Pentax K-3 II Review
|Full model name:||Pentax K-3 II|
(23.5mm x 15.6mm)
|Viewfinder:||Optical / LCD|
|Native ISO:||100 - 51,200|
|Extended ISO:||100 - 51,200|
|Shutter:||1/8000 - 30 sec|
5.2 x 4.0 x 3.1 in.
(132 x 102 x 77 mm)
|Full specs:||Pentax K-3 II specifications|
K-3 II Summary
The Pentax K-3 II keeps almost everything we loved from the superb K-3, then replaces the popup flash with an in-camera GPS -- not just for automatic geotagging, but also for freezing star-trails in astrophotography. As if that wasn't cool enough, its Pixel Shift Resolution tech takes detail to the next level for razor-sharp photos. But what are the drawbacks, and should you buy this camera or the original K-3? Find out now in our in-depth Pentax K-3 II review!Pros
Top-notch image quality; Spectacular detail from Pixel Shift Resolution; Better performance than K-3; Geotag images with no accessories; Great ergonomics in a compact body; Clever on-demand low-pass filtering; Broad sensitivity range; Large and bright viewfinder for an APS-C camera; Dual card slotsCons
No built-in flash strobe; No wireless flash support out of the box; AstroTracer function can be finicky; AE Lock button is poorly located; Below-average battery life for a prosumer DSLR; Requires a different battery grip accessory than its predecessorsPrice and availability
Available from May 2015, the Pentax K-3 II was originally priced at US$1,100 in the US market, a handy 15% below list-pricing for the original K-3 at launch. As of this writing (May 2016), that has now reduced still further to just US$850. Given its enthusiast-oriented feature set, and the fact that many prospective owners will already have a selection of Pentax K-mount glass, the K-3 II is only sold body-only in this market.Imaging Resource rating
4.5 out of 5.0
Pentax K-3 II Review
by Mike Tomkins
Preview posted 04/22/2015
04/30/15: Technical Info added
04/18/15: First Shots and in-depth Pixel Shift Resolution analysis added
07/20/15: Field Test Part I posted
12/17/15: Image Quality Comparison posted
04/27/16: Field Test Part II posted
05/02/16: Print Quality Analysis posted
05/10/16: Conclusion posted.
When we reviewed the 24-megapixel Pentax K-3 DSLR in early 2014, we found it to be an extremely worthy upgrade to one of our favorite enthusiast camera lines, its surprisingly compact weather-sealed body being absolutely packed to the gills with clever tech. In fact, it scored not one but two mentions in our 2013 Camera of the Year awards, notching up an Award of Distinction for New Technology of the Year, and a Camera of Distinction mention in the Enthusiast DSLR category. And frankly, had it been launched in 2014, it would likely have placed well in our 2014 awards, too!
Now, the company follows up with the Pentax K-3 II, a mid-term update with some very important improvements. (Its launch mirrors the strategy used for the earlier Pentax K-5, which likewise had a mid-term update to the K-5 II.) The K-3 II retains the same weather-sealed, magnesium-alloy body as the K-3, complete with the same great ergonomics and accessory grip compatibility. It also sports the same APS-C sized, 24.35-megapixel CMOS image sensor, PRIME III-branded image processor, sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 51,200 equivalents, and manufacturer-claimed burst performance of 8.3 frames per second. Also retained are its bright, clear 100% pentaprism viewfinder, maximum shutter speed of 1/8,000 second, 27-point autofocus sensor, 86,000 pixel metering system, and dual card slots with support for the peculiarly-named (but rather handy) Wi-Fi capable Pentax FluCard accessory.
So what's new in the K-3 II? The most obvious difference between the Pentax K-3 II and its predecessor externally is a taller viewfinder hump. It gives the new camera a look somewhat reminiscent of that in the Pentax K-1, although the hump in this new APS-C sensored camera still has more of a flat top than that of its even newer full-frame sibling.
