Which is the best cropped camera? The Pentax K3 vs. Nikon D7100

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The market for cropped sensor DLSR cameras is very crowded with every manufacturer offering a wide variety of products with various capabilities and at different price points.  Long considered to be the best cropped sensor camera on the market, Nikon’s high-end D7100 is considered to be the best of the best, but little known Pentax has introduced the K3 as direct competition to the D7100.  While both are excellent cameras and are capable of capturing incredible images, only one can be the king of the hill!

Just the Facts, A Side-By-Side Comparison

Item Pentax K3 Nikon D7100
Year Introduced 2013 2013
Format APS-C DX
Crop Factor 1.5x 1.5x
Megapixels 24 Million 24.1 Million
Processor PRIME III EXPEED 3
Sensor Type CMOS CMOS
Image Format RAW or JPEG RAW or JPG
Sensor Size 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5 mm x 15.6 mm
Sensor Cleaner Yes Yes
Autofocus Points 27 51
View Finder Coverage 100% 100%
Frames Per Second 8.3 6
ISO 100-52,000 100-6400
Expandable ISO N/A  Up to 25,610
Shutter 1/8,000 – 30 Seconds 1/8,000 – 30 Seconds
Built In Flash Yes Yes
Card Slots 2 2
Card Type SD, SDHC, SDXC SD, SDHC, SDXC
LCD Size 3.2” 3.2”
LCD Fixed or Swivel Fixed Fixed
Modes Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual
Scene Modes Yes Yes
Live View Yes Yes
Video Yes Yes
Video Format MPEG-4 or H.264 MOV
Video Type HD 1,920 x 1,080 / 60l HD 1,920 x 1,080 / 60l
Internal Autofocus Motor Yes Yes
GPS Optional Accessory Optional Accessory
Wireless Optional Accessory Optional Accessory
Wi-Fi Optional Accessory Optional Accessory
Battery Single D-LI90 Single EN-EL15
Unique Features Magnesium Alloy Body, Weather sealing, In Body Image Stabilization  U1 and U2 Settings
Size Without Lens 5.17” x 3.94” x 3.05” 5.3” x 4.2” x 3.0”
Weight Without Lens 25.2 Ounces 23.8 Ounces
Manufactured In Philippines Thailand
Body Only or with Kit Lens Body or Kit Body or 3 Kit Options
Accessories Li-Ion Battery D-LI90, Battery Charger Kit K-BC90, Strap O-ST132, Hotshoe Cover FK, Eyecup FS, Body Mount Cover, Finder Cap ME, Focusing Screen MF-60 Frame Matte, PC Socket Cap, Software CD-ROM S-SW140 EN-El15 Rechargeable Battery, MH-25 Quick Charger, UC-E6 USB Cable, AN-DC1 Strap, DK-5 Eyepiece Cup, DK-23 Rubber Eyecup, BF-1B Body Cap, BS-1 Accessory Shoe Cap, NikonView NX2 CD ROM
Cost $849.95 (Body Only) $1,049.95 (Body Only)

*Information from both Ricoh US and Nikon USA websites, including pricing.

The Similarities

The Pentax K3 and the Nikon D 7100 are both somewhat similar, but area actually very different in many ways. They’re both based on the CMOS sensor and both have a 1.5 X crop factor. Both cameras are capable of capturing images in RAW or JPEG format at 24 million megapixels. Other similarities include he built in flash, dual slots to handle SD, SDHC or SDXC memory cards.  In addition, both the K3 and the 7100 have a 3.2-inch fixed LCD rear display, as well as a built in sensor cleaner.  The K3 and the D7100 both have a shutter speed range of 1/8,000 to 30 seconds and can shoot video in a variety of sizes and frames per second.

The Differences

While both cameras share a number of similarities, there are numerous significant differences between the Pentax K3 and the Nikon D7100.  These areas include build, weatherproofing, size, user defined settings, image stabilization, autofocus points, ISO range and value.  While the D7100 uses a plastic body, the K3 has a full magnesium shell, which offers the camera excellent protection.  The K3 has also taken steps to weatherproof the camera with robust seals to prevent moisture and dust from getting into the camera.  Both of the features are not found on the D7100 and are only usually found on “professional” grade cameras.  The incorporation of these features his is what distinguishes an “enthusiast” camera from a “professional” camera!

