very well thought out cameras. IMHO, they make the most intuitive cameras of them all. I was stunned by the simplicity and function-first approach that shines through with the Ricoh GR (and Ricoh owns Pentax). I barely glanced at the instructions of my 645Z, because it’s that easy to figure out. Everything falls to finger beautifully and I would be surprised if the K-1 is any different. For people who are considering buying into the high end APS-C DSLR market, or the low end of Full-Frame, the Pentax K-1 looks very appealing indeed. For someone like me, who is beyond bored by Canon’s inability to produce a professional camera that has close to the dynamic range of a $400 point and shoot, it also has long-term interest. At the moment, my Canon and Pentax lenses zoom in opposite directions and the UI is very different. I had been thinking of selling up Canon and moving to Nikon to get the sort of sensor performance I am used to on every other camera I own. Nikon’s lenses zoom the same direction as my Pentax 645 ones, but the UI is completely different and alien to me. Were I to drop Canon for Pentax FF, then I would solve the sensor issue, the zoom issue and the UI would be functionally very similar to my 645Z. Food for thought going forwards…
Autofocus: With 33 AF points and 25 cross type, it has potential to be comparable to the likes of the D810, which has 51 AF points, but only 15 being cross type (which are much more accurate with moving subjects). However, as experienced photographers know, paper specifications and actual real-world utility are two very different things. I expect the Pentax to be good, but I will be a little surprised if is as slick as the D810, or even the venerable 5D III. I say this because AF (especially tracking) is so very hard to get right. Both Nikon and Canon have had their horror stories and with Pentax you have a third party lens manufacturer thrown into the mix (Tamron). I suspect Tamron also makes the amazing 28-45mm SR lens for the 645Z and its a cracker; however, AF is not nearly at the level of a top end Canon or Nikon with native lenses. Pentax has had time to get these things right, so a solid performance should be expected, if not an exceptional one.
No Silent Mode: Wedding photographers love this feature on the 5D III and D810, but the D750 doesn’t have it either and that’s one of the most coveted wedding cameras of them all. Oh well.
So what are the pros and cons compared to a conventional 50MP ‘static’ sensor? Well, when the subject matter is moving, the Pentax K-1 will be limited to 36MP single shot mode, because four sequential frames (as per high-res mode) would show that movement. The upshot is that the Sony sensor will have the sort of dynamic range we know and love in the Nikon D810 i.e. amazing and a solid 2+ stops better than the Canon 5DS & 5DSR. When the multi-shot high-resolution mode is possible on the Pentax K1, the Pentax will have similar or better resolution than the likes of the 5DSR, it likely to have clearly noticeably better colour resolution, it will have lower noise (another benefit of the Sony sensor, with further gains from the averaging of noise when the frames are averaged) and vastly better dynamic range. The bottom line is that for static subjects, the K1 is likely to be more like a Pentax 645Z than a 5DS. A 5DSR will also cost you twice as the Pentax K1 release price at major stores today. As felt at the time of release (and as I wrote), the 5DS is already being left behind. In this case, it is a camera much cheaper than the Sony A7R II that is doing it. And the Pentax K-1 has an articulated LCD, WiFi (and the list goes on).
Who Should Consider the Pentax K-1?
Photographers who are willing to be bold, back a well-known but late comer to the DSLR party and potentially reap the rewards. On paper, this camera is perfect as a general workhorse for a wide range of hobbyists, semi-pros and professionals. Right now, it is perfect for anyone who does not want a large lens stable, or who can afford to be patient. The holy trinity is already there (15-30, 24-70, 70-200) for wedding photographers, who may buy three bodies right off the bat and so still save big compared to the competition (that’s £2500 right there in the bodies, even at release prices). I would be surprised if there isn’t a good spread of interesting third party lenses within six months, so this is a camera where I would be willing to take a gamble myself. I did with the Sony A7 and it paid off. I would not dream of doing so with the Leica SL, because I think the wait for native lenses will be agonising and there won’t be any third party options. That camera is most appealing to those who own a load of R mount Leica lenses and so do not need native optics.
