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Pentax K-3 versus Olympus E-M1

The Pentax K-3 and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 are two enthusiast cameras that were announced, respectively, in October 2013 and September 2013. The K-3 is a DSLR, while the E-M1 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. The cameras are based on an APS-C (K-3) and a Four Thirds (E-M1) sensor. The Pentax has a resolution of 24.1 megapixel, whereas the Olympus provides 15.9 MP. Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their size, their sensors, their features, and their reception by expert reviewers.

Body comparison: Pentax K-3 vs Olympus E-M1

The side-by-side display below illustrates the physical size and weight of the Pentax K-3 and the Olympus E-M1. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three successive views from the front, the top, and the rear are shown. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter. If you prefer, you can also use the toggle button to switch to a comparison in percentage terms (in this case, the camera on the left – the K-3 – represents 100 percent across all the size and weight measures).

Compare Pentax K-3 vs Olympus E-M1
Compare K-3 versus E-M1 top
Compare K-3 and E-M1 rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Olympus E-M1 is notably smaller (7 percent) than the Pentax K-3. Moreover, the E-M1 is substantially lighter (38 percent) than the K-3. In this context, it is worth noting that both cameras are splash and dust-proof and can, hence, be used in inclement weather conditions or harsh environments.

The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Hence, you might want to study the specifications of available lenses in order to get the full picture of the size and weight of the two camera systems.

Concerning battery life, the K-3 gets 560 shots out of its D-LI90 battery, while the E-M1 can take 350 images on a single charge of its BLN-1 power pack.

The adjacent table lists the principal physical characteristics of the two cameras alongside a wider set of alternatives. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, just select a new right or left comparator from among the camera models in the table. Alternatively, you can also move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible camera comparisons there.

Camera Body Specifications
  Camera
Model
Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
(CIPA)
Weather
Sealing
(yes/no)
Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(USD)
Camera
Model
Pentax K-3» 5.2 in 3.9 in 3.0 in 28.2 oz 560 Y Oct 2013 1,299- i Pentax K-3
Olympus E-M1« 5.1 in 3.7 in 2.5 in 17.5 oz 350 Y Sep 2013 1,399- i Olympus E-M1
Canon 70D« » 5.5 in 4.1 in 3.1 in 26.6 oz 920 Y Jul 2013 1,199- i Canon 70D
Nikon D7200« » 5.4 in 4.2 in 3.0 in 27.0 oz 1110 Y Mar 2015 1,199- i Nikon D7200
Nikon D7100« » 5.4 in 4.2 in 3.0 in 27.0 oz 950 Y Feb 2013 1,199- i Nikon D7100
Olympus E-M1 II« » 5.3 in 3.6 in 2.6 in 20.2 oz 440 Y Sep 2016 1,999 i i Olympus E-M1 II
Olympus PEN-F« » 4.9 in 2.8 in 1.5 in 15.1 oz 330 n Jan 2016 1,199 i i Olympus PEN-F
Olympus E-M5 II« » 4.9 in 3.3 in 1.8 in 16.5 oz 310 Y Feb 2015 1,099 i i Olympus E-M5 II
Olympus E-P5« » 4.8 in 2.7 in 1.5 in 14.8 oz 330 n May 2013 999- i Olympus E-P5
Olympus E-M5« » 4.8 in 3.5 in 1.7 in 15.0 oz 360 Y Feb 2012 1,299- i Olympus E-M5
Pentax KP« » 5.2 in 4.0 in 3.0 in 24.8 oz 390 Y Jan 2017 1,099 i i Pentax KP
Pentax K-70« » 5.0 in 3.7 in 2.9 in 24.3 oz 410 Y Jun 2016 649 i i Pentax K-70
Pentax K-3 II« » 5.2 in 3.9 in 3.0 in 28.2 oz 720 Y Apr 2015 1,099 i i Pentax K-3 II
Pentax K-5« » 5.2 in 3.8 in 2.9 in 26.8 oz 740 Y Sep 2010 1,099- i Pentax K-5
Sony A6500« » 4.7 in 2.6 in 2.1 in 16.0 oz 350 Y Oct 2016 1,399 i i Sony A6500
Sony RX10« » 5.1 in 3.5 in 4.0 in 28.7 oz 420 Y Oct 2013 1,299- i Sony RX10
Sony A99« » 5.8 in 4.4 in 3.1 in 28.6 oz 500 Y Sep 2012 2,799- i Sony A99

Any camera purchase will naturally be influenced heavily by the price. The listed launch prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The K-3 was somewhat cheaper (by 7 percent) than the E-M1 at launch, but both cameras fall into the same price category. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down.

 

Sensor comparison: Pentax K-3 vs Olympus E-M1

The imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors of image quality. A large sensor will tend to have larger individual pixels that provide better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color-depth than smaller pixel-units in a sensor of the same technological generation. Moreover, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more control over depth-of-field in the image and, thus, the ability to better isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be associated with larger, more expensive camera bodies and lenses.

Of the two cameras under consideration, the Pentax K-3 features an APS-C sensor and the Olympus E-M1 a Four Thirds sensor. The sensor area in the E-M1 is 39 percent smaller. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 1.5 and 2.0. The sensor in the K-3 has a native 3:2 aspect ratio, while the one in the E-M1 offers a 4:3 aspect.

Pentax K-3 and Olympus E-M1 sensor measures

With 24.1MP, the K-3 offers a higher resolution than the E-M1 (15.9MP), but the K-3 nevertheless has larger individual pixels (pixel pitch of 3.90μm versus 3.76μm for the E-M1) due to its larger sensor. It is noteworthy in this context that the two cameras were released in close succession, so that their sensors are from the same technological generation. Coming back to sensor resolution, it should be mentioned that neither of the two cameras has an anti-alias filter installed, so they are able to capture all the detail the sensor resolves.

K-3 versus E-M1 MP

Since 2007, DXO Mark has published sensor performance measurements that have been derived using a consistent methodology. This service assesses and scores the color depth ("DXO Portrait"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports") of camera sensors, and also publishes an overall camera score. Of the two cameras under review, the K-3 has a notably higher overall DXO score than the E-M1 (overall score 7 points higher), which gives it an advantage in terms of imaging quality. This advantage is based on 0.7 bits higher color depth, 0.7 EV in additional dynamic range, and 0.7 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.

Sensor Characteristics
  Camera
Model
Sensor
Class
Resolution
(MP)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Camera
Model
Pentax K-3» APS-C 24.1 6016 40001080/60i23.713.4121680Pentax K-3
Olympus E-M1« Four Thirds 15.9 4608 34561080/30p23.012.775773Olympus E-M1
Canon 70D« » APS-C 20.0 5472 36481080/30p22.511.692668Canon 70D
Nikon D7200« » APS-C 24.0 6000 40001080/60p24.514.6133387Nikon D7200
Nikon D7100« » APS-C 24.0 6000 40001080/60p24.213.7125683Nikon D7100
Olympus E-M1 II« » Four Thirds 20.2 5184 38884K/30p23.712.8131280Olympus E-M1 II
Olympus PEN-F« » Four Thirds 20.2 5184 38881080/60p23.112.489474Olympus PEN-F
Olympus E-M5 II« » Four Thirds 15.9 4608 34561080/60p23.012.584273Olympus E-M5 II
Olympus E-P5« » Four Thirds 15.9 4608 34561080/30p22.812.489572Olympus E-P5
Olympus E-M5« » Four Thirds 15.9 4608 34561080/60i22.812.382671Olympus E-M5
Pentax KP« » APS-C 24.1 6016 40001080/60i----Pentax KP
Pentax K-70« » APS-C 24.0 6000 40001080/60i----Pentax K-70
Pentax K-3 II« » APS-C 24.1 6016 40001080/60i23.613.6110680Pentax K-3 II
Pentax K-5« » APS-C 16.1 4928 32641080/25p23.714.1116282Pentax K-5
Sony A6500« » APS-C 24.0 6000 40004K/30p24.513.7140585Sony A6500
Sony RX10« » 1-inch 20.0 5472 36481080/60p22.912.647469Sony RX10
Sony A99« » Full Frame 24.0 6000 40001080/60p25.014.0155589Sony A99

Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but can also record movies. Both cameras under consideration are equipped with sensors that have a sufficiently high read-out speed for moving images, but the K-3 provides a higher frame rate than the E-M1. It can shoot video footage at 1080/60i, while the Olympus is limited to 1080/30p.

 

Feature comparison: Pentax K-3 vs Olympus E-M1

Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a variety of features. For example, the E-M1 has an electronic viewfinder (2360k dots), while the K-3 has an optical one. Both systems have their advantages, with the electronic viewfinder making it possible to project supplementary shooting information into the framing view, whereas the optical viewfinder offers lag-free viewing and a very clear framing image. The following table reports on some other key feature differences and similarities of the Pentax K-3, the Olympus E-M1, and comparable cameras. The full specs-sheets can be found in the camera manual or in the dpreview camera hub.

