Pentax's high-end dSLR (hands on)
For its latest top-of-the-line dSLR, the K-3, Pentax overhauls the K-5 II/IIs inside and out: it's got a new sensor, new body design, new AF system, new metering system, and improved performance. I had a chance to spend some time with an early model that displayed some not-unexpected firmware wonkiness that prevent my reporting on image quality or performance, but it looks like a promising start with some interesting twists. As for Pentaxians who don't need the latest and greatest, the K-5 II and IIs will remain in the line at lower prices, although Pentax hasn't announced what those will be yet.
Like the IIs (and the Nikon D7100), the K-3's new 24MP drops the optical low-pass filter (OLPF) entirely. But sometimes you want the slight blurring effect of the OLPF, especially if you know moire will be a problem -- and Pentax takes a novel approach to addressing that concern. The K-3 can use its sensor-shift shake reduction mechanism to slightly offset the pixels with circular, horizontal, or vertical movements. It doesn't seem to be available in movie mode, however. To compensate for the increased vulnerability of the sensor, there's now a vibrating piece of coated glass over it for dust protection and removal.
The new autofocus system unfortunately doesn't have any Live View optimizations, though Pentax says that five of the AF sensors are specifically for low light, and even the preproduction model was able to lock focus in some pretty dim conditions. Pentax also takes a leaf out of Nikon's and Canon's book, implementing a more granular, RGB metering system and using the data from the light meter to supplement the autofocus. Like the Canon EOS 70D, it now implements Zone Focus, though it doesn't display the zone -- just the selected focus point -- on prefocus. It does seem to select the center of the zone more often then not (which is good). The camera retains the expanded area AF as well.
Per Pentax, the new viewfinder has improved coatings on the prism for better refraction and reflection for sharper image, with slightly increased magnification, and while I don't see a perceptible difference it's still a nice viewfinder. It's also the first camera to support USB 3.0 -- I'm not quite sure of the implications yet, as that depends on implementation, but it does open the door for faster download speeds to the computer and improved bandwidth for tethered shooting.
Performance enhancements include a boost to 8.3fps continuous shooting with a usefully deeper raw buffer, which in ostensibly puts the K-3 ahead of its class. It also potentially delivers improved image stabilization (an extra stop) and better shutter durability. Pentax brings its movie mode into parity with the rest of the world with 1080/30p and 720/60p options, along with a mic and headphone jack, and it now has peaking for manual focus. There's also a new 4K (3,840x2,160) option for interval shooting. Filters now work in raw+JPEG and movie modes.
The body design, while not completely overhauled, does have many significant changes over the K-5 series. The mode dial is now lockable, though I'm not sure about the implementation; there's a lock switch that you use in conjunction with the more typical central button. It seems a bit overkill to me. Pentax has also adopted the convention of a switch for toggling between movie and still capture, with a dedicated Live View/Record button.
The new navigation buttons are cleverly designed for moving diagonally (as you'd want to do when selecting focus points), and I think I like Pentax's approach better than Nikon's or Canon's controls.
Overall, I really like the camera's interface, which should be familiar to any recent Pentax shooter; though the buttons have moved around from where you might be used to encountering them. I also find the company's interactive control panel a little counterintuitive after being away from it for a while. On other cameras, on the brief info screen you hit a button and then navigate around the screen, changing settings. On a Pentax, you see all the important settings on the control screen, but have to hit different buttons to change each setting. To change multiple settings from a single screen, you have to go to the more crowded and difficult to quickly parse (because all the icons have similar visual weight) Info screen. On the K-50, which has fewer features, this isn't so bad. On the feature-packed K-3, though, it's more to wade through.
