Pentax KP

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Pentax KP

Pentax KP Review

The Pentax KP is a 24MP APS-C DSLR with styling and controls lifted largely from the full-frame K-1.  It also offers interchangeable front grip system as part of its rather pretty design.

On the face of it, the Pentax KP is a confusing proposition. On the other hand, we see a better control layout, higher ISO capabilities, and the new SR II system. It omits GPS, and takes a hit in areas like battery life and burst rate. Let’s take a closer look at what is right with the KP.

Their entire lineup features extensive weather-sealing, and the KP is no exception. The unique interchangeable grips are one of the standout features of the KP. They’re a nice touch, fitting neatly around the chunky front dial. Happily, none of them spoil the looks either.

All in all, this ‘baby K-1’ has some new thinking combined with sturdy quality and pleasant design.  In keeping with Pentax tradition, the KP offers a versatile set of controls that are hugely customizable.  On the top left of the camera is the typical drive mode dial, with 5 custom user modes. On the right side of the camera, up against the pentaprism hump, is a second mode dial.

Now that the function dial can be customized, it is brilliant.  Given Pentax’s history of customizability, we hope more settings will find their way to the third dial in the future. Pentax just needs to expand on the Function Dial a little more, and it will be perfect.

Auto ISO

Pentax was the first company to recognize the idea of manually specifying aperture and shutter speed, then letting the camera adjust ISO to make up the difference. Because this TAv mode (Shutter and Aperture Priority mode) is a full exposure mode, you get no unexpected restrictions. And, for the pedants among us, it side-steps the semantic contradiction of the camera controlling something in a nominally ‘manual’ exposure mode.

ISO Auto settings have been improved for the KP. There’s the ability to set a minimum and maximum ISO range. Then, there are two sensitivity options: ‘Auto’ or ‘Tv’. ‘Auto’ gives users the choice of ‘slow’, ‘normal’ or ‘fast’ as their minimum shutter speed in ‘Auto’, while Tv allows them to specify a shutter speed (whole stops only) as the minimum for the camera to automatically choose.

A large amount of signature Pentax features are enabled by their SR system that is found in the entire lineup. The KP is no exception, although it also is the APS-C debut of Pentax’s 5-axis SR II system. Let’s take a look at how it performs.

At 50mm equiv. the KP is capable of roughly 3.3 stops of stabilization, and about 3.7 at the long end. It is still a great performer, and offers levels of stabilization not often seen in other APS-C cameras. As it stands, this system is a helpful and downright impressive feature.

Pixel Shift

The largely impressive Pixel Shift Resolution mode remains unchanged from previous Pentax cameras. This takes four consecutive shots so that a Red, Blue and Green value has been captured for every output pixel: increasing the color resolution and reducing spurious color patterns. Taking four shots also makes a cleaner image by effectively quadrupling the amount of light captured.

Since this feature is mostly useful just for static, studio situations, we hope to eventually see support for flash with each of the separate shots like Olympus does.

Electronic Shutter

The normal shutter on the KP offers a decent enough maximum speed of 1/6000 sec. On top of that, in a DSLR first, it can also use a fully electronic shutter of up to 1/24,000 sec through the optical viewfinder, gaining two extra stops of maximum speed for situations like shooting in bright daylight with wide apertures.

When used, the mirror and shutter still work like normal, just with a delay surrounding the electronic exposure. It makes a 1/100 sec exposure last about the same as a 1/10 sec exposure, so it doesn’t necessarily feel like an ‘exposure delay’ mode, but more like the ‘Quiet’ shutter mode on a Nikon.

The downside to this mode is automatically disables the SR image stabilization system [presumably because it would risk exacerbating rolling shutter if the sensor moved as it was still being read-out.].

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi on the KP offers up a simple, yet effective way of transferring images or controlling the camera remotely with a smartphone. Turning on Wi-Fi is as simple as holding down the assigned button while reviewing images. The camera will beep (unless muted, which you can individually customize) and display a Wi-Fi icon on the top of the screen when it is switched on. Then it is simply a matter of communicating with the camera via Ricoh’s Image Sync app, which allows you to browse files on the camera and select which to transfer, or control the camera in live view through the app. It is one of the easier apps to initially set up, and the transfers happen quickly without fuss.

