Tim Coleman and the AP team look through the best Pentax DSLR options available in 2022, both new and second-hand options, along with some classics…

The best Pentax DSLRs are an old-school option for photography beginners and enthusiasts alike. While most manufacturers are transitioning to mirrorless, Pentax has made it clear that it is sticking with the DSLR. After all, DSLRs have many fans, with plenty of photographers preferring their optical viewfinders, rugged bodies and big batteries over the advantages of mirrorless.

Of course, we’re not here to relitigate the DSLR vs mirrorless debate. In this guide, we’re talking all things Pentax, and are here to take you through the best digital cameras you can buy with the Pentax name on. We’re not talking about Pentax’s rich history of high-quality film cameras here, nor its very brief foray into mirrorless with the ill-fated Pentax K-01. It’s all about the DSLR.

If you’re new to DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex cameras) in general, rest assured, Pentax is a fine choice, and our team has reviewed all the latest offerings from the manufacturer. Our selections for this guide are based on our extensive testing experience, and we’re confident that all the cameras on this list represent value for money. Plus, you also have the best Pentax lenses to choose from.

How to choose the best Pentax DSLR

When picking a Pentax DSLR, you’re choosing from three sensor sizes: APS-C, full-frame, and medium format. APS-C is the smallest, generally found in cameras pitched at beginners, while full-frame is the professional standard, producing better images, but costing more. You can learn more about the differences in our full run-down of APS-C vs full-frame. Medium format, meanwhile, is a larger sensor size, designed to capture unparalleled levels of detail. Pentax only made a couple of medium format DSLRs, but they’re still a worthwhile buy if you can find them.

Other specs to look at will depend on what you want to shoot. Pentax cameras are famous for good weatherproofing, so the brand in general will suit the outdoor photographer. Beyond that though, you may want to compare burst rates if you’re planning to shoot fast action, or ISO range if you want to photograph in low light (some Pentax DSLRs can go surprisingly high).

You may also want to look at which cameras have built-in stabilisation to keep shots blur-free at slower shutter speeds, and some have extra useful features like GPS. Finally, while no one would say it is Pentax’s forte, later cameras have been begrudgingly given the ability to shoot Full HD video, and even 4K video on the most recent offering.

Let’s get started looking at the best Pentax DSLRs you can buy…


Best for landscapes and portraits: Pentax K-1 II

Pentax K-1 II Full-frame DSLR

Pentax K-1 II Full-frame DSLR

At a glance:

  • 36.4MP full-frame
  • 3.2in 1.04m-dot vari-angle-touchscreen
  • Sensor-shift stabilisation & GPS
  • Pentaprism OVF with 0.7x mag and 100% FOV
  • Weather-resistant
  • £1,899 / $1,796

If you want a full-frame DSLR, then the choice is simple in a Pentax buyer’s guide. There is only one series of full-frame DSLRs, comprising two iterations. The most recent Pentax K-1 II represented a modest upgrade from its predecessor the K-1, with the most notable improvement being the increased sensitivity by 2EV to a whopping extended ISO 819,200.

So what do the K-1 and K-1 II cameras have in common? Plenty of good things; a 36MP full-frame sensor with that excellent low light performance. A large pentaprism optical viewfinder (pentaprism is superior to pentamirror). Sensor shift stabilisation paired with GPS and a unique feature called Astrotracer that arguably makes the K-1 II the choice for astrophotography. Throw in some of the best Pentax K-mount lenses in the mix, and landscape and portrait photographers are catered for very well, too.

Pentax has a tradition of well-made cameras. This flagship weather-resistant camera is the toughest of them all, and you feel it in every one of its 1010 grammes! We love the clever four-arm design of the vari-angle touch screen, plus the illuminated buttons are a nice touch for low light handling.

Pros:

  • Excellent images in any light
  • Bright and big optical viewfinder
  • Clever vari-angle-touchscreen design
  • Excellent build quality

Cons:

  • Only HD video up to 60p
  • Modest upgrade from the K-1
  • Middling battery life
  • Heavy

Best Pentax DSLR for action: Pentax K-3 III

Pentax K-3 III, DSLR in hand with lens (Image: Andy Westlake)

Pentax K-3 III, DSLR in hand with lens. Photo credit: Andy Westlake

At a glance:

  • 25.7MP APS-C sensor
  • ISO 100-1,600,000
  • 12FPS
  • 4K video up to 30p
  • Pentaprism OVF with 1.05x mag and 100% FOV
  • Weather-resistant
  • £1,899 / $1,696

Many were surprised to see a new DSLR in 2021, but as we found in our review, the Pentax K-3 III is a mighty fine flagship APS-C format camera, afforded a wealth of K-mount APS-C lenses and high performance. Features are too many to list here, but highlights include the back-illuminated sensor with maximum ISO 1,600,000 sensitivity, 12fps with 101-point AF system and, wait for it, 4K video! Yes Pentax can do video, too.

