Basic Specifications
Full model name: Pentax K-3 III
Resolution: 25.73 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
(23.3mm x 15.5mm)
Kit Lens: n/a
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
Native ISO: 100 - 1,600,000
Extended ISO: 100 - 1,600,000
Shutter: 1/8000 - 30 sec
Dimensions: 5.3 x 4.1 x 2.9 in.
(135 x 104 x 74 mm)
Weight: 28.9 oz (820 g)
includes batteries
Availability: 04/2021
Manufacturer: Pentax
Full specs: Pentax K-3 III specifications
25.73
Megapixels
Pentax K (KA/KAF/KAF2/3/4) APS-C
size sensor
image of Pentax K-3 III
Front side of Pentax K-3 III digital camera Front side of Pentax K-3 III digital camera Front side of Pentax K-3 III digital camera Front side of Pentax K-3 III digital camera Front side of Pentax K-3 III digital camera

Pentax K-3 Mark III Review -- Now Shooting

by William Brawley and Jeremy Gray
Originally posted: 03/30/2021

Updates:
06/22/2021: Field Test & Gallery Images added


Pentax K-3 III Field Test

Many improvements, but is it too little, too late?

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 06/22/2021

HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 ED PLM WR RE lens at 135mm (203mm equiv.), f/4.5, 1/40s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

It has been a long time since I've gone hands-on with a new DSLR camera. I still use DSLR cameras regularly for my work; my Nikon D500 is my go-to choice for wildlife photography. But it's been a long time since I've reviewed a DSLR.

The last few years have been all about mirrorless cameras. In the full-frame sphere, Sony has been at it with its Alpha cameras for many years. Canon, Nikon and Panasonic have gotten in on the action in recent years and seem fully committed to their new mirrorless systems. Fujifilm has carved out a great segment for itself with its X Series cameras in the APS-C category, which is much less crowded.

HD Pentax-DA 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 ED DC WR lens at 39mm (59mm equiv.), f/6.3, 6s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Pentax, which has had a somewhat rocky and quiet go of it in the last few years, has stayed out of the mirrorless fray. Ricoh, Pentax's parent company, has doubled down on DSLR cameras. Well, 'doubled down' is probably not the right phrase, as new cameras have been few and far between.

Finally, Pentax's flagship APS-C camera series, the K-3, has a new entry in the form of the K-3 Mark III. The camera has been teased for months, and Pentax has gone so far as to publish some amazing deep-dive articles about its development leading up to its release this spring. It's evident that a lot of attention has been given to the K-3 III, and Pentax's team of engineers and designers have worked hard to make it a great APS-C camera.

SMC Pentax-DA* 200mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM lens at 200mm (300mm equiv.), f/3.5, 1/500s, ISO 200.
Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

To that end, I think that they've hit the mark in some ways and missed it in other, perhaps more critical, ways. If you're going to make a new DSLR in 2021, there's a difficult decision to make. Do you do everything in your power to try to compete with mirrorless cameras in every aspect? Or, and this I think is the better choice, do you instead dial in on the relative strengths of DSLR cameras and ensure that the final product offers substantial physical controls, robust build quality and an enjoyable – and familiar – user experience? I believe Pentax mostly went the latter route, much to benefit the K-3 III's design. However, I think that it might just be the case that there's not a lot of room for a new DSLR camera in 2021, after all.

HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 ED PLM WR RE lens at 300mm (450mm equiv.), f/11, 1/13s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Pentax K-3 III Key Features and Specs

  • APS-C DSLR
  • 25.7MP backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor
  • New PRIME V image processor with new Accelerator Unit II with increased signal-to-noise ratio
  • Native ISO range is 100 to 1,600,000
  • SAFOX 13 autofocus system with 101 AF points and improved AF-C subject tracking
  • Pentax SR (Shake Reduction) system, 5-axis image stabilization promising up to 5.5 stops of shake reduction
  • 12fps continuous shooting
  • 3.2" non-tilting touchscreen
  • Optical viewfinder with 1.05x magnification
  • 4K UHD recording up to 30p
  • Fully weather-sealed
HD Pentax-DA 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 ED DC WR lens at 68mm (102mm equiv.), f/6.3, 6s, ISO 320.
Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Design and handling: The Pentax K-3 III is robust and comfortable to use

While DSLRs have primarily given way to their mirrorless counterparts, there's something to be said for the traditionally chunky, rugged form factor of a good DSLR camera. While there are mirrorless cameras with large grips and heavy-duty designs, of course, very few of them feel quite as substantial in the hands as the new Pentax K-3 III. It's a rugged, well-built camera.