As a result of the magnesium body the K3 is a slightly heavier at 25.2 ounces when compared to the D7100’s 23.8 ounces.  However, the Pentax K3 is overall slightly smaller at 5.17” x 3.94” x 3.05” when compared to the Nikon D7100, which is 5.3” x 4.2” x 3.0”.  While the difference in size is not significant, it is noticeable, especially when the cameras are side by side.

The Nikon D7100 includes two settings on the top dial that allow the photographer to save predetermined settings in the cameras menu. This allows a photographer to instantly recall those settings, which saves time and effort in the field. The K3 does not have this feature but the camera can be configured as required using the traditional menu system.

Another difference in the two cameras is that the Nikon D7100 incorporates image stabilization in to Nikon lens, while the K3 has this feature built into the body.  This is a significant departure from the way that Nikon and Canon stabilize their lenses.  Camera shake is eliminated in all cases with the K3, but with the D7100 an image stabilized must be used.

As with most cameras targeting this market, both the K3 and the D7100 have a significant number of autofocus points in the viewfinder, which provides 100% coverage.   The D7100 has a total of 51 autofocus points, while the K3 only has 27 autofocus points.   While a significant difference, most photographers we’ll find that the 27 auto focus points is more than enough.

On paper, there is a significant difference between the two cameras as for as ISO range is concerned. The ISO range on the K3 it Is between 100 and 52,000, while the range on the D7100 is 100 to 6400, and is expandable up to 25 600.  In real life applications this is not as significant as it would appear, as seldom would anybody use settings this high.  It is important to remember that when a camera uses high ISO settings, the camera’s software reduces a noise in the image, as the image is being processed. During this processing, detail is also removed from the image, which can result in “soft” images.

Value is another difference between the Pentax K3 and the Nikon D7100.  Based upon the current pricing the K3 body is approximately $200 cheaper than the D7100 body.  Many would consider the K3 a slightly better camera on paper from a technical aspect.  Given that and the “professional” features of the K3, it represents a great value!

The Pros and Cons

The biggest pro to the Pentax K3 is the use of a magnesium body and the extensive weatherproofing features of the camera.  This is something that Nikon use to do in their D200, D300 and D300s cropped sensor cameras that they abandoned when the D7000 was released as the replacement to the D300s.  Another pro for the K3 is the price, which is substantially lower than the D7100.

The biggest con of the Pentax K3 is the lens lineup, which is not as robust as Nikon or Canon’s lineup.  Hopefully the lens lineup will continue to improve since Ricoh, who is a Japanese optics company, now owns the Pentax brand.  Time will tell what Ricoh plans to do with their DLSR lineup and the associated lenses.

The biggest pro to the Nikon D7100 is the low light abilities of the camera, even at high ISO settings.  Nikon also offers a great variety of standard and cropped sensor lenses that will work on the D7100.  Another pro of the D7100 is the incorporation of the U1 and U2 settings into the camera, which are extremely useful in the field.

The biggest con for the Nikon D7100 is the general way they market their cameras.  Often there is a rush to introduce a newer version of the same camera with minor upgrades, yet they are all basically the same.  An example of this is the D7100 competing against the D7200 and D7000, all of which are being sold at the same time, at different price points with all three cameras being very similar.  This tends to confuse the consumer!

The Final Frame: My Overall Recommendation

The Pentax K3 and Nikon D7100 are among the best of the “enthusiast” level cropped sensor cameras on the market today.  Capable of capturing incredible images, both cameras would be excellent tools for any photographer.  I was really drawn to the robust build of the Pentax K3, as well as the weatherproofing features, but I prefer the Nikon D7100 for several reasons.

The main reason is that Nikon has a long list of lenses of various types that will work on the D7100, while Pentax does not have as large of a lineup.  It is important to look at lenses that will be included in a photographer’s kit, as digital bodies seem to become obsolete every few years due to the advancements in technology.  In short, bodies are replaced, while great lenses last a lifetime!  The second reason for recommending the D7100 is that it just feels better in my hand.  As a camera is a tool, it must feel right in the hand and be comfortable to carry around and use, otherwise, you will not use it!  The K3 just did not fit my hands very well.  Another reason that I prefer the Nikon D7100 is due to the incorporation of the U1 and U2 settings in the camera, which I use a lot when shooting.

Pentax K-3 SLR Camera - Body Only
Price: $388.00
Price Disclaimer

That being said the Pentax K3 and Nikon D7100 and both excellent cameras and it comes down to which cameras feels best and which camera offers you the lenses that you want in your kit!

Robert Alexander
 

A camera geek and freelance photographer, Robert (Aka "Rob" or "Bob") spends way too much time examining the finer points of cameras.

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