Pentax KP has a slim design and protection from the weather. It also features excellent imagery. However, it is limited by Wi-Fi problems and so-so videos.
- Image sensor APS-C 24-megapixel.
- 5-axis image stabilization.
- System with 27 points of focus.
- 7fps continuous shooting.
- Pentaprism viewfinder.
- Tilting LCD.
- Weather-sealed design.
- System modular grip.
- Video features that are current.
- Slot for one card
- Battery life is very short.
- Small Raw buffer
- Tracking capability is not very good.
- Slow, buggy Wi-Fi app.
The Pentax KP was revealed earlier in the year. I reviewed its specifications and price, and deemed it a significantly redesigned upgrade of the K-3 II. I realized that I had been wrong after shooting the camera for a few months. It has a number of compelling features including high resolution pixel shift capture and is perfectly sized for the use with the limited lens series. It's far from a powerful option to capture fast action like the K-3 II and the video function is dated. The KP is a great option for dedicated Pentax users, who enjoy the small prime lenses that are available with the system. However, there are other options if your needs don't fit into this niche.
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The Pentax KP (Amazon: $1,171.28) has a slimmer body than other Pentax SLRs. It measures 4.0x5.2x3.0 inches (HWD), and weighs 1.5 pounds with no lens. These dimensions do not reflect the small size of this camera. The lens mount extends to the max depth. Pentax makes the camera available in black or silver.
There are three handgrips, each with a different depth. The deepest I preferred, since I used the camera with a zoom lens most of the time. If you prefer small pancake primes, you might choose one of the smaller options. To change the grips, you will need an Allen wrench. This is not included in the KP. However, if you have ever purchased Ikea furniture you should already own one.
The KP, like other Pentax SLRs is protected against moisture and dust. To shoot safely in a downpour, you will need a sealed lens such as the HD DA 20-40mmF2.8-4 ED Limited DC WR zoom. Only the Limited series lens has a sealed design: the 20-40mm.
Pentax also includes the viewfinder in its lower-cost K-S2 models. The glass pentaprism is an expected feature in premium bodies like this one. Although the KP includes a pop up flash (a missing feature in the K-3 II), it does not include an in-camera GPS. A GPS accessory can be purchased externally. The accessory can be mounted to the KP to support the Astrotracer function.
This uses the image stabilization to move the sensor and reduce star trails in long exposures to the night sky. This feature is built into the K-3 II. Astrotracer was not as effective when we tried it with the K-3 II. However, if you are an experienced astrophotographer, you might get better results. You can purchase the GPS add-on to your KP for about $200.
On-body controls come standard with an SLR of this price range. This front command dial has a vertical, flat design. It is different from other SLRs which mount it horizontally in their handgrip. It's not something I like. It was a little difficult to use for me, however your mileage might vary.
Thankfully controls are customizable—by default the front dial sets the shutter speed in Tv mode, but if you prefer to move that function to the rear dial you can. If you prefer the Av front dial, you can also move the aperture control from the rear to the front. You will only need one dial to control shutter or aperture in Program and Manual modes.
There are a couple of buttons and switches located on the left-hand side. You can quickly switch between the two using an AF/MF toggle button. The AF Mode button is located above the switch. It works with both the front dial and rear dials to choose between AF/A, AF/C and AF/S operation.
The system can be set to select automatically a point or use the entire center, nine, or 27 of the focus points manually using the rear control pad. You can also find the Raw/FX button on the side. It's programmeable if your preferred capture format is Raw+JPG. The mechanical flash release button can be found on the left under the pop up flash.
You will find the Mode dial on top of the plate to the right side of the viewfinder and hotshoe. To turn the dial, you will need to press down on the button in its middle. As it protects settings from accidental changes, I love the locking design. However, I prefer the one that can be locked or unlocked with just a push or switch.
To the right is a custom function dial that looks just like the Pentax K-1 full-frame. You can adjust autoexposure settings and continuous shooting speed. It also allows for up to three additional functions. To activate the desired setting, turn the dial and then change it using the unmarked second top dial.
As an EV compensation control, I chose to assign one of the custom positions. This is because a dedicated dial for EV is something I am familiar with from other cameras. If you're looking for a traditional way to adjust your EV, the top has a button that can be used in tandem with the rear dial. Its function can also been reassigned. To activate the desired setting, turn the knob and then change the settings using the unmarked second dial.
The power switch, shutter release and Live Vew toggle switches complete the top control panel. This last position is located at the bottom of the custom function dial. It has three positions. The camera icon is used to indicate the use of the optical viewfinder.
A monochrome information panel is not possible due to the slimmer design. This feature is usually found on premium SLRs. This is a form-factor sacrifice. When using a feature-equipped camera, I use the top LCD to verify settings. It was definitely missing when I shot with the KP. However, given the form factor of the camera, it's not clear where it might fit.
