Christopher J Osborne

Pentax K-01


Specification summary
Launch date Feb 2012
Camera type Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera
Camera size 561 grams 122 x 79 x 58 mm (inc. battery)
Camera size
(inc. 40mm F2.8 XS)
613 grams 122 x 79 x 67 mm (inc. battery)
Sensor type CMOS
Sensor size APS-C (23.7 x 15.7 mm)
Resolution 4928 x 3264 (16 megapixels)
Lens interchangeable (Pentax K mount)

As all the other major camera makers continue move to move entirely away from the traditional DSLR interchangeable lens cameras to their modern mirrorless equivalents across their entire range, Pentax have made it clear that they're sticking with the DSLR. This completes Pentax's journey (that actually started a long time ago) from one of the biggest and most influential mainstream camera manufacturers to a niche and boutique specialist. But I for one am glad that there is still room for such specialists in todays market place, even if I'm not a regular DSLR user myself anymore.

But that doesn't mean Pentax has always felt this way… they have had a go at mirrorless in the past! But even when it comes to mirrorless, they have always taken a niche approach, rather than attempt to compete directly with the mainstream mirrorless market leaders. This started with the Pentax Q in 2011: a mirrorless camera with the kind of small sensor you'd normally find in a fixed-lens digicam, and continued with the Pentax K-01 camera you can see here, launched in 2012.

Pentax K-01 with the SMC Pentax DA 16-45mm f/4.0 lens mountedThe Pentax K-01 used the same APS-C sensor as Pentax's contemporary K-5 and K5 II DSLRs, but instead of pairing it with a new mirrorless specific lens mount, like pretty much every other camera maker did, they also used the same lens mount from their DSLRs: the venerable Pentax K mount. This had one big disadvantage (it made the camera, and the lenses that went with it, considerably larger than most mirrorless cameras; here you can see the K-01 mounted with a reasonably modest 16-45mm f/4.0 zoom lens, and it already is starting to look a little ungainly), and one huge advantage: it means the K-01 launched with an extensive range of lenses right from the get-go. Pentax K-01 with the vintage SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4 lens mountedNot only that, it also meant you could use any vintage Pentax K mount lens made since that lens mount was introduced in 1975 (here you can see the K-01 mounted with a vintage SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4 lens from 1977).

On order to minimise the fact that the K-01 was quite a bit bigger than competing mirrorless cameras, pentax also launched the first of what was supposed to be a range of ultra-compact lenses: the SMC Pentax-DA 40mm f/2.8 XS, just 9mm long and just 52 grams in weight. But history tells us that the Pentax K-01 was one of the biggest flops in Pentax's entire history. And the 40mm f/2.8 XS wasn't just the first XS lens… it was also the last.

Pentax K-01 with the SMC Pentax DA Limited 21mm f/3.2 lens mountedFortunately Pentax have long made a range of very compact prime lenses in their "limited" range with focal lengths of 15, 21, 35, 40, and 70mm which are the perfect size to complement the size of the K-01 and keep it as small as possible. Here you can see the K-01 fitted with the MC Pentax DA Limited 21mm f/3.2 lens.

But it wasn't just the size that put off both those new to Pentax and the Pentax faithful, the aesthetics and ergonomics of the K-01 also caused a great deal of controversy! The camera was designed by an Australian industrial designer Marc Newson, a designer not known for camera design. And the brick like shape, combined with toy like coloured button generated a lot of what can only be called derision in the 'net. Before the full extent of the backlash against the design became aparent the following Marc Newson interview about the design of the K-01 was published. It perhaps only services reveals his inexperience in the very specialist field of camera design. He talks a lot in the interview about how photograph influences and inspirers his work, but only in vague and non-specific terms. The interview does make it seem like he isn't really interested in practicing photography himself.

Pentax K-01 in black with silver controls Pentax K-01 in yellow and black with silver controls Pentax K-01 in black and white with black controls Pentax K-01 in blue and white with black controls

The Pentax K-01 was launched, in three colour schemes: black and yellow/black with silver controls, and black/white with black controls. Later on a blue and white model with black controls was released exclusively for the Japanese market. I have to say I rather like the styling of this camera, though sometimes I feel like the only person in the world who does! The combination of good build quality, rubber, child-like buttons and a rare sparse layout is very different from any other camera, but I rather like it, at least from an aesthetic point of view. But even though I like this camera's aesthetics, even I have to admit that the ergonomics are pretty terrible, which brings us on to…

The Pentax K-01 in use

Yeah… the K-01's ergonomics… really aren't very good. This camera was often called "the brick" in reference to it's brick like proportions and shape, and that's pretty much what it feels like to hold too. And it can be really quite difficult to reach all the controls without uncomfortably shifting your hand position too. The controls them self are simply and clear, which is actually really nice, but that doesn't fully compensate for the difficult in finding a comfortable hold.