Core Features
  Camera
Model
Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(yes/no)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(yes/no)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec)
Build-in
Flash
(yes/no)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Camera
Model
Pentax K-3»optical Y 3.2 1037 fixed n 8000 8.3 Y Y Pentax K-3
Olympus E-M1«2360 n 3.0 1037 tilting Y 8000 10.0 n Y Olympus E-M1
Canon 70D« »optical Y 3.0 1040 swivel Y 8000 7.0 Y n Canon 70D
Nikon D7200« »optical Y 3.2 1229 fixed n 8000 6.0 Y n Nikon D7200
Nikon D7100« »optical Y 3.2 1229 fixed n 8000 6.0 Y n Nikon D7100
Olympus E-M1 II« »2360 n 3.0 1037 swivel Y 8000 18.0 n Y Olympus E-M1 II
Olympus PEN-F« »2360 n 3.0 1037 swivel Y 8000 10.0 n Y Olympus PEN-F
Olympus E-M5 II« »2360 n 3.0 1037 swivel Y 8000 10.0 n Y Olympus E-M5 II
Olympus E-P5« »- n 3.0 1037 tilting Y 8000 9.0 Y Y Olympus E-P5
Olympus E-M5« »1440 n 3.0 610 tilting Y 4000 9.0 n Y Olympus E-M5
Pentax KP« »optical n 3.0 921 tilting n 6000 7.0 Y Y Pentax KP
Pentax K-70« »optical n 3.0 921 swivel n 6000 6.0 Y Y Pentax K-70
Pentax K-3 II« »optical Y 3.2 1037 fixed n 8000 8.3 n Y Pentax K-3 II
Pentax K-5« »optical Y 3.0 921 fixed n 8000 7.0 Y Y Pentax K-5
Sony A6500« »2300 n 3.0 922 tilting Y 4000 11.0 Y Y Sony A6500
Sony RX10« »1440 Y 3.0 1229 tilting n 3200 10.0 Y Y Sony RX10
Sony A99« »2359 Y 3.0 1229 full-flex n 8000 6.0 n Y Sony A99

One difference between the cameras concerns the presence of an on-board flash. The K-3 has one, while the E-M1 does not. While the build-in flash of the K-3 is not very powerful, it can at times be useful as a fill-in light.

Both the K-3 and the E-M1 write their imaging data to SDXC cards. The K-3 features dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails. In contrast, the E-M1 only has one slot.

Input-Output Connections
  Camera
Model
Hotshoe
Port
Internal
Microphone
Internal
Speaker
Microphone
Port
Headphone
Port
HDMI
Port
USB
Type
WiFi
Support
NFC
Support
Bluetooth
Support
Camera
Model
Pentax K-3»YmonomonoYYmini3.0---Pentax K-3
Olympus E-M1«YstereomonoY-micro2.0Y--Olympus E-M1
Canon 70D« »YstereomonoY-mini2.0Y--Canon 70D
Nikon D7200« »YstereomonoYYmini2.0YY-Nikon D7200
Nikon D7100« »YstereomonoYYmini2.0---Nikon D7100
Olympus E-M1 II« »YstereomonoYYmicro3.0Y--Olympus E-M1 II
Olympus PEN-F« »Ystereomono--micro2.0Y--Olympus PEN-F
Olympus E-M5 II« »YstereomonoY-micro2.0Y--Olympus E-M5 II
Olympus E-P5« »Ystereomono--micro2.0Y--Olympus E-P5
Olympus E-M5« »Ystereomono--mini2.0---Olympus E-M5
Pentax KP« »YstereomonoY--2.0Y--Pentax KP
Pentax K-70« »YstereomonoY-mini2.0Y--Pentax K-70
Pentax K-3 II« »YmonomonoYYmini3.0---Pentax K-3 II
Pentax K-5« »YstereomonoY-mini2.0---Pentax K-5
Sony A6500« »YstereomonoY-micro2.0YY-Sony A6500
Sony RX10« »YstereomonoYYmicro2.0YY-Sony RX10
Sony A99« »YstereomonoYYmini2.0---Sony A99

Both the K-3 and the E-M1 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The E-M1 was replaced by the Olympus E-M1 II, while the K-3 was followed by the Pentax K-3 II.

Review summary: Pentax K-3 vs Olympus E-M1

So what is the bottom line? Is the Pentax K-3 better than the Olympus E-M1 or vice versa? The listing below highlights the relative strengths of the two models.

