Pentax K-1 II Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing the Pentax K-1 Mark II's single-shot image quality to its predecessor's, as well as to a number of full-frame cameras: the Canon EOS R (which can be considered a proxy for the 5D Mark IV DSLR as well), the Nikon D810, the Nikon D850 and the Sony A7R Mark III.

We've also included some comparisons of the K-1 II's single-shot mode to the two Pixel Shift Resolution modes, as well as between the standard and new Dynamic PSR modes.

NOTE: These images are from 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-1, Pentax K-1 II, Canon EOS R, Nikon D810, Nikon D850 and Sony A7R III -- links to the RAW files appear beneath those for the JPEG images, wherever we have them. And remember, you can always go to our world-renowned Comparometer to compare the Pentax K-1 II to any camera we've ever tested!

Pentax K-1 II vs Pentax K-1 at Base ISO

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 100
Pentax K-1 at ISO 100

Here at base ISO, we can see that the K-1 II's image quality is very similar to that of its predecessor's, apart from some minor differences in manual (custom) white balance which led to slightly warmer colors from the newer camera. Noise levels appear pretty much identical at ISO 100, but it'll be interesting to see how they compare at higher ISOs. Although the K-1 appears to produce slightly higher contrast in the red-leaf swatch, that's mostly due to some fading in that fabric over time.

Pentax K-1 II vs Canon EOS R at Base ISO

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 100
Canon EOS R at ISO 100

The 36.4-megapixel Pentax K-1 II is able to capture a bit more detail than the 30.3-megapixel Canon EOS R here at base ISO. However the Canon offers higher contrast, better clarity and more accurate colors if slightly cooler color balance. The EOS R's sharpening haloes are a bit more obvious, though. Both cameras show some aliasing artifacts and moiré patterns, but keep in mind the K-1 II has an adjustable AA filter simulation (turned off for these), but the EOS R's OLPF is fixed.

Pentax K-1 II vs Nikon D810 at Base ISO

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 100
Nikon D810 at ISO 64

Although the Nikon D810 has been replaced by the D850 (see below), we decided to include it here because it shares the same 36.4-megaixel resolution and maybe even a related sensor. As such, both cameras capture very similar levels of detail, but Nikon's processing produces a crisper-looking image. Contrast is noticeably higher from the D810, especially in our red-leaf swatch, as is aliasing in the form of moiré patterns, though fainter patterns can still be seen from the K-1 II (however as mentioned the Pentax has the option of enabling AA filter simulation which the Nikon does not). Colors are more natural and accurate from the Nikon.

Pentax K-1 II vs Nikon D850 at Base ISO

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 100
Nikon D850 at ISO 64

As expected, the 45.7-megapixel Nikon D850 captures noticeably more detail than the 36.4-megapixel K-1 II. The D850 image is also crisper and more contrasty, though sharpening haloes are a little more obvious. Interestingly, noise appears a little higher from the Pentax, but keep in mind the Nikon's lower base ISO. Colors are more accurate and natural from the Nikon as well, and the default tone curve is more pleasing as well. Again, both cameras are OLPF-less and thus both show some aliasing artifacts, but the D850 does not offer AA filter simulation like the K-1 II does.

Pentax K-1 II vs Sony A7R III at Base ISO

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 100
Sony A7R III at ISO 100

The 42.4-megapixel Sony A7R III is also able to capture more detail than the 36.4-megapixel Pentax K-1 II here at base ISO, while at the same time producing a much crisper image with fewer sharpening artifacts, higher contrast, and more accurate color in the pink fabric. Both show some aliasing artifacts here because of their OLPF-less sensors, but the Pentax has its unique AA filter simulation turned off for maximum sharpness, while the Sony doesn't offer that feature.

Pentax K-1 II vs Pentax K-1 at ISO 1600

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 1600
Pentax K-1 at ISO 1600

Here at ISO 1600, we do see lower noise levels from the K-1 II in flatter areas, however there appears to be a very slight softening of fine detail as well. A difference in noise appears in raw files as well, indicating it's likely the result of the K-1 II's added "accelerator unit" which we believe performs some noise reduction on raw data which can't be disabled. Although the impact to fine detail appears very slight, applying noise reduction to raw data is something we'd rather not see, or at least have control over.