And then there's the K-01's biggest bit of missing functionality: there's no eye-level viewfinder, and it's not even possible to add a separate one as an accessory. All your photographs have to be composed on the fixed rear monito. Now I've said several times on these pages that I actually quite like composing photographs on a flat "photograph-like" screen, and I really do. But even so, there are times when a monitor really doesn't work very well, such as in bright sunshine, for example. So at least have an option to use an accessory eye-level viewfinder is a nice option to have. I think this was one of the biggest things that made even the Pentax-faithful (who are, it has to be said, very attached to their optical eye-level DSLR viewfinders!) dissmiss the K-01 out-of-hand on first contact. If the K-01 had been more successful then an add-on eye-level viewfinder would have featured on the K-02 (in much the same way as the Olympus E-P1 had no option for an add-on eye-level viewfinder, but the E-P2 did), but as we know, a K-02 was never to be!

And here's the thing; despite the K-01 multiple and manifest ergonomic failings, I find this camera a huge amount of fun to use! It's never going to spend much time in my regular rotation of regular cameras, but when I do take it out I have a lot of fun with it!

Some of this is to do with the superb system Pentax designed for working with vintage Pentax K lenses, even those that lack electronic contacts. You just set the mode dial to 'M' for manual mode, set the aperture ring to the f-stop you required, then you just hit the green button on the top of the camera. The camer will automatically stop down the lens to the taking aperture you've just set, take a meter reading, and then set the correct shutter speed. I really is impossible to think of any way the process could be made easier. And Pentax's green button system (taken straight from it's DSLR cameras) really is the best in the business for dealing with vintage lenses. And if you have a slightly more recent Pentax manual focus lens with electronic contacts (denoted by an 'A' in the lens name and the 'A' setting on the aperture ring) things are even easier: part from having focus manually you'd hardly not you didn't have a brand-new modern lens on your camera. And all vintage auto-focus lenses work with full functionality… you really can just treat them like modern lenses.

For fans of vintage Pentax lenses the K-01 really is a dream mirrorless camera! (If you can live without that eye-level viewfinder, that it.)

Pentax K-01 results

This is the bit were the Pentax K-01 starts to gain ground on it's competitors, even for those who exclusively want to use modern lenses. The K-01 was widely respected for the image quality of it's 16mp APS-C sensor that also featured in the top of the range K-5 and K-5 II DSLRs from this period. And it really is capable of giving some very lovely results. These example were all shot on just one lens: the SMC Pentax-DA 40mm f/2.8 XS that was effectively the kit lens for the K-01. This lens is the real reason I bought this camera (which was part of a K-01 and 40mm XS kit) back in 2015. I suppose what I really wanted was the rather lovely SMC Pentax-DA 40mm F2.8 Limited lens, but at the time this camera, complete with the SMC Pentax-DA 40mm f/2.8 XS, cost considerably less 2nd hand than the Limited lens cost on it's own. So I was able to persuade myself that the camera wasn't really costing me anything at all! (A typical tactic of someone suffering from G.A.S. Laugh emoji)

This camera never did see a huge amount of use, but I'm now very happy to call it part of my camera collection.

Pentax K-01 gallery - Image 1
Pentax K-01 gallery - Image 2
Pentax K-01 gallery - Image 3
Pentax K-01 gallery - Image 4
Pentax K-01 gallery - Image 5
Pentax K-01 gallery - Image 6
Pentax K-01 gallery - Image 7
Pentax K-01 gallery - Image 8
Pentax K-01 gallery - Image 9
Pentax K-01 gallery - Image 10
Pentax K-01 gallery - Image 11
Pentax K-01 gallery - Image 12
Pentax K-01 gallery - Image 13

That last one is actually a stitched panorama created from 6 individual vertical shots, which is why it's far more wide-angle than a 40mm lens on an APS-C sensor normally would be.