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The Ricoh takeover of Pentax now seems to have firmly bedded in, with a whole new range of revamped HD Limited lenses and, leading the pack, the latest flagship DSLR, the K-3. With a breath-taking array of features on offer, we now look more closely to see if the K-3 delivers the goods, and indeed whether it throws down the gauntlet to the brand leaders and offers some serious competition.
As before, we have a rugged, weatherproof body in a compact package, this time sporting 92 seals to keep out moisture and dust. The effectiveness of this is well proven and Pentax is starting to be seen as the outdoor camera for adverse conditions.
Firmly sticking to the APS-C format, the new 24MP sensor, manufactured by Sony, is mounted in the usual shake reduction mechanism. This time a very innovative new feature has been added, using this same mechanism as an “AA Filter Simulator”. This enables two levels of moiré reduction to be switched on if required, using the SR system to vibrate the sensor by a half pixel, this emulating the slight blur of the conventional AA filter. One model now gives all choices.
Twin SD card slots can be used individually, sequentially or one for stills and one for video. Video capture has been extensively updated, now using MPEG-4 encoding. A headphone jack and adjustable sound level is also on offer.
The AF is also upgraded, the new SAFOX 11 system having 27 focus points, 25 of which are the cross type. Sensitivity still extends down to -3 EV. Add to this a new 86,000 pixel light metering sensor, an 8.3 fps frame rate, a new 3.2 inch monitor with no air gap, an upgraded viewfinder system with 95% magnification, a shutter tested to 200,000 cycles and compatibility with the new Flucard for smartphone control and we have a very impressive package.
- 24.35MP APS-C sensor with AA Filter Simulator
- Pentax KAF2 bayonet mount
- In-body shake reduction
- Glass pentaprism with 100% field of view
- Larger 0.95x magnification viewfinder
- 3.2 inch LCD monitor with 1,037,000 dots and no air space
- 86,000 pixel light-metering sensor
- SAFOX 11 AF module sensitive to -3EV
- 27 AF points, 25 cross type
- Weather resistant construction with 92 seals
- Magnesium alloy shell
- 8.3fps maximum frame rate
- ISO range 100 to 51,200
- 17 Digital filters
- DNG/PEF RAW format
- Dual SD Card Slots
- Eye-Fi Card compatible
- Flucard Compatible
- Shutter tested to 200,000 cycles
- Full HD Movie Mode
- MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 Movie Format
Handling has always been a strong point of Pentax SLRs and DSLRs and the K-3 continues this tradition. Existing Pentax users will find some buttons moved and some controls altered slightly, but nothing major that can't be quickly adapted to. New users may well appreciate the “photographic feel” of this new camera, with its well-designed menu interface and ergonomic layout. There has been much of this that has carried forwards unchanged from the previous K-7 and K-5 model ranges, and there is no need to change things for the sake of change.
There are nonetheless some minor tweaks that are useful. The dioptre adjustment wheel is much more convenient, the SD card access is improved, the mode dial now has a lock that can be disengaged if desired. The rear screen now sports a status display very similar to the other DSLRs in the Pentax range. This is a very convenient way to change many parameters. There are still plenty of dedicated buttons and a new switch to select either still or video photography.
Having a traditional glass pentaprism viewfinder is now common to all the Pentax DSLR range. This may be the more expensive option in terms of manufacture, but it reaps dividends in the sheer clarity of the view. The gapless monitor should avoid condensation under the cover glass and the screen is bright, sharp and clear.
The battery is the same as used for the K-5 range and most accessories are also identical. The previous battery grip is, however, slightly different so a new D-BG5 grip is available for the K-3.
Battery life is similar to the K-5 and bearing in mind new batteries need a few charges to become totally effective, 500 shots with plenty of use of playback still left plenty of life available. It looks as though the CIPA figures quoted, 560 shots with 50% flash usage, will be very reasonably achieved.