Pentax K-1 II vs Canon EOS R at ISO 1600

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 1600
Canon EOS R at ISO 1600

The K-1 II still manages to resolve a bit more detail than the EOS R here at ISO 1600, however the Canon produces a slightly crisper, more contrasty image. Noise levels appear slightly higher from the Pentax, yet it really struggles to reproduce most of the fine detail in our tricky red-leaf swatch.

Pentax K-1 II vs Nikon D810 at ISO 1600

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 1600
Nikon D810 at ISO 1600

Noise levels appear a touch higher from the D810 here at ISO 1600, but the Nikon produces a much crisper image, though sharpening haloes are more evident. As you can see, the D810 retains a lot more detail in the red-leaf and pink fabrics, though moiré patterns are also more visible.

Pentax K-1 II vs Nikon D850 at ISO 1600

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 1600
Nikon D850 at ISO 1600

The Nikon D850 continues to produce a crisper, more detailed image here at ISO 1600. Noise appears a little higher from the Nikon in flatter areas, however the "grain" pattern is finer and tighter from the D850. Again, the Pentax really struggles with our tricky red-leaf swatch already here at ISO 1600, blurring away almost all of the pattern, while the Nikon does a much better job at retaining detail though again, with more visible moiré patterns.

Pentax K-1 II vs Sony A7R III at ISO 1600

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 1600
Sony A7R III at ISO 1600

The Sony A7R III continues to produce a crisper, more detailed image than the K-1 II here at ISO 1600, with better contrast and color too. The Sony also does much better in our troublesome red-leaf fabric while the Pentax smears most of the detail away. However the A7R III produces some unwanted artifacts in the form of a less natural noise "grain" pattern in flatter areas, as well as very dark or black individual or small groups of pixels in the red-leaf fabric, which results in a "peppered" effect.

Pentax K-1 II vs Pentax K-1 at ISO 3200

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 3200
Pentax K-1 at ISO 3200

Again, we see lower noise levels from the K-1 Mark II than from the Mark I here at ISO 3200, but at the cost of a slight reduction in fine detail. Some of the difference here in JPEGs can be mitigated by reducing high ISO noise reduction without a significant noise penalty, though, as the matching raw files don't show as much of a difference in fine detail as the in-camera JPEGs at default settings. However, a reduction in raw noise is visible, along with some minor noise reduction artifacts. Perhaps Pentax should have dialed-back default JPEG noise reduction a bit to help offset the impact of denoising raw data performed by the "accelerator", instead increasing max ISO by two stops which are too noisy for most purposes anyway.

Pentax K-1 II vs Canon EOS R at ISO 3200

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 3200
Canon EOS R at ISO 3200

The K-1 II is no longer able to resolve more detail than the EOS R here at ISO 3200. Luminance noise is higher from the Pentax, contrast is lower, and pretty much all detail has been flattened out in the red-leaf fabric.

Pentax K-1 II vs Nikon D810 at ISO 3200

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 3200
Nikon D810 at ISO 3200

The D810 appears to produce a sharper image with slightly higher noise levels than the K-1 II at ISO 3200, which does lead to more noticeable noise reduction artifacts from the Nikon in our mosaic crop. The D810 continues to produce much better renditions of the red-leaf and pink fabrics. Contrast is also somewhat higher from the Nikon, but sharpening haloes are more visible. Colors are more pleasing as well, giving the Nikon the overall edge here.

Pentax K-1 II vs Nikon D850 at ISO 3200

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 3200
Nikon D850 at ISO 3200

The D850 easily comes out ahead of the K-1 II here at ISO 3200, with a crisper, more detailed image with better color. Noise is still a bit higher than the Pentax, though.

