As discussed in the Launch Announcement just before PMA, the Pentax K20D is now surprisingly the highest resolution Digital SLR in its class of prosumer DSLRs. That statement doesn't really convey the real comparison since the only current camera with higher resolution than the 14.6 MP (megapixel) K20D is the $8000 Canon 1Ds III with a full-frame 21.1 MP image.

The Pentax K20D has the highest resolution available in an APS-C sensor SLR. It is 20% higher resolution than the new Sony A700/Nikon D300 Sony sensor pair at 12.2 MP and almost 50% higher than the Canon 40D. Those are numbers that are hard to ignore.

Those who wondered why Pentax entered into a partnership with Samsung a few years ago finally have their answer. Samsung wanted to play in the high-end sensor market with Sony and Panasonic; their partnership with Pentax was to develop sensors for the digital SLR market. We don't know details yet, but we have to guess the Hoya merger also plays into this scenario since Hoya is the world's largest maker of optical glass. You would be surprised to see a list of companies who buy their lens glass from Hoya (THK).

There is no disputing the fact that the Pentax K20D is now the highest resolution prosumer DSLR; however, everyone has learned that sensor resolution is not the only thing that matters in image quality. As the high-resolution but tiny point-and-shoot sensors have proved, a higher resolution is not necessarily better.

Pentax addressed this concern when the K20D was announced. By reducing the area between pixels, Samsung/Pentax claimed the sensor design used larger pixels that are the same size as 12 MP designs. If this is true, the image quality of the K20D should be spectacular.

The sensor is also CMOS like the pioneering CMOS sensors of Canon and the architecture of the latest Sony/Nikon/Olympus sensors. In fact, all the recent top sensors have been CMOS, relegating 10 MP CCDs to low-end to midrange models. The lone exception is the announced Sony A350, which will sport a 14.2 MP CCD sensor.

For all of these reasons we couldn't wait to get our hands on a K20D just as soon as they were available. The K20D is finally shipping, and over the next few weeks we will be working on a detailed review of the Pentax K20D performance. Looking around the web, there has been so little information available about the k20D that we felt our readers would appreciate some first impressions. As you have probably already figured out, we were also impressed enough in our early testing that we wanted to share what we've found so far with you.

Resolution and Image Quality


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  • solar1 - Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - link

    First let me give praise for covering aspects of this camera that few reviews bother taking.

    I did go to the japanese pentax website some time ago where they have absolutely stunning webpages for the K20D, but in Japanese. So with the funky google translation, I was able to get a bit of an idea on the new camera before it showed up in shops. I thought it was a mistranslation regarding this illustration function - it sounds really interesting. Please do show an image or two in your upcoming review... and thanks for bringing up the topic.

  • The Irish Patient - Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - link

    Not a big deal, but the 10d used a pentaprism viewfinder instead of the more common pentamirror setup, and the viewfinder could be removed to use interchangeable focus screens.

    Does the 20d retain these features?
  • hiepbiz - Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - link

    In fact, if you bought the Katz Eye one, you can switch it to the new K20D without any problem. Pentax does have my vote in backward compatibility department. Reply
  • The Irish Patient - Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - link

    I wouldn't usually clutter up a forum with a "thank you" post, but your reply deserves an exception.

    The Katz Eye Focusing Screen you directed me to is exactly what I had hoped to find. OK, I'm a dinosaur, but I still prefer to focus manually as on my antediluvian Nikon. For those readers that have never seen what manual focus is supposed to look like on an SLR, the Katz screens have both the central split prism and a surrounding microprism ring.

    I said in my original post that the ability to swap out the focusing screen on the k20d was not a big deal, but now it's a very big deal for me. I just hope I can get a decent price on my XTi now that the XSi has been announced.
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - link

    Yes the K20D continues to use a real pentaprism and it does feature interchangeable focusing screens. The lower-end K200D will use a pentamirror like the Sony A350/A300/A200, Canon XSi/XTi, and Canon D60/D40x/D40 Reply
  • spazmedia - Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - link

    I still don't get why camera makers insist on increasing megapixel count on prosumer cameras. This makes little difference when printing at low iso and at high iso just makes things worse. The sensor made by Samsung look interesting, if only they did not increase the resolution.

    also does the K20 display iso setting in the viewfinder?
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - link

    I remember when 1 megapixel was touted as all one could ever want or use in a digital camera :) Pentax claims that the 14.6 megapixel resolution matches the resolution of 35mm film. Others might claim 35mm film resolution is a bit higher than this. I really don't think the resolution wars will ever be over, but like reducing manufacturing traces in computer CPUs each improvement in speed introduces a new set of problems to be resolved.

    The resolution wars are slowing a bit right now as we do approach 35mm resolution, but anyone who shoots medium format or view cameras knows there is much more resolution beyond 35mm film. It will be great when we can shoot those higher resolutions with a small digital camera. Of course hitting the 35mm film resolution range is also hitting the resolving limit of most current lenses, so future lenses will require even better optics.

    We have already seen that the develpoing move to full-frame by Sony, Nikon, Canon is requiring the best optics available as average lenses are obviously inferior on those bigger, higher-resolution sensors. Future resolution increases will likely require an optics quality revolution to have much relevance.
  • madgonad - Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - link

    35mm film is actually about 10MP. Maybe a little less for lower quality films.

    The motion picture film libraries have been scanning at the maximum discernible resolution for a while to create digital masters of the movie archives. They are scanning at 4K resolutions which is the equivalent image of about 10MP. You can shoot at higher resolutions but eventually all you are doing is just magnifying the image and requiring more and more light for proper exposure. I am not actually sure what human vision translates into megapixels.
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - link

    Human eye 'MegaPixel' equivalent in a camera last I read was somewhere above 32 MP(some argue 64MP, some argue higher). wikipedia claims 81MP.">

    Personally, I am happy with 6MP, but very unhappy with the current Dynamic range capabilities of ALL cameras. From what I have read, the human eye has a static contrast ratio of 100:1(about 6.5 stops), but a dynamic contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1 (about 20 stops). All this is what I have read from wikipedia, but I have read other 'articles' that have claimed similarly.
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - link

    I completely agree that the biggest challenge in today's digital cameras is dynamic range. Another reader chided me for not spending some time talking about the dynamic range expansion feature on the K20D that allows expansion at the top and bottom of the dynamic range. We will try to cover this in the full review.

    I could also agree with you about the limitations of film dynamic range, except that I find digital imaging is still far more limited in dyanamic range than film. When it reaches film level I can expand my complaints.

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