Pentax K-3 II Review
By Yvonne

Pentax K-3 II D-SLR has some new features, such as an in-camera GPS. However, it does not have the flash.

Pentax K-3 II Review

Pentax K-3 II

Let's get to the bottom

Pentax K-3 II D-SLR has some new features, such as an in-camera GPS. However, it does not have the flash.

The pros

  • Affordable.
  • Solid, weather-sealed design.
  • 24-megapixel sensor does not include OLPF
  • 27-point system of AF.
  • Reduction of shakes in-camera
  • Pixel Shift Resolution shooting mode improves detail.
  • Simulation mode OLPF
  • Shooting speed 8fps
  • In-camera GPS.
  • Pentaprism viewfinder.
  • Sharp rear LCD.
  • Two SD slots
  • PC sync socket.


  • Omits in-camera flash.
  • The Astrotracer function can be a bit shaky.
  • When tracking focus is activated, burst rate decreases.
  • In-camera Wi Fi is not available.
  • Disappointing video features.

Pentax K-3 II (body only, $1099.95) is an interesting update to the K-3 (1,085.95 Adorama). The body is the same as before, and so are its 24-megapixel APS–C image sensor (opens in a new window) and autofocus system. The built-in flash has been replaced with a GPS and a new Pixel Shift Resolution mode. There are still obvious improvements to the K-3, but they have not been taken into consideration.

Wi-Fi is still missing—although a wireless memory card is included—and video quality is well behind the times. If you're a Pentax shooter mulling an upgrade it's worth consideration—especially since it's already selling for significantly less than its retail price. The Canon EOS 7D Mark II is our Editor's Choice for professional-grade APSC cameras. It has an autofocus system on a whole new level. The 7D is more expensive than the Pentax lenses, and will not do much for you if Pentax lenses are used.

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Design and controls

The K-3 II retains the same basic body design and controls as its predecessor. The K-3 II is small for an SLR in its class and measures 3.9x5.2x3.1inches (HWD), but it's heavy at 1.8lbs. Although the Nikon D7200 (Amazon: $518.99) measures 4.2x5.3x3 inches, it is not as heavy at 1.5lbs. Its lens system is a significant part of the K-3 II's overall dimensions. This includes the well-made, weather-sealed HD DA 20-40mm ED Limited DC WR (745.91 at Amazon). (Opens in a different window) and the extremely thin HD DA40mm F2.8 Limited (396.95 at Amazon).

K-3 II is only available in black and is not offered as a set. This allows you to choose which lens(es) you want to use. It can be used with modern autofocus lenses as well as any manual focus K mount lens. It is made of solid glass and has a 100 percent coverage. The magnification is 0.95x. The viewfinder is larger than the pentamirrors found in entry-level SLRs such as the Canon EOS Rebel T6s. You can also purchase an optional vertical shooter and battery grip ($229.95). These are sealed against moisture and dust, just like the Pentax latest external flash units. This is a crucial point, since the K-3 II does not have an integrated flash.

Pro-grade cameras have a pop-up flash that is more powerful than the larger, external units. This makes it less popular for professional photographers. Ricoh has decided to remove the in-camera flash. This is because Ricoh can control external flash units that are positioned far away from the camera.

The K-3 II is a familiar Pentaxian design. There are a number of controls on the left side of the body—a toggle switch to change between manual and autofocus operation, a button to choose the autofocus mode, a programmable Raw/Fx button, and another to toggle the GPS.

You will find the mode dial on the top plate to the right of the viewfinder. The lock design is a locking one. It has a toggle switch that engages or disables the lock and a button to activate the lock. To the right is a large, monochrome LCD. The LCD displays the current settings of your camera and features a green backlight that improves visibility under different conditions. Ahead of it are two buttons—EV compensation and ISO—and the integrated power switch and shutter release. To activate depth of field preview, move the switch to the Off position. There are two control dials on the K-3 II: one for front and one for rear. You will find the front dial on the handlebar, right before the shutter release.

