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Canon T1i vs. Pentax K-x vs. Nikon d5000 vs. Pentax k20D

Andrew DaRe , Jan 18, 2010; 04:14 a.m.

Hey everyone!
I'm looking to purchase a DSLR (my first one) and after a few months of intense research, I've narrowed my search down to these four cameras (there are more, but these are my favorites because of price/ features): the Canon T1i, Pentax K-x, Nikon d5000 and the Pentax k20D. Now before I go into detail about each of the cameras, let me tell you a bit about myself.
I've been a photo enthusiast for quite some time. A few months back, I purchased a couple of Minolta film SLRs (XG-7 and an XG-M), and I toyed around with them for a few months, and I like to think I got some decent shots with them. I really liked how they were both full manual cameras, and I'm planning on using my DSLR to shoot in mainly manual mode.
I do take alot of photos, so I sold both of my cameras when I realized that I would save myself alot of money in the long run and I'd be able to take better shots if I upgraded to a DSLR. I sold both of my Minoltas, and now I'm obviously looking for a DSLR. My price range stands at about $500-750, and all of these cameras fit in perfectly with my budget. They all seem like fantastic cameras, but they do have their cons...
So heres kind of my issue: features vs. photo quality vs. affordability. My understanding is that the K20D will shoot the best shots out of the four, but it does not shoot video. The Canon T1i shoots both 720p and 1080p video, but my understanding is that you can not shoot videos manually, and that the auto focus function is quite noisy (please correct me if I'm wrong, the maunaul video is pretty much the only thing that is holding me back from choosing this camera). The Pentax K-x has pretty much everything I want and its extremely affordable, but none of the photos it took really awed me. And the d5000 looks neat, takes nice pictures and videos (in manual mode) but its probably at the bottom of my list.
I'm no expert on any of these, so thats where you come in. I realize that these are all going to shoot nice pictures, but I want the best of everything for what I'm paying. If you have any other camera reccomendations, please let me know. Other than that, thanks so much in advance :).

-Andrew

Responses

Rick Womer , Jan 18, 2010; 09:59 a.m.

Andrew,

Of the cameras you list, all are "entry-level" with lots of automation and presets ("action", "portrait", "scenery" etc.) except the K20D. It is a no-nonsense, weather-sealed camera that is marketed for "enthusiasts", though I know several pros who use them. The price:performance ratio is outstanding with Pentax. The drawbacks are the lack of video (can you dig up another $300 for a K7?), and some find that the K20 AF is not as well suited to fast action as Canon and Nikon.

There is also an extremely helpful and friendly Pentax community here, and at pdml.net.

Rick

Kari Vierimaa , Jan 18, 2010; 11:16 a.m.

The Pentax K-x has pretty much everything I want and its extremely affordable, but none of the photos it took really awed me.

What do you mean? It has the best sensor of the bunch and Pentax has finally updated its jpg-engine to very good level so you should be able to get some really good stuff straight out of the camera if that's what you prefer. AF module is also upgraded and it should be pretty good. Also surprisingly high fps in its class. Looks like a really good little camera.

K20D is my favourite body when it comes to build and handling. As Rick said, it's much more professional construction than the rest and weather sealed. A joy to use and paired with WR kit lenses it is the most affordable weather protected set by far if that interests you. The problem is that its high-ISO jpgs are pretty noisy compared to the competition. Before you learn post processing techniques for that and shoot RAW it may be rather annoying. Autofocus is not perfect but not horrible either, but then again I don't shoot fast action sports or the like.

D5000 is a stripped down D90 + flip screen. I'd highly prefer D90 because of better controls, much higher resolution back screen, bigger real prism viewfinder, ability to autofocus all AF lenses (you know that D5000 can't, right?) and CLS wireless flash control, but that's a bit out of your price point.

Andrew DaRe , Jan 18, 2010; 01:53 p.m.

I've read a few reviews on the D90, and if I had the money, I'd probably purchase a K-7 or D90. Since I don't, the k20D sounds like a winner to me, but the age of the camera (is that really an issue?) and the fact that it doesn't take video turns me off. How does the K-x match up?

Andrew Gilchrist , Jan 19, 2010; 02:21 p.m.

You say that "none of the photos it took really awed me" of the Pentax K-x. I think in truth the images taken by today's D-SLRs aren't going to be all that different--all of them are very competent and its up to the photographer to learn the tool and how to post-process to his/her advantage.

K-x matches up well from a sensor & imaging-performance standpoint - it has slightly lower pixel count (unimportant, 12mp vs. 14mp) but much better high-ISO performance, even when compared to the flagship K-7. In fact, right now, I don't think anything other than the state-of-the-art Canon 7D ($1700/body) matches it. The K-x also has faster continous shooting than the older K20D, and adds video. The firmware is updated as well--has a further-developed JPEG engine and the live view is more usable, including contrast-detect autofocus.

In many other respects though the K20D is a more "serious" camera, with all the bells and whistles of a camera designed for advanced amateurs, while the K-x has a more compact body intended for beginners and cost/weight savings.

  • K20D has dual e-dials (front/rear), allowing a dedicated dial for both shutter and aperture, etc. when shooting manual mode.
  • K20D also has a bigger/brighter pentaprism viewfinder.
  • K20D offers 11 autofocus points, including viewfinder indicators for which points are in use when focusing.
  • The K20D body is weather-sealed, and feels like a more serious, robust tool.
  • K20D uses a longer-life Lithium-Ion battery instead of AA's, which to some is a minus but for me is a plus. There's an available D-BG2 portrait/battery grip.
  • In addition to the dual e-dials, there are external controls with dedicated switches for metering mode, autofocus mode, autofocus points, bracketing, etc.
  • K20D has a socket for cable release; K-x can only be triggered remotely via IR remote.

The video feature in D-SLRs is sort of in its infancy in terms of real usability and level of control. There are certain advantages they have in terms of quality lenses and large sensors but in many respects if you're serious about video a dedicated video camera may have a lot of advantages.

Phil Liao , Feb 01, 2010; 01:40 a.m.

I had the K10D, then upgraded to K20D, then bought the K-x for my wife.
The advantages of the k-x are: faster AF, better AWB, way better high-ISO JPEGs , movie mode
The disadvantages are: not knowing where the camera chooses to focus, not weather sealed, one dial instead of two, inconvenient buttons, AA batteries, penta-mirror instead of penta-prism.
In my experience, Pentax AF is slower than Canon or Nikon. Also Nikon has the most advanced flash system.
Overall, given how much I have invested in lenses after choosing the body, I would say that the K10D and K20D were mistakes. The K20D has as good raw image quality as any other aps-c sensor camera, and it is one of the most user-friendly cameras out there. But good Pentax lenses are expensive, and the external flash system is unreliable. For example, if you ever want an (used) Pentax 85mm f/1.8, you will end up searching for months, and prepare to pay twice as much as a Nikon. If I had started with a Nikon, I would've found many more affordable, equally high quality used lenses all over the place.
If you must stick with your budget, the K-x is the the best one-lens general purpose SLR that you can find. So if I could do it again, it would be Pentax k-x + 40mm f/2.8 for snap-shooting and a Nikon D90 for serious shooting -- then upgrade to D700 when I can afford it.

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