Do Pentax Full Frame Cameras Still Stack Up Against the Competition?

Pentax K1 Mark II
Watch digiDIRECT review the Pentax K-1

Pentax has always been somewhat of an underdog in the photography world despite a reputation for quality and features not readily available from other brands.

At the turn of the century, when digital SLRs were still taking their first tentative steps into the limelight, Pentax was on the cusp of releasing its first-ever DSLR.

Had they done so, they would have been one step ahead of all the major players, including Sony, Canon, Kodak, and Nikon.

Unfortunately, the launch never happened and in 2005 Pentax entirely skipped full-frame development to settle on a medium format DSLR – the Pentax 645.

The company has also been bought and sold a couple of times since those early digital years (they are now owned by Ricoh), but the buyouts didn’t affect Pentax’s ability to deliver high-quality, rugged workhorses for their loyal fan base.

In 2016, Pentax released the K1 to eager fans, a full 13 years after its last full-frame model.

Of course, with so much downtime between releases, there wasn’t much incentive for third-parties to deliver full-frame K-mount lenses, and pairing a 36MP sensor with old-glass rarely lived up to expectations.

In 2018, Pentax announced that it was ready to re-enter the full-frame market with the imminent release of the K-1 Mark II, but most enthusiasts of Pentax full-frame cameras will need to consider if it’s worth the upgrade.

Matching it spec for spec, the K1-Mark II appears to be quite similar to the original, but closer inspection will reveal a few handy refinements.

Pentax K-1 Mark II

Watch Tony Northrup review the Pentax K-1 II

Pentax full-frame cameras, or camera, as there is only a single offering if you don’t count the K1, faces stiff competition from competing brands with a similar spec sheet at this price point (and quite a few that beat it).

However, the Pentax K-1 Mark II does have some features which make it stand out as an excellent choice for certain breeds of photographers – namely adventure, landscape, and travel photographers.

Features of the K-1 Mark II

  • 36.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor (no antialiasing filter)
  • 33-point AF System (25 cross-type)
  • AF system updated from the K1
  • Hand-Held Pixel Shift Mode
  • Weather Sealing
  • Built-in GPS (electromagnetic compass and astrotracer function)
  • 4.4fps continuous shooting
  • 1080/30p video
  • WiFi Transfer

You still get the 33-point AF system continued over from the K1, but the speed and accuracy of the tracking system have been significantly improved.

As well, a new hand-held Pixel Shift mode stacks four photos to create an image with an ultra-high resolution.

Pentax K1’s Rugged Body

Like the K1, the K-II is built with a tough exterior, complete with chunky grips, weather resistance, and a familiar control layout.

Pentax K1 users always appreciated the oversized viewfinder, and the K-II doesn’t disappoint.

No Touch Screen

One glaring omission is the touch screen, which seems like an odd choice for a 2018 model camera, but the “Cross-Tilt” LCD may appeal to photographers who regularly find themselves at odd angles, or work with tripods.

Some accommodation has been made for the lack of a touch screen, with LED lights on the LCD screen nicely lighting up all the controls while night shooting.

Limited Selection of Lenses

For the most part, lenses designed for the K1 will be compatible with the K-11, but compromises will need to be made when using DA and DA-L lenses intended for use with crop sensors.

Their newer lenses are basically Tamron lenses rebranded as Pentax. Though this is not entirely negative as the Tamron lenses are superb performers with great optics.

It would be nice to have more choices, and compared to the competition, you really have only a meager selection of rebranded and third-party brand choices.

Respectable Performance

There’s plenty to like about the K-1 Mark II for the landscape photographer.

It has a great dynamic range for high contrast vistas, and RAW files shot in the base ISO ranges combined with the high-resolution sensor have no trouble picking up every detail.

The Pixel Shift mode, when used with a tripod, is a significant improvement over single image files due to the elimination of the CFM (color filter array), and no need to demosaic.

Travel photographers will always need a camera that can handle the extremes of being on the road all the time. The KII has decent battery life, is weather sealed, and is made to handle whatever you throw at it.

Decent connectivity options also give you what amounts to unlimited storage space – well almost.

Pentax K1 Mark II Conclusion

As we said earlier, the Pentax K1 Mark II has plenty of competition in its price range, but a few unique features and a sturdy build may make this model the perfect choice.

If your style of photography demands a rugged build, a high pixel density, and a battery that will last most of the day, then this camera is definitely worth a look.

John Kilmerstone

I'm an Aussie living in Japan who enjoys traveling and photography. Please visit this website and explore the wonderful world of full frame 35mm photography. Discover the advantages of using this powerful camera system.

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