Pentax K-3 II Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing Pentax K-3 II image quality to its predecessor, the K-3, as well as against several enthusiast interchangeable lens cameras at similar price points or in similar categories: the Canon 70D, Nikon D7200, Olympus E-M5 II and Sony A77 II.

NOTE: These images are from 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. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera. For those interested in working with the RAW files involved, click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page: Pentax K-3 II, Pentax K-3, Canon 70D, Nikon D7200, Olympus E-M5 II and Sony A77 II -- links to the RAW files appear beneath those for the JPEG images, wherever we have them. And remember, you can always go to our world-renowned Comparometer to compare the Pentax K-3 II to any camera we've ever tested!

Pentax K-3 II vs Pentax K-3 at Base ISO

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

Given that the Pentax K-3 II and its predecessor share the same 24-megapixel APS-C sensor and PRIME III-branded image processor, it's no surprise they produce virtually identical image quality (at least when the K-3 II's Pixel Shift Resolution mode isn't employed. ;-)

Pentax K-3 II vs Canon 70D at Base ISO

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

At base ISO, the Pentax K-3 II is able to out-resolve the 18-megapixel Canon 70D, and it also produces a crisper, more vibrant image, though both generate some fairly obvious sharpening halos around high-contrast edges. The Canon does however produce more accurate colors in general, and especially in the pink fabric which is too magenta from the Pentax.

Pentax K-3 II vs Nikon D7200 at Base ISO

Pentax K-3 II at ISO 100
Nikon D7200 at ISO 100

Both these 24-megapixel APS-C DSLRs produce very similar levels of detail with low noise levels at base ISO, though the K-3 II actually does a bit better with fine detail in our tricky red-leaf swatch. While colors are a bit more vibrant from the Pentax, the Nikon produces more accurate colors particularly in the pink swatch.

Pentax K-3 II vs Olympus E-M5 II at Base ISO

Pentax K-3 II at ISO 100
Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 200

The Pentax K-3 II is able to resolve slightly more detail than the 16-megapixel Olympus E-M5 II, but not as much as the megapixel numbers would imply (this is partly because of the different aspect ratios of the two sensors). The Olympus image is actually a bit cleaner, but you can tell the camera is working harder to suppress noise. The Pentax reproduces more detail in our difficult red-leaf swatch but the Olympus does better in our pink fabric and produces more pleasing colors in general..

Pentax K-3 II vs Sony A77 II at Base ISO

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

Both of these 24-megapixel APS-C models produce very similar levels of detail in most areas at base ISO, but the Sony's image is a touch crisper, yet its sharpening algorithm doesn't produce obvious halos around high-contrast edges as seen from the Pentax. The Sony also does better in the fabrics, however the Pentax does begin to resolve the fine thread pattern in the red-leaf fabric while the Sony does not.

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

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

As expected, very little difference from the two closely-related Pentax DSLRs here at ISO 1600, with virtually identical image quality. Both really struggle to produce any fine detail in our red-leaf fabric and both reproduce our pink fabric as too magenta, but the newer K-3 II does just slightly less so.

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

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

The K-3 II still edges out the 70D in terms of resolving power in most areas at ISO 1600, yet its image is slightly cleaner with fewer sharpening artifacts. The Canon however does much better in the red-leaf fabric and continues to produce more accurate colors.

Pentax K-3 II vs Nikon D7200 at ISO 1600

Pentax K-3 II at ISO 1600
Nikon D7200 at ISO 1600

Although resolving power and noise levels are quite similar from these two competitors at ISO 1600, the Nikon D7200 produces a slightly crisper image with a more fine-grained and consistent noise pattern, though sharpening halos are more apparent. This time, it's the Nikon that does better in our tricky red-leaf pattern and it continues to produce better colors.

Pentax K-3 II vs Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 1600

Pentax K-3 II at ISO 1600
Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 1600

The Olympus E-M5 II continues to work hard to produce a cleaner, slightly crisper image here at ISO 1600, but there are more noise reduction and sharpening artifacts. The K-3 II is still able to out-resolve the E-M5 II in most areas but the Olympus is able to render at least some detail in our red-leaf fabric.

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

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

While the A77 II's image is a little cleaner than the K-3 II's, it's quite a bit softer with more noticeable noise reduction artifacts. The Sony does better in both the red-leaf and pink fabrics, though.

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

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

Once again, very little difference between the K-3 II and its predecessor here at ISO 3200.

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

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

Noise is a little lower and more refined-looking from the 70D, but the K-3 II clearly delivers much better detail in our mosaic crop. The Canon however does much better in our red-leaf fabric and again delivers more accurate colors overall.

