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Pentax 645D Medium Format Camera - Hands On Review

Four years since a prototype was shown to the public, the Pentax 645D is finally here and Will Cheung got to meet it at an exclusive preview.

Posted: 08/06/2010 - 14:20

Features
Handling
Performance
Verdict
Specifications

The Pentax 645D was first seen in public at the binannual Photokina photographic exhibition back in 2006 - see our picture below. It was behind glass so the sample could have been fashioned from a block of wood and no-one would have been any the wiser and technical details were sketchy - to put it mildly. At the time, I got the impression that even the Pentax UK people were surprised by its showing. Expected launch date was equally vague and there have been plenty of rumours ever since.

All that's history now because the Pentax 645D was officially announced in March this year and the 645D is due on sale in Japan on June 11.

As I write this, the final decision whether the Pentax 645D will be imported into the UK has yet to be made, so we have no idea of price yet either. Obviously, we will let you know as soon as we know. However, taking the Yen price, 850,000 for the body and 100,000 for the 55mm f/2.8 lens, and doing a straight conversion to Pounds Sterling gives prices of £6420 for the 645D body and £755 for the 55mm f/2.8 lens. If the 645D and 55mm f/2.8 come in at those sort of prices, there could be plenty of interest from professionals and advanced amateurs alike. If those figures are accurate, Pentax would be missing a great opportunity if they decided not to market it in the UK.

Pentax 645D: Features

As you would expect, the Pentax 645D is rich in features and top of the list is its resolution, 40-megapixels using a Kodak-made sensor. Its base ISO is 200 with 1000 being the top speed. This range can be extended to give the equivalent ISO speeds of 100 and 1600. The 645D is the first medium-format DSLR to have a dust removal system. The system vibrates the UV/IR-cut filters in front of the sensor at supersonic speeds to shake loose any dust.

Despite the large sensor and solid build, the 645D is a portable and quick to use camera. It is also weather-proofed to enhance its appeal to outdoor and location photographers. Existing Pentax 645 owners will be delighted to learn that the 645D is compatible with their lenses.

Pentax 645D Handling

The 645D feels a lovely camera and it has a specification (as well as a potential price tag) that will appeal to serious enthusiasts as well as professional photographers. Of course, we have no evidence (apart from a couple of big prints on display – and they were impressive) as regards the 645D's image quality but the signs are positive, especially when taken in context of the medium-format digital market where products are generally much more expensive.

The Pentax 645D bears a strong family resemblance to the 645 film camera, a camera I used happily for several years. The digital camera seemed a little bigger on the girth and obviously there is a monitor and all the usual controls you would expect to find on a top-end digital camera.

Picking the 645D I was pleasantly surprised to find it was lighter than I expected, given its size. The ergomically moulded handgrip is excellent with the result that the camera feels great in the hands, and very well balanced too – at least with the new D FA 55mm f/2.8 AL (IF) SDM AW lens. This lens gives a focal length equivalent to 43.5mm in the 35mm full-frame format, so it is very similar to the field of view of the human eye.

As with the old film camera, switching from landscape to portrait-format shooting is no problem at all, and key controls like the shutter button fall naturally to finger.

Partial depression of the shutter release and the camera's AF system kicks in and the image is brought smartly into sharp focus. Focusing speed, accuracy and responsiveness seemed excellent and on a par with Pentax's APS-C format digital SLRs. Focusing is also achieved with little noise. The 11-zone system with nine cross-hair sensors seem very efficient.

A full press of the shutter release and the exposure is made. Despite the large reflex mirror flapping up and down, the noise and vibration levels are impressively low.

The cameras we played with did not have SD cards on board so factors like write speed, exposure accuracy and so on could not be assessed. However, Pentax claim 13 Raws at the continuous shooting speed of 1.1 frames-per-second until the buffer is full. If that sort of shooting speed is achieved in reality then that is fast enough for most, it not all, of the potential users of this camera.

Control layout is very clear. The key controls like white-balance, exposure compensation, metering modes and ISO are easily accessible. Being a medium-format camera probably helps and the buttons are generously sized and feel positive in use.

A quick word about the menu system. Anyone used to a Pentax K7 or K20D will immediately feel at home with the menu system. Its layout and navigation are basically identical. The large 3inch monitor is also very clear.

It is very, very early days and only 20 minutes with a camera is no time at all, but so far the 645D promises excellent handling.

Pentax 645D Performance

We were not able to take away any pictures to assess because the sample I tried was not a full production sample. Naturally enough, the two sample pictures that I saw were very impressive.

Pentax 645D Verdict

There is not a huge choice if you fancy a medium-format digital SLR and  you need a pretty healthy budget whichever model you go for. The Hasselblad H3DII-50 with a HCD 35-90mm f/4-5.6 lens kit costs around £18K and the Leica S2 comes in around £20K. In that context, the Pentax 645D is certainly price competitive - very, very competitive. In fact, it is competitve on many levels including handling, resolution and system support. Whether its late arrival will harm its chances of success only time will tell, but so far, so good.

Pros

  • Portable
  • Quick autofocusing
  • Handling
  • Quiet, low vibration shutter action
  • Bright viewfinder image
  • Fits the hands well
  • Weatherproofing

Cons

  • Only one digital lens right now
  • D/SDHC only - why not CompactFlash too.


Pentax 645D Specifications

Manufacturer Pentax
Lens
Effective Magnification 1.3x
Image Sensor
Pixels 40Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W) 7264
Pixels (H) 5440
Sensor Type CCD
Sensor Size Medium Format
Sensor Size (width) 44mm
Sensor Size (height) 33mm
Aspect Ratio 4:3
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor 3in
Screen resolution 921k
Touch Screen No Data
Focusing
Focusing modes Autofocus
Manual
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest 1/4000sec
Shutter speeds longest 30sec
Bulb mode Yes
Exp modes
Metering
ISO sensitivity 100 - 1600
White balance
Exposure Comp +/-5
Viewfinder
Magnification No Data
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting 1.1fps
Video
Movie mode No
Video Resolution
Video FPS No Data
Stereo Sound No Data
Optical Zoom with Video No Data
Other Features
Image Stabilisation No
Interface
HDMI Yes
USB USB 2
Wi-Fi No Data
Storage
Card Type SD
SDHC
File Type RAW
JPG
Power Source
Battery Type Lithium Ion
Battery Life (CIPA rating) No Data
Box Contents
Box Contents No Data
Dimensions
Weight 1480g
Width 117mm
Height 156mm
Depth 119mm

Members photos with related tags: Pentax,645

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