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Hands On: Pentax 645D

by Chris Gampat on 06/25/2010

The other night, I got to play with the Pentax 645D—the one medium format camera that I had personally been waiting to try out for a while. Pentax was fairly popular back in the film days for medium format. Their lenses are well known as well as their bodies. Now that Pentax has entered the digital medium format stage, they have created what I would call quite the competitor and perhaps what may be the best medium format experience I have ever had of all the systems I’ve tried.

Gallery

Tech Specs

Copied and pasted from this posting.

645D

- Targeted towards high level professionals

- Compatible with the current 645 system lenses by Pentax

- 40MP Kodak sensor (CCD) 44×33

- Dual SD/SDHC card slots (no CF)

- Prime II imaging engine

- Tempered glass LCD panels

- 11 point AF sensor

- In camera HDR

- ISO 200-1000

- There is no firewire connection, so unlike other medium format cameras, tethering (if it is even in there) may be limited to USB 2.0.

- $9,400 in May

More at DPReview and official release here

55mm F2.8

- 43.5mm 35mm equivalent field of view

- Weather-resistant construction

- Rounded diaphragm for better “bokeh”

- Both auto focus and manual focus

Author’s Edit: I forgot to mention that the Dual SD card slots allow for the use of Eye-Fi cards; which are an acceptable alternative to tethering.

Autofocus

I didn’t explore this option too heavily but the focusing on the 645D seemed to work very well at the boutique event. The boutique event was very well lit. A camera like this would typically be used on a very controlled set as are most medium format cameras. Other places where they may be used are at weddings and carried by National Geographic photographers to shoot some of the wonderful landscapes that they capture.

Although the autofocus wasn’t given a full torture test, what is reassuring is that all of Pentax’s flashes will work on the cameras according to the reps that were there. There was only one flash available that was being used by a Pentax professional, so we didn’t want to borrow it from them for the purpose of work being done.

Ergonomics

The grip on the Pentax is extremely deep. In fact, it’s the deepest I’ve ever seen or held. That’s very reassuring when you’re on a set shooting as it is less likely to slip out of sweaty hands—an issue I’ve been dealing with while shooting heavy cameras in the hot NYC summer. Combine this with a good strap that you can wrap around your hand and this camera isn’t going anywhere.

One of my favorite parts is the mode dial. In order to change the camera from Program to say, Manual mode, one needs to press the center button in and then switch the dial around. Otherwise, the camera will not change. That’s very reassuring after shooting with cameras that tend to get bumped around when at packed events. It throws off all your settings.

The top LCD screen is big, bright and displays loads of useful information in a way that makes sense.

The button layout is very intuitive and all the buttons are in fact very large and well spaced out. One of the best parts is the button with the green dot on the back. The purpose of this button is to automatically optimize the exposure settings to offer you the most balanced image possible based upon the metering point. So you the photographer chooses to overexpose a bit and process for that later in photoshop, they can do so and then quickly take the image to be balanced by pressing that one button. It just really speeds up the way things flow when shooting.

What I really like about Pentax DSLRs is that the depth of field button is right by the shutter and also right by the on/off switch. Twist the switch a little bit to the setting that looks like aperture blades and you’ll get a depth of field preview. This is well worth it for visually impaired photographers like myself.

As it is, this is the best back LCD that I’ve ever seen on a medium format camera. Pentax really outdid themselves with this feature.

Ease of Use

This camera is very easy to use. The menu system is laid out very simply and all the language is very plain and clear so that a photographer coming from another system will be able to ease into it with little difficulty. On top of this, the muscle memory will come very easily. This is very true if you’re a Nikon user or previous Pentax user.

Ruggedness

The camera was not thrown off the Empire State Building or really abused. So this wasn’t tested very much. It does feel very solid though and could easily become a companion to any photographer.

Image Quality

During my test, I was not allowed to put a card into the camera because the Pentax Reps didn’t have the OK from the mother company.

Too bad—at this stage of the game image quality is a paramount feature.

Outstanding Features

In one of the photos you’ll see a display level on the rear LCD. This can help to ensure that your camera is straight when you take the photos. Sure you’ll have to look outside of the viewfinder for a second or so but it’s worth it if you’re shooting with a tripod.

There is also a matrix mode similar to the image preview function of cameras like the Sony A900. On that camera, one can take a photo, see it on the LCD screen, and then dial in according settings that they would like. Further, the photographer will be able to see how these settings affect the photo. So if you’ve got a picture that you want to be a tad warmer in order to make those skin tones look more lively, you’ll be able to see it here.

It’s a great feature for portrait photographers.

Short Opinion Vs

Hasselblad- Hasselblad makes wonderful lenses and take some great images. For the price point though, Pentax is seeming to be a more attractive option despite the fact that the Hasselblad system has an interchangeable back system. Something I also don’t like is the Focus software. It’s quite tedious to use. Their RAW format is also weird. The Pentax has the option of shooting DNG, on the other hand.

Leica- The S system hands down has the best lenses and the ports are also the best. For the price though, I wouldn’t justify it.

Phase One- Phase One has some attractive features. One can go from shooting 40MP to something like 10MP with a couple of presses of buttons. Their lenses though, I’ve never been very attracted to. Also once again, the price point and Pentax has a whole system of lenses that users have access too from the film days.

For what it’s worth though, Capture One is a wonderful piece of software.

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