The Pentax K-3 III employs a traditional DSLR design, complete with large pentaprism viewfinder and chunky front grip.

The K-3 III is a weather-sealed camera, protected against dust, moisture and freezing temperatures. The camera's front, back, top and bottom panels are constructed of sturdy, lightweight magnesium alloy. While the camera is tough and feels very solid, it doesn't feel overly heavy. With its battery and an SD card inserted, the K-3 III weighs 820 grams (1.8 lbs). It's not a featherweight camera, but it's a bit lighter than the Nikon D500, which weighs 860g (1.89 lbs.). Of course, compared to a mirrorless APS-C camera like the Fujifilm X-T4, the K-3 III is considerably heavier (820g versus 526g).

The K-3 III is not a particularly large, nor compact, APS-C DSLR.

An area where the K-3 III excels is its design and comfort. The front grip, which has a recessed area for your fingers, feels excellent. The front command dial has a grippy surface and rotates with satisfying clicks. Although a larger camera body means you need more space in your bag than you would for a mirrorless APS-C camera, it also means there's a lot more space for buttons and controls on the K-3 III. This camera has so many controls, and they're almost all located in convenient locations. Plus, the camera's controls are very customizable.

The K-3 III has many buttons and controls. The back of the camera has a great control layout, although the touchscreen being fixed, rather than tilting, is unfortunate.

On the back of the camera are function buttons (which double as directional buttons), a dedicated autofocus joystick, a rear command dial, AF button and much more. The top of the camera has another dial, the Smart Function dial. This can be used to quickly access a wide variety of the camera's most important settings and functions. And it, too, can be customized. There's also a Smart Function button on the top of the camera, plus direct access to exposure compensation, ISO, stills/video modes, and a jam-packed mode dial. The shutter release has a great feel, too. I also like when the power switch is surrounding the shutter release, as it's a convenient location.

The top of the K-3 III is well-designed. The info display is useful and the various dials and buttons are conveniently located. The mode dial could probably do with fewer modes, honestly, but that's okay.

It's not all great news, however. It rarely is. While the rear 3.2" touchscreen is sharp and works well, it doesn't have any tilting functionality. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the many cameras with tilting or even fully articulating screens, but in any case, not having a tilting display is a knock on a camera's usability. It's convenient to be able to tilt the screen when working at low angles, so it's quite hard not to have this feature after you've become accustomed to it. I'm sure there's a good reason for the fixed display, perhaps it has to do with weather sealing, but it's nonetheless a negative aspect of the camera's design.

Back to the good news. Well, not necessarily good nor bad news, depending on who you ask. A key difference between a mirrorless camera and a DSLR concerns the viewfinder. The K-3 III, like all DSLRs, has an optical viewfinder. While I used to swear by optical viewfinders, electronic viewfinders are so good these days that it's hard to go back to an OVF. That said, the K-3 III's OVF is excellent. It is large and bright, with 1.05x magnification. It's the largest OVF on an APS-C DSLR that we know of. This advancement was achieved through a new high-refractive-index glass in the pentaprism.

Although a DSLR camera can feel a bit old-fashioned in 2021, the K-3 III's menus don't look old. This is thanks to an all-new, revamped menu system, complete with a new font. The new font may not seem too exciting, but the old font was archaic. The new menu system is relatively easy to navigate, which is quite the feat considering how many settings, features and customization options are jammed into the K-3 III. Speaking of which, you can even change the color of some information on the camera, which is a neat touch.

A general theme throughout this Field Test will be 'attention to detail.' I don't think that's evident anywhere more than with the K-3 III's camera body and design. It genuinely feels like every aspect of the camera's design and how you interact with it has been very carefully and precisely considered. I'm not sure if the K-3 III is a swan song for DSLRs (I hope not), but I'm confident in saying that it's the best example of the DSLR form factor. It's a fantastic camera to use unless you want a tilting display, that is.

Image quality: New 25.7MP image sensor delivers impressive image quality

The K-3 III has a new 25.7-megapixel APS-C backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor and, like the two K-3 predecessor, features sensor-shift image stabilization – more on that in a bit. The image sensor itself lacks an AA filter, which can lead to moiré, although it also results in a bit better fine detail. Suppose you're shooting a scene where moiré is problematic, like when photographing certain repeating patterns. In that case, the stabilized image sensor can add a very slight blur, acting as a simulated AA filter.

SMC Pentax-DA* 200mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM lens at 200mm (300mm equiv.), f/2.8, 1/640s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

At low ISO settings, the K-3 III produces good image quality. The colors are quite nice, and there's a good amount of detail. With the lenses I used alongside the K-3 III, I felt like I was limited at times by glass, but not by the image sensor itself. At its best, in ideal situations, images are crisp.

HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 ED PLM WR RE lens at 300mm (450mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 250.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

As you increase ISO, image quality remains quite good. I regularly shot at ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 to good results. The K-3 III goes all the way up to ISO 1,600,000, although that's marketing material and not a practical ISO. If you want to see what that 1.6M ISO looks like, there's a sample shot in the gallery, plus other high ISO samples. Spoiler alert: It looks terrible. Nonetheless, high ISO performance is impressive with the K-3 III.

HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 ED PLM WR RE lens at 300mm (450mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 6400.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 ED PLM WR RE lens at 300mm (450mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 6400.
100% crop of the above image. This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 ED PLM WR RE lens at 300mm (450mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 6400.
100% crop from the original unmodified JPEG image. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Thanks to our friends over at Photons to Photos, we can see that the K-3 III's new image sensor offers an impressive dynamic range. At the base ISO of 100, the dynamic range is 10.57 EV, nearly identical to the performance offered by the lower megapixel image sensor in the Nikon D500. Interestingly, the dynamic range improves at ISO 200 and even further at ISO 400, which is the opposite of what happens with the D500. What's going on here? Well, like other Pentax cameras before it, the K-3 III applies in-camera processing, including noise reduction, to its RAW image files. Processing is baked right into the files. It's a bit odd, perhaps, but the results are good, so who am I to complain?

HD Pentax-DA 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 ED DC WR lens at 39mm (59mm equiv.), f/6.3, 3s, ISO 400.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

The K-3 III's raw files are very flexible during post-processing. You can bring out considerable shadow detail and recover quite a bit from highlight areas without creating many issues with image quality. I found that I had to tweak white balance with the K-3 III a lot, so I recommend shooting RAW for easy white balance adjustments, if not versatile exposure and color adjustments.

HD Pentax-DA 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 ED DC WR lens at 68mm (102mm equiv.), f/7.1, 1.6s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Image quality is a relative strong suit of the K-3 III. Its high ISO performance is impressive, and I think that the camera holds up nicely against something like the Nikon D500. How sharp your images are will depend a bit on the quality of your lenses, though, as is always the case.

Autofocus and Performance

Autofocus

The K-3 III also comes equipped with a new autofocus system, the SAFOX 13 AF system. The new AF system includes 101 autofocus points, a significant increase over the 27 in the K-3 II. Of the 41 user-selectable autofocus points, 25 are cross-type sensors.

HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 ED PLM WR RE lens at 300mm (450mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/1000s, ISO 1600.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Compared to a mirrorless camera, a DSLR's autofocus points cover a smaller area of the overall image sensor. The cross-type sensors, in particular, cover about the middle ninth of the image area. The autofocus points, in general, cover roughly the middle horizontal third of the image area (they're not quite to the edges, but they're a bit taller than the middle third). This can be a slight issue when tracking moving subjects throughout the frame or focusing on a subject near the edges of the scene.

SMC Pentax-DA* 200mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM lens at 200mm (300mm equiv.), f/3.2, 1/1000s, ISO 200.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Autofocus performance itself is quite impressive. Continuous autofocus doesn't seem as capable as my Nikon D500, but the K-3 III does well. Autofocus isn't quite as accurate, either, although my experience with AF accuracy varied quite a bit depending on the lens I was using.

SMC Pentax-DA* 200mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM lens at 200mm (300mm equiv.), f/2.8, 1/500s, ISO 1000.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

While a DSLR won't have all the same autofocus features as similarly-priced mirrorless cameras, the K-3 III does have a neat trick up its sleeve. The camera supports eye-detect AF when shooting through the viewfinder. This distinct offering is a nice touch, although it's not supremely practical. When testing eye-detect AF, I didn't find the K-3 III to be as precise as similarly-priced mirrorless cameras with eye-detection AF features.

HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 ED PLM WR RE lens at 300mm (450mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/1000s, ISO 250.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Autofocus performance varies with lenses in more ways than just accuracy. Speed also depends a lot on the lens in use, which is not unusual. At its best, the K-3 III is a fairly swift, mostly accurate focusing camera. At its worst, not so much. But even at its best, it doesn't quite keep pace with the Nikon D500, which I think is probably the best comparison for the K-3 III at this point.

SMC Pentax-DA* 200mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM lens at 200mm (300mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 200.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Performance

The K-3 III delivers impressive performance, especially in terms of shooting speed. Using single-shot autofocus, the K-3 III can capture images at up to 12 frames per second, 4 fps faster than the K-3 II. With continuous autofocus, speed decreases slightly to 11 fps.

