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Pentax K1: Super Resolution Mode Appears to be Best DSLR Quality Yet

Pentax K1

See my Pentax K1 wish list at B&H Photo.

See previous discussion of Pentax K1 Super Resolution pixel shift mode as well as Pentax K1 Super Resolution File Format Details.

I downloaded Pentax sample files: Sample Image 5 (Pixel Shift Resolution). Regrettably they are JPEG and in the sRGB color space (which surely destroys color and detail in some of the flowers), but they are 17.9 MB and 19.3MB files, so they are very high quality JPEG at least. Of course I don’t know how they were processed, but the results look excellent for JPEGs. The scene appears to have been shot with the Pentax HD PENTAX-D FA 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 ED DC WR and the off-center areas seem a bit weak, so the results are not likely to be a best case scenario.

I applied suitable sharpening equally to each variant, and what follow are some actual-pixels crops which I think speak volumes.

The Pentax K1 SuperResolution mode appears to offer the highest image quality and highest resolving power of any DSLR today. Detail rendition in SuperResolution mode reminds me strongly of the Sigma DP Merrill, but with far superior color, much wider dynamic range, and considerably lower noise. And of course a whopping 36 megapixels.

Particularly impressive is the ability to render subtle detail in monochromatic color areas and with subtle tonal differences (see the delicate orange and pink tones in the flowers). That, and extremely fine details such as veining in leaves, crisply defined edges, subtle tonal transitions: this is like medium format imagery, only better because there are no demosaicing artifacts, no spurious resolution, no color moiré or color speckling. The difference is strikingly similar to a Retina-grade image versus a standard-res image.

So I’m going to go out on a limb here: to my eyes, the Pentax K1 SuperResolution pixel shift mode will easily outperform Nikon D810 and Sony A7R II and Leica S. I suspect it will outperform the 50-megapixel Canon 5DS R and most if not all medium format systems as well (assuming lenses approaching Otus-grade can be had, Sigma may solve that). Without a doubt, the Pentax K1 SuperResolution mode makes it the finest black and white camera on the market (perhaps exception monochrome digital backs costing $25K or so).

I’m speaking about total quality—not just resolution, but per-pixel integrity, subtle tonal transitions, freedom from digital artifacts, lack of a “zipper effect” on fine thin colored lines, reduced noise, outstanding potential for black and white, ability to take aggressive sharpening.

In evaluating a SuperResolution image in DNG from the 24MP APS-C Pentax K3 II, I was stunned with the detail. So I upsampled it from 24 to 36 megapixels: I’d say the equivalent detail level using SuperResolution mode is about a 50% gain in pixel count. Which means the 36-megapixel Pentax K1 sensor ought to deliver per pixel detail equivalent to about 54 conventional megapixels. But in total quality sense, it may be more than that with some subject matter. Never before have I seen per pixel quality this good, from any camera. Moreover, that detail comes from a 36MP sensor, which places far lower demands on the lens than a conventional 56MP sensor.

Toggle to compare. Click to view in separate window on dark background.

f8 @ 5.0 sec, ISO 100; 2015-12-24 14:43:28
PENTAX K-1 + lens

[low-res image for bot]

Detail in the red-orange rose appears to be damaged (posterized) by use of the sRGB color space, but observe how in the standard shot there is virtually no texture in the outer petal of the rose.

f8 @ 5.0 sec, ISO 100; 2015-12-24 14:43:28
PENTAX K-1 + lens

[low-res image for bot]

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