Which Pentax Camera to Choose in 2022?
Selecting the right Pentax camera for your photography needs
By wadge22 in Gear Guides on Feb 14, 2022
In the run-up to the release of the Pentax K-3 III, Ricoh/Pentax reaffirmed its commitment to supporting the DSLR. With the discontinuation of the KP model in 2021, as of early 2022 there are now three DSLRs available new in the Pentax K-mount lineup: the feature packed entry level APS-C Pentax K-70, the new advanced APS-C Pentax K-3 III, and the robust full frame Pentax K-1 II.
Each of these offerings represents a powerful tool for any photographer, but the differences between the models are great enough to create very distinct choices for the potential buyer. This article will cover each of the options, and attempt to outline which prospective users may benefit most from a given model.
Ricoh has recently reiterated its support of DSLR cameras through the Pentax brand. At the same time, Canon and Nikon are strongly hinting at discontinuing their DSLR lines, while investing much of their efforts into mirrorless offerings. This reality, along with the decades long commitment to the K mount, makes Pentax an attractive option for photographers who prefer optical viewfinders, or simply for those who already have a collection of K mount lenses.
The two flagship K mount cameras from Pentax, the K-3 III for APS-C and the K-1 II full frame, present a competitive and attractive option for advanced or intermediate DSLR shooters. The K-70 is the entry level offering from Pentax, but it clearly blurs the line between entry level and mid tier cameras, and punches well above its weight, whether looking at the spec sheet or looking through the viewfinder while out taking pictures.
The K-70, released in June 2016, is the entry level DSLR from Pentax. With a US street price of under US$550 (in Feb. 2022), this 24 megapixel APS-C camera is undoubtedly the best bang-for-your-buck model in the lineup. But don't let the reasonable price fool you; the K-70 has everything an enthusiast photographer needs to make terrific images in any situation. Unlike some of the competition, Pentax does not exclude high end features on its lower tier cameras, and this model would be a mid-range offering from most other makers.
Advanced features like weather sealing, in-body shake reduction which benefits every lens, Pixel Shift for high detail images of stationary subjects, a 3.0 inch articulating screen, and a 100% coverage .95x pentaprism optical viewfinder are all present. The ergonomics and user interface are very well thought out on this camera, receiving a 8.5 and 8.8 ratings respectively in the user reviews section on Pentax Forums. Dual control wheels, a deep grip, two customizable FX buttons, and three user modes aid in this respect. Even better is the image quality, which users have rated as 9.6, and the Pentax Forums staff found in its review the image quality and noise control came close to that of full frame.
If there are any drawbacks to the K-70, they are few and acceptable. The camera takes a D-LI109 lithium battery, rated for around 410 shots: while not under-powered, this is less than the flagship cameras, and particularly if live view is used often may necessitate a backup battery for long days of shooting. Another weak point is the aging autofocus system the camera offers: before 2021's K-3 III, Pentax had lagged the competition in autofocus speed and versatility, and the K-70 is no exception. The autofocus of this model was not much of an upgrade from the 2015 K-S2 that came before it, and it can accurately be described as "adequate." Likewise, video mode is a bit of an afterthought; indeed, no matter their budget, users planning on shooting video more often than stills will be best served looking at other brands. Some users have reported that the shutter on the K-70 is loud. Finally, while the build quality is good on the K-70, it is not quite as durable as the more pro-level offerings, and users expecting their camera to last a lifetime may want to look at the flagship models.
So who is it for? Any user on a budget will find the K-70 to be an excellent value, whether comparing the the competition or among the rest of the Ricoh/Pentax lineup. Even in comparison to secondhand Pentax options, it is difficult to find a better value proposition. Students, new users of the brand, or those purchasing their first DSLR will likely find that the K-70 has everything they need for many years of photographic satisfaction; only specialized sports or action photographers, or those looking for a video DSLR, will quickly run into limitations. Even advanced users or those with a moderate to high budget can be happy with the camera, and any extra funds can be spent on lenses.
