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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.