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Pentax K-3 DSLR Review

John Riley reviews the new Pentax K-3, the flagship Digital SLR with new 24 megapixel sensor and advanced features.

Posted: 14/11/2013 - 09:13


Pentax K 3 Black (3)

The Ricoh takeover of Pentax now seems to have firmly bedded in, with a whole new range of revamped HD Limited lenses and, leading the pack, the latest flagship DSLR, the K-3. With a breath-taking array of features on offer, we now look more closely to see if the K-3 delivers the goods, and indeed whether it throws down the gauntlet to the brand leaders and offers some serious competition.

Pentax K-3 Features

Pentax K 3 Black (4)

As before, we have a rugged, weatherproof body in a compact package, this time sporting 92 seals to keep out moisture and dust. The effectiveness of this is well proven and Pentax is starting to be seen as the outdoor camera for adverse conditions.

Firmly sticking to the APS-C format, the new 24MP sensor, manufactured by Sony, is mounted in the usual shake reduction mechanism. This time a very innovative new feature has been added, using this same mechanism as an “AA Filter Simulator”. This enables two levels of moiré reduction to be switch in if required, using the SR system to vibrate the sensor by a half pixel, this emulating the slight blur of the conventional AA filter. One model now gives all choices.

Pentax K 3 Black (6)

Twin SD card slots can be used individually, sequentially or one for stills and one for video. Video capture has been extensively updated, now using MPEG-4 encoding. A headphone jack and adjustable sound level is also on offer.

The AF is also upgraded, the new SAFOX 11 system having 27 focus points, 25 of which are the cross type. Sensitivity still extends down to -3 EV. Add to this a new 86,000 pixel light metering sensor, an 8.3 fps frame rate, a new 3.2 inch monitor with no air gap, an upgraded viewfinder system with 95% magnification, a shutter tested to 200,000 cycles and compatibility with the new Flucard for smartphone control and we have a very impressive package.

Pentax K 3 Black (5)

Key Features

  • 24.35MP APS-C sensor with AA Filter Simulator
  • Pentax KAF2 bayonet mount
  • In-body shake reduction
  • Glass pentaprism with 100% field of view
  • Larger 0.95x magnification viewfinder
  • 3.2 inch LCD monitor with 1,037,000 dots and no air space
  • 86,000 pixel light-metering sensor
  • SAFOX 11 AF module sensitive to -3EV
  • 27 AF points, 25 cross type
  • Weather resistant construction with 92 seals
  • Magnesium alloy shell
  • 8.3fps maximum frame rate
  • ISO range 100 to 51,200
  • 17 Digital filters
  • DNG/PEF RAW format
  • Dual SD Card Slots
  • Eye-Fi Card compatible
  • Flucard Compatible
  • Shutter tested to 200,000 cycles
  • Full HD Movie Mode
  • MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 Movie Format

Pentax K-3 Handling


Pentax K 3 Black (8)

Handling has always been a strong point of Pentax SLRs and DSLRs and the K-3 continues this tradition. Existing Pentax users will find some buttons moved and some controls altered slightly, but nothing major that can't be quickly adapted to. New users may well appreciate the “photographic feel” of this new camera, with its well-designed menu interface and ergonomic layout. There has been much of this that has carried forwards unchanged from the previous K-7 and K-5 model ranges, and there is no need to change things for the sake of change.

Pentax K 3 Black (11)

There are nonetheless some minor tweaks that are useful. The dioptre adjustment wheel is much more convenient, the SD card access is improved, the mode dial now has a lock that can be disengaged if desired. The rear screen now sports a status display very similar to the other DSLRs in the Pentax range. This is a very convenient way to change many parameters. There are still plenty of dedicated buttons and a new switch to select either still or video photography.

Having a traditional glass pentaprism viewfinder is now common to all the Pentax DSLR range. This may be the more expensive option in terms of manufacture, but it reaps dividends in the sheer clarity of the view. The gapless monitor should avoid condensation under the cover glass and the screen is bright, sharp and clear.


Pentax K 3 Black (10)

The battery is the same as used for the K-5 range and most accessories are also identical. The previous battery grip is, however, slightly different so a new D-BG5 grip is available for the K-3.

Battery life is similar to the K-5 and bearing in mind new batteries need a few charges to become totally effective, 500 shots with plenty of use of playback still left plenty of life available. It looks as though the CIPA figures quoted, 560 shots with 50% flash usage, will be very reasonably achieved.

Speed - We took a number of shots to test the camera's responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.