SMC Pentax-DA* 200mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM lens at 200mm (300mm equiv.), f/4, 1/400s, ISO 2500.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

The speed is great and certainly ample for photographing action, but the K-3 III comes up a bit short when considering buffer depths. While buffer capacity varies based upon file quality and buffer clearing speeds vary with different SD cards, the K-3 III's buffer is between 30 and 40 shots at its highest capture speed, which isn't too good. The D500 separates itself here with its CFExpress/XQD card slot. Dual SD card slots are good, but it's hard to match the speed of XQD.

In some brief testing with a couple different fast SD cards, here's how the buffer capacity and buffer clearing times stacked up when shooting in the fastest "H" burst mode (using the highest-quality JPEG setting when applicable):

  • SanDisk Extreme Pro, V30, UHS Class 3, Speed Class 10, 170MB/s
    • 33 RAW + JPEG, 20s to clear
    • 34 RAW, 15s to clear
    • 51 JPEG, 7s to clear
  • SanDisk Extreme, V30, UHS Class 3, Speed Class 10, 90MB/s
    • 34 RAW + JPEG, 24s to clear
    • 33 RAW, 18s to clear
    • 50 JPEG, 7s to clear

Before closing out the performance section, it's worth talking about the stabilization. The SR system works pretty well in terms of getting sharp shots at slower shutter speeds. However, the SR doesn't stabilize the optical viewfinder since it's sensor-shift and not optical image stabilization. The SR system also works for a pixel-shift shooting mode. This mode captures four images in succession, with the sensor having shifted by a pixel. The resulting image is still 25.7MP, but Pentax promises a bit more detail and better color.

Overall, the K-3 III is a snappy and agile camera. It can work well for short bursts of action, although it's not the ideal choice if you need to rattle off big bursts.

SMC Pentax-DA* 200mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM lens at 200mm (300mm equiv.), f/2.8, 1/640s, ISO 3200.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Video: 4K-equipped K-3 III is an okay camera for video

Video is not known as a strong suit for many DSLR cameras, which remains true for the K-3 III. With that said, the K-3 III brings some notable upgrades to the video department. The K-3 III records 4K UHD video at up to 30 frames per second, something its predecessor can't do. Full HD video recording is available at up to 60fps.

Pentax K-3 III 4K video sample #1 - 3840 x 2160 at 30 frames per second.
Download original video (119.8 MB .MOV File)

4K video quality is solid. You can use all the same color profiles for video as for stills, which is nice, and the 4K footage offers good detail across a wide ISO range. However, the camera's IBIS doesn't work well for video, and the sensor doesn't have great readout speed. A tripod is highly recommended.

Pentax K-3 III 4K video sample #2 - 3840 x 2160 at 30 frames per second.
Download original video (367.1 MB .MOV File)

The K-3 III doesn't record 4K video using the full width of the image sensor, which is disappointing. If you want the full width of the sensor, you must record 1080p video instead. Speaking of the FHD video, the quality is pretty good here, too. It's not as sharp or detailed as 4K footage, but it looks good. The FHD video is fine for many purposes, and the K-3 III does well at this resolution.

Pentax K-3 III 1080p video sample - 1920 x 1080 at 60 frames per second.
Download original video (304.9 MB .MOV File)

Autofocus performance during video is only okay. There's not any fancy subject tracking at work, and AF speeds are a bit lackluster. You can use the touchscreen (or AF joystick) to move the AF point around during video recording. The touchscreen is the way to go, as the joystick moves the AF point very slowly when recording video.

Pentax K-3 III 4K video sample #3 - 3840 x 2160 at 30 frames per second.
Download original video (202 MB .MOV File)

Low light video performance is pretty good. The 4K video below was shot at ISO 6400 and is fairly clean, especially for an APS-C camera.

Pentax K-3 III 4K video sample #4 - ISO 6400 - 3840 x 2160 at 30 frames per second.
Download original video (121.1 MB .MOV File)

Overall, the K-3 III is not designed as a video camera, nor is it quite up to the task of being a hybrid camera. With that said, if you want a stills camera that records decent video, the K-3 III is a fine option.

Shooting experience: What's it like shooting with a DSLR in 2021?

I've shot with a lot of SLR cameras over the years. There's a lot to like about them, and using a high-quality optical viewfinder remains an enjoyable experience. However, the advances made with mirrorless cameras over the last few years have been remarkable. When using the K-3 III, it's hard not to miss some of the fancy features found in mirrorless cameras, such as broad AF point coverage across the frame, subject tracking with video, live exposure and picture style previews in the viewfinder and an articulating or tilting rear display.