Speed - We took a number of shots to test the camera's responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.
|Wide - Focus / Shutter Response||0.2s / 0.8s in live view|
|Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response||0.2s / 1.7s in live view|
|Switch on Time to Taking a Photo||0.5s|
|Shot to Shot without Flash||0.5s|
|Shot to Shot with Flash||1.0s|
Continuous Shooting - JPEG
(shots before slow down)
|Continuous Shooting - Flash||2.4fps|
|Continuous Shooting - RAW||8.2fps|
The first thing that strikes the new user is that the shutter is so, so quiet and smooth. This is probably the quietest DSLR I have experienced from any marque. It is also totally free from vibration, so the damping of the mirror mechanism must be exceptional. When the shutter is released, apart from a slight click we feel nothing at all, it's quite uncanny.
The camera is highly responsive, with minimal delay when firing the shutter. The AF seems to lock on in the dullest light with no difficulty and the speed has been significantly improved. Of course this will depend also on the lens used, but in general I feel that AF is slightly faster and much more reliable in the lowest lighting conditions. The new focus point array should make focus tracking more effective.
The buffer exceeded specification and at 8.3fps I achieved 67 JPEG images and 23 RAW images respectively. The maximum frame rate is very fast and almost as fast as many cameras with translucent (non-moving) mirrors. The new shutter having a potential life of 200,000 shots seems to be quite an improvement.
The Flucard deserves a mention, although one was not provided for this review. This new card, currently Pentax specific, makes the camera compatible with smartphones for remote operation. There is obviously potential there for the future. Eye-Fi compatibility is also included with the K-3.
Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, photos and Pentax K-3 ratings.
Pentax K-3 Sample Photos
FOV Wide Angle 18mm | 1/640 sec | f/8.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 200
FOV Telephoto 135mm | 1/1000 sec | f/8.0 | 135.0 mm | ISO 200
Nature | 1/160 sec | f/8.0 | 68.0 mm | ISO 400
Architecture | 1/640 sec | f/8.0 | 28.0 mm | ISO 200
Backlight | 1/60 sec | f/8.0 | 40.0 mm | ISO 200
Built In Flash Indoors | 1/100 sec | f/11.0 | 53.0 mm | ISO 200
Sample Photos - Exposure was accurate and very similar to the K-5, full exposure being given without tending to blow out the highlights. The options remain as to matrix, centre-weighted or spot measurement. One option that has been lost from previous models is the Premium JPEG setting. Looking at the number of images obtainable though this seems to be a renaming of the levels rather than a reduction in quality. The very fine quality of Pentax JPEG files remains intact. The options for RAW shooters also remain intact and either PEF or DNG files can be chosen as the RAW format.
|AA Simulator Off | 1/6400 sec | f/4.5 | 18.0 mm | ISO 6400||AA Simulator Type 1 | 1/6400 sec | f/4.5 | 18.0 mm | ISO 6400||AA Simulator Type 2 | 1/5000 sec | f/4.5 | 18.0 mm | ISO 6400|
The AA filter simulator is an interesting idea. There have been many discussions about the value of removing the AA filter, but it has become clear that for many the increased crispness of the shots makes the risk of moire acceptable. In the event, generating moire proves to be a very difficult task and in normal use I doubt very much that it will be a problem. I was eventually able to induce moire using images on my monitor and the two levels of AA simulation worked. Level 1 reduced the effect and level 2 removed it. Now this will depend on the frequency of the pattern so judging when to apply correction may be the difficult part. By choice I would leave the AA simulator switched off. Switching it on and at what level will become a matter of judgement from experience and where we get it wrong it will be back to software solutions. However, what a fantastic idea to incorporate this feature at all. It offers a unique opportunity to fine tune yet another parameter.
I checked the electronic level and found it to be accurate. It isn't a feature that I use routinely, but it can be very useful.
In terms of the weather resistance, this in itself makes the Pentax K-3 a viable choice. The camera cannot be immersed in water, but it will quite happily function in downpours and cold conditions. In practice, I would be happy to take this camera and lenses out in any weather that I felt I myself wanted to venture out into.