The rear controls are Delete/Fn2. This button is located to the left eyecup. It toggles by default the electronic level function in the In-Viewfinder. The eyepiece is flanked on the right by a control dial and an AF/AE-L switch. The Pentax's most important button is located below them. This button is used to make adjustments to the settings in Program mode and toggle auto ISO for shooting in Shutter (Tv), or Av (priority). You can also find the Info, Play and Menu buttons.
The rear control panel includes a four-way control pad and a central OK/Focus area button. The four buttons surrounding it, starting at 12 o’clock, are ISO, Drive Mode White Balance and Flash. You won't be able to use the joystick, or any other control, to move the active focal point about. Instead you will need to switch that function with the OK/Focus area button. The same applies to the K-3 II. Pentax photographers will get used to the K-3 II. However, I would prefer a dedicated control, like the Canon EOS 80D.
It measures 3 inches and has a resolution of 920k dots. The LCD is mounted on hinges so that it can be tilted up and down. However, it doesn't have a true vari-angle design, like the Canon 80D. It can also not face forward when taking selfies. The camera does not support touch input. You can't tap the focus point to change it in Live View.
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There are not many ports on the KP. The KP has a DC power input so that you can connect it to the wall. There is also a microphone input and an input for 3.5mm headphones on the left. On the top, you will find a standard hotshoe and a UHSI SD/SDHC/SDXC slot.
At the bottom, you will find the battery load. Pentax's D-LI109 rechargeable battery is used in the KP. The KP has a shorter life span than the K-3 II. Based on CIPA standards, the camera can take 390 photos per charge. In reality I got about 150 shots per charge, however that was due to a lot more use of Live View, the self-timer, and other lab tests.
You can add a battery grip, priced around $230, to increase battery life, but doing so adds a lot of bulk to the design, compromising one of the KP's most appealing features—its size. You can choose to use the D-LI109, or the larger D-LI90 batteries from the K-3 range.
Except for a handful of exceptions, all cameras today have wireless file transfer capabilities. Ricoh Image Sync is available for Android and iOS. The same app was used to transfer photos from the Pentax K-1 or K70. The app is poorly made.
The app is slow in loading thumbnails from images on your camera. It also doesn't tell you which thumbnails are JPG or Raw files. It should be possible to press long on an image to open a circular menu that allows you to either transfer the file to your phone, or to push the image directly to social media. However, sometimes this doesn't work and instead, the larger image is displayed. Sometimes the menu disappears for a few seconds.
Transfers can be frustratingly slow even when it works. It took nearly a minute for a JPG file to be transferred to my iPhone. This is unacceptable and not a new issue. Since its inception, these bugs have been a problem with the app. Ricoh has pushed updates out to the iOS app store—the most recent is from early July 2017—but they've not fixed these issues.
In addition to file transfers, the app also offers wireless remote control. This function works flawlessly. The live feed is smooth and direct from your smartphone's lens. You can adjust the exposure manually and tap any area of the frame for focus.
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The KP is a little slow to start, focus, and fire—it takes about 1.4 seconds to do so. Comparing that to the Nikon D7500 which takes 0.25 seconds, it is a lot faster. KP's autofocus system in bright lighting is extremely fast, reaching targets within 0.05 seconds. However, it slows down when used with the optical viewfinder, which can take 0.6 seconds. Live View autofocus is dependent on contrast detection. It takes 0.9 seconds to lock onto targets in bright lighting and 1.5 seconds for dimmed conditions.
There are two shutter modes—mechanical and electronic. The minimum exposure time for the mechanical shutter is 16,000 seconds. Even shorter exposure times can be captured by the electronic shutter, which is as fast as 1/24,000 seconds. The mechanical shutter is the best choice if you plan to use flashes. It has a sync speed of 1/180 seconds.
You can continue shooting at 7.2 fps. However, if you are using Raw format for your images you will need to deal with a very limited buffer. KP can only keep that speed for six Raw+JPG shots or nine Raw shots. This captures about one second of action per burst. Shooting in JPG allows you to fire off more shots, up 31 at maximum speed. This gives you about 4.3 seconds.
A fast memory card makes it easy to clear the buffer from memory. Even though the SanDisk card can't fully utilize its UHS II transfer speed, I was able to test it with a 280MBps SanDisk. Raw and JPG took approximately 12 seconds each to write, while Raw+JPG took around 15 seconds.
Although burst photography is wonderful, it's not possible to focus on moving targets when you are using burst mode. KP's autofocus system has 27 points, which is the same as the K-3 II. It also covers the same area. The KP has 25 of these points clustered within the middle of the frame. A single point is placed on each side of the cluster to expand the system's coverage.
The coverage isn't as extensive or extends beyond the center as with comparable SLRs like Nikon or Canon. Canon's T7i, 80D and D7500 use a 45 point system that provides stronger peripheral coverage. Nikon's D7500 uses a 51 point system with greater spread and better suitability for tracking actions.
It's possible to photograph wildflife or sports with the KP. However, it is not the most versatile tool available. The small size makes use with a big telephoto lens a bit awkward—I wasn't a fan of pairing it with the Pentax 150-450mm zoom from an ergonomic perspective. A lens this large makes it difficult to carry around a larger camera.