Shutter Response 0.05s
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response 0.2s / 0.8s in live view
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response 0.2s / 1.7s in live view
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 0.5s
Shot to Shot without Flash 0.5s
Shot to Shot with Flash 1.0s
Continuous Shooting - JPEG
(shots before slow down)
Continuous Shooting - Flash 2.4fps
Continuous Shooting - RAW 8.2fps

The first thing that strikes the new user is that the shutter is so, so quiet and smooth. This is probably the quietest DSLR I have experienced from any marque. It is also totally free from vibration, so the damping of the mirror mechanism must be exceptional. When the shutter is released, apart from a slight click we feel nothing at all, it's quite uncanny.

The camera is highly responsive, with minimal delay when firing the shutter. The AF seems to lock on in the dullest light with no difficulty and the speed has been significantly improved. Of course this will depend also on the lens used, but in general I feel that AF is slightly faster and much more reliable in the lowest lighting conditions. The new focus point array should make focus tracking more effective.

The buffer exceeded specification and at 8.3fps I achieved 67 JPEG images and 23 RAW images respectively. The maximum frame rate is very fast and almost as fast as many cameras with translucent (non-moving) mirrors. The new shutter having a potential life of 200,000 shots seems to be quite an improvement.

The Flucard deserves a mention, although one was not provided for this review. This new card, currently Pentax specific, makes the camera compatible with smartphones for remote operation. There is obviously potential there for the future. Eye-Fi compatibility is also included with the K-3.

Pentax K-3 Performance

Sample Photos - Exposure was accurate and very similar to the K-5, full exposure being given without tending to blow out the highlights. The options remain as to matrix, centre-weighted or spot measurement.  One option that has been lost from previous models is the Premium JPEG setting. Looking at the number of images obtainable though this seems to be a renaming of the levels rather than a reduction in quality. The very fine quality of Pentax JPEG files remains intact. The options for RAW shooters also remain intact and either PEF or DNG files can be chosen as the RAW format.

AA Simulator Off | 1/6400 sec | f/4.5 | 18.0 mm | ISO 6400 AA Simulator Type 1 | 1/6400 sec | f/4.5 | 18.0 mm | ISO 6400 AA Simulator Type 2 | 1/5000 sec | f/4.5 | 18.0 mm | ISO 6400
AA Simulator Off | 1/6400 sec | f/4.5 | 18.0 mm | ISO 6400 AA Simulator Type 1 | 1/6400 sec | f/4.5 | 18.0 mm | ISO 6400 AA Simulator Type 2 | 1/5000 sec | f/4.5 | 18.0 mm | ISO 6400

The AA filter simulator is an interesting idea. There have been many discussions about the value of removing the AA filter, but it has become clear that for many the increased crispness of the shots makes the risk of moire acceptable. In the event, generating moire proves to be a very difficult task and in normal use I doubt very much that it will be a problem. I was eventually able to induce moire using images on my monitor and the two levels of AA simulation worked. Level 1 reduced the effect and level 2 removed it. Now this will depend on the frequency of the pattern so judging when to apply correction may be the difficult part. By choice I would leave the AA simulator switched off. Switching it on and at what level will become a matter of judgement from experience and where we get it wrong it will be back to software solutions. However, what a fantastic idea to incorporate this feature at all. It offers a unique opportunity to fine tune yet another parameter.

I checked the electronic level and found it to be accurate. It isn't a feature that I use routinely, but it can be very useful.

In terms of the weather resistance, this in itself makes the Pentax K-3 a viable choice. The camera cannot be immersed in water, but it will quite happily function in downpours and cold conditions. In practice, I would be happy to take this camera and lenses out in any weather that I felt I myself wanted to venture out into.

Lens Performance -The SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR was supplied with the camera and it is an ideal companion for it. Clearly the lens has enough reserve resolution to handle the increased pixel count and it performs better with the K-3 than with the K-5 cameras. CA seems reduced and images are cleaner. It would confirm that it is the combination of sensor and lens that dictates final image quality, not just one or the other.

The 18-135mm produces clean, crisp images and complements the K-3 perfectly. Flare is well controlled, although it is always a good idea to use the included lens hood. For those who want to compare images from the 18-135mm with other camera bodies my review of the K-5 IIs includes images of the same location with another copy of the lens. Not 100% the same lighting and general conditions, but it might be interesting. There are many other options in the Pentax range, including new HD lenses with improved nano coatings. More lenses are planned, so the range looks set to grow significantly.

