Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Pentax Lifts the Veil on the K-3 Mark III SLR

Photographers who use Pentax cameras and lenses have endured a lengthy wait for a true successor to the K-3 Mark II, released in 2015. Six years is a long time, even in a camera market where multi-year product cycles have become the norm. In the time between the Mark II and today’s announcement, the K-3 Mark III, there’s been a marked shift from optical viewfinders SLRs to mirrorless models with electronic displays.

Pentax, a sub-brand of Ricoh, dabbled with mirrorless in the form of the small Q series, but dropped that experiment from its product offerings. It’s sticking with optical viewfinder cameras, going after a niche that’s been abandoned by most in favor of mirrorless development.

Top Flight Specs…for an SLR

Mirrorless cameras are now mainstream. Photographers have embraced electronic viewfinders and the enhanced autofocus performance that they deliver. Competitors like the Fujifilm X-T4, one of the finest APS-C models you can get today, give Pentax a lot to go up against.

Pentax K-3 Mark III (Image: Ricoh)

The K-3 III is, on paper, competitive. It snaps 25.6MP photos and stabilizes its sensor using a five-axis IBIS system. The body is built to high standards; the chassis is magnesium alloy and includes extensive dust and splash protection, a hallmark of the Pentax brand. The rear display is sharp (1.6 million dots) and supports touch input, though it doesn’t offer any articulation.

Its autofocus system is all new and promises 11fps capture with continuous focus, and 12fps with focus locked in after the first shot. It packs 101 focus points, 25 of which are the more precise cross-type, and couples it with an 307,000-pixel RGBIr metering system.

Pentax K-3 Mark III (Image: Ricoh)

Pentax K-3 Mark III (Image: Ricoh)

The Ir in the RGBIr stands for Image Recognition, not infrared. Pentax is leveraging some machine learning to improve subject recognition. It promises to recognize human faces and eyes, and track their movement, through the optical viewfinder—a feat that no other SLR has managed. It’s become a table stakes feature on mirrorless cameras, which benefit from the use of their entire high-resolution image sensor for subject recognition.

For live view, autofocus is still contrast based—fine for still life subjects and setting focus to start a video clip, but not up to tracking moving targets smoothly. It’s one area where Pentax hasn’t matched competitors. We don’t expect many hybrid creators to get excited about the K-3 III’s video features. It is the first Pentax SLR with 4K recording, but while the pixels are there, the log profiles, waveforms, and other must-haves for serious video work are not.

Pentax K-3 Mark III (Image: Ricoh)

Pentax K-3 Mark III (Image: Ricoh)

The optical viewfinder has also been redesigned. Its magnification—how big it appears to your eye—is among the highest in an APS-C SLR. Pentax is billing it as 1.05x, but doing a bit of cheating with the math to get there by opting to use a 50mm lens, a standard angle for a full-frame system but a short telephoto lens on APS-C.

When put on the same playing field as others it’s closer to 0.78x—still as big to the eye as you get on full-frame as high-end SLRs and midrange mirrorless cameras. Pentax also promises that its choice of focusing screen, one it’s calling Natural Bright Matte III, is nearly 10% brighter than the K-3 II, better shows bokeh, and is a bit more pleasing to use with manual focus lenses.

Pentax K-3 Mark III (Image: Ricoh)

Pentax K-3 Mark III (Image: Ricoh)

There are a few other features worth noting. The K-3 III’s sensor omits an optical low pass filter, an engineering decision that nets clearer detail, but can introduce false color moiré for certain subjects, including some fabric patterns. The IBIS system can move the sensor very slightly during an exposure, adding just enough blur to suppress false color. It’s also used for multi-shot sampling for truer color and finer detail.

The sensor also has a very wide ISO range and can be set as high as ISO 1.6 million, though how useful it is at extreme settings remains to be seen. Cameras with similar image sensors start to show serious blur and noise around ISO 51200, even when working in Raw format.

Pentax K-3 Mark III (Image: Ricoh)

Pentax K-3 Mark III (Image: Ricoh)

There are two SDXC memory card slots, but only one supports the fastest UHS-II transfer speeds. You can still use high-speed media in either slot, but the second card will be limited to slower UHS-I transfer rates. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are included too. The K-3 III is compatible with the Ricoh Image Sync app, the same used for other Pentax SLRs and the GR compact series.

From Budget Brand to Premium Niche

Ricoh has been teasing the K-3 III for some time, but after some delays it’s finally here. Loyal Pentaxians still clutching to older K-3 and K-5 series cameras have some reason to be excited, but may also experience some sticker shock.

The K-3 III is priced at $1,999.95 as a body only, as much as the full-frame K-1 Mark II. It’s in stark contrast to earlier APS-C models, and the K-1 itself, which typically undercut SLR rivals on price.

Pentax K-3 Mark III (Image: Ricoh)

Pentax K-3 Mark III (Image: Ricoh)

We don’t expect the K-3 III to garner a lot of interest from photographers invested in other systems, but APS-C Pentax owners who’ve been holding out for a new camera body finally have one.

The Pentax K-3 Mark III is scheduled to ship in late April. It’s being offered in silver or black finish. Lens kits aren’t offered, another sign that this is really targeted at users already in the system, but you can buy the camera bundled with a vertical battery grip, extra battery, and leather strap for $2,299.95.

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