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Pentax K-3 Review

April 2014 | By Richard Butler, Jeff Keller


Review based on a production Pentax K-3 with firmware v1.03

Pentax has a long history of being a little different from the 'big two' SLR makers, introducing features that would normally be found on cameras costing quite a bit more, such as weatherproofing and larger, pentaprism optical viewfinders. It's also created some products that seemingly came out of left field, such as the Q7 and K-01 mirrorless cameras.

The Pentax name is now owned by Ricoh (not a company scared to try new ideas itself), which has continued the tradition of innovation, no better illustrated than with the concept of a digital SLR that has an anti-aliasing effect that can be turned on at the push of a button (Nikon recently patented a concept that accomplishes the same thing, but in a different manner). However, it hasn't accomplished this by having the filter just drop into place. No, Pentax is using its sensor-shift image stabilizer to deliberately move the sensor during the exposure, slightly blurring the image to mimic the effects of an optical low-pass filter. Not only can this be turned on and off, Pentax is also offering two 'intensities' to choose from.

The name of the camera with this breakthrough feature: the Pentax K-3. This camera takes the rugged design of the K-5 II / K-5 IIs that came before it and bumps up the resolution, improves the AF system, speeds up the processor, and enlarges the LCD and viewfinder.

Pentax K-3 key features

  • 24.4 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization with rotational compensation
  • Anti-aliasing 'simulator' (camera has no optical low-pass filter)
  • SAFOX 11 TTL autofocus system (27-point, 25 of which are cross-type)
  • 3.2-inch LCD with 3:2 aspect ratio and 1.037k dots
  • Pentaprism optical viewfinder with 0.95x magnification, 100% coverage
  • 8.3 fps continuous shooting
  • 1920 x 1080 video recording (60i, 30p, 24p)
  • Dual SD card slots
  • Headphone, microphone ports
  • USB 3.0 support

At first glance, the K-3 may look like the K-5 II with a higher resolution sensor, but that's far from the whole story. Ricoh has improved upon the K-5 II in every way, with special attention given to video recording. On the photo side, there's the new sensor (probably from Sony), improved autofocus and metering systems, larger optical viewfinder and LCD, and of course, the selectable AA filter. Performance-wise, the K-3 shoots at 8.3 fps, up from 7.0 fps on the K-5 II.

The K-3 uses a new SAFOX 11 autofocus system, which has 27 points (25 of which are cross-type). The metering system has been dramatically improved, going from 77-segment on the K-5 to 86,000 RGB pixels on the K-3.

Movie lovers will find all kinds of new features. There's now a dedicated 'red button' for quick recording, mic and headphone inputs, and control over audio level. The frame rate has also been increased to 1080/60i, up from 1080/25p on the K-5 II.

Two features that photo and video enthusiasts will like are dual SD card slots and support for USB 3.0 (the K-3 is only the second camera to support this). Build quality remains top-notch, with the K-3 having a rugged, weatherproof body.

The biggest change to the K-3 isn't a feature at all, but it will probably garner the most discussion. There is now a prominent 'Ricoh' logo on the back of the camera, just below the LCD. Ricoh has stated that Pentax is a 'brand' now, similar to 'Lumix' on Panasonic cameras. We're curious to see how the very loyal Pentax audience will react to this change. With this in mind, it's interesting also to note that the K-3 gains the multi-area white balance feature (which aims to correct for different light sources in the same image) that we've seen on previous Ricohs.

Anti-aliasing simulator

One of the most interesting new features on the K-3 is its 'anti-aliasing simulator'. Like the K-5 IIs the camera has no anti-aliasing filter; this improves resolution, but with the trade-off of an increased risk of moiré. Pentax is using the K-3's sensor-shift IS system to simulate the effect of having the filter.

The AA simulator works by applying 'microscopic vibrations to the image sensor unit at the sub-pixel level during exposure', according to Pentax. Simply put, these tiny vibrations cause just enough blur to give the same effect as having an optical anti-aliasing filter. There are two options to choose from - Pentax calls them Mode 1 and Mode 2 - which we assume increases the 'strength' of the virtual filter. Pentax says that the AA simulator is most effective when the shutter speed is under 1/1000 sec.

We assess the real-world impact of the mode later in this review.

Kit options and pricing

The K-3 is sold in three kits (at least in the US). The body-only option has a recommended price of $1299 / £1099, while a kit with the DA 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 WR lens has a list price of $1699 / £1449. The third kit is the 'premium silver edition' shown above, of which only 2000 will be made. This model includes a special battery grip and strap (but no lens), available from select retailers for $1599 / £1399.