The change hints at perhaps the biggest feature difference between the K-3 II and the earlier K-3: This model no longer features a built-in, popup flash strobe, replacing it instead with a built-in GPS receiver that offers geolocation and track log functionality. Essentially, what Pentax has done is to build its external O-GPS1 GPS Unit into the camera itself, and in concert with a new in-camera electronic compass and the camera's orientation sensors, it's used to provide the same AstroTracer function that was a highlight of the external accessory.
Not familiar with AstroTracer? As the name would suggest, it's aimed at astrophotographers. Ordinarily, even a relatively short exposure of the night sky will create noticeable trails as stars move across the sky, but comparatively much longer exposures are needed to bring out features of the night sky that aren't visible to the naked eye. This can be fixed using an expensive, bulky mount which pans the camera's view to keep up with the stars, but the same effect can be achieved in-camera using the Pentax K-3 II's Shake Reduction system.
With its knowledge of camera position and location, and by moving the platter on which the image sensor is mounted, the K-3 Mark II can prevent star trails from forming. That frees you up to create longer exposures without any expensive extra gear beyond your tripod -- not even the O-GPS1 unit which allowed earlier Pentax DSLR and mirrorless cameras to perform the same trick. Of course, you're still limited by the available travel for the image sensor platter, and the maximum exposure time available to you will depend on the focal length of the lens you're using, but it's a completely unique feature for the Pentax brand, and one that can now be achieved without buying any additional accessories.
The downside of the change, of course, is that the Pentax K3 II now has no way to throw a little extra light on your subjects without using an external strobe. For some photographers, built-in strobes are seen as a consumer-grade feature that introduces an unnecessary potential for failure, so doubtless some of you are rubbing your hands together with glee at the strobe's removal. For those who saw the built-in strobe as an always-available safety net for when you left your strobe at home, though, the Pentax K-3 may actually have one up on its successor in this area.
Pentax K-3 II shooters will need to rely on the camera's admittedly high maximum sensitivity of ISO 51,200 equivalent or a bulky external strobe to help freeze the action and prevent blur from camera shake in low-light conditions.
Perhaps more importantly, you also can't control a remote strobe from the camera body any more, because Pentax relies on a system of pre-flashes to synchronize and communicate between strobes. You can still mount an external strobe on the K-3 II and use it to control remote strobes, of course, but that means you'll need one more external strobe than was the case in the past.
There is one other change that will somewhat offset the lack of a flash strobe when camera shake rears its head, incidentally, although there's nothing it can do to help freeze moving subjects. Compared to its predecessor, the Pentax K-3 Mark II boasts an improved image stabilization system that Ricoh says will now provide a 4.5 stop correction, up from 3.5 stops in the K-3. Both of these figures are to CIPA testing standards, and are measured with the HD PENTAX DA 16-85mm f3.5-5.6 ED DC WR mounted.
Ricoh says that the improvement in stabilization performance comes thanks to a new high-precision gyro sensor. And of course, just as in the earlier cameras, the use of an in-body system also means that you get stabilization with all of your lenses, and don't have to pay extra for each stabilized lens you buy.
At the same time as improving the efficacy of the stabilization system, Ricoh has also made another change which should mean that you get better results when shooting moving subjects: The Pentax K-3 II's Shake Reduction system can now detect and account for panning motion, stabilizing your motion on all but the axis of the panning motion.
Another change which should prove of benefit to sports shooters is a claimed improvement in the Pentax K-3 II's continuous autofocus tracking performance. It's an area in which the company has a perceived deficit to some of its rivals, and according to the company, that shortcoming has been addressed with a new high-speed autofocus algorithm.
