Do you want your sensor to shift in-body to create a higher-resolution image? Want 4.5-stop image stabilization built into the body so we can benefit from its use with any lens? Want to be able to decide for every shot exactly what level of anti-aliasing you want in order to balance moiré and sharpness? It’s all possible with the new 24-megapixel, APS-C Pentax K-3 II. And, it'll likely be possible in their rumored full-frame camera. Pentax is great, but why aren’t we seeing the “bigger” brands pony up with groundbreaking features?
To what will be the eventual detriment of the big brands, Pentax is apparently more than willing to include new features that we all dream of, proving that it is in fact very possible to include these features in today’s cameras without having to wait for tomorrow.
Perhaps the greatest of these achievements in ingenuity is the promise of the ability for the sensor to make micro-adjustments for the purpose of tracking with the night sky. Yes, the K-3 II’s AstroTracer technology shifts the sensor in tiny increments to match Earth’s rotation so stars can stay sharp during relatively short exposures (I’m not entirely sure, but of course, this likely won’t work for long exposures since the sensor can only shift so much before it’s out of the lens’ area of projection… still, quite impressive as-is).
Instead of including a physical anti-aliasing filter over the sensor (which essentially blurs the image just slightly to avoid moiré), the new Pentax body, like its predecessor, also relies on its sensor vibration capabilities to provide anti-aliasing filter effects that are adjustable for every shot. Shooting a group of groomsmen with high-contrast, funky pin-stripe suits? Crank up that anti-aliasing effect. Shooting a landscape or portrait? Turn it off completely to have the sharpest image possible.
Finally, less revolutionary but equally impressive 4.5-stop in-body stabilization, built-in GPS, and weatherproofing in this 24-megapixel APS-C beast round out what’s actually an extremely affordable, feature-packed camera at $1,096.95 (B&H is taking pre-orders now). And not even all of these features are new to the Mark II version of the K-3. But Pentax is still one of the few to go so far with so many features that truly can be considered “added-value.”
Why does Nikon not include GPS and instead charge just short of $300 (a third the value of the Pentax K-3 II) for an additional GPS dongle? Why does Canon not step up and add some kind of similarly adjustable anti-aliasing filter technology to their pro bodies, let alone to their pro-sumer APS-C bodies?
Nikon and Canon sell to the masses. They don’t need to cater to each and every wish of the general public. They have such a following and such a massive lens selection that people won’t switch for one or two or even six fantastic features that one camera might have over another if it means leaving their current brand. And after all, it’s not your gear that gets you the great shot; it’s you.
Of course, there’s a limit to that, as with everything. If Nikon and Canon were to stop developing altogether, hoards of people would switch to other brands that would surpass their then-two-year-old ISO capabilities, etc. But as long as they continue to increase sensitivity, pixel size, sensor size across the board (slowly, but steadily, of course), megapixel count (in certain instances), autofocus speed, processor speed, and so on, they’ll have covered the big things that people really can’t live without. And that’s enough to continue selling what they sell.
Nikon and Canon could put more R&D into in-body stabilization (I’m sure they’ve already put in plenty). However they know it would cannibalize some of their VR/IS lens sales and would be expensive to implement, eating into already relatively low margins for each body they sell. They could implement sensor-shift technologies for cheaper, ultra-resolution bodies, but they’d miss out on new 5DS and D810 successor sales to many landscape photographers unless they charged a ridiculous premium for the sensor-shifting camera, and then people wouldn’t buy it.
To Jump or Not to Jump
Go for it. If you want the extra features Pentax offers in the K-3 II, jump ship. It’s not a pretty place to have to jump. It might be the best decision you’ve made for the next year or two. But soon enough, you’ll suffer from the grass-is-greener predicament.
You’ll miss near-perfect autofocus for what’s likely excellent autofocus in the K-3, but just not quite as good. You’ll miss the lens selection available on the other systems as your shooting style begins to change slightly. You’ll miss regular software updates and the benefit of the massive availability of multiple used copies of the lens you want in your area, so you’ll have to buy new lenses more often thanks to the lack of “Craigslist support” for less popular systems. And depending on who you are and what programs are available to you, you may miss out on some great behind-the-scenes support through NPS or CPS when you’re in a bind.