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Reasons to prefer the Pentax K-3:

  • More detail: Offers more megapixels (24.1 vs 15.9MP) with a 25% higher linear resolution.
  • Better image quality: Scores markedly higher (7 points) in the DXO overall assessment.
  • More dynamic range: Captures a larger spectrum of light and dark details (0.7 EV of extra DR).
  • Better low-light sensitivity: Requires less light for good images (0.7 stops ISO advantage).
  • Better video: Provides higher movie framerates (1080/60i versus 1080/30p).
  • Better sound control: Has a headphone port that enables audio monitoring while recording.
  • Brighter framing: Features an optical viewfinder for clear, lag-free composition.
  • Easier setting verification: Features an LCD display on top to control shooting parameters.
  • Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.2" vs 3.0") for image review and settings control.
  • Longer lasting: Can take more shots (560 versus 350) on a single battery charge.
  • Easier fill-in: Is equipped with a small onboard flash to brighten deep shadow areas.
  • Faster data transfer: Supports a more advanced USB protocol (3.0 vs 2.0).
  • Greater peace of mind: Features a second card slot as a backup in case of memory card failure.

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Arguments in favor of the Olympus OM-D E-M1:

  • More framing info: Has an electronic viewfinder that displays shooting data.
  • More flexible LCD: Has a tilting screen for odd-angle shots in landscape orientation.
  • Fewer buttons to press: Has a touchscreen to facilitate handling and shooting adjustments.
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (10 vs 8.3 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 303g or 38 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
  • More legacy lens friendly: Can use many non-native lenses via adapters.
  • Easier file upload: Has wifi build in for automatic backup or image transfer to the web.

If the count of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a measure, the K-3 is the clear winner of the match-up (13 : 7 points). However, the pertinence of the various camera strengths will differ across photographers, so that you might want to weigh individual camera traits according to their importance for your own imaging needs before making a camera decision.

K-3 13:07 E-M1

In any case, while the specs-based evaluation of cameras is instructive in revealing their potential as photographic tools, it remains partial and cannot reveal, for example, the handling experience and imaging performance when actually working with the K-3 or the E-M1. User reviews that are available, for instance, at amazon can sometimes shed light on these issues, but such feedback is all too often partial, inconsistent, and inaccurate. This is why hands-on reviews by experts are important. The following table reports the overall rankings of the cameras as published by some of the major camera review sites (cameralabs, dpreview, ephotozine, imaging-resource, photographyblog). The detailed reviews can be accessed by clicking on the site logo in the table header.

Review Scores
  Camera
Model
cameralabs dpreview ephotozine imaging-resource photographyblog Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(USD)
Camera
Model
Pentax K-3»-83/1005/54.5/55/5 Oct 2013 1,299- i Pentax K-3
Olympus E-M1«HiRec84/1004.5/54.5/54.5/5 Sep 2013 1,399- i Olympus E-M1
Canon 70D« »HiRec83/1004.5/54.5/55/5 Jul 2013 1,199- i Canon 70D
Nikon D7200« »HiRec84/1004.5/54/54.5/5 Mar 2015 1,199- i Nikon D7200
Nikon D7100« »HiRec85/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Feb 2013 1,199- i Nikon D7100
Olympus E-M1 II« »HiRec85/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Sep 2016 1,999 i i Olympus E-M1 II
Olympus PEN-F« »-82/1004.5/54.5/55/5 Jan 2016 1,199 i i Olympus PEN-F
Olympus E-M5 II« »HiRec81/1005/54.5/55/5 Feb 2015 1,099 i i Olympus E-M5 II
Olympus E-P5« »HiRec78/1004.5/54.5/55/5 May 2013 999- i Olympus E-P5
Olympus E-M5« »HiRec80/1004.5/55/55/5 Feb 2012 1,299- i Olympus E-M5
Pentax KP« »-82/1005/5-4.5/5 Jan 2017 1,099 i i Pentax KP
Pentax K-70« »-79/1004.5/54/54.5/5 Jun 2016 649 i i Pentax K-70
Pentax K-3 II« »--5/54.5/55/5 Apr 2015 1,099 i i Pentax K-3 II
Pentax K-5« »-83/1005/54.5/54.5/5 Sep 2010 1,099- i Pentax K-5
Sony A6500« »HiRec85/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Oct 2016 1,399 i i Sony A6500
Sony RX10« »Rec80/1004.5/54.5/54.5/5 Oct 2013 1,299- i Sony RX10
Sony A99« »-84/1004.5/5rev4.5/5 Sep 2012 2,799- i Sony A99

The review scores listed above should be treated with care, though. The ratings were established in reference to similarly priced cameras that were available in the market at the time of the review. Thus, a score needs to be put into the context of the launch date and the launch price of the camera, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.

 

Other camera comparisons

Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? If you would like to see a different side-by-side camera review, just use the search menu below. Alternatively, you can follow any of the listed hyperlinks for comparisons that others found interesting. If the camera you are interested in is not available, please contact me, and I will try to locate and add the respective data to the application.

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