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06-13-2008, 05:49 PM   #1
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Canon 40D vs. Pentax K20D - from a wildlife photography perspective

Hi Everyone,

After around 10K of images put through the Canon 40D, and 4K through the K20D... it's my hope that I can put forward an honest opinion for both cameras. All images for the Valley Land Fund Wildlife Photo Competition must be shot in RAW, so I really get to see what the native sensor image captures each camera is capable of.

Disclaimer: I am using older, excellent FA* glass for Pentax, but the image technical excellence, clarity and capturing the moment is the bottom line - nothing else. These are my personal observations after going through over 140GB of RAW image shooting, much of it with the Canon system. I hope that would give some validity to my observations. However, they are being used under VERY demanding conditions, and I learned the weaknesses of both systems.


The K20D is a great camera, and generally I prefer it's image quality to Canon's IQ. To be honest, the Canon 40D is NOT in the same league as the Pentax K20D in terms of it's handling of underexposed images (intentionally done quite often to ensure a higher shutter speed in low light conditions or shooting shaded subjects). Therefore keep in mind my observations under the conditions I would often have to deal with - they are not across the board in all lighting conditions!

The K20D handles the underexposures much better in terms of detail retention and with less noise - that has been a consistent factor.

Canon 40D... Pros
1) 5 FPS - sometimes a big deal for capturing the action
2) Fast longer lens availability - like the Sigma 500/4.5 (but no image stabilization)
3) Very, very good ISO performance up to ISO 800, reasonable ISO 1000 and ISO 1250.
4) VERY quiet AF (HSM lens)

Canon 40D... Cons
1) AF hunting in low light
2) OOF images - sometimes 50% or more (especially in low light or small subjects)
3) ISO 1250 and above (when underexposed) is almost always noisier than the K20D
4) No weather sealing - I was always concerned about it's care in the very sandy/dusty conditions. (rocket bottle blower was always at hand to even blow away dust on the body)
5) Disable AF on the Sigma 1.4x APO TC - only the most expensive bodies (MKII and MKIII) can AF this TC. Not very useful when shooting wildlife if it's moving!
6) A personal grip: the diopter adjustment is completely and utterly unlike Pentax or Nikon - it's not a slider switch built in above the viewfinder. It's a dial on the upper corner of the viewfinder, and you cannot easily have a visual cue if it's moved from your originally desired setting...
7) NO image stabilization - therefore shutter speeds must be in the 1/1000 to 1/1250 sec. range - below that was a roll of the dice.

Pentax K20D... Pros
1) 3 FPS at 14.6 MP is quite a feat
2) RAW images are better quality, for the reasons aforementioned.
3) OOF images - usually less than 25% - due to double check AF
4) ISO 1000 --> ISO 1600 is excellent - utmost confidence in shooting at these ranges.
5) Incredible image IQ with the FA* series lenses
6) WEATHER SEALING - a huge deal in dry, dusty conditions. A LensCoat helped give some protection to the FA* 300/2.8.
6) Wonderful image quality with TC's: the Tamron 1.4x Pz-AF MC4 and Pentax 1.7x AF TC. However, they were not employed in low light situations (due to AF hunting), so focal length options were reduced. That situation is common to any camera system.
8) Built in SR - a huge deal! I could, in certain situations, shoot as low as 1/125 sec. with the FA* 300/2.8 (with no TC) and have a razor sharp image.

Pentax K20D... Cons
1) Higher FPS would be a real boon for wildlife work
2) Double check AF meant some lost image opportunities, since it slows AF speed.

#2 is a compromise I was willing to work with, given the OOF frequency with the 40D. I'd rather have assurance of 1 sharp image than 3-5 potentially OOF images.
Some NR with Noise Ninja gives all the necessary NR, but there is minimal detail loss for the K20D. This is more pronounced with the 40D (and NR at higher ISO's was enabled and disable to ensure I could see both results). I wish the screw-driven AF of the FA* was quieter, but in a blind or in the SUV, it was more a moot point. The wide aperture of the FA* 300/2.8 was a very big deal in the dusk/dawn shooting conditions - fast glass is very critical.


Bottom line: I have no desire to go to Canon, but I'd be curious to try the IS capable lenses. Perhaps that is the missing thing I needed. The Canon is superb under certain conditions with the setup I had, and best for the extra reach.

The Pentax camera system is my choice for lower light conditions - hands down. It's my choice for the finest in image quality and accurate AF. Sometimes the event unfolding in front of me only happens once, and I preferred the assurance of a higher probability of a sharp photo with Pentax, even though I missed some shots because of the double check AF. That is a compromise I was willing to deal with, given the image quality standards for the competition.

