“Pentax KP Review — Hands-on Preview
by Mike Tomkins
Preview posted: 01/25/2017
Last updated: 02/10/2017
02/10/2017: First Shots posted!
For many years now, we’ve been big fans of Ricoh’s Pentax brand, and the oftentimes superb DSLRs it produces. The Pentax brand has a long history of making exceptionally fully-featured cameras that come complete with equally aggressive price tags. And while it’s not necessarily true of every model the company has produced, Pentax has also earned itself something of a reputation for making cameras that are surprisingly compact by DSLR standards, given their feature-rich designs.
DSLR handling in a package that’s no larger than many mirrorless cameras
The 24-megapixel Pentax KP takes all of that to the next level, paring off as much of its remaining DSLR heft as possible to better compete with its smaller mirrorless camera rivals, while still offering up an extremely well-specified camera in that newer, smaller envelope. Obviously, since it’s still a DSLR and so must make room for a DSLR-sized mirror box, there’s a limit to how far this approach can be taken. What’s impressive, though, is just how much Ricoh has been able to cram into the Pentax KP despite its compact proportions.
To date, the smallest true DSLR we’ve reviewed has been the Canon SL1, a camera which is aimed at entry-level shooters rather than the more experienced photographers Ricoh is courting with the Pentax KP. Ricoh’s new camera sports a body that’s not a whole lot bigger than that of the Canon SL1. At 5.2 x 4.0 x 3.0 inches (W x H x D), it’s barely 10-12% larger in each dimension, yet the Pentax KP packs in far more features than did the SL1. (And if anything, those dimension figures read as being misleadingly high. Much of the KP’s body is far slimmer and less tall than the numbers suggest, with only the central mirror box portion of the camera occupying the full height and depth.)
The Pentax KP sports a feature-packed, weather-sealed mag-alloy body
The magnesium alloy-bodied Pentax KP has a glass pentaprism viewfinder with near-100% coverage, for example, where the Canon SL1 instead opted for a smaller, dimmer and less accurate pentamirror finder. The Pentax KP also boasts a twin-dial design with full dust, weather and freeze-proofing, a tilting LCD monitor, an uprated in-body shake reduction system and in-camera Wi-Fi — all features that Canon’s smallest DSLR lacked — as well as plenty else besides.
Admittedly, the Pentax KP is also 50% heavier than was the Canon SL1 when loaded and ready to shoot, but without the lens. That’s a difference which is pretty easy to understand, though, when one considers that Canon’s begi
er-friendly design lacked so many of the Pentax KP’s features, and placed them inside a predominantly plastic body. The Pentax KP, by contrast, has magnesium-alloy panels at front, back and on the bottom, relying on polycarbonate only on its top deck.
A ground-up rethink of how to package a truly compact DSLR
So how has Ricoh been able to achieve this degree of miniaturization while retaining so many features, and how does the Pentax KP handle? Well to answer that second question first, the answer is very well — surprisingly so given its compact size. The KP has been redesigned from the ground-up, with Ricoh rethinking the positions of controls and internal components to make best use of available space.
Externally, this is most noticeable in the change to a vertically-mounted front control dial, rather than the near-horizontal front dial of past models. I found this new dial to be quite comfortable in use, and it’s paired with a new interchangeable hand-grip design, with a total of three grip options available. (Grips are exchanged by simply loosening a socket-head screw with a provided hex key.) At launch, Pentax will be including all three grips in the product bundle in the US market, although in other markets it’s possible that some of the grips may instead be sold separately from the camera.
Tune the Pentax KP to your tastes with its clever interchangeable grips
In my hands-on time with the Pentax KP, I was able to try out the most compact of the trio, the Grip S (shown attached). Despite its relatively shallow profile and my larger-than-average hands, I felt this pairing was quite secure in my grip, and my fingers didn’t really feel u
ecessarily cramped. I’m definitely looking forward to trying out the medium and large-sized Grip M and Grip L, though, as for a slight increase in weight and grip depth, these look to provide even more purchase for a more secure hand-hold. While I’ve not yet gotten a chance to try these on the camera (the required hex key having gotten misplaced), I can say that each of these accessory grips felt sturdy, and had a good-sized piece of metal inset in their back surface to help ensure a tight, creak-free fit against the camera body.
