Pentax KP

Tech Radar

With no recent activity in its Pentax-branded mirrorless camera lines, Ricoh Imaging has spent the last few years overhauling the brand’s DSLR series. Following the upper-entry-level K-70 and the full-frame K-1 , the company has now brought out a model that appears to sit somewhere between those two cameras. 

The Pentax KP is launching at a significantly higher price than the K-70, which may surprise some when the spec sheets are compared, but it does present a handful of advantages over that model.

More specifically, it appears on Ricoh Imaging’s website under the line ‘low light photography in a new dimension’. Accordingly, it boasts a surprisingly broad sensitivity range and a more advanced AF system than the K-70, with the further advantage of a second-generation Shake Reduction system that should also lend a hand in sub-par conditions.

With a four-figure price tag for its body alone, the KP isn't exactly short of capable competitors. These range from mirrorless options such as Sony’s A6500 and Fujifilm’s X-T20 to more traditional DSLRs such as Canon's EOS 80D and Nikon’s D7200 , which prospective purchasers may well consider the KP's K-70 sibling too.

Features

  • APS-C CMOS sensor, 24.32MP
  • 3-inch tilt-angle screen, 921,000 dots
  • 1080p video capture

In true Pentax style, the KP arrives with a wealth of clever and useful options, and borrows a handful of features from the impressive K-1.

The KP is designed around a new 24.32MP APS-C sensor, which operates over a staggeringly broad sensitivity range of ISO100-819,200. Surprisingly, this appears to be the span of its native ISO range, rather than a combination of native and extensions settings.

It offers a staggeringly broad sensitivity range of ISO100-819,200

Ricoh Imaging claims this makes it suitable for low-light photography, although a high ISO range doesn't necessarily mean high-quality images at these uppermost settings. Unlike the sensor inside the K-70, the one here doesn't incorporate phase-detect AF pixels, which means the camera doesn't offer the same Hybrid AF system when set to live view.

As has previously been the case on Pentax DSLRs, the sensor has no anti-aliasing filter, to enable the capture of finer details than may otherwise be possible, although an anti-aliasing filter simulator is on hand to help curb the effects of aliasing. The user has the choice of different types of correction here, although bracketing options are also on hand for when they may not be sure which is the most appropriate.

The previously seen Pixel Shift Resolution feature, which takes four exposures with a single pixel displacement between each in order to get full color information at every photosite, also makes an appearance. 

This sensor works with a PRIME IV engine, which allows for raw files to be captured in either DNG or PEF formats, alongside the standard JPEG. It also enables a range of lens-oriented corrections, such as lateral chromatic aberration and distortion – potentially very useful if you don’t fancy processing these out yourself. 

In-camera raw processing is also provided post-capture, although one thing the processor doesn’t allow is 4K video recording. Instead, there’s Full HD video at a choice of frame rates, including 24p. 

The camera has been furnished with a second-generation Shake Reduction system, which appears to be similar to that used inside the flagship K-1 DSLR. This provides correction over five axes (roll, pitch and yaw, and both horizontal and vertical shifting) and has a claimed compensatory effect of up to five stops, a figure only currently bested by Olympus.

As we’d expect at this level, the KP has been fitted with a glass pentaprism viewfinder that provides approximately 100% coverage of the scene, and this has a 0.95x magnification. Underneath this there’s a 3.0-inch LCD screen with a 921k-dot resolution, and thanks to the hinge on which the screen is mounted you can pull it out from the body and adjust it upwards and downwards; it's not touch-sensitive however.

Another feature inherited from the K-1 is the Smart Function Dial on the top plate. This provides immediate access to a handful of settings – not exactly the same ones that appear on the K-1’s dial, although three of these are user-customizable options. 

Should the camera’s maximum shutter speed of 1/6000 sec not be high enough, you can also call on an electronic shutter that boosts this to 1/24,000 sec. Burst shooting, meanwhile, is quoted at a very respectable 7fps. 

Two new bracketing options also feature. Motion Bracketing lets you capture a series of images with changes to shutter speed between them, while Depth of field Bracketing applies the same principle to aperture; you can adjust the extent of shift between frames on each setting. 

Wi-Fi is on board for the easy sharing of images and remote control via a smart device, although NFC is absent. The camera also has a small pop-up flash and a hotshoe for accepting larger units, and everything is recorded to SD, SDHC or SDXC memory cards, up to the UHS-I standard.

Build and handling

  • Dust- and weather-resistant
  • Alternative grips
  • Weighs 703g

Without a lens, the Pentax KP measures a fairly compact 101 x 135 x 86mm. However, its weight of 703g with battery and card in place is heavier than we'd expect for such a small body. With most lenses the camera feels perfectly balanced, but larger, heavier optics can have the effect of not allowing the camera to sit flat on its base when placed on a table or other surface.

