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Pentax K-3 Mark III officially unveiled: the first new DSLR of 2021… and is it the last?

Pentax K-3 Mark III
(Image credit: Pentax)

Will Pentax be the last company still making DSLRs? Canon and Nikon seem to have shifted all their attention to their mirrorless camera ranges, so the Pentax K-3 III might just be the last hurrah for a camera design that dates right back to the 1930s.

• Read our full Pentax K-3 Mark III review

DSLRs, and SLRs before them, use a mirror to reflect the image seen through the lens up into an optical viewfinder. Mirrorless cameras ditch the mirror and use the digital feed from the sensor to drive an electronic viewfinder. The DSLR vs mirrorless camera debate rumbles on, but it does look as if the world has made up its mind and the DSLR design is heading for extinction.

But not for Pentax. The brand new K-3 Mark III appears to follow a familiar Pentax lineage, taking over as the flagship model in the company’s APS-C camera range – the Pentax K-1 II is still top dog as the company’s only full frame model.

So is the Pentax K-3 Mark III just more of the same from Pentax, or does it actually move DSLR design forward?

There will be an optional weatherproof D-BG8 Battery Grip for the K-3 Mark III, with a high-capacity lithium-ion battery and USB charging. (Image credit: Pentax)

Pentax K-3 Mark III key features

First, the sensor. We’ve seen a long procession of 24-megapixel APS-C DSLRs from Pentax, but this one does seem slightly different with a claimed effective 25.7 million pixels and a new PRIME V processor – the tech behind that stratospheric ISO 1,600,000 maximum. We look forward to seeing just what the Pentax’s images look like at that setting!

The sensor is mounted on an in-body stabilization system that’s been a very effective feature of Pentax cameras for some time. This provides up to 5.5 stops of shake compensation, a Pixel Shift Resolution system for generating full RGB data for each photo site, and an anti-aliasing filter simulator for anyone struggling with moiré – the sensor does not have a physical anti-aliasing filter.

The Pentax K-3 III is equipped with dual SD/SDHC/SDXC card slots, though only Slot 1 is UHS-II compatible. (Image credit: Pentax)

The rear screen has 1.62m dots and is touch-sensitive for the first time in a K-series camera. (Image credit: Pentax)

The autofocus system is interesting. Being a DSLR, the Pentax K-3 III has a dedicated AF sensor for viewfinder shooting, and the new SAFOX 13 unit has no fewer than 101 AF points, 25 of which are the superior cross-type. This is hooked up to a new 307,000 pixel RGBIr image sensor and image-tracking algorithm for following fast moving and erratic subjects.

Pentax has not normally been seen as a leader in video technology, but the K-3 III does capture 4K video at up to 30/25p. This will obviously be shot in live view, and here the Pentax switches to contrast AF only – it does not have on-sensor phase detection. This might not affect slower-paced filmmaking but it won’t be good news for vloggers and run-and-gun shooters.

The other potential issue for filmmakers (and photographers) is that the 3.2-inch rear screen is fixed, without even a tilt mechanism. It does have a decent resolution of 1.62m dots, however, and it is also touch-sensitive – which is a first for Pentax K-series cameras.

The 25.7MP sensor in the K-3 Mark III has a slightly higher resolution than past APS-C Pentax models, but no on-sensor phase detect – Live View offers contrast AF only. (Image credit: Pentax)

It’s clear that the K-3 III is designed as a powerful, rugged stills camera first and foremost, but even so the maximum frame rate of 11fps with AFC and 12fps with AFS is impressive. Not so long ago, this would have been the limit for a pro DSLR costing thousands and, while the K-3 III is far from cheap, it’s still within reach for enthusiasts.

The body itself is made using magnesium alloy, it’s sealed against dust, moisture and cold, and Pentax claims a shutter life of 300,000 cycles.

The Pentax K-3 Mark III has a very impressive set of specifications and is the new Pentax APS-C flagship. (Image credit: Pentax)

Pentax K-3 Mark III price and availability

The Pentax K-3 Mark III is available for pre-order now and costs approximately $1,999/£1,899 body only. That’s a pretty stiff price which pitches it above the cost of its APS-C rivals like the Fujifilm X-T4, and even above Pentax’s own full frame K-1 Mark III. Judging by the specs, however, the Pentax K-3 Mark III could prove a real pocket powerhouse – and perhaps one of the last examples of the DSLR camera design.

Pre-order the Pentax K-3 Mark III at Adorama
Pre-order the Pentax K-3 Mark III at B&H

Pre-order the Pentax K-3 Mark III at Wex
Pre-order the Pentax K-3 Mark III at Park Cameras

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Rod Lawton

Rod is the Group Reviews editor for Digital Camera World and across Future's entire photography portfolio, with decades of experience with cameras of all kinds. Previously he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more.