R E V I E W
As part of the European Pentax Team, during the last month I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to get my hands on the new Pentax APSC camera and test it out on field prior to its long awaited release. Although we are in a pandemic right now and travel is limited, as a landscape photographer living in Italy, I am lucky enough to have some great local locations where I could test out this camera's potential and I was amazed at the results. So, let me share these experiences with you.
Although this flagship APSC camera does continue the name of the K3 mark I and II, it is however a very different camera packed with many new features never seen in a Pentax camera before. Boasting a 26.78 megapixel CMOS sensor, with increased dynamic range and ISO sensitivity, this powerful camera is not only about numbers, but more so, helping the user to focus on the experience of taking a photograph. The 100% FOV pentaprism with 1.05X magnification, comfortable camera design, menu system, improved LCD monitor and significantly improved AF speed and accuracy are just a few of the examples that I have witnessed hands on while using with this camera that significantly improved my awareness of that experience.
Rather than boring you with the specs of the camera, that I am sure that you will be able to find elsewhere on the internet, I'd like to talk you through these features that I have mentioned and how I have found them useful while out on field.
So, firstly... the viewfinder. We all know the new philosophy that Ricoh Imaging is putting forth about what they want the future of Pentax cameras to be for their users, so I am really happy that they have decided to stick with DSLR cameras. Maybe it's an old habit from film photography days, but I have always felt a sense of a scene and your connection with what you're framing through the OVF. I find it essential in my workflow to firstly assess a scene through the viewfinder before moving in liveview for final adjustments. I found this viewfinder just stunning to look through. An experience that I have never felt in 20 years of looking through a viewfinder. A Pentax Pentaprism with Natural-Bright-Matte III focusing screen with handy functional overlays. I found that looking through the OVF was crystal clean, easy to assess focus (especially when using old SMC manual lenses), and gave me a sense that I had full control of the camera without having to shift my eye away from the scene to access out of place buttons etc. For me, just this feature alone in a camera is ground breaking.
Pentax K3 III DA* 11-18mm RAW ISO 100 16mm F/10 1.0 Sec EXP 86mm Polarising Filter sRGB RAW DNG
The sensor as we all now has an ISO range from 100 to 160000. Wow, 1600000... that's huge. You really don't want to push the ISO to that level from what I have experienced, but I must say, this number translates into a greatly improved total image resolution, comparable to the 36 MP sensor from the K1. My testing in low light conditions proved that the DR at ISO 100 is impressively flexible at both ranges and pushing the ISO to 25600 is incredibly impressive. As a general rule the majority of my landscapes are captured at ISO 100 but since using this camera I have found very desirable results at ISO 800 giving me beautiful RAW files to work with in post production. With this improved sensor resolution the flexibility for working in any light condition for the photographer is just so important.
The body design and quality is what we can expect from Pentax, but with this new camera I felt that just every function was in the right place. The updated menu system was a breeze to work through, the position of the buttons, and the joystick for AF positioning, just other examples of how Pentax wants the user to feel part of the camera, and these qualities in a product are just so essential to a photographer who shouldn't have to fiddle around with the camera before they miss that magic moment. Examples such as the smart function button (SFN), that gives the user the opportunity to set in an essential camera function quickly and effortlessly, or even the possibility to charge the battery via USB directly from the camera body. As with all Pentax cameras, custom settings and buttons can be set in to personal how you want the camera interface to be based on your needs.
I always fine tune the composition and settings in liveview, so having a good quality and functional LCD screen is essential. Although the LCD does not have a tilted screen, it is a significant improvement compared to other models. Being a 3.2 inch touch screen with 1620K dots, assessing a scene prior to capturing and after was brilliant. The resolution and live view settings gives you the possibility to accurately focus using both the very functional touch screen and joystick for refining AF, and the possibility of viewing the image captured in playback mode with beautifully clean and crisp resolution. Even in very low light I found that the contrast detection was incredibly accurate every time, when combined with the DA 11-18mm and the DFA 70-200mm lenses, that I used mostly for testing.
Talking about focus, my experience while using the camera handheld at fast moving objects such as wildlife was a very positive one. For this test I used the 70-200 dfa lens and mainly tried my luck at capturing birds at a nearby local sanctuary. I am not experienced at this form of photography so for me I was quite nervous about giving my feedback about how I thought the camera would respond. I must admit, shooting at centre spot focus, hand held, shake reduction on, high ISO for quick shutter, the camera and lens working together was very responsive. The camera effortlessly took control of the scene with regard to moving objects and I must say, a very big improvement compared to previous Pentax models. I am sure this feature will have many Pentaxians pleased, as AF accuracy and speed has been an issue for many in the past. I'd like to add that a drive of 12 fps and a buffer of 32 frames shooting in RAW, gave me the complete flexibility to capture that moment in time effortlessly while shooting moving objects through a frame such as wildlife.
Overall, I would highly recommend this system to not only for street, wildlife and photojournalism style photographers that can really benefit from the new pentaprism and AF technology, but also for landscape photographers like myself. Together with the combination of the 11-18mm lens for example, the images coming out of the camera were very comparable to that of the K1 and 15-30 combination.
There are many functions that the camera offers such as improved video capabilities, focus recognition, DOF bracketing, etc, and I will certainly be discussing these in the near future. These are my initial thoughts about the performance and feeling of the camera and I am very impressed.
I am really looking forward to this camera to hit the market and see what other users have discovered. I will keep using it on field combined with my dfa lenses over the next few months so I will be really looking forward to sharing my experience further. In the meantime, If you have any questions please feel free to write in the comments section below.
To note: This camera I used was a pre production model without recent firmware updates. Some of the findings that I have found on field may vary.