There are some disappointments, too. For one, it's got a fixed rather than articulating LCD; oddly, Pentax is the one manufacturer that resists incorporating movable LCDs. Flash junkies will notice it still has a pretty slow sync speed. And it lacks built-in Wi-Fi, instead opting for SD-card-based solutions, though there will be a custom Pentax Flucard option to support wireless tethering options via Web browser.
|Canon EOS 70D||Nikon D7100||Pentax K-3||Pentax K-5 II/IIs|
|Sensor effective resolution||20.2MP CMOS |
|24.1MP CMOS |
|24.4MP CMOS |
|16.3MP CMOS |
|Sensitivity range||ISO 100 - ISO 12800/25600 (exp)||ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp)||ISO 100 - ISO 51200||ISO 80 (exp)/ |
100 - ISO 12800/
|Burst shooting||7fps |
16 raw/65 JPEG
(7fps in 1.3x crop mode)
23 raw/60 JPEG
8 raw/30 JPEG
|Viewfinder (mag/ effective mag)||98% coverage |
|Autofocus||Dual-Pixel CMOS |
19-pt phase-detection AF all cross-type; center cross to f2.8
|51-pt phase- detection AF |
15 cross- type; center to f8 or faster
|27-pt phase-detection AF |
|11-pt phase-detection AF |
9 cross- type
|AF sensitivity||-0.5 - 18 EV||-2 - 19 EV||-3 - 18 EV||-3 - 18 EV|
|Shutter speed||1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync||1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync||1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync||1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync|
|Shutter durability||n/a||150,000 cycles||200,000 cycles||100,000 cycles|
|Metering||63-zone iFCL||2,016-pixel 3D color matrix metering II||86,000-pixel RGB||77-segment|
|Metering sensitivity||1 to 18 EV||0 to 20 EV||-3 to 20 EV||0 to 22 EV|
|Video||H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/ 60p/50p||1080/60i/50i/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p H.264 QuickTime MOV |
(60i/50i only in 1.3x crop mode)
|1080/60i/50i/ 30p/25p/24p; 720/60p H.264 QuickTime MOV ||1080/25p; 720/30p/ 25p Motion JPEG AVI|
|Audio||Stereo; mic input||Stereo; mic input; headphone jack||Mono; mic input, headphone jack||Mono; mic input|
|Manual aperture and shutter in video||Yes||Shutter only||Yes||n/a|
|Maximum best- quality recording time||n/a||4GB/29:59 min||25 min||4GB/25 min|
|IS||Optical||Optical||Sensor shift||Sensor shift|
|LCD size||3-inch articulated touch screen |
|3.2-inch fixed |
|3.2-inch fixed |
|3-inch fixed |
|Memory slots||1 x SDXC||2 x SDXC||2 x SDXC||1 x SDXC/ SDHC |
(SDXC requires firmware upgrade)
|Wireless connection||Wi-Fi||None||None |
(Pentax-custom Flucard, $99.95)
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||920 shots |
(210 Live View)
|950 shots |
|560 shots |
|740 shots |
|Size (WHD, inches)||5.5x4.1x3.1||5.3x4.2x3||5.2x3.9x3.1||5.2x3.8x2.9|
|Body operating weight (ounces)||27.2||27.3||28.2||26.1 (est)|
|Mfr. price||$1,119 (body only)||$1,199.95 (body only)||$1,299.95 (body only)||$1,095.95/ |
$1,199.95 (body only)
|$1,349 (with 18-55mm STM lens)||$1,599.95 (with 18-105mm lens)||$1,699.95 (with 18-135mm WR lens)||$1,249.95 (with 18-55mm WR lens)/n/a|
|$1,549 (with 18-135mm STM lens)||n/a||n/a||$1,449.95/ n/a (with 18-135mm WR lens)|
|Release date||August 2013||March 2013||November 2013||October 2012|
The lack of any Live View-optimized autofocus enhancements is a real drawback, though I find Pentax lenses are pretty slow movers anyway. However, I think current Pentax photographers who've been waiting to upgrade may find significant reasons to do so for the K-3. I look forward to seeing it when it's fully baked.