Flash

The K-3 features a built-in flash. It has a Guide Number of 13 (m/ISO 100), which is good for a camera of this size.

The K-3 also offers a wireless control mode for use with its AF540FGZ (II) or AF360FGZ (II) models.

We weren't terribly impressed with the camera's attempt to judge flash output in this image. Shot in Program mode, we think the camera should have pushed the ISO up a little and reduced the flash output a little, to create some sort of balance with the ambient lighting.

Multi-Area White Balance

Just as the Ricoh GR became the first Ricoh model to include Pentax's TAv exposure mode, the K-3 becomes the first Pentax-branded camera to include Ricoh's multi-area white balance feature. The idea is that, rather than assessing the image as a whole to assess whitebalance, it instead analyses the scene as a series of zones and can assign different white balances to different regions.

This is supposed to be particularly useful in mixed lighting conditions, where a single, whole-image white balance can only attempt to correct one light souce (or attempt to find a compromise between correcting for more than one lighting color).

Mutli-area White Balance in mixed lighting (daylight from the left, incandescent from the right) Raw file converted with standard Auto White Balance

As we've seen when we've looked in previous Ricoh cameras, the effect is subtle, to say the least. Whether shooting side-by-side or performing post-shot in-camera conversions (which we're told should work), we didn't see an appreciable difference in the shots we tried.

Color response

We've not traditionally been big fans of Pentax's color response. It's a subtle thing but, particularly the rather magenta representation of reds is slightly off-putting. This can be mitigated a little by shooting the camera in 'Natural' Custom Image mode and then increasing contrast by one notch - bringing it back into line with the more punchy 'Bright' setting.

The Custom Image system also offers a 'Hue' parameter, which shifts the camera's response to all colors. It's a slightly blunt tool (it's just the Magenta that we really want changed), but it's more than most cameras offer. Below you can see the effect of changing the 'Hue' value, both for the default 'Bright' setting and the more subtle 'Natual' preset, here used with +1 contrast.

Camera JPEG Adobe Camera Raw default
Bright (Default) Bright, Hue+1 Bright, Hue+2 Bright, Hue+3 Bright, Hue+4
Natural Natural, Hue+1 Natural, Hue+2 Natural, Hue+3 Natural, Hue+4

We think the 'Natural' setting with Hue set to +3 gives the most natural-looking result - giving a more saturated result than the Adobe Camera Raw conversion. Just to check that this setting doesn't then completely ruin all other images, we've re-processed one of the existing gallery images with the same settings:

Custom Image: Natural
Hue +3
Contrast +1
Fine Sharpening
Custom Image: Bright
(Camera Defaults)

As you can see, these settings aren't really usable for general shooting - the hue shift pushes oranges to yellow and yellows to green, making the image look a little washed-out and unappetising. However, while they're no substitute for the default settings, they may be worth trying when the default color response ends up looking too magenta.

The nice thing is that, if you make any adjustments to one of the Custom Image settings when shooting, the camera will use those as the starting point for an in-camera conversion of a Raw file, rather than expecting you to constantly re-define your chosen settings. Cleverly, any adjustments you make for a Raw conversion don't over-write your shooting settings.

Overall image quality / Specifics

The K-3's image quality is very good in many respects. Its Raw files are excellent, with lots of dynamic range at low ISOs and good noise performance at high ISOs (albeit with some degree of non-optional processing going on). The JPEG output isn't quite so impressive, with the noise reduction not giving much control over the output and the camera's dynamic range management options not giving quite the flexibility or range of adjustment offered by the likes of Nikon and Fujifilm.

The default sharpening is a little clumsy, not really pulling the full detail out of the image but the 'Fine' sharpening mode that does a much better job is easily applied. What we couldn't so easily achieve was a way of adjusting the color response to our tastes, despite trying.

However, although we don't think the JPEGs always do the camera justice, we found that the in-camera Raw conversion option made it easy to make little tweaks. We were particularly impressed that the Raw converter previews any changes you specify: whereas most of its rivals only show the results once you've created the JPEG. This was particualrly useful when preparing a small JPEG to send to the FluCard for sharing from the camera.

And, while we didn't find the Anti Aliasing Filter Simulation an essential feature, we think its bracketing option makes it easy to ensure you aren't stuck with any nasty surprises on occasions where image quality is critical. In terms of image quality the K-3 is amongst the best in its class, particularly in Raw.