Regards,
Marc

PS: sometimes the K10D was preferred for certain landscape or macro work... surprised?


Last edited by Marc Langille; 06-13-2008 at 06:08 PM. Reason: clarification
06-13-2008, 06:30 PM   #2
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All interesting and not too surprising. The level these cameras are all getting to makes them all quite similar. Nice to hear that the K20D can hold it's own.

So that last line. Do tell? Why the K10D for some scenes?
06-13-2008, 06:40 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by Peter Zack Quote
All interesting and not too surprising. The level these cameras are all getting to makes them all quite similar. Nice to hear that the K20D can hold it's own.

So that last line. Do tell? Why the K10D for some scenes?
Hi Peter,

Regarding the last line: I suspect it's because the K10D's ISO 100 performance is truly stunning, perhaps almost without peer.

That is my camera and ISO choice for flash based macro work. It's almost impossible to see any digital noise, even in the darker areas. IIRC, I've never had to clean an ISO 100 image from the K10D. Also, the DA 50-200 was normally mounted when the FA* 200/4 Macro was not.

I hope that explains it well enough? Perhaps when I can post some images, that might help more...

Regards,
Marc
06-13-2008, 07:22 PM   #4
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Thanks Marc. Nice to see some "real world" comparisons from real photogs. I'm glad to see that the K20D can hold it's own! One question, did you have much chance to use the vaunted Canon predictive continuous AF? Not that I personally need it, but I've heard from some ppl that it is pretty spectacular.

NaCl(predictive CAF is exactly what every garden photographer is looking for!)H2O

06-13-2008, 07:33 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by NaClH2O Quote
Thanks Marc. Nice to see some "real world" comparisons from real photogs. I'm glad to see that the K20D can hold it's own! One question, did you have much chance to use the vaunted Canon predictive continuous AF? Not that I personally need it, but I've heard from some ppl that it is pretty spectacular.

NaCl(predictive CAF is exactly what every garden photographer is looking for!)H2O
Thanks Salty for stopping by to read and your kind comments.

I tried the AI Servo, but it was sometimes "too busy", and I needed the correct target in focus, locked it, then quickly framed/composed the image for purposes of the shot. An important thing to consider during the competition: all submissions are full-frame! If you get any printed in the book or calendar, those are printed full frame as well. This is a serious thing to consider and keep in mind when shooting. Therefore center AF was the best option.

I know you want to use that Sigma 500/4.5 for garden photography, right? Just have to stand back a little more than the DA 12-24...

Thanks again for reading!

Regards,
Marc
06-13-2008, 11:08 PM   #6
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Thank you Marc. I wish more of the magazine reviews were as down to earth and real as yours.
Gary
06-13-2008, 11:38 PM   #7
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Marc, your experience in using these two cameras gave a credible and just perspective.

I thought sigma 500mm f4.5 has pentax mount?

Given the huge jpeg performance in k20d, I had rarely shot in RAW format anymore. Since your mentioned the "better" perforamance, I am going to give it a go.
06-14-2008, 02:31 AM   #8
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Both Sigma 500mm f4.5 and 800mm f5.6 are available in Pentax mount.
I have tried the 500mm and its pretty nice, although it has a little slower AF on Pentax... a new version with HSM would be appreciated.


Last edited by Shashinki; 06-14-2008 at 02:37 AM.
06-14-2008, 07:49 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Damn Brit Quote
Thank you Marc. I wish more of the magazine reviews were as down to earth and real as yours.
Gary
Thanks Gary - I got reamed/dismissed in a post at DPR by someone who also has a 40D. I was accused of being a "fan-boy" in the initial post too! I countered his arguments and suggested he visit my other posts (with images) and/or look at my website. He admitted he was way off base and I thanked him for that reply. Good terms now. Again, I don't care what people shoot with - the end result is the ultimate decision maker for me...

I am hoping people remember it is under a very specific set of circumstances, and those results are NOT across the board. The Canon is superb in several areas, and I clearly posted those findings.

Besides, it's not too often one gets to play with $7,000 worth of camera gear at no cost for a month!! I feel that it's allowed me to give an honest review... I did clearly state that I am really pushing it with the demands on both systems, and this gives me a real-world set of experiences of how to make them work at their best under often difficult lighting situations.

I did buy the Pelican case + padlocks, but I wanted a 1510 anyways. Truth be told, this has cemented my conviction to remain with Pentax, unless an opportunity came knocking that I could not refuse. I'll never, ever give up the macro side of Pentax (since I own the FA* 200/4 Macro), even if I switched to another system. That lens is too good, although I've not tried the Nikkor 200/4, which I hear is wonderful. I've seen many excellent results from the SIgma 180/3.5 too.

