Yesterday Pentax announced their eagerly awaited large sensor Compact System Camera, The K-01. Central to the discussion around this camera is its looks, so you should check out the hands-on photos on the Photography Blog site.
The styling is certainly different. It’s a bold interpretation of what a camera should be, by designer Mark Newson, and has divided opinion in the tumultuous world of internet discussion forums. (More on the looks later.)
First, we need to consider what the K-01 offers.
- Full compatibility with all K-Mount lenses
- Great video performance (in theory)
- Image quality at least equal to flagship DSLR, the K-5
- Image sensor same size as a Consumer DSLR
However there are some drawbacks.
- Almost the same size as a DSLR (see comparison on CameraSize.com)
- Weighs more than some DSLRs (like a Nikon D3100)
- No Viewfinder
- Ergonomic issues
When looked at in isolation the K-01 is a good camera. Provided you like how it looks, there’s no real reason to not buy it… Until you consider the competition.
First let’s consider the K-01 versus an entry level DSLR. With the K-01 you gain better video and image quality in a marginally smaller package. You lose the viewfinder, the fast phase-detect autofocus, and give up the ergonomic advantages of DSLRs in terms of grip and button placement.
Lots of people are quite happy to make compromises to get image quality and video performance, however the vast majority of any benefit in these areas will be eroded by the entry level DSLRs that will be released later this year.
As a system, the K-01 should be inherently better at video than a DSLR, image quality should prove the same (all other things being equal), ergonomics and autofocus will favour DSLRs.
Now let’s look at the mirrorless (Compact System Camera) competition.
For a size comparison, consider the Samsung NX200 which has the same sized sensor and a similar level of controls.
View the comparison on Camera Size here.
The NX200 is half the size and half the weight of the K-01 and this is not unrepresentative of other models. So at the moment the only advantage that the K-01 has over other Compact System Cameras is the wide range of lenses available. Micro 4/3 is almost there in terms of a lens line-up, and Sony NEX is now getting lots of 3rd party support, so that advantage is quickly disappearing.
The K-01 doesn’t seem to have anything to recommend it over its mirrorless rivals until you read this interview on the British Journal Of Photography with Pentax UK General Manager, Jonathan Martin.
When asked why someone should choose the K-01, Martin answered, “Design.”
This is the crux of the sales pitch for the K-01. It is a camera for design lovers, and this is a problem. While the individual features of the K-01 are attractive and well made, the boxy shape is inelegant. Also there are some significant ergonomic issues.
The first thing I noticed when I saw the rear of the K-01 was how far in towards the centre of the camera, the thumb dial was. This will likely make it uncomfortable to use, and that conjecture has been backed up by reading the Hands-On Preview on Ephotozine, and by the following video.
The grip is also very shallow, and there is nowhere for your thumb to rest on the back plate. Add to that, there is no viewfinder so you will be using this large, heavy camera at arm’s length; and you can see that the K-01 just hasn’t been well conceived from a usability point of view.
To sum up a designer’s camera with a designer’s quote.
“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.”
While the K-01 is certainly not a bad camera when viewed by itself, it just isn’t a compelling option unless you love the looks.