Pentax K-3 Announced

New 24-megapixel flagship: serious specs in a serious body

By PF Staff in Pentax Announcements on Oct 7, 2013
Pentax K-3 Announced

The moment that many passionate Pentaxians have been waiting for is finally here: Pentax has officially announced the 24-megapixel Pentax K-3, a flagship APS-C DSLR that's slated to replace the K-5 II/IIs.  Being an advanced camera, the K-3 is primarily targeted at enthusiasts and professionals, and it will likely satisfy even the most demanding photographers.  The new PRIME III processor ensures the camera will deliver the speed that photographers need and expect from a camera of this caliber.

In this article we'll be telling you all about the K-3, including its specifications, highlights, and key features.  We have had a chance to try out a pre-production K-3 hands-on, so some of our commentary will relate to how the camera handles in real life.  This article is the first in a series of posts about the camera, as we will be following up this post with a hands-on Q&A, and shortly after that you can expect to see our in-depth review of this exciting camera.

While the K-3 may appear very similar to the K-5 on the outside, its hardware has seen a complete overhaul to the point that virtually all of its specifications are improved over those of its predecessor.  Pentax is finally ditching the 16-megapixel sensor that they used in eight consecutive camera models, and the company has equipped the K-3 with an all-new 27-point autofocus system, making it their first DSLR to feature more than 11 autofocus points.  Pentaxians will also be thrilled to hear that the K-3 has dual SD card slots, a best-in-class burst mode, and wireless tethering capabilities.

Get the Pentax K-3

In fact, on paper, the K-3 looks like it will be one of the most capable APS-C DSLRs on the market.  Launching at a price tag of just $1299, it will start shipping in early November.  There will also be a special silver edition of the K-3 for $300 more (with grip). Let's start by taking a quick look at the key specifications of the K-3:

Pentax K-3 Specifications
Sensor 24-megapixel APS-C CMOS Sensor
6016 x 4000px max. recorded resolution

24.71 megapixels total
23.5 x 15.6mm physical size
AA Filter No hardware anti-aliasing filter
Simulated AA filter/moire suppression via SR mechanism (user-configurable)
ISO Range 100 - 51200
Autofocus

27-point TTL phase detection autofocus (25 cross-type points in a 5x5 grid)
-3 to +18 EV operating range

"SAFOX 11"

Metering

86k-pixel RGB sensor with -3 to +18 EV sensitivity

New feature: multi-pattern white balance

Continuous Shooting Continuous H: 8.3 FPS (up to 60 JPG / 23 RAW)
Continuous M: 4.5 FPS (up to 100 JPG / 32 RAW)
Continuous L: 3 FPS (up to 200 JPG / 52 RAW)
Shutter Speeds 1/8000s - 30s, Bulb
Shutter Life 200,000
Viewfinder Pentaprism optical viewfinder
100% coverage, 0.95x magnification
Monitor

3.2" LCD with 1037k dots

Live view & video focus peaking support

Flash Bult-in (GN13)
1/180s sync speed
Video Mode

Full HD: 60i/50i/30p/25p/24p
HD: 60p/50p/30p/25p/24p
H.264 .MOV format
External stereo microphone support / built-in mono microphone
Full manual video controls (shutter speed, ISO, aperture)

25-minute maximum recording time

Media Slots Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC slots
Still File Formats PEF and DNG RAW (14-bit), JPEG
Tethering Full remote control and desktop transfer capabilities
via FLU wireless SD card technology
Weight 800g (loaded and ready)
Battery D-LI90 (up to 720 frames w/o flash, 560 w/ 50% flash)
Battery Grip D-BG5 (6x AA or 1x D-LI90 support)
Weather-sealed

$199.95 US MSRP
Weather Sealing

Yes; 92 dust and moisture seals

Coldproof to -10 degrees C

Connectivity USB3, mic input, AV out, HDMI out, cable switch, x-sync socket, DC in, headphones
Dust Removal Ultrasonic "DRII"
Processor Single PRIME III
Stabilization Body-based Shake Reduction
Price

$1299 US MSRP (black body-only)
$1599 US MSRP (silver body + grip)
$1649 US MSRP (black body + 18-135mm WR lens)

Click here to pre-order your K-3

While there's no denying that the K-3 plays catch-up with the Nikon D7100 (its closest competitor) in many areas, it does leap ahead in others: it has a best-in-class continuous framerate/buffer as well as the ability to record full-HD videos at 60 frames per second. 