It’s not a pretty world we live in. If you don’t jump ship, then you’ve reserved yourself to the fact that you won’t need to hold your breath. And nor should you. These features won’t even be coming in the full frame D5 or the 1D X Mark II (if that’s what they’re to be called). There won’t be a D750 or D610 "Pro" with proper professional controls and a 1/8000 top-end shutter speed; it’ll be either/or if we’re lucky. There won’t be a D810 or 5DS with sensor-shift capabilities to create 200-megapixel and/or extremely color and detail-rich images next year (something that oddly enough puts Pentax and Hasselblad in a similar box with their K-3 II for color/detail and H5D-200MS for resolution, respectively). There's a good chance you’ll see in-body stabilization in a D7600 and T9i before you see it in a D6 or 1D Z Mk V.
You might see one of those features creep in throughout the next couple years, but it’ll take a decade or more before you see that all happen for Nikon and Canon. Even then there will be other technologies missing from their new bodies.
Going back to jumping ship… it’s a blindfolded exercise; you don’t know who will jump with you. You might be like all of the original Apple users who were pioneers with their computer-selection decisions, or you could find yourself stuck in a system that doesn’t want to move forward in a few years. It’s not even up to Pentax. That part is up to the market. Even Pentax executives can’t ignore a lack of sales if that’s what happens. And then again, they could sell out. They could sell more and more and introduce more and more lenses and finally restore their name to what its pre-digital glory. Let’s not forget, Pentax gave us the first production 35mm autofocus SLR with the Pentax ME F (even if it wasn’t that great at the time), the game-changing Asahi Pentax (the popularity of which pushed the company to change its name from Asahi to Pentax, which is like if Nikon changed its name to D1 back in 2001), the beloved Pentax 67 tank, and even continue that tradition with today’s best deal in medium format digital with the Pentax 645Z.
Unfortunately, there just is no good choice. We don’t have a good Bible to consult in these tough times. The scary part is that there’s potentially a right and wrong; but what it is, no one can tell you.
You can try to start a Nikon boycott if it bugs you so much, but as much as Nikon Rumors’ readers, DPReview’s readers, and our own readers might all know about it and agree, all the dads and moms at Best Buy won’t care one bit because they will not have heard a thing when they line up to buy that Nikon D5500 with the 55-200mm kit lens to take photos at their daughters’ cheerleading competitions. And you can put good money down guessing that none of Nikon’s or Canon’s long-time pros will leave them. They’d be stupid to, and they wouldn’t want to, either. After all, it’s not about the gear, it’s about what you can do with the gear. Nikon’s pros can do what they really need to, and so can you.
So, Pentax: Thank you for your work. Seriously. It’s really, really neat to see these things developing at extremely reasonable prices, making high-end tech available to the masses should they want it. The features in the K-3 II will undoubtedly help capture better shots for those that go for it.
I can’t recommend switching as much as I can’t recommend staying with the big boys. Do I wish Pentax had the plethora of lens choices and ridiculously high following that others have? Of course. And would I switch if they did? I quite possibly would (for a full-frame version, perhaps, which Pentax promised by the end of the year when it showed off an extremely limited glimpse of a prototype at CP+). But as much as I love, talk about, research, and search for the best gear in the business, I also really do believe that it just doesn’t matter.
These are all conveniences. And it’s incredibly hard to build a business, a lifestyle, and a gear-purchasing habit that chases the distraction of conveniences over the simplicity of necessities.
I’ve managed to do that, not-so-surprisingly enough. More and more though, I find myself just not caring. I’m selling a lot of my equipment, narrowing down the selection of lenses in my bag in favor of the three primes I use most often, purchasing smaller bags to travel with, and trying to be less brand-dependent.
Will Pentax find its way into my bag with the new full-frame? Perhaps. Although that could just as well be Sony with their A7 series, Nikon with their new rumored full-frame mirrorless (if it sees the light of day in the next year or two), or even back to Pentax again with their 645Z. I’ve opened myself up to so many more possibilities with this new simplification, and it’s such a relief. It’s all because I finally started following my own advice.
Maybe we should all try to simplify and care just a little bit less about the gear. Find the three lenses that work for us, grab a body or two, and just go shoot.