Canon T4i vs Nikon D5100 vs Pentax K-30

Image Quality

This is not an in-depth evaluation of the image quality of the three cameras, but rather a look at it from a practical standpoint.  For an in-depth review of the image quality of the Pentax K-30, see the Pentax K-30 review.

It should be noted that due to the electronic flash design of the Canon T4i and Nikon D5100, they will in general be more beginner-friendly indoors.  Our first test, performed using default settings, was a hand-held shot in low light (EV 4), conditions in which point-and-shoots tend to produce blurry or noisy images.  Click on each photo to enlarge.  Shot using the 50mm lenses.

Canon

The Canon decided to go ahead and pop up the flash and fire it. On the right is the photo we got when we disabled the flash.

Flash (As shot) No Flash (Compulsory)

Nikon

The Nikon followed suit in terms of flash.

Flash (As shot) No Flash (Compulsory)

Pentax

The Pentax obviously couldn't shoot with flash in auto mode, but still delivered a fine image.

No Flash (As shot) Flash (Compulsory)

In our humble opinion, we find the K-30's original shot to be the best- the colors appear natural, and the image was sharp.

Test Charts

We also shot some test chat photos, on a tripod, using the 50mm lenses.  Live view was used to confirm focus.  All photos were taken at F8.  These primarily guage sharpness of the camera/lens combination, and the high-ISO performance of each camera.  Click on any photo to enlarge, then use your arrow keys to cycle through them.

Canon
Nikon
Pentax
ISO 100
ISO 800
ISO 12800

At low ISO, the Pentax and the Canon both have the Nikon beaten, but at maximum (non-expanded) ISO, the Nikon and Pentax have an advantage. Furthermore, the Pentax exhibits less color noise than the Nikon at high ISO.  Overall, the Nikon and the Pentax delivered better images than the Canon based on our field tests.  It should also be noted that the Canon has a physically smaller sensor than the other two cameras, as its crop factor is 1.6x rather than the 1.5x of the other two.  This combined with the increased resolution would explain its worse high-ISO performance.  For more information on the sensors found in these three cameras, we recomment that you take a look at the sensor scores publised by DxO labs.

Better image quality can of course be attained by those who choose to shoot in RAW, but most users of these cameras likely will not be doing so.  It should be noted that both the Canon and the Nikon have 14-bit RAW; the Pentax only delivers 12-bit color depth.  14-bit RAW files are able to represent more colors than 12-bit RAW files, meaning that more color information is available, and shadows/highlights will be clearer.

Verdict

Even though it's not as beginner-friendly, we've found that the Pentax K-30 is the best for stills overall.  Its bright viewfinder and large grip help contribute to the ease and stability of everyday shooting, and you can't forget that any lens you mount on it becomes instantly-stabilized.  The Nikon is capable of taking the best RAW files, however, when in the hands of an advanced user.  While the Canon's higher resolution can be seen in certain situations, it exhibits more noise and has less dynamic range than the other two cameras.


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