Pentax K-3 review £1099

27th Mar 2014 | 11:20

Pentax K-3 review

Will the weatherproof K-3 be enough to tempt consumers away from Nikon and Canon?

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

A completely weatherproof body, good image quality and intuitive handling puts the K-3 cat among the pigeons, but there's still work to do if Pentax is to seriously compete with the DSLR options from Canon and Nikon.

Like:

Weatherproof body; 100% viewfinder; Universal DNG raw format

Dislike:

Chromatic aberration issues; LCD screen fixed; Tends to underexpose

Introduction

Ratings in depth
Design 4Features 4.5Performance 4Usability 4.5Value 4

Since Pentax was bought from Hoya by Ricoh, it's seen a bit of an increase in new launches and development.

The K-3 comes just a year after the Pentax K-5 II was launched, which arrived two years after the Pentax K-5. Pentax says that the K-3 is not intended to replace the K-5 II, but instead sit alongside it in a higher position as the company's flagship DSLR.

Featuring a Sony-designed 24 million-pixel sensor, the K-3 doesn't have an anti-aliasing filter. This is a route which several companies have taken of late, but what makes the K-3 a little different is that it has an optional (as in you can switch it off) anti-aliasing 'simulator' to help reduce moire patterning if this is proving to be a problem.

Pentax has a loyal, if relatively small, army of supporters. But with this camera, the company hopes that it will be able to tempt consumers away from the Nikon and Canon standard.

With its specification and price tag, the K-3 competes with the Canon EOS 70D and the Nikon D7100, which are top of their respective manufacturers' enthusiast range of cameras.

Pentax K-3

Pentax says that comparatively, it offers more than its closest rivals. Along with the new sensor, a newly developed imaging engine – PRIME III – has been introduced to facilitate headline features such as 8.3 fps (by comparison the Canon EOS 70D offers 7fps, while the Nikon D7100 offers 6fps, although this can be boosted to 7fps in crop mode). Sequential shooting can record up to 22 images in raw format at a time, or 60 images in JPEG.

Pentax K-3

A newly designed SAFOX 11 AF module has been introduced which offers 27 autofocus points, of which 25 are cross type for increased accuracy. Another point of differentiation between the K-3 and its rivals is that the AF module is sensitive down to -3EV, compared to 0/-1EV.

Pentax K-3

The K-3's optical viewfinder has a 100% field of view, with 0.95x magnification. Meanwhile, the rear screen is a 3.2-inch, 1,037,000-dot device with a protective, tempered-glass front panel for added durability. Anti-reflection coating is also included.

Wi-Fi is fast becoming an almost required specification of cameras, even at this level. Different manufacturers have different ways to approach this; Nikon uses the Wu-1a wireless adaptor, while Canon has placed Wi-Fi directly into the body of the camera itself. Pentax's solution is to introduce the unappetising-sounding 'flu card'. Similar to an Eye-Fi card, a flu card allows for transfer of images across to smartphones and tablets, along with remote control of the camera.

Dual SD card slots are available, one of which could be used for the optional extra flu card.

Pentax K-3

The Pentax K-3 is weather-sealed, as are many of Pentax's current Pentax lenses and accessories (such as battery grips), making it a complete weather proof system.

Build Quality and Handling

One of Pentax's key selling points of this and other DSLRS in its line-up is the weatherproofing. The K-3 features the same high-quality magnesium shell as found in the K-5 II, and as such has a rugged and solid feel, which seems as if it could more than withstand a few knocks and scrapes.

The K-3's grip protrudes pretty far from the body and gives excellent purchase, especially when holding the camera one handed. The covering on the camera also helps and we imagine that the coating will come in especially handy during cold or wet weather.

Pentax K-3

Design-wise, the K-3 is actually very similar to the K5-II, with the usual rear and front dials used for changing aperture and shutter speed, depending on the mode you're in. The rear dial alters aperture, while the front dial alters shutter speed in the default settings.

Fans of control buttons will enjoy using the K-3 as there is a veritable mix of them. For instance, a conveniently placed ISO button can be found near the on/off switch on the top of the camera.

Pentax K-3

A small switch on the back of the camera enables you to quickly flick between stills and video mode. Once in video mode, a red button can be pressed to start recording. While in stills mode, the red button is used to access the K-3's Live View mode.

There are also buttons on the left-hand side of the front of the camera, which is fairly unusual. Here you'll find a raw button and an AF mode. The latter is used to change the AF point selection mode. Once you've changed it to Selectable AF point, you then need to press another button on the back of the camera and use the arrow keys to navigate around the screen.