SMC Pentax-DA* 200mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM lens at 200mm (300mm equiv.), f/2.8, 1/800s, ISO 400.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

That said, the K-3 III is a fun camera to use. Nearly every aspect of the camera feels like it was meticulously designed. The camera body itself is fantastic. The grip is chunky and feels very nice in my hand. The control layout and buttons are great, too, and are extensively customizable. You can set up the K-3 III just the way you want it. It's hard, if not impossible, to fit this many controls and buttons on a compact mirrorless camera body.

HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 ED PLM WR RE lens at 300mm (450mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 400.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

There's a lot to like, but there are some aspects of using the K-3 III that I don't like, too. The lack of a tilting touchscreen has a dramatic impact on the user experience of the K-3 III, at least for me. The autofocus system promises big improvements over the older system found in the K-3 II. However, it still lacks the great frame coverage of modern mirrorless cameras and doesn't quite match the excellent Nikon D500.

HD Pentax-DA 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 ED DC WR lens at 48mm (72mm equiv.), f/7.1, 1s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

I'm not a Pentaxian, but for the passionate Pentax users out there, the K-3 III represents an exciting prospect. You can continue to use lenses from the last few decades, and the K-3 III offers a huge array of new features and improvements compared to its predecessor. It's expensive to switch camera systems, and many people simply don't want to, which I appreciate.

SMC Pentax-DA* 200mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM lens at 200mm (300mm equiv.), f/5, 1/800s, ISO 400.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

For those who aren't already in the Pentax ecosystem, however, there's not much reason to consider the K-3 III. Some other DSLRs are similarly good, if not better, in certain ways, and the industry is moving toward mirrorless. 'Moving toward' might not be the right term. It feels like it's already gotten there. Canon and Nikon are very heavily focused on their respective mirrorless systems, and there's no indication Sony is going back to its A-mount camera system. For the Pentax loyalists out there, the K-3 III is a great upgrade option. For everyone else, it's a tough sell.

HD Pentax-DA 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 ED DC WR lens at 21mm (32mm equiv.), f/6.3, 0.6s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Pentax K-3 III Field Test Summary

A very good choice for Pentax owners, but what about everyone else?

What I like most about the Pentax K-3 III

  • Excellent body design
  • Weather-sealed
  • Large optical viewfinder
  • Good image quality
  • At its best, a good autofocus system
HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 ED PLM WR RE lens at 300mm (450mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 2000.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

What I dislike about the Pentax K-3 III

  • No tilting display
  • At its worst, AF system is imprecise
  • Buffer depths are underwhelming
  • Video isn't great
  • $2,000 is a lot to ask for an APS-C DSLR in 2021

The Pentax K-3 III is a fascinating camera. It's been a long time coming, and for Pentax fans, it could very well be worth the wait. The camera is well-designed and very comfortable to use. The optical viewfinder is one of the best I've seen. Image quality from the new image sensor is impressive, too, especially when the improved autofocus system delivers (which it doesn't do quite as often as I'd like).

SMC Pentax-DA* 200mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM lens at 200mm (300mm equiv.), f/2.8, 1/640s, ISO 800.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

However, during the long wait for the K-3 III, a lot has changed in the photo industry. Photography has sort of passed the DSLR by. The K-3 III is a great choice for existing Pentax owners. However, I don't believe it's the right choice for everyone else.

HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3 ED PLM WR RE lens at 300mm (450mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 1.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

 

• • •

 

Pentax K-3 Mark III Preview -- First Impressions

by William Brawley
Preview posted: 03/30/2021

For years and years, camera maker Ricoh Pentax had remained dedicated to the APS-C sensor size with its broad range of DSLR cameras (medium-format 645 platform notwithstanding). However, in 2016, the photo world saw the introduction of Pentax's first full-frame DSLR, the K-1. Then, a couple of years later, the full-frame K-1 II debuted with some minor hardware improvements. Meanwhile, Pentax's crop-sensor DSLRs felt somewhat ignored, particularly regarding its higher-end enthusiast-level model, the K-3. The latest version of that camera, the K-3 Mark II, was announced all the way back in 2015.

However, we began to see some rumblings about a new K-3 model, and we finally got an official teasing of a K-3 Mark III back in October 2020 with an anticipated full unveiling at CP+ 2021. Sadly, last month we learned that the K-3 III wouldn't arrive on schedule due to parts delays.

At long last, though, the Pentax K-3 Mark III is here. Finally! And while the K-3 III maintains that distinctive DSLR design, the camera features several new features and upgrades, including an all-new sensor, a new processor, a new autofocus system, an updated optical viewfinder, a touchscreen LCD and much more.

