The Digital Photo Guy

Pentax K1 dSLR with 24-70/2.8 Lens

by on Jan.29, 2017, under Articles, gear, Monday Morning Tips

Why I Upgraded to Pentax K1 over Canon 5DS R

After nearly 20 years shooting Canon, I recently ordered a Pentax K1 from B&H. It was a tough decision considering what I have invested in Canon, not only in terms of lenses and gear, but also time and effort mastering the Canon system. Originally, I had assumed I would upgrade to a 50 megapixel Canon 5DS or 5DS R but, the more I studied my choices, the more the Pentax K1 appealed to me. I don’t intend to stop using my Canon gear but the Pentax K1 could become my “go to” kit until Canon either catches up or I dive fully into the Pentax ecosystem. Something old Pentax shooters will appreciate is that Pentax still builds cameras like the old days, resembling Cold War era Soviet tanks. In other words, this ain’t no dainty foo-foo camera for dilettantes.

Pentax K1 w/24-70 f/2.8 D FA

After selling my last APS-C body (Canon 7D) I wanted a replacement for my aging Canon 5D Mark II for high resolution fine art reproduction as well as an all around, general purpose camera. The Canon 5DS/R with 50.6 megapixels seemed a logical choice. It produces nearly 2.4 times more pixels (50.6 vs 21.1) than the 5D Mark II while the Pentax K1 has 1.73 times as many (36.4.) However, pixel pitch (photosite size) is actually smaller, 4.14 microns vs 4.88 microns. Pixel pitch is important because it determines the number of photons (light particles) each photosite (4 photosites produce one pixel) can capture. This, in turn, affects the quality of the image in terms of noise. If you want to print larger photos, like the large art reproductions I print, you need bigger, better and more pixels. The Pentax K1’s 4.88 micron photosites are nearly 20% larger than the Canon 5DS/R although still smaller than my old 21.1 megapixel 5D MkII. (For brevity sake, this has been VERY simplified.)

The second most important feature for me was PSR technology (pixel shift resolution,) enabled by Sensor Shift in the K1. Remember I said earlier 4 photosites make up 1 pixel? That’s because each photosite captures one color, red, blue or 2 greens. With PSR, Pentax has designed a system for shifting the sensor to capture each photosite 4 times then combining them in camera to produce one super clean pixel. In simplistic terms, this can be equated to a 145 megapixel sensor (36.4×4.) (Again, super simplified.)

If super clean, high resolution (low noise, sharp) images were all it did, Sensor Shift would still be worth it but the technology has several additional advantages. With a Canon 5DS/R, I had to make a choice between the 5DS with an anti-aliasing (AA) filter, aka LPF (low pass filter) or the 5DS R without an LPF. Once the decision is made, there’s no going back other than to buy another $3K camera body. The K1 sensor doesn’t have an LPF (for maximum sharpness) but can use Sensor Shift technology to simulate an LPF. When I want an LPF such as while photographing fine art on canvas where the weave might cause moiré patterns, I can turn on LPF, for the rest of the time, I turn off LPF for maximum sharpness.

Sensor Shift technology also lends itself to in-body-image-stabilization (IBIS.) Most IS (image stabilization) systems including Canon are in-lens. That means only IS lenses are stabilized. With IBIS, I can use any of my old Pentax manual lenses from the 60s and 70s and still gain the advantages of image stabilization.

Sensor Shift also allows Astrotracer mode which, in conjunction with an integrated GPS, automatically shifts the sensor to keep up with celestial body movement for astrophotography. This isn’t important to me but can be very useful for amateur astronomers and star gazers.

Finally, Sensor Shift can automatically adjust slanted horizons up to 2 degrees. That may not sound like much but tilt one of your landscape images by 2 degrees and you’ll see that it’s significant. Sure, you can adjust it in post but, if the camera will take care of it in-camera, that’s one less thing to futz with. So, all told, Sensor Shift offers five useful advantages.

Now, add in the fact that the K1 has an integrated GPS, wifi, intervalometer, a very cool articulating LCD and built-in “flashlights” to quickly find controls in the dark for $1847, approximately 50% less than a Canon 5DS/R and the choice was a no-brainer. 

Here are some links to articles and reviews that I used to make my decision:

Official Ricoh Imaging Pentax K1 specs.

Lloyd Chambers is an admitted fanboy but his article is a good place to start your research.

Lloyd Chambers has a list of other Pentax K1 articles on his site.

Pentax Forums has a 26 page review covering the K1.

A good summary of what Pentax Forums considers the 10 Unique Features of the K1.

DPReview’s 10 page review of the K1.

DxO calls the K1 sensor a “Full Frame Marvel

Here is DxO’s complete test results (dry, boring, techie stuff.)

For more reviews, check Luminous Landscape, Imaging Resource and PetaPixel. These are my top sites for relatively unbiased reviews free of “fanboy gushtafications” (unsupported gushing to curry favor of manufacturers.)

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2 Comments for this entry

  • Eric

    Interesting article Lee. I’ve been considering what to get for my next camera body. You’ve given me several tech. issues to bring into the mix. Thanks.

    • Lee

      I started thinking about this back in Oct. I was all ready to order a Canon 5DS R but just hated that I had to choose between “LPF or no LPF.” In other words, I wanted my cake and eat it, too. My next post will examine some of the “gotchas” associated with a new camera system so stay tuned.

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