Pentax K-3

One of the annoyances of the K-5 II was the way in which metering was altered – via a switch that could be accidentally knocked. On the K-3, a simple button is used to make changes.

A mode dial on the left-hand top side of the camera is used to switch between the different shooting modes available, including fully manual mode, semi-automatic mode and so on. There is space here for up to three groups of user defined settings, which is useful.

Another useful feature is the variable lock around the mode dial, which means that if you prefer, you can have it so a button in the middle of a mode dial must be pushed in before you can change settings. Alternatively you can have it so the dial turns without impediment.

Pentax K-3

I found the green button on the back of the camera particularly useful as tapping it brings back default settings. For instance, if you've altered the exposure compensation, holding down the EV button and hitting the green button will centre it back to 0EV. Similarly, if you've altered the sensitivity (ISO), hitting it will reset it back to automatic.

To change the autofocus point, you'll first need to navigate to AF point selection mode by pressing a button on the side of the camera. Once this has been selected, you then use the four navigational keys to select the point you require. The four navigational keys here also double up as direct access keys to functions such as white balance and flash. To make these keys function in this way, you'll first need to hold down the OK button in the centre of the pad.

The K-3 offers a 100% field of view optical viewfinder, which is relatively unusual at this price point. It's a nice, bright and clear viewfinder to use, with a good amount of shooting parameters displayed to help when shooting. On the screen, the display switches if you hold the camera in portrait format, a small, but appreciated touch.

Performance

In general, we have been pleased with Pentax cameras before, so we were expecting more of the same thing from the K-3. This camera uses a Sony sensor, another company who we know to be producing excellent devices of late.

Happily, for the most part, we have not been disappointed by the images that the Pentax is capable of producing. Colours are bright and punchy, without showing too much saturation, giving a natural and vibrant look.

Removing the anti-aliasing filter leads to an increase in detail reproduction, and we're pleased to report that we haven't found any examples of moire patterning appearing in images. If this is proving to be a problem, you can switch the anti-aliasing simulator on, which might be useful if you're photographing or videoing a repeating pattern.

Pentax K-3

Generally, the K-3's metering system does a decent job to produce accurate exposures, but I found on a few occasions that some exposure compensation needed to be dialled in as the K-3's metering system has a tendency to underexpose slightly. Although this has the advantage of protecting the highlights, the foreground would be underexposed without intervention from the photographer.

Overall, the camera's automatic white balance system also does a good job, albeit erring slightly towards warmer tones when faced with artificial lighting conditions. If it's proving to be too much of a problem, you can switch to a more appropriate white balance setting, all of which do a good job.

Unfortunately, we found on several occasions unacceptable levels of chromatic aberration appearing on images. This is normally something that we associate with a lens, but it was more of an issue with the K-3 than it is with some other Pentax SLRs.

It could be seen in images captured both the 18-135mm lens and the 70mm f/2.8 macro optic, with and without chromatic aberration correction activated. Although very obviously noticeable when zooming in to 100%, it can also be seen slightly at normal printing and web sizes, and zooming in just a little reveals purple fringing in high contrast areas of the scene – not something we'd generally expect from a camera at this price point.

We were so concerned about this that we asked for a second sample of the camera to compare and found the same issue in both models, so we can only assume that this is a general problem with the camera. That said, if you're shooting lower contrast scenes, then there isn't a problem.

Noise reduction gains

At the lower end of the sensitivity scale (ISO 100-200), noise is barely visible at all. At ISO 400, noise does start to creep in, along with a small amount of image smoothing in some areas of the image, but this is only problematic when zooming in at 100%.

At ISO 800-1600, there is more noise displayed, but at normal printing sizes, it's difficult to see. Meanwhile, detail is kept well across the majority of the frame. If you look closely enough, you'll generally be able to find some areas of the image that have lost detail, but nothing out of the ordinary for a camera at this price point.

If you push the sensitivity towards the upper limit of the scale – ISO 3200, for instance – images are still more than usable, especially if you're using them at smaller printing or web sizes. Naturally, even more detail is lost, but it's a decent effect overall.

Pentax K-3

Autofocusing is quick and usually accurate, especially in good light. If the light dims, then the lens will focus around for a bit before locking onto focus. One thing we particularly noticed here is the noise that the 18-135mm lens makes. It's not exactly subtle, so if you're shooting somewhere quiet, then you'll probably stand out. This is an issue we've found with Pentax cameras / lenses before, so it's not particularly surprising to see it reoccurring here.

A number of built-in digital filters are included on the K-3. While it's nice to see these included on a DSLR, some of them leave a lot to be desired and will probably appeal to very few people. It's worth experimenting to see if you like them though.

