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AN EXCELLENT CAMERA, BUT WITH SOME SERIOUS TRADE OFFS IN PERFORMANCE
on June 12, 2014
***Please note, I turn off JPEG Noise Reduction on my cameras. Noise reduction (NR) can smear images as opposed to helping them when the option to fix noise in post production tools exist that do a better job. All comparisons between cameras in JPEG are done as such to get a better idea of sharpness provided by each camera. By turning off Noise Reduction I also get a better sense of what the JPEG engine is doing in the camera. I do shoot in RAW also, but really only for exposure corrections, CA removal, and other basic "photographic" based functions such as White Balance. I do review comparisons of RAW to JPEG for final images, but not for focus tests which is deemed unnecessary to note focusing performance of a camera.
MY K3 REVIEW:
- Blazing fast firmware - including in camera RAW editing
- Blazing fast live view operation, focusing, and shot to shot times in live view
- Blazing fast write times to card/fast buffering
- LCD a huge improvement, literally HUGE improvement in size and clarity.
- Remains compact in size, but big enough to feel solid just like the K5 and Pentax family
- Vignetting and CA removal VERY effective in JPEG format (processed rapidly while shooting!!). Its faster and more effective than in previous cameras.
-Images far cleaner at 1600 ISO and 3200 than advertised by review sites and worry- warts. K5 does remain cleaner for JPEG luma noise while both have the same chroma noise. The K5 and K01 are undeniably better images, but the K3 is still better than the competition and close to the K5 and K01.
- Sharp images when viewed at the same size as 16MP images (10x15 on your LCD or on print). I am referring to sharpness of JPEG's WHEN JPEG ISO NR is turned off in the camera. Try it for ISO under 1600, you won't regret it!!!
- No moire noted at all with the AA simulator turned off. I only have shot the K3 with the AA simulator turned off which yields sharper images.
- MUCH less fringing with the K3 than the K5. I tested in really challenging conditions under bright sunlight where the K5 fringed on metal and fencing and hi contrast. The K3 was squeaky clean (AA filter off and CA removal on in the camera settings). This is something K3 advocates have yet reported that is really important to hear. It is a HUGE benefactor in my opinion and makes for great images for architectural or automotive shooters.
- Slightly larger OVF magnification that makes viewing the OVF really nice.
THE NIT PICKING OR JUST WHAT IS DIFFERENT FROM THE K5 FAMILY
-Shutter and focusing a bit louder while using OVF (though still nice). But live view (CDAF) clicks loudly while focusing, almost annoying compared to the K5
- Live view mode does not zoom/verify focused point (a trade of for faster focusing)
- USB Door is thinner and flimsier on the K3 as opposed to the K5 and does not seal as well. While in warm temps, I noted the door alters shape and becomes soft causing alarm for making a good fit in wet conditions. It should still "do the job", just not as confidently as the K5 door.
- Fidgety button operation. In some circumstances, buttons at varying points of the camera must be used at the same time to change a function (such as changing AF selection).
- reduced battery life
- edials are not as smooth on the K3 as the K5. They click quite audibly and cheaper in feel. But honestly, this is subjective to the user. It is important to note there is quite a bit of a difference. I also find the new 4 way buttons very annoying and too easy to bump.
THE NIT PICKING IN FAVOR OF THE K3
- B-E-A-U-T-F-U-L display panel with excellent colors to choose from. Makes you want to just stare at the status screen. The display on the K3 is THEE Lamborghini of cameras, no doubt.
- Excellent live view shooting implementation, button placement, and functionality (minus the metering button and LCD on/off situation). Live view stays on when in live view, at all times, even when "menu diving" so when you are done with the menu , you are back into live view. With the K5, you have to turn live view on even if just change PASM modes. GREAT fix on the K3. If you shoot live view and don't care about the metering switch or turning on and off the LCD, YOU WILL LOVE the K3.
- Very nice AF button placement and much easier to use (especially with gloves on) than the K5
- IF you like a bigger size, the K3 feels a bit grippier and larger with more room for bigger hands (though little room remains for fingers between the lens and right side grip - it is tight on both cameras)
Tripoding with the K3 is a disaster: almost all of the time, tripod shooters need the shooting info displayed on the back LCD and need to turn it off and on quickly. Tripoding has really become frustrating work thanks to the new K3 menu design for the LCD and Metering functions.
- For reference, on the K5, hit the info button once, displays page 1 shooting info, hit it second time shows page 2, hit it a 3rd time, back LCD is off (the level is an opted 4th screen that can be changed in the menu...very nice implementation on the K5). One button, one task, quickly achieved on the K5.
The K3, turning on and off the LCD is menu based option.... it takes fidgeting through a menu to turn off the back LCD which makes NO sense at all.