The K-3 also has a new 86k-pixel metering sensor, which is nothing short of professional grade. The D7100 can only record up to 50 JPEG files or 7 RAW files at maximum resolution before reducing its framerate, and its full-HD mode is limited to 30 FPS.  Compare this to the K-3's 60 JPEG / 23 RAW buffer and 1080i 60FPS recording.

The sensor in the K-3 is likely to be the same Toshiba chip found in the Nikon D7100 and D5200, as all three sensors have a total resolution of 24.71 megapixels.  Reviews of the latter two cameras have shown that the new 24-megapixel sensor is capable of outperforming the K-5/D7000's old 16-megapixel chip in terms of overall image quality, albeit to a small extent. (Update as of 10/10: we will be confirming the sensor manufacturer directly with Pentax in Japan.  Remaining questions about the K-3 will be answered in an upcoming hands-on preview).

Already convinced?  You can reserve your K-3 by pre-ordering at B&H Photo and pay when it ships.

Pentax K-3 with Grip
Pentax K-3 with new D-BG5 battery grip and DA L 18-55mm WR lens

 The K-3 also features some fresh innovation:

  • It is the first camera to be able to simulate the effect of an antialiasing filter by vibrating the image sensor, thus reducing moire when activated
  • It supports wireless tethering functionality via a dedicated FLU Wi-Fi SD card (discussed later)
  • The new metering sensor enables multi-pattern white balance, which can apply different WB presets selectively

So far, this camera really looks like a big upgrade for any current Pentax user, and it will certainly hold its ground against the competition.  But specifications aren't everything, so let us take a look at what changes have been made to the camera's buttons and ergonomics.  Later on in this article we will also be examining the K-3's highlights more closely.

The K-3 is marginally larger and heavier than the K-5 (800g vs 740g loaded and ready).  Pentax has refined the shape of the main grip and made other minor changes to the shape of various parts of the body, which are outlined on our forum.

Pentax K-3 FrontPentax K-3 frontal view

Two distinguishing features of the K-3 are its larger prism housing and a "hump" on the front of the camera which contains a headphone jack.  These features suggest that Pentax may finally be getting serious about video!

While the basic button layout of the K-3 is similar to that of the K-5, a handful of changes have also been made, including a few button additions.  With the increasing popularity of HDSLRs, we find these button changes to be very welcome.  There are also some enhancements for stills shooters, such as the new AF mode button and the conveniently-relocated AF button on the back.  The RAW/Fx button on the front continues to be customizable, as are the green and red buttons.

Refer to the list and photo below for a full list of button changes:

  • New AF mode button above the AF selector switch (above)
    • The AF selector switch no longer has positions fo AF.S and AF.C
  • New switch to toggle mode dial locking (1, below)
  • New dedicated metering button (2)
    • Metering switch underneath the mode dial removed
    • Functions as the delete button in playback mode, as before
  • Improved/relocated diopter adjustment dial (3)
  • New red button to enter live view mode or start video recording (4)
    • Replaces "LV" button
  • New shooting mode switch: stills or video position (5)
    • Movie mode has (finally) been removed from the mode dial
  • New AF area button / SD slot selector (6)
    • Replaces the old AF mode ring
  • Rear AF button relocated for easier access (7)

Pentax K-3 Back ViewBelow its new 3.2" LCD, the production K-3 may read "Ricoh" instead of "Pentax" as on earlier cameras

And this takes us to the first thing that we don't like about this camera: the branding.  When Ricoh initially acquired Pentax back in 2011, the company was renamed to "Pentax Ricoh Imaging".  Earlier this year, the Pentax name was stripped, leaving just "Ricoh Imaging" on the corporate logo. 

And now, the Ricoh logo has made its way onto the Pentax flagship.  Is the Pentax badge on the prism housing the next to go?  We surely hope it isn't, as even these 5 letters on the back of the K-3 could be a show-stopper for die-hard Pentax fans.  On the other hand, prospective buyers from outside the Pentax community will probably not notice this at all, let alone mind it, so at the end of the day we aren't too alarmed.

Pentax K-3 Pre-Production
Pre-Production Pentax K-3 with proper branding

The pre-production Pentax K-3 that we had a chance to try out did not have any Ricoh branding on the back.  However, all the press and product photos seem to suggest that this will be changed in the production model.  We won't be able to confirm this until production K-3 bodies start hitting the shelves, as the official commentary that we have received so far as been inconclusive.

