The New Superhero That Could: The Pentax K-3 II, How Nikon and Canon Are Lagging Behind, and Why It Doesn't Matter

The New Superhero That Could: The Pentax K-3 II, How Nikon and Canon Are Lagging Behind, and Why It Doesn't Matter

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?

The Situation

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.”

The Question

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?

The Answer

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.

What Now?

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.

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Previous comments
Marc Synwoldt's picture

One feature of Pentax DSLRs (at least of their enthusiast/expert range models) that is often overlooked is their excellent ergonomics. Most people never experience this, because Pentax is carried in so few brick-and-mortar shops, and therefore they seldom actually end up in possible customers' hands. They're not just a pleasure to hold, but also immense fun to shoot. And they deliver in the RAW IQ department, where it really counts. For all they have to offer, they remain still affordable. If you have to watch your budget, does it really matter if you can choose between zillions of current lenses as in the Canikon systems, most of which you'll never own, when you can shoot a selection of those gorgeously built, super-compact, and wonderfully rendering Pentax Limited primes, for example, without breaking the bank? Instead of rethinking my kit all the time, I find myself shooting more than I used to, and having tremendous fun with it.

Mark Kitaoka's picture

I have been using their 645Z now in my commercial work since December 2014. It's a remarkable camera and a value like no other. I was initially irritated by the Image Transmitter 2 software for tethering, but those issues have been resolved. Their legacy lenses I have and use are remarkable as well. Yes I still need my 35s for fast dance or theatrical production shooting, but I've been extremely impressed with focusing, speed and build quality. And the files are just plain luscious. Most important, my clients are thrilled.

I can't help it and i have nothing against Pentax. But why do so many Pentax folks and fans think that all those Canon and Nikon users are unhappy and would like to switch? I have tried a Pentax. It was a K-50. Yes, the body of a K-50 contains a better build quality in the same price range if you compare it against a D5000 for example. The low-entry to mid-entry lenses are good enough for the casual photographer - but that was it all about Pentax. The (PD) AF system, the mediocre results using a flash, the performance of Pentax zoom lenses, the availabilty of their products on the market, offerings in the pentax system about choices, the lens prices and the QC - those are all points who need some improvements. Especially if you want to step up to full frame - Pentax can't offer such outstanding lenses with a good reliability (remember all those SDM problems - that makes it hard for a new customer to trust this brand). And in the end i didn't liked the JPEG rendering results (it seems that only RAW is really usable at Pentax) - the software for your PC or Phone? Not in any way better - in reality the RAW converter called "Silkypix" is worse then anything from Nikon. Next thing is that the service & support is not in the same class compared to Canon and Nikon. Again: Nothing against Pentax but they need to improve a lot more then just making a nice price and apply some gimmick if they want to reach out for the real photo enthusiast. Simply delivering a good body doesn't cut it if the rest of the system is not at the same level as the competition. There is a reason why a D750 is catching big interest on the market - it is not only good product marketing but also about a really great product in every aspect (not only the performance of the body is important but to take advantage of the entire product range if your main interest is great image quality and you want to stay with a brand for the next 10 years). And to do only great marketing doesn't sell enough if your products aren't really great - thus this argument about those sheep who follow those major players is just a laugh - they wouldn't be top if the products weren't.

Steven Brener's picture

I've seen some images created by this new pixel-shift technology. They were simply stunning. Compared to the K3 images, which are in the same league as the Nikon D7100, they were substantially more detailed and vibrant. I think the closest thing I've seen in resolution to it is the Nikon D810.

True that there are more lenses to chose from for Nikons, but you yourself said "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." If so, the Pentax K3 II should sound even more appealing then: you can pick up a few of their excellent small DA Limited primes, which would enable you to put together a small, very high quality kit, more portable than any other DSLR manufacturer currently offers.

And, anyone who has held a Pentax in their hands knows how good they feel.

"DA Limited primes, which would enable you to put together a small, very high quality kit, more portable than any other DSLR manufacturer currently offers."

More portable? How about the Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon Lenses? That Mirrorless is even smaller then Pentax or how about Olympus OMD? Even more portable. And their prime lenses are small, too.

