Pentax K-3 Review
Usability - How easy is it to use?
The ergonomics of the Pentax K-3 are great for a relatively compact DSLR. Its narrow body and large 3.2" LCD makes for a cramped but comfortable body which remains quite efficient to use. It has a deep grip with a clear indentation below the front control-wheel which is angled upwards to make it easy to reach. As the index finger comfortably rests on the shutter-release, it can easily move back to the EC or ISO buttons behind it. A protrusion to the right of the thumb on the camera's rear ensures a secure hold. When gripping the camera with the index finger on the shutter-release, the thumb falls right on the AF button. Slightly towards the right is the rear control-dial with a green button is within easy reach just below.
Most remaining buttons are crowded below the rear control dial. There are a large number of buttons to target pros who need quick access to functions under time-pressure. The green button intelligently varies its function depending on the camera mode. In P, M and TAv mode it resets the exposure to the program line by default. In other modes it automatically sets the ISO sensitivity. When used in conjunction with the EC button, it resets the applied EC value, perfect for preparing for the next shot. It resets White-Balance fine tuning from the WB setting screen as well. It resets AF-Fine-Tuning adjustments too when calibrating lenses.
The AF button engages autofocus along or instead of the shutter-release, or it can cancel AF entirely, depending on a custom setting. Further right, near the outer edge of the camera, the AE-L button toggles exposure locking. On the other side of the control-dial, a tiny red button toggles Live-View in stills mode or acts as Video-Record button in Video mode. Below the rear control-dial, a rotating switch selects between stills and videos.
Live-view is somewhat improved from previous Pentax DSLR. It still does not preview exposure correctly most of the time, except in Manual mode, but does preview framing, focus and white-balance. There is a histogram but since it does not always reflect exposure, it serves little purpose. Since the Pentax K-3 is equipped with a 100% coverage optical viewfinder, the only thing live-view does more is preview white-balance. Framing and focus can be seen using the OVF perfectly.
A 4-way controller, with central OK button, serves to activate 4 functions:
- Up: Selects the drive mode. The K-3 offers the longest list of drive modes on any camera, most of them with sub-modes: Single, Continuous (High, Medium, Low), Self-Timer (12s, 2s), Remote (Instant, 3s Delayed, Continuous), AEB (Instant, Self-Timer, Remote), Mirror Lock-Up (Instant, Remote), Multi-Exposure (Single, Continuous, Self-Timer, Remote) and Interval, Interval Composite.
- Right: Chooses Color Styles and image parameters: Saturation, Hue, Key, Contrast, Highlight Contrast, Shadow Contrast, Sharpness (3 scales).
- Down: Sets the Flash mode and Flash-Compensation: On, Redeye, Slow-Sync, Slow-Sync+Redeye, Rear-Sync, Manual (1 - 1/128 power), Wireless (Master, Control). The rear control-dial sets FC but only after pressing the down button again. Luckily, the K-3 remembers an one does not have to press Down twice each time FC needs to be changed. However, to change modes after, you have to press up. This is not needed on the K-5 family and makes this new DSLR less efficient.
- Left: Selects WB, including WB Fine-Tuning by pressing the Info button after. There are 3 memories for Kelvin and 3 more for Custom WB.
Some of those drive modes require explanations. The 2s Self-Timer performs automatic MLU. All Self-timers also automatically disable stabilization which makes perfect sense and something which Pentax has been doing for a long time to help photographers. Great to see Ricoh kept this! Continuous drive modes run at 8.3, 4.5 and 3 FPS, respectively. The corresponding maximum buffer-depth in RAW is 22, 32 and 52. Up to 60 JPEG images can be captured in a single 8.3 FPS burst and over 100 at 4.5 FPS. At 3 FPS, Ricoh claims a limit of 200 but the K-3 managed shooting even longer here.
A Pentax remote can be used with nearly every drive mode. With a 3s delay, it also automatically does MLU and disables stabilization. For direct MLU, a first press lifts the mirror, a second releases the shutter. AEB can be set to take all frames continuously or require one press for each. Which one to use depends on the situation and it is nice to have the choice. One minor usability setback of the K-3 is that the user has to press Down twice after selecting AEB before being able to control the number of frames and exposure increments.
Ricoh rearranged drive modes which is why this menu is so complex. On the K-5 IIs, there is a short list of drive modes while Multi-Exposure and Interval Shooting are part of the Camera menu. By adding those to the menu of drive modes, the K-3 requires a second level to offer some combinations like Multiple-Exposure + Remote. A number of combinations are no longer possible though, for example Multiple-Exposure + MLU.