Rest of the controls are located at the rear. You will find the Play button, and the button to change the metering patterns in the upper left corner. They are sandwiched between the LCD and the eyecup. The rear control dial and the AF/AE-L buttons are located along the top. The Green button is located directly below the control dial. This pentax icon can be used as a toggle switch for setting the Live View mode to either stills or video.

The switch is located below a 4-way control pad. It has positions for adjusting the drive mode, JPG settings, controlling an external flash and white balance. You can also use the control pad to adjust your active focus point. A button at its right switches between functions. The rear controls also include the Info and Menu buttons.

You can change what is displayed on the rear LCD by pressing the Info button. The default setting of the K-3 II is to display the current shooting settings. However, it can be set up to show an electronic level, electronic compass or turn off completely. It measures 3.2 inches in size and has a resolution of 1,037k dots. The LCD is sharper than any SLR and has a resolution of 1,037k dots. There's also no air between the protective cover and the panel, which increases clarity. The fixed LCD is not tiltable or swivel-able, making it less useful for video than the Canon EOS 70D (Amazon: $389.91). Although the K-3 II doesn't have the best LCD for video, its vari-angle display can be used to manually focus shots with Live View.

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Astrotracer and Flucard

When enabled, the in-camera GPS adds location information to photos. This is a valuable tool for world travelers and geotaggers. Ricoh included it in their K-3 II, even though the flash was not an option. Astrotracer is a GPS feature that works with the K-3 II’s in-body shaking reduction system. To compensate for Earth's rotation, it moves the sensor in long exposures. You can use it for up to 5 minutes.

To use Astrotracer you've first got to calibrate the compass—this is done in the menu system, in the GPS submenu on the second page. Astrotracer will be enabled. This allows you to choose Precise calibration. You need to adjust the camera around three axes, until your calibrated. After that, set your K-3 II's mode dial to B (Bulb), enable GPS, then switch to Manual Focus. Finally, choose Bulb (using the green button to toggle between the two), and finally, turn the K-3 II on manual focus. You'll notice a shooting star icon at the bottom left of the rear LCD. If everything is correct, the sensor will move during exposures. Bulb mode has a limit of five minute exposures. Although Astrotracer is not a new feature on Pentax SLRs it is now. To enable this functionality, you would have to purchase the O-GPS1 accessory ($249.95).

Astrotracer's first results were not satisfactory. I'm not an astrophotographer by any means—I'm always guessing in regards to exposure times, apertures, and ISOs when photographing the night sky. I was unsuccessful in many attempts. My exposure time ranged from 2 minutes to 5 minutes. The stars were far too faint. Astrotracer indicated that it was turned on and I'm certain that I could hear the sensor moving, but it just didn't work as advertised—even two-minute exposures showed trails.

Astrotracer's second encounter was much more pleasant. To see the differences, I did a series of exposures lasting two minutes and five minutes with the GPS disabled and enabled. The two-minute exposure with Astrotracer off (above), and the five-minute one with it on (below) clearly shows the differences. The five-minute shot didn't fare as well. Astrotracer reduced the trails but still shows the stars as short streaks. This was despite the fact that Astrotracer reduces exposure times. You should also note that although my night sky photos were not taken for artistic purposes, many of the best astrophotography images I have seen include landscape elements. Astotracer blurs objects on the ground from sensor motion. This means you will need to combine shots together in order to create an image that includes land and sky.

Wi-Fi, even though GPS integration is available, is not. Pentax's 16GB Flucard wireless card is included with the K-3 II. It will need to be placed in the second slot of your memory card to make use of it. This is somewhat annoying. The Nikon D7200 has dual-slot cameras that integrate Wi-Fi. You can place a faster memory card into each slot to create an instant backup or to simply use the second slot to overflow the first. If you opt for the former with the wireless card you'll limit the speed at which the K-3 II can write files when working in burst mode, and if you opt for the latter you won't be able to transfer images to your smartphone, tablet, or computer via Wi-Fi—the Flucard can only copy images that are stored directly on it.

