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Pentax K-S1 Sensor Review: A ‘flashy’ new entry-level DSLR from Pentax



Pentax K-S1 Introduction: A compact design in 12 different colours

The first D-SLR to feature flashing LEDs on the handgrip, together with illuminated controls on the rear, the new K-S1 is Pentax’s latest entry-level offering. Targeted at consumers taking a step up to DSLR photography from a compact or bridge camera, the Pentax K-S1 features a small compact body design that’s available in 12 colours, including black, white or even orange. All designs feature the same green colour LEDs however, so there’s no colour co-ordination with the flashing lights unfortunately. What’s more as the K-S1’s kit lens is also only available in black, you could end up with a flashing, multi-coloured camera if you’re not careful!


With Pentax yet to break through with a full frame sensor the K-S1 is another option featuring an APS-C CMOS chip. It’s a newly developed sensor however, packing a 20.1Mp resolution that sandwiches it between the existing Pentax 24Mp K-3 and 16Mp K-5 IIs models. Like the K-3, the K-S1 sensor features Pentax’s innovative Anti Aliasing filter simulator, with 3 modes to control the amount of smoothing applied to images. It’s an interesting feature that makes the K-S1 a little more versatile, but is a little unnecessary on an entry-level DSLR and probably better suited to mid range models.    


Unlike many Pentax DSLRs the K-S1 smaller body isn’t weather-sealed against the elements.  It does feature Pentax’s in-camera ‘sensor shift’ Shake Reduction system however, which offers image stabilisation with almost all Pentax K-AF2 mount lenses. Priced $747 body only, or $797 including the standard 18-55mm kit lens, the K-S1 is slightly more expensive than entry-level offerings from the main Nikon and Canon competition and older Pentax DSLRs such as the K-5 IIs, too. 

Pentax K-S1 Sensor Measurement: Slight regression for Pentax sensor score

With a DxOMark Sensor Score of 78 the Pentax K-S1 ranks 62nd for all sensors on the database and 30th for APS-C sensors. It also ranks in 9th for Pentax APS-C sensors behind older, lower resolution models such as the Pentax K-5 IIs, as well as higher resolution Pentax sensors like the K-3. 

That said, the K-S1’s overall score of 78 places it only 6 points behind the class leading APS-C sensor in the Nikon D5200, which, with 84 points, offers 1/3rd stop better image quality overall.


In terms of the 3 sub-scores that feed into the overall score, the K-S1 performs marginally better for Dynamic Range with a measurement of 13Evs ranking in 26th place for all APS-C sensors tested. Pentax have historically scored well for Dynamic range, making them broadly a good APS-C option for landscape and photography in challenging light conditions. In fact the Pentax K-5 IIs remains the class leading APS-C sensor for Dynamic Range measurements, which, with a score of 14.1Evs, offers a 1 stop improvement over the K-S1 despite this being the strongest aspect of the new model. For Colour Depth the K-S1 score of 23.5 bits ranks 64th and a low-light ISO measurement of 1061 ranks the K-S1 in 61st place, both of which are in line with its overall performance. 

Pentax K-S1 vs K-3 vs K-5 IIs: Different resolutions, similar Sensor Scores

If we compare the new K-S1 scores to other Pentax DSLR models we can see that overall image quality is broadly the same, with the highest scoring 24Mp K-5 IIs just 4 points and a 1/3rd of a stop better image quality than the K-S1 overall. 

Now available at discounted prices around $697 the K-5 IIs is a little cheaper than the K-S1 however and offers a broadly similar feature set. The main difference is the K-5 IIs lower resolution 16.4Mp sensor, but despite that it still boasts the best Pentax Sensor Scores in almost all categories, bar ISO where it’s only just nudged out by the K-3.


The K-3 packs an extra 4Mp of resolution over the 20.1Mp K-S1 of course and achieves marginally better scores in all sub categories compared to the newer model. What’s more with its weather-sealed body and faster frame rate the K-3 does have more to offer than the K-S1, but it’s significantly more expensive at $1,347, compared to $797 for the K-S1

Pentax K-S1 vs Canon EOS 1200D vs Nikon D3300: Tough entry-level competition from Nikon

So how does the new K-S1 compare to entry-level options from the big Nikon and Canon competition? Well, with its body only price tag of $747 the K-S1 is currently more expensive than the $547 Nikon D3300 and $699 Canon EOS 1200D, both of which have been on the market longer. In terms of features the K-S1’s Anti -Aliasing filter simulator is unique and the Pentax also offers a broader ISO range, built-in sensor shift and a faster 1/6000th maximum shutter speed. The D3300 boasts the highest resolution at 24Mp however and the best DxOMark Sensor Scores to boot.

With a DxOMark Sensor Score of 82 the Nikon D3300 offers a 1/3rd of a stop better overall image quality than the K-S1 with 78 points. There’s nothing between them for Dynamic Range, with scores of 13 Evs compared to 12.8 Evs. The D3300 does offer 1/3rd of a stop better Colour Depth, scoring 24.3 bits compared to 23.5 bits for the K-S1 and ISO is also a strong point for the Nikon D3300 with its score of 1385 ISO leading the way for APS-C sensors. That equates to around 1/3rd of a stop better ISO performance compared to the K-S1 with a score of 1061 ISO, which is a great result considering the D3300’s features a higher resolution 24Mp sensor.


The K-S1 fares better against Canon’s 1200D entry-level DSLR however. With its overall score of 78 compared to 63 for the Canon we can say that the K-S1 offers 1 stop better image quality than EOS 1200D. As we’ve seen Dynamic Range is often a strong point for Pentax and against the 1200D the K-S1 offers almost 2 stops better performance with scores of 13 Evs vs 11.3 Evs. The difference isn’t as dramatic for Colour Depth and ISO but again the K-S1 comes out favourably in both categories offering around 1 stop better colour and ½ a stop improved ISO performance over the EOS 1200D.

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