And in this corner...

And in this corner...
And in this corner..., originally uploaded by john m flores.

A couple of years ago, someone in the Pentax skunkworks thought it would be a good idea to start releasing their entry-level dSLRs in funky colors. First the K-m (K-2000) received the Crayola treatment, then the K-x. The K-x was an interesting proposition - class-leading specs (high ISO, FPS) wrapped in controversial colors. Traditionalists cried foul - "How could Pentax be considered a 'serious' camera company when they are releasing toy cameras like this?' they stated ad nauseum on message boards all around the Internets. But despite their claims, the K-x drew some serious attention from a broad range of people - people stepping up to their first dSLR, people wanting a good camera on a budget, and even specialty groups like astrophotographers. Like the colors or not (it was also available in traditional black, which outsold all other colors), the K-x was a hit.

Fast forward to 2012, and Pentax is mixing it up again, this time with a mirrorless camera that eschews the common mirrorless mantra ("smaller is better") in favor of native compatibility with the 30+ year K-mount lineage. Poised at the entry level, the K-01 also comes in funky colors - black (shown), yellow, and white - wrapped around a decidedly untraditional form. And guess what? The K-01 is receiving much of the same criticism that the K-x received plus a couple more - No EVF = FAIL!, misplaced buttons = FAIL!, etcetera etcetera...

Polarizing looks aside, how do these function as cameras?

If the hotshoe fits.

Street Camera
Ok, so maybe a red camera is not the most discreet choice, but the K-x comes in black and the K-01 comes in yellow. So if stealth is what you want then choose accordingly. In other areas, the K-x is small and doesn’t draw attention to itself in the way a larger dSLR does, and it’s got speedy AF and high FPS to help capture decisive moments. High ISO is still surprisingly good - ISO1600 is a peach, ISO3200 is still ok but still a bit of a reach.

On the other hand, the shutter is quite loud - it sounds like an angry pair of scissors - and the Live View implementation is pretty much crap, so your either shooting blind with the camera at your hip or bringing the camera up to your eye, which pretty much announces to everyone within twenty feet that you are about to take a picture of them. The pentamirror OVF is small but usable, but lacks red lights on the selected focus. This is important to some but not all.

How about the K-01? In its favor is the ultra-quiet shutter - if you want quieter I suggest you look at cameras with leaf shutters. The Live View - the only way to compose a shot - is very usable, with a bright screen with no discernible lag. Image quality is excellent as well, and in low light, the K-01 laughs at ISO1600, scoffs at ISO3200, and when set to ISO6400 says, “Bring it on.”

On the negative side, the K-01’s AF is a touch slower than the K-x, and slower still with certain lenses like the DA* 50-135mm F2.8. That said, with slowly evolving scenes, the DA Limited primes focus very fast on the K-01. But when the light levels drop or the action picks up, the K-01 starts to fall behind. The 1 FPS DNG is also a bother as I’ve mentioned before. JPGs are faster, but overall, the K-01 just doesn’t have the snappiness of a dSLR like the K-x.

Classic Mats Wilander (stop-motion)

Sports Camera
This one’s a walk for the K-x, the faster AF and 4+ FPS give a distinct edge. The OVF also gives another stabilization point with longer lenses. I won’t waste any more ink on this, but if you’re able to get good sports shots with the K-01, send me a link and I’ll post.

Bottoms Up

Here’s another situation where camera speed helps. The K-x holds the speed advantage, while the K-01’s rear LCD lets the photographer get out from behind the camera and engage the subject. The K-01’s got a pixel and IQ advantage too, lying somewhere between the K-x and APS-leading K-5, and likely closer to the K-5. That said, the K-x is no slouch.

One place where the K-x fell flat on its cute red face last year was shooting a cocktail hour. The room was dimly lit and even with the AF assist light of a Metz flash (the K-x does not have a built-in AF assist light) couldn’t help the little guy. Pretty major fail. I ultimately got good shots, but it was a struggle I’d rather not repeat.

In initial testing with the K-01, the AF will work in the dark. The AF assist light helps, as does the Face Detect AF. So this year, I’ll be bringing the K-01 to the same event where the K-x struggled and will report back. This is mostly “smile for the camera” type shots, so the slower AF shouldn’t be a concern. I am a bit worried about the 1FPS DNG, but I may try shooting JPGs and trust the excellent Auto White Balance to get it right.

The Secret Life of Trees, VI

One word - Focus Peaking. Ok, that was two words, but the K-01 has it and the K-x doesn’t. Win, K-01.

When subjects slow down or stop moving completely (i.e., buildings, landscapes), the AF and speed issues of the K-01 aren’t much of a concern, so the superior IQ and maximum megapickels make the K-01 the better choice.

Does this mirror make me look fat?

Always in the Bag
Another win for the K-01. The size difference isn’t all that great, but it’s enough to make a difference.

It takes two to tango

There you have it - two controversial Pentaxes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Which one is right for you depends on what you photograph. In a nutshell, if it moves quickly, the K-x (and by extension its replacement, the K-r). If it doesn’t move at all, the K-01. Everywhere in between, it depends. Life is neither black or white after all, but somewhere closer to 18% gray.
Cameras shot with the Pentax K-5


  1. good comparison, thanks

    did you buy the optional 40mm f/2.8 lens?

  2. We already had that focal length covered with the DA40. We also have the DA35 F2.8 Macro so we passed on the XS 40