The K-1’s Smart Function Dial makes its first APS-C appearance
Also new to the Pentax APS-C camera line is the Smart Function Dial which was introduced on the Pentax K-1. This clever control saves you delving through the menu system, keeping more than just the exposure basics handy for quick adjustments. Sadly, there’s not space on the Pentax KP’s top deck to include the Smart Function Dial alongside of an LCD info display, and so this model relies solely on its viewfinder and rear-deck 3.0-inch tilting LCD monitor to provide information on camera setup.
A brand-new sensor should give the Pentax KP spectacular high ISO performance
But enough of the body, what’s new under the skin? Perhaps the most important change of the bunch is a brand-new APS-C sized 24-megapixel image sensor which we’re told is an improved version of that featured previously in the Pentax K-70. This is said to bring with it improved high ISO noise performance, and according to Ricoh’s reps, should allow the Pentax KP to come “very close” to the image quality of the full-frame Pentax K-1, even as high as ISO 51,200-equivalent. And that’s nowhere near the upper limit of this camera’s range, incidentally. The Pentax KP offers everything from ISO 100 to 819,200-equivalents, a truly staggering range for an APS-C sensor-based camera.
The K-1’s uprated Shake Reduction II system makes its APS-C debut
And as if that broad sensitivity range wasn’t already enough to ensure blur-free shots in low-light shooting, the Pentax KP also debuts a newly-uprated, five-axis image stabilization system dubbed Shake Reduction II. (We’ve seen this SR II system previously in the full-frame Pentax K-1, but it’s never been featured in an APS-C based camera body before now.) Ricoh’s new SR II system corrects for pitch, yaw, roll, and both horizontal and vertical motion, and now has a claimed five-stop corrective strength to CIPA testing standards when using the smc PENTAX-DA 18-135mmF3.5-5.6ED AL [IF] DC WR lens at the telephoto position.
Pixel Shift Resolution, AA Filter Simulator, AstroTracer, you name it: Ricoh gets plenty of added value from the sensor-shift mechanism
The uprated Shake Reduction II system includes automatic pa
ing detection, and the sensor shift assembly which sits at its heart can also be used for a wide variety of purposes beyond image stabilization. Pentax’s Pixel Shift Resolution function, for example, uses the SR II system to boost per-pixel resolution for relatively static scenes by capturing and combining several shots, while very precisely moving the sensor in between captures. The Pentax KP also retains the clever AA Filter Simulator function which recreates the moiru00e9 and false color-fighting effects of an optical low-pass filter by precisely moving the image sensor during exposure.
And like its predecessors, the Pentax KP can also automatically level horizons for you if you’re holding the camera just slightly off-kilter, let you fine-tune your image composition when shooting with the camera mounted on a tripod, and even freeze star trails in long exposures, functions which are achieved using the same sensor shift mechanism that helps stabilize your shots at slower shutter speeds. (You’ll need to pick up the optional O-GPS1 GPS receiver accessory if you want to use the star trail-freezing AstroTracer system though, as the camera itself lacks a built-in GPS receiver.)
Performance that’s close to Ricoh’s APS-C flagships, but with a rather more limited buffer
Burst performance, while not manufacturer-rated as being quite as fast as the company’s APS-C flagship Pentax K-3 and K-3 II — which remain on sale alongside the KP which slots in underneath them in the lineup — is still very generous. Ricoh rates the Pentax KP as capable of up to seven frames per second for as many as 28 full-resolution JPEG, eight raw or seven raw+JPEG frames. That’s just a touch slower than the 8.3 fps manufacturer rating of the K-3 and K-3 II, although the much more abbreviated buffer of the Pentax KP will make these flagships the better option for sports shooters. (The K-3 and K-3 II are capable of 60 JPEG or 23 raw frames in a burst, double to triple the burst depth of the Pentax KP.)
The Pentax KP brings some worthwhile tweaks to autofocus and exposure
Exposure options are in most respects similar to the Pentax K-3 and K-3 II, with the Pentax KP using the same 27-point SAFOX 11 autofocus systems as in those cameras, complete with 25 cross-type points that are sensitive to detail on both horizontal and vertical axes. And the KP also retains the same 86,000 pixel RGB metering system as in its flagship siblings. However, there are some important differences.