It is best to save JPGs directly to your Flucard when the Flucard's in use. You can also access images through Wi-Fi, which speeds up the process of the camera writing files. Pentax uses a web-based transfer method, which is what most other camera companies do. Instead the K-3 II is accessible via a Web browser, so any device—even Windows Phones—can access it. The Web interface allows you to browse and save photos, as well as remotely control your camera. The full manual control of the camera is possible, which is an advantage over the few remote options available on other models (including Nikon D7200). However, the Web method has a few drawbacks. Images load slower when you browse through them and there is no batch transfer.


The K-3 II begins and takes an in-focus photo in 0.9 seconds. This is faster than other SLRs of its type. It takes just 0.22 seconds for the Nikon D7200 to capture an in-focus image. Once the camera has been turned on, however, it is responsive. The 27-point autofocus system fires and locks in 0.05 seconds under bright lights. In dim light, it slows down to 0.7 seconds. This is just one step slower than the D7200's 0.6%. The Live View focus takes longer; it takes the K-3 II about 0.9 seconds to focus in bright lighting, while the D7200's 0.6-second in dimming conditions.

The burst speed is excellent at 8 fps when the focus setting is to AF/S. The shooting buffer is big—the camera keeps that pace for 24 Raw+JPG or Raw exposures, or about 70 shots if you're shooting in JPG only. Your lens choice will affect the speed of continuous focus. The K-3 II was frustratingly slow in my experience with the older SMC 60-250mm F4 EED (IF), SDM (1,044.95 on Amazon).

Although I was able to use a preproduction HD D FA 150 450mm f/4.5-5.6 DC AW for $2,499.95 (Opens in a new Window) zoom, it still took longer than a Canon 7D Mark II paired up with the EF 100 -400mm f/4.5-5.5.6L IS II USM at Adorama. The 20-40mm Limited was tested with AF-C enabled and the burst speed dropped to 3.6fps. Although the hit rate for in focus shots isn’t ideal, it’s comparable to other SLRs of its class. The continuous focus rate will depend on the type of images you take and the speed with which you focus. Sigma's 150-600mm f/5-6 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens ($879.98 Amazon) (Opens in a New Window) is not available for Pentax cameras.

This lens, which I imagine would increase the K-3 II’s burst speed when using AF-C, could be a problem because of its fast focus motor. A body that can capture fast moving subjects, such as sports, or small objects, like the Sony Alpha 77 II (at Amazon)(Opens a new tab) is a good choice. The K-3 II, however, is an excellent choice for subjects with less demands on the autofocus system.

HDR and Pixel Shift Resolution

Pixel Shift Resolution is one of the K-3 II’s most prominent features. This mode uses the internal sensor shift reduction system of the K-3 II to take a sequence of photos in one shot. Each image is then captured with minimal sensor movement. It's similar to what Olympus introduced with the OM-D E-M5 Mark II ($899.99 at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) , but instead of generating an extremely high-resolution image—the E-M5 II is a 16-megapixel camera that boosts output to 40 megapixels using its sensor shift technique—the K-3 II's Pixel Shift images are still 24 megapixels in resolution.

But that doesn't mean they don't show more detail—our lab and field tests showed a distinct increase in image detail when using PSR. The K-3 II, like most digital cameras uses a Bayer sensor for color photography. This sensor is sensitive to green, red and blue light. It uses a grid that repeats. The filter does not capture every scene, and so the camera has to interpolate data. This reduces its effectiveness. PSR bypasses filters. It uses interpolation instead of filling in missing parts. Instead, it blends information from four different images to produce one image. This captures the color and luminance information for each pixel.