Pentax K-3 II vs Nikon D7200 at ISO 3200

Pentax K-3 II at ISO 3200
Nikon D7200 at ISO 3200

Both these cameras deliver good detail at ISO 3200, however the Nikon's image is crisper, with higher contrast and a more film-like noise grain as well. The D7200 also does a bit better in our troublesome red-leaf swatch, and again, delivers better colors, but the K-3 II's rendering of the mosaic crop looks a bit more natural with fewer processing artifacts.

Pentax K-3 II vs Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 3200

Pentax K-3 II at ISO 3200
Olympus E-M5 II at ISO 3200

Similar to what we saw at ISO 1600, the E-M5 II manages to produce a cleaner, crisper image with better color at ISO 3200, but fine details suffer from strong noise reduction and sharpening artifacts, giving them an almost painted look in comparison. The Olympus does manage to reproduce a slightly better pattern in our red-leaf swatch, but both really struggle with it at this sensitivity.

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

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

Continuing the trend we saw at ISO 1600, the Sony A77 II produces a cleaner image than the K-3 II at ISO 3200, however it's quite soft with an over-processed look. The red-leaf swatch shows much better "detail", however much of it is false and heavily distorted. Colors are generally better from the Sony, though.

Pentax K-3 II vs. Pentax K-3, Canon 70D, Nikon D7200, Olympus E-M5 II, Sony A77 II

K-3 II
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
A77 II
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. High-contrast detail is also important, pushing the camera in different ways, so we like to look at it, too. Here, all these cameras do well at base ISO, delivering very good detail and contrast, though the D7200 shows more obvious sharpening halos than the rest. The Pentax K-3 II and K-3 do exhibit a drop in contrast and detail as ISO rises, as do the Canon 70D and Sony A77 II, but it's not too bad even at ISO 6400. The Nikon shows the least loss of detail at ISO 6400 while the Olympus shows the least loss of contrast and sharpness.


Pentax K-3 II Print Quality Analysis

Very nice 30 x 40 inch prints up to ISO 200; a good 11 x 14 inch print at ISO 3200; a usable 4 x 6 at ISO 12,800.

ISO 100 and 200 prints look practically indistinguishable from one another, and therefore both ISOs print very nicely up to 30 x 40 inches. Thanks to its 24-megapixel sensor and lack of an optical low-pass filter, the prints here looks fantastic with tons of crisp detail. You're really only limited in print size by how much you're willing to push the sensor's resolving power. Colors are also very vibrant, though we do see a noticeable shift towards magenta in our pink fabric swatch, which we've found is typical of Pentax cameras.

ISO 400 images look very similar, but with just a subtle hint of shadow noise compared to the lower ISOs. There's still a lot of sharp, fine detail, and we're comfortable calling it at 24 x 36 inches here, though we'd be okay with 30 x 40 inches for wall display or for less critical applications.

ISO 800 prints top out at 16 x 20 inches, as noise is surprisingly evident at larger print sizes. Here, 16 x 20 inch prints look the best at this sensitivity with lots of detail and well-controlled noise. A 20 x 30 inch print might be usable for less critical applications, however, as noise isn't too egregious at this size.

ISO 1600 images show a further decrease in fine detail, though detail loss is mainly in areas of lower contrast, such as our tricky red-leaf fabric. Noise is otherwise okay when limiting prints to 13 x 19 inches.

ISO 3200 prints show quite a bit of noise, to our eyes, which limits usable prints to 11 x 14 inches. Here, fine detail is decent, especially in higher contrast areas. An 8 x 10 inch print looks even better, but we're okay going a size larger.

ISO 6400 images top-out at 5 x 7 inch prints as noise has become quite problematic, impacting print quality at larger sizes. Despite the noise, colors still look vibrant.

ISO 12,800 prints just squeak by at 4 x 6 inches. Softness due to noise is certainly an issue, and printing any larger is not advisable.

ISO 25,600/51,200 images are too soft and noisy for our liking and should be avoided for prints.

The 24-megapixel Pentax K-3 II does rather well in our print quality testing, especially at lower ISOs. The camera manages to impress with large, highly detailed prints all the way up to 30 x 40 inches at ISO 100/200 -- or really however large you want to push the sensor. At mid-range ISOs, the K-3 II manages to keep noise in-check for the most part, offering a nice 13 x 19 inch print at ISO 1600 and an 11 x 14 at ISO 3200. At the top end of the ISO scale, noise becomes more of an issue and impacts print sizes noticeably. The K-3 II manages a decent 5 x 7 inch print at ISO 6400 and a usable 4 x 6 at ISO 12,800, but we'd recommend avoiding ISO 25,600-51,200 for prints, as noise and the loss of detail are quite apparent.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)


Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate