Monday, May 31, 2021

Pentax K3 Mk III Review Series 3

Pentax K3 Mk III Review Series 3
May 2021, Carl Garrard
Part III  in the K3 Mk III series, I'll go over build quality, ergonomics, and features. And I just have to take a moment to say that I'm really pleased to be doing a comprehensive review series on this camera. Ricoh's Pentax K3 Mk III is entirely new from the ground up, with every aspect of its design having been redesigned and improved compared to it's K3 predecessors (and previous Pentax DSLRs), one short review would not cut it. Quite honestly there's been more of a learning curve with the K3 Mk III than I expected. Sure it's still mostly familiar like most Pentax DSLRs, but there's a lot of new stuff here. So when I decided to do an in depth review like this, I realized that I really needed to dig into it, report its fine points, and test everything from the ground up. I think that's the only way you're really going to get to know a camera from the outside in. So far, and to my surprise, there haven't been any stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb moments with the K3 Mk III. There have been  no disappointments that reside in my personal deal breaker category.
Review: Build Quality, Ergonomics, and Features
When Ricoh first bought Pentax back in July of 2011, this is the kind of DSLR I envisioned Ricoh eventually producing. Yes it may have took longer than many have hoped, but I knew the company well enough to know that they were capable of doing something special. With the full frame K1's, all the new full frame lenses, and now this K3 Mk III, Pentax users have a stronger brand because of Ricoh's efforts.
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When I took the K3 Mk III out of its box for the first time, I actually laughed a little. Like other Pentax DSLR's I was surprised because it was smaller and lighter than I had anticipated (when will I ever learn?). Almost all Pentax DSLR's, including the K1 series, are smaller in person than they look in pictures. Even though on paper it's a bit heavier than the K3 I/II, when I picked it up it felt lighter than my K3's from my recollection. And although it's technically a few millimeters wider (and one mm taller), practically it doesn't look or feel any larger either. Keeping to tradition of packing a lot of camera in a small space, owners of the K7-K3II DSLR's will feel right at home here.

Rock solid. In addition to a full magnesium frame (top bottom front back side to side), internally it is further supported by a stainless steel internal chassis. This is one of the best built cameras, period.
Yet again, Pentax packed a ton of camera into a small compact form factor. Pentax DSLRs have always been impressive this way. But they upped the ante with the K3 Mk III.
Keeping in tradition with other Pentax DSLR's, fit and finish are exemplary. With almost no perception of body panel seams, you'll need to look closely to find them. From an instant it's clear this a precision made product. From the mating of the seams, to all of the port covers, and the SD card slot cover, it's all top rate and everything fits nice n snug. Time it seems has only helped to further improve the quality of manufacturing. I find this important because this is not always the case with other manufactures who end up cost cutting by reducing the amount of metal in successor models (cough, Canon and Nikon).  

Finish is top rate. Doesn't get better than this. (Image shot with K3 ISO 800)

Finish is exemplary. On the black K3 Mk III it's a flat black speckled hard coating paint, thick enough to withstand normal abuse, thin and hard enough to feel premium. The feel of the finish is similar to fine slate rock, dry, smooth, and with a slight sheen. It's  similar to the K3/K5 cameras, yet with a touch more refinement. It's pretty much perfect from my perspective. Very similar feel to my Nikon D500 and other high end DSLR's.

In the hand it is extraordinarily rock solid. 
A higher level of solidity than you'll get from almost all of the high end mirrorless cameras on the market, and even better than most high end DSLRs too. I'd compare the build quality to my Canon 1D and Nikon D series pro DSLR's. The K3 Mk III won't leave you wishing for better construction, that is a certainty.
I can't talk about build quality without addressing weather sealing. 
Pentax DSLR's in general have always been my first choice for inclimate weather photography. My first experience with testing Pentax's weather sealing was in Hawaii with my K7. Downpour after downpour did not stop me from shooting and the K7 of course never failed. After that experience, Pentax DSLR's became my first choice for back country mountaineering and inclimate weather photography.
Pentax and Olympus without argument have the best weather sealing in the industry. Although the K3 Mk III is without an "IPX" rating (like some Olympus cameras have), there is no doubt in my mind that its 95 seals will keep water and dust out of the body when mated with an equally weatherproof lens (and Pentax has many). I've already had my K3 Mk III out in light rain here in Southern California, and of course zero issues. Funny thing is, when I see weather coming, I always grab my Pentax gear, a good lens, and head out into the hills with appropriate clothing. I stay dry but I embellish in getting my Pentax gear wet without experiencing any anxiety.