If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / Recommendation / Ratings are based on the opinion of the reviewer, you should read the ENTIRE review before coming to your own conclusions.

We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X,Y and Z and ideally A,B and C.

This article is Copyright 2014 and may NOT in part or in whole be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author.

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Comments

Total comments: 498
1234
pm1965
By pm1965 (3 months ago)

can someone out there with a d7100 or 70d replicate DPR's focusing test???? I'm curious with the results doubting they will perform any better...

6 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (3 months ago)

Gold award of course but this review seems a little harsh. It sounds like it has some incredible technology but the results would be about the same even if it didn't.

2 upvotes
tinetz
By tinetz (3 months ago)

Haha, this review tells more about the reviewer than the camera.
The last sentence and the obvious unlust (german word, but you can get the meaning) to finally come out with it speak for itself ;)
Not that someone would rely on such a review, but the one from Imaging resource is at least a joy to read and very informative.
But - whatever.

3 upvotes
Andy Crowe
By Andy Crowe (3 months ago)

Edit: Never mind, they seem to have edited the last sentence since your post to be more neutral

Comment edited 13 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
tinetz
By tinetz (3 months ago)

Well, it is changed, true. My comment was tongue in cheek and I don't want to rise the impression of wanting to get personal, neither dismiss the effort of the authors.

0 upvotes
Heie2
By Heie2 (3 months ago)

Also, for how long this review took, this might just be the slimmest and most empty review DPR has published in such a long time.

Gives off the impression of "FFS, just publish the damn thing already."

I really had high hopes DPR would finally get it right...

7 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (3 months ago)

It may give that impression but, having spent several weeks working on nothing but this, It's profoundly disappointing that you'd see it that way.

Trying to test the AF correctly (shooting, changing settings, re-shooting, communicating with Ricoh, re-shooting, requesting other lenses, re-shooting...), isn't as straightforward as it might look.

Equally, making sure we understood what the AA filter mode does and doesn't do, and trying to find examples that demonstrate its effects took quite a lot of work. (As did developing the variation of our comparison tool to enable the differences to be shown side-by-side).

The lag before he had a chance to start the review was regrettable, but we did our best to test and assess the K-3 as thoroughly as possible. We probably could have thrown something together to stop the complaints, but instead we tried to give the K-3 the respect it deserved. It's disappointing that this effort isn't more apparent to you.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
32 upvotes
Heie2
By Heie2 (3 months ago)

I am well aware of what it takes write an in-depth review, and also the nuances to do so in order to conduct autofocus comparisons. I invite you to read here, which I wrote in its entirety: http://www.pentaxforums.com/reviews/hd-pentax-da-55-300mm/autofocus.html Just that one page is what I'm pointing you to, but if you still feel I am not competent enough to judge your effort, I invite you to read that entire review.

I acknowledge that it took longer than you thought. The above took me 3 months as opposed to the 1 I thought it would. I also acknowledge the delayed start, much to my chagrin and dismay.

But what I still don't understand is the 70D and the D7100 really don't compare to the K-3 and yet to the uninformed and easily impressionable, the perception you've reinforced is that the K-3 barely matches and ultimately lags the other two, when that is absolute garbage. "Pentax D400" or "Pentax 7DII," as you ignored.

I once respected DPR as the photographic authority. No more, Sir.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
8 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (3 months ago)

I didn't question your ability to judge my effort, nor suggest you didn't know how long these things can take.

I merely expressed my disappointment that you got the impression we'd just rushed the review, when I don't believe we did (despite the pressure to do so).

I'm not saying your impression is wrong (it's yours to form, after all), just that it's disappointing that the end result looks that way to you.

10 upvotes
KL Matt
By KL Matt (3 months ago)

Richard, don't be disappointed. I and I'm sure many others did not get the impression that you had rushed to publish this at all. You may not have reported what some people want to hear. But that doesn't say a thing about your review. It only says something about those people's agenda.

3 upvotes
Timbukto
By Timbukto (3 months ago)

Haha oh wow...so lets see this review actually gets its own widget in regards to AA simulation as well as not only 1 test run of AF but two (some Canikon bodies get zero AF test runs). MFT camera's have different anti-shock or EFC-like modes now and shutter-shock has been mentioned but never officially tested like the AA filter here. It seems the reviewer made significant effort to try many different lenses in AF testing...had Canikon failed with a kit lens however we would have never heard the end of it, Pentax however can still manage gold. Pentax fans...I would make fun of them, but I feel all DSLR users will become crusty old whiners eventually in the face of mirrorless.