Video

Included with the KP is the ability to shoot Full HD 1080p at 24, 25, and 30 fps. For 50 and 60 fps, the camera is limited to 1080i (which is very probably just the same as the 30p output, tagged to be played-back as interlaced fields). Thankfully, the also features ‘Movie SR’, smoothing the shake from shooting video handheld.

 

The system has a number of options for focus point selection. ‘Select’ uses one user-specified autofocus point, selected with the 4-way controller. ‘Spot’ uses just the center point.

Then, there are three ‘Expanded AF Area’ (small, medium, and large) modes. In these modes, the user selects the initial AF point with the 4-way controller. When the subject strays from the initial point, the peripheral points serve as ‘back-up’ points, the amount of which used are specified by the small, medium, or large settings (with ‘large’ setting able to track your subject across the entire AF area).

JPEG

At base ISO, not much seems to have changed from the K-3 II. Historically we’ve found we much prefer the camera’s ‘Natural’ Custom Image mode to the default ‘Bright’ setting, so have shot using that. The default sharpening can still be mushy, especially when compared to the much better efforts of the competition. Thankfully, there is the (sort of difficult to find) ability to switch to ‘Fine’ or ‘Extra’ sharpening in the ‘Custom Image’ menu for better fine detail (we’d suggest Fine +1).

Color offers something a bit different than the competition. Reds for the Pentax are a bit more magenta than Nikon’s offering, and green ends up a bit too cool for our liking (though not as blue-shifted as Sony). Yellows are slightly desaturated and green, but aren’t as off as Sony’s unpleasant green-tinted yellows.

While the much-hyped ISO 819,200 spec is a bit outlandish and overall useless, the KP offers up extremely good high ISO JPEG performance. In fact, its noise reduction rivals the more expensive APS-C standout, the Sony a6500, although isn’t applying anything as sophisticated as that’s camera’s context-sensitive approach. In other words, somenoise is left behind, but so is a good amount of detail.

One of the major contributing factors to this performance is an updated noise reduction algorithm. It does a good job and isn’t too aggressive, and doesn’t causemushy details either. It doesn’t do a fantastic job with chroma noise in the background, manifesting itself as slight green or magenta tints in the shadows.

Raw

It is at high ISOs where the KP really shines. Noise on the KP is incredibly low for an APS-C camera, besting both the K-3 II and D7200 at ISO 25,600. A jump up to ISO 51,200widens the gap, showing the KP has a full stop better performance than its Nikon competition.

We’re a bit surprised by this performance, as there was little information given to us on how Pentax actually achieved this performance. Given this sensor doesn’t feature new technologies like BSI, we suspect there’s some ‘baking’ done to the Raw files. There are clear signs of noise reduction upon further analysis of the Raw (the green channel shows blotches of no detail where other cameras do not). And this comes at a cost – sometimes decreased detail, and odd cross-hatch patterning throughout the image.

Thanks to the noise reduction, it even punches above its sensor size and price bracket, showing a similar performance to a D750, outperforming the X-T2 by nearly a stop, and coming close to the a7R II. All in all, Ricoh has done an excellent job squeezing out as much performance as possible from the KP’s sensor.

Body and Handling

The looks can be polarizing, with some of us loving it and some of us hating it, but the feel of the camera is excellent. The dials have a very satisfying click that encourages fiddling and twiddling even when the camera is off, much like an Olympus.

The dials are also laid-out in a smart and ergonomic way. The front dial never feels awkward or out of place, no matter which grip is installed. The new power switch is much better than the switch found on lower-end Pentax cameras, although we still like the version with depth-of-field preview found on the K-3 II.

The stand out feature of the KP’s controls is the Function Dial, which does an excellent job allowing photographers to control as much about the KP as possible without having to look away from the viewfinder. We’d love to see more options added to it such as white balance but, as it stands, the Function Dial helps make the already super-customizable KP one of the better control layouts on the market.