And then there are individuals who are bored with Canon and Nikon. There are those who will regard the high-resolution mode as their reason not to ever have to consider medium format again. There are those who will be doing backflips over the star-tracking feature for astrophotography. In summary, the Pentax K-1 has a huge amount to offer a lot of people. If it turns out to be as good as I expect, don’t be surprised when I sell up all my Canon gear and jump in with both feet 12 months from now. I have a feeling the Canon 5D IV will be close to £3000 and for that money I could buy two new Pentax K-1 bodies instead of a Mk IV and retaining my MK III (with its abysmal dynamic range and shadow recovery). Better still, I would be able to sell the MK III, meaning the total investment might be less for 2 x K-1 than 1 x Mk IV. I have some commercial plans going forwards that will require workhorse SLRs (two bodies) and Pentax is looking good at the moment.
Will the Pentax K1 Succeed?
Yes, it will (that’s my prediction). The only things that prevented the Pentax 645Z tearing the heart out of the medium format market were the lack of Capture One Pro software compatibility, the absence of tethering (now available) and the lack of leaf lenses (and modern lenses generally). Additional lenses had to be native, because the market for medium format is tiny by comparison to consumer cameras. Third party manufacturers therefore had no financial reason to make their own. Pentax has taken an age releasing new lenses and many people already in medium format already had Hasselblad or Phase One lenses, which were bought and paid for, so why move to Pentax? The 645Z therefore appealed primarily to people who had not yet invested in medium format, rather than existing users. That said, a fair number of landscape shooters did jump, because the camera offers excellent capabilities for the field.
The Pentax K1, however, is not bound by these limitations. Yes, it is a FF DSLR in a shrinking market, but it is a DSLR that is hitting the market with a larger lens line up than the 645Z (or Sony A7) did and with the inevitability of third party lenses appearing very soon! It is dramatically cheaper than the competition (body only) and genuinely steps into a new niche. It has the resolution of the Nikon D810, but with the potential for eclipsing the Canon 5DSR in high-resolution mode. It has the weather sealing and build of the best of them, along with WiFi and a clever articulating LCD screen. It has in body image stabilisation that will mean the absence of in-lens stabilisation in Sigma ART lenses will be irrelevant (assuming they come to K mount). It also has enough of an initial lens line up for those who believe in its future, to buy in upon release and shoot a wedding as soon as they are familiar with the set up. Landscape photographers will be very happy (especially when top quality primes are available, like the 24mm ART. I just don’t see how this won’t work out for Pentax and I would predict a ‘confidence building period’ as those sitting on the sidelines wait to see if the K-1 is too good to be true. Then after the early adopters have leapt, more and more will buy in as lenses are released and the reviews confirm the system’s value.
The Future of Pentax FF? This camera will do well enough for there to be a MK II (perhaps a simple upgrade with internals changed to suit the Sony 42MP BSI sensor?) and beyond. Once people see depth to the system, confidence will build further. Then comes an ‘S’ model, perhaps with a 24MP sensor and much higher frame rate, with a silent shutter mode and perhaps some other commercial photographer leaning tweaks? Then something interesting might happen: if people are already invested in K mount lenses by this point, whether Pentax or third party, the cost of upgrading to the S or Mk II will be dramatically cheaper for K-1 owners than Canikon owners, assuming Pentax retains aggressive body pricing. My gut feeling is that they will, as this will help suck people into the system and I suspect it will be so for a number of generations. It remains true with the likes of the K3-II now, which at under £600 for a 24MP APS-C DSLR with IBIS, is very aggressive indeed.
I think its safe to say we can forget Sony on the FF DSLR market as a major force. In contrast, I think Pentax is going to take a big bite out of Canon and Nikon over the next five years, while the DSLR remains the primary professional workhorse for most professionals and a large number amateurs. Mirrorless is great, but don’t go thinking that DSLRs will vanish in the next 5-10 years, because they won’t.
What’s to say Pentax won’t build on the K mount with a mirrorless version that melds the benefits of the heavy duty professional DSLR type chassis and lens line up with and Electronic View Finder etc. I would not put my money on Nikon or Canon getting there first if I were you. Pentax has a recent history of bold innovation like Sony. The difference is that Pentax has a long history of making professional products that are robust, reliable and user orientated (which Sony is still struggling with). I am still fascinated by Sony’s technological innovation. I have an admiration for Fuji’s ability to support their products and make ‘feel good’ equipment that does its job dependably; however, Pentax is the dark horse in this race. I do not see their foray into the FF DSLR market as ‘too little too late’. After all, if they can challenge the giants in this extremely evolved marketplace, there is little they won’t be able to do elsewhere.