Pentax K-1 II vs Sony A7R III at ISO 3200

Pentax K-1 II at ISO 3200
Sony A7R III at ISO 3200

The higher-resolution Sony A7R III continues to capture more detail here at ISO 3200, while producing a much crisper image with more accurate colors, however noise reduction artifacts are more visible making its noise "grain" look less like film than the K-1 II's. The Sony does much better in the red-leaf and pink fabrics where the Pentax has almost entirely flattened all detail in the reds.

Pentax K-1 II vs. Pentax K-1, Canon EOS R, Nikon D810, Nikon D850, Sony A7R III

Pentax
K-1 II
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Pentax
K-1
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Canon
EOS R
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon
D810
ISO 64
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon
D850
ISO 64
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Sony
A7R III
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. High-contrast detail is also important, pushing the camera in different ways, so we like to look at it, too. The two Pentax siblings perform very similarly apart from minor differences in exposure and white balance, however the older Pentax K-1 image appears slightly sharper at higher ISOs. The K-1 II generally performs well against the EOS R. The Canon's base ISO image is sharper, but it contains much stronger sharpening haloes. The Nikon D810 is on par in terms of detail, but is sharper and more contrasty across ISOs. The higher-res Nikon D850 and Sony A7R III both outperform the Pentax models in detail, sharpness and contrast.

 

Pentax K-1 II Pixel Shift Resolution Modes

Below we compare single-shot mode to the standard Pixel Shift Resolution mode at various ISOs.

Pentax K-1 II Single-shot vs Standard Pixel Shift (without IS)

Single-shot, ISO 100
Standard Pixel Shift, ISO 100
Single-shot, ISO 1600
Standard Pixel Shift, ISO 1600
Single-shot, ISO 3200
Standard Pixel Shift, ISO 3200
Single-shot, ISO 6400
Standard Pixel Shift, ISO 6400

As you can see above, the standard Pixel Shift mode (IS Off) images on the right capture a lot more fine detail with far fewer aliasing artifacts compared to single-shot mode, though they can appear noisier with individual pixels appearing slightly brighter or dimmer than the average brightness of neighboring pixels at low ISOs. Noise is also much more finely grained in PSR mode, but unfortunately PSR mode does little to improve detail in our tricky red-leaf swatch at higher ISOs.

 

Below we compare single-shot mode to the K-1 II's new Dynamic Pixel Shift resolution mode at various ISOs.

Pentax K-1 II Single-shot vs Dynamic Pixel Shift (with IS)

Single-shot, ISO 100
Dynamic Pixel Shift, ISO 100
Single-shot, ISO 1600
Dynamic Pixel Shift, ISO 1600
Single-shot, ISO 3200
Dynamic Pixel Shift, ISO 3200
Single-shot, ISO 6400
Dynamic Pixel Shift , ISO 6400

The K-1 II features a new Dynamic or "handheld" Pixel Shift Resolution mode which uses the camera's IBIS system to also provide image stabilization allowing the camera to be handheld. As you can see above, it offers a slight improvement over the single-shot mode with better detail and a finer-grained noise pattern, but it's not nearly as detailed as the standard PSR mode. Note that these images were all taken on a sturdy tripod in the lab, so results when handheld may differ. See our Field Test Part III for real-world handheld samples and comparisons.

 

And finally we compare the two Pixel Shift modes directly below:

Pentax K-1 II: Standard Pixel Shift vs Dynamic Pixel Shift

Standard Pixel Shift, ISO 100
Dynamic Pixel Shift, ISO 100
Standard Pixel Shift, ISO 1600
Dynamic Pixel Shift, ISO 1600
Standard Pixel Shift, ISO 3200
Dynamic Pixel Shift, ISO 3200
Standard Pixel Shift, ISO 6400
Dynamic Pixel Shift, ISO 6400

Above we compare the two main PSR modes. As you can see, the images captured with Dynamic Pixel Shift mode (above right) are not nearly as detailed as the standard PSR mode and they also appear noisier. However, they still contain better detail than single-shot images in most areas, but we found they tend to be more prone to image fusion artifacts such as stepped or toothed edges. This could be because Dynamic Pixel Shift mode uses the mechanical shutter, while the standard mode uses an electronic shutter and thus there are fewer vibrations to contend with. That's not to say the standard PSR mode can't still generate similar artifacts, though, as it's still sensitive to other vibrations. Again, be aware that these images were taken on a sturdy tripod in the lab, so results when handheld may differ. See Field Test Part III for a comparison of the PSR modes including with motion compensation enabled in real-world situations.

