Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
Thumbnail image for K3_18135.jpg
  • 24-Megapixel CMOS Imaging Sensor
  • 3.2-Inch 1037k dot LCD Screen
  • Built-in SR (shake reduction) optical image stabilization system
  • Dedicated Video Record Button
  • Full 1080p HD video recording
  • "Green" auto shooting mode
  • ISO 100 - 51200
  • Built-in flash
  • Weather sealed body
  • Dual memory card slots
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC, Eye-Fi memory card compatible
  • Rechargeable Li-Ion battery
Pros
  • "Green" shooting mode is accurate and easy in all situations
  • Dedicated Video Capture Button is always ready to record
  • Full 1080p HD video capture with tons of control
  • HDMI output and audio input add to the video capabilities of the camera
  • Weather -sealed body protects the camera when shooting in the elements
  • Excellent image quality at Low-Mid ISO settings
  • Built-in image stabilization works with ALL lenses attached to the camera
  • Large, adjustable 3.2-inch LCD screen
  • Great shooting performance in our tests
  • Excellent Battery Life
  • Dual memory card slots offer more recording options
  • Adjustable locking mode dial
  • Competitively priced
Cons
  • Although performance was very good, it did not live up to expectations
  • High ISO images are incredibly noisy
  • Face Detection only works in "Green" mode with Live View enabled
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 1.6 seconds
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = approx. 2/10 to 4/10 of a second
  • Shot to shot delay wo/flash = 0.60 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay w/flash = 1.34 seconds
  • Low Speed Burst = 3.33fps 
  • High Speed Burst = 5.33fps
  • High Speed Burst = 6.07fps ISO 51200 
  • All of our tests were completed using a Sony UHS-1 (94MB/s) 32GB SDHC memory card, Program mode, ISO auto, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
Pentax has introduced an excellent dSLR into the mid-level range. Its APS-C sized 24-Megapixel CMOS sensor, built-in SR stabilization, 1080p HD video and fantastic performance and quality make it a true challenger in this market. The weather sealed construction is another nice feature for anyone that shoots in the elements. 
Pick This Up If...
You are looking for a high quality and reliable dSLR that will survive just about any shooting situation that you put it in.
Pentax has produced a very competitive and capable mid-range dSLR with the K-3. It provides the image quality, performance and feature set to compete with any other dSLR in its price range. Sporting a 24-Megapixel APS-C sized imaging sensor, real-time scene analysis, incredible AF system and a shutter that can provide up to 8.3fps, you will be hard-pressed to find anything that this camera doesn't excel at.  In-Camera SR (Shake Reduction) allows any and every lens to work with the camera's image stabilization system. The great features don't stop there either. Dual memory card slots, Eye-Fi compatibility, pentaprism optical viewfinder, full 1080p HD video recording, HDR image capture and a fully weather-sealed body help to round out the best features; but there are still plenty more. All of the features provide unique and amazing shooting possibilities that will allow and enhance your creative photography. 

The K-3 offers an amazing amount of control and usability thanks to its versatile and adjustable shooting modes, extensive custom settings menu and complete set of camera controls, with a programmable Fx/RAW button.  This allows you to set the camera up exactly the way you like it, while even programming the custom buttons for one-touch access to the settings that you need the most. Pentax has included many of the AF controls on the camera including an AF selection button and AF/MF switch for instant changes. Control of the included 50-200mm lens is also very nice. The lens itself has two smooth, free-turning rings with comfortable rubber grips. 

Completely weather-sealed with a Magnesium Alloy body, the K-3 body is comfortable and easy to handle. It is larger than an entry-level body, like a digital rebel, but much smaller than the professional level cameras. Plenty of on-body controls give the user fast and easy control over the camera settings, and like stated above, the customizable Fx/RAW button allows you to set any other setting for one-touch access. Rubber grips around the body offer comfort and control, allowing you to wield the camera without worry. On top of the camera you will find the settings display, allowing you to keep the LCD screen off and extend your battery life. With just a flick of the power switch, the control panel will glow in a vibrant green, making it easy to see in all lighting conditions. 

You have two options for shooting still images with the K-3. For the standard SLR feel, Pentax offers a pentaprism optical viewfinder. This viewfinder will show you all of the basic exposure information while you shoot as well as a digital level. It also offers dioptic adjustment and a full 100% field-of-view, so there is no guessing at your exact composition. Your other option for still images and for video recording is you use the camera's Live View mode. This allows you to compose and capture your images using the camera's 3.2-inch, 1037k dot LCD display. This bright and vivid LCD screen is clear and makes a great way to shoot. The peaking feature allows you to easily confirm focus while shooting in this manner, while the playback mode is another great way to check the focus and other fine details when a computer or monitor is not available. 

