Pentax K-3 III Review
|Full model name:||Pentax K-3 III|
(23.3mm x 15.5mm)
|Viewfinder:||Optical / LCD|
|Native ISO:||100 - 160,000|
|Extended ISO:||100 - 160,000|
|Shutter:||1/8000 - 30 sec|
5.3 x 4.1 x 2.9 in.
(135 x 104 x 74 mm)
|Full specs:||Pentax K-3 III specifications|
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.
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.
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.
Buy the Pentax K-3 III
$1089.62 (100% more)
20.9 MP (23% less)
Also has viewfinder
$829.99 (100% more)
24.35 MP (6% less)
Also has viewfinder