Pentax Kp review (sorta) Part one – First impressions after a week

Fyi, most of these files have been edited, I almost always shoot DNG Raw format, and I rarely put unedited files out into the world – If I haven’t said something is ‘out of camera’ then it’s probably noise reduced, relit, and so forth, this camera doesn’t suffer much from noise. I haven’t spent much time editing these, they don’t need much. Everything is reduced to 1024 pix on the long side but the exif is probably intact.

I mean, who really cares what unedited shots look like – I try to do 99% of the work in camera, but most pix need a tweak – Incidentally the noise is very easy to control in lightzone, it’s very colour neutral for the most part at sub-bonkers ISO levels.

So I’ve brought a Pentax Kp, After waiting for five weeks or so for it to turn up I finally have it in my hand…

So What do I think? Well it’s nice and works well… Review over yup 🙂

I decided to write this because I was unable to find the information I wanted to know – like yes, CAF is nice, but how is the SAF (it’s good, it doesn’t hunt), cos that’s what I generally use. Where are the buttons (coming from the k50 it’s ergonomically sensible), how is the contrast control with non-standard lenses (good), is the in camera HDR still fugly (affirmative).

What I wanted to know was bits and pieces like that. Ergonomics, particularly coming from a K50, I’m not sure I see any point in upgrading from a K3ii or a k70 unless you either have critical needs or a corporate account.

The fancy grips everybody has been discussing are a bit naff to me – as I said I have the small grip, and it isn’t particularly comfortable to use, It tapers in at the top, so it doesn’t rest on your middle finger and fill your palm like most cameras – it feels awkward, I wind up using the tips of my fingers and thumb which gets uncomfortable. My work around for this is to hold the camera under the lens with other hand (it’s a comfortable and secure way to carry this camera) – not very high-tech, but it works fine.

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Gratuitous flower shot, just cos. Yes it was raining a wee bit.

The reason I don’t much care about the grips is because I have access to a 3d printer along with a few other gadgets which will allow me to make the grip I want. No doubt regular style camera grips will also appear on ebay soon. With a regular grip I think the ergonomics will be good. In time this will be a non-issue. It’s not a huge issue now.

And ergonomics – I do wish that the power button wasn’t so sharp as I tend to carry my camera on the strap over my right shoulder with the prism towards my body and the lens tucked into the back of my hip – In this position the power button digs into my hip – That’s probably the single thing that bothers me most about this camera. It’s not a big thing – also has a habit of turning the camera on or off at inopportune times.

I’ve seen people comment on it as being like a mirrorless camera, it’s not! It might feel a bit similar in the hand due to the silly tapering grip style, but frankly in size it’s between a K50, and a K10 (though both have more comfortable grips). This is a good thing as this gives it space to fit all of the buttons.

It’s still a small camera, but it’s not as tiny as you might be led to expect.

As a total aside, I do like the gray/silver embroidered strap – if it was bright red or green I would have replaced it with a more neutral colour.

The button layout is logical, ergonomic, and largely customisable, I have depth of field assigned to the +/-ev button next to the shutter and then +/-ev to the left of the viewfinder – this is due to my not being able to assign Raw/Jpg to the button left of the viewfinder – being able to use the raw/jpg button on the left of the body for depth of field would be ideal – I find that omission a little bit inexplicable.

I suppose this is as good a point to segue into why I decided to get one – yeah, my justification 🙂 There is actually a point.

What I want in a camera is largely good resolution, good low light performance (which is more than just high ISO), manual colour and contrast controls, reasonably portable as I tend to carry a camera every day (otherwise I’d have a canon 5diii). and… well, I like old lenses too, I’m willing to lose some sharpness in exchange for how a lens renders. Oh, I also want a camera which is me-proof (such a thing doesn’t exist yet).

I have had a Pentax K10d for a bunch of years – I’ve dragged it all over New Zealand and Australia, it’s been dropped in the desert, in crocodile infested swamps (it literally went underwater – not a nice feeling going after it), it’s fallen off cars. In short my lifestyle whilst I hitchhiked around NZ and Aussie was basically a camera torture test – it still works (a couple of lenses didn’t make it), I now use it in manual mode as the auto exposure has gone a bit screwy , apart from occasional over exposures in aperture priority mode it still functions just fine – great camera, and the locking latches are pretty neat – this is my studio camera and the one I’d reach for if I were wandering out into a cyclone or a sandstorm. That said, it’s getting tired, so it tends to stay close to home now.

