Preview: Pentax’s Retro-Modern Mirrorless K-01

A week before the CP trade show in Yokahama, Pentax Ricoh Imaging announced its second camera without a reflex mirror or pentaprism: the 16-megapixel K-01 with a large APS-C size CMOS sensor (23.7×15.7mm) and a DSLR-style feature set. Built-in flash is standard, but there’s also a hot shoe for external flash and a 3″ 920,000-dot LCD, though no viewfinder of any type nor an optional electronic viewfinder.

Unlike the Pentax Q and other Compact System Cameras, the K-01 retains an SLR mount. As the manufacturer notes, the venerable K-mount will accept “25 million lenses spanning decades.” To be available in black, silver or yellow by March 2012, the K-01 will be packaged as body only ($800 MSRP) or in a kit with DA XS 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens ($900) billed as “the world’s thinnest interchangeable lens.”

The other significant aspect is the innovative styling of the K-01, described by various reviewers as “artsy,” “retro-modern” and as “one part MoMA exhibit, one part toy camera and two parts Ikea.” Forged by the eclectic Australian industrial designer Marc Newson, the K-01 with its aluminum alloy chassis with rubber finish and some retro-style controls, is certainly unique, but also surprisingly large. In this respect, it’s diametrically opposed to the Pentax Q, which is the smallest of the interchangeable-lens digital cameras because of its tiny sensor and new Q mount.

Familiar Lens Mount

The decision to retain the oversized K-mount precluded the ability to reduce the flange depth, also called the back-focus distance. Consequently the body is quite deep, though not very tall. But it’s certainly not particularly compact (12.1 x 7.9 x 5.9 cm w/h/d) in spite of the omission of a reflex mirror, pentaprism and viewfinder. In fact, the K-01 is comparable in size to some entry-level DSLRs, except for its smaller handgrip and it’s quite light in weight (480g plus battery). While size may be a drawback to some, owners of Pentax systems will not need an entirely new series of lenses or an optional adapter. Just like the K-series DSLRs, it accepts all K-mount lenses, though with technical limitations when not using the current DA AF series.

Technology

This new Pentax camera employs an updated version of the sensor used by the K-5 DSLR and an improved processor, the PRIME M, which will provide benefits especially in video capture. As a mirrorless camera, it can provide only contrast-detection autofocus; DSLR-style phase-detection AF is not possible. The multi-mode AF system includes an 81-point sensor; the user can select any desired point or allow the camera to do so. A focus-peaking mode, clearly delineating areas that are sharp, will make manual focus particularly convenient and effective.

Feature Set

A review of the specs indicates great similarity to the K-5 DSLR, though with some new features originally developed for the Pentax Q. However, this is a full-time live-view camera. The body lacks an electronic viewfinder, and has no contact points that would allow for attaching an accessory EVF.

The major benefits over the K-5 are provided in video capture. These include a higher frame rate (30fps at1080p and 60fps at 720p) and the newer H.264/MPEG-4 AVC compression, which is more space-efficient than Motion JPEG compression. As well, greater user control is available in Movie mode, including the ability to record in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority mode instead of P mode.

Significant aspects of the Pentax K-01 include a sensor-shift image stabilizer and dust-reduction system; a full range of manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic modes; multiple exposure and an improved HDR mode; many overrides; a fast 6fps burst mode; an ISO range from 100 to 25,600; numerous special effects in capture and as retouching options in Playback mode; and a built-in stereo mic.

The K-01 uses a lithium-ion battery to provide 500 shots per charge (per CIPA rating) and accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC cards and optional accessories including a wireless remote controller, flash unit and GPS receiver.

Analysis

Considering the size of the body and its use of DSLR lenses, it’s questionable whether the K-01 can be considered as part of the Compact System Camera category, in spite of its mirrorless design. While it will probably be viewed as a niche product, this model certainly offers an alternative to competitors that require entirely new lenses, and should be particularly attractive to consumers who already own a Pentax system.

Rumours about the K-01 were rampant on the Internet for several weeks, and some sites had published accurate specifics about certain features including its K-mount. However, none were privy to product photos. Aside from the large body size, it’s really the unique styling that sets this camera apart. Frankly, this will be a polarizing aspect. Debates have already started as to the pros and cons of Marc Newson’s design. Particularly in yellow, it seems to be a bit dramatic for most tastes, but in black it’s actually quite handsome. We’ll be testing the new Pentax camera when it becomes available, since substance should be a more significant aspect than style.

DayMen Intros Event Messenger Series from Lowepro

DayMen Canada, has introduced the Event Messenger bag series from Lowepro. All three models (the 100, 150, and 250) are designed to carry and protect an interchangeable lens camera kit.

Each bag has a wide-access main compartment, and a dual-mode flap design that gives the user the ability to speedily switch from maximum security mode, to quiet working mode by unfolding or folding the fasteners under the flap.

Additional features include, a comfortable shoulder strap with a non-slip patch, stretch side pockets, and a grab handle.

The series is available in mica, in three sizes. The 250 ($79 MSRP) can house a Pro DSLR without grip, extra lenses, and a 13″ laptop, while the 150 ($69 MSRP) fits a DSLR, extra lenses, accessories, and a tablet. Finally, the 100 ($49 MSRP) can hold a compact DSLR or compact system camera, extra lenses, and accessories.