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Pentax K-3 Mark II Review

Pentax K-3 Mark II Review - John Riley reviews the new Pentax K-3 II DSLR, with a 24 megapixel sensor and pixel shift technology to produce sharper images.

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Pentax K-3 II in Digital SLRs

Features
Handling
Performance
Verdict
Specification

Pentax K 3 II (9)

The latest Flagship DSLR from Pentax is an updated version of the already highly acclaimed K-3. The K-3 II is interesting in that it takes something away (the inbuilt flash) so that GPS and the Astrotracer can be added in. In addition, Pentax have developed the sensor based shake reduction to enable a new high definition pixel resolution feature. More of this later, but overall we will be looking at whether these changes are enough to justify a new model, and also seeking to establish whether the K-3 or the K-3 II will be the model of choice.

Pentax K-3 II Features

Pentax K 3 II (8)

The K-3 II is a weatherproof, magnesium alloy clad APS-C DSLR offering 24.35MP images. The viewfinder is a traditional glass pentaprism giving a 100% view, with Live View also available via a button placed conveniently near the eyepiece, also with a 100% field of view. The AF system is SAFOX 11, with 27 points, 25 of which are of the cross type. The operating range is from -3EV. Continuous shooting of up to 8.3fps is possible.

Interestingly, Pentax have decided to remove the built-in flash. Whether this disturbs buyers remains to be seen, but in its place is a very useful GPS system and astrotracer. This could make this variant a very desirable camera for astronomers as the cost of the separate astrotracer is significant. The GPS unit allows geotagging of images and a built-in compass.

All the usual features are otherwise present and will be familiar to existing Pentax users. Those new to the Pentax fold will not be disappointed by the array of digital filters, image styles and inbuilt HDR options. Inbuilt shake reduction (SR) means that all lenses and accessories used can benefit from the system. Up to 4 shutter speed steps are claimed.

The SR unit is also employed to simulate the AA filter. The K-3 II has no AA filter, but by slightly shaking the sensor this can be emulated at a choice of two different levels. Generally the feature will be switched off to enable the highest possible resolution, but if moire is seen to be a hazard then the simulator can be used to reduce or eliminate the effect.

Pentax K 3 II (2)

Pixel Shift Resolution – The SR system can now also be used for the new high definition image output system. PSR shifts the sensor one pixel at a time to create four images that are then merged. This means that every pixel point has accurate RGB values, rather than these having to be interpolated by software. Normally the three colour values are taken from an area four pixels square in sensors that use Bayer pattern filters. The output from the PSR system is still the same pixel dimensions and in JPEG increases the file size only marginally. In RAW capture we end up with immense files of around 112 MB. We will see later how this works out in practice.

Key Features

  • 24.35MP APS-C sensor with AA Filter Simulator
  • Pixel Shift High Definition Image Output
  • Built-in GPS
  • Built in Astrotracer
  • Pentax KAF2 bayonet mount
  • In-body shake reduction
  • Glass pentaprism with 100% field of view
  • Large 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

Pentax K-3 II Handling

Pentax K 3 II (4)

Pentax cameras always feel solid in the hand, and the K-3 II exudes quality construction. It is compact without being too small, all the parts are finished to a very high standard and it gives a feeling of confidence that it will be reliable and will last well. The glass pentaprism viewfinder is always delightful to use, and the Live View system has been improved, being much faster to employ. The camera screen quality is excellent, with sharp and accurate colour.

All in all, the K-3 II operates briskly. There are a good number of buttons and dials that make general operation convenient, including a new rotary dial for the eyepiece adjustment which is much easier to use than the previous slider switch. All the buttons operate positively and smoothly.

Pentax K 3 II (7)

Many parameters can be altered by selecting the info screen and scrolling to the item to be adjusted. The rear control wheel can then be used to alter the value. In normal use, the menu system will be rarely accessed. When it is needed though, the menu system is logical and quick to use. Those coming to Pentax from other marques will no doubt need a while to adjust to different methods of working, but the Pentax system is very intuitive and should pose no problem.

Remote operation is left to using Flucards with a suitable smartphone, and wireless transmission of images can also be achieved using Eye-Fi SD cards. These are used in SD slot 2. The two card slots can also be used for normal SD cards, so the potential number of shots available for use in the field is doubled. This could be very useful if working in challenging weather conditions, where opening the card door to change cards might not be desirable.

