When I was sent a Pentax K3 Mark III Monochrome for review, I must admit that I didn’t know what to expect. Releasing an APS-C DLSR in 2023 – one that only captures monochrome images – is quite a bold move, and the K3 Mark III Monochrome is in fact the only camera in existence that can claim these unique specifications. After using the camera for a few weeks, however, I have found a lot to love about the K3 III Monochrome, and it doesn’t begin or end with the monochrome sensor.
Build Quality and Handling
The first thing that struck me about the K3 III Monochrome was the robust build quality of the camera. Since the Monochrome is based on the K3 III, Pentax’s flagship DSLR, I expected it to be made well, and it most certainly is. The camera is not small, but it is compact for a flagship, and it weighs in at 735 grams. The grip is deep and very comfortable, which added to the shooting experience with the 16-50mm, which is a fairly large lens.
Although there are quite a few buttons, dials, and knobs on the exterior of the camera, it took me a very short amount of time to become familiar with each one, and within a few hours of experimenting with the K3 III Monochrome, I felt completely at home with it. The control layout is intuitive and offers a great deal of customization as well as small touches that users will appreciate. For instance, the PASM dial has a lock button in the center, which needs to be pressed in order to change settings. This is, of course, nothing unique for a DSLR. But, there is another lock switch located at the bottom of the PASM dial, which allows the user to disengage the lock and rotate the dial freely without having to press the center button. This was one of many small but appreciated details I discovered using the camera.
Another appreciated detail is the unmarked rotating dial on the top plate of the camera. By default, this dial is set to adjust autofocus settings. I was easily able to map this dial to control the ISO, which made the entire operation of the camera very seamless for someone like me who prefers to shoot in manual. With this change, the front command dial controls shutter speed, the rear command dial, aperture, and the top dial, ISO. Easy, and so appreciated! Another smart design is the Off/On switch circling the shutter button. On many cameras, a pull past the “on” setting will light the LCD screen, but on the Pentax, it engages depth of field preview.
I found the operation of the K3 III Monochrome, including the location of buttons and dials, as well as the menu system, to be straightforward and laid out very well. This means that users considering this camera who have been with other camera systems have very little to worry about regarding learning a brand new system. The quirkiest feature I found was the TAv mode, which combines aperture and shutter priority, meaning you can freely change both of these settings, while the camera chooses the ISO for you.
A DSLR in 2023?
DSLRs are dead! Long live the DSLR! We’ve heard these sentiments before, of course, and I personally have been using mirrorless cameras exclusively for almost two years now, so the thought of using a DLSR again was not something that excited me. Here again, the K3 III Monochrome surprised me, because I found myself greatly only enjoying the experience shooting with a DSLR again. Much of this is due to the camera itself and not to DSLRs in general. For example, the autofocus is fast and accurate and the viewfinder is bright, with 100% coverage, which makes composing images easy in a variety of lighting situations.
Although the camera makes for a great shooting experience, using a DSLR in 2023 is a compromise for those of us who have been using mirrorless systems for any amount of time. As I mentioned, the autofocus is good, but not nearly as accurate as a face and eye detect system in a mirrorless camera. Also, the autofocus sensors do not cover the entirety of the viewfinder and are clustered in the middle. And, although I have no problem using a light meter and finding the correct exposure, I did miss the benefit of a live-view EVF for composition, focusing, and exposure control.
A Monochrome Only Sensor
Although there is a lot to praise about the K3’s ergonomics and handling, let’s get to the heart of the matter. The K3 III Monochrome’s 25-megapixel monochrome sensor is the main, and probably the only, reason many will consider this camera. In a typical color sensor, the light must pass through red, green, and blue filters before being captured by the sensor. Since the K3 III Monochrome lacks these color filters, the camera is able to capture more light and detail than a standard sensor, which results in better sharpness and less noise at higher ISOs.
The camera also features three picture styles: standard, hard, and soft, as well as the ability to create custom profiles for your images. An excellent feature is the ability to take a photo, and while reviewing it on the screen, toggle between the three picture styles to see the difference in the results. The standard mode works well for a variety of subjects and provides even tones across the frame. The hard setting greatly increases contrast, and images created are much darker, while the soft mode creates a flatter, high key look.
The images from the Pentax K3 III Monochrome are beautiful, and I found myself doing very little in terms of editing, which made the camera even more enjoyable to use. The experience is similar to using a Fujifilm camera with a film simulation, with the obvious difference being there is no live preview of the black and white scene.
I used the camera for a number of photoshoots, including family photos, a trip to a comic convention, and two portrait shoots. In each of these situations, I was able to create images that are sharp, with beautiful tones, subtle transitions, and excellent dynamic range. The images also look very clean with minimal noise, and the files have a wide latitude for editing. All of the images in this review were taken with the Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8 ED PLM AW lens.
Who Is This Camera For?
The K3 III Monochrome is the definition of “niche.” In fact, research into a monochrome camera began after Pentax surveyed their users and fans, who showed a tremendous interest in the idea. And, although some want to compare the Pentax to the Leica M11 Monochrom, the Leica body costs $9,195 and the Pentax $2,199, so I find the comparison to be off base. Therefore, the Pentax K3 III Monochrome is unique among cameras available today, not just because of its specifications, but also because it can be fitted with any number of older Pentax K mount lenses. This fact alone will appeal to diehard Pentax users who have a collection of manual focus lenses already in their possession.
Regarding my question, who is this camera for? It will primarily appeal most to current Pentax users, who already have brand loyalty and are invested in the system. Aside from that, photographers who love shooting in black and white, and also appreciate the handling of a DSLR over a mirrorless camera, will find a lot to love about this camera. For that niche market interested in the singular features of the K3 III Monochrome, they will surely find a lot to love about the camera and the images it can create.