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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 officially introduced, 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 consecutive perspectives from the front, the top, and the back are available. All width, height and depth dimensions 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 the basis or 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 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 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-M10« » 4.7 in 3.2 in 1.8 in 14.0 oz 320 n Jan 2014 699- i Olympus E-M10
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
Panasonic GX8« » 5.2 in 3.1 in 2.5 in 17.2 oz 330 Y Jul 2015 1,199- i Panasonic GX8
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 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

The price is, of course, an important factor in any camera decision. 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. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.

 

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 generally have larger individual pixels that offer better low-light sensitivity, provide wider dynamic range, and have richer color-depth than smaller pixels 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 are more costly to manufacture and tend to lead to bigger and heavier cameras 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.

Technology-wise, both cameras are equipped with CMOS (Complementary Metal–Oxide–Semiconductor) sensors.

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 determines an overall sensor rating, as well as sub-scores for low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and color depth ("DXO Portrait"). 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 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 E-M5 II« » Four Thirds 15.9 4608 34561080/60p23.012.584273Olympus E-M5 II
Olympus E-M10« » Four Thirds 15.9 4608 34561080/30p22.812.388472Olympus E-M10
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
Panasonic GX8« » Four Thirds 20.2 5184 38884K/30p23.512.680675Panasonic GX8
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 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 also of capturing video footage. 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 adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Pentax K-3 and Olympus E-M1 along with similar information for a selection of comparators. If you need more detail on the specs, you can find comprehensive listings, for example, 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 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 E-M5 II« »2360 n 3.0 1037 swivel Y 8000 10.0 n Y Olympus E-M5 II
Olympus E-M10« »1440 n 3.0 1037 tilting Y 4000 8.0 Y Y Olympus E-M10
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
Panasonic GX8« »2360 n 3.0 1040 swivel Y 8000 10.0 n Y Panasonic GX8
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 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

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 conclusions can be drawn? Is the Pentax K-3 better than the Olympus E-M1 or vice versa? A synthesis of the relative strong points of each of the models is listed below.

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Arguments in favor of 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).
  • Brighter framing: Features an optical viewfinder for clear, lag-free composition.
  • Easier setting verification: Has 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.

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Advantages 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.

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 (10 : 6 points). However, the relevance of individual strengths will vary across photographers, so that you might want to apply your own weighing scheme to the summary points when reflecting and deciding on a new camera.

K-3 10:06 E-M1

In any case, while the specs-based evaluation of cameras is instructive in revealing their potential as photographic tools, it says nothing about, for example, the handling, responsiveness, and overall imaging quality of the K-3 and the E-M1 in practical situations. User reviews, such as those found at amazon, can sometimes inform about these issues, but such feedback is often incomplete, inconsistent, and biased. This is why expert reviews 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). You can find the full text of the reviews 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 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 E-M5 II« »HiRec81/1005/54.5/55/5 Feb 2015 1,099 i i Olympus E-M5 II
Olympus E-M10« »-80/1005/54.5/55/5 Jan 2014 699- i Olympus E-M10
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
Panasonic GX8« »Rec82/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Jul 2015 1,199- i Panasonic GX8
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 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

Care should be taken when interpreting the review scores above, though. The assessments were made in relation to similar cameras of the same technological generation. A score, therefore, has to be seen in close connection to the price and market introduction time of the camera, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. Also, please note that some of the review sites have changed their methodology and reporting over time.

 

Other camera comparisons

Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you are interested in seeing how other cameras pair up, just make a corresponding selection in the search boxes below. There is also a set of direct links to comparison reviews that other users of the CAM-parator app explored. If you cannot find the camera you are interested in, please contact me, and I will try to update the database with the necessary infos.

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