It's very similar to what Foveon sensors can do in a single shot. The three-layered sensor structure of cameras like the Sigma Dp3 Quattro (Amazon: $999.00) has been proven to provide incredible detail in field and lab testing. But Foveon technology is not without its limits—the Quattro cameras are pretty useless beyond ISO 800 for anything but monochrome conversions, they're slow, and also quite power hungry.

That's not to say that the K-3 II is fast when it shoots in PSR; you're obviously limited to working on a steady tripod—with the self-timer enabled for the best results—and shooting a completely static subject. As images are combined, there is a slight delay between each shot. Both Raw and JPG capture are supported, and while JPG images aren't that different in size than single exposure shots—roughly 15MB depending on quality settings and scene content—Raw shots balloon to around 150MB, as opposed to 35MB for standard Raw exposures.

Imatest was used to determine how the resolution increased using PSR at a numerical level. A standard SFRplus test graph was created using the HD D 35mm F2.8 Macro Limited (Amazon: $496.95) at f/8. On a sharpness test, a standard capture yielded 2,595 lines per picture. The score was a mere 10 percent higher when PSR enabled, which brought it to 2,869 lines. In reality I found that the improvement was a bit more than that—textures that aren't visible in standard shots are evident in PSR images. To illustrate the point, I have included croppings from our standard test scene in my slideshow.

Although it isn't as good at reproducing fine details as the Foveon sensors, such as the one found in the Quattro dp3 Quattros, the PSR approach makes this a compelling body for those photographers looking to improve image quality but don't want the restrictions of Foveon technology. Call it Fauxveon if you will, but remember that it's an effective photographic tool under the right conditions—that is, locked down on a tripod with a perfectly static subject.

HDR image capture is also available. This tool is useful for images taken in mixed lighting. It blends an overexposed and underexposed image with a properly exposed one. The result avoids any empty shadows or blown out highlights. Although this feature isn't new, the K-3 II supports Raw HDR. Other models only support JPG output in HDR mode. You'll need to use the Silkypix Raw conversion software that Ricoh provides with the K-3 II in order to develop the Raw shots—Adobe Camera Raw doesn't support this aspect of the K-3 II—but it's there if you want to work with it. HDR, like PSR is better suited to subjects that are still stationary.

Image Quality and Video Quality

The K-3 II is a step ahead of some competitors in detail, even if you don't have PSR enabled. The K-3 II's 24-megapixel sensor does not include an optical low-pass filter (OLPF) that is commonly used with Canon EOS 70D cameras to blur images. This is done to eliminate the possibility of color moiré in images and video. If you're photographing a subject with a repeating pattern that's likely to generate moiré artifacts, you can use the K-3 II's sensor shift shake reduction system to add a slight blur to your image during exposure, simulating the effect of the OLPF. For still capture the K-3 II offers the best of both worlds in this regard, although you'll still have to be wary of moiré when recording video.

Imatest can also check images for noise. The K-3 II reduces noise to less than 1.5 percent when shooting JPGs with default settings. It shows approximately 1.9 percent for ISO 12800. Image quality at ISO 100 is the best, while detail can still be seen through ISO 1600. It's noticeable that lines blur at ISO 3200, 6400 and ISO 12800. The K-3 II's ISO 25600, ISO 51200 and ISO 25600 settings don't cause image quality to drop.

Using PSR affects noise. It's worse in numbers. ISO 1600 is the best at controlling noise, while ISO 3200 has a 1.8 percent limit and ISO 12800 has a 2.8 percent. Detail is much more evident at similar ISOs. ISO 6400 shows very little evidence for smudging, while ISO 12800 has a much stronger image than single-shot mode. ISO 25600, 51200 and 511200 should be avoided while shooting JPGs. This may be due to the difference in noise reduction in PSR. Raw images have a smaller gap, however, it is something JPG photographers should keep in mind. It's unlikely that you will use high ISOs in PSR mode so this may not be an issue.

