Pentax K-S2 Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing the Pentax K-S2 vs. the Pentax K-3, Canon T6i, Nikon D5500, Olympus E-M10 and Sony A6000. The K-S2 doesn't really have a direct predecessor in Ricoh's line, so we've instead compared it to the company's flagship model at this sensor size, as well as the nearest models in Canon and Nikon's DSLR lineups, and its closest mirrorless competitors from Olympus and Sony.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera.

For those interested in working with the RAW files involved: click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page: Pentax K-S2, Pentax K-3, Canon T6i, Nikon D5500, Olympus E-M10 and Sony A6000 -- links to the RAW files appear beneath those for the JPEG images, wherever we have them.

Want to compare the feature-set of these cameras? We've prepared A vs. B comparisons for you -- click these links to see the Pentax K-S2 vs. Pentax K-3, Pentax K-S2 vs. Canon T6i, Pentax K-S2 vs. Nikon D5500, Pentax K-S2 vs. Olympus E-M10, and Pentax K-S2 vs. Sony A6000.

And remember, you can always go to our world-renowned Comparometer to compare images shot with the Pentax K-S2 side-by-side against any camera we've ever tested!

Pentax K-S2 vs Pentax K-3 at Base ISO

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 100
Pentax K-3 at ISO 100

Despite a slightly lower resolution than its flagship sibling, the Pentax K-S2's crops compare very well to those of the K-3. There's perhaps just fractionally less detail in the K-S2's rendering of the fabric swatches, and the hard-to-render red swatch has a little lower contrast. Otherwise, though, there's not really much to tell the two siblings apart.

Pentax K-S2 vs Canon T6i at Base ISO

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 100
Canon T6i at ISO 100

Compared to the Canon T6i, the Pentax K-S2 looks quite a bit sharper at base sensitivity, despite a slight resolution disadvantage for the latter. That's at least partly down to stronger default sharpening from the Pentax. Look closely and the Canon has captured almost as much detail. Pentax definitely does better in that tricky red swatch, though, with the T6i's rendering of this area being rather on the soft side. Unfortunately, its default rendering turns the pink swatch magenta, as Pentax cameras tend to do.

Pentax K-S2 vs Nikon D5500 at Base ISO

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 100
Nikon D5500 at ISO 100

Once again, the Pentax K-S2 is at a slight disadvantage resolution-wise, with 20 megapixels to the Nikon D5500's 24 megapixels. Here, though, there's a slightly more notable difference for the higher-res camera, especially in the pink fabric swatch, and like Canon, Nikon comes closer to the correct color for that swatch as well. The K-S2's mosaic label also looks a little oversharpened compared to that from the Nikon, but it does yield a crisper result in the red fabric swatch.

Pentax K-S2 vs Olympus E-M10 at Base ISO

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 100
Olympus E-M10 at ISO 200

And finally, the tables turn: Against the 16-megapixel Olympus E-M10, it's the Pentax K-S2 which has a slight resolution advantage. We can see just a little more detail in its mosaic label, although again the stronger sharpening gives the impression of a greater advantage than is actually there. Olympus' color for the pink swatch is more realistic, though, and there are less sharpening haloes visible in the bottle crop.

Pentax K-S2 vs Sony A6000 at Base ISO

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 100
Sony A6000 at ISO 100

Finally, we return to another comparison against a higher-res camera. Perhaps not surprisingly given its sensor know-how, Sony's A6000 does very well, besting the Pentax K-S2 for detail noticeably (and especially in the pink swatch), while minimizing sharpening haloes and coming much closer on the pink swatch color.

Pentax K-S2 vs Pentax K-3 at ISO 1600

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 1600
Pentax K-3 at ISO 1600

Bump the sensitivity a bit, and things start to get more interesting. Despite its slightly lower resolution, the Pentax K-S2 arguably holds onto just a little more detail than does its higher-end sibling in the mosaic crop. The noise pattern in its bottle crop is tighter, as well. But where the Pentax K-3 retains just a tiny bit of detail in the red fabric swatch, the K-S2 has already lost all of it.

Pentax K-S2 vs Canon T6i at ISO 1600

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 1600
Canon T6i at ISO 1600

Much the same is true as we move to the Canon T6i. The Pentax does quite a bit better in the mosaic, and the noise in the bottle crop is a little less noticeable, but Canon does a far, far better job with the fabric swatches.

Pentax K-S2 vs Nikon D5500 at ISO 1600

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 1600
Nikon D5500 at ISO 1600

The Nikon D5500 now lags just slightly in the mosaic, as well. However, it's a closer thing than with the K-3 or T6i, and there's little difference in the bottle crop, either. The D5500 doesn't do as well in the fabric crops as did the Canon, but it still bests the Pentax K-S2 here, as well.

Pentax K-S2 vs Olympus E-M10 at ISO 1600

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-M10 at ISO 1600

Interestingly, the Olympus E-M10's bottle crop actually looks cleaner than that from the K-S2 at first glance, although if you look closer this seems to be down to more aggressive noise reduction. This hurts its performance with the mosaic label, where the Pentax has a clear edge at ISO 1600. Once more, though, Olympus does a better job with the fabric swatches.

Pentax K-S2 vs Sony A6000 at ISO 1600

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 1600
Sony A6000 at ISO 1600

And finally, we come to the Sony A6000. The mirrorless camera is, like its rivals, bested in the mosaic label by the lower-res Pentax. And there's a slightly unattractive, mottled look to the bottle crops, an artifact of its noise reduction. The Sony, too, does better than the K-S2 in the fabric swatches though -- it's even held onto a little of the thread pattern in the pink label.