Two new possibilities for the Interval-Timer were added. One is the Interval Composite which automatically blends every frame captured into a single image according to one of three blending modes. This essentially a timed multiple exposure and is useful for capturing star trails. The other is Interval Movie which simply saves all captured frames into a Time Lapse video. This saves processing time and space, given that results are saved at 4K, 1080p or 720p videos.
By pressing the round button at the lower-right of the 4-way controller, the autofocus point can be moved around. Pressing the round button again goes back to normal.
The K-3 has a large pentaprism viewfinder which provides a bright and clear image with 100% coverage and 0.95X magnification. The optical viewfinder is surrounded by a soft and comfortable rubber frame. To the left of the OVF are the Playback and Metering buttons. This camera is shooting priority, like all current DSLRs. Half-press the shutter and the camera is instantly ready to shoot.
A large 3.2: LCD with 1 megapixel is found just below the viewfinder and Play/Delete buttons. The display has an excellent angle-of-view and visibility due to a very good anti-reflective coating. The display is very close to the left side of the camera which makes it prone to smudges. The K-3 also keeps the gapless LCD introduces with the K-5 IIs and K-5 II which offers improved contrast and visibility compared to previous generations. This LCD is also very slightly recessed in hopes to attract fewer smudges.
The LCD can show a 2-axis Digital-Level, displaying tilt and pitch separately in ½° increments, up to 9½°. There are markers showing the 1° Automatic Horizon Correction limits when stabilization is on. Otherwise, the limit is 2° since one degree is reserved for Shake-Reduction correction.
To see the Digital-Level, one must press the Info button twice and then use the Left or Right buttons to select the Electronic-Level screen, then press OK. Expect to redo this again to turn it off, otherwise glare fro the LCD is bothersome. This is really less efficient than on the K-5 family and truly one of the biggest annoyances of the K-3. Ricoh ought to put an Eye-Start sensor below the OVF.
The small size of the Pentax K-3 and its numerous buttons really contribute to a cramped design. Another minor problem is that the left strap eyelet is forwards of the camera. That makes the neck-strap occasionally interfere with the mode-dial.
The two control-dials are extremely well used, providing direct access to exposure parameters. A great usability feature of this DSLR is that whenever aperture or shutter-speed can be changed using a control-dial it appears underlined in the viewfinder. This provides an indication as to the current exposure mode. It would have been even more helpful if the parameter controlled by the front wheel had a line above it instead of below. In program mode (P), called Hyper-Program, the control-dials are used to enter Aperture-Priority (Av) mode and Shutter-Priority (Tv) mode. An excellent capability of the K-3 is the choice of six program linesAuto, Normal, Speed-priority, Maximize Depth-of-Field, Minimize Depth-of-Field and MTF. In Sensitivity-Priority (Sv) mode, one control-wheel selects the ISO sensitivity, the other shifts exposureChanges between equivalent aperture and shutter-speed combinations.
In Av and Tv modes, one control-dial sets the main exposure parameter and the other can perform Exposure-Compensation or select the ISO sensitivity. When the second control-dial selects the ISO, pressing the green button can automatically set the sensitivity. A great touch is that the Pentax K-3 reports the selected sensitivity in the viewfinder and on the top-mounted LCD panel.
In TAv and M modes, a control-wheel selects the aperture, the other selects the shutter-speed. The difference is that M mode uses a fixed ISO while TAv mode tries to achieve a correct exposure by selecting the ISO. In these modes, the AE-L button, in combination with a control-wheel, shifts the exposure. The green button provides a starting point for manually setting exposure.
The control-wheels are also put to good use during image playback and menu navigation. The rear one zooms in and out, while the front one moves between images without changing the zoom level. This gives an effective way to inspect a detailed area of multiple images. To speed up menu navigation, the two control-wheels can also be used: one to iterate over tabs, the other over pages of a single menu.
ISO is selectable from 100 to 51200. There is an Auto ISO setting with customizable minimum and maximum sensitivity. An additional setting controls how fast the camera increases sensitivity. There is a dedicated button to set ISO which is needed in Manual (M) mode.
There is unfortunately a flash-recommendation warning which cannot be turned off. This warning appears as a flashing lightning icon in the viewfinder when the shutter-speed falls below a certain fixed threshold. Having this flashing icon does get annoying after a while, so we are still hoping Pentax will add an option to disable it via a firmware update. This warning is of little help as using a flash is frequently ineffective.
