Pentax K-3 Review

 
Camera Reviews / Pentax Cameras / Pentax SLR i Review

Pentax K-3 Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Pentax K-3 with the Pentax K-5 II, Canon 70D, Nikon D7100, Olympus E-M1 and Sony A77.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.

Pentax K-3 versus Pentax K-5 II at Base ISO

Pentax K-3 at ISO 100
Pentax K-5 II at ISO 100

The K-3 has 8 more megapixels than the K-5 II and that resolving power is clearly on display here at base ISO. With color, exposure and detail looking otherwise quite similar, the K-3 appears like a K-5 II on steroids. As we've mentioned previously in many Pentax reviews, their processing tends to over-saturate our pink fabric swatch and to also render it as more magenta-colored than the fabric actually is. Other than that typical Pentax oddity, the K-3 images are very impressive. In our print quality section below, you will see that at lower ISOs this increase in resolution does translate into larger print sizes.


Pentax K-3 versus Canon 70D at Base ISO

Pentax K-3 at ISO 100
Canon 70D at ISO 100

The K-3 with its roughly 4 more megapixels than the 70D certainly outperforms it for fine detail, most notably in the mosaic tile crop where the difference is actually striking. The K-3 also does a terrific job with our difficult red fabric swatch here, while the 70D struggles a bit with rendering finer details in it.


Pentax K-3 versus Nikon D7100 at Base ISO

Pentax K-3 at ISO 100
Nikon D7100 at ISO 100

Nikons in general tend to do a great job with our red fabric swatch, as is evident here, and the D7100 is one of two other cameras in this comparison with roughly the same resolution at 24MP (the A77 being the second). The two here both do a great job with the bottle crop, and yet the K-3 clearly outshines the D7100 for crisper detail in the mosaic tiles.


Pentax K-3 versus Olympus E-M1 at Base ISO

Pentax K-3 at ISO 100
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 200

The E-M1 has the distinction in these comparisons of being the only camera with a Four Thirds size sensor, and also the only model with a base ISO of 200. The K-3 is clearly superior for fine detail in most areas, and yet the E-M1 with roughly 8MP less resolution still stands up fairly well overall, with nice sharp imagery in most areas except the red-leaf fabric. (Note that the E-M1 does much better at its extended ISO 100 setting.)


Pentax K-3 versus Sony A77 at Base ISO

Pentax K-3 at ISO 100
Sony A77 at ISO 100

With virtually identical 24MP resolution, the mosaic tile and pink fabric areas again draw our attention here, as the K-3 is superior in rendering fine detail in both areas. Note that these JPEGs are at default settings, and your own conclusions when shooting in RAW mode and doing your own processing may vary dramatically.

 

Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Pentax K-3 versus Pentax K-5 II at ISO 1600

Pentax K-3 at ISO 1600
Pentax K-5 II at ISO 1600

This is a tricky comparison because of the K-3's increased resolution, but keep in mind we're in effect looking at a much larger image. Other than the resolution difference, these two cameras seem to handle ISO 1600 about the same, with typical noise in the flatter shadows and the loss of almost all contrast and detail in our red-leaf fabric swatch.


Pentax K-3 versus Canon 70D at ISO 1600

Pentax K-3 at ISO 1600
Canon 70D at ISO 1600

The 70D is a bit more aggressive here at default JPEG sharpening and is able to squeeze some detail and contrast out of the red fabric swatch, but it comes at the expense of higher noise in the bottle crop and more splotchiness in the mosaic tiles.


Pentax K-3 versus Nikon D7100 at ISO 1600

Pentax K-3 at ISO 1600
Nikon D7100 at ISO 1600

Even more than the 70D, the D7100 brings out an amazing amount of detail in the red fabric swatch for this ISO, but has more apparent noise in the bottle crop, less detail in the mosaic tiles and lower contrast in the pink fabric swatch than does the K-3.


Pentax K-3 versus Olympus E-M1 at ISO 1600

Pentax K-3 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 1600

The E-M1 is also rather aggressive here at default settings with sharpening, and the results show in the artifacts in the bottle, and splotchiness in the mosaic tiles and pink fabric swatch. It is however able to render at least a little detail in the red fabric swatch.


Pentax K-3 versus Sony A77 at ISO 1600

Pentax K-3 at ISO 1600
Sony A77 at ISO 1600

Another story similar to most of the rest, with the A77 showing some decent detail in the red fabric but suffering from more processing artifacts in most other areas.



Today's ISO 3200 is yesterday's ISO 1600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3200.

Pentax K-3 versus Pentax K-5 II at ISO 3200

Pentax K-3 at ISO 3200
Pentax K-5 II at ISO 3200

Noise processing artifacts from the K-3 bottle crop almost jump off the page here. Again, the K-3's sizeable bump in resolution is evident as compared to the K-5 II, but the latter does surprisingly well with better crispness and less splotchiness in the mosaic tiles. Both cameras really struggle to produce any detail in the read-leaf swatch.