If you are able to use a large lens and keep your target centered, then the KP is a good choice. However, don't expect perfect focus. The burst mode slows down to 5fps in AF-C, while the continuous focus test shoots a digital clock moving towards and away from your lens. While the KP could get several sharp shots, it would then lose focus for many shots.
The movement of the camera would shift from forward to back (or vice versa). It was almost impossible to capture a photo of small fluttering Hummingbirds in the field. This problem wasn't present with my Nikon D7500 and Canon EOS 7D Mark II.
My biggest problem with the viewfinder when shooting is the fact that the overlay doesn't display the outline of any of the focal points. Instead, you get only a brief flash of red when the camera acquires focus below a particular point or when you move the focus point manually using the rear control pad.
KP's 24MP APSC image sensor has no optical low pass filter (OLPF). An OLPF, also called an AA filter, blurs details in order to combat color moiré. If you're shooting a scene where moiré is an issue, you can engage an AA simulation mode that utilizes the in-body stabilization system to add a very slight blur to photos, simulating the effect of an OLPF.
Any attached lens can be steadied by the stabilization system on any of five axes. CIPA has rated it to offer five stops of stability, but like other in-body systems, its effectiveness is greatest when combined with larger lenses.
Pixel Shift Resolution is also supported by the stabilization system. This feature can be found on both K-3 II or K-1. The system samples four scenes and merges them into one single image. The colors are sampled at each pixel instead of being interpolated with the Bayer filter. This results in more detail similar to the Sigma dp2Quattro, which uses a Foveon image sensor.
Pixel Shift is a fine tool for shooting still-life shots—but, even with improvements in capture speed and processing since its introduction, if you want to use it to photograph a person, make sure your subject stands as still as they would for a 19th century glass plate portrait.
You can choose from ISO 100 to an insanely wide range of ISO 819200. The KP's higher ISO range, as we have seen in other APS-C cameras, is not suitable for all types of photography. However, if the KP is being used for surveillance purposes or similar tasks, it may be useful.
Imatest says that noise is kept to a reasonable 1.5 percent by using ISO 6400, which Imatest claims is a much more realistic figure. Although it's not the fastest we have seen, even at the default setting, KP puts emphasis on capturing details and minimising grain. JPGs shot through ISO 12800 would be acceptable. The noise level is slightly higher but the fine lines can still be seen in photos. ISO 25600 has quite a lot of blur, so you might want to use Raw capture to reduce noise or adjust the in-camera noise reduction settings.
ISO 12800 will give you strong images when shooting Raw. ISO 25600 is a noisy setting that can smudge even the most delicate lines. However, I would still recommend ISO 51200 for Raw shooting. Although grain is more dense, detail still shines through. Things get messy quickly beyond that. ISO 102400 images have heavy grain. However, the lines that are visible clearly in these images may not be as clear as those with broader edges.
If you love the look of a very rough image and want to convert to Black-and-White, this setting is a great choice. This setting increases to ISO 204800, which is a little too high for me. However, you will need to shoot in very dim lighting conditions before it becomes necessary. ISO 409600, 819200 and 819200 produce more noise than images.
KP can record 1080p video at 30 or 25 frames per second, with some cropping from its full width sensor. This limits your coverage options. The KP also supports 1080i video at 60 and 50fps as well as 720p video at 60fps or 50fps. Despite its 23Mbps compression speed, the 1080p is sharp.
However, it has some issues. Continuous autofocus is only available with certain lenses—both the 16-85mm zoom and 40mm prime that Ricoh provided with the KP for review can only be used with AF-S capture. To use continuous focus (the mode that automatically adjusts the focus according to the changing scene), you'll need an optical lens equipped with either a DC focus motor or a PLM focus motor.
Also, I noticed that the smear caused by rolling shuter can cause the bottom to move faster than the top while panning. In-body stabilization can also cause shimmering and wobbling effects, despite being effective at removing handheld video jitters. The KP is a still camera with a video function. There are better options if you want to do video production. The Canon EOS 80D SLR is a great choice. If you prefer to stay with an SLR the Sony a6500 or Sony a7 II mirrorless are better options.
Although the Pentax KP is not as popular as Nikon and Canon, Pentax photographers who have invested in their limited lens series can still enjoy a great experience with this compact camera. The body is a little slimmer than the other models and you can customize it with interchangeable grips. And it has all of the fit and finish that Pentax owners expect—protection from dust and splashes, in-body stabilization, and solid ergonomics.
It does have some limitations. The autofocus is not as good as comparable-priced options from Canon like the T7i or 80D. And Nikon's D7200, D7500 and D7500 have video capabilities. Wi-Fi file transfers are also hampered by slow and buggy apps. The KP is a solid choice if you are looking for a camera that matches the HD DA Limited lenses series.
If you don't have the money to invest in an SLR, but are looking for something more versatile and mainstream than your current camera, then another model might be a better choice. Our favorite consumer SLR is the Canon T7i. If you're looking for something more compact, think about a mirrorless camera—the Sony a6000 family is a strong option, with models available at a few different price points.