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06-21-2008, 09:49 PM   #1
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Pentax vs Nikon vs Canon - A Lens System Comparison

So tonight I got bored, and when that happens, I do goofy things.
----

I decided to compare a "standard" lens lineup between Nikon, Pentax, and Canon. Disregarding body prices, I wanted to see just how much more expensive, if at all, one brand would be over another.

After probably too little thought, I decided to simulate a "standard" lens layout, consisting of the following lenses:

1) A Fast-50
2) Wide Zoom (around 16-50mm or close) f/2.8 speed
3) The "Portrait Prime" - Pentax does this is 77mm, Canon and Nikon 85mm
4) Cheapo Telephoto - A consumer lens going from around 50/70mm-300mm
5) A fast telephoto - 180/200mm f/2.8
6) A fast long telephoto - 300mm f/4

Before I begin the comparison, here are some caveats:
  • Since Pentax has a smaller selection, I used them as the "common denominator" and kept the lens choices as similar as possible to the Pentax specs
  • No grey market or refurbished items
  • When possible, I used the "VR" or "IS" variant of the Nikon / Canon lens
  • It's possible I missed a lens -- Canon and Nikon lens listings are absurdly convoluted!

So, let us begin the math! Prices gleaned from Adorama or Amazon.

Fast 50 - f/1.4

All lenses were fairly similar here. Notice the Canon has USM, but neither Nikon or Canon have the VR/IS variant.
  • Pentax FA50mm f/1.4 = $200
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.4D = $289
  • Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM = $325


Result - Pentax wins by a hair. You lose out on USM offered by Canon, but you have SR through camera body. Not that big of a deal with a lens this short and fast, though.

Wide Zoom - F/2.8

Here is one of the largest price discrepancies of the entire lineup. For whatever reason, Canon, and especially Nikon, charge an arm and a leg for this range and speed of zoom.
  • Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8 ED-AL DA* = $659
  • Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 ED-IF AF-S DX = $1199
  • Canon EF-S 17-55mm F/2.8 IS USM = $960

Result - Pentax blows the other guys away. Notice that Canikon has no VR/IS offering. Even considering Pentax's QC problems with the 16-50mm, it's hard not to notice the huge pricing difference.


Portrait Prime

This is probably the most controversial range, as many people consider anything from 40mm to 100mm to be "portrait length". I decided to stick with the lenses normally thought of to be decent moderate telephoto portrait lenses.

Notice that Canon and Nikon actually have (at least) two versions of their lenses here (the normal and the upscale), whereas Pentax stays with their upscale Limited lens only.
  • Pentax Limited 77mm f/1.8 = $669
  • Nikon 85mm f/1.8D AF = $399. F/1.4 upscale is $1024
  • Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM = $355. "L" version f/1.2 = $1745

Result = Hard to say. We're comparing one of Pentax's top dog lenses to two "consumer" primes or two "pro" primes. If we consider Pro vs Pro, Pentax comes out on top, and by a huge margin compared to Canon. If we consider the "consumer" versions that Canon and Nikon offer, the outcome is more difficult to quantify, but I will give the win to Canon. $355 for a 85mm (supposedly quality) prime is a great deal.


Cheapo Telephoto

Ahh, this one is much easier! Let's stick to the consumer versions of a telephoto zoom and see where we get (50/70mm - 300mm, variable aperature)
  • Pentax 55-300 f/4-5.8 = $349
  • Nikon 70-300 f4-5.6 VR = $479
  • Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM = $549

Result = Pentax wins by a hair. You get a wider capability but lose a smidge of speed with Pentax. All three lenses offer image stability and Canon's actually has USM.

Fast Telephoto (180/200mm F/2.8) Prime
  • Pentax DA* 200mm f/2.8 = $949
  • Nikon ED-IF AF 180mm f/2.8 = $760
  • Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM = $695

Result: At first it looks bad...Pentax is charging several hundred dollars more for this type of lens. Let's look closer, though -- Notice something missing? Perhaps two letters in the lens names? Yes, that's right, Canon and nikon lenses lack VR/IS! This is important, as now we're dealing with some long focal lengths. I'll call this one a tie - Pentax definitely loses on price, but wins due to sealing and SR through the body. Still, I feel Pentax is overcharging for their telephoto primes.

