Last month, Ricoh 'repositioned' the prices of four of its Pentax cameras: two dSLRs, one EVIL camera, and its 645D digital medium format camera. From Ricoh's perspective, it's an attempt to make the Pentax brand more attractive to consumers and present them with some competitively priced options that aren't Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, or Sony. What does this mean from the consumer's perspective, however? What sort of value for money can a Pentax purchase offer? I decided to do a bit of digging.
K-3: £950 body-only
The K-3 is Pentax's flagship dSLR camera, heading its modest line up of current models. It isn't, however, the likes of a Canon, Nikon, or Sony flagship camera, which are all full-frame. This has an APS-C sensor and is much more similar to their high-end smaller-sensored cameras.
The K-3's key features include a maximum sensitivity of ISO 51,200; top frames-per-second speed of 8.3; a 24 megapixel sensor; a dual SD card slot; and full weather sealing. At its new £950 price point, this leaves the K-3 in an interesting position.
For around £850 you can pick up a Canon 70D or a Nikon D7100. It's not a straight-up comparison against the 70D, though. That has lower resolution (20 megapixels); a slower continuous shooting speed (7 frames-per-second), and its sensitivity tops out at ISO 25,600. Where it does beat the K-3 is on connectivity—it has wi-fi functionality—and on video capability. By all accounts if you're interested in recording video, you're better off with the 70D than the K-3. Finally, Canon has a far broader range of lenses than Pentax, which presents you with much more flexibility as well as purchasing options.
Against the Nikon D7100, you're looking at similar resolution, dual SD card slots, and dust and water resistance (but not water-proofing), but lower sensitivity (ISO 25,600) and slower frames-per-second rate (6). Video on the D7100 is also meant to be good and Nikon has a huge lens selection, too. Unless you're very serious about action photography or need cold-resistance too, the D7100 seems a better option to me.
K-50: £500 body-only
The K-50 isn't Pentax's 'entry-level' offering, that's the K-500, but it does boast weather resistance, a top sensitivity of ISO 51,200, and a maximum frames-per-second rate of 6. It's sensor is a 16 megapixel APS-C one. So at around £500 (although you can pick them up cheaper), how does it compare?
Against the Nikon D5300, it's a day at the races: some you win and some you lose. Where the K-50 loses in the megapixel race (16 versus 24) it wins in the frames-per-second stakes (6 versus 5) and the ISO handicap (51,200 versus an expanded 25,600). The K-50 doesn't have an entry when it comes to wi-fi and GPS, giving the Nikon a walk-over; but the situation is reversed when it comes to weather sealing. With the D5300 selling for around £550 body-only, it'll be a case of careful consideration what you want from a camera. Something that slots into a system with which you can grow significantly (the Nikon), or something that's reliably built but doesn't offer huge scope for progression with lenses or more extensive specs.
Unless you specifically want a dSLR, it's also worth looking at EVIL options; around the £500 mark there are a few choices that can give you plenty of camera for your money. There's the Sony NEX-6 or a6000, or Fujifilm's X-M1. You'll be getting very similar specs, and in the case of the a6000 and X-M1 wi-fi to boot, but not the weather sealing. The question is, what do you want from your camera?
With a 1/1.7" sensor, it's actually a struggle to find a direct EVIL competitor for the Q7. Sony and Canon use APS-C sensors, Panasonic and Olympus use Micro Four Thirds, and Nikon favours CX. There's nothing that small. If you're looking for a camera as handily sized as the Q7, that's reasonably priced, but still has interchangeable lenses, take a look at the Olympus E-PM2. Or you could ignore the interchangeable lens issue—with a camera that small, having interchangeable lenses might overwhelm the benefits of its smaller body anyway—and go for a compact. Something like Canon's S120, Olympus' XZ-2, or if you can stretch the pennies further, Sony's RX100.
645D: £4,250 body-only
This one is the easiest of the lot. If you're looking to dip your feet into medium format waters, there is nothing as affordable as the Pentax 645D. You'll either be sticking with a top-of-the-range Canon or Nikon dSLR, or a Hasselblad or Mamiya medium format.
Having test-driven a few Pentax cameras, there is a lot to like about them. And if you live anywhere that rain or dust might conceivably be an issue, the weather-sealing is a very attractive prospect. But it's a case of considering what your needs are from a camera and whether or not you're looking for heaps of compatible lenses, both native and third party, as well as accessories and add-ons. How far do you think you might want to take your photographic progress? How far do you want to take your camera? How much money do you have to spend?
Getting good value for money isn't just about the pennies in your pocket right now and the current crop's spec sheets. It's also about long-term planning and ensuring that you and your camera—and the system into which you've bought—have a future together.
Whatever you're looking to buy, it's always worth considering all of your options.