And another thing is - that only a prime lens can deliver image quality is just a myth. A single zoom lens could replace all those DA Limited primes (such as the 18-35mm f/1.8 Sigma) and a plus is that it makes you more flexible when shooting as a different focal length means also to have a different angle of view in your picture.

Adam Ottke's picture

Yeah...but all of these considerations assume I'm okay with APS-C...which I'm not. I'm looking to stay full-frame and add an MF. And at those sizes, prime lenses are the best you can do on a price to size to aperture scale (think Nikon's 1.8G series, which is EXCELLENT or Sigma's SUPERB 1.4 Art lenses....). And with MF, I think prime lenses are the way to go to stay compact with great quality, etc.... MF zooms in my experience are slower to focus, heavy, etc...but MIGHT save a buck if I can put up with it. These are all things I'm thinking about before I (hopefully) stop thinking about gear altogether :-)

claudio lo cascio's picture

X-T1 and OMD are mirrorless, another league,
I personally wanted to try to use mirrorless, and in the end I went for a sony A7, when I compared them at the shop, I found the handling of the OMD oweful, the X-T1 is ok but those little buttons and uncomfortable dial controls are not for me, I guess the handling is very personal opinion, if you like to shoot mirrorless, go for it, but I could never give up to the big 100% pentaprism viewfinder, the grip, and the Pentax system setup, it makes photography a joy. now my sony A7 is collecting dust.

About the Sigma 18-35 1.8: brilliant lens (more than 800 grams ,100 grams more that the weight of my DA* 50-135 2.8 telephoto lens Weather sealed), nothing is perfect, it's all a compromise, it depends on your needs. If I have to traveI, I would rather bring 15mm limited for wide, 31mm limited street/night photography and 50-135mm portrait/telephoto lens, and i'm all covered. with great quality lenses. not sure what else you need.

Those 3 lenses are called "The 3 amigos" in pentaxians dialect, and are probably one of the best lenses ever built. Zeiss iq, minimal size and weight, all metal, nice autofocus, ibis, etc.

31, 43 and 77mm limited.

The author is correct on all counts. For years I've known that my purchase of Pentax cameras has given me "more bang for the buck" as a so-called "photo-enthusiast." This is also the Ricoh problem! Photo enthusiasts are guys with gray hair who believe that death should come before using the green setting (whatever the hell that is). The non-professional younger generation wants smartphones to do their photographic biddings. Therefore, a bunch of early-adopter guys with fat around the waist are not going to influence the younger buyers, who are more interested in selfies.

What is Ricoh to do? 1) Go after the professionals and let recognition of their usage drive the consumer market. This means getting the flash sync above 1/180 sec., getting some faster lenses, etc. No big deal in the scheme of things. 2) Keep the aggressive pricing going. Do with the upcoming FF what was done with the 645z. 3) License the pixel shifting technology to Apple and use the $ to fund whatever it takes to get the market share from 2 percent to 6 or 8 percent. Once the market share is that high no one will worry about buying a Pentax instead of Canikon.

If I can afford the upcoming FF, life will be great! If not, I'll upgrade my K-5 to the K-3II. My photographic life will still be very good and much less expensive than if I went with a Nikon or Cannon.

I am a Pentax user and starting to do more weddings, using K5IIs and now K3. Recent K3 purchase has been ....interesting.... with all those extra pixels not necessarily adding up to a versatile camera when the light goes low. The K3 also is not singing the same tune to my sigma 17-50 as it does to my K5IIs and the AF at Saturdays wedding was dubious. Whether I have to re visit my settings, my style I am going to have another look. Got lots of good shots, but believe the K3II will be the additional tech needed for the 24mp sensor to shine as bright as the 16mp in terms of ...ALL AROUND ... handling.
Your suggestions about people just buying C & N because they have the big name is a tune i've been singing for years and it's 100% correct. Pentax could even make you coffee in the morning, but the mass marketing of the big two will take years and some serious marketing to change.
As to lens choice ..... i'm not as much in agreement.... how many versions of the same lens do you need ? I have easily enough between Pentax, Sigma and Tamron to do the job, so give that one the final burial it deserves.
I do have a hankering to try a Canon for a wedding though, just to see if a 5D III will nail that AF better. Image quality .... no issue, Pentax is right up there, no doubts..... and the 50-135 is a magic piece of kit, just getting the basics right is what I need and that alone could be the catalyst for change.... click bang, click bang on focus every time, which i'm not getting with the K3 right now. Maybe just the lemon in the batch or some tweaking needed but that's the one area that gives me the shivers. Needs to be close to 100%