Pentax K 3 II (5)

Battery life - The battery is the DLI-90 used since the K-7, and those following an upgrade path to the K-3 II will no doubt appreciate already having suitable spares. According to CIPA test results, we can expect approx. 720 images per charge and this seems to be borne out in practice. A week was spent using the camera extensively and the battery charge was still holding out by the end of it.

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.

Shutter Response 0.05secs
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response 0.1secs (0.7s in live view)
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response 0.2secs (0.7s in live view)
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 0.5secs
Shot to Shot without Flash 0.4secs
Shot to Shot with Flash N/A
Continuous Shooting - JPEG
(shots before slow down)
8.9fps (24 shots)
Continuous Shooting - Flash N/A
Continuous Shooting - RAW 8.2fps (24 shots)

 

In general, speed of operation seems to have been slightly increased, including the AF system. This is incremental with every new model. The continuous shooting was even more over-spec than the K-3 was, this copy of the K-3 II almost touching 9fps. The buffer size was a little under the spec levels though, only managing around 24 shots either in JPEG or RAW.

Pentax K-3 III Performance

The performance section is where we look at the image quality performance of the camera. Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.

Pentax K-3 II Sample Photos

Sample Photos - Already being familiar with Pentax cameras, I have my own favourite settings, and like all cameras the K-3 II can be customised by the user to suit individual requirements. However, for the purposes of this test the camera was used with default settings for most of the time, which quickly established that White Balance in particular seems to have been improved. Multi AWB is relatively new for Pentax, being of Ricoh origin, and to be honest I still prefer standard AWB. In many cases though, it wasn't necessary to use other presets as I would have done in the past, as AWB seems to do a much better job in this new model. The other presets can be useful if warmer images are required, especially the daylight setting. It also helps to preserve the more extreme colours such as sunsets, where AWB might seek to dilute the excess red.

No flash. This is an interesting omission. Will buyers care, considering what they get in return? Will GPS and Astrotracer more than outweigh the lack of a built in flash unit? Personally, I very rarely use flash, preferring the quality of available light. But then again, apart from novelty value I won't be using GPS or the astrotracer anyway. Unless my needs change, and then both would be there. So this is a choice, really looking at the K-3 and K-3 II as two variants. Choice is good, but the beginner may not know, so it might confuse some buyers.

I was very pleased with the image quality from the K-3 II. It is up there with the very best and offers outstanding sharpness, resolution and colour quality. 

Pentax K-3 II Lens test images

Lens Performance - The lens provided with the test camera was the SMC Pentax-DAL 18-55mm AL WR f/3.5-5.6. This is a light version, with plastic lens mount, no QuickShift manual override of the AF system and no lens hood provided. It is a fair lens, pretty good when stopped down, but not a stellar performer. Having bought the K-3 II I would suggest that the more expensive kit options should be looked at. However, it is not a bad lens, it is very usable, and it is weather resistant. Kit lenses do vary and Pentax ones are better than many, but with such a high quality camera something a notch up would not come amiss.

Pixel Shift Resolution Again - Now here we have something really new, and perhaps for many deciding between K-3 or K-3 II this could be the clincher. To recap, the sensor is shifted by one pixel in four directions and the images merged to make cleaner, more colour accurate images. It does exactly that. Obviously the subject should be still and it's essential to secure the camera on a solid tripod. One pixel shift is a very precise movement, so nothing else can move at all. Use of the self timer to prevent any camera movement is ideal.

To test this, the SMC Pentax-D FA 100mm f/2.8 macro lens was used. Images were shot with and without PSR using JPEG and RAW (DNG) capture. It must be said that it's essential to work very carefully and the difference is a subtle but very real improvement in fidelity. It unfortunately also makes us far more critical when viewing the results, the ultimate experience for those who like pixel-peeping. The best lenses are needed to make this worthwhile.

I would not use this routinely, but I would use it for critical macro and other highly detailed work where the very highest quality was needed. It does work and it's worth having, and is yet another interesting development that stems from the SR system. JPEG capture shows the same improvement, but only slightly increased file sizes. RAW capture gives enormous files of around 112MB, so that could be a problem for users with older computers.

