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Pentax K-S1 DSLR Review

John Riley reviews the new Pentax K-S1, a compact and stylish Digital SLR with a 20 megapixel APS-C sensor.

Posted: 10/12/2014 - 17:16


Pentax K S1 Black (1)A revamped body style, some flashing lights and a multitude of bright colour options herald the entry of a new range of Pentax DSLRs. This is the K-S1, aimed clearly at a younger market but retaining some very traditional photographic features. Is this the best of two worlds combined, or a matter of glitz over substance? Let's have a look and find out.

Pentax K-S1 Features

Pentax K S1 Black (2)The K-S1 feels very compact, smaller than some bridge cameras, but despite the size it feels solid in the hands. It uses the familiar KAF2  mount, opening up the possibility of using thousands of legacy lenses as well as the current range.

There is no weather sealing this time and the lens provided, the SMC Pentax DA-L 18-55mm f.3.5-5.6 AL, is also the lower cost version. This sacrifices a few features, such as metal mount, QuickShift focus and a provided lens hood, but retains the same quality of optics as the more expensive versions.

The viewfinder uses a proper glass pentaprism and has 100% field of view, an impressive feature in this price bracket. Live View is also available via a dedicated button on the back of the camera.

The conventional mode selector dial has been replaced by a collar dial that encloses the usual four-way controller buttons. This is an unusual arrangement, usefully illuminated if we switch on the lights via the menu. There is one command dial, so some buttons such as exposure compensation must be held whilst turning the dial.

Pentax K S1 Black (3)The AF system is simpler than the Pentax K-3 previously tested. The module used is SAFOX IX i+ and utilises 11 points, 9 central ones being of the cross type. AF can be used down to -1EV.

There is a wide selection of digital filters and scene modes, many of which also have adjustable parameters. These are found in the digital filters menu, and the scene modes position on the mode dial. The menus have been restyled, although the actual content and layout will remain familiar to previous Pentax users.

The sensor used is a new Sony CMOS sensor of 20.12 MP. It is stabilised with the well-established sensor shift mechanism. The AA filter simulation is continued from the K-3, and this has proved to be effective.

Key Features

  • 20.12 MP APS-C sensor with AA Filter Simulator
  • Pentax KAF2 bayonet mount
  • In-body shake reduction
  • Glass pentaprism with 100% field of view
  • 0.95x magnification viewfinder
  • 3.0 inch LCD monitor with 921,000 dots
  • 77 segment metering
  • SAFOX IX i+ AF module sensitive to -1EV
  • 11 AF points, 9 cross type
  • ISO range 100 to 51,200
  • 20 Digital filters
  • DNG/PEF RAW format
  • Flucard Compatible
  • Full HD Movie Mode
  • MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 Movie Format

Pentax K-S1 Handling

Pentax K S1 Black (5)The K-S1 feels very solid and is clearly very well made. Handling is subtly different to previous Pentax models, so it takes a moment to settle into the new style for previous users. The bright lights are a headline feature, and although they can be useful to count down the timer and illuminate the back dials, they can equally well be switched off.

One big change in handling is the mode dial, which is now situated on the back of the camera around the four-way controller. The big advantage of this seems to be that the camera body can be made more compact. The disadvantage is that the dial is not so convenient to operate, although at least it is firm enough so that it cannot be inadvertently moved.

This cannot be said of the AF/MF switch, which falls just where the natural hold for the lens falls and can easily be moved unless care is taken. A slider switch, or at least a firmer dial, may have solved this minor problem.

The lower cost means that this model does not have weather resistance, which is a pity, but equally well many other cameras do not have this either, so at its price point that is probably inevitable. It does have the AA simulator of the K-3, so that can be switched on if moire is seen as a risk. This feature is now well established.

Live View is accessed via a dedicated switch, and seems much better than previous Pentax models. It engages and is usable far more quickly and is now a viable way to work when required. Overall, a very snappy and efficient performance, with the few caveats as described above.