Why are so many complaining about no on board flash... On camera flash is bad photography it tends to wash the contrast out making you images look flat, always use a Flash Bracket....

Adam Ottke's picture

Some people (like some wedding photographers, etc.) like it for a little extra fill here and there. But personally, I'm with you and can't stand it. But there are uses for everything for different types of each his own, I guess :-)

Sai Kiran's picture

Hi Adam,

I'm a Enthusiastic photographer
I've been using sony alpha 58 for 1.5 years and gained knowledge and experience with it!
I want to turn it to a full time photography business my main problem with my alpha 58 was I'm getting too much noise/grain with even 800 iso sometimes i'm not able to use the photos.
So,I'm thinking of buying a new camera leaving alpha 58 for video purpose and backup camera
I'm thinking of canon 6d or canon 5d with 24-105mm and 50mm f1.8 prime lens
Although i used sony , i'm not satisfied with sony's perfomance so,i want to get a canon camera even there are high end cameras in sony or any other mirror less cameras but i guess their battery and perfomance and weather seal was very bad compared to normal mirrored cameras like canon
Can you plese suggest one of the camera and
5d M3 and 6d camera's prices will drop in the coming months?

Adam Ottke's picture

Camera prices will always drop in coming months whether or not there is a new model. You'll always see better deals as time goes. But the 5D MkIV is around the corner. For now, however, I think the 6D is a much-loved body -- many say it's Canon's best sensor. And you'll be incredibly impressed with the low-light performance. I hope that helps!

Steen Selvejer's picture

Currently using Nikon D810 as my go to-workhorse, but just added the Pentax K-3 ii to my arsenal. I'm just getting to know it, but the initial shots with this beauty? Wow!!! Plain and simple WOW!!!
Started my photographic adventure out with a sublime Asahi Pentax K2DMD in the Seventies. Alas I let it go and switched to a Nikon F2A ... and regretted this switch for years on end.
I'm very happy with the D810, don't get me wrong, but the Pentax K-3 ii is just blowing my socks off: Pentax never ever lost it. Great camera, wonderful lenses.

Steen Selvejer's picture

Started out on Asahi Pentax on the late seventies, but switched to Nikon. Just got a Pentax K-3 II as a supplement to my Nikon D810-equipment - and boy that Pentax K-3 II is a gem: Fantastic handling, ergonomics, and image quality. I really love that camera! If you're in the market for a DSLR and not yet 'married' to a brand, go get it! You won't regret it!!!!

Okay, I am a tad late to this party.

Truly I understand the brand switching. Years ago I switched from Fuji, to three Nikon DSLRs ($ ouch $!). Few years later decided to return to film, so I sold all my Nikon DSLRs, purchased Nikon film cameras. A few years later not sure what happened, I switched to Canon film cameras and purchased L lenses, again sold all my Nikon film cameras (six) along with all Nikon lens. Oh-my, all that switching was costly very costly (GAS is a curse). With all that switching did images improve, heck no. Knowledge about those cameras improved nothing else did.

A friend gave me his Pentax K1000 kit, oh-wow. Sold all my Canon gear, now shooting with Pentax K1000, K1000 SE, and K2. After owning numerous Pro DSLR cameras my only digital is my iPhone 6S Plus. AH-HAH Pentax K70 caught my eye, specs are amazing, yes it takes all my K mount lens; oh-my hide my credit card. The Pentax K1 very much I like, at almost $2,000 it is not for me.

A camera with a gazillion bells and whistles does not make anyone a better photographer, absolutely does not improve our images. Though those whistles and bells may make it easier to capture our vision it is us pressing the shutter release that most matters.