Perhaps most significantly, Ricoh notes that it has improved its autofocus algorithms such that the Pentax KP should offer noticeably better AF performance and accuracy than past models using the same AF sensor. And while the Pentax KP has a fastest mechanical shutter speed of 1/6,000-second, not quite as swift as the 1/8,000-second shutter of the K3-series models, it also now sports an electronic shutter function which tops out at 1/24,000-second.
The Pentax KP also brings with it some new bracketing functionality not seen in past models. For example, Depth-of-Field bracketing allows you to bracket the camera’s selected aperture value, while Motion Bracketing allows you to do much the same with shutter speeds.
Finally, an official tethering solution returns to Pentax APS-C cameras!
Another piece of great news is that the Pentax KP will support remote tethered shooting using the company’s optional Pentax Image Transmitter 2 software and its related Lightroom plugin. That’s huge news, as until now the software has been reserved for Pentax’s medium-format and full-frame DSLR models, with APS-C shooters having to rely on reverse-engineered third-party solutions for tethered shooting. We’re thrilled to see Ricoh has decided to bring tethering back for subframe shooters, as it’s something we’ve been asking about for years!
Pricing and availability
Available from February 25th, 2017, the Pentax KP will be sold in the US market at a list price of around US$1,100 body-only. The D-BG7 battery grip will be priced at around US$230, and will ship from May 2017 in the US market.
Pentax KP Review — Technical Info
by Mike Tomkins
At the heart of the Pentax KP is a brand-new image sensor based on that featured previously in the Pentax K-70. It’s a 24.32-megapixel CMOS image sensor with a Bayer RGBG color filter array. Dimensions are 23.5 x 15.6mm, and total resolution is 24.96 megapixels. Maximum image size is 6,016 x 4,000 pixels.
Note that both the total and effective resolution counts are just slightly higher than their K-70 counterparts, although the output image resolution is unchanged. We’re speculating here, but our guess is that the difference comes down to one feature subtraction from the K-70: The Pentax KP forgoes that camera’s on-chip phase-detection autofocus pixels, meaning that it relies solely on contrast-detection autofocus during live view or movie shooting. Freeing up those pixels for imaging instead of phase-detect AF likely answers why the pixel counts have increased, however.
Like all of the company’s recent DSLR cameras, the Pentax KP doesn’t include an optical low-pass filter. It does, however, feature an on-demand mechanical antialiasing function. More on that in a moment. (Or read Dave Etchells’ “Geek’s Guide to On-Demand Low-Pass Filtering” from our Pentax K-3 review for the full story; the feature is unchanged from that camera with the exception of the added ability to bracket the AA Filter Simulation function.)
The Pentax KP is the company’s first APS-C sensor-based camera to include its latest-generation PRIME IV image processor, which was previously featured only in the full-frame Pentax K-1. (The “PRIME” in the name is a contraction of “Pentax Real IMage Engine”, if you’re curious.)
Ricoh hasn’t stated what performance gains or other tweaks are to be found in the newer variant of the processor, and nor can any obvious conclusions be drawn from the camera’s burst-capture performance. It seems pretty logical to presume that PRIME IV offers more performance and likely contains updated algorithms, versus its predecessor, though.
The Pentax KP takes the crown from the earlier K-70 when it comes to its sensitivity range, and offers far in excess of that provided by the flagship K-3 and K-3 II cameras.
The Pentax K-3 and K-3 II weren’t exactly slouches themselves, with an overall sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 51,200 equivalents, while the K-70 offered everything from ISO 100 to 102,400-equivalent. The Pentax KP stands head and shoulders above the crowd, though, with its ability to provide a truly spectacular range from ISO 100 to 819,200-equivalents. The entire range is available without needing to enable ISO expansion as in some competing cameras, and step sizes of 1/3, 1/2, or 1EV are available.
There’s also an Auto ISO sensitivity function with configurable upper and lower limits. And as in past cameras, you can configure the Pentax KP to raise sensitivity more or less quickly than the default.
“Pentax KP Review — Hands-on Preview