As a fan of Pentax and DSLRs in general, I was incredibly excited when Ricoh launched the Pentax K-3 Mark III. I have been eager to get my hands on one. That chance finally came when I was offered the chance to take a review unit for an extended spin.
Ricoh promised their faithful that the K-3 III would compete with the very best APS-C cameras on the market. Pentaxians and fans of DSLRs should rightly be excited about this camera. The Pentax K-3 III is a top performer, but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
- Excellent ergonomics
- Weather sealing
- Superb image quality
- Large 100% coverage optical viewfinder
- Responsive touchscreen and great menus
- Great battery life
- In-body image stabilization
- The best autofocusing Pentax camera to date
- No articulating LCD
- Small buffer
- No built-in GPS for Astrotracer
- Only one UHS-II card slot; the other is UHS-I
- It’s pricey
Pentax K-3 III — Technical specifications
All specs are from the official Ricoh website:
- Sensor: Approx 26.78 megapixels
- Shake reduction “SR II” (5-axis)
- Pentaprism optical viewfinder
- 3.2-inch touchscreen
- SAFOX 13, 101 point AF, EV-4 to 18
- Up to 12 frames per second
- 4K (3840×2160, 30p/24p), Full HD (1920×1080, 60p/30p/24p)
- Battery: Approx 800 shots per charge
- Connections: USB Type-C, X-sync socket, HDMI input (Type D), microphone input, headphone input
- Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.2
- Approx. 820g / 1.8lbs
- Shutter life: Approx 300,000 actuations
- Dust-proof and weather-resistant construction
Pentax K-3 III — Handling and build quality
Before its launch, Ricoh stated that they spent a lot of time fine-tuning the ergonomics of the Pentax K-3 III. This is evident. The Pentax K-3 III might just be the most ergonomically pleasing camera I’ve ever used. The grip is nice and deep. The contours allow your fingers to fall comfortably into place. It simply melts into your hand. The main bulk of the controls all fall within reach of your thumb, which is great.
When it comes to controls, well, there’s a lot of them. The reason for so many physical controls is to keep you out of the menus. It works. Hats have to come off to Ricoh here as they have done a great job. The busy look is unique to Pentax and it’s not to everyone’s liking. However, in terms of ergonomics and functionality, the Pentax K-3 III is hard to beat. The K-3 III is a joy to hold and use.
You can beat fence posts with it
The Pentax K-3 III has a magnesium alloy body and incredible weather sealing. The K-3 III is built like a tank.
This is nothing less than we expected. Pentax cameras have always been some of the most rugged on the market. The camera got an Oklahoma summertime shower and it didn’t bat an eye. The K-3 III is a camera that’s built to stand up to the rigors of modern photography.
Pentax K-3 III — Ease of use
The Pentax K-3 III features a new, touch-friendly menu system. The menu system isn’t the best out there, but, it’s much better than many others. It makes setting up, using, and customizing the camera very easy. The LCD is also one of the most responsive I’ve used. Touch functions also work very well when you want to control the camera via the screen, such as touch to autofocus, and touch to shoot.
Speaking of customizing, ten buttons can be remapped. There are 30 different custom functions to choose from. You can make this camera work for you. The top LCD panel, while small, gives you a ton of info during a quick glance. The optical viewfinder is another highlight. The 100% coverage OVF is large, bright and very clear. There’s no lag to worry about and no extra eye strain from looking at a small LCD. It’s a gem!
There’s a lot under the hood
The IBIS system in the Pentax K-3 III works very well. I was able to handhold this camera down to 1/5s and still get tack sharp shots. The Pentax K-3 III also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. You’ll also find a self-leveling sensor and pixel shift modes (tripod only) for high-res images. Another gem is Astrotracer. In Astrotracer mode, the sensor can shift to compensate for the movement of the stars. It’s perfect for astrophotography.
However, for some reason, Ricoh left GPS out of the camera. This was a stupid move. This means you have to purchase the GPS dongle separately, which is crazy given the price of the camera. The battery is rated for 800 shots. However, I have shot many more images than this and I’m still on the initial charge.
