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A Few Quick & Dirty Canon vs. Pentax Comparison Shots

Pentax K20D + 16-50mm f/2.8

So earlier this year I tried out a Pentax K20D and 16-50mm f/2.8 lens for a short while and was pretty impressed by the combination. Back then I had taken a couple of center sharpness comparison shots against my bookshelf between the Pentax and my regular Canon 5D and 24-70mm f/2.8 combo and they basically just sat in my "Processed" folder for the past 5 months waiting to be written up. So yeah, this is long overdue. As usual, these shots were taken during the evening so only light source is a 6' tall fluorescent lamp that illuminates upwards towards the ceiling. Bodies were tripod mounted, 3 shots taken at each aperture and length and the best one taken from each set of 3. ISO set at 200, 100% crops of the middle of each photo. Center focus point which would be the white book with thin grey stripes and purple lettering in the middle. Books to the left are an inch behind the center book and the one on the right. So first up, wide open at 16/24mm.

16/24mm @ f/2.8

As far as I can tell, very little difference. The Pentax may have just a smidgen better white balance but the Canon looks a bit smoother in general. But that's because of the body and not the lens. So on the wide end, both lenses are pretty comparable. No point in putting up the sample shots at f/4 and f/8 since they're exactly the same. Both of these lenses are quite sharp at the wide end.

So we'll move on to the telephoto end. 50/70mm at f/2.8.

50/70mm f/2.8

Since the Pentax is a 1.5x crop camera, the 50mm is actually 75mm at the long end but I moved the tripod back a few so that the framing of the shot would be as similar as possible. Anyway, looking at these wide open results, it's odd to see that the Pentax suddenly has worse white balancing but it's superior in sharpness and resolution. Upon close inspection, the grey vertical and horizontal lines can be seen as consisting of tiny zig-zags instead of being just a straight line.

50/70mm @ f/8

Even at f/8, the grey lines on the Canon side still look blurred while the Pentax is showing them exceptionally clear. No contest on the long end.

So what can be gleaned from this? Well obviously Canon and Nikon don't have a lock down on the ability to make exceptional and sharp lenses. Because the 16-50mm lens was designed for Pentax's crop digital cameras, it's physically smaller and lighter than Canon's relatively older 24-70mm. And in this case, its sharpness is better overall than the 24-70. However, you can really only see the difference when viewing the full-sized photos at 100% so for practical, everyday printing/web use, they'll both give great results. If I was a Pentax shooter and wanted a mid-range zoom that can rival anything out there, then the 16-50mm f/2.8 will definitely not disappoint.


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Ok, I don't have as much time as I used to in my prior pixel-peeping posts so I'm going to make this quick. I'm posting a couple of 100% center crops at f/2.8 and at 24mm, 35mm, and 70mm for... [Read More]

Comments (9)

H Ali:

Interesting read. Both are exceptional cameras and lenses, able to produce beautiful photographs in the hands of a skilled photographer.

I'm wondering what (if any) sharpness was applied, as you didn't mention that in your blog


Hi H Ali,

No sharpening was applied during post. No post processing done whatsoever to the shots besides cropping and converting to JPEG.


It's so awesome that you're going to the trouble of doing these tests! I have the 24-70/2.8 and have loved it, but have definitely not done my own tests. Thanks!


Hi Rita! Yeah I caught glimpses of you toting it around in Anna's photos of Sat Sangat's wedding. It's really a great lens all around except that copy variation does seem to exist when it comes to sharpness. Luckily the one I have currently (which is not the one I took these shots with) seems to satisfy my unwarranted high standards. ;-p But if you love yours, then there's really no reason to test it as I have. =)

Kerrie Damen:

I found your site interesting.
I about to enter the DSLR era and have traditionally been a "Canon" person. I am interested in both the new Canon and the Pentax K20. (I have an exsisting zoom that will work on the Pentax)
What is your suggestion


Hi Kerrie,

Which Canon are you looking at? The 50D? Since both bodies are very good, the most important thing you can do is (if possible), try out both of them in person. Hold them in your hands and play around with the controls. Whichever one you feel more comfortable with would be the one to choose. However, depending on how deep you want to get into DSLRs, you should also really consider the availability of lenses. Canon has by far a much greater range of modern, autofocusing lenses and the used market for them is also very robust. I'm not as familiar with Pentax's lens lineup (particularly their older lenses) but I'm pretty sure it's not as extensive. So if you think you're only going to get 2 or 3 lenses at most ever, then sticking with Pentax would be fine.


nice test you've got there. And good taste for literature too ;-)

Diego Jose:

Are these all center crops? My 16-50 was incredibly sharp in the middle but so-so in the edges.


Yes these are center only crops. I remember taking a look at the corners as well and didn't see much difference in those either. The copy of the 16-50 I had I was quite impressed with.

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