- This next complaint is quite bothersome WHEN you cannot view the top LCD. To change metering, if you need the back LCD while on a Tripod and it was off while you shoot, you have to turn the rear LCD back on using the multi-click menu navigation, push the meter button and then select in the menu what metering you want, then navigate the menu and turn off the back LCD panel again. Otherwise, click on and off your live view to change or verify the setting of your metering. You can change the metering while your scene is displayed in live view, though. The 3 way selector for the metering used to be a switch under the mode dial which was always visible to change or verify in case your lighting conditions are in a rapidly changing state. Now what WAS the metering selection switch is a useless lock for the mode dial lock itself making it a redundant and trivial invention that replaces a VERY necessary switch (the metering function). This lock mechanism is nothing less than redundant; a lock for the lock!!! Wow. The mode dial lock button was easy enough to just push to change PASM modes. Also, the new lock for the lock moves too easily back and forth and is bumped into unknown positions. Not a smart change at all.
- I find the white balance a tad bit off for Daylight White Balance on the K3 vs the K5. The K3 has a bit of a yellow cast which requires post editing to correct at times, but especially on cloudy days. The K5 maintains overall a more balanced daylight white balance in all outdoor shooting conditions. This really came as a surprise to me hearing others state differently. This may be due to subjectivity from person to person or because
of varying conditions. BUT, with all the remarks about white balance, I find it important to share with you my findings favor the K5. In fact, DP Review also agrees that JPEG white balance and color saturation is a bit skewed and put this as a CON on the conclusion page of their review of the K3. So I am not the only one noticing the white balance variations.
THE UGLY: REDUCED AUTO FOCUS PERFORMANCE (FOR STILL SHOOTING)
FOR STILL SHOOTING OR SINGLE SHOT photography, focus accuracy is WAY down. It is particularly bad when focusing at near infinity to infinity targets. The K5 Mark one will stutter sometimes, but gets you a sharp photo, the K5ii is the greatest performer and hardly stutters. The K3 jumps on it and fires, but gets only 95-98% correct focus in PDAF and 50% in CDAF/Live View. The K5 gets tack sharp focus almost all the time IF you are one to take time to compose a still shot. Honestly, I will take accuracy over speed and megapixels any day. It seems the new focus system sacrificed accuracy for speed in order to accommodate a 27 point system to utilize tracking systems for action photography. So if you enjoy stills, the K5ii (and even K01 from my experience) focus much better in all conditions for single shots. I must report there is no Front Focus Tungsten issue like there is for the K5 (which you have to adjust for FF or just use live view) For low light, I still love using the K01 the most. I have also noted RAW files in Hi ISO are cleaner for the K01 and K5 than the K3, though not drastically different.
Concerning Auto focus, you will hear compliment after compliment about "Tracking" in autofocus. Yet very few (if anyone) has really commented pinpoint accuracy and consistency for stills shooting. BUT, DP Review severely down graded the score for Auto Focus Accuracy for the K3 vs the K5 which is rated very high. In addition, Pentax Forums In Depth Review (and Administrator "Adam") has constantly remarked that the K3 really only shoots well with SDM/DC based lenses, and is more "picky" about the lenses used with it. Additionally comments in those resources also state that screw driven lenses may suffer a bit, and that 3rd party lenses may not work well.
MY TEST RESULTS:
Now, just in my experience, I tripoded the K3 with a perfectly functioning Tamron 28-75 lens that is dead accurate on my 2 K5's. This Tamron 28-75 was calibrated February 2014 and I have shot perfectly all year with this thing. I shot a test seen with CDAF/Live view, and shots were mostly correct testing at 28mm, 40mm, 60mm, and 75mm on the K3 (in the test seen, not real world shooting which was worse). I then shot in PDAF/OVF. I did 3 shots each focal length. Results were very consistent. In PDAF the K3 focused a little Front Focus at 28mm, more FF at 40, worse at 60mm, and FF at 75 to where there was no focus at all. I tried adjusting AF fine tune, but already you can tell if in order to compensate 75mm, 28mm would be way off, and it was. When 75mm was accurate, 28mm was then Back Focused (BF). The focus changed so radically the 28-75 was completely unusable on the K3.
To be fair, and report honestly, I did not have these problems with my DA35mm, DA50mm, DA16-45, or DA40mm in PDAF/OVF shooting. However, in Live View/CDAF, focus was so inconsistent for any lens in Real World conditions that in each shot foreground blur/bokeh and background blur/bokeh would exchange a bit, and the center focus was only tack sharp in few instances. It appears that speed has been implemented at the cost of accuracy.