Fast Long Telephoto (300mm f/4)

Finally, our last section! This was a bit difficult to search out, mainly because it doesn't appear Canon and Nikon are fond of 300mm primes, but instead offer fast zooms in this area.
  • Pentax DA* 300mm f/4 = $1098
  • Nikon ED-IF AF-S 300mm f/4 = $1124
  • Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM = $1210

Result - Pentax and Canon are close here, leaving Nikon and its VR-less lens in the dust. Win : Pentax by about $100

-------------------------------

GRAND TOTAL

So let's assume you have way more money than I do, and decide to buy the lens loadouts (minus the bodies). How much do we pay?

Pentax = $3924

Nikon = $4240 or $4875 with the "upscale" portrait prime

Canon = $4094 or $5484 with the "upscale" portrait prime

---------------------------------

Analysis:

To me, it appears Pentax still retains "value" more than Canon or Nikon. Let's analyze why:

1) Assuming you have a decently modern body, all the lenses will offer image stability. Not so with the Canon/Nikon variants.

2) Three of the listed Pentax Lenses are weather sealed.

3) Assuming we're buying "the best" portrait lens, Pentax's Limited 77mm is a steal compared to Nikon, and Canon should be charged with highway robbery.

4) Pentax seems to be overcharging for their long primes. Sure, their primes "have" image stability, but this is in the body and doesn't cost Pentax a dime to use. So why are their primes actually more expensive? Weathersealing perhaps? Pentax's insistence on staying with short ranges, as seen by their complete lack of any modern lens past 300mm? Who knows.

Hope you enjoyed the read!

06-21-2008, 10:08 PM   #2
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I did and considering as well that bang for the buck, the K10D,K200D or K20D are extremely well priced, we can get a very competitive system for less.

I do agree with the thoughts on the 200mm. It's just too expensive against the competition. The only thing I'd like to know is how it renders. If the Pentax produces a better image, then the price really doesn't matter. But all three companies produce very good glass.
06-21-2008, 10:12 PM   #3
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Well, I know the Pentax 200mm has stellar IQ -- I don't think I've ever read a bad review of the lens.

So yes, perhaps we're paying for IQ? To be truthful I have not investigate lens reviews for the other system, but you're right - both Nikon and Canon make great glass, so I assumed they would at least be near Pentax IQ.
06-21-2008, 10:30 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by cputeq Quote
3) Assuming we're buying "the best" portrait lens, Pentax's Limited 77mm is a steal compared to Nikon, and Canon should be charged with highway robbery.
Not really a fair assessment imo. The FA77 Ltd is very good but I have to say the pricy Canon 85mm f/1.2L is a fantastic lens even if it is a revamp of an older lens design. I have used this lens on an Canon EOS 1D Mark II N and it gives a sterling performance that my FA77 on K10D/K100D Super finds hard to match.

06-21-2008, 10:53 PM   #5
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let's throw sony into the fray.


1) A Fast-50 -- Sony SAL50F14 a 50 mm f/1.4 lens -- $349 from sony style


2) Wide Zoom (around 16-50mm or close) f/2.8 speed -- sony's closest offering to this would probably be the CZ 16-80 f/3.5-4.5. it clocks in at $699 on sony style


3) The "Portrait Prime" - Pentax does this is 77mm, Canon and Nikon 85mm -- Oh Dear. you have your choice of two 135mm f/2.8 lenses, the first being the venerable STF which creates bokeh so smooth you could polish with, or the CZ 135, which is so incredibly sharp, your retinas can bleed. $1199 for the STF, $1399 for the CZ. or, if you prefer the 85mm focal length, there is a CZ available for $1299 at that range.


4) Cheapo Telephoto - A consumer lens going from around 50/70mm-300mm -- Sony has a lot to offer, here.. a 55-200, 75-300, or, the motherlode, a 70-300 G lens. 55-200 and 75-300 are $229 a piece, and the G is $799.


5) A fast telephoto - 180/200mm f/2.8 -- uhh..


6) A fast long telephoto - 300mm f/4 -- err... how about 300 f/2.8? we'll combine these two categories, because we lack other options! $5999.


and the total is...