Focus is set differently than on other Pentax DSLRs because of the larger number of options. Other than the AF button being above rather than inside the AF switch, this is the system as on Nikon DSLRs. The switch chooses between AF and MF, while the button enables control-dials to set focus parameters. The front controls the mode between AF-S, AF-C and AF-A. The rear sets AF-point selection to: Auto 27, Auto 9, Single, Center Assisted 9, Assisted 25 or Assisted 27.
The Pentax K-3 has an unprecedented level of customization available. The Custom-Image menu, activated by the right button of the 4-way controller, shows 11 modes: Bright, Natural, Portrait, Landscape, Vibrant, Radiant, Muted, Bleach Bypass, Reversal Film, Monochrome and B&W. Eight of these modes can be tweaked using five image parameters: Saturation, Hue/Tone, Key, Contrast, and Sharpness. Additionally, there are two advanced settings: Highlight Contrast and Shadow Contrast which can be shown or hidden using the front-control-wheel. There are 9 steps of each parameter except that there are 3 sharpness scales to choose from for sharpness. B&W is has the same choices except it replaces Saturation with Filter Effect. Finally, only Sharpness can be set for Reversal Film.
The good news is that this flexibility provides complete control over the image appearance, taking over functions which used to done by RAW-conversion software. What is left is the daunting task of optimally setting all these options. The effect of a single-step change is very subtle and nearly impossible to discern on the LCD. One is therefore most likely to prepare a few sets of parameters and keep using them for most situations.
Each time the mode-dial is turned, the K-3 displays the function of both control-dials and customizable buttons. Pressing the Info button invokes an interactive status screen with the following settings: Automatic ISO range, Highlight Correction, Shadow Correction, Digital Filter, HDR, AF Assist, High-ISO Noise-Reduction, Slow-Shutter Noise-Reduction, Distortion Correction, Lateral Chromatic Aberration Correction, Vignetting Correction, Focus-Drive, Focus-Area, Memory Options, Format, Quality, Shake-Reduction and Anti-Alias Filter Simulator. Direction buttons select which setting to change and a control-dial changes it.
Since it's quite common to leave a setting such as white-balance or exposure-compensation incorrectly set and thus ruin a large number of images, Pentax DSLRs, including the K-3, allow to specify which settings are reset on power-offFlash mode, drive mode, white-balance, custom image, sensitivity, exposure-compensation, flash-compensation, digital filter, HDR, composition-adjust and playback info.. This shows that Pentax thinks about common mistakes. It would have been even better if users could specify the reset value for each setting as well. This simple change is possible via firmware.
Like all DSLR cameras to date, this one has a metal tripod mount, in-line with the center of the lens. This is the ideal location for panorama shots. Given that total weight can easily be dominated by the lens, also excellent for balance. The bottom of the camera has a door for the battery compartment. This door has a folding latch to keep a tight seal against splashing. Using gloves, it is hard to open but that is a small price to pay for a class-leading weatherproof body. There is an additional rubber flap to protect the battery-grip connector as well. The optional battery-grip can use a second Lithium-Ion battery or 6 AAs for increased versatility.
The Pentax K-3 offers dual SDXC memory-card slots. See the pink box in the right column of the K-3 vs K-5 IIs page for details. Memory cards are inserted behind a sturdy plastic door with rubber-seals for weatherproofing. Just below the card-door is a rubber flap for an optional wired remote. The K-3 also supports wireless remotes with receptors in the front and back for added flexibility. The former is normally used for self-portraits, the latter to minimize shake during long exposures. The other side of the camera has a large rubber-flap which covers the Mini-HDMI, USB 3.0 and DC connectors. Just above that is yet-another rubber-flap, this time to cover the mini-jack for stereo input. This can be used in conjunction with a hot-shoe mounted microphone or a wireless one.
This DSLR supports two folder and two numbering systems. Folders are always sequentially numbered except they can be generic or named for each used combination of month and day. File numbers are either completely sequential or restart for each folder. There is no longer an option to have numbers reset on card changes which means that more clashes are possible now unless you go completely sequential. The K-3 also creates folders for a variety of reasons, including batch RAW conversion, so beware when copying files not to overwrite previous ones.
Pentax K-3 Facts
SLR digital camera
|24 Megapixels DSLR||ISO 100-51200|
|Pentax K Mount|
Sensor-Size: 24 x 16mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|3-Axis Built-in Stabilization, 3.5-Stop Improvement||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|Auto Horizon Correction|
2 Axis Digital Level
|Weatherproof down to -10C||Hot-Shoe & Sync-Port|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Stereo audio input|
|8.3 FPS Drive, 60 Images||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Secure Digital Extended Capacity x 2|
|3.2" LCD 1 Megapixels|
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