Sunday 1 April 2012


With the release of the Canon 5DMk3, someone who'd had a play with one said to me "It's time to jump from Pentax to Canon", his reasoning being that the image quality, especially at higher ISOs, was so stunning that I had to make the swap.  Apparently build quality and button placement is excellent too, and it must be for this normally die-hard Nikonist to be saying this to me.

The Canon 5Dmk3 and Pentax K-5 (picture to scale)

So, am I going to re-equip to get the 'ultimate' in high ISO shots?  Well, no, and for several reasons, which I'm going to run through now...

  • Cost:  The expense required to swap from one system to another can be considerable, and for me outlay would total well over £13,000, especially once you start adding in a flashgun, new (bigger) bag, vertical grip, remote release.  But the main expenses would be the camera itself (£2,999), 500mm f/4 lens (£8,400+) and other lenses in the £300-£600 range.  That 500mm for me has serious shortcomings though.

  • Weight: Just the 500mm lens weighs about 25% more than all of my lenses and Pentax K-5 put together (it's 3.87kg), so add in the 5DMk3 at 950g, and 3 more lenses, and I won't be wanting to carry that anywhere!

  • Flexibility:  I shoot lots of pseudo-macro stuff with my 300mm, because it focuses down to about 4 feet.  The Canon 500mm focuses to 10 feet minimum, and that would mean not being able to use it for flowers, dragonflies etc.

    Pentax K-5, DA*300mm lens at F/6.7, 1/125s @ ISO400, handheld.

  • Bulk: All that weight has to take up more space, the 500mm is huge, and I'd therefore need a bigger, bulkier (and heavier) bag for it all.

  • The Canon EF 500mm f/4.0 L IS USM and Pentax DA* 300mm f/4 (picture to scale)

    The Green Button: Pentax have a green button.  It's nothing to do with the green (auto) mode; the Green Button is really useful.  Although its function varies depending on the mode you're in, and how you've set it up to work, I find it amazingly useful for quickly setting a manual exposure - I adjust my aperture, hit the Green Button and hey presto, the camera meters and sets the shutter speed.  Very quick, very easy, and manual mode would be a lot less user friendly without it.  I'm amazed no other manufacturer has something similar to be honest.  It also acts as a reset button for exposure compensation, ISO... Just very useful.

  • Weather-sealing: Whilst the Canon is 'protected against dust and moisture', my Pentax is truly weatherproof, and I know from experience that includes mud (and the rinse in a puddle afterwards) and heavy rain.  'Dust and moisture' doesn't fill me with confidence.

    My K10D out in the rain.

  • Ergonomics: With one exception (that I'm pretty much used to now anyway, see below), I love the layout and feel of the K-5, everything's where it should be, wheels turn the 'right' way.  Personally I don't like the large wheel on the back of Canons, I don't feel that it sits in the right place for my thumb.  The on/off switch on the 5Dmk3 is under the mode dial, it makes much more sense to me to have it around the shutter button.  Zooming in and out of a image in playback?  Just a spin of the rear wheel with the Pentax, but button presses with both Canon and Nikon, it just seems so much easier and more natural the Pentax way.

    I know over time I'd get used to the different layout, and it obviously works for lots of other photographers, but I just don't want to. :-)

  • The Future: My K-5 has the best APS sized sensor available at the moment, and when tested by DXOMark the dynamic range (until the release of the D800 it was the best of any camera) and overall quality was so good that they ranked it above every Canon sensor, including the full-frame models.  So although at the moment the 5DMk3 is bound to have a better performing sensor than the K-5 (it's full frame, and a year and a half newer), when I come to upgrade from my K-5, I'm sure the sensor in the latest Pentax will be better than the one in the Canon.

I'm not saying that if you're happy to carry the weight, and happy to spend a small fortune on the lenses and camera, then the 5DMk3 wouldn't perform brilliantly, I'm sure it will, but for me those compromises would be too great, compared to the ones I make in choosing the K-5.  What compromises are they?

Well, I really wish the Green Button and the Exposure Compensation Button were in the same positions they were with my K10D, they've been swapped round on the K-5 and it took me quite a while to get used to it.  And I wish the auto-focusing was as good as the Canon/Nikon equivalents, for the odd occasion it really matters.  But I still usually get the shot I'm after, so it's not a deal-breaker.  And that's honestly it.  Everything else works perfectly for me, and suits me and my hands beautifully.  Swap systems?  No thanks (I'd really, really miss that Green Button for a start!).

So what I'm saying I suppose, is that you weigh up the pros and cons of particular cameras and systems (including considering the lenses available, not how many of them, but whether they're of use to you), think about your budget, try out all the cameras you can afford, and get a camera that suits you, even if it may mean making some compromises on image quality.  You should end up with a camera you want to use, want to carry, and enjoy.


Anonymous said...

I can see you point about the expense and size of the 500mm f/4, but would you not be able to run the smaller and lighter L lenses (such as the 70-200mm f/4L USM) and crop in given the 22MP?
Also would the higher ISO performance mean that you wouldn't necessarily need a tripod which would mean you're not carrying as much gear on the occasions you would have needed a tripod?

Daniel said...

Hi , thanks for your comment, I'd certainly considered your first point whilst writing the post.

I could use the shorter lens and crop, but I often do with my 300mm as it is, so I would end up cropping even more on the Canon, and that somewhat defeats the object of using a larger sensor/higher pixel count. The Canon 300mm f/4 is very similarly sized and priced compared to the Pentax though, and focuses only slightly further away at minimum, but if I would have cropped to half my sensor size on my K-5, I'd still end up with an 8Mp image, whereas cropping to the same magnification with the Canon using the 300mm would give me a 5Mp image. Depending what I want to use it for, that may or may not be important.

As far as the tripod is concerned, I would argue two points against using higher ISO to compensate for not using a tripod.

Firstly, lower ISOs are always going to give better quality than higher ones, so I would still want to use a lower one as much as possible. My K-5 is great to ISO 1600, I'm more than happy using it at 3200, and 6400 is still good and usable. But ISO 80 is so much better.

Secondly, I use a tripod even if the shutter speed is going to be easily handholdable. A tripod gives control and repeatability - setting up your composition and waiting for the right light, or adjusting exposure but keeping the same composition, both examples of when a tripod helps no end. There are plenty more, and it's just something that I very much prefer to use, when I'm doing 'that' sort of photography.

Obviously there are times when a tripod isn't useful, or just gets in the way, but if I'm out and about doing 'serious' photography, I'll take my tripod.

Daniel said...

The 5Dmk3 is now listed on DXOMark, and it's nowhere near as good as I thought it would be, in fact still rated lower than the K-5. Dynamic range in particular is over 2 stops worse.

If I were to be changing from Pentax, I know which camera I'd choose next (money being no object...)|0/%28brand%29/Canon/%28appareil2%29/792|0/%28brand2%29/Nikon/%28appareil3%29/676|0/%28brand3%29/Pentax

Daniel said...

That link again: DXOMark Comparison