Pentax K-1 Mark II review

Canon and Nikon may dominate the full-frame DSLR market, but the Pentax K-1 Mark II is a compelling alternative

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With its build, the Pentax K-1 Mark II is certainly no lightweight. The body alone weighs a whisker over a kilogram, and when you fit a constant-aperture, pro-grade lens like the HD Pentax-D FA 24-70mm f/2.8 ED SDM WR, the combination feels solid and weighty.

There are plenty of photographers who won’t mind that one bit. It’s a big camera that lets you get a good, solid grip, and it leaves enough space for the external controls and dials – and there are a lot of them. This is a camera that will take a little learning, but that offers a lot of direct hands-on control.

There are two items of particular interest on the top plate. One is the Smart Function dial, located just to the right of the pentaprism. You rotate this to select one of a number of different settings, including EV compensation, ISO, drive mode, bracketing mode and HDR mode among others, and then use the unmarked control dial to its right to change that setting. It’s a way of making quick changes to a variety of different camera modes and leaving that setting active if it’s one you’re likely to want to change repeatedly during a shoot.

The other interesting control is the main mode dial over on the far left. This has all the usual Program AE, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual modes, but it adds two more. In Sensitivity (Sv) mode you choose the ISO and leave the camera to select the other settings, while in Shutter speed/Aperture-priority (TAv) mode, you are free to set whatever shutter speed and aperture setting you want, with the camera adjusting the ISO to give you the correct exposure.

To be honest, it’s difficult to see what these two modes do that you can’t achieve with regular ISO/auto ISO settings, but it does at least put the ISO setting alongside the aperture and shutter speed controls on the mode dial (this trinity often dubbed the 'exposure triangle'). 

All of this doesn’t leave much room on the top plate for the K-1 Mark II’s monochrome status panel, but at least it has one. As we'd expect, there’s a backlight button to make it more visible in darkness, but this is only part of the K-1 II’s low-light repertoire. It also has a red ‘night vision’ mode for the rear LCD screen so that your eyes aren’t blinded by the regular display when shooting at night, and, as on the previous K-1, small LED lamps to illuminate the lens mount, rear display, memory card slots and cable terminal at night. It's a great idea, and you can turn these off if you don’t need them.

The articulating rear screen is an interesting idea. Pentax says it’s designed its complex-looking scissor mechanism to offer both tilt and sideways movement while keeping the screen on the lens’s optical axis. It does work, but the sideways movement is limited and it’s very easy to end up with a combination of tilt and side movements that leave the screen skewed. It’s a tough and practical mechanism, but might need a little getting used to. It also lacks touch-functionality, something that's offered on many rival models.

Other controls include front and rear control dials and four-way navigational buttons on the back that double-up as shortcuts to the LCD brightness, white balance, drive mode and picture style, the latter applied to in-camera JPEGs. You can, of course, shoot Raw files, in a choice of Pentax PEF or widely supported Adobe DNG formats.

Overall, the K-1 Mark II is a solid, traditional-feeling DSLR, with an intelligent control layout and some clever features. It wouldn’t be your first choice for video or live view work, but as a conventional stills camera it handles rather well.