Reader Question: Nikon D300 vs. Pentax K20D

I received an email from Tracy, who is a newsletter subscriber, regarding a camera choice between the Nikon D300 and Pentax K20D.  Since you guys rocked with such great advice last week, I’m stepping completely to the side on this on and letting Photography Bay readers run with it.

I am really trying to get into outdoor / landscape photography here in the middle Tennessee area. I used to be a very experienced photographer (in the film days) but haven’t stepped up to the plate with digital. I don’t have a bank of glass or accessories to sway me in any direction. I do however like the Nikon D300 and the Pentax K20d. I realize these are two very different cameras (price and function), however I want the best for my money. The D300 is still rather expensive but I love the 52 point AF and the color saturation that it provides. I don’t think there’s a ton of difference when it comes to noise. The K20d takes superb photos, is weather sealed but I’m not sure if I want to get in deep with Pentax, knowing that if I make this a career, someday I will want to switch to Nikon. I know it is my decision to make but I was just looking for a little advice from someone who knows more about digital than I do…….


So, can you help Tracy decide?

What factors should take precedence here?

Which camera will serve Tracy’s needs better?

Post your thoughts in the comments below.



  1. says

    >>not sure if I want to get in deep with Pentax, knowing that if I make this a career, someday I will want to switch to Nikon.

    And there is your answer. If you’ve settled on Nikon for the pro end of your career, why buy a Pentax? Glass (particularly the good kind) takes money to buy. And if you were filthy rich, you would’ve just bought one of each and told us yourself which one you liked better. That *not* being the case, I’d suggest going w/ what you’ve already decided on- Nikon. Start your glass collection now instead of after getting a few Pentax lenses and deciding to sell it all and start anew.

    THAT being said, I’d suggest trying them first. Go handle a Pentax, go handle a D300. If you can go to a Flickr meet or Photography club and someone would let you fuss w/ them a little more would be even more ideal. On top of these two, I’d suggest taking a look at the Nikon D90, too. Not sure where you sit on photographic ability, but the D90 might be something worth considering for you. Like I said before, handle it. See what fits your hand. If it’s not going to be comfortable in your hand, then how much fun would it be to lug it around for an afternoon *trying* to have a good time?

    Perhaps someone a little more versed with both cams (I have the D300, but no experience w/ the K20D) can give you more detailed technical information. I can tell you that the D300 is a fantastic camera. Whether it’s for you or not… that’s for you to decide :)

  2. Patrick says

    She should be considering the Nikon D90 alongside the D300. Same sensor, 11 point AF, same lens selection. Invest in good lenses, buy the least camera body you can get away with right now, and leave yourself flexibility to upgrade when a better body comes along at a cheaper price. Spend the difference between the D300 and the D90 on the excellent 50mm AF-S f/1.4 or use the difference to buy a whole set of non AF-S lenses like the ~$110 50mm AF f/1.4 and the also cheap non-AF-S 70-300mm. They are so inexpensive that they will likely hold most of their value in case you decide to upgrade later.

  3. Kerim Suner says

    Neither. Go for Canon 5D Mark II ; the best camera in the 2,000 – 3,000 USD range. I am shooting digital since 5 years and this is my 4th DSLR. Since you are an experienced film shooter, why downgrade to APS-C size ? You will feel as if you are in a prison cell (that’s how I felt with my APS-C sensor cameras until I upgraded to 5D 1.5 years ago.) If you are against Canon for some reason , then go for Nikon D700.

  4. Eric says

    I agree if budget is no concern then go for the 5D Mark II or D700 (I personally prefer the D700), but unfortunately as of right now you can build an entire APS-C kit for the $3500 cost of a 5D Mark II + 24-105 lens. For example:

    -Pentax K20D – $800
    -Pentax DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 SDM- $650
    -Pentax FA 50mm f/1.4 – $200
    -Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM – $400
    -Pentax DA* 60-250mm f/4 SDM- $1500
    Total: $3480

    Yes, the 5D Mark II is the better camera, but you can be more creative and will get more shots with the kit I just listed. Who cares about ISO 3200 if you are limited to just one lens.

    As far as the D300 vs K20D; both are outstanding cameras. Go to a store and see which feels best to you. Then look at lens line-ups and make sure they have what you want. IMHO I think Pentax has the best selection of APS-C lenses on the market now, but they are not currently concerned for full-frame. So if you think you’ll want to go full frame in a few years you might want to look at the D300 or D90 and make sure the glass you buy is full frame ready.