Pentax K-3 II ISO test images

ISO Noise Performance - The ISO performance of Pentax DSLRs has been excellent ever since the K-5 in particular, and although higher pixel counts make this more challenging, technology has also moved on and there is only a marginal increase in noise with the K-3 and K-3 II. Being very critical, there is the slightest increase of noise levels at ISO 400 and 800 and both these settings can be used without any problem at all. ISO 1600 is almost as good and even ISO 3200 holds well. By ISO 6400 quality slip a little, more so with 12800 and very markedly so with the two highest sensitivities. Apart from creative use of grain, ISO 25600 and 51200 are for emergencies only, where any image is better than no image.

Pentax K-3 II White-balance test images

White Balance Performance - Auto White Balance (AWB) performs well with a warm colour cast under tungsten lighting, with the tungsten preset giving a more accurate result. AWB performs well under fluorescent lights, with the fluorescent preset giving a slightly magenta colour cast.

Pentax K-3 II Digital filters

Digital Filters - If using JPEG capture we can take advantage of a wide range of digital filters. Many of then have adjustable parameters, so, for example, extract colour can be set to extract whatever colour is desired. I chose yellow for the test shot. The quality of the extraction is excellent, and the filters as a whole enable all sorts of interesting effects that might take some time to achieve using Photoshop. Image styles also offer some potential, with many creative possibilities for those who care to dabble. The HDR function also works well, although some might find the stronger effects a little over the top.

Pentax K-3 II Outdoor images

Video - Video encoding is AVC/H.264 and provision is made for stereo sound recording using external microphones. A headphone jack is provided. The sound levels can be adjusted in the camera and level metering is provided for this. 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 Money

Currently priced at £769, body only, with a free 16GB Flu Card, the Pentax K-3 II has to be seen as amazing value for money. This is especially true if we need the Astrotracer and GPS, as separate modules would add a considerable amount to the cost. If the flash is needed, the K-3 is still available at around £624 after current cashback offers.

Alternatives to look at include the following cameras:
Nikon D7200, 24mp, 6fps, Wi-Fi, £849 body only
Canon EOS 70D, 20mp, 7fps, Wi-Fi, £734 body only
Sony Alpha A77-II, 24mp, 12fps, Wi-Fi, £764 body only
Samsung NX1, 28mp, 15fps, Wi-Fi, £1249 body only
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, 16mp (with multi shot mode for 40mp images), 10fps, Wi-Fi, £888 body only
Panasonic Lumix GH4, 16mp, 12fps, Wi-Fi, £1049 body only
Fujifilm X-T1, 16mp, 8fps, Wi-Fi, £854 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.

Pentax K-3 II Verdict

Pentax continue to offer rugged, weather resistant DSLRs that offer outstanding image quality at a very attractive price. Coupled with high quality lenses, this continues to be a winning combination. The new Pixel Shift Resolution feature looks like a winner and the inclusion of GPS and Astrotracer will be welcomed by many. The lack of an inbuilt flash unit will be missed by some users, so the choice remains depending on our specific needs.

Pentax K-3 II Pros

Superb clarity in image quality with 24MP sensor
New Pixel Shift High Resolution Feature
Built in GPS
Built in Astrotracer
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 II Cons

No built in flash unit
Current lack of lens support from some 3rd party manufacturers 
Competitors offer Wi-Fi as standard

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
VERDICT  

 

The Pentax K-3 II delivers outstanding image quality, along with numerous new features. 

 

