Pentax K-3 Review
Controls and Customization
The K-3's body is very similar to that of the K-7, which was launched back in 2009, but the control system has seen continual development and refinement over that time. Most of the changes on the K-3 aim to better integrate the camera's video features and streamline the shooting experience in general. We really liked the way the recent 'big' Ks have handled, so it's interesting to see that the company felt there was room for improvement.
The primary change is the replacement of the AF point selection mode switch with a movie/stills switch. Not only does this make it easier to access movie shooting, it also sees the AF point mode selector get pushed to the front of the camera (next to the AF/MF switch).
The K-3 also loses the metering switch that its predecessors have had around their mode dials. Its position has been replaced by a clever switch that controls the mode dial's lock function, letting you choose whether or not you need to press the lock button to rotate the dial. This is a decision often driven by personal shooting style, so it's nice to be able to choose. The metering mode is now selected using the 'Delete' key beside the viewfinder.
|The AF point selection button toggles the function of the four-way controller, giving you simple access to the four dedicated functions or direct AF point positioning.
It's a pretty elegant solution to the problem of how to provide both.
The final big change is the addition of a dedicated AF point selection button. This toggles the function of the four-way controller (when the manual AF point selection 'SEL' mode is engaged). It's a clever change, as it gives direct access to AF point selection while also making it easy to access the four functions assigned to the four-way controller. The central 'OK' button resets the focus point to the central position, meaning it can't always be used to initiate AF, as it did on previous models. A dedicated 'AF' button now serves this role. In playback mode, the AF point toggle button switches between memory card slots.
|The K-3 now offers a button to toggle between direct AF selection mode and having the four-way controller give access to four specific functions.
Sadly there's no way to customize the behavior of these buttons, but thankfully the 'Info' menu (shown below) gives quick access to most functions.
All these changes improve the camera's handling - the button-and-dial-turn combinations that give access to metering mode and AF modes aren't significantly slower than using the dedicated switches on the older cameras, and free up room for features we think many photographers will want to change more often. Overall, the impression is of a really good camera that's been tweaked and improved to reflect changing priorities in modern shooting (we suspect not many modern shooters change metering mode so frequently that the new system makes any difference to them). It would be nice to go one step further, and give better access to features such as 'Highlight Correction,' which we use much more often than changing the JPEG color mode.
The K-3's function menu is available at all times by pressing the 'Info' button, next to the LCD. In live view or video mode, the camera resets its mirror to the down position before showing the Info screen, but this happens fast enough that it doesn't really interrupt the shooting experience.
The Info menu provides quick access to all the settings you're likely to want to change shot-to-shot, meaning it's rarely necessary to go into the main menu once you've set up the camera. We particularly appreciate the ability to adjust the Auto ISO behavior from this menu - something too many manufacturers still bury in their menus.
|The camera's 'Info' function menu gives quick access to most of the camera's key features, including lens correction options, highlight and shadow boosting functions and, uniquely to the K-3: an anti-aliasing filter simulation mode.|
Customizable dials and buttons
The K-3 doesn't provide many options for customizing button behavior, but that's because it offers a button for most things, and a rather good function menu for those other features that don't have a dedicated control. It would certainly be nice to be able to re-prioritize the features on a camera at this level, but it's by no means essential, as most are easy enough to access anyway.
The three buttons that are customizable are the 'RAW/Fx' button on the front left of the camera, the AF button on the top right shoulder, and the 'preview' position on the on/off switch.
The 'One Push File Format' button lets you define which file format mode the camera will jump to (JPEG, Raw, or Raw+JPEG), depending on the mode you start from. There is an option for this to cancel automatically after a single image or continue until the RAW/Fx, Info, Menu or Playback buttons are pressed.
There are also options to define the behavior of the AF button, specifiying whether it starts or stops AF and if the shutter button also intiates AF acquisition. Meanwhile the 'preview' position on the power switch can either stop down the aperture to provide a classic depth-of-field preview in the viewfinder, or take a preview image to assess exposure on the rear LCD - something that feels somewhat redundant on a camera with live view. The camera does at least offer the choice of saving that preview image, if it's really good, but it's not entirely clear why you wouldn't just take an image, then delete it if you didn't want it.
The camera's dial behavior is much more customizable, with the functions applied to the two dials and 'Green' button being adjustable with different settings for each of twelve different exposure modes. The direction of function of the dials can also be switched. This makes it simple to tailor the camera to work the way you want it to, making it more engaging to shoot with.
Customizable Auto ISO
The K-3 has one of the best Auto ISO implementations on the market - only really matched by Nikon DSLRs, at present. It allows you to set both the maximum and minimum ISO limits, and choose from three settings of how fast or slow a shutter speed you're willing for it to use. In general the camera errs on the side of caution - using a shutter speed a little faster than 1/effective focal length. Switching to the 'Fast' options uses around twice this speed, while 'Slow' allows the shutter speed to drop to around half the default value.
|Pentax offers one of the best Auto ISO implementations currently available: not only is the Auto ISO behavior aware of the camera's focal length, but it's also possible to bias it towards maintaining faster or slower shutter speeds than it would usually choose.|
It's not possible to use Auto ISO when in Manual exposure mode, but that's only because the K-3 has the Pentax 'TAv' exposure mode - which is essentially what other cameras are mimicking through the combination of Auto ISO and Manual mode (the pedant in me prefers this arrangement, since it avoids the paradoxical idea of the camera choosing a component of exposure while in a mode called 'Manual'). In TAv mode, you can specify the aperture and shutter speed you wish to use, and the camera will select ISO for you, based on the Auto ISO setting you've chosen. And, because it's a fully thought-out exposure mode, you can use exposure compensation while you're shooting. TAv mode is also one of the options for video shooting.
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