Low-light portraiture: How the K-500 leaves the noisy Nikon D4s crying in the dust

Started Apr 14, 2014 | Discussions thread
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Low-light portraiture: How the K-500 leaves the noisy Nikon D4s crying in the dust
Apr 14, 2014

Imagine this:

You want to shoot a portrait of a friend in a relatively dim environment (e.g. a bar or cafe at night comes to mind, EV 1) with available light to capture the naturla atmosphere. And no, as the majority type you do not lug around tripods into bars. Your friend is an average adult fully capable of posing for half a second.

Now you like a lot of background blur as well and you favorite portraiture lens is the Sigma 85/1.4. It actually is not only a good focal length for portraiture but with F1.4 it is perfect for low light situations as well.

You take the shot with the Pentax K-500 ($400), the Sigma 85mm ($970) at F1.4, SR on, shutter at 1/20 sec. and ISO 1600. Nice.

Comes along the Nikon friend with the best low light performance camera he can muster with any Nikon, the D4s ($6500) with the exact same pixel count as the K-500. To gain an equivalent FoV he choses the Nikkor 135/2 ($1300). This also provides a similar DoF.

Since the lens is a full stop slower, he has to crank up the ISO by one stop. Since there is no SR available for Nikon he has to shoot at 1/160 (for the 135mm). Totalling in a loss of 4 ISO stops on the D4s, up to ISO 25.600 to get the same shot.

This is what the result then looks like: K-500 at ISO 1600 vs. D4s at ISO 25600:


Similar K-30 vs. Canon 5DIII, 6D, Nikon D4:


The shot with the K-500 is so much better than the D4s noisewise.

Now if the Nikon who had to pay all this money for the worse results complains and says he could shoot with his 85/1.4 as well (and then compare to the DA*55/1.4), so he has a similar wide open aperture, what then?

For one he hasn't understood the equivalency thing because maybe you do not want only one eye to be in focus, so he really still has to shoot with F2 for a comparable picture (apples to apples).

Or you could be lenient with him and give him his bragging rights (he spent thousands more, remember, and has to have his little victory) and allow him to go with one eye less in focus (comparing apples to oranges). So he gains one stop of ISO. Well. Still three ISOs behind the K-500...

K-500 at ISO 1600 vs. D4s at ISO 12800:


Similar K-30 vs. Canon 5DIII, 6D, Nikon D4:


Still the D4s does not come close to the noise performance of the K-500.

As Canons 6D, 5DIII and Nikons D610, D800E and older FF bodies underperform the D4s regrading noise the situation there is even worse compared to any current Pentax.

You can use a term coined by the FF-users for DoF discussions:

Using your Pentax cameras you "have a lot more noise control" for the above type of low light situation than you will ever have with the crippled FF Nikons or Canons, which do not offer in-body SR.

It is surprising though that these large Canon and Nikon companies still are playing catch-up with Pentax in this regard and have nothing competitive to offer. A whole area of lenses are just missing (similar to the pancake topic). Being so far behind doesn't seem to worry them as long as the sheep still buy the stuff.

C'mon Nikon it can't be so hard to build some 24/1.4 VR, 35/1.4 VR, 50/1.4 VR, 55/1.4 VR, 85/1.4 VR, 135/2 VR (with no uplift on the price of current simpler models;-)). No?

It is definitely not the same to have the SR in the body or in the lens unless you can find F1.4-lenses with SR/VR/IS.

Thank you Pentax for the in-body SR.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III Canon EOS 6D Nikon D4 Nikon D4s Nikon D610 Nikon D800E Pentax K-30 Pentax K-500
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