The Pentax K-3; conventionally cutting-edge
As widely rumoured, Ricoh have announced a new flagship Pentax DSLR called the K-3. Contrary to various rumours, the K-3 is not a full-frame camera, nor does it use its image stabiliser to magically boost resolution to 40 megapixels. And while some rumours suggested the sensor would be 20MP, it’s actually 24MP. Another rumour we can scotch is the expectation that a new 18-70mm f/2.8 kit lens would be announced at the same time. There is one new lens, the 55-300mm f/4-5.8 ED WR.
The K-3 shares much with the previous top of the range Pentax DSLR, the 16 megapixel K-5 II, like a steel chassis and magnesium alloy shell plus dust and splash-proofing. However, the K-3 doesn’t replace the K-5 II.
As we’ll see the K-3 is on the face of it a very conventional DSLR, something many photographers value highly but it does several cutting-edge features to spice things up.
New 24MP APS-C sensor
So what are the K-3 facts? Pentax has removed the anti-aliasing filter on its Sony-made 24 megapixel APS-C sensor, as is the current trend in order to extract every ounce of optical resolution. Much of the time a lack of an AA filter simply means more image definition but there will be times when the spectre of moiré will appear, which is normally suppressed by an AA filter. So Pentax has come up with an Anti-Aliasing ‘simulation’ mode that vibrates the sensor at a sub-pixel level to introduced blur in the way an anti-aliasing filter would. Adding blur means sacrificing optical resolution, but the AA Sim mode has two strength levels and you aren’t forced to use it.
Along with the higher resolution sensor and a sequential shooting rate of up to 8.3 frames per second, a faster Prime III image processing engine has been developed for the K-3.
The next area of interest is the autofocus system. Older and less sophisticated (cheaper) lenses still rely on a focusing being physically controlled by the noisy and un-refined in-camera focus motor, but the focus sensor itself is much-improved. You now have 27 AF points instead of 11, with all but the two left and right-most points being cross-type. The AF sensor is also more sensitive than before and can work down to -3EV brightness levels.
Meanwhile, the conventional pentaprism reflex viewfinder has a reasonably large 0.95x view and covers 100% of the frame area.
86K dot RGB exposure meter
There is also a new exposure sensor with enough pixel resolution (68K RGB dots) to perform scene detection.
Multi Auto White Balance
A feature developed by Ricoh for its cameras prior to the acquisition of Pentax is Multi Auto White Balance and this has now been incorporated into the K-3. This enables a scene with more than one colour temperature light source, for example an indoor scene partially lit with artificial lights and partially with daylight through windows, might have areas with red and blue casts, or a neutral cast and a red or blue cast. Multi Auto White Balance aims to render both casts neutral.
Ports, slots and general design
At a glance the K-3 looks just like a K-5 and is about the same size. There is a top-notch 3.2 inch 1037K dot LCD display, although Pentax hasn ‘t been moved to enable it to articulate. On the top plate you will find a conventional mono LCD segment display for status and settings indication; a feature many DSLRs are losing.
A nice touch is a lockable mode dial that has a quick-release lever as well as a central locking button. The now familiar RAW mode button is still there and of course you can choose to record in Pentax RAW format or Adobe DNG format.
Although this is a top-of-the-range pro-spec DSLR, a pop-up flash remains. It’s a divisive issue but I for one would rather have one than not. There are two SD-card slots and if you leave your card or cards in-situ you can get at your shots even faster thanks to a USB3 port.
An interesting feature is enhanced compatibility with Trek 2000 International’s Flucard system. This is a wireless SD memory card that was initially designed to enable any camera with an SD card slot to wirelessly transfer photos and video to other devices or to a cloud portal. The K-3 has enhanced compatibility with a Pentax variant of the Flucard, so the card can act as a conduit to camera functions controlled wirelessly using a smart device app. You can adjust PASM exposure settings and ISO speed and enjoy live view and remote shooting at the same time. The Flucard function is an optional extra.
The vertical electronically timed metal bladed focal plane shutter has been beefed-up and is now rated for a life span of at least 200,000 shots. That is between a third more or double that of many rival DSLRs.
In addition to the usual HD video recording options you can generate 4K ultra HD video footage – well, sort of; not real time video but time-lapse video. The K-3 has a dedicated microphone port as well as a headphone port and it’s possible to set recording levels in the camera.
We haven’t used the K-3 in anger but we think we know what to expect; excellent sensor quality and camera durability that matches most professional-specification DSLRs. Not only is the K-3 body environmentally sealed but so are a dozen Pentax lenses, its battery grip and several flash units.
We’re not expecting the K-3 to be particularly refined, especially when using lenses without integrated sonic or DC focus motors. How the new AF system performs will also be a key test.
At a time when DSLRs are under pressure from diminutive mirrorless compact system cameras, if you aren’t sold on one of these then the K-3 could be an ideal refuge.
Discuss this story:
Pentax K-3 hands-on preview
DPNow Pentax K-3 hands-on preview
As widely rumoured, Ricoh have announced a new flagship Pentax DSLR called the K-3. Contrary to va... (more)
Ian Re: Pentax K-3 hands-on preview
So Pentax is venturing on where Sony, Olympus and others now fear to tread; a largely conventional h... (more)
John Perriment Re: Pentax K-3 hands-on preview
However good the K3 may be I suspect it will still occupy a niche market, serving the small percenta... (more)