That means there’s no way for users to completely avoid the clumsy press-and-hold method of switching the duties of the 4-way controller between its labeled settings and AF point placement.

Autofocus and Performance

Similar to the Pentax K-3 II, the KP uses the SAFOX 11 27-point autofocus system. It features 25 cross-type AF points concentrated towards the center, with two normal points on the left and right extremes.

Battery life is another low point for the K-P, with a CIPA rating just over half what the K-3 II can manage, which still was behind the D7200. The burst rate of 7 fps is a small drop relative to the 8.4 the K-3 II as well.

Video

While the image stabilization can help make handheld footage look smooth with the KP, the limited 1080 output is rather soft by default, and the camera falls behind Pentax’s own K-70 when it comes to autofocus in video thanks to the KP’s lack of on-sensor PDAF.

Image Quality

Impressing us the most about the KP was its image quality, which is now one of our top APS-C performers. Sure, the default JPEG sharpening still leaves something to be desired, but thankfully it can be changed to the much better ‘fine’ or ‘extra’ sharpening setting.

High ISO performance is as good as APS-C can get, even rivaling some full-frame cameras towards the top of the ISO range.

Pentax KP

Body type
Body type Mid-size SLR
Sensor
Max resolution 6016 x 4000
Other resolutions 4608 x 3072, 3072 x 2048, 1920 x 1280
Image ratio w:h 3:2
Effective pixels 24 megapixels
Sensor photo detectors 25 megapixels
Sensor size APS-C (23.5 x 15.6 mm)
Sensor type CMOS
Processor PRIME IV
Image
ISO Auto, 100-819200
White balance presets 9
Custom white balance Yes (3 slots)
Image stabilization Sensor-shift
Image stabilization notes 5-axis, up to 5 stops
Uncompressed format RAW
JPEG quality levels Best, better, good
Optics & Focus
Autofocus
  • Contrast Detect (sensor)
  • Multi-area
  • Center
  • Selective single-point
  • Tracking
  • Single
  • Continuous
  • Touch
  • Face Detection
  • Live View
Manual focus Yes
Number of focus points 27
Lens mount Pentax KAF2
Focal length multiplier 1.5×
Screen / viewfinder
Articulated LCD Tilting
Screen size 3
Screen dots 921,000
Touch screen No
Screen type TFT LCD
Live view Yes
Viewfinder type Optical (pentaprism)
Viewfinder coverage 100%
Viewfinder magnification 0.95× (0.63× 35mm equiv.)
Photography features
Minimum shutter speed 30 sec
Maximum shutter speed 1/6000 sec
Maximum shutter speed (electronic) 1/24000 sec
Aperture priority Yes
Shutter priority Yes
Manual exposure mode Yes
Built-in flash Yes
Flash range 6.00 m (at ISO 100)
External flash Yes (via hot shoe)
Flash modes Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on w/redeye reduction, slow sync, trailing curtain sync, manual, wireless
Continuous drive 7.0 fps
Self-timer Yes (2 or 12 secs)
Metering modes
  • Multi
  • Center-weighted
  • Spot
Exposure compensation ±5 (at 1/3 EV, 1/2 EV steps)
AE Bracketing ±5 (2, 3, 5 frames )
WB Bracketing Yes
Videography features
Format MPEG-4, H.264
Microphone Stereo
Speaker Mono
Storage
Storage types SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-I supported)
Connectivity
USB USB 2.0 (480 Mbit/sec)
HDMI No (requires SlimPort adapter)
Microphone port Yes
Headphone port No
Wireless Built-In
Wireless notes 802.11 b/g/n
Remote control Yes (via remote cable or smartphone)
Physical
Environmentally sealed Yes
Battery Battery Pack
Battery description D-LI109 lithium-ion battery & charger
Battery Life (CIPA) 390
Weight (inc. batteries) 703 g (1.55 lb / 24.80 oz)
Dimensions 132 x 101 x 76 mm (5.2 x 3.98 x 2.99)
Other features
Orientation sensor Yes
Timelapse recording Yes
GPS Optional
GPS notes O-GPS1

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