Pentax K-3 Highlights

Next, let's take a look at some of the K-3's highlights and key selling points.  We find the SR-aided moire reduction and FLU wireless tethering to be the most interesting new feature, though improvements are to be found just about everywhere.

Quiet, Durable Shutter

The K-3's shutter has seen an upgrade over previous generations of K-mount DSLRs.  It is now rated for up to 200,000 cycles, twice that of the K-5 and K-7.  Its maximum burst rate of 8.3 frames per second also calls for a special dampening mechanism in the mirror box to reduce noise (similar to what we've seen in the K-5).

K-3 Shutter
K-3 shutter mechanism

Damper
Damper - Click to enlarge

86k-pixel Metering

The K-3's metering sensor is not only a big upgrade over the 77-segment unit found in the K-5, but also a grade above the metering systems of all but the most advanced cameras on the market today, such as the Nikon D4 or D800.  Its closest competitor, the D7100, only has a 2016-pixel chip.  While a careful evaluation of the K-3's metering can only be performed once we have our hands on a production model, in our upcoming first impressions article you will see that we are already liking the performance of the new metering system.

Pentax also promises a new feature called multi-pattern white balance that can apply different white balance profiles to differently-lit parts of an image.  We're looking forward to testing just how well this feature will work!

K-3 Metering SensorK-3 metering sensor

27-point Autofocus

The autofocus system in the K-3, known as SAFOX 11, seems like a natural evolution of the preceding SAFOX X system from the K-5 II.  It is still sensitive down to -3 EV like the unit before it, but it now has 27 total AF points, rather than 11.  Like on the K-5 II, all the AF points in the central square matrix are all cross-type.

If you are familiar with the AF systems of older Pentax cameras, you will notice from the diagram below that the K-3's AF points don't cover a larger area; they are simply packed more tightly.  Only time will tell whether or not this design will noticeably improve tracking performance.

Pentax K-3 AF
K-3 SAFOX 11 AF System

SR-Assisted Anti-Aliasing

Over the course of the past year, cameras without optical low-pass (anti-aliasing) filters have started becoming increasingly popular due to their ability to render more detail.  However, the removal of the hardware AA filter introduces the risk for moire artifacts.

Moire appears because without an anti-aliasing filter, rays of light of a certain color may never end up hitting a pixel that is sensitive to that particular color.  When that happens, it can lead to incorrect interpolation of the image from the sensor's bayer pattern.  The purpose of an anti-aliasing filter is to distribute the light so that it affects more than just a single pixel.  This significantly reduces the risk for moire, but it also effectively blurs the image a bit.

In order to avoid making any compromises with the K-3, Pentax has leveraged the Shake Reduction system to simulate the effect of an anti-alising filter on demand.  This change means that if you want the best resolution, you can simply disable the AA filter.  On the other hand, if you aren't fond of moire or just don't want to deal with it, you can enable the AA filter and set your worries free.

The K-3's innovative low-pass filter simulator micriscopically vibrates the sensor during exposure so that light spills over to adjacent pixels, just like it would with a physical filter.

Pentax claims that the system is most effective at shutter speeds of 1/1000s or lower.  We will of course test its usefulness in our in-depth review of the K-3!

New Moire Reduction System

FLU Wireless Tethering

The Pentax K10D and K20D (launched in 2006 and 2008, respectively) were the last two Pentax K-mount DSLR to officially support tethering.  Tethering capabilities are finally returning with the launch of the K-3!

Rather than using a cable to connect the camera to a computer, the K-3 can create its own hotspot via a Pentax-developed Wi-Fi SD card that employ FLU technology (a third-party standard).  Then, all you need to do is connect to the camera using a PC or compatible smartphone to control it remotely or download photos. 

This isn't the industry's first wireless tethering system, but it's certainly very handy, not to mention affordable: the FLU-card will retail for just $99.95.

Tethering
Pentax K-3 being controlled by a smartphone K-3 FLU-card by Pentax

Dual SD Card Slots

The K-3's dual card slots will prove useful for users of the wireless tethering feature or Eye-fi cards.  They can also be used in the conventional sense to provide more storage capacity, separate RAW and JPEG files, or duplicate files. The top LCD now shows the status of each slot as shown in the photo below.

You can choose which card to use via a new dedicated SD slot button.