For Pentaxians eagerly awaiting a new flagship APS-C DSLR, the Pentax K-3 III is the answer. Let's dive in for a full product tour...

Key Features & Specifications

  • Compact APS-C-sized camera body with a weather-sealed, all-magnesium alloy construction
  • Optical viewfinder with 1.05x mag. and improved Diopter Adjustment
  • 25.7-megapixel BSI APC-S CMOS Sensor with High Data Readout
  • New PRIME V image processor + new Accelerator Unit II with increased Signal-to-Noise Ratio
  • PENTAX SR (Shake Reduction System): 5.5 Stops on 5 Axis (Dedicated SR Button: Auto, Panning, Off)
  • ISO 100 to 1,600,000
  • SAFOX 13 AF System: 101 AF Points and improved AF-C subject tracking
  • 12fps Continuous Shooting
  • 3.2-inch Touchscreen LCD
  • 4K UHD video recording up to 30p
  • MSRP $1,999.95 USD

Design & Handling

Much like its predecessors, the new Pentax K-3 Mark III maintains that classic DSLR shape with a deep, high-contoured handgrip and large, central viewfinder. The K-3 III also keeps very similar physical dimensions, with only minor changes to size and weight compared to its predecessor. True to Pentax's heritage, the flagship K-3 III is also built with ruggedness in mind, offering full weather-sealing against dust, moisture and freezing temperatures (down to -10 degrees C/ 14 degrees F). The top, bottom, front and back panels of the camera body are made of lightweight and sturdy magnesium alloy, making the camera body both lightweight and very durable. Additionally, the K-3 III's shutter mechanism is rated for at least 300,000 actuations. Needless to say, the K-3 III is designed for durability and longevity.

While the overall design of the K-3 III is not vastly different from its predecessor, when looking at the details, you'll see several updates and changes to the controls, viewfinder and more that enhance the overall operability.

Starting at the top of the camera, it's quickly evident that there are several changes to the buttons, dials and top-deck LCD screen compared to the K-3 II. The K-3 Mark III maintains both front and rear command dials, but you now have a third dial placed right at the top rear corner of the camera for additional control of settings and features. There is also a new dedicated "Smart Function" button on the top deck of the camera between the ISO and Exposure Compensation buttons that provides quick access to several camera settings, letting you avoid diving into the camera menus.

Additionally, there is now a dial on the top to switch between viewfinder stills mode, live view stills mode and movie mode, which replaces the Stills/Movie mode toggle switch that was on the back of the camera on the previous model. The K-3 III also features a smaller top-deck LCD info screen, a necessity in order to fit the new third command dial and S.Fn buttons. The screen still displays all primary shooting info and is still back-lit for easy operation in dark environments. Lastly, the lockable Mode Dial on the left side of the viewfinder gets upgrade with two more custom user mode slots compared to just three on the previous model.

Moving down to the back of the camera, there have several updates here, as well. For starters, the K-3 III includes a noticeably upgraded optical viewfinder. One of the hallmark features of a DSLR, a good optical viewfinder, is a critical feature. The OVF on the K-3 III provides approximately 100% field of view coverage and a 1.05x magnification factor, which is a nearly 10% increase in the viewfinder size and magnification of the K-3 II. By utilizing new high-refractive-index glass in the pentaprism for the optical viewfinder, the K-3 III promises a large, wide and clear viewfinder experience that's akin to what users experience with full-frame cameras.

The camera now also offers a 3.2-inch touchscreen rear display, a long-missing feature on Pentax cameras. In fact, this is the first Pentax K-series camera with a touchscreen display. The addition of a touchscreen should be a much-welcomed feature and will allow for menu navigation and zooming in on images in Playback mode. However, despite the addition of a touchscreen, the K-3 III's rear display is still fixed in place with no tilting or articulating functionality, which is similar to previous K-3 models. This design choice is perhaps made to maintain better durability and weather-sealing, but it does feel a bit outdated compared to other cameras on the market these days. Plus, several other Pentax models offer articulating rear screens, including the flagship K-1 II full-frame camera.

The K-3 III also now includes a multi-directional joystick control (located where the Stills/Movie mode toggle switch was in the prior model), which should allow for fast, immediate access to adjusting the AF point, among other things. Other changes to the rear of the camera are largely minor, with subtle changes to button placement compared to prior models.

Ports, Storage & Connectivity

On the left side of the camera, features are largely unchanged from the prior model, with ports for both a 3.5mm microphone input and a headphone output. The microphone input is now in stereo rather than the monaural input in the predecessor. The K-3 III also includes a Type D Micro HDMI connection and a USB port, which has now been upgraded to a USB 3.2 Gen1 with Type C connector. The K3 III supports in-camera charging via the USB-C port.

