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The best Pentax cameras in 2020: from APS-C to full frame and medium format

Best Pentax cameras: the Pentax K-1 II
Best Pentax cameras: the Pentax K-1 II (Image credit: Pentax)

Though Pentax isn't quite living up to its past glory days of rivalling Canon and Nikon, it's still producing fantastic DSLRs that many photographers recommend highly. When you pair this with the many fantastic Pentax lenses available for K-mount, Pentax starts to look like quite a tempting option for photographers, especially those on a tighter budget.

With the news that Pentax is soon to bring out a new flagship APS-C DSLR, interest in the excellent stable of Pentax DSLRs and medium-format cameras has risen, with particular attention being paid to the excellent (and large) range of Pentax lenses available. With a brand of such long and distinguished history, there are simply loads of K-mount lenses new and old to choose from, and with Pentax DSLRs typically being ruggedly made machines built for the outdoors, any adventurous outdoor photographer should find a lot to love.

We mentioned medium-format cameras already, but it's worth noting that Pentax is not just about DSLRs! If you need more megapixels and commercial-grade image quality, then the Pentax 654Z is one of the most user-friendly and affordable medium format cameras available right now. 

There is, however, no mirrorless offering from the firm as yet, and given that the people behind the brand have reiterated their commitment to DSLRs on several occasions, this seems unlikely to change. If you're looking for compacts, parent company Ricoh produces a few, such as the Ricoh GR III favoured by street photographers, or the waterproof WG-60.

But for this guide, we're sticking with Pentax cameras, and that means DSLRs and medium format cameras. We've ranked these cameras using a number of criteria, including price, so you can be sure you'll be getting value for money with our recommendations. 

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1. Pentax K-70

All-round great choice with IBIS and weatherproofing

Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2 MP | Screen: 3-inch tilting LCD, 921,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 6fps | Max video resolution: Full HD 1080p | User level: Enthusiast

Weather-resistant construction,
On-board shake reduction
Heavy in the palm
Poor battery life

Rugged of build to a semi pro standard plus smart of design, the K-70 is probably the best all-round Pentax cameras enthusiast photographers can buy, by virtue of its weather resistant exterior being a rarity at its price. Also handy is an in-body image stabilization (IBIS) system with an equivalent performance of 4.5EV stops, and, for traditionalists, the fact that its optical viewfinder features a near 100% field of view. With an 11 point AF system offered, the Pentax uses a hybrid combination of phase detection AF and contrast detection AF when shooting using live view. 

We’re used to mirrorless cameras offering a modest battery life, so the 480 shots delivered here seems fair, though it’s a little disappointing for a DSLR. Still, combine this with a variable angle LCD and pictorial output that requires very little in the way of adjustment, if any, and the K-70 reveals itself as one of the more reliable and consistent DSLRs you can buy.

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2. Pentax KP

Feature packed DSLR for those looking for a more classic looking Pentax

Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.3 MP | Screen: 3-inch tilting LCD, 921,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 7fps | Max video resolution: Full HD 1080p | User level: Enthusiast

Waterproof construction, 
In-body anti shake function
No hybrid AF system like the K-70
Battery life could be improved

Compact, sturdy and feature packed, like the less expensive K-70 this angular  DSLR option offers up body integral image stabilisation, a rugged weather proofed construction with 67 seals, plus a maximum ISO 819,200 light sensitivity setting to aid low light performance. 

Like the K-70, the KP offers a relatively modest battery performance of 390 shots, but unfortunately doesn’t offer its sibling’s hybrid AF functionality. Still, it does however boast an interesting range of photographic options, including depth of field bracketing and motion bracketing, along with a generous trio of control dials for those of us who enjoy getting hands on. 

Like other Pentax cameras you can buy, the KP consistently delivers some good-looking images with great contrast and good exposure, making it ultimately a good alternative to the usual suspects.

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3. Pentax K-1 II

Pentax’s best option for those stepping up from APS-C to full frame photography

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 36.4MP | Screen: 3.2in pivoting screen, 1,037,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 4.4fps (6.4fps in APS-C crop mode) | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/professional

Mega 36MP resolution
Full frame sensor
Sturdy construction  
Ergonomic controls
Video features could be improved 
Only 4.4fps continuous shooting

Another classic DSLR option for those looking for the best Pentax digital camera to buy that packs in a lot of features while handling in a familiar manner for photo enthusiasts. 

Again, with this being a Pentax, we get built in shake reduction, but the real selling point here is the full frame sensor with its 36.4 million pixel resolution. Also impressing is a ‘scissor action’ articulating rear screen and extended exposure modes, along with two SD card slots. It’s not all great news; the camera offers only a modest 4.4 fps maximum burst speed when shooting in full frame, which, while adequate, won’t impress sports or action photographers. 

There’s also no hybrid phase detection AF system for its live view mode and ‘only’ Full HD video capability rather than 4K, but we are blessed by the same accurate and well-performing 33-point AF system as its predecessor. Ultimately though, excellent image quality at an affordable price is what you’ll be buying this flagship Pentax DSLR for.

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4. Pentax 645Z

Top tier medium-format camera that's a best buy for those needing the ultimate in detail

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Medium format | Megapixels: 51MP | Screen: 3.2in pivoting screen, 1,037,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Professional

Huge sensor with high pixel count
Tilting live view enabled LCD screen
Bulky and heavy 
High priced –  when compared to full frame equivalents

If it’s a high resolution Pentax camera you need above all else, you’ll be pleased to learn that this medium format option handles a bit like a bigger version of Pentax’s K-3 DSLR – which means it’s not overly daunting for those making the step up. 

The 645Z, which replaced the earlier 645D, is solid in feel and weather-proof in build, so it doesn’t mind a spot of rain, while it is also one of the more affordable MF cameras available. It's flexible too, allowing for up to 10 Raw files or 30 high quality JPEGs to be shot at its maximum capture speed of 3fps. While that’s not match for a high end DSLR, most people won’t be buying a medium format camera with speed as a priority, but rather resolution. 

Creative flexibility extends to being provided with a tilting 3.3-inch screen here, which is both capable of live view capture and aiding and abetting the recording of Full HD movies, for which a stereo microphone port is provided. 

There are also, usefully, two SD card slots for dealing with all that data. If it’s a more approachable and slightly more affordable medium format camera you’re after, the well-received 645Z ticks many boxes.

Read more:

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