K-3 Dual Card Slots

K-3 Top LCD
Pentax K-3 dual card slots and new top LCD layout

Video Enhancements

The K-3 has just about everything one would expect of a modern HDSLR: external microphone support, a headphone jack, manual video controls, video autofocus, focus peaking, easy access to video mode, and a broad selection of framerates. 

We have confirmed that the K-3 supports focus peaking in video mode, and this feature will surely go together well with its larger LCD.

Pentax K-3 with MicThe Pentax K-3 may turn out to be a compelling HDSLR

Larger and Brighter Viewfinder

The K-3's viewfinder has been made slightly larger than that of the K-5.  It now has a magnification ratio of 0.95x, up from 0.92x.  Pentax also promises that it will be brighter thanks to a new coating with better reflectance.

Pentax hasn't made any changes to the way the AF points are superimposed in the viewfinder, but apart from that this new viewfinder should be class-leading.

K-3 viewfinderThe Pentax K-3's larger Pentaprism viewfinder

Weather-Sealed Design

In order to be able to resist dust, moisture, and low temperatures, the K-3 features 92 rubber seals throughout its body.  To make its weather sealing complete, it needs to be paired with a sealed lens.  Weather-sealed lenses have either "WR" or "DA*" in their product names.

The K-3's body is made of magnesium alloy with a stainless steel chassis, just like its predecessor.

K-3 weather sealsBody, grip, and lens weather seals

What's Missing: Pros and Cons

The K-3 does not leave much to be desired for a camera of its class.  Its biggest pro is simply the fact that it's superior in just about every way than what came before it.  Features such as the SR-assisted low-pass filter, multi-segment white balance, and new video capabilities may end up impressing us even more than they have already.

Not much is missing in this camera, but if we had to be picky, we can think of at least three things that could be improved.

Pentax seems to be working their way toward built-in Wi-Fi, but they're not quite there yet.  Requiring an add-on accessory for Wi-Fi tethering isn't a bad thing, but we would have been much happier to see native connectivity.

The K-3's 3.2" 1037k-pixel LCD has a slightly higher resolution than the older 3.0" 921k-pixel monitor found on earlier bodies.  This resolution is still some 20% shy of the Nikon D7100's 1228k dots, however, and it is only a question of time before even sharper screens hit the market.

Manual lens users won't be too thrilled by the K-3: it continues to lack the K-mount aperture coupling, meaning that stop-down metering is necessary with K and M-series lenses.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the flash synchronization speed could have been improved, as it continues to be a low 1/180s.  The K-3 may therefore not be the answer for professionals looking for an advanced flash system.

Apart from this, there is little for us to complain about for now. We'll be sure to put this camera through its paces in our in-depth review to see if its performance in real life backs up its great appearance on paper.

Get the Pentax K-3

K-3 Silver Edition

Rather than having to wait for a limited silver edition of the K-3, one is already available as of the date of this post!  Officially known as the "Pentax K-3 Special Silver Edition", it will retail for $1599 ($300 more than the standard body) together with a battery grip and a dedicated leather strap.  This is only about $100 more than the black K-3 when bundled with a grip.  The special edition K-3 does kit not include a lens, thought it would be the perfect companion for any silver HD-limited lens.

Production of the silver model will be limited to 2000 pieces.  Click here to pre-order your silver K-3 at B&H photo.

For a better view of the silver K-3, click on any thumbnail below:

Product Photos

Refer to the images below for more views of the K-3.  As before, click on any thumbnail to enlarge.

Pre-Order

Ready to get a K-3?  Below you will find to the retailers we partner with and trust.

All of the above kits include free shipping within the US.

Pre-Order the Pentax K-3


Conclusion

In our opinion, the K-3 is one of the most exciting DSLRs announced this year.  It looks like a very promising camera, and its specifications and price ($1299) are exactly where they should be.  The camera is better in many ways than what the competition has to offer, without making any compromises.  But is this a game-changer?  For Pentaxians, certainly; for the photo industry, not so much. Still, we say you can't go wrong with buying this camera, whether you're a current Pentax user or not!  The K-3 is, without question, the most sophisticated Pentax DSLR built to date, bursting with latest-gen technology and capabilities.

Want to be among the first to get a K-3?  Pre-order yours at B&H and it will ship as soon as it arrives.  Your card won't be charged until your order ships.

See also: alongside the K-3, Pentax also launched a new HD Pentax 55-300mm WR lens.

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