The camera also includes a large AF/MF toggle switch and AF mode button down near the lens mount. Again, there is a RAW/Fx mode button that lets you quickly change the file format or FX preset (the button is also customizable). However, one new feature is the addition of an SR (Shake Reduction) button, which lets you quickly adjust the built-in in-body image stabilization system, toggling between Auto, Panning mode, or disabling the SR system completely.

One removed feature is the built-in GPS/Compass that was present in the K-3 II. Gone is the GPS button from the left side of the camera, and the specs make no mention of a GPS/Compass functionality -- however, you are still able to view GPS information for images in playback mode.

Moving to the right side of the camera, we see the SD card slots and a 2.5mm external cable terminal. The K-3 III features dual SD card slots, much like the previous K-3 model. However, Slot 1 now supports the faster UHS-II data speed (Slot 2 is UHS-I).

Lastly, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity finally make their way into a K-3-series camera. The original K-3 and follow-up K-3 Mark II both offer a form of wireless connectivity by way of Eye-Fi or Pentax Flucard Wi-Fi-based SD cards. With the rise of direct, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology (as well as the Eye-Fi company ceasing business in 2016), Ricoh Pentax designers made the wise choice of adding this more modern wireless connectivity to the flagship K-3 Mark III.

The K-3 III includes 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity as well as Bluetooth v4.2 (Bluetooth Low Energy), and offers remote pairing with smartphones and tablets using Pentax's Image Sync mobile application. The camera supports wireless image transfer as well as remote shooting functionality via the paired app.

Image Quality

At the heart of the new Pentax K-3 Mark III is both an all-new image sensor and image processor along with a new "accelerator unit," which all together should offer pleasing image quality improvements over 2015's K-3 II. The new K-3 III now features a higher-resolution 25.73-megapixel sensor, which isn't a major increase over the 24.35MP CMOS sensor in the predecessor. However, the K-3 III's sensor now uses a back-illuminated design, which on its own should help increase low-light and high ISO performance.

In addition to the new sensor, the K-3 III also sports an all-new PRIME V imaging processor and new-generation accelerator unit. Though it isn't explicitly stated what functions the additional "Accelerator Unit" processor or engine handles, it's likely a similar setup to the processor + accelerator unit setup in other Pentax cameras, such as the full-frame K-1 II and crop-frame K-70 cameras. From what we understand, the Accelerator Unit handles a lot of the noise reduction processing, while the primary imaging chip handles the other image quality-related processes.

Altogether, the new BSI image sensor and processor + accelerator unit setup gives the Pentax K-3 III an extremely wide ISO range, with Pentax promising improved noise reduction processing performance at higher ISO. The K-3 III offers a full native ISO range of 100 and rising all the way up to ISO 1,600,000! The full-frame K-1 II topped-out at ISO 819,200. On paper, that is a very impressive spec, but in our testing of the K-1 II, for example, we found these super-high ISO settings weren't very usable in real-world uses. We'll have to see how the K-3 III does, however, before making a final judgment.

The K-3 III features in-body image stabilization like its predecessor, however the new IBIS unit offers higher performance than the K-3 II or any other Pentax camera to date, with up to 5.5 stops of correction. By comparison, the K-3 II offered 4.5 stops of shake reduction. The K-3 III's 5-axis SR system compensates for pitch and yaw movements as well as horizontal and vertical shifts plus rotational/roll motion. The camera also includes a new Panning stabilization mode that's designed to help stabilize the frame when photographing slow-motion subjects.

Additionally, the K-3 III offers Pentax's clever AA (anti-aliasing)-filter simulator technology. The sensor itself does not have a fixed optical low-pass filter, and with AA filter simulator disabled, photographers are able to take full advantage of the fine-detail resolving power of the sensor. However, when photographing subjects, such as fabrics, architectural subjects or other objects that are prone moiré and aliasing artifacts, users can "enable" the AA filter (at different levels of strength, too). The AA (anti-aliasing)-filter simulator uses the camera's sensor-shift image stabilization system to vibrate the sensor at microscopic, sub-pixel amounts at super-high speed during the moment of exposure to effectively similar the subtle pixel-level blurring effect added by an optical low-pass filter. (For more information on how this AA Filter Simulator technology works, check out our deep-dive article.)