Pentax K-3 Lens test images
18mm F3,5 | 1/500 sec | f/3.5 | 18.0 mm | ISO 200
18mm F8 | 1/250 sec | f/8.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 200
18mm F22 | 1/30 sec | f/22.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 200
48mm F4,5 | 1/400 sec | f/4.5 | 48.0 mm | ISO 200
48mm F8 | 1/250 sec | f/8.0 | 48.0 mm | ISO 200
48mm F22 | 1/50 sec | f/22.0 | 48.0 mm | ISO 200
135mm F5,6 | 1/1250 sec | f/5.6 | 135.0 mm | ISO 200
135mm F8 | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 135.0 mm | ISO 200
135mm F22 | 1/30 sec | f/22.0 | 135.0 mm | ISO 200
Macro | 0.8 sec | f/16.0 | 135.0 mm | ISO 200
Lens Performance -The SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR was supplied with the camera and it is an ideal companion for it. Clearly the lens has enough reserve resolution to handle the increased pixel count and it performs better with the K-3 than with the K-5 cameras. CA seems reduced and images are cleaner. It would confirm that it is the combination of sensor and lens that dictates final image quality, not just one or the other.
The 18-135mm produces clean, crisp images and complements the K-3 perfectly. Flare is well controlled, although it is always a good idea to use the included lens hood. For those who want to compare images from the 18-135mm with other camera bodies my review of the K-5 IIs includes images of the same location with another copy of the lens. Not 100% the same lighting and general conditions, but it might be interesting. There are many other options in the Pentax range, including new HD lenses with improved nano coatings. More lenses are planned, so the range looks set to grow significantly.
Pentax K-3 ISO test images
ISO Noise Performance - The new 24MP sensor is full of detail and is a major benefit of the K-3. Looking very closely at the images and comparing them to the K-5 IIs in particular, the finest detail is crisper and clearer without a doubt. Noise levels might be expected to be slightly higher with the increased pixel density and although this is true it seems more than made up for by the cleaner reproduction of detail. As with the K-5 variants I would be quite happy to use the K-3 up to and including ISO 1600. Noise has started to creep in at this level but it becomes more noticeable at ISO 3200. By ISO 12800 sharpness is maintained but the noise is becoming more obvious, but it is still acceptable. ISO 25600 and 51200 are best used when necessary only as noise levels are slightly higher than the 16MP cameras. Having said that, the detail that is present is sharper and better defined than with the previous models.
Pentax K-3 White-balance test images
WB Tungsten | 1/5 sec | f/8.0 | 31.0 mm | ISO 200
AWB Fluorescent | 0.3 sec | f/8.0 | 31.0 mm | ISO 200
AWB Multi Area Fluorescent | 0.3 sec | f/8.0 | 31.0 mm | ISO 200
WB Fluorescent Cool White | 0.3 sec | f/8.0 | 31.0 mm | ISO 200
White Balance Performance - White balance is another area where I have always appreciated the colour balance of Pentax cameras. This too is preserved, although the Ricoh input into the design gives an extra variety of AWB, labelled AWBA. The theory of this is that with mixed light sources the camera can offer multiple white balances across a frame. So, for example, a subject lit by flash with a background lit by tungsten lights can be measured separately to give an overall balanced effect. The results seemed little different from just using AWB.
