It all started innocently with giving my Dad a camera… Pentax K-3ii

You see what happened was…

In the beginning, for me photography wise, was my father’s Pentax ME Super. Sure he had cameras before that many years ago and I also had my own Polaroid One Step (to keep me off of his SX-70 to be sure), but the ME Super was a turning point. I liked photography before that, but I fell in love with the process of preparing, taking the photo, getting the photos developed, and the anticipation. That camera is why I keep a number of film cameras to this day. As I am brand agnostic I regularly churn through different systems as whim, preference, and trade values dictate. Up until recently I was on a decidedly Sony jag having acquired a recent price dropped A7, and a few lenses. All was well in the land. Then my father decided to take his Pentax ME Super out of storage (I primarily ran a roll through it now and again) for a trip he and my mother were taking to Vegas which included a Grand Canyon excursion. This started an unexpected chain of events that brought me back to Pentax.

Dad's Pentax ME Super

First roll of film went well for my father, but I was saddened to hear that things did not go so well after that. The mirror locked in the up position, the shutter would not press, and the camera could no longer be loaded or advanced as he attempted the second roll of film. Not surprising as this camera has many years and miles on it. As anyone would have standing at the Grand Canyon he then soldiered on with his camera phone. When he returned it was diagnosed as a shot board by Southeastern Camera, Carrboro. Nostalgia set aside it was time to punt. My father had been thinking of getting a DSLR, but did not want to spend a lot so I asked what they had second hand and they had a Pentax K-10 D in good condition with a zoom lens and battery grip for a song.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A main perk is that my father would be able to use his existing lenses and flash. Cool. I bought the camera as a gift and brought it to him that night. Here is the thing. I liked the handling of the camera so much that I could not put it down. Many controls were right on the camera and very well placed. Then I realized that this camera had sensor based image stabilization, like I enjoyed on my Olympus cameras, so all lenses would benefit. It was weather resistant. It had an LCD screen on top like I had been wanting. All this and more impressed me and when I arrived home that night I immediately started perusing the internets for a second hand Pentax of my own. Once I realized how reasonably priced they were I decided to see if I could trade some gear for a K-3 or K-3ii body. Sure enough I could at Southeastern Camera, Raleigh and I ended up with a new K-3ii and only paying out of pocket for tax and the price of a $95 50mm f1.8 lens I bought to go along with it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Soon after that same week I picked up a second hand sample of the older, discontinued version of the Pentax DA 55-300mm lens for a great price. A good start. If you have read any of my posts you already know that I believe all modern cameras systems to be quite  competent. Trying out systems long term to see whether I will keep them or not and I have been through a few is a great time.  Not a bad thing to say about any, but I do have preferences. Here are my thoughts on the K-3ii so far:

  • I love thoughtful design and construction (why I hold an Industrial Engineering degree) and will always choose form over fashion. The K-3ii is not a flashy DSLR, or a part of the current mirrorless movement (that I think is great), but in hand it feels hewn from granite. As an added plus the plethora of button and dial controls I loved on my father’s K-10D that keep menu diving to a minimum are carried over to this latest Pentax.
  • I prefer tangible benefits for my purposes over bragging rights. Put simply I loved saying I had a full frame camera, but realized day to day benefits were few for my use.
  • The oft cited DSLR size issue as compared to mirrorless did not really pan out for me in the real world. On paper it sounded great, but having owned/used very capable small mirrorless cameras (E-PL5, E-P5, and NX300) in the end I found them to be a tight jacket pocket fit while being small-ish handling wise when I wanted to flex the prodigious control capabilities these advanced cameras offered. Likely, at least in part, owing to the beef mitts I inherited from my father. A better way I found was a recent decision to pick up a capable second hand fixed lens camera for day to day portability. and put size on a back burner for my main camera. Also the K-3ii is fairly compact in it’s own right when compared to the:
    • Sony A7: I love this camera and in the body only K-3ii size comparison contest the A7 gets the compactness award by a good measure. But with that larger sensor larger lenses are required. Even with the smallest FA prime lens attached, the FA 35mm f2.8, the A7 body size advantage starts losing ground pretty quickly. Still not large or heavy by any measure, but the compact descriptor becomes a bit of a stretch depending upon the lens you use.
    • Samsung NX1: At one point I was 2 bodies deep in to Samsung’s camp. The natural progression should have been the NX1, but I rarely shoot video so the 4K advantage was not that much of a draw for me. Plus I was fine with the NX30. But looking back at this camera I was surprised to see that there is little to no size difference between the mirrorless NX1 and the DSLR K-3ii.
  • If there is anything I miss from my Olympus days it is definitely in body image stabilization. Present on my Dad’s K-10D and on my K-3ii and I have been impressed with the performance of both.
  • Low light. While the A7 is not up to the performance of it’s A7S and A7RII brothers I thoroughly enjoyed the low light performance of the A7 paired with the Mitakon 50mm f0.95. Along with subject isolation it was a strong reason for me hanging on to the A7. That being said K-3ii features provided a surprisingly competent (unexpected) alternative to the A7/Mitakon’s low light performance.
    • Three center stacked, vertical low light cross type sensors allow the K-3ii to focus in jaw droppingly low light situations with relative ease. Last night I was able to focus on the shadow side of a lens sitting on a table only lit by a TV screen across the room. From Ricoh: “Three of the sensors are f2.8 type line sensors; one is located at the center, a second directly above the center and one directly below.”
    • Combine this with the in body image stabilization, a firm grasp, and a reasonably fast lens (the plastic fantastic $95 DA 50mm f1.8  in this case) the results are impressive even in a room that is nearly dark (forgive the mess). Light on left of lens is coming from the TV. Light in background is coming from hallway lights quite a distance away. The view with the naked eye was nowhere near this bright.

      f1.8, 1/8 sec., ISO 3200
      f1.8, 1/8 sec., ISO 3200
    • Worthy of it’s own bullet to mention again this is all with autofocus.
  • The bogey. I enjoyed the D3300 I had a great deal, but ultimately it was the D7200 I really wanted DSLR wise. In fact I have been tracking the used D7200/D7100 market for some time now waiting for a deal to appear.
    • For my purposes he K-3ii matches D7200 features I was looking for:
      • Dual SD Card slots
      • LCD screen
      • Front and back control dials
      • Weather sealed
      • APS-C 24MP
      • Access to Tamron lenses among others
    • while adding a few advantages

While I could go on one of the main reasons for my move is quite subjective. Perhaps there is some latent loyalty from my childhood, but from the moment I picked up the K-10D there has been little to no searching for anything and the layout lends itself to one concentrating on taking pictures. It feels like a film camera that progressed organically to it’s present digital conclusion rather than an electronics device shaped like a camera. I simply enjoy shooting with the K-3ii.  Will this continue to be the case? Way too early. Time will tell, but so far it looks good. Here are some sample shots. -ELW