$9245 if you go top of the line.

definitely not gonna complain about the price of pentax glass for a while.. just the lack of what i need.. *sigh*
06-22-2008, 01:54 AM   #6
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When comparing Pentax prices to Canikonians it really says a lot in terms of quailty and afford ability

cheers
06-22-2008, 02:29 AM   #7
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Pentax vs Canon vs Nikon

Interesting Cputeq,

I've always felt Pentax was good value from my perspective. I'm not a "professional" photographer so the range of gear you selected for the comparison fits my "user profile" as it were. I suspect most photographers fall into this range.

One thing you didn't note was backward compatibility. I don't know how one puts a price tag on this feature but it kept me in the Pentax camp when I went digital. The fact I can use all my old legacy glass (12 lenses) was worth a lot to me. Pentax has done a better job than either Canon or Nikon in this area. It is an intangible but important, at least to me.

Cheers

Tom G
06-22-2008, 03:53 AM   #8
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First, thanks for all the responses! Now to individual replies:


QuoteQuote:
One thing you didn't note was backward compatibility. I don't know how one puts a price tag on this feature but it kept me in the Pentax camp when I went digital. The fact I can use all my old legacy glass (12 lenses) was worth a lot to me. Pentax has done a better job than either Canon or Nikon in this area. It is an intangible but important, at least to me
Yes, the backward compatibility is very nice for Pentax. I believe Nikon *also* has nice backward compatibility, just not as much as Pentax, so we shouldn't discount them out, either. I'm unsure of how extensively Nikons b/c works, though.

QuoteQuote:
Not really a fair assessment imo. The FA77 Ltd is very good but I have to say the pricy Canon 85mm f/1.2L is a fantastic lens even if it is a revamp of an older lens design. I have used this lens on an Canon EOS 1D Mark II N and it gives a sterling performance that my FA77 on K10D/K100D Super finds hard to match.
Yes, I knew the portrait section would perhaps raise concerns

I'm sure the Canon f/1.2 is a great lens: it has to be to command such a premium over Nikon or Pentax variants.

Still, I would be hesitant to compare the output of a rather upscale EOS 1D Mark II to that of a K10D / K100D, even if megapixel counts are different between bodies...the EOS 1D has a larger sensor area and produces some great, great photos.

Even if we do take that into account -- You're comparing the output of a $2500 (used) camera and $1500 lens vs a $500 camera (K10D Used) and $750 lens. So "not really a fair assessment" may also apply to your rebuttal as well as my original comparison. But, I'm very interested in responses from people with experience with Canon / Nikon. Thank you for your input!


QuoteQuote:
When comparing Pentax prices to Canikonians it really says a lot in terms of quailty and afford ability
Yes, I was actually pretty close to picking up a Nikon D300 kit, but then I started looking at lenses, which is what prompted me to do this comparison.

I knew I would want fast, wide zoom (16ish to 50mmish), but I was highly surprised to see just how much Nikon charges for this lens! Then, I really started to define what I liked about the D300, at least from reviews, and I didn't think it would warrant the rather large cost to get into the Nikon system that I would want.



Thank you everyone for your replies -- It's been interesting

06-22-2008, 05:19 AM   #9
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Very interesting comparison. Let's not leave out Olympus, though.

I'm using B&H prices, here...

50/2 macro (they don't have a 50/1.4)-- $424.95 (even more expensive than the DFA 50/2.8)

They don't have a constant 2.8 in a wider zoom, but they have these 2 choices:
12-60/2.8-4 ED SWD-- $949.95
14-54/2.8-3.5-- $424.95

The cheapo telephoto:
40-150/4-5.6 $259.95

The closest thing they have to a portrait prime and the 200 telephoto is:
150/2 EP--$2199.95

In the 300 range, they have this:
300/2.8 ED--$5894.95

The grand total (including the 12-60 since it appears to be top of the line in this range):
a whopping $9729.75! Throw in a 1.4x TC for the 300 at $384.95 and you've gone over the $10,000 mark. Yikes!


Not that I have any plans to, but if I were to switch mounts, my lens collection would be more 3rd party lenses than manufacturer's lenses not only because of cost, but because of features that they offer, as well. One that would be on my list no matter what mount (other than Olympus) would be the Sigma 17-70, SR or no SR.

As of right now, 3 out of the 4 lenses I currently have are Pentax. Out of the 2 that I don't have, but want to get, 1 is Pentax, the other isn't (mainly because of cost difference between it and Pentax equivalent). The one on my "maybe" list is also Pentax.