ISO Noise Performance - The new 24MP sensor is full of detail and is a major benefit of the K-3. Looking very closely at the images and comparing them to the K-5 IIs in particular, the finest detail is crisper and clearer without a doubt. Noise levels might be expected to be slightly higher with the increased pixel density and although this is true it seems more than made up for by the cleaner reproduction of detail. As with the K-5 variants I would be quite happy to use the K-3 up to and including ISO 1600. Noise has started to creep in at this level but it becomes more noticeable at ISO 3200. By ISO 12800 sharpness is maintained but the noise is becoming more obvious, but it is still acceptable. ISO 25600 and 51200 are best used when necessary only as noise levels are slightly higher than the 16MP cameras. Having said that, the detail that is present is sharper and better defined than with the previous models.

White Balance Performance - White balance is another area where I have always appreciated the colour balance of Pentax cameras. This too is preserved, although the Ricoh input into the design gives an extra variety of AWB, labelled AWBA. The theory of this is that with mixed light sources the camera can offer multiple white balances across a frame. So, for example, a subject lit by flash with a background lit by tungsten lights can be measured separately to give an overall balanced effect. The results seemed little different from just using AWB.

Digital Filters - There are a vast number of digital filters and custom image options and examples are shown above.

Video - There have been significant changes to the video capability with the K-3. The encoding is now AVC/H.264, provision is made for stereo sound recording using external microphones and a headphone jack is provided. The sound levels can be adjusted in the camera and level metering is provided for this. All in all, there is an increase of sophistication and easier access with a dedicated video/still switch. Initial impressions are favourable, with smooth reproduction and SR helping to reduce shake. Digital Filters and Custom Image are also available in movie mode.


Value For Money

Value for money covers many aspects, but there is little doubt that here Pentax have a product that includes almost anything that we could imagine we want in a flagship APS-C camera. The level of possible customisation is very high, the results are very good indeed and right from the start trade in offers have been introduced that help to reduce the cost. In this instance I feel we have excellent value right from the start, with the Pentax K-3 available for £1099 body only. Alternatives to consider include the following:

Nikon D7100, 24 megapixel no AA filter, weather sealed, 6fps, £765 body only
Canon EOS 70D, 20 megapixel, 7fps, weather sealed, Wi-Fi, £969 body only
Sony Alpha A77, 24 megapixel, 12fps, IS, weather sealed, GPS, £729 body only
Olympus OM-D E-M1, 16 megapixel no AA filter, 10fps, IS, weather sealed, Wi-Fi, £1299 body only
Panasonic Lumix GH3, 16 megapixel, 6fps, weather sealed, £869 body only

Pentax K-3 Verdict

Pentax have been consistently producing outstanding DSLRs, well specified and rugged. The K-3 continues that tradition, but honing areas that needed attention such as the AF tracking system and the video capability. The increased resolution and the clean images it produces all set off a well-rounded package that comes very close indeed to challenging very much more expensive kit.

Looking at the APS-C competition, Pentax now seems have nudged into the lead with the K-3 and for a rugged, well specified all weather camera it may well be that we need look no further. The marriage of Ricoh and Pentax expertise looks to have become a happy one indeed.


  • Superb clarity in image quality with 24MP sensor
  • Rugged weather sealed construction with 92 seals
  • Flucard and Eye-Fi card compatibility
  • Shutter rated to 200,000 exposures
  • Some unique prime lenses in range
  • AA Filter Simulator
  • Backwards lens compatibility
  • In body shake reduction
  • Low light AF to -3EV
  • DNG or PEF RAW format
  • 8.3fps frame rate


  • Lack of long zoom lenses
  • Current lack of lens support from some third party manufacturers

Features: 5/5
Handling: 5/5
Performance: 5/5
Value: 4.5/5
Overall Verdict: 5/5

Pentax K-3 Specifications

Manufacturer Pentax
Effective Magnification 1.5x
Image Sensor
Pixels 24Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W) 6016
Pixels (H) 4000
Sensor Type CMOS
Sensor Size APS-C
Sensor Size (width) 23.5mm
Sensor Size (height) 15.6mm
Aspect Ratio 3:2
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor 3.2in
Screen resolution 1037k
Touch Screen No
Focusing modes Autofocus
AF Tracking
AF Fine Tuning (Micro Adjustment)
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest 1/8000sec
Shutter speeds longest 30sec
Bulb mode Yes
Exp modes Program
Scene modes
Program Variable
Metering Centre-weighted - Average
Multi Pattern
ISO sensitivity 100 - 51200
White balance Auto
Exposure Comp +/-5
Magnification No Data
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting 8.3fps
Movie mode Yes
Video Resolution 1920x1080 FullHD
1280x720 HD 720p
Video FPS 60i, 50i, 30p, 25p, 24p
Stereo Sound No
Optical Zoom with Video Yes
Other Features
Image Stabilisation Yes
Wi-Fi No
Card Type SD
File Type RAW
Power Source
Battery Type Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery D-LI90P
Battery Life (CIPA rating) 560shots
Box Contents
Box Contents No Data
Weight 800g
Width 131.5mm
Height 100mm
Depth 77.5mm