The K-3 III has two SD card slots. However, only one is UHS-II compatible. Unfortunately, the buffer is small. You can only rattle off roughly 30 RAWs at 12 frames per second before things slow down. Still, unless you spray and pray all the time, this is more than enough performance for most.
Pentax K-3 III — Autofocus performance
The K-3 III is the best Pentax camera to date when it comes to autofocus. There are tons of focus modes to choose from and 101 phase-detection points to use. However, photographers coming to the system will fail to see why Pentax fans are smiling so much. Overall, autofocus performance is snappy and accurate in good light. There’s some hunting in low light.
Overall, the K-3 III is on par with the Nikon D500, which is perhaps the greatest APS-C DSLR ever made. Still, the Nikon D500 is a camera from 2016, not 2021. I was hoping for more. Having said that, being able to use a Pentax DSLR that has good tracking and eye AF capabilities that work through the fantastic optical viewfinder is very nice.
Tracking works well. Once the focus point locks on to a target it was sticky enough. Here are several images out of a 12 image burst. Overall, nine out of 12 images remained in focus. This test was repeated many times with my dogs, and with various other subjects approaching me from all angles. The numbers remained fairly consistent.
The Pentax K-3 III is miles ahead of previous Pentax cameras. You’ll have no issues capturing all but the fastest of action. Pentaxians will be overjoyed with the performance gains here. However, others will not be that impressed.
Pentax K-3 III — Image quality
The overall image quality from the Pentax K-3 III is nothing short of superb. This should come as no surprise. Pentax cameras have always excelled when it comes to color rendition, dynamic range and detail. Let’s break it down further.
The dynamic range of the 26.7-megapixel APS-C sensor found in the Pentax K-3 III is exceptional. As you can see in the images above, I was able to recover a ton of detail from blown-out highlights. Shadow recovery was also excellent. The RAW (or DNG) files you generate have plenty of data for you to play with.
Images made with the Pixel Shift mode can give more resolution, but also more dynamic range. The negative is that there are only tripod-based Pixel Shift modes and not handheld modes, which can be found in the Pentax K-1 II. Still, the images look great, and they will enable you to make large prints.
Straight out of camera JPEGs from the K-3 III are very nice. There are several color profiles to choose from including monotone, bleach bypass, portrait, landscape, and six others. All of them are great in their own ways. Shadows and highlights are well controlled. Noise reduction isn’t too heavy. You could easily shoot JPEGs, transfer them to your phone via the Image Sync app and post to social media without any worries.
High ISO performance
High ISO performance is exceptional. The image samples above range from ISO 1600 up to ISO 1.6 million. Yes, I said 1.6 million. I wouldn’t hesitate to use images at ISO 25,600. I would even use images from ISO 51,200 on the web. They’re great.
Images do suffer from color noise. However, this only starts happening above ISO 25,600. Even images at ISO 406,900 retain a lot of detail. Color me impressed. (Editor’s note: For reasons unknown to us, anything above ISO 51,200 displays as ISO 65,353 in the EXIF data).
Should you buy the Pentax K-3 III?
If you’re heavily invested in Pentax’s K mount and you want to experience the best autofocus that Pentax has to offer, buy it. You’ll love it. The K-3 III is perfect for landscapes, wildlife, sports, and even street/documentary photography. The Pentax K-3 III is rugged, ergonomically sound, feature-packed, and the image quality is fantastic. When paired up with Pentax Limited or Star series lenses, images from the Pentax K-3 III delight!
If you’re on the outside looking in, the K-3 III is a harder sell. It would be remiss of me not to say that for the money (or less), you can get cameras as good as, or better than the K3 III. Even some full-frame cameras are cheaper than this APS-C offering, including Pentax’s own K-1 II. The legendary Nikon D500 is also $500 less than the K-3 III. The Fujifilm X-T4 is $300 less. Still, If you must have a Pentax, the K-3 III is the one to get.
Pentax K-3 Mark III
The best DSLR Pentax has ever made. The K-3 III is small and relatively lightweight. The 26.7-megapixel sensor is fantastic and high ISO performance is unmatched. The K-3 III is built tough with a magnesium alloy body and plenty of weather sealing. Throw in IBIS and more tech like a self-leveling sensor and hi res modes and you have an APS-C camera that’s great for many genres of photography.