 

Pentax K-1 II Print Quality Analysis (Single-shot)

Excellent 30 x 40 inch prints and larger up to ISO 400; a good 20 x 30 inch print at ISO 1600; a great 8 x 10 inch print at ISO 12,800.

ISO 100/200 printed images are stunning at 30 x 40 inches and larger, as large as the available resolution allows you to print at your intended viewing distance. Images exude rich, deep colors as well as nice fine detail and have a very three-dimensional pop to them. As with many Pentax cameras over the years, the pink fabric swatch of our test target is rendered a lot more magenta than it appears in reality, but that's just a typical Pentax quirk at default JPEG settings. Otherwise, the printed images here at the low ISOs are simply superb.

ISO 400 prints are also quite nice at 30 x 40 inches, with almost no trace of the sensitivity having doubled. Fine detail still abounds at this size, with virtually no noise apparent, and only a mild softening apparent in the red channel upon close inspection.

ISO 800 produces a 24 x 36 inch print that is quite good for this ISO and sensor size. Fine detail is still plentiful, with very little in the way of discernible noise at normal viewing distance. Most all contrast detail is now lost in our tricky red-leaf fabric swatch, but that's fairly normal for most cameras by this ISO, though perhaps more pronounced in this camera than some recent full-frame models. The 30 x 40 inch prints here can most certainly be used for wall display and less critical applications as well.

ISO 1600 yields a 20 x 30 inch print that still has a nice amount of "pop" for this ISO, retaining full color and much fine detail, with only minor apparent noise in flatter areas of our test target. Other than nothing much left in terms of detail in our troublesome red-leaf fabric swatch, it's quite a good print overall and deserves our "good" seal, though for your most critical printing applications here a reduction to 16 x 20 will tighten up any minor issues.

ISO 3200 delivers a 16 x 20 inch print similar to the 20 x 30 inch print above, with only similar minor issues. Printing anything larger here is not advisable, as there is simply too much in the way of noise in some areas to be considered usable. Otherwise, fine detail is still quite good, as is full color representation.

ISO 6400 prints a 13 x 19 that is quite close to passing our good rating and is considered fine for less critical applications. For solid prints at this ISO we recommend 11 x 14 inches and smaller, which still retain a reasonable amount of fine detail and full colors without becoming overly noisy.

ISO 12,800 turns in a surprisingly good 11 x 14 inch print for this ISO, and almost passes our good grade. Your mileage may vary depending on the subject, and you might be able to get away with it, but for all important printing here we recommend the 8 x 10's, which is still a nice size for such a high gain and exhibiting a tolerable amount of minor noise.

ISO 25,600 delivers a 5 x 7 inch print that is definitely in the "good" zone. Color representation here is actually pretty amazing, especially considering the often "scorched" look we see at this ISO from some models. There is a trace of minor but acceptable noise at this size.

ISO 51,200 prints a 4 x 6 that is quite close to good but not quite there. You can likely get away with it for casual use or family snapshots as needed, but otherwise we don't recommend cranking the gain this high on the K-1 Mark II.

ISO 102,400 and higher are not usable for printing purposes and are not advised.

The Pentax K-1 Mark II delivers a solid performance in the print quality department, turning in stunning images at and near base ISO, and continuing to deliver large images up to ISO 3200. We find the images to be pleasing and three dimensional for viewing, and the camera delivers in image quality as we'd expect from a good full-frame camera, though not as good as some leading competitors. Somewhat surprisingly the Mark II does not exceed any print sizes as compared to the original Mark I, despite its lower high ISO noise levels. However, it doesn't require a reduction to any sizes either, so that's a good thing. And with careful processing of RAW files or when employing Pixel Shift Resolution mode, you'll certainly be able to produce even larger prints.

 



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