Monday, October 7, 2013

Pentax K-3, successor to the Nikon D300?

I've been dissatisfied with the available choices in dSLRs.  I wanted a (mythical?) Nikon D400, but ended up buying an Olympus E-5 to replace/supplement my E-1.  The E-5 was a great body for 2007, but it became available in 2010, replacing the slightly horrible E-3 that was two years late, which anti-aliased its photos to mush.  The Nikon D300 was a great body for 2007, but was more-or-less replaced by the D300s and then, the D7100.

Unfortunately, the D7100 doesn't have enough buffer depth for raw files in burst mode, so you wait more than you should.  That's what happens when you take a buffer from a 12 MP camera body, along with the AF module, etc.  The price of the D7100 is great and the plastics in the exterior are reasonable to hold the price down and it is weather-sealed, but performance (for me) isn't negotiable.

Today, Ricoh (omg, Ricoh?) announced the replacement for the Pentax K-5 II, the K-3.  (I'm waiting to see the follow-on bodies at lower levels since they had the K-50 and K-500--they already used the K-30 name.)

The K-3 puts a APS-C sized  (the same sensor as the D7100, apparently) sensor into a body based on the K-7/K-5, reworks the auto focus, auto exposure, and video, and turns out a camera body seemingly as good as a D300 replacement would be, and for US$1299.99, US$100.00 less expensive than the Olympus E-M1.

They also use the in-body image stabilization/shake reduction to work as an optional anti-aliasing filter, since they've removed one from the mix.   If you're dealing with a situation where moir√© patterns will be a problem, you can enable the "filter" to smooth things.  How this works at the same time with the image stabilization going is anyone's guess but it's great, unconventional thinking.

I normally have terrible things to say about Ricoh because they do some things that are beyond weird.  In this case, the mix of Ricoh and Pentax seems to have produced a hellacious camera body that should be able to take on anyone.  It certainly beats the hell out of the Canon 70D and 7D and puts the hurt on Nikon's D7100, and nails the coffin on the D300s.  It also takes some of the shine off the newly-revised Nikon D610, which seems to have changed minimally.

Will anyone buy it?

This is the big question.  The Canikon fanatics don't seem know about other brands, in general.  If they have anything to say, it's that the other brands are inferior, even if they use information incorrectly.  Pentax has for a long time, been a forgotten brand.

I sold the Pentax ME and K-1000 (and the Auto 110 SLR!) and they were very reliable camera bodies.  Given the other choices at the time, Nikon, Olympus, and Fujica/FujiFilm all had better and more interesting equipment.  Pentax' claim to fame at the time was the Gallium Arsenide sensor for the light meter, while Fuji was using something called Silicon Blue, and the others were less advanced.  Pentax were well known for their 6x6 and 6x7 cameras and commercial work beyond what an enthusiast's camera like the Nikon F2 could do.

Does the Pentax name have enough recognition now to climb out of the hole first dug by the *ist?  Barely, I believe.  When I've been out photographing sports, I've seen a few Pentax models.  That's a big change.  Of course, it's easy to see the Canikon equipment but I think people are realizing that they have to buy higher up with Canikon to get what they really want.  From what I see, you need to buy the Nikon D800 or the Canon 5D Mk III to get full-featured models.  Everything below them is cut-rate.

There seem to be quite a few modern lenses now, and with three levels (two of which are weather-sealed) of bodies on which to attach them, they look to have a sensible line.  With Ricoh's imaging (all those copiers have to do something, don't they?) enhancements, it looks quite a bit better.  Certainly, the Hoya people weren't doing a lot for Pentax, except dishing the money.

Barring some weirdness, Pentax/Ricoh seems to have a winner on their hands.  It may be my next dSLR.  Hmm...try to find a Pentax dealer these days.  There might be some medium format Pentax dealers, but no one seems to carry their dSLRs in a physical store.

What happens if/when Nikon responds with a D7200?  Will it correct the buffer issue?

Update 2014.01.11: Apparently, there is some weirdness that could be corrected by firmware updates.  Whether there will be corrections, I wonder, as this is one of the reasons I haven't jumped to Pentax time and again.

As far as the Nikon D7200 goes, Nikon USA tweeted about the D3300 the other day and I replied, asking where the D400 or D7200 was.  I realize that they want to sell the D610, but they need a real replacement for the D300/D300s.  The Pentax K-3 and 60-250mm look like a good combination for me, but I'm just not sure.