The biggest deal for me would be a higher FPS with Pentax - that would be a huge deal. A higher shutter speed would be nice, but the skill/anticipation of the moment is the critical part of of getting the shot. Even at 1/8000 sec. with the Canon, I still missed shots! Wildlife can be so unpredictable in their movements, and your anticipation of when to shoot is the key in all of it. This is especially true with birds. Camera specs are a much smaller part of the equation in that kind of situation.

Regards,
Marc
06-14-2008, 08:01 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by roentarre Quote
Marc, your experience in using these two cameras gave a credible and just perspective.

I thought sigma 500mm f4.5 has pentax mount?

Given the huge jpeg performance in k20d, I had rarely shot in RAW format anymore. Since your mentioned the "better" perforamance, I am going to give it a go.
Hi James! I hope you are well?

The Sigma 500/4.5 in Pentax mount used to be only available by order, and evidently that may not be true much longer...

To clarify - comparing RAW images under my set of circumstances I can see the generally better-with-Pentax RAW images. Shooting RAW is a requirement for the competition, as is the rule of no cropping. There are many more rules - it's quite strict. You are also subject to a polygraph test if they believe something is amiss.

QuoteOriginally posted by Shashinki Quote
Both Sigma 500mm f4.5 and 800mm f5.6 are available in Pentax mount.
I have tried the 500mm and its pretty nice, although it has a little slower AF on Pentax... a new version with HSM would be appreciated.
See above - this is my understanding from Chris, IIRC. I wouldn't buy the lens unless it was HSM, so I heartily agree with you on that one!

Regards,
Marc

Last edited by Marc Langille; 06-27-2008 at 06:32 AM. Reason: typo
06-14-2008, 10:57 AM   #11
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Marc,
I think that you did a wonderful job of graciously correcting the poster on dp review. I gave up shooting a canon eos1d and a eos1dII to switch back to Pentax. I must say that I feel the image quality is better on the Pentax cameras and I don't even have a K20, just an istD and a K10. I have always loved the quality of the Pentax glass. Like you, the only thing I miss about the canons is the frame rate and the focus tracking. Maybe i'm the only one here that hasn't had a particular problems with Pentax focusing except in focus tracking of sports action.

I bought an old used nikon d2h several months ago and I can use that until Pentax comes out with faster frame rate and better af tracking. It would be awfully hard to get me to give up Pentax glass at this time.

Besides the improved frame rate and focus tracking we also need a quality af converter that works with the DA* lenses and a quality extension tube set. How would you like that?
06-15-2008, 05:50 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by 35mmfilm_user Quote
The biggest deal for me would be a higher FPS with Pentax - that would be a huge deal. A higher shutter speed would be nice, but the skill/anticipation of the moment is the critical part of of getting the shot. Even at 1/8000 sec. with the Canon, I still missed shots! Wildlife can be so unpredictable in their movements, and your anticipation of when to shoot is the key in all of it. This is especially true with birds. Camera specs are a much smaller part of the equation in that kind of situation.

Regards,
Marc
Nice to see someone here agree that FPS can matter - depending upon what you are shooting of course. Yes skill and anticipation count, but it's hard to anticipate what's going to happen 1/6 or 1/3 of a second later and be ready for it! Sports players, like wildlife, are also unpredictable.

Thank you for the review post.
06-26-2008, 10:43 PM   #13
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Marc, thanks for your OP and responses in this thread. Sorry to come in late, but mid-June was very busy and I missed seeing this somehow.

Might I ask about your perceptions regarding the color rendering of these two cameras in low and early morning light?
06-27-2008, 05:04 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Shashinki Quote
Both Sigma 500mm f4.5 and 800mm f5.6 are available in Pentax mount.
Thank You for pointing this out.

Sigma USA lists both lenses as available in Pentax mount.
Sigma Europe doesn't. Good to know about this discrepancy.
06-27-2008, 02:25 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Arpe Quote
Nice to see someone here agree that FPS can matter - depending upon what you are shooting of course. Yes skill and anticipation count, but it's hard to anticipate what's going to happen 1/6 or 1/3 of a second later and be ready for it! Sports players, like wildlife, are also unpredictable.

Thank you for the review post.
Agreed! Even the higher shutter speed and FPS of the 40D didn't mean much if you didn't anticipate the moment correctly...

I wish I just had a limited area to photograph wildlife in - that would help me out a lot! I know what you mean though...

Regards,
Marc
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