Another problem here is that filters are shot in JPEG only, so you'll be stuck with whatever you shoot with if you decide you don't like it further down the line. What is perhaps better to use is Custom Images, which allow you to shoot in raw format and give you options including Monochrome and Cross Process – these can, as the name implies, be customised to your preferred setting too.

The K-3's screen has been treated to prevent reflections and glare, and overall it does well here. It's a shame not to have an articulating device though for further flexibility, such as you'd find on the Canon EOS 70D.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Pentax K-3, we've shot our resolution chart.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

ISO 100

ISO 100 crop

ISO 100, Score: 26. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 200

ISO 200, Score: 26. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 400

ISO 400, Score: 28. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 800

ISO 800, Score: 26. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 1600

ISO 1600, Score: 24. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 3200

ISO 3200, Score: 26. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 6400

ISO 6400, Score: 20. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 12800

ISO 12800, Score: 14. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 25600

ISO 25600, Score: 12. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 51200

ISO 51200, Score: 10. Click here to see the full resolution image.

Raw

ISO 100

ISO 100, Score: 28. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 200

ISO 200, Score: 26. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 400

ISO 400, Score: 28. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 800

ISO 800, Score: 28. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 1600

ISO 1600, Score: 26. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 3200

ISO 3200, Score: 26. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 6400

ISO 6400, Score: 22. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 12800

ISO 12800, Score: 16. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 25600

ISO 25600, Score: 14. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 51200

ISO 51200, Score: 10. Click here to see the full resolution image.

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Pentax K-3 to the Canon EOS 7D, Nikon D7100D, Sony Alpha 77.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

JPEG signal to noise

The Pentax SLR does very well in this chart, beating all of the other cameras on test quite comfortably throughout the sensitivity range. The other three cameras are fairly closely matched, and are the nearest competitors to the K-3.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Raw signal to noise

The K-3 also does a good job for raw format files (after conversion to TIFF). It starts off at roughly the same point as the other cameras on test, before beating them from ISO 200 - 3200, where it is overtaken slightly by the Sony Alpha 77 and the Nikon D7100.

JPEG dynamic range

JPEG dynamic range

In terms of dynamic range, we have another impressive performance for JPEG files. At the very lowest sensitivities (ISO 100 - 200), it is beaten by the Nikon D7100, but after that, the K-3 beats all of the other cameras in test. This is borne out by the bright and punchy images that the K-3 is capable of producing.

Raw dynamic range

Raw dynamic range

Unsurprisingly, the K-3 also puts in a good performance when looking at raw format (after conversion to TIFF) files. Here again it is matched very closely with the Nikon D7100 and the Sony A77 at ISO 100, but from here onwards it beats all of the cameras in the test until it reaches ISO 12800, where the Nikon D7100 takes over, slightly.

Sample images

24

This image was shot very close to sunset, in almost complete darkness. The lens was able to lock onto the detail of the droplet on the leaf with relative ease. Click here to see the full resolution image.

40

Most of the time, the camera's metering system does a decent job of producing well-balanced exposures. Click here to see the full resolution image.

53

Colours straight from the camera are bright and punchy, and generally accurate. Click here to see the full resolution image.

288

The camera's automatic white balance system does a decent job of producing accurate colours directly from the camera. Although it errs slightly towards warm tones in some conditions, you can choose a more appropriate specific white balance setting if it's proving to be problematic. Click here to see the full resolution image.

High sensitivity, low light

The K-3 copes well when shooting high sensitivities in low light, producing images which contain a lot of detail without too much image smoothing. Click here to see the full resolution image.

Chromatic aberration

If you examine this image closely you can see some of the chromatic aberration mentioned earlier in the review. View the full resolution image to see the full effect of the problem.

anti-aliasing removal

The K-3 is capable of resolving plenty of detail, while the removal of the anti-aliasing filter hasn't led to any problems with moire patterning that we could find. Click here to see the full resolution image.

518

There is an excellent range of lenses available for Pentax cameras, and if you're a user of model from the past few decades you'll also be able to use those lenses here. This image was taken with a 70mm f/2.8 macro lens. Click here to see the full resolution image.

Digital Filters

The camera has a number of inbuilt digital filters, examples of which can be seen below. First up is a normal image with no digital filter applied.

Normal

Click here to see the full resolution image.

Toy camera

Click here to see the full resolution image.

Retro

Click here to see the full resolution image.

Shading

Click here to see the full resolution image.

Invert colour

Click here to see the full resolution image.