Pentax K S1 Black (6)All varieties of the SD card can be used, including the new Flucard. This offers remote capture and image browsing.

The battery compartment is located on the base plate in the usual way, and using a lithium-ion battery pack is far more convenient in the field than AA batteries are. The card slot is in the same compartment, making access to it very easy, although if on a tripod the camera will need to be removed before replacing either battery or card.

Notwithstanding these few minor points, what is certain is that the camera was overall a pleasure to use. It was fast and responsive and felt good to operate.

Pentax K S1 Black (7)
Battery life - The battery is a Pentax DLI109 lithium battery pack, with a CIPA quoted life of 480 images without flash, before needing to be charged again. This falls to 410 with 50% flash usage. Initially, I did not manage this number, but to be fair batteries need a few charges to reach their optimum and I was also doing a large amount of reviewing of menus and replaying of images.

Speed - We took a number of shots to test the camera's responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.

Shutter Response 0.05secs
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response 0.1secs (0.6s in live view)
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response 0.2secs (0.9s in live view)
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 0.5secs
Shot to Shot without Flash 0.5secs
Shot to Shot with Flash 0.9secs
Continuous Shooting - JPEG
(shots before slow down)
5fps (7 shots)
Continuous Shooting - Flash 1fps
Continuous Shooting - RAW 3fps (5 shots)

 The drive modes do offer high-speed options and these were close to quoted specifications. The number of frames that can be shot before the camera slows down are quite small, just 7 frames for JPEG capture, so this implies that the buffer could benefit from being much larger. File sizes are larger anyway with the 20 megapixel sensor, so processing speed may suffer slightly.

Pentax K-S1 Performance

The performance section is where we look at the image quality performance of the camera.

Sample Photos - Distortion and chromatic aberration can be controlled by in-camera processing. For architectural images this should be very useful, but processing times will slow down operation of the camera.

Lens Performance - The lens provided is the SMC Pentax-DA 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL, an inexpensive standard zoom. Economy is made by using a plastic lens mount, removing the QuickShift facility that allows manual adjustments at any time, and not supplying a lens hood.

This standard zoom is not up to the standard of previous offerings from Pentax. It starts off fairly soft at open aperture, sharpens up at mid apertures and then softens again as we close down further. It is adequate as a first lens and commendably flare free, but a little under par for Pentax standard zooms.

I would still buy it as its cost is so small in the package, but would soon be looking to augment it to take advantage of the many high-quality optics from Pentax. For a standard zoom the 18-135mm or maybe the new 16-85mm would be far better bets.

ISO Noise Performance - The ISO behaviour of this new sensor is a little different to the previous generation. Up to ISO 800 noise is not a problem. It starts to creep in noticeably at ISO 1600, making it slightly worse than the K-5 for example, but it holds well right up to ISO 6400. Noise is there, but the structure is not unlike film grain and quite acceptable. ISO 12,800 is very noisy, but it is not until ISO 51,200 that it totally loses it and both colour and noise go wildly astray. I would happily use the higher ISO values, probably up to around 3200, and maybe further for the web or for special effects.

White Balance Performance - The white balance options have been extended to include MultiAWB, a feature absorbed from Ricoh, but I think standard AWB or a preset offer better colour. The Multi-option seems a little cold and Pentax cameras generally have a fairly warm rendition. For every day outside use, Daylight will give good results and reflect the natural colour well, or maybe Cloudy if an even warmer result is desired. In shade, in common with other models, there is a tendency for a purple hue to become apparent. This is where the Shade preset comes into its own, and it does correct the colour.


Digital Filters - There are a large range of scene modes, digital filters, effects, plus HDR modes, and we have shown examples above.

Video - Movie format is MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 giving Full HD quality. There is a built-in stereo microphone with adjustable level. Up to 25 minutes (4 GB) can be recorded in one go, subject to the camera's internal temperature not reaching critical levels. Digital filters and SR can be used in Movie mode. Very conveniently, the movie mode is operated by the on/off switch, so it can easily be used at any time.