Pentax K-S2 vs Pentax K-3 at ISO 3200

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 3200
Pentax K-3 at ISO 3200

Once we reach ISO 3200, it's clear that the Pentax K-S2's lower resolution has given it a slight edge on the K-3. The latter's bottle crop is more mottled, and the noise reduction has also lost more detail in the mosaic label. And really, there's so little difference in the fabric swatches -- neither camera handling them very well -- that the K-S2 is the clear winner of the pair.

Pentax K-S2 vs Canon T6i at ISO 3200

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 3200
Canon T6i at ISO 3200

Against the Canon T6i, we see a similar result at ISO 3200. The Pentax handles the bottles and mosaic label better, stumbling only with that troublesome fabric swatch.

Pentax K-S2 vs Nikon D5500 at ISO 3200

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 3200
Nikon D5500 at ISO 3200

And it's a similar story with the Nikon D5500, too. Only in the red swatch does the plucky Pentax lose its edge...

Pentax K-S2 vs Olympus E-M10 at ISO 3200

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-M10 at ISO 3200

Once more, heavier noise reduction gives the Olympus E-M10 a cleaner-looking bottle crop, but it's at the expense of a rather muddy mosaic label. The Olympus still handles the red swatch better, though.

Pentax K-S2 vs Sony A6000 at ISO 3200

Pentax K-S2 at ISO 3200
Sony A6000 at ISO 3200

And finally, we come to the Sony A6000. At ISO 3200, it suffers the same fate as most of its rivals, bested by the Pentax K-S2 in the mosaic label. And once again, the bottle crop from the Pentax, while noisier, doesn't have the mottled noise reduction artifacts of the Sony. But that red fabric swatch rears its head one last time, with the Sony holding onto detail here while the Pentax has lost it all.

Pentax K-S2 vs. Pentax K-3, Canon T6i, Nikon D5500, Olympus E-M10, Sony A6000

Pentax
K-S2
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Pentax
K-3
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Canon
T6i
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon
D5500
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Olympus
E-M10
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Sony
A6000
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. Although the Pentax K-S2 certainly impressed at higher sensitivities in the mosaic label, it doesn't seem to have quite the same edge with fine, high-contrast detail. At base ISO the Sony A6000 and Nikon D5500 lead the way, and the Olympus E-M10 is hot on their heels. At ISO 3200, it's a similar story, while the Pentax K-S2 and K-3 have fallen behind a little more, as has the Canon T6i. By the time we reach ISO 6400, the Pentax K-S2 is about level pegging with the Canon T6i, besting only the K-3. The Nikon D5500 probably turns in the best result here, with the A6000 and E-M10 close behind it.

 

Pentax K-S2 Print Quality

High-quality prints up to 24 x 36 inches at ISO 100-200; Nice 13 x 19 inch prints at ISO 1600; and 4 x 6 inch prints just pass the mark at ISO 25,600.

ISO 100/200 prints looks great up to 24 x 36 inches with lots of detail and bright colors. At close inspection, you can see some pixelation along some edges, but when viewed at arm's-length and farther -- a normal viewing distance for such a large print -- the image overall looks great. We'd even go as far as calling 30 x 40 acceptable for wall display, particularly at ISO 100. ISO 200 images show very very slightly softer detail in certain areas, but overall, the print sizes at this sensitivity are the same as at base sensitivity.

ISO 400 images start to display subtle shadow noise and there's some slight softening of detail, but prints still look great up to 20 x 30 inches. Overall detail is very nice and colors are still vibrant and pleasing.

ISO 800 prints top out at 16 x 20 inches, as noise becomes a bit stronger and more visible, though mainly just in shadow areas. Fine detail in most places looks really nice, but some low contrast areas (such as our tricky red-leaf fabric in our Still Life target, for example) start to show a drop in detail.

ISO 1600 images still look quite good, with prints appearing nice up to 13 x 19 inches. As with ISO 800 prints, detail looks nice overall, but low contrast areas look a bit soft, though these characteristics are now more prominent as the sensitivity rises to ISO 1600. Visible shadow noise is also more noticeable, but colors remain vibrant.

ISO 3200 prints begin to show a more pronounced drop in detail, as noise becomes an issue, though colors are still quite nice. The noise itself, however, appears more fine-grained and not drastically detrimental to prints at sizes up to 11 x 14 inches.

ISO 6400 images begin to look quite noisy with a noticeable drop in fine detail, which prevents us from calling prints larger than 8 x 10 inches acceptable.

ISO 12,800 prints struggle with lots of noise and a lack of detail, but a 5 x 7 inch print just squeaks by as the maximum size we're comfortable with.

ISO 25,600 images, similar to the previous ISO, are quite soft and noisy, and here we feel a 4 x 6 inch print is the biggest you should go at this sensitivity.

ISO 51,200 prints are too noisy and display too little detail to provide an acceptable print.

With a 20.2-megapixel sensor, the Pentax K-S2 is the second-highest resolution APS-C DSLR in the Pentax family (under the 24.3-megapixel K-3 series), so it's no surprise the K-S2 does well in the print department. At base ISO and ISO 200, the K-S2 manages really large 24 x 36 prints, though you're pretty much right at the resolution limit of the sensor at that size. As sensitivity rises, the K-S2 does well, with a nice 13 x 19 inch print at ISO 1600. At extremely high sensitivities, the K-S2 struggles with noise and detail issues like most APS-C sensors, with print sizes topping out at 4 x 6 inches at ISO 25,600. However that's very good for an APS-C camera, matching some leading 24-megapixel models.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)

 



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