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An Expert at Focus Stacking Comments on the Pentax K1 and Its Image Quality

See my writing about the Pentax K1, as well as my in-depth review of the Pentax K1, as well as review of the Pentax K3 II and lenses, processing SuperRes pixel shift mode files, etc.

Michael Erlewine is an expert at focus stacking (see his many videos on the subject). I noted the potential of the Pentax K1 for his work even before it shipped, and we’ve traded many emails on it, before and after. Here is what he has to say about the Pentax K1 and focus stacking too.

Hands on the Pentax K1 and Pixel-Shift

Here is a quick report on the new Pentax K1 in the actual work situations I find myself in. There is good news and bad news... for me. The bad news is that it looks like I have to learn (and put up) with another camera. Part of it is that I am used to my Nikons and all of that. The other part is that, IMO, the Pentax K1 interface as not as easy to use or as well-designed as Nikon.

I would send it back just to spare myself the aggravation but for the very nice results. At this point, I am just checking it out a little bit, and trying to get over holding my nose while I am at it.

The color with the Pentax is crisper, brighter, more natural (almost too contrasty!) compared to the overall muddier look of my Nikon D810, now that I see them side by side. Ouch!

I don’t have a ton of lenses for the K1 and the Pentax (so far anyway) is much less tolerant of odd lenses than are my Nikons bodies. If everything is equal, which it is not, then the Pentax is... doable IMO.

The Pentax SuperRes pixel-shift files are huge, and a real pain for my computer, not to mention their storage requirements (~ 150MB each) [diglloyd: can be over 200MB each if image has a lot of detail]. The LCD screen on the back of the camera is very adjustable, but I won’t be using it because I need my Zacuto Z-Finder magnifier on the back for fine focus, and it is needed. This camera is very fussy with focus.

On the plus side, the K1 has a fairly easy-to-use LiveView magnifier that goes up to something like 16x, which is more than I need or makes sense.

The pixel-shift files take a long time to write out and you get no warning if you decide to call it a day and yank the card before the little light goes out. Don’t do it ![diglloyd: the K1 also has bugs that lose images; I lost a dozen or so, never written to card and no warning. The K3 II had a similar bug. No idea what causes it.]

You can stack focus with these files, but at the price of degradation of the files... a little bit. For my work, the Pentax K1 will probably be used to take single shots photos at high f/Stops like f/12-16. Yes, there is some diffraction, but I seem to get away with much smaller f/stops in pixel-shift mode with the K1 than on my Nikon D810.

So, the bottom line is Uggh for learning a new camera, and one not as elegant as the D810. There are other considerations as well.

Stacking K1 images, like all stacking, messes with the color and the contrast to a degree. With the K1, the pristine color is the main attraction. So far, it seems it would be better to take one-shot photos with the K1 in pixel-shift than to try and stack them. Oh yes, they stack of course, but the added contrasts, etc. may look good from a distance, but up close it looks worse than a single-shot photo, not the anyone but a pixel-peeper could tell. All stacks do, but the more pristine possibilities of the K1 in pixel-shift mode make me want to think twice before stacking. What I might want to do is combine stacked layers in Photoshop by simply copying over certain areas, instead of running the layers through the stacking software, thus avoiding the added contrast and color muddiness that stacking brings. Just a thought.

Also, right now I have only a few Voigtlander lenses that have Pentax mounts. I have an adapter to Nikon and tried on the Otus 55mm and it works, etc. However, I look forward to mounting the Pentax K1 on a bellows unit and using lenses like El Nikkor 105mm APO lenses on the front standard.

In short, I just have my toe in the water. Part of me wishes my Nikons could do pixel-shift, because their cameras would be a lot easier for me to use, since I already know them. But the bleeding edge never sleeps and new equipment drives me on.

I am interested to see Sony’s upgrade for the A7rII and Nikons upgrade of the D810 whenever they come. Meanwhile the purity of color of the pixel-shift with the K1 and the overall result is worth checking out IMO.

Thanks to Lloyd Chambers for doing a lot of research on this camera in his columns.

DIGLLOYD: I agree that the Pentax K1 and K3 II Live View is not well designed; in an operational sense it not so usable as Nikon or Canon (Nikon is best of all).

focus-stacked image by Michael Erlewine
Pentax K1 + Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5 APO @ f/9, 1/5 sec, ISO 100
focus-stacked image by Michael Erlewine
Pentax K1 + Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5 APO @ f/16, 0.6 sec, ISO 100

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