Canon 5Dsr VS Pentax 645Z

Posted on August 11, 2015 by Sean MacDonald

When Canon announced its new 5Ds and 5Dsr in February, we all knew it would be a solid camera just as the Canon 5D Mark III was. It would have great build quality, packed full of features, quick auto focus, work with all of Canon's accessories products, etc. The big question on everyone's mind was not how would it stack up against other full frame DSLR's like Canon's existing lineup, but rather how would it stack up against medium format digital cameras like the Pentax 645Z, or the Hasselblad H5D-50. With the new cameras resolution just over 50mp, we are now at the same resolution as some of these giant medium format monsters. But resolution is not always the best indicator of image quality. For example, when Nokia released its cell phone with 41mp, we did not see photographers dropping their cameras in the trash and start to use cell phones to photograph weddings and landscapes. Yes it has a large image, but the quality is not near as good as a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

So we know that the new 5Ds and 5Dsr have a lot of resolution, but is the sharpness, dynamic range and clarity as good as medium format? If it is, that will be a huge deal in the photography world and we will see photographers gravitating towards this camera for a number of reasons. These are a few:


Price: $3800 (5Dsr) compared to $8,500 (Pentax 645Z), $27,500 (Hasselblad H5D-50)

Lenses: If you are coming from a Canon system, you may already have lenses that work with this body. Also, there are many more options for Canon lenses than medium format and they are much less expensive.

Focus Speed: The 5Ds and 5Dsr incorporate Canon's new 63-point auto focus system from the 1DX and the 5DIII. You will get very fast auto focus as well as a large number of focus points.

Size and weight: The Canon DSLR system is much smaller and lighter in comparison to any Medium format camera system. It may not sound like a big deal, but if you are going to be backpacking for miles to shoot landscape shots this will be a big deal. I never realized how large these cameras were until I handled one.


So the big question is: How is the image quality? Is it as good as medium format?

All of these other benefits do not matter if it misses the mark on image quality. Also, if you would like to try the Canon 5Dsr for yourself, we also offer rentals. Click here for more details.

So lets take a look at a few sample pictures side by side with the Canon 5Dsr and the Pentax 645Z. (We did not have a Hasselblad available to us for testing.  However, our goal was to test less expensive brands that our customers were more likely to purchase).

For all of the side-by-side pictures, the Pentax 645Z is on the left, and the Canon 5Dsr is on the right. Both images were taken in RAW format, with no adjustments made, and are viewed at 100% crop. Both cameras were on stable tripods, used mirror lockup, and a 2 second shutter delay.


Original full size image


ISO: 100, Shutter Speed: 1/4 Sec., Aperture: f22

Lens: (Pentax) HD 28-45 f4.5, (Canon) EF 16-35 f2.8L II

What I noticed on this set of images was the difference in detail in the grass blades and the texture of the rock. The Pentax has more clarity and detail than the Canon. Both cameras were focused on the rock in the image, and multiple shot were taken to insure there were not auto focus mistakes. After further testing below, I attribute this lack of sharpness more from the lens than the camera body. Before making a decision, be sure to continue looking at the sample image below.



 Original full size image


ISO: 100, Shutter Speed: 1/50 Sec., Aperture: f11

Lens: (Pentax) 120mm f4 Macro, (Canon) EF 100mm f2.8L IS Macro

Besides the obvious fact that these two cameras processed white balance and color profile differently, what I noticed in this image is that the Canon (right) almost looks as if it has had some sharpening or contrast adjustment made to it. The image however was shot in RAW format, and there should be no in-camera adjustments made to the image. None were made in post-production as well.

Once again we see the fine detail of the Pentax (left) is superior to the Canon (right), but I found in this image the sharpness seemed to be much closer between the two than in the previous image of the rock. I attribute this to the lens that was used. Both cameras were fitted with Macro lenses (Pentax 120mm f4 Macro) and (Canon EF 100mm f2.8L IS). From personal experience and previous blog posts, I know that the Canon 100L Macro is one of the sharpest Canon lenses I have shot. Not only is it very sharp, but it also has very good contrast compared to other Canon L series lenses, which is why I believe we see much more contrast and sharpness in this image than in the previous one above.


