Pentax K-1 Mark II Nightscape vs Canon 5DS

Started 6 months ago | User reviews thread
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KEnrique Junior Member • Posts: 44
Pentax K-1 Mark II Nightscape vs Canon 5DS

For a few years now, I had been wanting to get a third body, primarily for travel, landscape, and nighttime photography. Something cheaper than both my Pentax 645Z and my Canon 5DS. I wanted a Full-Frame with excellent image quality: a fairly high MegaPixel count and class-leading dynamic range. Given that I am heavily invested with my Canon system, I waited with anticipation for 6D Mark II. But in typical fashion, Canon released the most disappointing DSLR I’ve ever encountered. So I started searching for an alternative, which concluded in my purchase of the Pentax K-1 Mark II.

The K-1 Mark II is a very good camera.

Two years ago I tested the original K-1, and I was very disappointed by its Auto Focus system. Right off the bat it seemed very slow, and when I asked a B&H employee to walk straight towards me, not a single shot was in focus. While the focus of the K-1 Mark II is not as fast as the Canon 5DS, it seems faster than the original K-1, and it is also more accurate. The improved algorithm of the AF system seems to work, and focus is now definitely good enough for me.

The Dynamic Range of the K-1 Mark II is fantastic. In my opinion, at ISO 100, it has about 12 EV of DR. By comparison, the Canon 6D Mark II only has about 9 EV. If you don’t believe me check out the Raw Dynamic in DPReview and you will see that K-1 at +6 EV produces cleaner files than the 6D at just +4 EV.

The K-1 Mark II is also an ISO Beast. I shot the same nightscape from ISO 100 all the way to 819,200 (only full f-stops), while reducing the shutter speed to keep the exposure constant. All the way up to ISO 400, the K-1 Mark II produces impeccable images, whereas the 5DS begins to lose image quality at this point. Personally, I don’t like anything above ISO 800 with the 5DS. By contrast, the K-1 Mark II delivers similar results at ISO 1,600. That is a whole f-stop! At ISO 3,200 the K-1 Mark II begins to stumble; the night sky gets too blotchy for my liking, but other people may find it acceptable. At 25,600, the overall color of the image remains faithful to the actual scene, and if you only print a 6”x9”, or you just view your photo on a smartphone, you might get away with it, maybe even at 51,200. But after that it is a bit of a disaster, although you will still recognize, more or less what you were intending to photograph. However, at ISO 819,200 you might not even recognize the Empire State Building…

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 25,600

ISO 102,400

ISO 819,200

One thing that everybody seems to know about the Pentax K-1 is that it is a tank, and it sure feels like a tank. It is very heavy, but has good ergonomics. It is also incredibly well weather sealed (what other DSLR can you put under the shower, and expect it to work afterwards?).

I think the overall image quality of the K-1 Mark II is outstanding. I did most of my tests with the Pentax 24-70 f/2.8. For comparison I used my Canon 5DS with the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 II. At first I wasn’t sure about the Pentax lens because it is not very widely reviewed, and Pentax Forums only gives it an 8/10. Testing the whole system, I think that is a fair assessment. I would give the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 II a 10/10, which means that the Canon 5DS combo was expected to win hands down. What was unexpected was how well the Pentax K-1 Mark II held its own. I enlarged the K-1 image to be same size as the 5DS, and the two are very comparable, especially in the mid-tones of the image. My biggest complain of the 5DS is its slightly inadequate Dynamic Range, and you could see that in the tests. The very dark areas of the image don’t look great, whereas they are perfectly clean and sharp with the K-1 Mark II, and that was the main reason why I bought the Mark II. However, it came as a big disappointment that in the highlights, the Pentax K-1 did not really shine. A tree in front of some very bright lights looks very messy, and all the traffic lights turned magenta instead of red. I was surprised, but the 5DS handles them much better… However, the Pentax K-1 Mark II has a secret weapon: Pixel Shift.