Pentax K-3 versus Canon 70D at ISO 3200

Pentax K-3 at ISO 3200
Canon 70D at ISO 3200

The playing field has leveled somewhat here as compared to ISO 1600, with trade-offs for each camera in different areas. The K-3 has better detail in the mosaic tiles and pink fabric, and of course none at all in the red fabric and higher noise in the bottle crop.


Pentax K-3 versus Nikon D7100 at ISO 3200

Pentax K-3 at ISO 3200
Nikon D7100 at ISO 3200

Similar yet again to the 70D, the D7100 is also able to render more detail in the red fabric and a little less in the mosaic tile crop and pink fabric swatch. Both cameras handle the bottle crop about the same, though the Nikon leaves behind more noise.


Pentax K-3 versus Olympus E-M1 at ISO 3200

Pentax K-3 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 3200

The E-M1's processing algorithms here at default settings produce generally smoother images overall, but at the obvious expense of a watercolor type effect in the bottle and mosaic tile. Here at ISO 3200 that may not be such a bad thing as long as your prints or onscreen images remain below a certain size threshold, as no camera is perfect at 3200.


Pentax K-3 versus Sony A77 at ISO 3200

Pentax K-3 at ISO 3200
Sony A77 at ISO 3200

Similar to the 70D and D7100, the A77 is able to find more detail in the red fabric but provides a lot less in the mosaic tile and pink fabric swatch.

 

Detail: Pentax K-3 vs. Pentax K-5 II, Canon 70D, Nikon D7100, Olympus E-M1 and Sony A77

Pentax
K-3

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Pentax
K-5 II

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Canon
70D

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon
D7100

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Olympus
E-M1

ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

Sony
A77

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

Detail comparison. For fine, high-contrast detail, these letters allow us to really "read between the lines" so to speak. The K-3, 70D and E-M1 all look quite good at base ISO, with very crisp imagery. By ISO 3200 the E-M1 leads the pack for sharpness but is starting to show some artifacts as well, with the 70D coming in second. And by ISO 6400 the story is similar, with the E-M1 by far the sharpest image but showing some blotchiness in a few areas as a side-effect. The 70D is perhaps the best overall for rendering detail without artifacts, while the K-3 here at higher ISOs comes in somewhere in the middle, but certainly besting the K-5 II and the A77.

Pentax K-3 Print Quality

Excellent 30 x 40 inch prints at ISOs 100 and 200; a nice 11 x 14 at ISO 1600; a good 4 x 6 at ISO 12,800.

ISO 100/200 prints are terrific at 30 x 40 inches, with rich colors and super sharp detail. Wall display prints are possible at 36 x 48 inches. Note that most Pentax cameras oversaturate our pink fabric swatch and also render it as more magenta than it actually is, and the K-3 is no exception to this one common oddity from the Pentax line.

ISO 400 produces a nice 24 x 36 inch print, which is a size larger than most APS-C-sensored cameras are capable of printing. It performs especially well here in our difficult red fabric swatch, where many a good camera already begins to show signs of ISO strain.

ISO 800 is where the K-3 starts to look more like the K-5 II and IIs. 20 x 30s start to show typical noise in flatter areas of our target, and lose some detail and contrast in our red fabric swatch, both of which are quite common. We can give the 16 x 20s at this ISO our "good" stamp of approval.

ISO 1600 produces similar results to its predecessors, allowing for good 11 x 14s but losing all detail in our red fabric swatch. Otherwise, though, the prints are nice and crisp.

ISO 3200 yields good 8 x 10 inch prints, with only a mild trace of noise in shadowy areas of our target.

ISO 6400 prints look good at 5 x 7, and identical to the K-5 II and IIs. We'd hoped for a good 8 x 10 here, which is a high mark for ISO 6400, but the K-3 didn't quite make the grade due to noise levels.

ISO 12,800 prints a good 4 x 6, with mild noise in shadows but still retaining good overall color.

ISOs 25,600 and 51,200 do not yield good prints and are best avoided.

Stepping up to a 24MP sensor, the Pentax K-3 sets a much higher resolution benchmark than the K-5 II and IIs at 16MP, and the results show in the print quality department at ISOs 100-400, allowing a full print size higher at each setting. The results from ISO 800 and up however tell a different story, as there is virtually no discernible difference in print quality between the K-3 and its lower-resolution siblings. So if you are considering the K-3 and will be making sizable prints from the fruits of your labors, it will be at the lower ISOs that you will see the biggest difference in image quality as compared to the K-5 II and IIs.

Pentax K-3



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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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