Pentax Zigs to Camera Industry’s Zag: A DSLR

Dec 28, 2020 | Bodies, Pentax, Rumors

It has been a long time coming, but the Pentax K-3 Mark III is rumored to have a release date of late February. The APS-C mirror slapper comes as both DSLRs and APS-C sensors have been ditched by the rest of the camera industry. People purchasing “camera cameras,” rather than using the phone are usually going for full frame sensors, maximizing the unique benefits of hauling around a large device. And the inflection point after which mirrorless features bested mirrorless disadvantages was back in the Obama administration.

The Pentax K-3 III is perfectly positioned to frustrate all of the preferences of the market – yet this gives some strength to the Pentax brand for sticking to its 2010s guns and finding itself with a unique selling proposition. Pentax, known for tough build quality and fervent fans, at least has the benefit of not needing to convince its customer base to buy all new glass. That has been the major hurdle for Canon and Nikon as they have been moving rapidly to an all-mirrorless set of lineups.

The Mark II of the K-3 was widely panned as a non-upgrade rebadging of the old camera. The Mark III is to have some new features:

  • Improved 25.73 megapixel sensor (including a claim of 1.6 million ISO capability, although ISO capacities past the 4-figures mark have traditionally been useless in practical photography)
  • In-body Image Stabilization for both stills and video
  • Redesign of the user interface
  • Dual card slots (although only one exploits UHS-II SD cards, the other limited to UHS-I speeds)
  • 4k 30 video recording
  • 12 frames per second stills
  • A bunch of other items that don’t frankly sounds like significant improvements, such as a viewfinder with 1.05x magnification.

The camera is set to be priced around the range of a Nikon Z6, or a Canon R6 and significantly higher than the Sony A7 III – all full frame mirrorless cameras that feature object tracking and other mirrorless goodies. Petapixel put a new hands-on set of observations in context. The observer – Albert Siegel – makes a casual comment indicating that the autofocus capabilities of the camera are roughly on par with the newer cameras it its class, but doesn’t show this unlikely level of performance in the video. Mirrorless cameras have many times the data available to conduct autofocus and tracking, as the entire sensor is readable many times per second. DSLRs typically use a separate autofocus sensor that provides about four orders of magnitude less data.

With the industry only now bouncing back from sales lows – partly due to the pandemic, but more due to the secular trend of camera sales eaten by increasingly functional mobile devices – the survival of lower-share camera brands appears iffy. Commentators have started a virtual Nikon deathwatch in the past nine months, as financial results, layoffs, factory closures and market share reductions battered the firm. Similar talk about Pentax has been couched with a sense that the new K-3 may help set it apart.

The short-term survival of Pentax appears linked to it not investing a great of money in remaking itself in the mirrorless era, which would require massive development outlays in both hardware and software. The long-term survival, however, may have depended on Pentax remaking itself.

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