Pentax 645D Digital Camera 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.

| Pentax 645D in Digital SLRs

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Pentax 645D: Click on the thumbnail for the larger image.

Will Cheung finally got his hands on the Pentax 645D, four years after its first public showing. So far, no decision has been made about UK availability but we are hopeful.

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.

Pentax 645D Digital Camera Review:

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.

Will Cheung enjoys the Pentax 645D's handling and quality feel.

Stephen Sanderson, Pentax UK's product co-ordinator.

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: Key features.
Pentax 645D Digital Camera Review:

Back in 2006, this is what the Pentax 645D looked like under glass.

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.

Pentax 645D Key features: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.

Design is very clear and the monitor is good.

Buttons are well spaced for easy handling.

All the controls fall nicely to finger.

Exposure mode dial has a lock function.

Big reflex mirror that is light on its feet.

The new 55mm f/2.8 standard lens.

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.

These are the only twp prints I saw from the Pentax 645D.

Pentax 645D Digital Camera Review:
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.

Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Pentax 645D.

Pentax 645D: Summary
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.

Pentax 645D: Pros - provisional
Quick autofocusing
Quiet, low vibration shutter action
Bright viewfinder image
Fits the hands well

Pentax 645D: Cons - provisional
Only one digital lens right now
SD/SDHC only - why not CompactFlash too.

FEATURES To be rated
HANDLING To be rated
VALUE To be rated
OVERALL To be rated

Pentax 645D: Specifications
Price £TBC
What comes in the box TBC
Lens Pentax-D 55mm f/2.8 AL (IF) SDM AW
Lens mount Pentax 645AF2 bayonet: 645AF and 645A lenses fit
Resolution 40Mp effective
Sensor size 44x33mm - made by Kodak
Sensor type CCD
Max. Image size 7264x5440pixels
Aspect ratio 4:3
Crop factor TBC
Viewfinder 98 per cent field of view, dioptre adjustment
Focusing system 11 point AF (nine cross-type), with select, centre or auto settings
Focus type TTL phase detection
Focusing modes AF single, AF continuous, manual
File types JPEG (three quality levels), Raw (PEF or DNG)
ISO sensitivity ISO 200-1000 (auto), 100-1600 (boost)
Metering system TTL open aperture, 77 segments. Program AE, sensitivity priority, aperture-priority, shutter priority, shutter and aperture priority, metered manual
Metering modes Multi-segment, centre-weighted average, spot
White-balance Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, fluorescent, tungsten, flash, three manual settings, colour temperature, CTE - Color Temperature Enhancement mode
Exposure compensation +/- 5EV
Shutter speed range 30secs-1/4000sec on 1/2 or 1/3 EV steps, flash sync at 1/125sec, B (bulb)
Continuous shooting High and low, 1.1 frames-per-second
Image stabilisation None
Movie mode None
Monitor 3 inch TFT LCD, 921,000 dots
Media type SD/SDHC
Live View No
Sensor cleaning Supersonic vibration (DR II)
Interface USB 2.0, HDMI Type C mini, video out NTSC/PAL
Power Rechargeable lithium-ion D-LI90
Size (wxdxl) 156x117x119mm
Weight (with battery) 1400g

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Photographs taken using the Pentax 645D

VeneziaSestier de San Polo - VeneziaPiazza San Marco - PorticoFondamenta de Ca†Vendramin - VeneziaBuranoVeniceSecret VeniceVenice:  a floating fruit and vegetable shop.Secret VeniceBuranoBurano (Venezia)VeneziaSecret VeniceBurano (Venezia)

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Ernest_Godward Avatar
I cannot understand what is holding Pentax back - how long are we going to have to wait for this beauty? I'd have really preferred a full frame but as a Pentax diehard I'm quite happy to move up to 645 if they match the current exchange rate translation price. But hurry up!!
franken Avatar
I read on another site that the delay is due to a much higher demand than expected in Japan where it will go on sale first.

Will Cheung Avatar
I think demand will be high given the competitive price so be prepared for a wait. I am hoping for more news on UK availability by the end of the week.
User_Removed Avatar
User_Removed 19 17.9k 8 Norway

Quote:I cannot understand what is holding Pentax back

I utterly agree 100%.

I have long-advocated that, with modern technology a) this camera (and related lenses) is WAY overdue - and b) they missed the boat with not having a digital '6x7' out years ago.

The finest 35mm SLR's I ever owned were a pair of Pentax's (LX) and in those days Pentax was one of the 'Big Four'

Now there is only the 'Big Two' - and some 'hangers-on'...

Such a shame...
looboss Avatar
looboss 16 3.1k 7 United Kingdom
COR! I wish I could afford the £ 7,000 grand price tag!

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