Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Pentax 645Z review - first impressions

Proving that the original Pentax 645D wasn’t a flash in the pan, Pentax has followed up its ‘affordable’ medium-format camera with the 645Z, which delivers some significant improvements, most notably a 51.4-million-pixel sensor. 

Pentax 645Z – Features

The new sensor in the 645Z is the same 44x33mm size as the original unit in the 645D, which means that the new camera has a 35mm equivalent focal length multiplier of 0.8x (a 100mm lens is therefore equivalent to an 80mm lens on a 35mm full-frame camera). However, there has been a significant increase in resolution.

The 40-million-pixel sensor in the 645D is now replaced with a 51.4-million-pixel sensor in the 645Z, but there has been a switch in the technologies used. The original 645D used a CCD sensor, whereas the new 645Z uses a CMOS sensor.

Traditionally, CCD sensors are thought to produce slightly better images, although most manufacturers have invested heavily in CMOS technology in the past few years and, as a result, the quality has in many areas surpassed that of CCD, particularly when it comes to speed and high-sensitivity shooting.

This has led to an increase in sensitivity from the ISO 100-1600 on the 645D to ISO 100-204,800 on the 645Z. This is a huge increase, and should mean that the camera performs well in lower-light conditions outside a studio environment.

The CMOS sensor also allows for video capture at a full HD resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, at either 60i, 30p or 24p frames per second. For still images, the CMOS sensor, combined with the Prime III image-processing engine, can now shoot at 3fps, which is two frames faster than the 645D, and the number of focus points has been increased from just 11 to a more acceptable 27. Of these, 25 are the more sensitive cross-type points.

Like the recent Pentax K-3 DSLR, the 645Z can make use of Flucards. These provide the camera with Wi-Fi connectivity, not just for the transfer of images but also for control of the camera remotely via a smartphone or tablet.

Pentax 645Z – Build and handling

Image: The Pentax 645Z introduces an articulated screen to the range

At first glance, little has changed between the original Pentax digital medium-format camera, the 645D, and its successor, the 645Z. All the buttons and dials are positioned in almost identical locations, and most importantly for those considering a move up into medium format, the 645Z operates in virtually the same manner as a Pentax DSLR.

The 645Z does feature a couple of significant changes to the body over its predecessor, the first of which is a deeper handgrip. Those with larger hands will be grateful, although I found it to be a little too deep. That said, holding the significant weight of the 1,470g body is comfortable, and with the price of the 645Z being almost £6,800, it is certainly one camera you don’t want to drop.

Being built of magnesium alloy, you won’t have to worry about the odd knock to the 645Z. In fact, the body is built to the same high standards that we have come to expect from a Pentax DSLR. Although many consider medium-format digital cameras the preserve of the studio photographer, the 645Z has 76 weather seals protecting the camera’s internals, so you’ll never need to worry about taking it out in the rain.

Of course, lenses also need to be weather-sealed, and thankfully there are three All Weather (AW) lenses in the 645 system: the smc DA 645 25mm f/4; the HD D-FA 645 90mm f/2.8 ED AW SR; and the smc D-FA 645 55mm f/2.8. The 645Z will be available with the 55mm lens as part of a kit.

Image: Like Pentax DSLRs, the 645Z is fully weather-sealed

Pentax 645Z – Impressions

Those concerned that the Pentax 645D may be a one-off should now have some assurance that the company is very much committed to the range, with not just a new camera but also new and improved lenses on the horizon.

My short time with the Pentax 645Z confirmed that it handles very well, and is simple to use and understand. Of course, it isn’t for everyone, and the weight and size will put some people off – not to mention the huge files that it creates. However, I am really looking forward to shooting with the camera, not just in the studio, but also to see how good it is for landscape images.

The 645Z is priced £6,799.99 body only, or £7,699.99 with the smc D-FA 645 55mm f/2.8 lens, and is available now.

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