    As far as switching to Nikon to go pro. That’s nonsense. Unless you are planning on becoming a sports photographer and need machine gun like frames per second the K20D can capture any vision you have. For proof take a look at Benjamin Kanarek. He’s a working pro and shoots with a K20D:

  5. Eric says

    Sorry, I listed the price wrong for the K20D in my previous post and I can’t edit it. I meant to put $730 as the price.

  6. Yuri says

    Both cameras are very capable pieces of equipment, although I have yet to meet a camera that takes a great photograph. I have met some great cameras with owners that can’t take good pictures and some really modest gear (in terms of specifications) who had operators with lots of talent and produced some stunning results.

    What types of photographs and what specific subjects do you wish to cover now and in the forseeable future? The camera body is good to think about, but think more system wide than just that. Think lenses, what is available, what will you need, is AF important, is image stabilization important (in body, K20D; or in lens, a few Nikon lenses). The Pentax is nice because of weather sealing, in body stabilization, but also because it allows use of many Pentax DA DA* FA A etc. series lenses. The Nikon is nice and has some interesting wireless flash options, but that may not be anything you would ever need or consider. So, look at the whole family of products and think about what you want to do now, what you would like to try soon and what you may be interested in covering in the future and see which is the best match.

    There is a lot to choose from. But as you pointed out, “I will want to switch to Nikon”, so maybe your system destiny is predetermined?

  7. joe says

    Eveyone in here is pretty much correct with their statements.

    Here’s another option. Why not stick with film?
    For outdoor/landscapes, I would shoot film. Upgrade to a medium format. You come from a film backround already.

    But if you really want digital, I’d go for the D700 or the 5DMK2. D300 and K20d are great body’s, but if you’re thinking of going pro, why settle. It will be well worth to invest in either the d700 or 5dmk2. You’ll want to capture every detail in landscapes and full frame will help.

  8. dan says

    hi tracy,

    i have a d300, and I’m happy with that. however i think you should go with the nikon system, but rather invest into the lenses rather than the bodies. so my advice is to get the d90 or even the older d80 and save the money for a 14-24 f2.8 G or the marvellous 17-35 f2.8.
    You will need that sort of angles for landscapes, but still keep the ability to upgrade to FX in the future with those lenses. you won’t miss the 52 AF points that much (i switched my d300 down to 11), but perhaps you will miss the solid feel of the all-metal body.
    So my advice is to get the d80/d90 plus the 17-35, the 50 f1.8 and the 85f1.8. and to stay away from any DX glass.

    have fun, dan

  9. Sproutey says

    Seriously consider the Canon 5D as well. Canon have some outstanding primes and zooms and the 5D is a superb landscape camera.

  10. Fisheye's says

    It’s impossible to compare the 20D and the D300, both have differents purpose, by the way the Pentax have a very slow response for making the focus and bad display.

  11. Jim says


    Your situation sounds a lot like mine. I shot film since the early 80’s and have held off on moving to digital. I shot landscape, night/long exposures, panoramic, travel and photojournalism style. I held off because I’m also a techie and am no longer an early adopter of technology. I did my research and watched the market for the past several years….

    My primary film camera was Minolta since I could not afford Nikon gear when I was younger. Now, I can afford to get just about anything I want, as long as I can live with the expenditure and my wife reminding me what I paid for it. I WAS going to buy either Nikon or Canon.

    I wanted the 5D and the D300 and went to a local camera store to test them out. The D300 was HEAVY as was the 5D. I chatted up the sales woman (she was cute and flirty) and asked what she shot–Pentax K10D. I’ve not bothered to look at it since it was not Canon or Nikon. I played with it and it felt comfortable to me so I did the research but felt it was too noisy. Then the K20D was announced and the reviews were very good; exceptional. It was becoming the dark horse of the lot–especially with weather seals, and built-in image stabilization. I really don’t want to pay for that each time I buy a lens.

    Then the D700 came out and then the 5D Mark II. I had narrowed it down to one of these two. I don’t do much flash photography and liked the built in flash of the D700 but did not care for the Nikon FF lens options. I loved the Canon 24-105 lens (perfect for my needs) but it had no flash. I had become more passionate about Nikon than Canon. But I still needed to come to grips with dropping $3000+ for a camera I would use as a hobby. However, I had also begun thinking about doing some wedding and event photography. I have a friend that does weddings and offered assistance in the business and my wife is a meetings and event planner. Price justification was almost at hand…then the economy tanked.

    I briefly considered the D90–very briefly–but not interested. I kept watch on the K20D and it was dropping, dropping, dropping to finally on November 26th (my wife’s birthday) it dropped to $699 on Amazon and 10% off on the 18-250 lens if purchased with the camera (also included the sling bag and 2 year extended warranty). I figured it would drop but did not think that I could get that combo for $1,000. I bit. Two days later (Black Friday) Amazon had a new deal, they included the Pentax Optio A40 for $4 more than I paid for the kit two days earlier. I canceled the original order and got the new deal. My wedding pro fried even said it was a good deal and he is a Canon guy.

