While digital cameras have advanced in terms of specifications and hardware, it seems camera design has taken a backseat. Compact cameras all possess the same slim chassis, while DSLRs look even more similar across the board. Most of the time, the common route vendors take to differentiate their product is to probably sell it in a different coat of color.
Bucking this trend of homogeneous exteriors, Pentax has boldly engaged renowned designer, Marc Newson, to design a mirrorless system camera. The result is the Pentax K-01, which is aimed at those who want a camera that stands out from the crowd. Possessing a 16-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, the K-01 is compatible with all of Pentax’s K-mount lenses and features a uniquely-designed aluminum body. But looks aside, is the K-01 a competent camera or is it just all looks and no substance? We spend some time to give you our take of this interesting camera.
As with all products featuring an avant-garde design, the K-01 will either mesmerize or put users off with its chunky design. We received a yellow set for our review, and the retro design coupled with the ribbed rubber exterior makes the K-01 look like a toy. However, the machined aluminum frame makes the K-01's build feel pretty solid, unlike some entry-level DSLR models which feel like they're constructed from plastic. But the K-01 is heavier than a smaller mirrorless system camera; the K-01 weighs in at 575g while a Canon 600D body weighs in at 600g. So why the weight and bulk?
The K-01 has a thick side profile compared to other mirrorless cameras because it accepts Pentax's K-mount DSLR lenses. This may be a worthy trade-off as it means there's already an established set of lenses which work with the K-01, as compared to the limited number of lenses offered by some other mirrorless camera systems. The K-01's bigger size requires one to use both hands to handle the camera when shooting with anything other than the pancake lens, with one hand on the camera and the other holding the lens barrel.
The dials are large and easy to use; the mode dial on the top of the K-01 rotates quickly due to its large size. A 3-inch LCD screen and some controls occupy the back of the camera, but the buttons are neatly arranged so the overall layout of buttons doesn’t feel messy or slipshod. However, there's no markings on the control dial located beside the green customizable button except the magnify and zoom icons, so one might think it serves no purpose other than to zoom in and out of a picture when in playback mode. In reality, the dial actually serves to adjust the aperture or shutter speed values, depending on the mode the user is currently shooting in.
Another point to note is that the button placement of the two customizable green and red buttons leave more to be desired as they're hard to press them when your hands are in the shooting position. By default the red button starts video recording while the green button will automatically set the aperture and shutter speed values for optimum exposure in any manual exposure. It's useful for those who need to snap a photograph in a hurry but are unsure of what values to set for aperture and shutter speed. While these two buttons offer useful shortcuts, getting to them while shooting is a different matter due to their awkward placement.
The menus within the K-01 are easy to navigate, with the usual tabbed format layout. There's a helpful Info button that brings up quite a few commonly-used settings such as the aspect ratio of the photographs, photograph quality and metering modes; this helps as you will not need to scroll through tabs to get to the setting that you want. Pressing the Info button twice will allow you to toggle between displaying or hiding the information display on the screen.