Handling-wise, high expectations are met. This is a solid weather-resistant camera weighing 820g. It has excellent ergonomics, dual card slots, a bright and large OVF, top LCD, though the 3.2in 1.62m-dot rear touch screen is fixed which is a shame. However, if you want a high performance Pentax DSLR for the likes of sports and wildlife and don’t mind the cost (at launch the K-3 III was more expensive than the full-frame K-1 II and rivals like the Nikon D500), then K-3 III is the choice for you.

Pros:

  • Excellent detail
  • Bright and big optical viewfinder
  • Ergonomics and build quality
  • Quickest Pentax DSLR

Cons:

  • Fixed touch screen
  • No external charger
  • Very expensive

Read our Pentax K-3 III review


Best Pentax DSLR for beginners: Pentax K-70

Pentax K-70 in hand, as used by Jessica Miller, photo: Joshua Waller

Pentax K-70 in hand, as used by Jessica Miller. Photo credit: Joshua Waller

At a glance:

  • 24.2MP APS-C sensor
  • 3in 921k-dot vari-angle screen
  • Pentaprism OVF with 100% FOV
  • Weather-resistant
  • 6fps
  • £699 / $576

Entry-level DSLRs don’t come any better than the Pentax K-70. In fact, the K-70 possesses plenty of attributes that even advanced photographers appreciate, such as a weather-sealed body, comfortable grip, and a bright pentaprism optical viewfinder with 100% field of view. You simply don’t get these sorts of features in similarly priced DSLRs. On the flipside, it is larger and heavier at 688g when compared to other entry-level DSLRs.

For photographers, the innards of the K-70 are equally impressive; 24MP and a maximum ISO 102,400 with sensor-shift stabilisation, 6fps and built-in flash. Not forgetting its rugged build quality that is well suited to adverse outdoors conditions, and you have an all-purpose camera that is simply a great option to start out with DSLR photography. It’ll even provide on-screen prompts as you learn the ropes.

Pros:

  • Excellent image quality
  • Class-leading pentaprism viewfinder
  • Weather-resistant
  • Lovely ergonomics

Cons:

  • HD video only
  • Better AF elsewhere
  • Vari-angle screen is not touch sensitive
  • So-so battery life

Read our Pentax K-70 review


Best Pentax DSLR for detail: Pentax 645Z

Pentax 645Z (AP image)

Pentax 645Z, a medium-format camera.

At a glance:

  • 51.4MP medium format sensor
  • ISO 100-204,800
  • 3.2in 1.04m-dot tilt-LCD
  • HD video up to 60fps
  • 1550g (with battery and card)
  • £4,500 / $4,996 new, £2,000 / $3,100 second-hand

The digital medium format market was disrupted through the introduction of the Pentax 645D in 2010. Not only did Pentax do away with the digital back, but also significantly undercut the big players Phase One and Hasselblad. At around a third of the cost, the 645D opened up digital medium format to a whole new group of photographers, and was eventually replaced by the Pentax 645Z in 2014.

What you get in the successor is a camera boasting a 51.4MP resolution on a 43.8×32.8mm image sensor, a tank-like build both in size and durability whereby you can confidently break free from the studio, plus a gorgeous viewfinder and handy tilt-LCD for waist-level shooting.

It’s a real shame that Pentax seemingly lost interest in its medium format DSLRs, and never felt the need to extend the lineup that is limited to six lenses, because it no longer enjoys predominance. Since the 645Z, Fujifilm launched its GFX range of cameras that includes the more cutting edge Fujifilm GFX 50S II, while Hasselblad added a more wallet-friendly lineup in the dazzling Hasselblad X1D series.

Pros:

  • Excellent detail
  • Sublime optical viewfinder
  • Clever tilt-LCD design
  • Solid build quality

Cons:

  • Heavy and bulky
  • Limited lens choice
  • Outperformed by modern rivals

Read our Pentax 645Z review


Best innovation: Pentax K100D

Pentax K100D Super DSLR

Pentax K100D Super DSLR – an update to the K100D, the Super adds a dust removal system.

At a glance:

  • 6.1MP APS-C CCD sensor
  • ISO 200-3,200
  • 2.5in 210k-dot LCD
  • Sensor-shift stabilisation
  • Discontinued 2007
  • Around £50 second-hand

Sensor-shift stabilisation under the guise ‘Shake Reduction’ was introduced in the Pentax K100D and arguably set Pentax DSLRs apart for quite some time. Evolved to its current 5-axis form and compatible with a huge number of lenses, this feature paved the way for DSLR features unique to this very day, including Astrotracer (works with GPS), Pixel Shift and AA filter simulation.