Pentax K-3 II Specifications

ManufacturerPentax
Lens
Effective Magnification1.5x
Image Sensor
Pixels24.35Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W)6016
Pixels (H)4000
Sensor TypeCMOS
Sensor SizeAPS-C
Sensor Size (width)23.5mm
Sensor Size (height)15.6mm
Aspect Ratio
  • 3:2
  • 16:9
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor3.2in
Screen resolution1037k
Touch ScreenNo
Focusing
Focusing modes
  • Autofocus
  • Manual
  • Spot
  • AF Tracking
  • Multi
  • Centre
  • AF Fine Tuning (Micro Adjustment)
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/8000sec
Shutter speeds longest30sec
Bulb modeYes
Exp modes
  • Program
  • Aperture-Priority
  • Shutter-Priority
  • Manual
  • Scene modes
  • Program Variable
Metering
  • Centre-weighted - Average
  • Multi Pattern
  • Spot
ISO sensitivity100 - 51200
White balance
  • Auto
  • Manual
  • Outdoors/Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Incandescent
  • Fluorescent
  • Shade
  • Flash
Exposure Comp+/-5
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting8.3fps
Video
Movie modeYes
Video Resolution
  • 1920x1080 FullHD
  • 1280x720 HD 720p
Video FPS60i, 50i, 30p, 25p, 24p
Stereo SoundNo
Optical Zoom with VideoYes
Other Features
Image StabilisationYes
Interface
HDMIYes
USBUSB 3
Wi-FiNo
Storage
Card Type
  • SD
  • SDHC
  • SDXC
File Type
  • RAW
  • JPG
  • RAW + JPG
Power Source
Battery TypeRechargeable Lithium-ion Battery D-LI90P
Battery Life (CIPA rating)720shots
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data
Dimensions
Weight785g
Width131.5mm
Height102.5mm
Depth77.5mm

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Photographs taken using the Pentax K-3 II

Large WhiteHeron in Flight4612DelticGoldeneye....You Put Your Right Leg In....A Sack of Coal, a Kiss and a ChickenSwan at SlinbridgeThe maskHoverflyThe Spooky TowerFaerie RealmRobinWhitby

Comments


pablophotographer 6 817 307
5 Jul 2015 2:33PM
I think Pentax did well with making a model targeted towards a not so ''niche'' market; Astrophotographers...

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themak 4 1.0k Scotland
6 Jul 2015 12:48PM
Looks nice, but it definitely needs a better lens.
dannyr 8 46 United Kingdom
6 Jul 2015 6:04PM
Lenses have always been the week spot of Pentax, a few good ones, a few fantastic ones but the rest are average. It always annoyed me when I had a Pentax SLR.

Because of the lenses I've always wished they joined Micro four thirds, shrink down the K3 a bit, add a micro four thirds mount and sensor and I would have jumped back into Pentax in a heartbeat.

7 Jul 2015 11:57PM
I can't agree with you about lenses dannyr. Pentax have always been fine lens makers and they continue that tradition with a classy range of optics. I wonder which ones you have used that you feel were below par?
peter4076 10 3
8 Jul 2015 1:04PM
In the 60's I had some prime Super Takumar lenses with my Pentax Spotmatic II, I thought they were great.
themak 4 1.0k Scotland
9 Jul 2015 11:33AM
Pentax has a pretty good range of lenses, and Sigma and Tamron make very good alternatives that fit. The kit zoom used here is not really a match for the resolution of this thing, though. Possibly a substandard copy?
9 Jul 2015 11:46AM

Quote:Possibly a substandard copy?


There's always that danger with a review copy. On the other hand, we wouldn't want to review carefully optimised copies either. Fortunately I was able to use other lenses as well that do justice to the high resolution.
10 Aug 2015 3:51PM
I've just acquired one and have used it for a week so here are a few, non-scientific, observations.
1. A lot more buttons than previous Pentax dSLRs I've used, but the basic menus appear to be the same. This should be an advantage once I get used to the buttons.
2. Shutter is very much quieter than my K30, daughter's Kr and my previous K10D.
3. Tried it out at a cricket match yesterday and the auto focus is a marked improvement on the K30. Most of the shots were accurately and quickly focused with my Pentax 55-300 attached. With the K30 I often have to use manual and pre-focus on the subject.
First impressions--Very favourable
4 May 2016 4:10PM
I have had one for a few months now, having previously had a K7 for about 5 years. A vast improvement over the K7 which is a good camera. Focussing is better, exposure is better and the quality of the pictures in terms of detail is significantly better. I have kept my Sigma 10-20 which is a fine lens and, sadly, no longer available in Pentax mount! I have a Pentax 1.8 50mm lens and have just bought a Tamron 90mm macro lens, which on first impressions in a very good lens. The feel of the camera is the same as the K7 and I gusee the basic body is the same. Why change what is already a lovely camera to use? My first ever SLR was a Pentax SV back in the mists of time. I think my last camera will also be a Pentax!

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