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The K50 works just fine, it handles awkward lighting, and makes good pictures, I’m keeping it as a very capable 2nd body to the Kp – they take the same battery incidentally.

I came across a K50 with a lens for $499 in 2015 here in New Zealand, it was on clearance for some reason. For perspective – minus tax and exchange rates that’s like $300usd – I haven’t seen that price matched, So I’ve been very happy with what I got especially for the price – but after the K10d the build quality was a let down. Still a very good and fairly tough camera, nice and light, fantastic ergonomics, and it takes great pictures, just not my first choice for rough weather.

I was hoping the Kp would be the best of both worlds, and essentially it is – still probably not as tough as the k10, but it’s a very robust camera. Then you consider that it has absolutely fantastic image quality and surprisingly good low light performance – it’s pretty nice.

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Heavy mist, low light, and screwy lighting. The camera can see better than I can. No focus hunting incidentally, In very low light the focus gets really slow, but it never seems to rack back and forth. Whizz whizz whizz etc tends to irritate me. Slow is fine.

I can’t be bothered quantifying the image quantity, it’s extremely good. I use a wide range of cameras at work, I think the 5diii is maybe slightly better image quality, but that’s twice the price, and much bigger – not the same thing. It’s kind of similar to a D7200, but I’ll happily take image stabilisation over autofocus speed. I don’t use much in the way of autofocus modes – I generally either use it with center spot with a half press to lock focus (I lock the spot EV with the rear button first) then recompose and shoot – Or else I use manual focus and EV, I’ve shot plenty of film using these methods, it’s not so hard. The viewfinder is nice, bright, and fairly easy to focus with by the way (other than playing I haven’t used the LVF).

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Sure you could count the bricks in this shot at 100%, I was more surprised that I can count most of the nails in the tin roof to the left. This is also with a sigma 18-125 -not a wildly sharp lens – I’m guessing the exposure was something like 35mm – f7.1  – 1/60th @100ISo or so.

The high ISO is also surprisingly good – I’ve used it with the ISO set to auto 100-6400 with my only qualm being that the camera seems take ‘shadow correction’ a little too seriously – it the sky or lights aren’t in the shot then is can easily look like a day time shot. ISO 64,000 is usable if you can live with grain (quite heavy though reasonably neutral colour) and a very faint green/magenta mottling in the shadows. Shots taken at 10k look good, though it’s losing a bit of detail by then.

If your use of cameras is mission critical rather than aesthetic, the extreme low light performance is remarkably good. If you really expect more then you need to head straight for the Pentax K1, the Nikon D810 or the Canon 5div (I haven’t used current medium format digitals or other brands of full frame cameras but I’m sure the current models have great low light – that said, there frankly isn’t much in it over the Kp, and they’re all full frame and far more expensive (the K70 is very close and far cheaper if you are happy to let go of a couple of features that most people don’t really need).

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The 819,200 ISO setting is largely decorative. Incidentally it shows up in Lightzone (raw converter/editor) as being 65,535 or something like that.

The ridiculously high ISO is actually handy for checking focus and composition when it’s proper dark – that said, the settings over 100-200k or so are largely pointless for this, especially in the dark (no fine detail).

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64,000 ISO is surprisingly not crap, sure it’s grainy at 100%, and I wouldn’t bother to make a large print from the file, but it is good enough for some uses – This was an out of camera JPG file, no editing, just resized – this was evenly if dimly lit – deep shadows and high contrast ranges will make the high ISO’s look far worse… All digital cameras are the same in that.

I haven’t managed to get sensor shift resolution to work with any consistency off tripod, so I haven’t really bothered. On tripod I’m sure it’s brilliant, the camera also has a proper two press mirror lockup, bulb and time modes, depth of field preview and a couple of other tricks up it’s product/landscape photography sleeve. I will be playing with these in the near future (I’m moving house right now).

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Fairly dark, no real reason for including this shot, but the KP can handle mixed lighting quite happily – there’s four different light sources with neon lights on the building over my shoulder. Poor focus is my fault.

The rear screen does some folding stuff, which I’m kind of ambivalent about – I’d prefer it if I could flip it right over with the screen into the camera, but it seems fairly robust, so to me its neither here nor there. As with the K50 and the K10 you can turn off the screen in order to avoid blinding yourself at night, If you use the user settings to save your settings when you have all that stuff switched off then it’ll stay that way in the corresponding U mode. The Kp has 5 user modes, I do like that! You do also need to go into the menu and go through the memory modes – it’s like the 3-4th menu, in there there is a selection for save screen status – I basically never have my rear lcd on.