Since there are more external controls on the K3 Mk III than the K3/II cameras, it has a higher number of seals. I doubt it is any worse than the K3 cameras that came before it, likely it is even better. But I'm not going to dunk my K3 Mk III and K3 cameras into water to find out. With the K3 Mk III, I have full confidence this trend will continue with worry free shooting in any type of weather or temperature. When things get tough outside, Pentax is my first choice.

Ricoh made a big deal about the new grip, and to be frank, I think most Pentax DSLR's (with the exception of the KP) have exceptional grips. The K3 Mk III is similar, even a bit better. For it's relatively small size, the grip is near perfect, and large lenses balance very well with the camera too. My finger tips nearly reach the body when wrapped around, and I have medium sized hands. 
The grip thus, should fit a wide range of hands very comfortably just as Ricoh have claimed.


Typical of Pentax DSLRS, the main control dials are prominent and perfectly placed, the front is off angled for the natural movement of the forefinger. Both have very precise and satisfying clicks. Pentax have always nailed the main control dials, and it's only improved here. The S.Fn dial on the top plate is tighter than the main control dials, which gives you a physical indicator  that your thumb is on that dial when your eye is to the finder. It's not too tight for the thumb to maneuver, but you can definitely feel a tension difference between it and the rear control dial.

Most of the buttons are a bit larger and raised a little higher than past models, but not by much. They are high enough and large enough to confidently engage with thick gloves on. They all have a nice little audible click as feedback (yay), as opposed to feeling mushy with no feedback (like many cameras exhibit). 
I don't have any complaints about the dials and buttons, they operate as well as can be expected, and in some ways over perform.

The stills/lv/movie dial is small, and surprisingly easy to turn when gripping the camera and using your index finger. There's just enough resistance to keep it in place without accidentally turning it, but light enough so that you don't have to reposition your shooting hand or use two fingers to turn it. Nice.

Overall the K3 Mk III feels very well balanced, supremely comfortable, and meticulously well thought out. In time, it will be easy for anyone to map out all of the controls with the hand and fingers by feel. It's definitely designed to be used intuitively with your eye to the viewfinder.


Pentax DSLR's have either unique features or better implemented features, or a greater list of features than other DSLR's in their class. This is another area that sets the Pentax brand apart from the other makers. The K3 Mk III nearly has all of Pentax's modern (and older) features inside. The only item missing is a built in GPS unit for astrophotography. This was traded for a better optical viewfinder experience than previous K3 DSLR's. 
"Good trade..." Dances With Wolves Quote. Yes the tradeoff of an improved viewfinder for no built in flash and no internal GPS unit was a good trade- at least for most of us.

However the K3 Mk III has all the astrophotography features inside such as Astrotracer to support use of the separate O-GPS1 unit that attaches to the hot shoe. Personally I think most prospective K3 Mk III owners will be okay with the trade off here considering they are gaining a much better viewfinder experience.
Otherwise, the K3 Mk III is the most advanced APS-C camera (for still shooting) on the market (mirrorless or DSLR), and is loaded with the following main features (this is not a completely comprehensive list):