And finally, the Pentax K-3 II debuts the company's new Pixel Shift Resolution System, which we discussed recently on our news page, after getting an introduction to the tech at the CP+ 2015 tradeshow in Japan. The system works not unlike that in Olympus' OM-D E-M5 II, but with some important differences.
|Pentax K-3 II's Pixel Shift Resolution System captures four images with slightly different sensor positions, and combines them into a single shot with full color information at every pixel location.|
Much like Olympus, Ricoh is using the image stabilization system to precisely shift the image sensor and capture multiple shots which are then merged into a single exposure. Where Olympus is performing sub-pixel shifts and using eight images to create a much higher-resolution output image than the individual source images provided by the sensor, though, Pentax is shifting by an entire pixel, producing just four exposures and outputting the merged image at the same resolution as is provided for a single exposure.
The result is an image which has full color information at every pixel location -- and thus improved resolution and a greater resistance to false color artifacts -- but only a relatively modest increase in file size. As an added bonus, images shot in the Pixel Shift Resolution mode also have a cleaner, tighter noise pattern. The reasons for this are twofold. First, since multiple exposures are involved, noise can be averaged out across those exposures. Secondly, in a Bayer-filtered sensor, two out of three colors at each pixel location must be interpolated (read: guessed) from the values of surrounding pixels. When that happens, noise from adjacent pixels is likewise spread across their neighbors, resulting in a less film-like and blotchier, more objectionable noise pattern. With full color information at each pixel, a Pixel Shift Resolution shot's high ISO grain pattern is finer, and easier to clean up post-capture, too.
Of course, the Pentax K3 II can only provide these Pixel Shift Resolution advantages for completely static subjects, just like other cameras which use sensor shift to negate the effects of a Bayer filter across multiple exposures. If you're shooting in a studio, though, or perhaps landscapes on a wind-free day, the ability to increase your image quality significantly should prove very useful.
In other respects, the Pentax K-3 II is very similar to the existing K-3, sharing basically the same imaging pipeline and most of the same feature-set. That being the case, as well as our full review of the K-3 II, we'd suggest reading over our existing, in-depth Pentax K-3 review if you're considering a K-3 II purchase.
Pentax K-3 II Field Test Part I
The best argument yet for shooting raw?
Ever since I completed my Pentax K-3 review in late 2013, I've been planning to buy that camera as well. I hadn't yet gotten around to it, though, mostly because I promised myself that I'd sell at least one of the earlier cameras before I bought another. Now, I'm considering making the leap to the Pentax K-3 II instead, as it possibly fits my desires even better than did its sibling.
The K-3 II marks the second time the series has seen a II release, and indicates a less-significant upgrade. The last time it happened was the K-5 II, a camera I praised but didn't personally buy as it was so similar to my K-5. Only relatively few changes in the K-3 II, but they're all ones which have appeal for me -- improved autofocus tracking and image stabilization, built-in GPS with AstroTracer function, and most of all, the brand-new Pixel Shift Resolution mode.
Pentax K-3 II Field Test Part II
Rounding out our head-to-head of the enthusiast flagship twins
As you could probably tell from that field test, I really enjoyed shooting with the K-3 II, much as I had with its excellent (and closely-related) sibling, the original Pentax K-3. Both cameras share most of their internals, with the main difference being the lack of a built-in flash in the K-3 II, a change made to allow the addition of the built-in GPS receiver and compass. There's also a uprated image stabilization system, a boost in continuous autofocus tracking performance, and of course both the aforementioned Pixel Shift Resolution and star trail-neutralizing AstroTracer functions.
My original intention was to follow up with my second field test in short order, but several factors -- some editorial, some personal -- conspired to delay this second field test. (My sincere apologies to those of you who've been waiting!) Thankfully, your wait is finally at its end.
Pentax K-3 II Technical Info
It looks mighty similar to the K-3, but a lot has changed under the skin
Like the K-3 before it, the Pentax K-3 II doesn't include an optical low-pass filter. It does, however, feature an on-demand mechanical antialiasing function. More on that in a moment. (Or read Dave Etchells' "Geek's Guide to On-Demand Low-Pass Filtering" from our Pentax K-3 review for the full story; the feature is unchanged from that camera.)