Performance from the K-3 was good for a mid-level camera, but a little short of what we expected. The camera was able to capture its first image in 1.6 seconds after the power switch was turned. Shutter lag was less than 1/10 of a second when the camera is pre-focused, but slowed to 2//10 to 4/10 of a second when allowing the AF system to work. Shot to shot delay was good, at just 6/10 of a second in single shot mode without the flash. When using the flash, charge time increased your delay to around 1.34 seconds. Burst mode is where we found the biggest disappointment. We were not able to come close to the 8.3fps that Pentax claims is possible. In program mode with ISO auto we achieved 5.33fps and when we upped the ISO to 51200, we reached 6.07fps. This is still very good performance, but quite a bit shy of what the claims are. All of our tests were completed using a Sony UHS-1 (94MB/s) 32GB SDHC memory card, Program mode, ISO auto, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.

Our outdoor sample images from the Pentax K-3 showed us the high quality that we were hoping to see. Exposures and colors both excelled in the challenging snowy conditions. You can see the excellent exposure for our main subject (the cannon) in our cannon shot, with nothing else in the image blown out, a common problem in that image. There is full detail in all of the snow and white within the image, while the other colors remain vivid. There were a few instances within our outdoor images where lines or edges in high contrast areas where soft or showing some slight aberrations. Unless you are looking incredibly close, these occasional situations can be difficult to spot and most likely would not show up in most prints. Not tested, but another great outdoor feature is the camera's weatherproof housing. This will allow you to shoot in all weather conditions without hurting the camera.

Looking at our indoor images, the first thing that really stood out was the shallower than normal depth-of-field compared to what we are used to seeing. This is due to the 50-200mm lens, which is longer lens that we usually have for our tests. Image quality is very high at the lower ISO levels, showing incredible detail where the image is in focus. Noise starts to become more noticeable in the mid-levels, but the camera does an excellent job of keeping the detail within the image as the noise increases. High ISO noise reduction is an adjustable option that can slightly reduce the amount of noise in the higher ISO images. You can see in our samples that as you increase the level of NR, the detail and sharpness will decrease slightly. Assisting with your indoor and low-light photography, the K-3 features a powerful and compact pop-up flash unit. This unit works well in close and smaller situations as a main light source as well as a great option for a fill flash. 

With face detection only working in Green mode and Live View turned on, it is not too likely that you will use it very often. This leaves the standard AF and shooting modes for capturing your images. Our samples, both with and without the flash came out very well. There was no issue focusing on our subjects without the face detection. The camera handled the rest with the same accuracy and quality as the rest of our sample images. The only drawback we noticed is the redness in the eyes of our subjects when shooting with the flash. If you choose to use the face detection, you will have to slow down and wait for the much slower AF to detect the face. Once a face is detected, the camera does well to follow it.

The K-3 does not feature many specialized or scene shooting modes, so it may not be as beginner friendly as other cameras on the market. It does feature an intelligent auto shooting mode to allow anyone to use the camera. Other than that, you are mainly looking at user controlled shooting modes with the addition of in-camera HDR capabilities. Along with auto, there are three settings for HDR modes with an adjustable exposure range that gives you a great deal of control to cover most situations. Our samples include auto and all three modes taken at ±2 exposure bracketing. Pentax also included an auto align feature that assists the user in handheld HDR photography. 

Video recording with the K-3 offers a slew of camera controls and options that will allow your creativity to shine in most shooting conditions. Manual controls, Full 1080p resolution and creative filters let you simulate camera effects while shooting, saving you time in post-production. Our sample videos turned out very well for a mid-level dSLR. Video quality and clarity are both very good and our samples play back smoothly, making them a pleasure to watch. Audio, like all other dSLR cameras leaves you wanting a little more than what the built-in microphones are capable of, but thanks to the mic input, you can use external sound sources for higher quality audio recording. 

Powering the K-3 is a 7.2V, 1860mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery. This battery is capable of allowing the camera to capture up to 720 images on a single charge. During our tests, we captured over 500 images and various short videos while having to recharge the battery once. Shooting video, using Live View mode and studying the menu systems helped in draining the battery as well. Overall we were pleased with the battery life and would definitely recommend the battery grip if you are looking for extended battery life. Also included with the camera is a quick charging unit that allows you to keep one or more batteries charged and ready to go in most situations.

Bottom Line - Pentax has released and amazing dSLR, the K-3, that can compete with just about any APS-C sensor camera. At 24-Megapixels and an ISO range of between 100 and 51,200, it gives you the resolution and sensitivity that you need for any shooting situation. It also excels in the performance and image quality areas as well, making it a true contender. The built-in image stabilization system further extends its abilities, giving you IS with any lens that you attach. With a MSRP of US $1,299.95, it is an investment, but all good cameras are.


Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.

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