Pentax K3 III
The Pentax K-3 III was released, after much anticipation and some delay, in April 2021. This camera represents the largest leap forward for the brand at least since the release of the K1 in 2016. While it built off of its K-3 II predecessor, it is in many ways a new camera: the K-3 III boasts redesigned controls, new software, a best in class new optical viewfinder, radically improved autofocus, upgraded video capability, a new shutter mechanism with higher framerate, upgraded shake reduction, a new 25.7 megapixel back-illuminated APS-C sensor, and more. It is, quite simply, the most advanced Pentax DSLR ever released. With a street price of roughly US$2000 at time of publication, this camera requires an investment from the buyer commensurate with the significant investment Ricoh put into its development, but for many the high end features will more than justify the high end price.
The K-3 III user interface and controls are more complete and customizable than any previous Pentax camera, with a 3.2" LCD touchscreen, a joystick for selecting AF points, three control wheels including a customizable Smart Function (S.Fn) wheel, and a large top LCD display. The new touchscreen is a high resolution 1,620,000 dot LCD, bright enough for use in direct sun, with an Eye Detect sensor to turn the screen off when the user looks through the optical viewfinder. However, to the lament of many users, the screen is fixed, with no tilt or articulation unlike the K-70 or K-1 II. The camera offers more customization than any other Pentax model, with ten user modes, five of which can be accessed via the exposure mode dial, as well as more options for customizing physical buttons than ever before, as well as the S.Fn wheel with its five selectable functions from a list of 22 options. All of this has led the camera to receive a maximum 10.0 for ergonomics and a 9.9 for user interface in the reviews by Pentax Forums users.
Of all the new features the K-3 III offers, the autofocus is by far the most long awaited upgrade, and probably the biggest leap forward from previous Pentax models. The AF grid now consists of 101 points, with 25 cross type sensors, bringing its performance more in line with high end DSLR offerings from other brands. Usable continuous AF (AF-C) and eye detection are very welcome additions. All said, this is the best auto-focusing Pentax camera available. Complimenting the improved focus capabilities, the burst framerate has been improved to an impressive 12 FPS. These features will surely please sports, action, and wildlife shooters, as well as anyone trying to capture shots of fast moving children or pets.
Several other prominent upgrades in this model are the new 100% field of view, 1.05x magnification viewfinder, enhanced support for legacy lenses, and the improved image quality from the combination of an upgraded sensor and improved image processing algorithms. The viewfinder in particular is worthy of bragging rights, being the largest ever in any APS-C DSLR, and offering an effective size close to that of full frame models. An exciting addition for vintage glass collectors is the new functionality with manual focus and manual aperture lenses, which you can read more about here. The image quality of this new camera's sensor is also noteworthy, with large dynamic range, well controlled noise, and excellent color accuracy. Read more about the camera's performance in the Pentax Forums staff review.
Who benefits most from the K-3 III? When paired with high-performance lenses, this camera finally closes the gap with the competition in speed an autofocus categories, so photographers interested in sports, action, birding, or documenting other fast moving subjects will find it to be their best choice from the Pentax lineup. Compared to the full frame K-1 II, the APS-C crop sensor also delivers advantages of greater reach, while the high performance sensor gives little up in the way of image quality: wildlife shooters can appreciate that, and this camera should certainly be considered for them. The APS-C camera further offers the advantage in lens selection, with the Pentax DA line being among the most complete APS-C lens lineups of any brand, in addition to the fact that any full frame K mount lens dating back to 1975 will also work even more seamlessly than previous Pentax DSLRs. Lastly, anyone who simply wants the latest and greatest that Pentax has to offer should look no further than the K-3 III.
Pentax K-1 II
The Pentax K-1 II was released in February 2018, as an upgrade to 2016's K-1. This 36.4 megapixel full frame (24 x 36 mm) DSLR offers superlative image quality among the K mount cameras, and is full of unique and innovative features such as Dynamic Pixel Shift, built in GPS for Astrotracer night sky photography, in body Shake Reduction, external LED illumination for use at night, and an ingenious multi-directional tilting LCD screen. With a February 2022 street price of US$1800, the camera is well priced compared to other similarly featured full frame offerings on the market.
As a flagship level camera, the handling, ergonomics and build quality are all top notch on this model. Weather sealing, three control wheels, a top LCD readout, five user modes, two customizable buttons, and numerous well laid out buttons for many common settings allow for intuitive control of the camera's settings. The camera scores a 9.3 for ergonomics and 9.0 for user interface in the user review section of Pentax Forums.
