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The argument isn’t a new one… which camera is best for my work… which camera can offer me more bang for the buck… In my case, I’ve owned a number of film and digital cameras and learned through much trial and error. Having owned and used the Hasselblad H2 and being (previously) pressured by other photographers to buy Canon, I had purchased a 5D Mark II but after two years of swearing and fussing I sold it! I’ve not looked back and there’s good reason not to.

I’ve found many photographers that are happy with Canon products and some whom I’m a fan of their work, work done with the same model camera I owned (5D Mark II). In many cases, it would be easy to assume the problem was user error and if I were reading this and had never owned this model, I might assume the same but uniquely enough the Canon 5DII has two major defects that some people are not aware of… banding and noise! Amazingly, I’ve seen the reports that claim the 5DII has very low noise and yet the copy I owned was PLAGUED with noise and plagued with banding problems.

Having sold it last year and letting go of some great prime lenses in the process, I then chose to purchase an APS-C camera. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have occurred to me as the APS-C format has always been associated with amateur photography. Doing my due diligence on the new Pentax K5 IIs I was intrigued by the claims by DXO that the K5 (it’s predecessor) was capable or rivaling the image quality of the 5DII and even beating it by ONE POINT! That impressed me to say the least, for many reasons. Forgoing the chances of being wrong, I bought a K5 IIs model and waited for delivery, which came in December of 2012. After selecting a 17-70 zoom lens and then some older Super Takumar, Pentax-A and Zeiss Jena prime lenses, I set out to test the capabilities of this little camera. To say I was astounded is an understatement. The K5 IIs isn’t just good, it’s impressively good! It’s damn good, it’s good enough to make you think twice about taking a full-frame camera with you when you leave the house.

I own several film cameras and typically when hiking or city walking I use my larger Tamrac bag to carry my gear and being able to take a camera that is light, small and packed with a big punch makes my trips all that much easier. At 16.2 Megapixels it rivals the Canon 1Ds Mark III, Nikon D7000 and many other competitor models. The fact that it can go Lens-to-Lens with the Nikon D3X can BEAT it in image quality is pretty remarkable considering the substantial cost difference between the two cameras. For me that cost savings was huge.

Below are some images shot with both the Canon 5D Mark II and the Pentax K5 IIs to give you a better understanding of just how good this camera is. No doubt, some will say they could get better results with the Canon than what I’m posting here and that is precisely my point! Canon pumps out so many cameras these days that quality control is, in my opinion, as serious problem for the camera maker. They seem to have a ‘so what’ attitude towards issues like banding and noise which are huge problems and things that cannot be easily corrected with software.

First is the Canon 5D Mark II (Non-HDR).  This picture was taken with a Canon TS-E II 24mm L series lens, arguably Canon’s BEST lens for landscapes and architecture.pennybacker

Second, The Pentax K5 IIs, 3 shots stitched (non-HDR).  This was taken with a Super Takumar 28mm lens, made in 1968!  This is NOT considered one of Pentax’s best lenses and only received a rating of 7 out of 10.Pennybacker_Panorama2a

To make things more ‘fair’ as the second image (above) was taken under better daylight conditions and stitched from three tiles, here’s a single image (below) taken just after sunset on the Gulf of Mexico, where the light is very dim, using the K5 IIs.  As you will see, there is little to no noise noticeable in this image shot at 100 ISO and using only a cheap Cokin ND Grad filter and a Pentax 17-70 zoom lens:


And then there’s this (below): a three-shot bracketed image, processed in CS5 and Pro-Efex 2 HDR software, no filters and using a 17-70 zoom lens. The colors, the clarity, the image quality all rival many full-frame cameras and give Canon and Nikon quite the run for their money.

Capital Storm_Pentax K5 IIs

So what is the ultimate camera…?  Well the answer is it depends!  It depends on what you plan to do with it.  What kind of images you want to take.  What type of lenses you require for your work and whether or not you plan to sell the images you take.  For me, I’ve sold stock images taken on my Pentax K5 IIs and never sold a thing I shot with my Canon 5D II. Does that mean I’ve simply gotten better at my work?  Perhaps but perhaps it also means I’m now utilizing equipment that meets with my needs as a photographer.  Either way, Pentax has earned a customer for life.

– John Gracen