Pentax K-3 Outdoor images
HDR Auto | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
HDR 1 | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
HDR 2 | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
HDR 3 | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
CA Reduction Off | 1/640 sec | f/8.0 | 31.0 mm | ISO 200
CA Reduction On | 1/640 sec | f/8.0 | 31.0 mm | ISO 200
Distortion Correction Off | 1/1000 sec | f/8.0 | 68.0 mm | ISO 200
Distortion Correction On | 1/1000 sec | f/8.0 | 68.0 mm | ISO 200
Pentax K-3 Other sample images
AWB Daylight | 1/800 sec | f/9.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Close Up Nature | 1/125 sec | f/5.6 | 88.0 mm | ISO 200
Treescape | 1/60 sec | f/8.0 | 28.0 mm | ISO 400
43mm Limited | 1/6 sec | f/11.0 | 43.0 mm | ISO 200
High ISO 6400 | 1/250 sec | f/9.0 | 31.0 mm | ISO 6400
Landscape | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 36.0 mm | ISO 200
Record Photography | 1/1000 sec | f/8.0 | 40.0 mm | ISO 200
100mm Macro Angel | 1/50 sec | f/16.0 | 100.0 mm | ISO 200
Pentax K-3 Digital filters
Bleach Bypass | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Bright | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Cross Processing | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Landscape | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Monochrome | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Muted | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Natural | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Portrait | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Radiant | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Reversal Film | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Vibrant | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Bold Monochrome | 1/1000 sec | f/9.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Extract Colour Blue Selected | 1/1000 sec | f/9.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
High Contrast | 1/1000 sec | f/9.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Invert Colour | 1/1000 sec | f/9.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Retro | 1/1000 sec | f/9.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Shading | 1/1000 sec | f/9.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Toy Camera | 1/800 sec | f/9.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Unicolour Bold Blue Selected | 1/1000 sec | f/9.0 | 21.0 mm | ISO 200
Digital Filters - There are a vast number of digital filters and custom image options and examples are shown above.
Video - There have been significant changes to the video capability with the K-3. The encoding is now AVC/H.264, provision is made for stereo sound recording using external microphones and a headphone jack is provided. The sound levels can be adjusted in the camera and level metering is provided for this. All in all, there is an increase of sophistication and easier access with a dedicated video/still switch. Initial impressions are favourable, with smooth reproduction and SR helping to reduce shake. Digital Filters and Custom Image are also available in movie mode.
Value For MoneyValue for money covers many aspects, but there is little doubt that here Pentax have a product that includes almost anything that we could imagine we want in a flagship APS-C camera. The level of possible customisation is very high, the results are very good indeed and right from the start trade in offers have been introduced that help to reduce the cost. In this instance I feel we have excellent value right from the start, with the Pentax K-3 available for £1099 body only. Alternatives to consider include the following:
Nikon D7100, 24 megapixel no AA filter, weather sealed, 6fps, £765 body only
Canon EOS 70D, 20 megapixel, 7fps, weather sealed, Wi-Fi, £969 body only
Sony Alpha A77, 24 megapixel, 12fps, IS, weather sealed, GPS, £729 body only
Olympus OM-D E-M1, 16 megapixel no AA filter, 10fps, IS, weather sealed, Wi-Fi, £1299 body only
Panasonic Lumix GH3, 16 megapixel, 6fps, weather sealed, £869 body only
You'll also need to buy a memory card and a case or bag to keep your camera safe and protected - have a look at our complete guide to camera bags.
Looking at the APS-C competition, Pentax now seems have nudged into the lead with the K-3 and for a rugged, well specified all weather camera it may well be that we need look no further. The marriage of Ricoh and Pentax expertise looks to have become a happy one indeed.
Buy Online Now
|The Pentax K-3 is a well-rounded package with impressive specification and technology.|
Pentax K-3 ProsSuperb clarity in image quality with 24MP sensor
Rugged weather sealed construction with 92 seals
Flucard and Eye-Fi card compatibility
Shutter rated to 200,000 exposures
Some unique prime lenses in range
AA Filter Simulator
Glass pentaprism viewfinder with 95% magnification
Backwards lens compatibility
In body shake reduction
Low light AF to -3EV
Wide selection of built in effects and filters
DNG or PEF RAW format
8.3fps frame rate
Pentax K-3 ConsLack of long zoom lenses
Current lack of lens support from some third party manufacturers
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Pentax K-3 Specifications
|CCD pixels||24Mp (Megapixels)|
|Sensor Size (width)||23.5mm|
|Sensor Size (height)||15.6mm|
|Shutter speeds shortest||1/8000sec|
|Shutter speeds longest||30sec|
|ISO sensitivity||100 - 51200|
|Video FPS||60i, 50i, 30p, 25p, 24p|
|Optical Zoom with Video||Yes|
|Battery Type||Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery D-LI90P|
|Box Contents||No Data|