While the K-1 II is an excellent all around camera, the main strong point compared to other Pentax models lies in image quality for shooting stationary or predictably moving subjects. The dynamic range, low light performance, and detail are all excellent with this camera, holding their own against newer models from Pentax and other brands alike. The Pixel Shift and GPS driven Astrotracer features enable even higher detailed shots of landscapes, architecture, still-lifes, and astrophotography, which give the already terrific sensor an edge in these areas. For more info on the image quality and other features of the K1 II, check out the Pentax Forums staff review.
Which types of photographers will be able to best take advantage of the K-1 II? Landscape, architecture, and astro photographers will certainly find many features focused on their tasks. Portrait and event photographers will be able to take advantage of the full frame format's shallow depth of field, high detail, and great low light performance; however these advantages must be weighed against the lower framerate of 4.4 FPS and its relatively underwhelming autofocus performance, as compared to the K-3 III with its 12 FPS and brand leading focus system. With the K-1 II, vintage glass collectors will appreciate that the full frame sensor delivers the same field of view as 35mm film cameras. Finally, unless and until Pentax releases a newer update to this camera, the K-1 II offers some savings over the newest tech of the K-3 III, while still offering top tier features and build quality; anyone looking for a current mid range camera from Pentax, this would be that choice.
In addition to these three models, there are several other ways to go about shooting with Ricoh or Pentax products.
The Pentax KP was discontinued in 2021, but can still (at time of writing) be found new at some retailers. This APS-C camera was positioned above the K-70 but below the K-3 II,and offered unique styling and handling, along with excellent image quality we have come to expect from Pentax. Situated above and beyond full frame, Pentax offers the medium format 645 system, with the current iteration being the 645Z. This camera retails for roughly US$5000, placing it beyond the reach of most enthusiasts, but it does represent somewhat of a bargain in the medium format world.
Another option that many Pentaxians find attractive is purchasing a second-hand body. Whether just looking to save on one of the current models, or going further back into the Pentax catalog, this can be a way to get bang-for-your-buck for those with the knowledge to find a suitable used camera that fits their needs. Models such as the original K-3, the K-S2, or the K5 can all be found at prices hundreds of dollars below those of a new K-70, yet are still very capable and complete options. For anyone looking for savings on a full frame camera, the original K-1 shares most of the functionality and all of the same handling with the K-1 II, and is often priced one or two hundred dollars less second-hand. If you're looking to explore this route, an excellent place to start is the Pentax Forums Photographer's Marketplace.
Beyond the world of the DSLR, Ricoh offers the powerful but compact GR line of fixed lens mirrorless cameras. There are two offerings in this line, different only in their focal length; the wide angle GR III with an equivalent field of view of a 28mm lens on full frame, and the normal GR IIIx offering 40mm equivalent. Both cameras sport a 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor with 3-axis shake reduction. These cameras are perfect for photographers who want to keep things jacket-pocket compact, but don't want to sacrifice quality or creative control. The lenses on both models are exceptional, and the cameras deliver images that easily rival those of DSLRs. The GR III retails for just under US$900, and the GR IIIx currently goes for around US$1000.
If these models weren't enough, Ricoh also offers several waterproof and durable point and shoot cameras with smaller sensors; the Ricoh WG-6, WG-70, and G900. Last, Ricoh offers the Theta line of 360-degree cameras, with their specialized dual lens, all around images that fit specialized virtual reality, social media, business, and real estate uses. The Theta SC2, Theta Z1, and the new in 2022 Theta X are currently available.
A Camera for Every Photographer
Pentax has a long and rich history as a leader in SLR cameras, and in 2022 looks poised to be one of the last brands supporting the DSLR. its current lineup of K mount DSLRs are all highly capable and extremely refined photographic tools for hobbyists and photo pros alike. In addition Ricoh and Pentax offer medium format, advanced compact, as well as specialized niche cameras. Using this guide, and the many resources available at Pentax Forums, photographers of all skill levels and with all interests should be able to make an informed decision about which equipment is best for their needs.
To compare the full specs of these models, check out the Pentax Camera Comparison tool.
To find the latest prices and best deals on these cameras and other Pentax gear, check out the Deal Finder tool. Below you'll find additional information on each model:
- Purchase the Pentax K-70, read the Staff Review, or join the K-70 Forum discussion
- Purchase the Pentax K-3 III, read the Staff Review, or join the K-3 III Forum discussion
- Purchase the Pentax K-1 II, read the Staff Review, or join the K-1 II Forum discussion
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