P.S. Dpreview should just do more standardized AF testing across all cameras...that might be appreciated regardless of brand...although perhaps based on what I see in the Performance review, less appreciated by Pentax.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Heie2
By Heie2 (3 months ago)

83%...

70D - 83%
D7100 - 85%

Pentax K-3.....same score as 70D and inferior to D7100...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0qsi1z4Fi8

5 upvotes
JustDavid
By JustDavid (3 months ago)

I kind of expected it since they 'discounted' the anti-aliasing feature in the middle of the review process... I think the feature should be marked higher simply because it is the first and only of its kind and it works well. The fact that DPR couldn't create enough scenarios for a Moire to kick in doesn't mean that the feature is worse or worth less points

5 upvotes
Heie2
By Heie2 (3 months ago)

Ok, so they didn't find value in the AA simulator. Truth be told, I've never used it once myself. But that doesn't take away it's genius and intrigue towards professional shooters who do encounter moire a lot (wedding, fashion, etc.), especially now with its auto-1-shot-bracket function.

But what about pure raw photographic capability of the camera? Build quality should have been maxed out. Bar none. Squeeze a D7100 and you can hear the plastic creak. K-3? I feel like I could bang nails in with it.

Performance? And the D7100's class-leading 6 RAW buffer does better.

Ergonomics and Handling, again should have been maxed out. The only reason the K-3 hasn't sold more than it already has is because it's hard to play with in person (Pentax's fault, not DPR's). But ask anyone who held both? Pentax ergonomics are best in the business.

Not recommended for: those looking to travel light"

Please - with the Limited lenses the Pentax system isn't much bigger than M4/3 offerings, w/ better IQ.

15 upvotes
svesi
By svesi (3 months ago)

'Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category':

Pentax K-3 by category: 'Semi-professional Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR'

Nikon D7100 and 70D by category: 'Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR'

...other score as 70D and D7100

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
4 upvotes
KL Matt
By KL Matt (3 months ago)

"Isn't much bigger than m4/3." Have you ever held an Olympus OMD E-M5 in your hands?

2 upvotes
joseluismx
By joseluismx (3 months ago)

JustDavid, even worse. They discounted the AA simulator because Nikon has (NOW) a new patent for something similar, which didn't exist when the K-3 was introduced.

0 upvotes
retro76
By retro76 (3 months ago)

I guess color truly is subjective. I don't own a Pentax, but the colors from the JPEGs in this review are extremely attractive. Dpreview loves Olympus's color response (I'm a former owner of the OMD EM5) and always felt Olympus was highly artificial looking.

3 upvotes
offertonhatter
By offertonhatter (3 months ago)

I agree, I have always preferred the colours I get from My Pentax system over the Nikon I have. They are somewhat richer in rendition and more pleasing to the eye, even from RAW. The Nikon just cannot match. Even some friends of mine who use CaNikons are very envious of how Pentax can produce blues. They even call it "Pentax Blue". Mind you Pentax still struggles with reds, almost overcooking them, but don't most DSLR's?

1 upvote
Retzius
By Retzius (3 months ago)

I can't believe you ended the review with this:

"It's not a camera to change systems for, but it's well worth upgrading to, and good enough to make the Pentax system worth considering if you have no existing commitments."

In effect, you are bluntly saying "don't buy this camera if you are a Nikon or Canon user."

Nikon and Canon will be happy now :)

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
40 upvotes
JustDavid
By JustDavid (3 months ago)

agreed, this is very very unfair... so someone with a beginner Canon and a set lense should see no improvement in changing to K-3?

8 upvotes
Aaron801
By Aaron801 (3 months ago)

Sorry... I don't get what's wrong with saying exactly that. I take that to mean that this is a fine camera but one that perhaps doesn't offer enough really different features to bother dumping another large DSLR system from one of the "big two." I have no horse in the race as I have a m4/3 camera with just the lens that it came with. If I had a few grand in Nikon or Canon gear though I might be thinking twice two before changing to a different brand system, even if it offered s few advantages. It would have to offer a lot for me to sell what I have at a loss. Then again, if I was upgrading from a P&S camera, I might seriously consider it over Canon/Nikon gear.

