Thursday, April 29, 2021

Pentax K3 Mk III Review Series 1

Pentax K3 Mk III Review Series 1
April 2021, Carl Garrard

Pentax (Ricoh) stuck to their guns. Instead of making yet another "me too" mirrorless camera, Ricoh have decided to stick to doing what they do best- make an excellent DSLR. With this iteration of the K3, the wait was definitely worth it. True steps forward in design are under its amazingly tough and weatherproof magnesium shell. Oh you're going to love that grip and rock solid construction. It's a masterpiece. As you know, I have a full suite of Nikon and Canon DSLRS, as well as Pentax. I use whatever camera is suited best. Comparatively Pentax are the best built and most weather proof in their class compared to the other brands. It's just their brand strength, along with being backwards compatible to very old lenses (like Nikon). Pentax's weakness has always been autofocusing speed and tracking when comparing to Canon and Nikon, how will it fair?

Initial Unboxing, Indoor and Outdoor Tests 

I'm pleased to report that Pentax has finally, yes finally, caught up to both makers with the K3 Mk III, but of course I need to elaborate. Right out of the box, impressive. I didn't think Pentax could improve the quality of their DSLR's but they certainly did this time. This is the camera I wanted the KP to be in every metric. Folk's, prepare to be impressed. Much more later on this subject, but let's just say the unboxing scored 10/10.

For this first article on the K3 Mk III, I've compared it directly to my Nikon D500 rig with a similar lens. I won't keep you waiting, bait or tease. I'll get right to it. 

To my surprise the K3 Mk III certainly keeps up in the AF department (in good and poor light alike!).  I didn't expect it to live up to the AF claims made by Ricoh, but it really does. Bout time Pentax! With the PLM lens, it's magnificently quick and holds subjects in tracking great! More on this subject later as well.

Just the right amount of controls, and the new LCD type and font are welcome. The shooting/LV/Movie dial makes sense.

Image quality is the best I've seen from an APS-C sized sensor from Pentax, dynamic range and noise control are really impressive. It's even slightly better than the K70 (although not by much), which used to hold that crown in tandem with the KP. In comparison to the D500, it's definitely got an obvious edge in overall fine detail, and even high ISO in raw (although not by much).

Together with the myriads of other refinements in responsiveness, menus, and overall handling and ergonomics, the K3 Mk III is truly the most impressive camera I've used or own from them so far. I wasn't a fan of the KP, and I wanted more from my K3's (I own both the I and the II as well). And although I like the K1's, I found the lack of lenses for full frame a downer, and the bodies were a bit more fiddly on the control side than I'd prefer. The K3 Mk III gets it just right.

It's viewfinder is super bright and clear. Yes it's large for APS-C. Yet, forget the 1.05x magnification specification for a moment, the true highlight is how bright and clear and informative (modern) it is. The LCD overlay with all of the AF points and myriad of information options leave a remarkable impression. Yep Ricoh made a big deal about it (perhaps they embellished), yet the improvements are real, you'll notice them right away.

The AF joystick is excellent, so too is the new font/menu design and touch screen. Odd placement of the playback button though!


Since the K3 Mk III is so loaded there's no way I could go on about each item in an opener article. It's much like their prior enthusiast DSLR's in this respect. Only this one is going to really make marks for its viewfinder, frame rate, AF tracking speed, and general responsiveness. The shutter/mirror cycle too is so quiet and nice, it feels supremely balanced and refined. The touch screen and updated menu's are icing on a glorious DSLR cake.

Just as the K1 was a huge hit and a very long wait, I think the K3 Mk III will be known as the APS-C DSLR that Pentax users have really been waiting for. The K1 duo are impressive, but the K3 Mk III takes everything to an even higher level. Pentax users will not be let down. This is a true do it all very well DSLR that is at home on sports fields or in backcountry mountains.

Shooting it side by side with my K3's and K5 II's, it makes them feel almost pedestrian in every metric of responsiveness from image playback to continuous AF speed. It's a fast camera, and I can see why it took so long for Ricoh to get this camera out. It's a quantitative step forward this time, real practical increases from top to bottom in performance that don't require a micrometer to measure. You'll notice it, practically, and heave a sigh of relief that Pentax have finally done it.

You will love the grip. Oh my. Easy to access dual card slots too.

Of course its not for everyone (what single camera ever is?) but its certainly right up there with the D500 as a jack of all trades DSLR that can get jobs done. I wish there were more fast and quiet focusing lens options for Pentax like Nikon have, but who knows, maybe we'll get a few more options in the future. I'm pretty sure this camera is going to sell out everywhere once word spreads about it. It'll make the industry think twice about "moving on" from DSLR's that is for certain.

And on that note, darn good for Ricoh to continue making DSLR's! Far as I see it the pro/enthusiast categories are split about 50/50 with DSLRs vs. Mirrorless options when it comes to preferences. To have only one maker continuing to make DSLR's would be a pity for the rest, but great for Ricoh. All they need to do now is pump up the lens options. Sigma should get on board and make more of their lenses available in the Pentax mount. I've a few of their new generation lenses and they are all impressive (the 100-400mm DG f/5-6.3 Contemporary especially for the price!). It would be nice to have more options.

Is it worth the $1,996.99 price tag?

Yes, I think so, but of course that's up to you. But to get a pro level APS-C performing camera this good, you're going to have to pay. It's better built than my Nikon D500 (and you can feel it immediately), and I'd trust it in the backcountry or extreme weather more. Inflation is starting to take hold of the camera market, Ricoh/Pentax aren't the only makers raising prices. And remember the Nikon came out for the same price five years ago!

No matter how you slice it that price is a chunk of change, but that outlay might have just bought you the best APS-C DSLR made by any maker to date. At this point I'll call it a tie between the D500 and K3 Mk III, giving a nod to the D500 on price (now), and a nod to the Pentax on build quality, it's optical viewfinder, menu system, and weather resistance. The Pentax feels like a nicer camera and performs just as well in my tests so far, but the D500's price, performance, and its myriad of lens options cannot be ignored.

Remember, the D500 came out in Jan of 2016 for $1,999.99. That was five years ago, and it's still selling for $1,499.00 brand new. It's a fair price when you consider it is now five years later for the K3 Mk III, think about it!

I'll update the blog with more articles on the Pentax K3 Mk III soon. So far it's definitely living up to the hype.

Stay focused.

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  1. Looking forward to the next article in the series Carl. Amazon raised the price $200.00 so I'm going to purchase from another retailer. I'm going by your recommendation here that the AF is indeed improved, you'd better be right! - Jacob

  2. Let me know when you've tested it Jacob, I'm right ;).

  3. Sigma is done with Kmount. Completely. Unfortunately. But there are no sales to make K mount interesting for them and those mount issues with K1 were last drop.

    24/1.4, 50-100/1.8 and 60-600 would make so much sense for K mount.. but..

  4. One can dream... ;) At least my conscious will be clear that I tried to recommend everything possible to help out Pentax! :)