    Finally, the research and decision-making marathon was over. I owned what I said I would not, a second tier camera. Why did I do it? Value. I followed Eric’s logic on the previous post. The feature set of the K20D is on par or better than the D300, and about on par with full frame cameras. In fact only ten digital cameras allow users to adjust the focus of each lens. All but two cameras are Canon or Nikon: Sony A900 and the Pentax K20D. My pro wedding friend laments the fact that his Canon 40 has no weather seals–seems that bubbles are very common in weddings now and people love to blow bubbles at the photographer. Lens are cheaper too. The Pentax 18-250 cost me about $312 with Amazon discounts and the third party mfgs seem to be adding more Pentax compatible lens to their lines.

    While I only have had the camera for a few months I gave it a pretty good workout over the holidays. The autofocus was fast enough to capture improv photos of family and friends and will meet my needs. I also added the Sigma 10-20 lens for wide angle shots.

    Do I regret my purchase? No. I will admit I’m a bit envious of the high ISO shots from the 5DM2 and D700. If I decide to do some pro gigs maybe I will buy one of these two cameras and give the K20D to my wife. But for now, I’m happy with the camera and the money I saved and Pentax and third parties can fill my lens needs.

    If you are interested in night photos, check out this post from Yvon Bourque’s blog on his night time photo essay in Vegas.

    Also, Pentax just announced price drops and extended the offer for the two year warranty extension. This can only mean one thing: new camera announcement for PMA so you may want to hold on a little longer.

    Let us know which one you finally decide on.

  12. Dave says

    I keep reading lots of comments suggesting that the K20D is on a par with the D300. Don’t kid yourselves … you get what you pay for. Sure the K20D takes superb photos, has lots of great features, and pentax glass is 2nd to none. But all DSLR take great photos and many offer great features. But only the D300 offers the feature set o the D300. If you don’t need or want that particular feature set, then buy the feature set you’re looking for, but don’t delude yourself into believing that Pentax, Nikon, Canon, Sony or any other manufacturer is giving away anything. Also, some people like to suggest going full frame 35mm… why stop there! Why not the pentax 6×7, or a haselblad or a 4×5 , then you’re sure to get extremely detailed photos. We choose a platform that pleases us, there are choices within each platform. Its like going to buy a sports car & the salesman suggests you get a twin engine airplane. For the money the D300 is a wonderful tool, for it’s intended audience. And you always “Get What You Pay For”

  13. Grant Watt says

    I bought a Nikon D300 back in January with the 18 – 200 mm zoom. One of the reasons I bought this rather than the D700 was price but also I like the extended zoom potential on the APS-C format.

    I was looking at the Pentax K20D. Lovely camera. The trouble is that the D300 is built so well. It reeks of quality and feels great in the hand with all the controls close to hand.

    I love it. Some of what you pay for is not necessarily strictly logical. The D300 looks and feels better quality than a K20D or a Canon 50D or a Nikon D90.

    The other area is auto focus and the Nikon D300 is way ahead of a K20D, miles ahead. It also has a higher continuous frame rate.

    I looked interestingly at the Pentax 5D too but why they make a camera with no in built flash is beyond me, so inconvenient.

    The other reason for buying Nikon is the flash equipment is thought to be the best and I’m getting a Nikon SB900 shortly so I can tell you soon.

  14. Dr. Samuel Evenstein says

    I have been in photography for over 45 years. I have used Canon, Nikon, Pentax. I used a Nikon D50 , which by the way is on hell of a good camera. I tried the Pentax K20D. Felt great in my hands, greats ergonomics, weather seals , etc..The problem is that the sensor on the Pentax is made by Samsung. NOT THAT I PUTTING DOWN, Samsung, Its just when it comes to sensors, they have a lot yet to learn. Noise from the K20D was unacceptable. Anything over ISO 400 produced way too much for liking. The Nikon D50 produced more pleasing results.! Even though the D50 was only a 6 meg compared to the Pentax 15 meg. I think Nikon is on the right track. They are not in the Megapixel RACE, as other manufacturers are. They try to balance quality with at the same time controlling the noise from the sensor. The Nikon D90, the Nikon D300 all will give you great quality. I thought that the Pentax K20D with 15 meg sensor, reasonable price, built in vibration reduction, weather sealing, etc, etc would be THE CAMERA, however after using it for two weeks, I returned it for the D300 and never looked back. The only other choise is like the others mentioned, D700 or the Canon 5D.