Friday, October 1, 2021

Pentax K-01: A Marc Newson Sequel?

Pentax K-01: A Marc Newson Sequel?
October 2021, Carl Garrard
Of all the digital cameras that have come out in the last two decades or so, Pentax's K-01 is amongst a small and distinguished fraternity of cameras that received the most criticism upon announcement. Yup, it's right up there with the Hassleblad Lunar and HV, which take the top spots as the most repulsive camera offerings of all. But does the K-01 deserve as much criticism as it received? The short answer is equally yes and no. For every faceplant reaction and "wtf?"criticism armchair quarterbacks gave this camera, there are equally as many staunch and loyal supporters of its somewhat radical design. What I'm attempting to do with this article is to find common ground between the two extremes, because often enough the truth can usually be found somewhere in the middle. I will also go out on a limb and propose that Ricoh make a sequel to the K-01 because it had so much potential!

I want to say that I feel exceptionally qualified to write this review based solely on the fact that I have a middle ground opinion of it. Of all the cameras I've reviewed, I can truly say the K-01 is the first and only camera that I can't make up my mind fully about. I see just as much brilliance in it's design as there are flaws, and as much pleasure in its use as there is frustration. Call it a push?

There's little doubt in my mind that the K-01 is a very handsome, albeit different looking design. Simplistic and clean, reminiscent of the Leica design philosophy in a way. It handles in the same fashion too, its a pleasure to hold and minimalist in design.

Before I get into my observations though, I do want to say that I think the foundation of the K-01's design is good, and always was. It's got enough going for it that it certainly deserves a successor because its main flaws are few and obvious (as are it's merits). With the technology that exists today, and a couple of tweaks to it's design, it could be a formidable mirrorless camera for Pentax. More on that in just a little bit.

So first of all, I want to discuss what is wrong about the K-01, just get it right out of the way. Then we can end on a positive note. I figured its best to do this in an easy to read bulleted format. Important: I'm only going to list four very obvious flaws that individuals on both sides of the fence (I feel) can all agree on. Starting with...

  • #1- Complete lack of a viewfinder. The expectation that a photographer should solely have to look on a fixed, and highly reflective screen to compose images is a flaw. And adding an anti-reflective coating or flip and twist design to the screen is also not the answer.
  • #2- The flappy rubber cover. I won't sugar coat this one, the flimsy cover over the SD card slot, HDMI, and PC/AV ports is just a big pain in the ass. There's just no getting around that.
  • #3- Reliance on unreliable and (comparatively) slow contrast detect autofocus. This is something you feel every time you use the camera compared to other cameras with faster AF systems. Back when the K-01 came out, PDAF on sensor didn't really exist, yet I still don't give this huge oversight a pass (even with the improvements in AF speed on future firmware updates)
  • #4- Pokey continuous shooting speed. Very slow, nothing like a DSLR or Mirrorless even.
From the rear, you can see something is missing. Nothing to put your eye up too to compose your images. That hump on top should house an EVF at the least.

Now lets discuss what the K-01 got right. Again in an easy to read and reference bulleted format. Once more, this list of four items represents the obvious design choices Marc and Pentax got right  I think we can all agree on.

  • #1- Image quality. It's 16mp raw file output is quite excellent even to this day (notable in fact), and one of the best of its time for it's sensor size. 
  • #2- Form Factor. Holding the K-01 is a pleasure, the choice of size and materials makes it's grip quite comfortable when using smaller to medium sized lenses.
  • #3- Battery life. For a mirrorless camera, it's way above average here (800 shots per charge is common, sometimes more).
  • #4- Menu system. Pentax's menu systems are one of the best out there, right next to Canon and Ricoh in terms of available options and organization. I love its menu system.
Simple and clean design, yet highly functional, easy to read controls, and well laid out. I do like the colored buttons too, much preferred to the C1/FN1 etc. hard to read soap marked fare we usually see. Less text on a camera is more, to me at least. Also those flush strap mounts feel great on the hands. Good thickness adds to its comfortable grip.

There are so many other aspects of this camera that are debatable, I won't get into them all since that would make for a very long and muddied article. What I'd like to propose instead are my thoughts for a second coming of this camera. I feel very strongly about my recommendations, so much so that I think Ricoh ought to consider these very seriously.  First I'll detail a bit about my own K-01.
My Personal K-01
Pentax/Ricoh updated the firmware of the K-01 several times, all of which collectively added some functionality, eliminated small issues, and improved the contrast detect AF speed greatly. When they did that, I purchased my own K-01 knowing full well what I'd use it for: Infrared work. It makes a great, in fact near perfect, platform for IR photography because of its contrast detect only AF system (that doesn't need fine tuning after the conversion). I decided to go for a color conversion at 665NM to give me some color flexibility with my raw files. 
I use the little Ricoh GV-2 optical finder because it covers 28mm wide, which is usually the focal length I choose for landscapes. It's small, and makes for the best workaround available. Shown here with the decent 18-135mm lens (focuses quickly and relatively quietly). It helps at times when I just can't see the screen clearly enough.

To date it's the best camera I've used for infrared photography. It's 16mp sensor has very wide dynamic range in raw (more than  normal because of the conversion), it has fun Jpeg options, and extremely detailed low noise output all the way up to 3,200 ISO. It's manual white balance system is fast and easy to use which is important for some IR work. Lastly its CDAF system is spot on every shot and needs no calibration like many other cameras do when converted. 

