Pentax has a well-established foundation in creating cameras with character. Whether it’s the K-50 D-SLR, available in 120 different colour combinations, or the fully weather-sealed K-5 II that can take a real drenching, Pentax makes some of the most innovative models on the market. The K-S1 is the latest D-SLR and follows the trend, available in 15 colour variations. It’s also the first D-SLR we’ve seen with LED lights peppered across the grip, shutter and Mode dial. But is this just a bold fashion statement or is there a practical use? We find out.
Features & Build
Taking a glance at the K-S1 in one of its bright, bold guises such as Lime Pie, gives the impression of a fun, youthful camera. It’s hard to believe that inside lies some of the most formidable hardware we’ve ever seen in an entry-level D-SLR – and that really is a mouth watering prospect.
The APS-C CMOS sensor offers 20.1Mp, and takes JPEG and RAW files at a maximum size of 5472x3648px. Its RAWs can be output in the universally friendly DNG format too. This is immediately compatible with most RAW software packages on the market, so will save conversion headaches on your computer. The entry-level K-S1 punches well above its weight, with micro motors hidden up its sleeve. These tiny motors move the sensor to bring Shake reduction (SR) to the party.
A sensor-based SR system is a superb feature to have as more affordable non-stabilised lenses will benefit. Pentax has also done away with the image-blurring Anti Alias (AA) filter to give sharper images straight out of the camera. In case you experience any moiré imaging patterns as a result of this, the micro motors can be used to vibrate the sensor and simulate the slightly blurred results of an AA filter.
Recent Pentax D-SLRs like the K-5 II have been fully weather-sealed for shooting in adverse conditions, but this isn’t part of the K-S1’s build.
A huge ISO range of 100-51,200 is accessible thanks to the Safox IXi+ processor and the maximum burst rate of 5.4fps is above average at this price point. The same applies for shutter range, which extends from 30secs to an impressive 1/6000sec.
On top you’ll find the optical viewfinder. Peep through this and you have 11 AF points to play with, nine of which are the faster and more accurate cross-type. Also on the top sits a single E-dial for making exposure adjustments and this clicks into place with a positive action.
On the rear you’ll find one of the K-S1’s quirkiest features. The OK button on the D-Pad lights up in a similar fashion to the power switch and LED lights on the front grip. But, it’s the Mode dial, integrated around the D-Pad that will make you look twice. This gives fast access to exposure modes including M, Av, Tv, and Sv and lights up too so you can make changes easily in the dark.
The rear of the K-S1 sees a 3in 921k-dot LCD screen. This is fixed in place and doesn’t have any touchscreen capabilities. But a new Graphic User Interface (GUI) has been deployed and this is marginally more user-friendly than previous models.
Performance & Handling
The K-S1 is comfortable to use despite its rather angular looks, but the front and rear grips are a little slippier than we’d have liked. That said, the grippy zoom ring on the bundled kit lens takes up the slack to plant the whole camera firmly in your hands.
The 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC AL has well-pronounced focus and zoom rings which operate with a smooth action. One downside is that the AF motor sits inside the K-S1 body rather than in the lens. We found autofocusing to be quite rapid but very noisy too. It was loud enough to be audible when recording video clips.
Through the viewfinder, the AF did a good job and rarely hunted. Switching over to Live View however, was a different story. Here the K-S1 changes to Contrast-detect AF and hunting for focus was quite common.
We’ve previously criticised the user interface of some Pentax D-SLRs, but the new GUI did make operation easier. It wasn’t free of niggles, though. Choosing the active AF point was confusing as you have to hold the central D-Pad button down to get into the menu to do so. If you’re in Live View mode, changing the AF point has to be done in the K-S1’s main Menu. This is frustratingly counter-intuitive.
Lights on a camera won’t be for everyone, especially the security conscious who want to keep a low profile. But, it’s worth noting that the front five LED lights do switch off after a few seconds, and can also be dimmed or disabled completely. Though the LEDs in the grip are mainly cosmetic, they turn from green to red when changing from picture to movie mode, and also count down when using the Self-timer – handy for more distant self-portraits. The other lit-up areas, such as the Mode dial and power switch prove very useful when shooting in dim lighting, as you can find your way around the camera and adjust settings with ease.
The K-S1 wasn’t particularly quick with its write times. Single shots were reasonably with a Fine JPEG taking 1sec and a RAW 1.6secs. But continuous shooting wasn’t so impressive. Three RAWs could be shot at 5.4fps before it slowed, and took 2.4secs to clear the buffer. Most D-SLRs can shoot a vast number of JPEGs at the top burst rate, but disappointingly, the K-S1 only managed four shots, with 2.1secs taken to clear.
Value for Money
The K-S1 offers features that similarly-priced rivals can’t match. Sensor-based image stabilisation is fantastic, and 20Mp, 5.4fps shooting and an absent Anti-Alias filter are features of note, too.
Competitors like Nikon’s D3300 undercuts the K-S1 at £395 with 18-55mm lens. Its ISO range is narrower at 100-12,800, and it has a slower 5fps burst rate. But it trumps the K-S1 on resolution with 24.2Mp. Canon’s 700D has 18Mp, 5fps shooting and a flip-out screen.
The £395 Pentax K-50 seems to be the K-S1’s biggest rival with weather-sealing, SR, and twin command dials – but no LEDs!
We take our hat off to Pentax for constantly pushing D-SLR boundaries with new, stylish designs and quirky features. It’s not just the K-S1’s LED lights that grab your attention – its spec sheet shows a fully-loaded D-SLR at the entry-level sector, which beats its competitors in many areas. That said, the K-S1 isn’t without its problems. Although upgraded, the Graphic User Interface is still a little confusing to navigate and would benefit from more refinement. The performance was also let down by a loud autofocus operation caused by the AF motor in the body. On paper, the 5.4fps maximum burst rate looks impressive, but in reality only three or four shots can be captured at this speed. The Pentax K-S1 is a seamless blend of substance and style. Its LEDs are unique and practical, and its price point of £469 certainly gives its rivals a run for their money. A fine camera.
- Street price: £299 with 18-55mm kit lens (As of June 2016)
- Resolution: 20.1Mp (5472x3648px)
- Format: RAW & JPEG
- Sensor: 23.5x15.6mm APS-C CMOS
- Lens mount: Pentax K
- Stabilisation: Sensor-based SR
- ISO: 100-51,200
- Shutter: 30-1/6000sec & Bulb
- AF system: 11 (9 cross-type)
- Focusing modes: Single AF, Continuous AF, Auto Select AF & Manual focus
- Metering: Multi-segment, Centre-Weighted & Spot
- Burst rate: 5.4fps
- Monitor: 3in, 921k-dot LCD
- Viewfinder: Optical approx. 100% coverage
- Pop-up flash: Yes
- Hotshoe: Yes
- Wi-Fi: No GPS: Yes
- Video: Full HD 1080p
- Write speeds: 1.6secs RAW,
- 1sec Extra Fine JPEG
- Storage: SD, SDHC and SDXC
- Weight: 498g (body only)
- Dimensions: (WxHxD) 92.5x120x69.5mm
- Visit: www.ricoh-imaging.co.uk
This review was first published in the March 2015 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.