Pentax Ricoh Double Whammy: Pentax K-01 APS-C Mirrorless Announced and New GXR Module Released
*update: pre-order the Pentax K-01 here.*
With the micro-sized Q, Pentax’s first foray into the mirrorless interchangeable lens market, it seemed to be feeling out an underserved niche in the burgeoning field, betting that small form factor would overcome the disadvantages inherent in a small sensor size, and the flexibility of interchangeable lenses and external control would tempt enthusiast P&S buyers looking to trade up.
With the just announced K-01, its first major new camera since being acquired by Ricoh, Pentax has made another bold bet, launching another idiosyncratic arrow into the crowded field, now at the mid-to-high end of the range. This time, it has matched Sony and Samsung’s sensor size dominance while retaining its legacy K-Mount, evading the pressure faced by other new systems to ramp up production of a coherent lens family.
The inheritance of the K-Mount brings with it some technical hiccups, forcing Pentax to think outside the box with a unique body design. Jettisoning the mirror box, Fujifilm’s recent X-Mount X-Pro1, Sony’s E-mount cameras and Panasonic/Olympus Micro Four Thirds standard all benefit from incredibly short flange mount distances – 17.7, 18 and 19.25mm respectively – allowing extremely slim bodies with rangefinder-inspired side-to-side emphasis. The K-Mount, with a legacy flange-mount distance of 45.46mm, stuffs the internal components fore and aft, rather than side to side, creating a uniquely boxy form factor. The radical design by vaunted product designer Marc Newson will be one of the most contentious points of this camera, likely to send some traditionalists recoiling in horror, while catching the eye of photo contrarians and fashion forward accessorizers.
Technically, the camera is no slouch, borrowing specs prodigiously from the much-admired K-5. Perhaps the camera’s greatest advantage is its sensor, an updated version of the lauded Sony-made sensor in the K-5. With a 100-25600 ISO range, expect insane low-light performance and impressive dynamic range from this chunky little guy. The camera also sports a welcome 920k dot rear LCD and a six frame per second burst rate. Pentax’s patented sensor shift anti-shake/anti-dust technology is also on board.
The major potential disadvantage is the contrast detection, rather than phase detection, autofocus system. While no other mirrorless system has phase detection either, their new lenses are optimized for contrast detect AF. The K-mount lenses are, unfortunately, not. So while the deep native lens lineup is welcome, time will tell whether they can live up to the quick autofocus speeds we’ve come to expect of the leading mirrorless players.
No-doubt feeling the industry-wide pressure to miniaturize formerly bulky premium technologies, Pentax also announced a shockingly thin 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens to show it can make up for the inevitably deep body of any camera using this mount.
This is the first mirrorless system which doesn’t abandon its parent company’s legacy mount, and could embolden Nikon and Canon to make similar moves. Both of those companies are understandably loathe to abandon what is arguably their systems’ strongest asset, the decades of legacy glass to their name, but must mount a serious defense against the new large sensor compact interchangeable lens cameras.
Simultaneously with Pentax’s announcement, its new owner/partner, Ricoh, jointly released a new lens/sensor module for its innovative GXR hot-swappable camera system with a zoom range of 24-85mm equivalent F3.5-5.5 on a 16MP APS-C sensor. The GXR system continues to offer compelling modules at regular intervals, and has accrued a dedicated following for the system. It’s one of the more exciting, if unheralded, stories in the digital photo world.