Unicolour bold

Click here to see the full resolution image.

Bold monochrome

Click here to see the full resolution image

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

ISO 100

Full ISO 100 image. See 100% crops below.

ISO 100

ISO 100. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 200

ISO 200. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 400

ISO 400. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 800

ISO 800. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 1600

ISO 1600. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 3200

ISO 3200. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 6400

ISO 6400. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 12800

ISO 12800. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 25600

ISO 25600. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 51200

ISO 51200. Click here to see the full resolution image.

Raw

ISO 100

ISO 100. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 200

ISO 200. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 400

ISO 400. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 800

ISO 800. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 1600

ISO 1600. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 3200

ISO 3200. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 6400

ISO 6400. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 12800

ISO 12800. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 25600

ISO 25600. Click here to see the full resolution image.

ISO 51200

ISO 51200. Click here to see the full resolution image.

Verdict

Pentax is a company that's keen to draw attention from the big players, Canon and Nikon, in this market. To some extent, the K-3 does an excellent job of that, offering a lot of interesting specification for your money.

There's a lot to appeal here, including the weatherproof body, 100% viewfinder and the Sony sensor.

On the whole, images are great. There's lots of detail resolved by that sensor, especially as there's no anti-aliasing filter. We were also pleased not to find any evidence of moire patterning appearing, even without the anti-aliasing filter simulator activated.

Colours are also well reproduced, with nicely saturated, but accurate tones. The camera's automatic white balance system does a good job. The K-3's metering system suffers from the same problem as other Pentax cameras, in that it tends to underexpose in high contrast conditions, but at least this does have the benefit of protecting highlights. As the camera's raw format is the universal DNG format, at least you don't have to worry about waiting for an upgrade to your editing software, you can get to work on them straightaway.

Pentax K-3

Noise performance is also good, with images shot at the lower sensitivities appearing noise-free. If you travel up the sensitivity scale, there are some examples of image smoothing creating a painterly effect, but it's only particularly noticeable if closely examining images at 100%. For most average printing and web sharing sizes, there's no problem.

Unfortunately however, we can't overlook the problem of chromatic aberration appearing on images – some examples of which have been included on the sample images page of this review. Although chromatic aberration usually indicates a problem with the lens, we found it occurring even when using different optics, which seems strange. To confirm this as a problem, we asked for a second review unit which also displayed this tendency.

Moving away from image quality, handling of the camera is great. The K-3 feels very intuitive to use, and it's the little touches (like the green button to reset certain settings) that make it a joy to use. There's plenty of buttons and dials to appeal to traditionalist users, while the menu system is sensibly laid out.

Setting the autofocus point is pretty easy, and it's nice to be able to quickly change the function of certain buttons when you need to.

Having a 100% viewfinder is nice to see on a camera at this price point, and is something that neither of its biggest rivals – the Canon EOS 70D and Nikon D7100 – can offer. It may seem like a small point, but having complete confidence in what will end up in a final image can make a big difference.

It's a shame not to have a touch-sensitive screen, but it's even more of a shame that the screen is fixed. Although the Nikon D7100 also has a fixed device, the Canon 70D's articulating device offers a lot more flexibility, both in terms of shooting from awkward angles and when creating videos. It also means you can fold away the screen into the body when not in use, something that, given this camera's rugged credentials, would have been nice.

We liked

On paper, the K-3 offers a lot for your money. There's a decent range of specifications on offer here, and it's nice to see weatherproofing on a camera at this price point. This would make the ideal choice for landscape photographers, or those who spend a lot of time photographing outdoor subjects and like to be out in all weather. It's a shame that some lenses are a little noisy when focusing, which may prove a distraction for nature photographers.

We disliked

The biggest problem with this camera is the chromatic aberration issue, which was not solved by switching lens or cameras. It's not a problem if you're not photographing high contrast scenes, but if you are, and want to print large, then your images could be marred by this problem.

Verdict

Since the biggest selling point of this camera is its weatherproofing credentials, it makes sense to buy it with the 18-135mm WR (weather resistant) lens, otherwise it's only the body that can withstand water. This makes it a little more expensive than if you were to buy it with an 18-55mm standard kit lens.

Happily, image quality is pretty good in the majority of conditions, and handling is intuitive. While Pentax hasn't done quite enough to drag attention firmly away from Canon and Nikon, it is making moves in the right direction.

Pentax DSLR Ricoh K-3 homeright camerascarousel-en-gb camerascarousel-en-us camerascarousel-en-au
Share this Article
Google+

Apps you might like:

Most Popular

Edition: UK
TopView classic version