Members gallery photos using: PENTAX K-3

Posted 16/11/2013 - 02:31 Link
Wow John, thanks for a great review the more I read about the K3 makes me want it more. I do have one question though the extract colour feature, is it possible to extract more than 1 colour as I have a K7 and only 1 is possible at a time. Thanks again. Regards Ian.
k7 10-17fe 12-24 55 100 macro 18-55 50-200
Posted 16/11/2013 - 10:46 Link
With Extract Colour you select the colour to extract. You can also set the range of that colour that is extracted, a little of it or all of it. Then you can also select a second colour and also set its range.

That gives us a lot of options!
Best regards, John
Posted 16/11/2013 - 12:04 Link
Thank you for the insightful review. Seems like a very impressive camera. Did you have a chance to test out the AF tracking to see if they've narrowed the gap with the competition?


Posted 16/11/2013 - 14:16 Link
No, there wasn't a suitable opportunity to try the AF tracking, so that's one question that still remains to be answered I'm afraid.
Best regards, John
Posted 18/11/2013 - 21:49 Link
That lens looks like a real 'stinker' to me and does not do the K3 any justice at all. I'm still none the wiser about the K3. As far as 'noise' goes, the levels at 3200 and 6400 don't look any better than what the Ricoh GR puts out really.
In fact, the GR's look better...
"Ifamericatoldthetruthforjustonedayitswholeworldwouldfallapart "
"All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice." - Elliott Erwitt
Posted 20/11/2013 - 03:44 Link
johnriley wrote:
With Extract Colour you select the colour to extract. You can also set the range of that colour that is extracted, a little of it or all of it. Then you can also select a second colour and also set its range.

That gives us a lot of options!

Thanks John. Regards Ian
k7 10-17fe 12-24 55 100 macro 18-55 50-200
Posted 21/11/2013 - 17:23 Link
I've made a comparison between the K3 and Ricoh GR's noise levels, both of which are on this site for all to see and compare, and if i'm not mistaken the GR beats the K3 hands down with better detail and less chroma.
It looks like it even beats the K3 at 25600...
"Ifamericatoldthetruthforjustonedayitswholeworldwouldfallapart "
"All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice." - Elliott Erwitt
Posted 24/11/2013 - 12:50 Link
Very interesting Pauly, I haven't done such a check myself, although I'm sure you're right in terms of noise. What I did find was that the resolution of the K-3 was dramatically higher than the 16MP cameras and that this crispness of detail did carry forwards into the higher ISO regions. It's a subtle point though once we pass the ISO 6400 point.

I don't see the two cameras as competing though. The GR is a fine compact capable of taking on the other 16 MP cameras and the K-3 will be my DSLR of choice the next time I upgrade.
Best regards, John
Posted 16/02/2014 - 04:25 Link
My unscientific first impressions of the K-3 are entirely consistent with the measureable ('scientific') improvements. The most common question, of course, is:
From a K-5? From a K-5II? K-5IIS ? From an earlier model, there is a bigger jump in quality.

There is no clear answer where diminishing returns are concerned -- other than "If it is worth it to you." I am upgrading from a K-5 because the k-3 is a significantly better camera and, more important, better all round. Better metering, much better AF, better viewing, and much better responsiveness -- what others have described as "more snappy." It is faster than the K-5 in all respects: focussing, recovering, multiple exposures.

I have owned Pentaces (the Latin plural) since I bought an H2, which had a semi-automatic diaphragm. It closed automatically but had to be levered open. My last 35mm Pentax was the best: the LX, which I still have. The K-3 is my fourth Pentax DSL. So...having established my credentials...I must say that there are two things about the
K-3 which are distinctly UNPentax. First, some joker has written RICOH on the back! That hardly pushes the Pentax brand UPmarket. Second, it is heavy -- but Pentax heavy, meaning it is beautifully balanced, depending on the lens, of course. But with the 70mm f/2.4 Limited, it is perfect -- and better balanced and more solid feeling than the K-5. When the world went digital, fine instruments like the Leica M5, the Bolexes and the Pentax LX disappeared in favor of bulkier, more plasticky, less refined cameras. The K-3 is the first DSLR I have used which feels a lot like those cameras of yore.
Posted 21/10/2014 - 11:59 Link
How long can you shoot video continuously on the K3? On my K5 max clip length in 5 min 23 secs.

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