By Chris Gampat
on 5.9.12
Photo by Chris Gampat

A culmination of the company’s non-comformist sense of self, yet still embracing their storied history, the Pentax K-01 is unlike any other camera in the mirrorless camera world. Indeed, it embraces its lineup of beautiful K-Mount lenses (both modern and from the film days) allowing users to fasten them with a satisfying click, but what makes this camera so radical is the collaboration between the company and industrial designer Marc Newson — who decided that the best idea for a new camera would be embracing a new approach to cameras both functionally and in design.

In this latest edition of Design Spotlight we dive into not only the Pentax K-01, but also one of its forebearers, the venerable Pentax ME to get a better sense of where this camera comes from.

In 1957, Pentax, formerly known as Asahi Optical, created a camera called the Asahi-Pentax. The camera was a hit. In fact, it became so popular, that the company eventually changed their name to Pentax. What made them so popular? Well, the designers realized a critical problem: it was nearly impossible to shoot their cameras from the horizontal position. Instead, one would have to look down into the viewfinder the way that one would with a medium format film camera like a Hasselblad 500C. To remedy this, a pentaprism and mirror (the iconic hump you see in front of most SLR viewfinders) were added for the user to be able to hold the camera up to their eye. This, in turn, created the world’s first SLR. The concept caught on and many other companies eventually came out with their own.

The company would later captivate the world with their Spotmatic series of cameras with a built-in spot meter for automatic exposures. These meters eventually found their ways into rangefinder cameras and other SLRs. Even later came the Pentax K1000: which was the mainstay for many photographers and students for years. Besides the K series of cameras, they also dabbled in other areas catering to other segments of the market. For example, they created the 645 and 67 DSLR: both medium format beasts.

Currently, the company maintains only their K series of DSLRs, the 645D and a variety point and shoots along with their latest introduction: the Q. The Pentax Q is currently the world’s smallest interchangeable lens camera, which leads us to now.

The Q’s small body created a large challenge: find a way to outdo the larger sensor mirrorless cameras with less space. Pentax eventually partnered with industrial designer Marc Newson to create their latest entry into the mirrorless camera market: the K-01.

Essentially, the K-01 is a smooth, box-like camera with slightly radical control layouts. Unusual at first, but easily becoming natural.

There is a reason why Marc was named amongst Time’s 100 Most Influential People: he has received various awards for his innovative vision and ideas. Newson has worked on designs ranging from products to clothing. The K-01, in a way, seems to exude hints of both, especially in Newson’s iconic yellow livery. Essentially, the K-01 is a smooth, box-like camera with slightly radical control layouts. Unusual at first, but easily becoming natural.

At its core though, the K-01 is still a Pentax K, just without a mirror and pentaprism. Further, it is available in a host of non-traditional colors such as white, yellow and if you absolutely must have it, black. Because the boxy body houses an APS-C sized sensor with all the components of a DSLR, sans a mirror and pentaprism, the K-01 is thicker than many other mirrorless cameras out there. There is a lot that users will find familiar though, such as a mode dial with many common shooting modes, various buttons laid out in a traditional fashion, and more. Plus there’s a sharp 921K dot 3-inch LCD screen and pop-up flash.

To take full advantage of its size, Pentax offers various pancake lenses, such as their wafer thin 40 mm f2.8 DX and various others including the ones you see in our photos.

The K-01 garners a lot of glances. Its rare, and in yellow, totally unlike any other camera out there. It’s easy to categorize this camera as one not for the traditionalists, who prefer the current style of retro-looking camera bodies. Its futuristic and hints at what most people want in their cameras: ease of use, gorgeous photos, fun filters and shooting simple shooting modes, and a brand with heritage. It’s no simple task, yet somehow the K-01 driven by the forward thinking of Marc Newson not only accomplishes this, but does so with a viewfinder full of excitement.

Additional contribution by Eric Yang

Sample Photos from the Pentax K-01

Pentax K-01 and Pentax ME

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