Processor. Also retained unchanged from the Pentax K-3 is Ricoh's PRIME III image processor. (That's a contraction of "Pentax Real IMage Engine", if you're curious.)
What's new inside Ricoh's new flagship APS-C DSLR? Click the link and find out!
Pentax K-3 II Walkaround
A tour of the new flagship's subtly-tweaked body
It's also surprisingly compact for a weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body, especially one for a camera so feature-rich as the K3 II. With dimensions of just 5.2 x 4.0 x 3.1 inches, it's actually just a touch smaller than consumer DSLRs like the Canon Rebel T6s / T6i. It has grown a scant 0.1 inch from the K-3 due to the new pentaprism, though.
It's quite a bit smaller than the Nikon D7200 and Canon EOS 70D, which are probably its nearest competitors. (The D7200 is 0.2 inches wider, 0.2 inches taller, and 0.1 inches less deep; the 70D is 0.3 inches wider, 0.1 inches taller, and precisely the same thickness.)
Exploring the K-3 II's "Pixel Shift Resolution" mode
More resolution from multiple shots, but how much more?
There are some important differences in the way the two technologies work, but both share the same key limitation: They only work with static subjects, and with the camera mounted on a tripod. If you're able to live with that fact, though, they promise even greater resolution than can be derived from a single shot, thanks to the Bayer filter that overlies the image sensor on almost every color-capable camera. And if that's not enough for you, they can also reduce the incidence of moiré and false color, not to mention improving noise levels and grain size.
Want to know how Pixel Shift Resolution works its magic, and see how it performs against full-frame and even medium-format cameras?
Pentax K-3 II Image Quality Comparison
See how single-shot image quality compares to several competitors
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 Print Quality
See our maximum print size recommendations
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.
Pentax K-3 II Conclusion
It's time to decide: Which of Ricoh's flagship APS-C cameras should you buy?
From the outset of my Pentax K-3 II review I've known that I was going to enjoy shooting with it, because in essence it's the exact same camera, albeit with some functional changes in a few areas of the design. The image pipeline was essentially unchanged, though, and so too was the majority of its body design.
The Pentax K-3 II is the same great camera, but now with a GPS instead of a popup flash
So I knew the K-3 II would most likely offer great single-shot image quality, excellent performance, and great handling, just as did its closely-related sibling. Of course, I tried everything again regardless, shooting in all manner of real-world environments and closely examining the results to be sure all was well -- and it was.
In the Box
The Pentax K-3 II retail box ships with the following items:
- Pentax K-3 II camera body
- Body cap
- D-LI90 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack
- K-BC90U battery charger kit
- Hot shoe cover FK
- Eyepiece cup FS
- Shoulder strap O-ST132
- Finder cap ME
- Focusing screen MF-60 Frame Matte (installed in viewfinder)
- PC socket cap
- Instruction manual
- Software CD-ROM S-SW160 with Digital Camera Utility 5 software (based on Silkypix)
- Extra D-LI90 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack for extended outings
- D-BG5 battery grip (if you want portrait-orientation controls, and extended battery life with a second pack)
- Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory cards. Given the high resolution and large file sizes of the K-3 II, 32GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. If you plan to capture HD movie clips, shoot image bursts, or shoot in RAW format, look for cards with UHS-I markings. And remember there are two card slots, for double the storage.
- O-FC1 Flucard for Pentax (Wi-Fi capable SD card with remote control functionality)
- External shoe mount flash / video light (AF540FGZ II, AF540FGZ, AF360FGZ II, AF360FGZ) or other accessory flash
- K-AC132 power supply kit with DC coupler
- External stereo microphone
- O-RC1 or F remote controls
- CS-205 cable switch
- ML-60, MI-60 or ME-60 focusing screens
- O-ME53 magnifier eyecup
- Medium to large camera bag