  • 1.05X mag optical viewfinder w/trans LCD overlay (optically corrected for aberrations, diopter adjustment, edge clarity), 20.5mm eye relief, Natural-Bright-Matte III focusing screen, S-FN icon support, 100% accurate view
  • 105 AF points w/25 double cross, 3 -4 EV capable center points (with f/2.8 lens or greater) w/comprehensive customization options
  • 11FPS continuous AF shooting, 12fps single AF
  • 300K+ shutter life expectancy
  • Leaf spring shutter release
  • In camera USB-C charging
  • Astrotracer ready
  • Pixel shift resolution (two modes)
  • S-Function Button and Dial (programmable/customizeable)
  • AA filter simulator
  • Hand held HDR (available with Raw, two modes)
  • Catch-In focus
  • Time Lapse Movie (in camera)/Time Lapse recording
  • Interval and Interval Composite shooting
  • Auto Horizon Correction
  • Auto Composition Adjustment
  • D-Range Correction (available with Raw)
  • DNG/PEF 14 bit Raw format options
  • Dual Memory card slots
  • Auto Lens Correction (distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberration, diffraction)
  • AF fine tune
  • Night Vision Display (red LCD panel)
  • Dual LCD panels (with brightness adjustments for each)
  • Dual IR pickups (front and rear)
  • AF assist lamp
  • In Body Focus Motor (for legacy lenses)
  • Bluetooth and Wifi with Smartphone Link
  • Touch Screen Operation
  • Pixel Mapping (for dead pixels)
  • DR II dust removal (ultrasonic vibration)
  • 4K video (24p/30p options) FHD video (24p/30p/60p options)
    Manual sound adjustments
  • Headphone and Mic Jacks (w/headphone volume control)
  • Flat Image Profile (available in stills or video)
  • Digital Filter suite (available in stills or video)
  • In-Body 5.5 stop image stabilization (available in stills or video)
  • Auto Horizon/Composition correction
  • ISO"less" Sensor/Processor (details in part IV of review)
  • Depth of field and motion bracketing
  • New Advanced Hyper Auto Setting (green button)
  • In camera raw conversion 
  • 14F-104F degree operation
  • Silver or Black ,and Premium Kit options
  • Battery grip option (D-BG8) with body matched controls and weather sealing
  • Front and rear IR remote pickups
  • Built in Stereo Mics
  • HDMI out
  • Supreme button/menu customization throughout  
  • Manual lens focal length input
  • Full lens suite compatibility KAF-4 and all the way back to the stone age
Next up: A comprehensive breakdown of every single feature I've listed above. 
Yeah, I'm kidding. 
Unless someone can pay me to write a book, and add 8hrs to a 24hr day, that just isn't happening. What I will say is that the K3 Mk III leaves little to be desired in the way of a stills camera. It is a multi-functional tool chest that not only allows the photographer massive options to create, but do so in such a fashion that is actually enjoyable and engaging to use. 
It's feature set is industry leading. There is no other DSLR or mirrorless camera that can do more tasks well than the Pentax K3 Mark III. It may not be the very best tool for some specific applications (like video), but it's comprehensive set of features and capabilities for a single too is unmatched by any other camera out there.

It's one thing to pack a camera with features, any maker can do that. But very few do it in such a way that it ends up being enjoyable to use. There is so little fuss and fiddle with the K3 Mk III that you're left with the feeling of no barriers between you and the subject. Free to create to your hearts content.

That, is how cameras should be designed and there are very few that do it this well.

Features/Options I'd Like to Have:

Yes it is hard to imagine that with such a comprehensive list of features there would still be items I'd desire in the K3 Mark III. Some may be able to be added via firmware, some perhaps will need to wait for the next generation. Only Ricoh knows what is possible with a firmware upgrade.
  • When in night vision mode, the ability to turn off the top LCD automatically
  • ISO 50, 64, or 80 options
  • Electronic shutter option in live view modes
  • Handheld pixel shift resolution mode (at the expense of losing a little resolution for movement of the SR mechanism)
  • Histogram option (even a crude one) in the optical viewfinder 
  • Option to make icons and AF points larger, bold, and/or constantly red in the optical viewfinder
  • An improved/more comprehensive wifi/bluetooth interface app for smartphones
  • Rubber added to base plate of camera near tripod mount

In closing for this segment of the review, let me first say that doing a Pentax review is a serious commitment of time and effort. Pentax cameras are packed with unique features with a design emphasis on usability in every millimeter of surface space. Therefore it is a daunting task to cover the K3 Mk III to the degree it deserves. 
While other sites focus on infinitesimal flaws born in studio environments that have little to no practical translation to the real world experience with the K3 Mk III (you know who they are), I review my cameras in an opposing frame of mind to that type of coverage. 

My conclusion to the build, ergonomics, and features section of this review is that there is a special small group of photographer engineers at Ricoh who have successfully created a wish list camera for all of us, and even themselves. So much meticulous detail went into the K3 Mk III at every level, it is nearly impossible to cover every aspect.
Personally I will say that with all things considered, the K3 Mk III is the most impressive overall Pentax DSLR I have used yet.

Stay focused.


P.S. Next segment will cover Image Quality and Value

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  2. I am looking for the review Pentax K3-III parts 4 and so on. You metion in this article that they will follow. Where can I find them ?

  3. Appreciate the comment. You won't be able too because, well, I haven't finished them yet. My apologies. The wait for Adobe to catch up with ACR profiles proved to be too long for my patience. I had to move on to doing other articles and haven't yet shifted my focus back to Pentax. Maybe I should get my act together and finish part IV :). That said, this blog is sustained with my free time only, which of late, has been sparse at best. One man show, doing what I can. It's a hobby at this point because I generate no revenue with this blog anymore.