We are blessed.

Heather
06-22-2008, 07:27 AM   #10
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youve left out the ultra wide zoom

look at pentax 12-24 or 10-17 against Nikon and canon. Also comparative FOV from OLY is 7-14 (for about %1500)

put this in the equation and I'll bet it looks even better
06-22-2008, 08:03 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by creampuff Quote
Not really a fair assessment imo. The FA77 Ltd is very good but I have to say the pricy Canon 85mm f/1.2L is a fantastic lens even if it is a revamp of an older lens design.
Never having used the Canon, I would really like to know in what way the FA77 is so deficient that it's not even fair to compare it to the Canon 85mm f/1.2L.

QuoteOriginally posted by cputeq Quote
I believe Nikon *also* has nice backward compatibility, just not as much as Pentax, so we shouldn't discount them out, either. I'm unsure of how extensively Nikons b/c works, though.
Not very. My understanding is that if you have an older Nikon manual focus lens you can mount it but all usage is manual. You do not get automatic aperture, trap focus or focus indicator in viewfinder. This from a friend who shoots Nikon and once did pro work. When I showed him what my K100DS did with a MF Vivitar he was amazed.

Thanks for this interesting comparison, cputeq. I made a similar one on my blog under the title Pentax Lenses: None Better.
06-22-2008, 08:31 AM   #12
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Thanks everyone -- great insight!


QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
youve left out the ultra wide zoom

look at pentax 12-24 or 10-17 against Nikon and canon. Also comparative FOV from OLY is 7-14 (for about %1500)

put this in the equation and I'll bet it looks even better
Yes this is a good idea and I may do this.

The special case with Oly, though, is that the wide works against you, but the long definitely works towards you.

We could argue that wide on Oly is nearly impossible, but it's hard to hate a 300mm lens yeilding 600mm effective instead of 450mm

I'll get around this tonight, though with Canon and Nikon, Pentax lenses (I stay away from Oly, as I don't know their system at all). Thanks Hwblanks for filling in the blanks!
06-22-2008, 08:42 AM   #13
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I've found it's almost impossible to make a direct comparison of all three systems that is *fair*. I know you mention it a few times, but in some cases there really are no direct comparisons across the board. I've gotten to the point where I actually maintain a spreadsheet that keeps track of all three systems (yeah, I have too much time on my hands). You can create very decent kits with Canikon due to their huge lens selections for only a few hundred more than Pentax; but if you go straight top of the line then yeah, there's no comparison, Pentax is much cheaper. Of course even the few hundred I saved going mid range was enough for me to choose Pentax. I simply can't justify top of the line glass in the digital era where pretty much any lens problem can be corrected via post processing.

However, I do have to admit if I won the lottery tomorrow I would jump ship to Canon in a second. I simply love their selection. If price is no object they simply have a lens for damn near everything. I also like the fact that they give the option of either constant f/4 zooms for lower budgets/light weight, and f/2.8 zooms in the same range for people that don't care about weight and price. Plus having cheap/medium/expensive options for their primes is also nice. Even with my budget in mind I'd still rather pay $300 for Canon's 50mm USM then I would $200 for Pentax's. The silence and handling is of it is worth the extra $100 to me personally.

In summary, until the day when I can justify spending $5k on a system comes I'll be perfectly content using My K10D and cheapo lenses.
06-22-2008, 08:47 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by rparmar Quote
Never having used the Canon, I would really like to know in what way the FA77 is so deficient that it's not even fair to compare it to the Canon 85mm f/1.2L. [/url].
The 77mm is a top notch optic without question. Having been lucky enough to use a Pentax 85mm A* f1.4 though. The 77mm is not the best lens Pentax has produced in this range. The 85 is sharper, has better CA control, (and it`s 20 years old!!) and better bokeh. They are close but the 85 is better. From some shots I`ve seen with the canon, I think it`s a fair comparison.
06-22-2008, 08:54 AM   #15
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Interesting analysis, cputeq.

I find that the 200mm is very overpriced, compared to the Canon and Nikon offerings. Sure, neither of the big two offer image stabilization, but that doesn't justify Pentax' price increase. They're essentially making you pay for in-body stabilization. I very much dislike this practice.
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