Update 2014.04.10: I have to laugh at DPReview's rather late review.  In particular one line caught my attention that they wanted to downplay the K-3's importance in the US$1000 to $2000 sector:
 The Nikon D7100 is a safer bet in this respect, too, though it is somewhat hobbled by its small Raw buffer - 7 images, rather than the K-3's 23-or-so.
3.x to 1 is "somewhat"?

I realize that they don't want to offend their Canikon users, but please, tell it like it is.  They have no trouble complaining about the variable focus speed of various Pentax lenses, but they can't say that there is a problem where the Nikon D7100 has to write and write and write to clear the buffer and the photographer has to wait and wait and wait?  Do all Nikon-made (or Canon-made) lenses focus at the same speed?  I thought that they had differing focusing technologies, as well.

It reminds me of the preview for the Olympus E-M1 where someone slipped a line like "but we don't know if the sensor can go beyond 16 MP" even though we don't know if APS-C sensors can go beyond 24 MP, either.  The line was removed for the review, but it was obvious that brand fanatics often write what they want to defend.

Update 2014.04.29: Seeing Imaging Resource's K-3 review and test images, I'm thinking that Pentax (by Ricoh) have made some odd mistakes.  The images at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 show the Olympus E-M1 to be better, which seems damned odd, even given that the sensors have a similar pixel density.  I really would have expected better performance.  Perhaps, it's still possible to re-work the firmware.  Right now, I wouldn't recommend it, sadly, even though Nikon don't seem to be in a hurry to fix the D7100's buffer issues.

Update 2014.12.25: It's unfortunate that there is always a bit of weirdness in Pentax products.  Adding Ricoh to the mix didn't push things toward the center, but thankfully, it didn't made things worse, as Ricoh products are usually more weird.

I wish there was a standard visual interface for cameras.  Pentax makes very desirable products let down by their firmware.  Back in their film days, products like the ME Super and Auto 110 SLR were great.

Pentax could really use a boatload of firmware developers who could put things right.  They should be selling loads of equipment.

Update 2015.03.03: Since Nikon has introduced the D7200, the hope for the Pentax K-3 is diminished.  The K-3 is a very good product, hampered by its firmware.  The company really needs to hire better firmware developers to take a fresh look at what they're doing and remove the quirks.

Update 2015.04.27: The K-3 Mk II is now out in the open.  Regardless, it doesn't seem as much is known, at least, as how the camera body will work in real life.  What I see are good, but minor changes made to a very good body.  What probably hasn't changed is the quirkiness of the firmware and operations.

About a week ago, I got a Pentax K-50 and I'm attempting to familiarize myself with the Pentax way of doing things, which isn't like any other experience I've had so far, except maybe for Canon.  No, I believe it's quite unique.

I hope that Ricoh, the company in charge of Pentax products, will find a way to make things very easy to use.  If they can make the operation of the K-3 Mk II as smooth as Nikon or Olympus, they should be able to gain many customers and make them very happy with their photos and even, their video.

I'm finding from the K-50 that it's very good for still image quality, and it looks as though the video is quite good, even if it's not as great as the Panasonic GH3.  The GH3 is formidable in its video abilities but is a bit lacking for still photography.  Pentax, like Olympus, excels in still photography, not video.

Since the Nikon D7200, there is an answer to the US$1000-$2000 range that was left open by the D300/D300s' retirement.  Is it enough?  The D7200 isn't a huge leap over the D7100, which wasn't a replacement for the D300.   The D7200 is good, but is the K-3 Mk II better?  In general, I think that the K-3 Mk II is better but are the lenses there, and will the firmware be a problem?

Update 2015.07.27: While the Pentax K-50 was very good, I ended up giving it to someone who had their camera stolen.  I looked to buy lenses that could be used with the Panasonic GH4 and Olympus E-M1 and the possibilities didn't seem so good with the availability of K-mount lenses or the adapters.

I bought the Nikon D7200 and I'm taking some time to learn how to use it best.  Even small things are a pain to learn.  Given that I have not used Nikon SLRs since film, it isn't a real surprise.  The controls don't exactly seem logical, even compared to the Pentax K-50.  It definitely feels good enough to replace the D300, though.

Update 2016.05.16: Since the K-3 has been revised and there is a new 135 Format K-1, the company has done well for itself.  They've also addressed the lack of familiar focal length lenses with the help of Tamron.  I suspect that they'll still end up a distant third (Sony isn't really involved in dSLRs or APS-C any longer) in the minds of people.  However, the price of the K-1 at around US$800 or $900 lower than the Nikon D810 has raised some eyebrows.

The fact that Nikon has brought to market the D500 pushes the D7200 and the K-3 Mk II further away than they were, if you have the extra money for it and then, only if you don't want the K-1.

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