Pentax K-1 Mark II - Test Scene

Canon 5DS - Test Scene

Pentax K-1 Mark II - Test Scene Detail 1

Canon 5DS - Test Scene Detail 1

Pentax K-1 Mark II - Test Scene Detail 2

Canon 5DS - Test Scene Detail 2

Pentax K-1 Mark II - Test Scene Detail 3

Canon 5DS - Test Scene Detail 3

Some people say, incorrectly, that by shifting the sensor 4 times, one pixel at a time, the K-1 gives you 4 times the image resolution. For starters, they should be multiplying it by 3, since you only have 3 colors in the sensor. You need to move it four times to ensure that the green pixels get exposed to all three colors. And secondly, this “just” gives you a more accurate color/luminosity rendition of every pixel, which is no bad thing. However, when shooting nighttime photography, the exposures need to be fairly long. Doing a 2-minute exposure, I was surprised that the merged images were less sharp than the No Pixel-Shift images. The same was true of a 15 second exposure. At first I thought I had got my notes confused, so I repeated that test a number of times, and every single time, the single long exposure was sharper than the Pixel-Shift equivalent. I suspect the slight breeze that we had that night might have been a factor. Having said that, the magenta traffic lights went back to being (mostly) red, and the highlights seemed cleaner. Cleaner but blurrier, and still not as clean as those from the 5DS.

Pentax K-1 30 Sec NO Pixel Shift

Pentax K-1 30 Sec YES Pixel Shift

I am pretty sure Pixel Shift of the K-1 Mark II works great in studio situations, but for that I have my Pentax 645Z.

If the K-1 Mark II had produced cleaner highlights and an accurate color rendition of the very bright red traffic lights I would have fallen in love with the camera, and I would have recommended it without hesitation. But at least for this user, it was not a perfect match…

A few other things bothered me, but they were not a deal breaker.

The Pentax K-1 has in my opinion way too many buttons (do you really need a switch for Manual or AF focus? I would expect that in the lens only), but it doesn’t have a joystick.

The menus also seem overly complicated, and unnecessarily so. It bothered me that every time you hit the Menu button it brought you right to the beginning (and not where you had left off). Sure, there is a Custom Function where you can change that, but still… If you press the forward arrow, it does not take you to the next menu screen, but instead goes inside the function you are in. Maybe there is a Custom Function for that too… But the defaults should be the more user-friendly, like the ISO should not increase by full f/stops by default, but by 1/3 like in most cameras. Which reminds me, if you do decide to get the K-1 Mark II, you should read the entire manual, pay attention, and take notes. There is a lot you can do with this camera, but you have to know that it can do it in the first place.

The electronic level is not very accurate. The one on the 5DS is a lot more accurate.

Lastly, the remote release socket is in an awkward place. You can’t handhold the camera properly if a remote is attached.

One thing that I did LOVE from the Pentax K-1 is the Handheld Pixel Shift. My hands are very unsteady, so I rarely shoot at anything slower than 1/125 of a Sec. I went for half a second to see what this little beast could do. See for yourselves… Magic!

Pentax K-1 Mark II - Test Scene ISO 1600 Handheld

Pentax K-1 Mark II - Test Scene ISO 1600 Handheld Pixel Shift

Like I said, this is a great camera. You can shoot great images with it, but it might not be the best camera for city nightscapes. The Nikon D850 might be better than both the Canon 5DS and the Pentax K-1 Mark II in that regard…

I hope this review was helpful. If you think I made a mistake, feel free to let me know...


"If you can talk about it, why photograph it?"

 KEnrique's gear list:KEnrique's gear list
Olympus Tough TG-4 Canon G9 X Canon G7 X II Pentax 645Z Canon EOS 5DS +6 more
Pentax K-1 Mark II
36 megapixels • 3.2 screen • Full frame sensor
Announced: Feb 21, 2018
KEnrique's score
Average community score
bad for good for
Kids / pets
Action / sports
Landscapes / scenery
Low light (without flash)
Flash photography (social)
Studio / still life
= community average
Canon 6D Mark II Canon EOS 5DS Canon EOS 6D Nikon D850 Pentax 645Z Pentax K-1 Pentax K-1 II
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