Recently, Ricoh Imaging took us – and Leica – by surprise. While Leica announced the black-and-white-only M11 Monochrom, Ricoh launched the Pentax K-3 Mark III Monochrome hours before, undercutting it as well with a price some $7000 lower.
Even Fujifilm would have been a more likely candidate for a monochrome edition of one of its existing models, given the company’s proclivity for playing with color filters and film simulations (they’re a major player in the color filter space to boot). But…a Pentax?
|Pentax’s K-3 III Monochrome seems like an appealing camera, but was it the wrong choice for a monochrome sensor? Maybe!|
Like the Leica, this new DSLR takes an existing model and swaps out the standard sensor for one without a Bayer color filter, making it a truly monochrome imaging experience. As we’ve written about in the past, this can grant a camera some distinct advantages, including eliminating chroma (color) noise at high ISOs and allowing the sensor to pick up about a stop more light. The disadvantage, of course, is that it plays to a fairly niche audience. To be honest, Pentax wasn’t a brand we thought likely to make such a camera.
This move shows that Ricoh knows it’s now a boutique camera manufacturer. The Pentax name may not have the clout of the Leica red dot, but to photo history buffs, anything with the Asahi Optical Company’s heritage attached has a positive connotation. Access to a variety of vintage K-mount glass (including some rather coveted Takumar-branded lenses) can give the K-3 III a Leica-esque retro appeal.
Pentax has always made high-quality DSLRs, with big, bright pentaprisms instead of cheap mirrors – and they’re continuing to. Pretty soon, if you like the experience of a single lens reflex, you’ll only have one option, just as Leica is basically the only game in town for a pure rangefinder (sorry, Pixii). And now their own faithful (and anyone else intrigued) can get what seems like a great APS-C DSLR for stills that shoots exclusively in monochrome, for a quarter of the price of an M11M.
|Unlike cosmetically-altered special editions like the GR IIIx Diary Edition, a GR III Monochrome would be a truly special camera.|
But if Ricoh was going to make an oddball camera for its fanbase, it missed one incredibly important opportunity. They should have made a Ricoh GR III Monochrome first. The GR has always been a camera for photo nerds by photo nerds, from the very start. Ricoh’s APS-C cameras have been phenomenal tools that are easy to shoot but can output impressive results in the right hands. Matching the street-smart GR III with a monochrome sensor would let users shoot in the dark practically, and ape the look that made photographers like Daido Moriyama famous. Rugged DSLRs like the K-3 III aren’t well suited for fast one-handed shooting, making the Monochrome version that much more of a head-scratcher.
It’s worth underscoring that a live-view-driven camera like the GR would probably be a better overall monochrome shooting experience, since shooting with a DSLR’s optical viewfinder won’t give you an idea of what the different tones look like in the final image, and DSLR live view is…well…DSLR live view, among other things harder to hold up in front of you like a phone.
The GR would probably be a better overall monochrome shooting experience.
And then there’s the crop sensor issue. The really great Pentax lenses, whether they’re historically loved or the more recent vintage FA Limited line, were made for full frame. When you pick up a GR, you’re getting a high-quality lens at either 28mm or 40mm equivalent, specially designed for the camera, no additional math required. I’d love to shoot the incredible Pentax FA 31mm F1.8 Limited on a monochrome body, but not at the weird ~46mm focal length you’d get from the K-3 III.
So, what do you think? If you’re a GR shooter, do you feel they targeted the wrong camera line? Should Ricoh make a new edition of the GR III with a monochrome sensor? Let us know in the comments.