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Pentax 645D 40 megapixel medium format camera coming soon

Coming for review is the Pentax 645D 40 megapixel digital medium format camera, along with the Pentax DA 55mm f/2.8 lens. At about $9995 (body only), the Pentax 645D has a lot of people excited. After all the Nikon D3x and Canon 1Ds Mark III both debuted at $7999, so to get 40 megapixels for 25% more money is compelling, especially since a Leica S2 weighs in at about $23000.

I hope to have the 645D by this weekend. The 55mm lens has shipped to me, with the body (hopefully) to follow by Thursday, but ship date is not 100% certain.

Pentax 645D

The 645D has a 44 X 33mm sensor with 6 micron photosites, the same size photosites as the Nikon D3x and Leica S2 and various other medium format cameras. But unlike the Nikon D3x, it has no anti-aliasing filter, and thus the potential sharpness is higher, at the risk of moiré. See the discussion of moiré in my review of the Leica S2. The sensor is the Kodak KAF-40000 full-frame CCD.

The Pentax 645D has an impressive list of features for medium format, but in general:

  • It breaks a key price barrier for medium format ($9995).
  • It offers the most DSLR-like body yet seen in the medium format space. It’s an aggressive move forward in feature set and usability.
  • Its feature set mimics 35mm DSLRs, with a high quality LCD display, and all sorts of great features (like in-camera HDR!) that are unprecedented in medium format. Unfortunately, like nearly every medium format CCD-based camera, it lacks Live View.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that availability is likely to be very limited, which means that getting hold of one could be a challenge. And it’s odd to sell the 55mm f/2.8 lens separately, since it’s the only lens of the new Pentax-D FA as yet. Pentax is rather cagey about future plans, and I’ve had no luck engaging them other than terse replies to my inquiries.

In my view, the Pentax 645D is a breakthrough camera, and accordingly, I’ll be covering it in detail in DAP. My main concern is whether the lenses are up to the task of covering the 44X33mm sensor with crisp detail, something definitely not a given with medium format digital. Also, I want to see whether any alignment issues crop up between lens mount / sensor / lens. See Making Sharp Images.

Here are what I see as key features with the Pentax 645D:

  • Large, but not too larger sensor, which means that reasonable-size lenses can be made. I firmly believe that the sensor size is the right choice, as it was/is with the Leica S2, because better lenses are more easily designed than with larger sensors.
  • Weather-sealed lightweight body with tempered glass. This is very important for shooting in challenging outdoor scenes.
  • A shutter capable of 1/4000 second. This extends the versatility of the camera, allowing use of wider apertures even in bright conditions.
  • Dust removal system — not sure if this is a first for medium format, but it’s welcome.
  • 11-point focus system, which appears to surpass most other medium format digital.
  • 98% viewfinder — I like to frame precisely, so this matters a lot to me.
  • 3" LCD with 920K pixels with anti-reflection coating — most medium format displays are awful. 920K pixels is like a Nikon D3x or Canon 5D Mark II — excellent.
  • In-camera HDR (!) and automatic correction of both lateral chromatic aberration and distortion. I’ll be investigating both features to determine if there are any drawbacks.
  • Many more compelling features that read like a 35mm DSLR spec sheet — very impressive for medium format!

Support — along with the purchase of the PENTAX 645D, each new owner will have prioritized access to a dedicated team of US-based PENTAX 645D specialists to answer 645D customer service and product questions, and automatic enrollment in the PENTAX PROFESSIONAL SERVICES Program offering access to various medium format lenses and accessories. Too bad the warranty is only 1 year, but that’s standard in medium format systems.

If you do manage to snag one, absolutely do not pass up the new Pentax-D FA 645 55mm F2.8 AL[IF] SDM AW Lens, which according to Pentax is optimized for digital. It’s equivalent to a 40-45mm lens in 35mm field of view (depending on how you reconcile an aspect ratio of 3:2 with 4:3). At about $1199, it’s inexpensive for a medium format lens.

Pentax-D FA 645 55mm F2.8 AL[IF] SDM AW Lens
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