For portrait-orientation shooting, however, you can make things a little more comfortable for yourself by attaching the optional D-BG7 battery grip to the base.

If there’s one feature that really differentiates the KP from its contemporaries, it’s the facility to remove the grip and replace it with an alternative. This is somewhat unusual for a DSLR, but not entirely unexpected here when you consider the unconventional design of some previous K-mount models. 

And in a way it makes a lot of sense. Clearly you may prefer a different level of support when using a relatively small and light lens to when you're pairing the camera up with a weightier telephoto one, and the camera comes supplied with three grips as standard. One has a relatively flat profile and another boasts a more substantial design, with the third offering something in between the two, and these are easily removed and replaced with the supplied hex key. 

The most substantial of the three is still relatively small for such a body, but we actually found that it provided excellent handling. It’s perhaps not as secure in the hand as the deep grip on the K-70, but overall we found this paired the best with the lenses supplied for this test. It’s a bit small for something like the HD Pentax-D FA 24-70mm f/2.8ED SDM WR, but then that particular optic is not exactly designed for APS-C bodies.

The problem with the other two grips is that, although they theoretically work better with smaller and lighter lenses, the body is still relatively heavy for its size, and therefore benefits from better support than these provide. 

The camera is built to high standard, thanks in part to the use of magnesium alloy panelling. This doesn't extend around the entire body, and is confined to the base plate and front and rear panels, but it has the same pleasing matte, mottled finish as the polycarbonate sections. Furthermore, thanks to 67 seals, Ricoh Imaging assures dust-proofing, weather-resistance and protection against freezing temperatures.

The Pentax KP is claimed to be dust-proof, weather-resistant and protected against freezing temperatures

In general, the Pentax KP is a very enjoyable camera to use. The design and location of the power switch makes it easy to flick it on and get shooting with one hand, and the rubberized front and rear dials both move with a pleasing fluidity. A further dial on the top plate is designed for use in conjunction with the Smart Function Dial, and this works well, although it’s a shame that some of these functions are pre-determined, as not everyone will need or want fast access to things like HDR shooting. 

Although all the dials are designed well, on such a small body some of these controls feel a little cramped. The Smart Function and mode dials are positioned right next to the viewfinder housing, so you often end up bashing into this when operating either.

The rear command dial is also positioned much further into the body than on similar cameras, and left-eye shooters may find that the top of their nose is in the way when this is turned. Through the menus, however, you can customize how different exposure parameters are adjusted if you find this to be an issue. 

Autofocus

  • 27-point AF, 25 cross-type AF points
  • Working range down to -3EV
  • Solid AF performance

Ricoh Imaging has put its SAFOX 11 autofocusing module in the Pentax KP, which features 27 points in total. All but two of these, at either horizontal end of the array, are cross-type, and the system has an impressive working range down to -3EV, which theoretically means it should focus in low light with more ease than some other systems. There’s also a bright green AF assist lamp on the front plate to lend a hand when light levels dip. 

The KP was supplied to us for this review with the aforementioned 24-70mm f/2.8 lens and the Pentax DA 35mm f/2.8 Macro, and each has a different focusing motor. The former is equipped with a Supersonic Drive Motor, and focusing performance with this is very good. When alternating between different focusing distances, the focusing group is driven at high speed to the approximate point of focus, although there is typically a slight delay before the camera confirms this, particularly in sub-optimum conditions and with low-contrast subjects.

Focusing with this lens is relatively silent too, which bodes well for use at weddings or in other environments where discretion is required. Focusing performance in low light isn't bad, but the AF assist lamp doesn't seem to come on as readily as those on other cameras, which would no doubt help. 

Even with an older 35mm f/2.8 Macro lens, focusing was still very good

The Pentax DA 35mm f/2.8 Macro lens is equipped with a more basic screw-drive motor, but focusing performance here is still very good, with the lens adjusting and confirming focus with surprising speed. For an older motor this is certainly impressive, and it's no doubt thanks in part to its elements being as light and small as they are, although it is considerably noisier than the 24-70mm f/2.8 in operation.

The two outermost points of the AF array are not cross type, and although they can hesitate and come unstuck with low-contrast subjects we actually found these worked surprisingly well in the majority of situations. The camera doesn't do quite as well when shooting in its AF-C mode, however. Not only does its focusing array cover a more limited area of the frame than those of many competitors, but it doesn't seem able to adhere to subjects reliably enough to be depended on.