The Pentax kp has a night vision mode – by this they mean preserving night vision – not seeing in the dark (though the camera can). This just turns the rear lcd completely red, which is sorta neat, and the images shown in review mode come up red also (obviously they’re not recorded that way), along with the menus, etc. This is geeky fun, but I personally just turn the screen and review off all together when I’m working in the dark. The information in the viewfinder is still green incidentally, so still screws your night vision a bit – Center focus point is red, I assume the others are too.

I haven’t tested the astrotracer, seems cool, but I don’t have a gps unit. I have also played with the android app only long enough to establish that it works and can be used in lieu of a cable release – I’m not terribly worried about this feature – May well be handy for wet weather cable release or for video, I haven’t tested this. I’m just going to take a soldering iron to some audio adapters and adapt my existing release cables. For wet weather I can use the self timer as I’m used to.

My copy of the Kp front focuses a little, there’s an option in the menu to fix it. In manual focus it’s visually correct for the screen (not the focus confirmation obviously), so this will be an easy fix.

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This was dark enough that I could see the sign on the left, but I sure couldn’t read it. My focus point was on the light down the street – pretty obvious front focus at 2.4 Not an interesting shot, I was testing the low ISO by taking snapshots in the dark.
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35mm @2.4 6400 ISO @ 1/13th of a second by the way.

I have managed to lock it up to the point that I had to remove the battery and lose my last few shots – this came as a result of my taking half a dozen quick shots whilst changing settings such as wb and style – unrepeatable error so far. (immediately above was the next shot after I unlocked it)

On the battery front, I’m not too bothered to have an admittedly sub-par battery, this is for two reasons, firstly it uses the same battery as the k50, so I have a bunch of spares, and secondly, I guess because the k50, and my action cams, and my panasonic M-4/3 cameras have all lowered my expectations. Excepting severe weather 400 shots isn’t that much of a handicap (changing batteries in a cyclone isn’t amusing), I’m also unconcerned by the frames per second and buffer depth, I don’t shoot that fast that I’d be concerned by it. For that matter, the lack of a top lcd also doesn’t bother me too much, I can get most of the info I need from the viewfinder, the rest I tend to set ahead of time.

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In camera HDR is kinda fugly 99.97% of the time – this shot is no exception.

The mode dials on the right hand side are an interesting design decision – they basically make available a bunch of the image colour and tone settings, it’s an interesting idea, but I do wish the control dial to the right was half the height, it’s pretty easy to click it over accidentally – and if the mode dial is set to anything other than ‘off’ it’ll give you a surprise when you take your next photo – I had a bleach-bypass related incident along these lines.

I find the lens compatibility interesting. Yes, it works with damn near anything in manual mode, it’s a large part of the appeal of the system to me. However, ignoring that as a given, I have several lenses which shone on the K10 which weren’t at all good on the k50, for example my sigma 18-125, this lens funnily enough is perfectly happy on the Kp, it’s not a sharp lens, but maybe it’s the right sort of fuzzy, and the way it renders form is really quite pleasing – my 100mm f4 pentax M macro and adaptall ct300 are also very nice. By the way, a 300mm 5.6 isn’t exactly a diminutive lens, neither is the 18-125 and that seems to be staying on the Kp for now. Use your left hand to support the lens and they balance fine. Most of these shots were taken with either the sigma or a pentax 35mm 2.4

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The distortion from the sigma 18-125 can be clearly seen in the shapes of the car wheels at the bottom – doesn’t really faze me. Super flat lighting incidentally.
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architecturally intriguing.
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Just cos – incidentally, this is pretty close to how I set my camera to expose, fairly flat for photoshopping – there is a ‘flat’ mode for the colour mode, I tend to use natural with highlight corrections and let the shadows go.

More to come – In part two I guess…

Incidentally;

I only got the small grip with the camera (Asian and Pacific market segregation), This despite it being advertised as including all three grips, The importer has turned around and decided they don’t have to supply them, which is a bit disappointing and is very definitely an ongoing conversation (global market segregation’s suck by the way Pentax/Ricoh).
The best thing that Pentax could do to break into the New Zealand market by the way would be to change suppliers to a company which actually likes the brand – I am extremely fond of the brand having had three of them now (actually I still have all three),  but I do not enjoy dealing with the New Zealand distributor as they seem to despise the brand.
Nuff said.

 

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