The quality is pleasingly smooth and although video has never seemed to be at the forefront of the minds of Pentax's engineers, it has vastly improved from earlier models.


Value For Money

It is very pleasing to see that at all levels of product Pentax has retained a uniformly high level of quality construction. Materials may change, polycarbonate for lower cost lenses, beautifully machined aluminium for the Limited range, but the care taken seems to be the same. The same goes for the camera bodies, whether polycarbonate or magnesium alloy. The use of a proper glass pentaprism at this level is exceptional, and considering the myriad of special offers currently assaulting the market, then value for money is absolutely not in question. We get a lot of camera for our money, with the Pentax K-S1 priced at £469 with kit lens.

Other Digital SLRs and DSLR-style cameras to consider include the Nikon D3300 (£415 with VR II kit lens), Canon EOS 100D (£449 with IS lens), Sony Alpha A58 (£289 with in-body IS, EVF), Panasonic Lumix G6 (£429 with IS kit lens, EVF), and the compact Olympus OM-D E-M10 (£599 with in-body IS, compact kit lens, EVF).

Pentax K-S1 Verdict

The Pentax K-S1 may be intended to expand the appeal of the Digital SLR to a younger market, but it also retains all the necessary photographic qualities to make high-quality images possible. It can appeal to a wide variety of users looking for a well specified and efficient DSLR. The customisation of the K-S1 via a multitude of colours is a bonus. It seems the two worlds have become one and a serious photographic tool can also be fun thanks to a compact and colourful camera body.

Pentax K-S1 Pros

  • Excellent image quality with 20MP sensor
  • Flucard and Eye-Fi card compatibility
  • Some unique prime lenses in range
  • AA Filter Simulator
  • Glass pentaprism viewfinder with 100% field of view
  • Backwards lens compatibility
  • In body shake reduction
  • Low light AF to -1EV
  • DNG or PEF RAW format
  • Solid quality construction

Pentax K-S1 Cons

  • No weather resistance
  • Awkward rear selector dial
  • AF/MF lever can be accidentally moved

Features: 4.5/5
Handling: 4/5
Performance: 4.5/5
Value: 4.5/5
Overall Verdict: 4.5/5


Pentax K-S1 Specifications

Manufacturer Pentax
Effective Magnification 1.5x
Image Sensor
Pixels 20.12Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W) 5472
Pixels (H) 3648
Sensor Type CMOS
Sensor Size APS-C
Sensor Size (width) 23.5mm
Sensor Size (height) 15.6mm
Aspect Ratio 3:2
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor 3in
Screen resolution 921K dots
Touch Screen No
Focusing modes Autofocus
Face Detection
AF Tracking
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest 1/6000sec
Shutter speeds longest 30sec
Bulb mode Yes
Exp modes Program
Scene modes
Program Variable
Metering Centre-weighted - Average
Multi Pattern
ISO sensitivity 100 - 51200
White balance Auto
Exposure Comp +/-5
Magnification No Data
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting 5.4fps
Movie mode Yes
Video Resolution 1920x1080 FullHD
Video FPS 30/25/24
Stereo Sound Yes
Optical Zoom with Video Yes
Other Features
Image Stabilisation Yes
Wi-Fi No
Card Type SD
File Type RAW
Power Source
Battery Type Pentax D-LI109 lithium ion
Battery Life (CIPA rating) 480shots
Box Contents
Box Contents Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery D-LI109, Battery Charger D-BC109, AC cable D-COE, Strap O-ST132, Software (CD-ROM) S-SW151, Eyecup FR, Hot shoe cover, FK Body mount cover, Lens front ring O-FR52 black or white
Weight 498g
Width 120mm
Height 92.5mm
Depth 69.5mm

Members gallery photos using: PENTAX K-S1

Posted 15/12/2014 - 00:24 Link
Thanks for the review. Seems pretty good value. Might also be good for a second body being so small and light.

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