Original full size image


ISO: 200, Shutter Speed: 1/320 Sec., Aperture: f4.5

Lens: (Pentax) 120mm f4 Macro, (Canon) EF 100mm f2.8L IS Macro

In the two images above, we see a difference in Dynamic Range. If you are not familiar with dynamic range, it is simply how much of the light spectrum a camera can capture. Many times we have to choose to either get the shadow or highlight area in proper exposure, but we cannot get both. The more dynamic range a camera can capture, the more detail in the darks as well as detail in the highlights can be captured in one image. This is one area that I knew going into this comparison, where the Pentax would most likely win out. Medium format cameras usually have more dynamic range than 35mm equivalent DSLRs. On top of that, Canon currently has the least amount of dynamic range in their category between Nikon and Sony.

In both images, the highlights start to get blown out on the Canon, where the Pentax still retains more information without overexposing. There also seems to be less pixelation and the lines are smoother and less jagged.


To this point, all of these examples have been landscape photographs. I also wanted to shoot a few studio examples as well, because the debate between medium format and 35mm does not end in the field. Many commercial photographers shooting advertising campaigns also look to high-resolution cameras for their work. This is so the final image can be displayed in very large print. Think Hollister 12' prints at the front of their store, and 8' tall Target ads in their store.

Here are a few examples in-studio, one with natural light and one with a studio strobe.


Original full size image


ISO: 200, Shutter Speed: 1/125 Sec., Aperture: f4

Lens: (Pentax) 120mm f4 Macro, (Canon) EF 100mm f2.8L IS Macro

In this image I noticed that the Canon once again had more contrast and less dynamic range and because of this, seemed to bring out more flaws in the skin. Also, the eye lashes look a little heaver in the Canon shot because of the slight pixelation. Both cameras also process the colors different as well.


Original full size image



ISO: 100, Shutter Speed: 1/125 Sec., Aperture: f4

Lens: (Pentax) 120mm f4 Macro, (Canon) EF 100mm f2.8L IS Macro

Once again here we see more contrast with the Canon. But surprisingly we also see that the sharpness is also in Canon's favor. This is most likely due to the fact that the Canon 100L lens is stopped down from f2.8 to f4. Stopping lenses down just a little most often improves their sharpness compared to shooting wide open (at the maximum aperture). The Pentax lens in this situation was shot wide open and is not as sharp as we had seen in the chain link fence image above.


So what are the takeaways from this comparison?

My opinion is that although the Canon 5Dsr is an amazing camera for the 35mm DSLR category, it does not have 100% as good of image quality and dynamic range as a medium format camera. With that said, I would rate it at 95%, especially when using a very sharp lens like the 100L Macro. We really had to zoom into 100% crop and really look hard into the details to see much of a difference. I would not be afraid to shoot this in a variety of situations and would expect amazing results.

With all of the other factors that the Canon system has going for it (i.e., price, size, weight, lenses), I think the 5Dsr will make a lot of sense for many landscape and studio photographers. At only $3799 (current price as of 8.11.15) this camera will be much more attainable for many professional photographers who cannot afford or justify medium format.

But if you are looking for the absolute best image quality that can be attained, and price is not important, then medium format is the way to go. The added dynamic range will allow you to capture more detail for high-contrast landscapes.

Don't forget, if you want to try it out yourself we also offer rentals and the 5Dsr is one of the camera options. It is a great way to try it with your type of photography before making a purchase. For more information on rentals, click here.


As with all services we offer at our store, when you purchase equipment through us, you are supporting blog posts like this. Without your purchasing support, we would not be able to bring you this great content and information to help you make more informed purchasing decisions. So if you are in the market for any photo gear, please stop in our store or email us for more information.


To finish up, here are some more sample images from the 5Dsr!

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