I set the LCD screen on it's brightest setting so I can see my composition clearly as possible. That plus a live histogram gives me everything I need for IR photography. I can fully rely on it's multi-area metering to give me an accurate exposure when my eye is to the external viewfinder (in case you were wondering).
I actually enjoy the K-01 for this task. I'd love to have an EVF built in but I've managed around it quite well for IR work. It's IQ, form factor, and performance are well matched for the task I have it assigned. I'd buy a K-02 for regular photography (as would others) if Ricoh made one with the suggestions I made.

Ricoh, So How About A Sequel?

(How bout it?)
If Ricoh redeemed the K-01 by doing a sequel as recommended, I predict two things would happen. 
First they would be offering a big sensor mirrorless camera that would  be completely different than its competitors, while simultaneously remaining loyal to the K-mount and it's vast range of lenses. 
Secondly, Ricoh's reputation would also benefit, by first addressing the needs of photographers wanting a new mirrorless camera from the company whilst simultaneously redeeming the debatable reputation of a past design.

 Personally I would again call on Marc Newson to design the K-02, some would disagree. But I think the design aesthetic of the camera is unique and pleasurable to look at, especially when compared to the mob of all black cookie cutter mirrorless cameras currently on the market. Marc has a unique eye for aesthetics that shows in every design he's made, and I like them.

Here's what I'd propose Marc and Ricoh/Pentax do differently on a K-02.
  • Mostly keep the exterior design the same, it's great.
  • Different variations of color (i.e. eschew yellow grips this time), perhaps an all black, all silver, or all white option - something like that- you get the idea.
  • However, an EVF must be added which would slightly raise the faux pentaprism housing a few millimeters. This camera design begs to be shot at eye level, its so comfortable to hold, this design decision alone would be a huge and welcome addition.
  • Add a headphone jack to the left side of the camera near the mic jack.
  • Add a second SD card slot and use a more standard locking SD card slot cover that slides out and away- much like their DSLR designs.
  • Weather seal it.
  • Use a modern day APS-C sensor with on chip PDAF, and compliment that with a fast processor. Further, add a host of AF point options, video options, larger buffer, and faster frame rate.
  • Of course the menu system would need tweaking too (adding new video features etc), but I'm not going to get into that much detail.
With the above changes, the integrity of its unique design could be kept, whilst addressing every major flaw of the original K-01. Pentax would then have a unique, highly capable mirrorless camera to add to their lineup without abandoning yet another lens mount. This would be a nod to their loyal base, and simultaneously attract new photographers to Pentax.
My personal favorite color scheme of the K-01 wasn't available in the US (still looking for a silver and black version like this!)


Of course it would be nice if a few more PLM lenses were available to match its smaller form factor too, plus they would compliment it's (new) video features. Those same lenses would also be welcome for their DSLR's. 

Pentax can no longer ignore the mirrorless market, and a K-02 with the above changes would be a good answer for the company while simultaneously redeeming its reputation in multiple ways. Technology now exists to make this feasible (on chip PDAF sensors, and awesome EVF's for example), and possibly a unique and excellent mirrorless alternative to the market. 
I will end by saying that Marc is a talented designer who thinks outside of the box. I don't think he deserves near as much criticism as he received, because after all it was Pentax's decision for the final product. It would be nice to see Ricoh re-kindle that relationship and show the true potential of a bonafide successor to the K-01 with the common suggestions I myself, and others have made.

Go for it Ricoh!

Stay focused,

Carl Garrard


  1. Carl: nice to see this camera getting the positive attention it deserves. Thank you for that. I've owned mine since the K-01 was released and will never sell it. I'd hold onto it just to look at it from time to time! Seriously, I use it quite frequently. It never disappoints. The sensor in that camera is still one of the best in its class. Using the K-01 with some of Pentax's best lenses is almost a revelation. Shortcomings? Sure. It's got 'em. Name a camera that doesn't. But if high IQ, portability and ease of use are the goals, the K-O1 delivers (along with the Ricoh GR II and GR III; but that's another story). Nice job, Carl. Thanks.

    - Steve

  2. Hi Steve! Thanks for commenting. Sorry it took a while to get your comment posted, I have to approve all comments because of "spam bots" getting through Googles awfully implemented bot filter. I deleted your duplicate posts for ya.

    And you are welcome for posting this. I think hindsight is 20/20, and many reviewers being rushed for time in a horse race with other commercial reviewers often don't have the time to put out a well thought out article at times. It's too bad this happens, but hey, the internet is free and you know what they say- you get what you pay for :). I agree with your comments on the K-01, it's a fun camera, period!

    Let me know if you want to see a sequel!

  3. To add some thoughts: aside from the floppy rubber cover, the K-01 is a pretty robust camera. I first dropped mine about 4 years ago; it landed hard on a solid concrete walkway. I immediately went into shock and just stared down at it. I finally picked it up. All I could see was a small dent/dimple on the lower left corner. The 40mm pancake lens was undamaged. I turned the camera on. Everything worked fine. I tried all kinds of settings and adjustments to see if I could uncover damage. It continued to work fine throughout the remainder of my trip. I dropped it again about a year ago, this time into a shallow puddle surrounded by a wet lawn. I checked for physical damage. There was none. I dried it off as best I could, then let it completely dry overnight. It continues to work fine to this day.

    - Steve

  4. I picked up an x-t100 for my K-mount primes. As unlike the trendy Fuji ethos as any, but still excellent image quality. It should be a K-02 though!
    I'd like mine to be a pale metallic frame with a leather grip, K-3.3 within, maybe a popup evf + gps/atracer to emerge from that great mirrorless void within. And a 2nd dial somewhere.. maybe a virtual one on the dual-tilt touchscreen? Yes I DO like that X-100 screen design! :√)