Hands-on review

Pentax K-3 at a glance:

  • 23.35-million-pixel, Sony-made CMOS sensor
  • 27-point AF (25 cross-type points)
  • Fully weather-sealed, magnesium-alloy body
  • Compatible with SD cards, Flucards and Eye-Fi cards
  • ISO 100-51,200
  • Price £1,099.99 body only

Pentax K-3 – Introduction

Despite Pentax releasing a number of excellent DSLR cameras over the past few years, there has often been little variation or any real standout features that would warrant existing Pentax users upgrading to the latest DSLR. The exception to this is the K-5 IIS, which has an increased resolution due to the decision to remove the anti-aliasing filter in front of the camera’s 16.3-million-pixel sensor.

The new Pentax K-3 is very different. Significantly, the camera uses a Sony 23.35-million-pixel CMOS sensor, which is presumably the same sensor as that used in a number of other popular cameras, including the Sony NEX-7 and Alpha 77. The 23.35-million-pixel resolution is a big increase from the last four Pentax DSLRs – the K-5, K-30, K-5 II and K-5 IIS – which are all 16-million-pixel models.

Like the K-5 IIS, Pentax has opted not to have an anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor in the K-3, which means it should have greater resolving power than we might expect from a 23.35-million-pixel sensor. For some users moiré patterning may be a concern, but Pentax has developed an ingenious anti-aliasing effect that utilises the on-sensor image stabilisation. When activated, the sensor moves during the exposure by just enough to blur the image by a pixel or two, which Pentax claims produces the same effect as an anti-aliasing filter.

For the Pentax DSLR user, the increased resolution alone is probably enough to warrant an upgrade, but the K-3 has so much more to it than an improved sensor.

Pentax K-3 – Key features

I look forward to testing the full capabilities of the K-3’s 23.35-million-pixel sensor, particularly how much detail it can resolve and whether the anti-aliasing sensor’s shift feature works in real-world tests. With a maximum sensitivity of ISO 51,200, 14-bit raw capture and a very impressive 8.5fps shooting rate, enthusiast photographers are well catered for.

Thanks to the K-3’s built-in sensor-based image stabilisation, all lenses used on the K-3 are stabilised, regardless of whether they are brand new or a 30-year-old manual-focus K-mount lens. The AF system is another new feature. The system now has 27 AF points, 25 of which are cross-type. The centre points are sensitive down to f/2.8, which allows for better focusing speed and accuracy in low light with f/2.8 lenses. Although the number of AF points may pale a little in comparison to the 51-point system that Nikon has employed in its cameras for a number of years, 27 points should be more than enough for most photographers.

Pentax K-3 – Build quality

One of the things we like about Pentax DSLRs is their rugged nature. The K-3 is no exception, as it has a fully weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body. More importantly, the range of Pentax WR (weather-resistant) lenses is growing, and the K-3 can be bought with a variety of weather-sealed lenses, including the standard 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 WR kit lens. A weather-sealed battery grip and two weather-sealed flashguns are also available.

Also making the Pentax K-3 attractive to demanding photographers is the durability of the shutter, which has been tested up to 200,000 actuations. This will be particularly appealing to those photographers keen to take advantage of the K-3’s ability to create time-lapse videos at a 4K resolution – and just in time for the new 4K high-definition televisions that have arrived in shops recently.

In the hand, the K-3 feels tough and strong. It has a reassuring weight to it, without being overly large and heavy. All the buttons are in logical places, and the camera should feel familiar to most DSLR photographers, not just Pentax users.

Like other recent Pentax DSLR cameras, the K-3 has a 100% optical viewfinder and an equally impressive screen. The 3.2in, 1.037-million-dot screen is gapless, meaning there is no air gap between the LCD panel and the protective glass. The result is a screen that has reduced reflection, and one that is bright, with rich colours and a good range of contrast. It looked stunning in the pre-production sample of the camera that we saw.

Pentax K-3 – Data and connectivity

The Pentax K-3 has dual SD card slots for storing images and to enable Pentax Flucards to be used. These SD-compatible cards essentially give the Pentax K-3 Wi-Fi connectivity. Unlike Eye-Fi cards, which only offer image transfer to a smart device, Flucards allow for full control of the camera’s exposure settings and focusing, as well as a mirrored live view display from a smartphone or tablet. The final specification of what will be compatible with the Flucards has yet to be finalised, although Android and iOS should both be supported. The images we saw of a device operating the K-3 also showed a web-browser window, suggesting that remote control via a web-based interface may be possible, although this will most likely be via an ad-hoc connection rather than being able to control the camera from anywhere in the world via a computer.

The K-3 is also compatible with standard Eye-Fi cards for those who just want to copy images via Wi-Fi. Getting images off the camera in a more conventional manner is made faster with the addition of a USB port on the side.

Pentax K-3 – First impressions

Pentax now has a full line-up of DSLR cameras, from the K-50 and K-500, to the K-5 II and K-5 II S, with the new K-3 increasing its range. Yet what is different is that the K-3 offers a real alternative, not only in terms of resolution but also in its feature set, which wouldn’t look out of place on a professional DSLR camera.

If the resolution and image quality match what we have seen from other cameras containing the Sony sensor, the K-3 could be a real prospect for Pentax. It could help rebuild its DSLR brand, and provide a real alternative to rival Canon and Nikon. The K-3 seems to be a camera that will allow Pentax to compete with them on the same level. I’m really looking forward to testing this camera in the next couple of months.

The Pentax K-3 will be available in November, priced £1,099.99 body only.

See product shots of the Pentax K-3

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