When set to live view, however, focusing speeds are generally very good. The KP can't quite match the systems of many current compact system cameras, such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and Panasonic Lumix G80 , but it’s certainly fast enough to make live view usable when it's required.

Performance

  • 7fps burst shooting
  • Screen resolution disappointing
  • Logical menu design

There is a very brief delay upon starting up the Pentax KP, before the information appears inside the viewfinder and the focusing system becomes active, but this shouldn't present any practical issues for anything but the most spontaneous occasions.

Navigating the menus is relatively straightforward, thanks to a logical structure and the welcome absence of any esoteric abbreviations, although the lack of color coding can make things a little harder to find than needs be. It’s nice to find that there’s almost no lag as you adjust shooting parameters and browse through menu screens, with the camera responding promptly to turns of the command dials.

Navigating the menus is relatively straightforward, thanks to a logical structure and the welcome absence of any esoteric abbreviations

In addition to its direct controls in and around the menu pad, there’s the option to bring up the electronic level over two axes via a button in the top-left-hand corner of the rear plate. Pressing the Info button, meanwhile, brings up 20 commonly used settings for quick adjustment (and 15 in the movie mode), and you can customize this display if you wish to add your most frequently used options. 

The viewfinder is a generous size and relatively clear, though perhaps a touch on the warm side. There’s not quite the wealth of information displayed on it that we tend to see on similar cameras, but all the basics are there. The 25 central AF points are quite small, but their brightness makes them easy to see, while the peripheral points on either side of the central array are shaped as lines rather than points, which makes them more visible.

The LCD screen moves freely when adjusted, and its ability to face upwards – just beyond a 90-degree angle – is very useful for low-level shooting, particularly as the hinge on which it's mounted allows it to be pulled away so the viewfinder’s eyecup doesn't obstruct it. Its 45-degree downwards angle makes it less flexible for high-level shooting, but a quick adjustment to the Outdoor View mode, and the option to bring up the electronic level, means it’s still very usable here. 

In balanced light, such as indoors, the LCD screen’s viewing angle and contrast are very good. The Outdoor View mode is a very effective way to quickly boost the monitor’s brightness when shooting in harsh light, as it can be a little more difficult to see in these conditions. Admittedly, this is an issue that affects many screens, and the fact that you can adjust the screen to a range of angles makes it less of a concern here.

The display’s 3-inch dimensions and 921,000-dot resolution may seem a little behind the times next to current models

The display’s 3-inch dimensions and 921,000-dot resolution may seem a little behind the times next to other current models, and a comparison with another current DSLR does show it to lack the bite of a 1.62 million-dot screen. In isolation, however, it’s good enough for assessing focus and checking details in magnified images, although it’s a shame it’s not touch-sensitive.

The spec sheet states that the Pentax KP can fire at 7fps for up to seven Raw+JPEG frames, or alternatively eight raw frames on their own, and we found this to be exactly right. It also states a burst depth of 28 frames when shooting JPEGs on their own, but we found it typically exceeded this figure, sometimes by just a few frames but making it to 51 frame on one occasion.

The camera also doesn't lock up like some others as these shots are being processed, so you're able to access the menus and shoot further frames while this is going on. If you shoot JPEGs on their own you may be perfectly happy with this burst-shooting performance, although an eight-frame depth for raw images is somewhat on the low side.

The camera's electronic shutter is really designed for live view shooting, where it's capable of capturing the image with no sound (in comparison with the mechanical shutter). You don’t enjoy the same benefit when shooting through the viewfinder, as the mirror still needs to swing up when the exposure takes place, although you do still gain the same fast shutter speeds here. This is not only very useful for fast-moving subjects, but also if you happen to find yourself in bright sunlight with a wide-aperture lens.

Image quality

  • ISO100-819,200
  • Pixelshift technology
  • Shadow and highlight correction

Previous Pentax DSLRs have had a tendency towards underexposure, but this doesn't appear to be the case with the KP. While the odd image could benefit from a little positive exposure compensation, the only times where the camera noticeably underexposed was in the types of conditions that would force many cameras to take the same approach, such as when faced with some backlighting and/or lots of highlight detail; but even here it didn’t fare too badly, and could generally be left to its own devices.

In most instances, exposure was spot on

It’s a good idea to enable the Shadow Correction and Highlight Correction options, as these improve the balance of images captured in more problematic conditions.

The Shake Reduction system delivers good results

Colors are also very pleasing on the standard Bright Custom Image setting, delivering noticeably punchier results than what most other cameras prefer as their default output. In the vast majority of situations the colors are appropriate to the scene and not over the top, although you can select the Natural setting where you want something a little more faithful. Switch to the Vivid option, meanwhile, and you get a nice extra punch that makes landscape images and other images featuring skies and foliage sing.