13 upvotes
Retzius
By Retzius (3 months ago)

Frankly, I have never seen this site explicitly tell a reader NOT to buy a product if they own another product.

Odd to say the least.

Furthermore, the "AF test" they use to evaluate the K-3 ( a frame by frame sharpness analysis of a subject moving toward the camera at a high rate of speed ) is NOT used to evaluate the Nikon D7100s AF results.

17 upvotes
J Frank Parnell
By J Frank Parnell (3 months ago)

JustDavid: Uh no. I'm sure you'd agree that moving from a beginner Canon to a K3 would be an upgrade, no? And doesn't the review say the K3 is "well worth upgrading to"?

4 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (3 months ago)

What, exactly, could the owner of a Canon of Nikon system accomplish, that would would not be possible unless they switched to Pentax?

2 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (3 months ago)

Pulled out on its own like that, that sentence doesn't have the emphasis quite where I intended it.

I was trying to answer the question 'should I buy a K-3' for: a Pentax owner, someone without a significant attachment to another system and for someone who already has some nice non-Pentax lenses. The answers to which are yes, maybe and probably not.

What it's missing is the stress on the degree of commitment to another system: if you've got a couple-of-generations-old Canon Rebel, it's worth considering - if you own a 70-200 F2.8 for a different mount, it's probably not.

I've amended the statement to: 'For Pentax owners, it's well worth upgrading to, and good enough to make Pentax worth considering if you have no serious commitments to another system.'

Which makes the emphasis less ambiguous.

12 upvotes
waxwaine
By waxwaine (3 months ago)

But purchasing advice must be consumer´s conclusion, because I would say: If you want to enter into a system with better colour reproduction, specially if you come from the flatness of Canikon colour, jump ship to Pentax right away.
Every living system have their own pros to jump in.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 56 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Andy Crowe
By Andy Crowe (3 months ago)

Edit: Richard's answered my own question

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Heie2
By Heie2 (3 months ago)

>What, exactly, could the owner of a Canon of Nikon system accomplish, that would would not be possible unless they switched to Pentax?

Weather sealing? In kit lenses?
Ergonomics?
APS-C camera with APS-C lenses, not FF behemoths?
In-Body Image Stabilization?
AF all-metal lenses?

Need I go on?

14 upvotes
Dezzza
By Dezzza (3 months ago)

+100

0 upvotes
Meuh
By Meuh (3 months ago)

And to brake up the In-body stabilization a little.

1) Composition Adjust giving a shift effect on all lens mounted? (unique to pentax)
2)Fast stabilized primes which is hard to get on canikon but also available on some m4/3 bodys and sonys.
3)Horizon correction (corrects for holding the camera a little squint)
4)AA filter simulation (great of your shooting fabrics among other stuff)
5)Stabilized video (sorry.. not in the k3 sadly as its switched to a software version but the k5 works great for this)

This is just what one small feature of the camera can offer people, never mind things like the gapless 3:2 display which is wonderful and other upgrades the k3 has.

I'm not saying its a perfect system as a whole (Id love grouping in wireless P-ttl) but its a dam better camera than what you can get from canon or nikon atm for a similar price and much cheaper for a proper weather sealed system.

Comment edited 43 seconds after posting
1 upvote
JacobSR
By JacobSR (3 months ago)

Yeah, well I'm sure if this was a Nikon or Canon reveiw, one's would never find such a comment.

0 upvotes
SkilakDeZoo
By SkilakDeZoo (3 months ago)

@Aaron801 , do you know why I bought K-5 when having Nikon ? just to improve my photography and see that the world can be different and jpgs can be beautifully saturated.

0 upvotes
Poweruser
By Poweruser (3 months ago)

"It's not a camera to change systems for"

Nothing wrong with that. DPR is totally right here. Why leave the two market leaders to enter a much smaller ecosystem that offers virtually nothing over C or N but is a severely limited in many ways.

Comment edited 32 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
SkilakDeZoo
By SkilakDeZoo (2 months ago)

@poweruser.

I think there are things which count but cannot be counted. How would you explain guitarists buying Fender Stratocaster or Gibson Les Paul if there are better and "faster" guitars on the market??

0 upvotes
Jahled
By Jahled (3 months ago)

At last, no more 'where's the K3 review?' comments boring us witless

34 upvotes
Haim Hadar
By Haim Hadar (3 months ago)

Yes, but now you have them droning about how unfair it is that the camera didn't receive a minimum score of 115 and a Kryptoniyum award. .