Additionally, the K-3 III includes a Pixel-Shift Resolution shooting mode for creating images with improved fine detail and better color reproduction. With this PSR mode, the camera captures four frames while moving the sensor by a single pixel for each frame capture and then compositing them all together for a fine image. Unlike other manufacturer's "high-resolution shooting modes," such as those from Olympus or Sony, the Pentax K-3 III's PSR doesn't create a composite image with higher resolution in terms of megapixel count -- PSR images here are still 25.73-megapixels. However, according to Pentax, the composite image should provide better color data and more accurate, finer detail than a standard single-shot capture. The camera also features a Motion Correction option, which should automatically detect moving objects in the scene and minimize compositing errors and artifacts.

Additional imaging features include a new metering system with a higher-resolution 307K-pixel RGB+Ir metering sensor, which is an upgrade over the K-3 II's 86,000-pixel RGB CCD metering sensor. The camera's shutter speed remains unchanged, ranging from 30s up to 1/8000s, as well as a Bulb mode that allows for capture times up to 20 minutes.

Autofocus & Performance

Alongside a new imaging pipeline, the K-3 III also offers an all-new, updated autofocus system. The new SAFOX 13 phase-detect AF system provides 101 user-selectable AF points, which is a sizable upgrade over the mere 27 AF points of the K-3 II. However, the Mark III maintains the same number of cross-type AF points as the predecessor, at 25 points, that are all situated towards the central area of the frame. In addition to improved AF point selection, AF performance in low-light is said to be improved, with a low-light AF rating now down to -4EV, compared to -3EV in the predecessor.

Combining the higher-resolution RGB+Ir metering sensor along with newly developed image-tracking AF algorithms, the K-3 III's AF system should offer accurate subject tracking performance with subjects at varying speeds and irregular motion.

Additionally, the K-3 III also incorporates a sophisticated scene detection system for high-performance face and eye-detection autofocus. By using the new metering sensor and faster PRIME V image processor, the A.I.-powered "PENTAX Real-time Scene Analysis System" uses Deep Learning-based detection technology not only to increase AF accuracy but also to improve scene exposure.

When it comes to continuous burst shooting performance, the K-3 III offers a notable increase in burst rate compared to the previous model, with full-res shooting now capable of up to 12 frames per second -- a nice upgrade over the ~8fps maximum burst rate of the K-3 II. It should be noted, however, that 12fps burst is when using AF-S (Single-Shot AF); when using continuous AF, the burst rate drops slightly to 11fps.

Buffer depths, as expected, vary depending on image quality settings. The K-3 III is capable of capturing 14-bit RAWs, JPEGs, as well as RAW+JPEG and JPEGs at varying sizes and quality settings. At 12fps (Continuous H mode), the K-3 III is stated to capture up to 37 highest-quality JPEGs, 32 RAW files and up to 30 RAW+JPEG pairs.

The K-3 III is powered by the same D-LI90 battery as its predecessors, but the CIPA-rated battery life is stated to be slightly better at 800 shots on a full charge -- up from 720 in the previous models. The camera is now also able to be recharged via the USB-C connection.

Video

The Pentax K-3 III also offers several improvements over its predecessor in the video department, including 4K video recording. The K-3 III can recording video in 4K UHD resolution (3840 x 2160) at 30fps and 24fps, as well as Full HD 1080p video at 60p, 30p, and 24p frame rates, using MPEG-4 AVC/H.264(MOV) encoding.

The camera is also now equipped with a 3.5mm stereo microphone input (as opposed to monaural input in the previous model) and a 3.5mm headphone jack for monitoring audio during recording. Thanks to the new touchscreen display, setting changes and exposure compensation can be adjusted on-screen without introducing any unwanted noise from button or dial operation.

Additional features include the ability to use custom image presets and digital filters, such as Retro, High Contrast, Invert Color and Bold Monochrome, with video recording.

Like with the K-3 II, the Mark III's continuous video recording is limited to 25 minutes (or 4GB) regardless of video resolution or frame rate. Once 25 minutes is reached, you'll need to restart video recording manually. Also, video recording may stop automatically if the internal temperature of the camera becomes too high.

Pricing & Availability

The Pentax K-3 Mark III is set to go on sale in late April and can be pre-ordered at authorized retailers starting on April 6 at 5 p.m. ET at a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $1,999.95.

Ricoh is also creating two limited-edition kits -- the Pentax K-3 Mark III Black Premium Kit and Pentax K-3 Mark III Silver Premium Kit. These special kits include a camera body and D-BG8 battery grip (the Silver Premium Kit comes with a silver camera body and a silver battery grip that is exclusive to this package), plus a special leather strap and a spare battery. The Premium Kits will also go on sale in late April for a suggested retail price of $2,299.95.

 

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