At current prices, there is simply no question that the K-5 provides the best value for the money in this pairing. The lowest available body-only price at the moment for the 7D is hovering around US$1,800, and the camera is out of stock from most trustworthy retailers selling it for less due to the current situation in Japan (in stock, $1849.00 at Adorama, out of stock, $1699 at B&H Photo). (Unlike the K-5, the 7D is made in Japan). With the 18-135mm kit lens bundled, the price reaches well above US$2,000, putting it in the same territory as a used Nikon D700 or Canon 5D Mark II. The K-5, meanwhile, is selling at just under US$1,350 and from reliable sellers, and retailers seem to be well-stocked. Around US$500 is a big difference for two cameras so closely matched in terms of performance, and tips the overall value proposition in the K-5's favor. Budled with the Pentax 18-135mm lens (sold separately), you will still pay less than $1800 for the K-5.
There are a number of factors at play in determining the relative worth of these two cameras, so we'll proceed by declaring wins and losses in various performance or design categories.
Canon EOS 7D
|Small and lightweight||Extremely solid build|
|Superb build quality and ergonomics||Immense level of customizability|
|More manual controls||Very good image quality|
|Excellent image quality||Fast and reliable AF|
|Amazing RAW headroom||Great live view implementation|
|Large AF improvement over previous models||Some annoying ergonomic quirks|
|Great live view focusing||Large and heavy|
|Great value||Clunky playback interface|
|Too small for some hands||Much higher cost|
|Not as user-adjustable as 7D|
|Slower AF than 7D|
|Narrower modern lens selection|
There's no doubt that the 7D has an edge in sheer quantity of features, with a truly mind-boggling number of settings and menu options. Ergonomics are essentially a draw and, as always, really boil down to the user's preference. Both cameras feel good in the hand, and while we prefer the simplicity of the K-5's control scheme there are doubtless others who will enjoy the 7D's rear scroll wheel and joystick. Similarly, the 7D's larger size and heftier weight could be a pro or a con, depending on the user's tastes.
But in terms of image quality, we distinctly prefer the K-5's output--particularly the latitude its RAW files provide in post-processing. Its dynamic range and high-ISO capability clearly outstrip the 7D's, and its files can withstand much more tweaking in the virtual darkroom. The 7D wins out in autofocus performance--by a slight margin in one-shot mode and a more substantial one in AI Servo continuous shooting--and takes a more decisive victory in video recording flexibility. There are videographers out there who buy dSLRs for their portability and versatility, and to them we would strongly recommend the 7D (or even better, the Panasonic GH2). For everyone else, dSLR video isn't much more than a check box on a features list, and the K-5 checks it, if rather cursorily.
Since this is a comparison between Canon and Pentax, it has to be mentioned that the Pentax lens ecosystem is not nearly as vast as Canon's. Users who require exotic telephotos, special-purpose tilt-shift lenses, a full line of pro-quality zooms, or a full-frame upgrade path may have good reason to hesitate before jumping to the Pentax camp. While these lenses do exist, they are generally no longer in production, with the company focusing its energies on small, lightweight Limited primes and consumer-grade zooms. However, what Pentax does choose to focus on, it does extremely well. Its Limited primes and DA* lenses are among the best in the business, and often represent a far better value than their competition. It should also be noted that several companies, most notably Sigma, provide third-party lenses that cover some of the missing exotic lens range and narrow this gap.
In the final analysis, the K-5 is simply a fantastic photographic tool--easily Pentax's best dSLR yet, and possibly the first to stand on equal footing against current-generation cameras from Canon and Nikon. The 7D is similarly superb. Though it's not quite on the same level in terms of ultimate IQ, it can still produce stellar results, and in sheer mechanical performance and user-adjustability it holds a comfortable edge.
Most of the time it will be difficult to tell the difference between an image produced by the K-5 and one produced by the 7D, so your choice of camera will depend on your specific needs: your budget, your lust for ultimate IQ, your desire for HD video options, your need for bleeding-edge AF performance, and your preference in lenses. For us, the choice is clear--the K-5 is a winner, and an unbeatable value.