As for the camera itself, the K100D has an 11-point AF array and optical viewfinder that would remain in Pentax APS-C DSLRs for many years, plus it boasts a top LCD which is usually found in high-end cameras only. Otherwise, the K100D understandably shows its years, with a CCD sensor, modest 6MP resolution, small LCD screen, 2.8fps drive mode, and it can’t shoot video. Still, you can pick up a K100D body only for around £50! The Pentax K100D Super, which was released at a later date, introduced a dust removal system, which is now standard across numerous other camera brands.

Pros:

  • Sensor-shift stabilisation
  • Top LCD
  • Cheap

Cons:

  • Low light image quality
  • Small LCD screen
  • No video

Have a look at MPB.com, and other retailers to see what used stock is available.


Best limited edition: Pentax K-x rainbow

Pentax K-X Rainbox (Image Pentax/DC.Watch)

Pentax K-X Rainbow edition.

At a glance:

  • 12.4MP APS-C sensor
  • ISO 200-6,400
  • 2.7in 230k-dot LCD
  • 720p video up to 24p
  • RRP $649 but good luck finding one!

We can’t remember a DSLR that has been available in so many colours as the Pentax K-x, and the most memorable has to be the Pentax K-x rainbow edition. Made in collaboration with Tower Records and limited to 1,000 units, you’ll either want sunglasses as an accessory or for your own protection, depending which way you look at it!

Other than booting up with a rainbow image on the LCD (and its psychedelic shell), the rainbow edition is identical in every way to a standard Pentax K-x that harks back to 2010. That means you get a 12.4MP APS-C sensor, a decent OVF for the money, sensor-shift stabilisation, 4.7fps and, yes, video recording – gosh! It’ll be a mission to get your hands on the rainbow version, and you’ll have better luck if you like all-red.

Pros:

  • It’s going to be a talking point at the pub

Cons:

  • It’s going to be a talking point at the pub

Read our Pentax K-x review

Have a look at MPB.com, eBay, and other retailers to see what used stock is available.


Best Pentax second-hand buy under £1000: Pentax K-1

Pentax K-1 full-frame DSLR on white background

The Pentax K-1, a second-hand bargain if you can find it.

At a glance:

  • 36.4MP full-frame sensor
  • ISO 100-204,800
  • 3.2in 1.04m-dot vari-angle-touch screen
  • Sensor-shift stabilisation & GPS
  • Around £970 / $1,100 second-hand

To its credit, there’s not a lot more to say about the Pentax K-1 that hasn’t already been said about the K-1 II above. Unless you are a serious low-light photographer, then the K-1 offers virtually everything that the K-1 II does but at a significantly lower price (though the K-1 is no slouch in low light either). At less than £1,000 second-hand, it’s such a compelling purchase.

Both cameras offer high levels of sharp detail thanks to a 36MP sensor with no anti-aliasing filter. Where there is a risk of aliasing artefacts, the anti-aliasing filter simulator can be called upon – a feature that is present thanks to sensor stabilisation. Both cameras are comfortable in the hand, albeit on the heavier side. Both cameras really make use of sensor shift stabilisation for unique shooting modes. Overall, you’ll struggle to find a more capable DSLR for photography at this price point.

Pros:

  • 5-axis image stabilisation
  • Extensive weather-sealing
  • Clever vari-angle-touch screen design
  • Well designed ergonomics

Cons:

  • Only HD video up to 60p
  • Good value
  • Heavy

Read our Pentax K-1 Review


Best Pentax bargain under £100: Pentax K-r

Pentax K-r front (AP Image) 1024

The K-r can be picked up dirt-cheap.

At a glance:

  • 12.4MP APS-C sensor
  • 3in 921k-dot LCD
  • 720p video up to 25p
  • Pentamirror OVF with 0.85x mag and 96% FOV
  • 598g with battery and card
  • Around £100 / $300 second-hand with lens

We’ve scoured second-hand stock held by reputable dealers in 2022 and the best Pentax camera you can snag sub-£100 is the Pentax K-r, where you’ll get the 18-55mm kit lens chucked in, too. It may have had a short 18-month shelf life being discontinued in 2012, but the K-r is a highly capable shooter considering its age.

With a 12.4MP APS-C sensor, extended ISO 100-25,600 range, an excellent choice of lenses, much improved LCD screen, a continuous drive mode of 6fps and 11-point AF system, the K-r is able to make excellent pictures for all types of photographers. Despite its more premium feel over the K-x, the K-r is not in fact weather-resistant, although a Li-ion battery was introduced whereas the K-x and other cameras from this era rely on AA batteries.

Pros:

  • Shoots excellent A3 prints
  • Decent LCD screen
  • Wide lens choice
  • 6fps

Cons:

  • Not weather resistant
  • Aggressive shutter action

Read our Pentax K-r Review

Have a look at MPB.com, eBay, and other retailers to see what used stock is available.


For more DSLR options, have a look at the Best Canon DSLRs, or the Best Nikon DSLRs. Or have a look at our latest reviews and buying guides.


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