The Pentax KP faithfully renders colors in most situations

Up to ISO12,800 or so images are still usable at modest sizes, and even some images at ISO25,600 can be salvaged, although it’s very difficult to process most images captured at higher settings without details being severely compromised. 

This is certainly a very good performance from a camera with an APS-C-sized sensor, although the KP appears to have followed Nikon’s D500 in having far too many additional unusable ISO settings; at least in the kinds of conditions for which high ISOs are designed, you probably won’t want to call on any of the six-figure ISO range.

This was shot at ISO25,600 – the Pentax KP’s sensor performs well in such conditions for an APS-C chip

Thankfully, the camera’s effective Shake Reduction II system means you may not have to. Shooting inside a dark church, the system easily delivered enough compensation to get images sharp enough, even at shutter speeds as low as 1/8 sec. As a sensor-based system you won't appreciate this effect when composing images through the viewfinder, which also means the view isn't as steady for composition, although you can see it working when you switch to live view.

The camera’s Pixel Shift Resolution mode manages to combine its four exposures quickly, and the difference in image quality over standard images is noticeable. It does very well to clarify finer details, although this can cause a slight patterning in areas of little detail. For tripod-based shooting it’s certainly worth considering, although the difference between what it outputs and a carefully sharpened raw file captured without this feature isn't perhaps as great as you may imagine.

Although it lacks 4K video recording, the Pentax KP otherwise doesn't compare too badly in terms of what it offers the videographer. There are 24, 25 and 30p recording options, focus peaking, manual controls over the audio level and a port to use external microphones. Even so, video quality is something of a mixed bag, with very effective Shake Reduction and decent audio quality, but poorly detailed footage and rolling shutter being issues.

Verdict

Viewed in isolation, the Pentax KP is certainly a fine camera with much to recommend it. Its body is surprisingly small, but it provides a good level of physical control with a great level of customization. It’s prompt in operation and has a capable AF system when shooting static subjects, and packs masses of clever tricks to suit a range of situations and shooting styles.

Crucially, image quality from the KP is sound, with balanced metering, low noise levels and gorgeous colors straight out of the camera. It pays to get acquainted with its various image-processing options, as these can make a significant difference to the standard of its images, from its lens corrections and Pixel Shift Resolution mode to its post-capture, raw processing options.

So what could deter prospective buyers? Perhaps the main issue is price. Although the Pentax KP offers a number of advantages over the K-70, there aren't enough to warrant double the asking price. For that kind of money we should expect it to offer a more compelling core feature set, with a more advanced AF system, a better LCD screen and a deeper burst depth for starters.

It’s likely that many users won't mind the camera’s poor video quality, unreliable continuous AF performance, the lack of touchscreen operation or a single card slot, but when you look at what’s being offered for far less money elsewhere it’s difficult not to feel short-changed.

Competition

Canon EOS 80D

With its 24MP APS-C sensor, weather-resistant body, 7fps burst mode and Wi-Fi, the EOS 80D certainly appears to equal the Pentax KP in a number of key areas. Unsurprisingly its ISO range doesn't stretch anywhere near as high, topping out at an extended setting equivalent to ISO25,600, and you have to use an image-stabilized lens to benefit from the technology, rather than having it built into the body as on the KP. Yet it provides a handful of advantages elsewhere, from its 45-point all-cross-type AF system and excellent Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology to a touch-sensitive LCD that can be adjusted to a greater range of positions thanks to its side hinge. 

Read the full review: Canon EOS 80D

Nikon D7200

The D7200 is perhaps Nikon’s closest competitor to the Pentax KP. It also offers a 24MP sensor without a low-pass filter, and a body that makes use of magnesium alloy for solidity, with Full HD video recording and built-in Wi-Fi. While it can’t quite beat the KP for burst rate, it does at least offer a more saturated and wider-reaching 51-point AF system, together with a larger, higher-resolution (albeit fixed) LCD screen and an additional card slot. Its age gives it a significant price advantage, too. 

Read the full review: Nikon D7200

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

With the newer OM-D E-M1 Mark II priced well above the Pentax KP, a more logical competitor is the next model down, the OM-D E-M5 Mark II. This has a smaller 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, and its flash is not built into its body, instead being an external unit that comes with the camera as standard, but otherwise it does very well. It matches the KP with a weather-resistant body and built-in five-axis image stabilization system, and has a faster 10fps burst mode. It also has the advantage of a touchscreen, while the 2.36-million dot OLED viewfinder potentially makes it easier to use for low-light shooting. 

Read the full review: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

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