22 upvotes
Jahled
By Jahled (3 months ago)

Hahaha!!

1 upvote
h2k
By h2k (3 months ago)

Fully agree with Jahled and Haim.

1 upvote
D1N0
By D1N0 (3 months ago)

where is the D4 review?

0 upvotes
Ryan_Valiente
By Ryan_Valiente (3 months ago)

Happy now loud-minority Pentax users?

1 upvote
hydrospanner
By hydrospanner (3 months ago)

Funny stuff!

Nothing quite takes the shine away from a fair review of a nice piece of equipment than its fans griping that the reviewer didn't praise it enough.

0 upvotes
sapporodan
By sapporodan (3 months ago)

Well done Pentax/Ricoh, and i've never had a problem with the speed of the autofocus in your other cameras, although everyone has different needs.

0 upvotes
Gary Martin
By Gary Martin (3 months ago)

A fair review. Now Ricoh needs to release a new generation of faster AF pro lenses to match a body of this quality.

5 upvotes
DStudio
By DStudio (3 months ago)

Very true. Hopefully this begins with the new * ~70-200 currently on the roadmap (and I suspect it will).

Currently the best AF performance is had with older Pentax screw-drive lenses (primes, especially), a few Tamron and Sigma lenses (notably their 70-200/2.8s), and (to a slightly lesser extent) the DA*300. Some otherwise wonderful lenses like the DA*50-135 (which DPR appropriately threw out of the running) are absolutely atrocious for fast-moving action.

I appreciate DPR's hard work, but they should actually re-test the AF-C with single-point AF using one of the above lenses or an FA135, FA*85, possibly FA77 or DA70 (which may perform differently in this situation), or even an F or FA*300/4.5.

Nevertheless, Pentax' next move should be to release some more current, longer lenses with faster AF.

0 upvotes
dosdan
By dosdan (3 months ago)

I shoot sports with the K5 & K3. I use the Pentax DA* 60-250/F4 SDM (for rain and where I need a wide zoom range) and the Sigma 70-200/F2.8 HSM II (for LL and for where I want the max shallow DOF effect).

The Pentax is satisfactory, but the Sigma is faster for approaching subjects.

Dan.

2 upvotes
Jogger
By Jogger (3 months ago)

Great, but where are the reviews for the D4 and 1Dx?

2 upvotes
Jack Simpson
By Jack Simpson (3 months ago)

I'm guessing that "implied" must be the new "assumed" ;)

0 upvotes
joyclick
By joyclick (3 months ago)

At long last dpr did put it together though belatedly.Generosity beyond 83% was not expected of dpr anyways.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
A200Eric
By A200Eric (3 months ago)

Thank God. Now we can move from "dpreview hates pentax because they refuse to review the k3" to "dpreview hates pentax because wrote an unfair review." YAY!

26 upvotes
J Frank Parnell
By J Frank Parnell (3 months ago)

Yes, an "unfair" review that concludes with a Gold Award :rolleyes:. I like this camera. But Pentax fanboys are weird.

6 upvotes
DStudio
By DStudio (3 months ago)

Yes, I'll really miss those interruptions in the Comments of unrelated products!

Buying into the fourth of four major DSLR systems [Does Sony still count as a DSLR maker?] requires a buyer to see some specific virtues in that/those products. And this creates a desire not to see those virtues go unheralded. But when you combine this situation with an underdog status or feelings, behavior can begin to look a bit "weird" at times.

I don't think it's a need to justify their purchase so much as a desire not to see the little guy squished, or the company quelled, when they've found it has great merit, unique usefulness, and even drives some of the innovation in the industry. Quite often what we see as the best choice (and for many, it actually is the best choice) gets taken away. That's why, for example, many were happy to see T-mobile stick around.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
5 upvotes
Heie2
By Heie2 (3 months ago)

> I don't think it's a need to justify their purchase so much as a desire not to see the little guy squished, or the company quelled, when they've found it has great merit, unique usefulness, and even drives some of the innovation in the industry.

This.

4 upvotes
Jack Simpson
By Jack Simpson (3 months ago)

Wooooo Hoooooo …. I just wanted to have the first comment on something :)

2 upvotes
Jack Simpson
By Jack Simpson (3 months ago)

… and a product I really like :D

0 upvotes
Matewka
By Matewka (3 months ago)

Here it comes! Finally :) Thank you DPR!

0 upvotes
Total comments: 498
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