A new Pentax DSLR could shake up competitors Canon and Nikon. Ricoh (the company that owns Pentax) today announced that its K-S1 DSLR camera will be available for $800 with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens (or $750 body only) at the end of September. I had a chance to preview the K-S1 and was impressed by its unique build and features.
The K-S1 boasts a 20-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor that sheds the traditional anti-alias (AA) filter. Also known as a low-pass filter, the AA filter slightly blurs images to remove distortions, such as wavy lines known as moiré, which appear in photos of patterns with fine lines, such as a striped shirt. Without this filter, light can enter the camera's sensor with less obstruction, resulting in clearer and sharper detail. In case you run into distortion issues, the camera offers an AA filter simulator that uses Pentax's Prime M11 processor to correct the problem. (Rival Nikon has also introduced several DSLRs without an AA filter.)
MORE: Camera Buying Guide 2014
During my time with the K-S1, it was difficult to get a picture that displayed moiré distortion. I snapped images of a pinstriped suit and grid-patterned carpet, and finally I saw some minor distortion in the fine lines of a speaker cover. After turning on the anti-alias function and snapping a second picture, the distortion disappeared. The AA filter simulator debuted in the company's K3 DSLR (which also lacks an AA filter), and in the K-S1 it features two different strengths — Type 1 for a little correction and Type 2 for more.
Another standout feature of the K-S1 is its pentaprism viewfinder, which gives you a 100 percent field of view and a 0.95-times magnification. This means what you see through the viewfinder is almost exactly what you will get after you snap the shot. Traditional mirror viewfinders give you approximately 95 percent field of view and between 0.82 and 0.87-times magnification, so what you see through the viewfinder is somewhat limited.
The K-S1 also carries an onboard shake reduction system, while competing cameras from Nikon and Canon offer such a feature in select lenses (not on body). Pentax told me the system will minimize camera shake with any lens by 3.5 EV stops. So in theory, you should be able to set the shutter speed to three and a half times slower as on a non-stabilized camera without any additional camera shake in the photos. We'll have to see about that.
Design and body
I really liked the LED lights along the grip and surrounding the dials and buttons on the K-S1. A row of indicator lights down the grip goes off one by one when you are shooting in timer mode so you have a clearer indication of when the picture will be taken.
The K-S1 will be available in three body colors: black, blue and white. I'm a fan of the blue model that we saw; it definitely stands out in a sea of boring black DSLRs. The K-S1 also offers a variety of dials and buttons for easy one-handed control, including a Mode Dial encircling a four-way rocker next to the LCD on the back.
I also enjoyed the K-S1's unique build. The camera's reinforced polycarbonate (plastic) exterior over a metal chassis had a textured feel that's different from the smooth bodies of other devices. It was also relatively lightweight, weighing just 1.1 pounds (body only without battery). The Canon Rebel T5i weighs 1.15 pounds, while the Nikon D3300 comes in at 1.01 pounds (both also body only without battery).
On most mirrorless and DSLR cameras, specific shooting modes let you select certain settings, such as aperture and shutter speed, while leaving the rest of the controls up to the camera. The K-S1 features an ISO (light sensitivity) priority mode that's unique to Pentax cameras, letting you decide what ISO level you want, while the camera takes care of the aperture and shutter speed. It also has the standard Shutter- and Aperture- priority modes that let you set shutter speed and aperture levels while allowing the camera to set the other.
Supporting an ISO light sensitivity range of 100 to 102,400 and a top shutter speed of 1/6,000 second, the K-S1 beats the specs of competing DSLRs such as the $750 Canon T5i and $600 Nikon D3300, which each have an ISO 100-25,600 range and top shutter speed of 1/4,000. Like the K-S1, the D3300 also sheds the AA filter.
Unlike Canon's Rebel T5i, the K-S1's 3-inch LCD display isn't touch-enabled, which makes navigating controls somewhat cumbersome. And for Wi-Fi connectivity, you'll have to purchase a Flucard SD card for $99 (16 GB) or an Eyefi ($80 for 16GB) card. Pentax recommends Flucard since it has optimized its camera and app to work better with that brand.
The K-S1 shoots Full HD video at 30 fps, 25 fps and 24 fps, and 720p and VGA resolutions at those same frame rates as well, while the Nikon D3300 shoots Full HD at 60fps and 30 fps. The Canon T5i takes Full HD clips at 60, 30, 24 fps.
One benefit of a longstanding brand like Pentax (as well as Canon and Nikon) is the wealth of lenses. The K-S1 is compatible with Pentax's 40 lenses made for APS-C sensors.
The photos I shot with the K-S1 in a poorly lit conference room showed good color and detail. Fine lines on my coworker's knuckles were tack sharp in a shot of his hand on a table.
The K-S1's onboard flash was decent, as evident in a picture of my coworker in the same poorly lit room. While his face looks a little blown out, that appears to be more a result of how close I was standing to him than a fault of the flash. His skin tone appears even, and there is no red eye effect. The red, blue and white stripes of his shirt also remained true in color — and without moiré.
- A Digital Camera Glossary
- How to Take Great Photos with a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera
- Best DSLR Cameras 2014