Lightroom CC cost $99.99/month at Adobe to convert Raw DNG images taken from the K-3 II. This camera is a shining example of its potential, with images that capture detail at ISO 12800. Although ISO 25600 can reduce image quality, it is still very usable. ISO 51200 may seem a little too high, however the PSR mode at ISO 51200 does a better job than single exposure mode. Raw formats have a lower level of noise control than ISO 51200. The slideshow includes croppings of our ISO test scene. These were taken both from JPG and raw images in standard or PSR modes.

The K-3 II still camera is a great performer, but video recording is a disappointment. It records footage at up to 1080i60 or 1080i50 quality in QuickTime format—if you prefer 1080p you can shoot at 30fps, 25fps, or 24fps. 60fps and 50fps are available for 720p. The video quality is not great despite all these settings. The video isn't quite as sharp as other DSLRs and the autofocus speed is slow.

Although the in-camera microphone does an adequate job of recording dialogue, there are standard mic connectors if you need to attach one. There is also a headphone socket for listening and monitoring. But if you're keen on video capture, consider instead the Canon EOS 70D, the Sony Alpha 77 II, or the Canon EOS 7D Mark II—all three offer superior video quality and much quicker autofocus.

The connection ports consist of a wired remote controller connection, a computer sync flash socket and a DC connector to an external power adapter. There is also a micro USB 3.0 port and a micrhild port. For wireless remote control, there are IR receivers at the front and back. Two memory card slots are available for SDHC and SDXC cards.

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Pentax K-3 II, an intriguing, but not entirely clear, upgrade to the K-3, is a fascinating, if somewhat confusing, addition. The K-3 II retains many of the things I love about it, such as its excellent build quality and weather sealed design. It also has access to an extensive library of compact prime lenses. Pixel Shift Resolution is a great addition to the image quality. However, it can only be used under specific conditions. HDR mode has a lot of appeal for some types of photography.

The inclusion of the GPS, however, at the expense of the flash pop-ups is a questionable decision. Although I like automatic geotagging I find the Astrotracer functionality very limited and hit-or miss. And I'm still wondering as to why Wi-Fi has not been integrated into the camera body itself, and what—if anything—Ricoh is doing to improve the video capture capabilities of the Pentax SLR line.

These complaints aside, K-3 II's image quality ranks among the top in its class. It can also shoot quite quickly without the focus locked. The K-3 II does experience a noticeable slowdown when using AF-C mode. This is a significant improvement on the original Alpha 77 II model. It's a great choice for fast action photography without spending hefty; however, the K-3 II does not offer the same level of performance.

The K-3 II, if you are okay with the absence of the flash is an excellent camera for Pentax lenses-loving photographers. But if you currently shoot with a K-3, it's probably best to skip this model, unless Pixel Shift Resolution is something that you will use extensively—you can always buy the add-on GPS for the K-3 to get Astrotracer support. Even if you don't have the pentax system in your budget, the K-3 II is still worth considering over more well-known options from Nikon and Canon.

You can find a variety of high-quality, compact prime lenses. For shooters who work in inclement conditions, you will also be able to purchase lenses that have dust and water protection, similar to the K-3 II. That's not to say that the K-3 II is a good choice for folks just starting with an SLR—the lack of an in-body flash, user-friendly scene mode options, and in-camera Wi-Fi are downers for novices, who are better suited with a model like the Canon EOS Rebel T6s. However, more experienced photographers will see the value in this model.

The Canon EOS Rebel 7D Mark II is our favorite SLR of this category. Although it is more expensive than the K-3 II in retail, its autofocus is still the most powerful you will find for a camera less than $5,000. If the 7D's price is prohibitive and you are interested in high-resolution Pixel Shift Resolution still lives, the Sony Alpha 77 II may be a better choice. The Sony Alpha 77 II's speed is excellent, even for tracking, and the price tag is reasonable.

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