The Slowest Thing about the Pentax K-01

Pentax K-01, as taken by it's bigger brother.

I bought the K-01 for two things - the Sony sensor (same as the K-5), and the quiet shutter. I typically shoot candid photojournalist style, so I need cameras that work well in low light and don't make too much noise. I had been considering the Panasonic GX1 or Olympus E-P3 since I already have some good native glass for them (14mm F2.5, 20mm F1.7, and 45mm F1.8), but I knew that would mean a sensor not quite up to K-5 standards, and just as critically a loud shutter that would draw attention to the fact that I just took a picture. With the GH2 and GF2 for example, the cats would flinch each time I took a shot! I've since de-sensitized them (by taking hundreds of photos of them), but still...

One of the things critical to my style of shooting is speed. It's a fun challenge to try to see a moment, compose and meter it, and capture it in one seamless dance. It's early days still, but I thought I'd share some thoughts about the K-01 for this type of shooting. I've been using the Pentax K-01 with the DA Limiteds - 21mm F3.2, 35mm F2.8 Macro, 40mm F2.8 , and 70mm F2.4.

What then, is the slowest thing about the K-01?

No. While I haven't used it for sports or action, AF has been pretty snappy but with all the usual AF caveats - it will be slower in low light/low contrast situations, it will be slower with macro lenses without a macro lockout switch, etc. It's not the fastest AFAIK, but with the DA Limiteds that I've been using on the K-01, it was fast enough for my afternoon at The Cloisters.

Shutter lag?
No. While some suggest that it looks like a point-and-shoot that's had too many jelly donuts, it's a serious tool. I shoot with the AF separated from the shutter button, and when I press the shutter, it's there without hesitation. It's also very quiet, btw.

After it was announced, the K-01 received a lot of online flak (e-flak?) from folks claiming that usability too a back seat to design. "The Green button is poorly place!" "The mode dial is too far away!" "I need two control dials!" etc... In real life I've found the camera controls quick to use. I don't use the Green button that much on my K-5, so maybe that's why it doesn't bother me. Right now I've got it set for DOF preview, but I don't use that all that often either. The Red button has been set to Focus Peaking. It's really nice to have that there. And I've used many cameras with just a single control dial (Pentax K-x, Panasonic GH1/GH2, GF2, etc...). Does it slow me down compared to the K-5? Maybe in a test lab or on Internet forums. Has it prevented me from getting a shot? Never.

One thing I am playing around with is pressing the shutter with my middle finger. That leavers my pointer finger free to tap the Green, Red, and +/- buttons. It's proven helpful when shooting manual focus, manual exposure.

Manual Focus using Peak Focusing?
Peak focusing is quite nice, but it's not a panacea for fast composition and shooting. The problem that I've found is the screen - at normal (unzoomed) resolution and larger apertures (i.e., F2.8) you can't guarantee critical sharpness of the subject. So while the screen may be peaking around the face, is the eye in focus or is it really the ear? In those situations, you need to zoom in to check critical focus. In other word, click, tap, tap, tap, spin, tap, tap, focus. While this is fine for flowers and slow moving critters, it's not fast enough for people.

One thing I've yet to try out is Peak Focusing at smaller apertures, i.e., F5.6, F8, etc... With these apertures the DOF may be sufficient that I won't need to zoom. We'll see.

So while manual focusing with Peak Focusing is slower than I hoped (I was hoping to be nearly as fast with MF as AF), it's still a big step forward from Pentax dSLR's Catch-in-Focus and even a step better than manual focusing with Panasonic Micro Four-Thirds cameras.

I've done some quick tests with the in-camera HDR. It's a neat feature and the 3 shots are taken in rapid succession (I'd guess 6FPS). But the post-shot processing locks up the camera for hours. At least it seems like that. It's actually closer to 5-10 seconds. But watching the progress bar crawl across the screen in the middle of a fluid scene is a buzzkill.

Pentax K-01 HDR example with motion

One Frame per Second DNG?
This was a bit frustrating. Candid scenes move very quickly, not in one-second chunks. I'd love to arrive at a candid, decisive moment and reel off three quick shots with the near-silent shutter. I can do this with JPGs but not with RAW DNGs. This is just too slow. Not impossible - plenty of skilled photographers have captured wonderful images while winding film with their thumb - but I'd hesitate using the K-01 for a paying gig for this reason alone.

Focus Point Selection
At the end of the day at The Cloisters, this was the slowest thing. I like choosing my focus point manually, and to go from a composition where the subject is in the left third to the right third requires OK, tap tap tap tap tap tap, OK. That's too slow for my type of shooting. The K-5 is faster, but only because it has fewer focus areas. The benchmark for me are the touchscreens of the GF2 and GH2. Simply touch the screen to select focus point and then get on with it. This would be great to have on the K-02, and makes me think that I should have purchased the Panasonic GX1 instead. But every camera is a compromise, and I'd have to live with the GX1's louder shutter and marginally poorer sensor.

All in all though, I find the K-01 pretty fast. Not sports fast. And there's room for improvement for sure. But I don't think it's going to stop me from getting the shot in most circumstance.

Thanks for reading. Here are some related posts on the K-01:

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