Pentax K-3 Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Very high image quality, especially in Raw
- Excellent ergonomics and handling
- Extensive feature set
- In-body stabilization works with all lenses
- Extremely solid build quality
- Large, bright optical viewfinder
- Good level of customization
- Well-chosen direct controls
- Comprehensive in-camera Raw conversion
- Good buffer depth and continuous shooting rate
- Dual UHS-I compatible SD slots
- Lots of control over JPEG output, including three styles of sharpening
- Innovative 'Anti Aliasing Simulation' feature
- USB 3.0 connection
- Comprehensive range of lenses designed for APS-C format
- Optional Wi-Fi with strong feature-set
Conclusion - Cons
- Disappointing JPEG color response
- Rather clumsy JPEG sharpening (slightly improved by changing to 'Fine' sharpening)
- Many lenses don't appear to live up to camera's full autofocus potential
- Video quality not up to standards implied by inclusion of mic and headphone jacks
- SD-based Wi-Fi not as well integrated as its best rivals
The K-3 is the latest iteration of what's become a very strong series of DSLRs - the K-5 added a great sensor to the excellent body introduced with the K-7, the K-3 makes a big step forward in terms of focus capabilities as well as showing a great deal of tweaking and polishing. The result is probably the best digital camera the company has ever made.
Although the D300S is still nominally in Nikon's lineup and Canon still offers the rather elderly EOS 7D, the K-3 is the only camera making significant strides in the high-end APS-C DSLR space. Ricoh is a company with a history of building enthusiast-focused cameras, so it's no surprise that the K-3 is just as much a photographer's camera as its predecessors were. As you'd expect of a camera at this level, there's a bit of a learning curve to overcome but, once you've done so, you'll get repeated reminders that the K-3 has been designed from a photographer's perspective.
The K-3 represents a series of steps forward for the Pentax line - not just with the addition of features such as anti-aliasing simulation, but also in the inclusion of a more advanced autofocus and metering systems. The autofocus system shows real promise but we weren't able to get the full benefit from it, as many of the system's lenses aren't particularly fast at focusing. It still doesn't feel as polished at the systems used in cameras such as the Canon EOS 7D. The Nikon D7100 is a safer bet in this respect, too, though it is somewhat hobbled by its small Raw buffer - 7 images, rather than the K-3's 23-or-so.
On the mirrorless front, the Olympus E-M1 is the only camera at the price to challenge the K-3 in terms of handling, but the K-3 has the edge in terms of image quality. The Sony Alpha 7 is more expensive, and has the image quality advantage of a full frame sensor, but it doesn't come close to the K-3 in terms of ergonomics and control layout. At which point it's only really the Fujifilm X-T1 that can match the K-3 in every major respect, and that's some pretty serious competition.
The existing big Ks have been amongst our favorite DSLRs from a handling point-of-view and the K-3 makes several steps forward. It retains the dense, solid-feeling construction of its predecessors but makes a couple of handling tweaks to give better access to its live view and movie shooting features. The camera does a good job of putting key features at your fingertips, while offering a decent degree of customization (such as the control dial setup) to let you tune it more precisely to your needs. It fits nicely in the hand but is considerably heavier than its mirrorless competitors.
The Info menu provides access to all the features you're likely to regularly change and the button to toggle between AF point selection and using the four-way controller for dedicated functions is a nice idea - giving you direct access to AF points but making the four dedicated functions accessible (or vice versa). It would be nice to see those four functions represented in the Info menu, so that you don't ever have to stop to think 'actually, is this on the four-way or in the Info panel?' but, since the functions are marked on the buttons, this is something you learn pretty quickly.
The K-3 is capable of some excellent images. Its sensor shows impressive dynamic range at low ISOs and remains pleasantly clean as the light levels fall. We were also impressed, not just that the camera is able to do so much in the way of lens correction processing (lateral chromatic aberration, geometric distortion and vignetting all being correctable), but that all those corrections are optional.
The camera also offers a simple, but effective range of tools for managing dynamic range and balancing image tonality. Sadly the K-3 holds true to Pentax's JPEG color rendition, which we've never particularly enjoyed. We found we were able to coax nicer results out of the camera on an image-by-image basis but weren't able to find any single set of Custom Image settings that gave results to the standard we've come to expect from the likes of Olympus and Fujifilm.
The Anti-Aliasing filter simulation is a lovely idea, but not one we found terribly necessary. That said, its well implemented enough that it's easy to make use of - you can fairly safely leave it off, most of the time, but the bracketing mode makes it easy to grab a 'safety' shot, from which you can blend regions from the fractionally less detailed image if necessary.
The K-3 offers the strongest video specs yet for a Pentax, including a headphone socket for monitoring the recorded audio. We're not convinced the video quality is sufficiently high that many people will be paying that level of attention to the audio quality of their recordings, especially given the lack of focus aids while recording video. Overall, then, the K-3's video performance is about par for the current generation of DSLRs, but not strong enough to sway you if video is your priority.
The K-3 is a very likeable addition to what was once a really interesting sector of the market - the high-end APS-C DSLR, which brought a lot of pro-grade features to everyone from dedicated amateurs to professionals and jobbing semi-pros. That audience has become fragmented - tempted by entry-level (and often less-well specified) full frame models or high-end mirrorless and large sensor fixed-lens models - leaving Ricoh alone for now in offering a classic semi-pro DSLR. And it's the strongest offering yet in what's been an excellent series of cameras.
We can't recommend the camera unequivocally: the K-3's autofocus takes a big step forwards but we're not convinced much of the company's lens range really allows users to take full advantage of these capabilities. Equally, it wouldn't be our camera-of-choice if video was a priority. However, it remains a deserving flagship in the DSLR system that offers one of the strongest ranges of dedicated APS-C lenses, meaning it has lots to offer a great many photographers. 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.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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Category: Semi-professional Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The K-3 is the latest and best in a well-established line of high-end APS-C DSLRs. The K-3 offers a wealth features for still photographers, including a large, 100% coverage viewfinder, solid build, and plenty of customization. Its video capabilities are a little less inspiring, but it stands as a great stills camera that's a pleasure to shoot with.
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