TO NOTE further, I tripod every test scenario, shoot the same setting 3 times, recompose between all shots, and use single point focus, not multi point in order to pinpoint a clearly obvious target. I also compare between cameras just for reference to make certain results are consistent. Every time, the K5 in CDAF was 90%+ accurate, the K3 under 50% and this is for all lenses used.
KEEP in mind, all my lenses are screw driven. My conclusion is the change to a faster motor and faster focusing system has lead to inconsistency. I have made this known to Pentax and a reply was made to me "that given the new mechanical nature of the screw drive system, it is a possibility that this may contribute to less accurate results".
ALSO keep in mind, with SDM/DC motor systems in Pentax, shooting in PDAF/OVF has reportedly resulted in dead accurate and amazing results.
The K3 has become a "fidgety" camera to use for tripod shooters. The changes from the K5/k5ii are not all that small, they are quite intrusive to the work of Tripod Shooters, but not so much sports shooters who don't need to turn on and off the back LCD and also change metering on demand. None the less, there is some "getting used to" in a variety of settings changes. The K5 is very streamlined in this regard and the K3 more challenging and menu/multi button driven. The only real improvement from the K5 to the K3 is faster Live View shot to shot times, 27 points, a slightly faster focusing system for tracking/sports shooting, (though arguably less accurate), and a better LCD panel with a push to 24MP from 16MP which does NOT yield a better image if you view each yielding photograph in their native resolutions. The 24MP does allow for the larger print at native resolutions, just not a better looking print. Honestly, with the better focusing of the K5 for stills shooting, coupled with my efforts in post editing, I am able to get more consistent results and sharper images with the K5 than the K3.
Mostly, all changes seem to be trade-offs and not improvements (except for the nice LCD panel)
All in all, I cannot justify the K3 for anything other than larger print sizes and improved action photography. If you are a stills shooter, the K5 is a much smoother functioning camera with shooting modes at your fingertips, quicker and easier to use functions, with more accurate focusing. Live view focusing speeds are only very slightly slower on a K5 (though buffering is very slow for shot to shot times in live view). Yet the K5 feels smoother and more accurate as opposed to the K3 which quickly jolts and leaves you to wonder if it even focused accurately. Additionally, the K3 jumps quickly and never zooms in the focus point of your subjects leaving you to guess at what was focused upon. The K5 smoothly zooms in the target and you can verify the focus point. The K3 live view advantage only lies in write times allowing near instantaneous shot to shot times, many of which will not be perfectly focused of course. It would have been in Pentax's best interest to speed up shot to shot times of the K5 in this K3, but use the K5 focus method of more softly zooming in on a target and capturing with accuracy rather than speed. After all, who shoots sports or action in live view??? It would have made sense to design live view around those who shoot in live view; those who shoot in low light or static subjects that need to SEE and VERIFY what is being focused on and get accurate results. The cost to K5 shooters is suffering the slow live view shot to shot times due to waiting on the LCD to be viewable after each shot.
CONCLUSION TO MY DILEMMA:
I REALLY wanted to pay some compliments to the K3. If you are coming from any camera other than a K5ii/K5iis the K3 is a very formidable camera that just feels AWESOME to use. In design (minus my 2 gripes of the metering switch and LCD on/off switching) the K3 is the ultimate camera. It feels better to hold than a K5 in my opinion, and its speed of operation is incredibly snappy and almost robotic. The larger OVF helps too, though only a little, but feels great to use. Its focusing feels decisive, but this is where all the compliments end. LESS focus accuracy is the trade off for decisive and quick focusing and is not acceptable in my book, and it broke the deal for me.
Also, the K3 froze on 2 occasions requiring me to remove and reinstall the battery. It would not even power down, it just got stuck on the status screen and did not respond. This is a very common complaint even after installing firmware updates. For this reason and for the inconsistent focusing, I returned the K3 defective. I lost sleep for 2 nights over that decision, no joking. I love Pentax, and this was just a real let down for me. Thus I found it important to report my experience and hope these issues are more expressed by others having the same problems so Pentax/Ricoh will make some changes or fix the K3. I then will jump at any chance to buy one!!!
Bottom line: the tradeoffs of the K3 to the K5 were not worth it for my style of shooting. I since have purchased a K5iis and have not looked back. I do look forward to an improved K3 someday = )
A SIMPLE ANALOGY:
The K3 is more for the photographic "skeet shooter", wanting to hit moving targets.
The K5 is dog slow in Live View, but as a stills shooter, I feel I capture more of "what I came for" with the K5. I can just sit back, enjoy the view, and shoot something that "ain't movin' ". I find the K5 a more "relaxing and sure footed" experience. And heck, with the slow write times of the K5 in live view, I find there is more time to have a few extra sips of beer between shots!!!
I hope you find what works best for you.