After 8 Months with a Pentax K-3

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After 8 Months with a Pentax K-3
4 months ago

I bought the K-3 as soon as it was available in the US. I don't like being a first adapter, but the K-3 has performed flawlessly since I bought it 8-9 months ago. The K-3 is the third Pentax body I have owned. I picked up a K-7 several years back and then upgraded to the K-5. I skipped the K-5II/IIs. The Pentax K-7 was the replacement for my Olympus E-3, but I have always shot multiple systems and the majority of my career has been with Canon.

The first thing you notice when you pick up the K-3 is the weight and build quality. The K-3 is heavy for its size, but that's because its build like a tank. Sadly the rating system for Digital Photography Review is seriously lacking in a couple of ways. Build quality is not factored in, and the K-3 has best in class build quality. Pentax has the best ergonomics and controls of any manufacturer. Pentax has the best auto-ISO and custom controls are excellent. When you add that in with the best in class build quality with the controls and ergonomics I give the body a 5. The AF and metering controls of the K-3 are different from the K-5/K-7. I thought it would be a minor change and I would get use to the new controls quickly, but the changes still slow me down after 9 months of use.

The second thing that people will notice when they pick up a K-3 is going to be the AF speed. Coming from the K-7 and K-5 there is a noticeable improvement in the speed and accuracy of the K-3. The AF is still not as fast as the rather old Canon 7D. Most of my lenses are screw drive FA Limited lenses which are simply slow relative modern USM designs, but even the Pentax SDM lenses are slow in comparison to the competition. The K-3 is more than capable of shooting sports and getting excellent results. It has the frame rate and buffer to hang with any camera on the market except the Canon 1DX and the D4. DRP doesn't allow users to score cameras on AF speed. AF speed is very lens dependent, but until Pentax provides faster lenses I would have to give the K-3 AF Speed a score of 3.5.

What about AF accuracy? Coming from the K-7 & K-5 the AF accuracy is much improved. I don't shoot a lot of continuous AF with fast subjects, but I do shoot at F/2 - F/4 a lot and the AF accuracy has been excellent even in very low light. I would rate the AF accuracy a 4 for my application. People who are tracking fast moving subjects might not rate the accuracy that high. For shooting a bride and groom running out of the chapel and people throwing rice or blowing bubbles, the K-3 gives excellent results.

Image quality of the K-3 is excellent. I shoot 95% DNG . I have never had a need to turn on the AA filter. I tend to shoot at wider apertures so that is probably why I haven't found a need for it. I'm shooting with the goal of making prints of A3+ size. Depending on my paper, I feel good about color prints up to 800 ISO at this size. For B&W work on matte I have gone up to 6400 ISO and been happy with the results, but I was printing for an older film look. If I was a 100% JPEG shooter I would probably be shooting Olympus or Fuji. Pentax color JPEG quality is simply not the best. DPR does a good job discussing the magenta cast in its review, so I wont go in to that. The K-3 monochrome JPEGs however are actually really good. They don't give you a film emulation B&W look, but the quality is excellent. I will set my K-3 to a B&W or monochrome filter and turn off all lens correction for my 31mm LTD and just go for a walk around town. I have been very pleased with the quality.

Image quality compared to the K-5? I did some comparisons back when I first got the K-3 to see how the prints held up to the K-5. The K-3 simply produces better prints. It appears there are a large number of internet photographers who make a good living from selling 1:1 crops of black cats taken at ISO 6400. If you happen to be one of the many photographers who are cashing in on the booming market for "black cat by moonlight photography", then the K-3 is probably not worth the upgrade for you. Save your money.

Image quality compared to the Fuji X system? I have been able to shoot a couple of events with a Fuji XP1 and the new XT1. I really love the Fuji prime lenses. The Fuji 14mm, 23mm, & 56mm are really, really good lenses. Fuji JPEGs are much better than Pentax at all ISO when it comes to skin tones. Pentax has some work to do here. There seem to be a lot of talk about how good the Fuji Trans-X sensor is especially at high ISO. I will still take the K-3 24MP APS-C sensor without an AA filter over the 16MP Trans-X Fuji sensor. When I run my K-3 DNG files through DxO ProOptic I'm getting better images at all ISO than what I have been able to get with the Fuji files when I run them through LR5. The advantage of the 16MP Fuji sensor was that you didn't need an AA filter with the new color array, but the new APS-C 24MP sensors don't need an AA filter either and captures a lot more detail. I can apply more noise reduction with the K-3 and still have more detail in the shadows than I get with the Fuji. The person who loans me their Fuji equipment insists that Iridient RAW developer for Mac will give me better results, and that may be true, but I'm not changing over to a Mac and switching workflows for marginally better results.  Pentax has been king of the compact body/compact prime lens market, but Fuji is rapidly taking over that title.  I think a lot of people who are attracted to the Pentax system will find the Fuji system very appealing.

DRP doesn't factor in one other important feature into its ratings. I find that I prefer in-body image stabilization. The image below was taken at ISO 6400 and exposure increased 1/2 a stop. It wont make a large print and the LED stage lights are causing some color problems, but the SR and the low-light AF on the K-3 made this quick handheld possible. I don't have the technical ability to say how many stops the K-3 SR will give you, but I was on my 5th beer when this was taken, so I know the SR is good for 5 beers. Nobody makes an image stabilized 85mm lens. If you tried to take this shot with a Canon or Nikon you end up going to a huge 70-200mm OS lens and since they are F/2.8 you would have to bump up the ISO or shoot at an even slower shutter speed.  I took the shot below specifically to demonstrate to another photographer who was with me why I liked in-body image stabilization.  She was using a 7D with a 24-70L and had already put it away because it was too dark.

Handheld 85mm lens. 1/40 second - F/1.4 - ISO 6400

The metering and White Balance of the K-3 has been much improved over the K-5.  I'm not seeing much benefit to the multi-area white balance.  I find that the K-3 is under exposing by 1/3 of a stop, but that's not really an issue.  When shooting RAW I'm finding that DxO is doing a better job of correcting WB than LR unless I have shot my Passport color checker and created a profile for that specific lighting.  I still think Pentax has some work to do with WB, but the K-3 WB is as good or better than the other DSLRs in its class.

One feature that I never thought I would care about that has surprised me has been the in-camera RAW processing.  I've already said that I don't like the JPEG color engine so why would I like the in-camera RAW processing?  When using a WiFi card I will process and export a file from SD1 to my WiFi card in slot 2.  When shooting for a client who wants an immediate image for social media I have found the quality/control of the in-camera RAW processing to be very good for this purpose and I've found myself using it on several occasions.

If only I can talk Pentax into putting a 36x24mm sensor into the K-3 body.  The DPR review is pretty good.  There no reason for me repeat what has already been said.

 PCA Photography's gear list:PCA Photography's gear list
Pentax K-3 Sony Alpha 7 II Pentax smc FA 31mm F1.8 AL Limited Pentax smc FA 77mm 1.8 Limited Sony FE 55mm F1.8
PCA Photography's score
4.5
Average community score
4.8
bad for good for
Kids / pets
excellent
Action / sports
good
Landscapes / scenery
excellent
Portraits
excellent
Low light (without flash)
excellent
Flash photography (social)
great
Studio / still life
excellent
= community average
Canon EOS 7D Canon EOS-1D Fujifilm X-T1 Nikon D4 Olympus E-3 Pentax K-3 Pentax K-5 Pentax K-7 Sigma SD1
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