If given the choice, most DSLR and mirrorless camera users would love to play with the medium format on a regular basis. The main hurdles to owning one of these things are the high price point, slower shooting speeds, bulk, and expensive accompanying gear. However, all the downsides go out of the window once you’ve sampled the image quality. The Pentax 645D was released back in 2010, which makes its 40MP resolution relatively affordable by today’s standards.
There is a certain virtue to owning a medium format camera that’s not just about high resolution, but also a certain look. Dissertations have been written on the pros and cons of the medium format when compared to full-frame sensors. But if you’re still intrigued by this way of working, then it’s worth digging a little deeper into what the Pentax 645D can still provide.
The Pentax 645D has the same sort of boxy design as medium format cameras of old, but in this case, is a ground-up reimagining of the older 645N II.
The 645D has plenty of buttons and dials to play with, which have been logically laid out and generally only control one function at a time. This makes the camera very straightforward to use in reality and very easy to get up and running with. The body is also made from magnesium alloy and is fully weatherproofed.
The 40MP (44x33mm) CCD sensor has a top resolution of 7264×5440 pixels, which provides plenty of leeway for cropping down images in post-processing.
The 11 autofocus points are accompanied by a 77-segment metering system, which by today’s standards may not seem a huge amount. But back in 2010, this system was quite cutting-edge for a medium format camera. Three separate AF modes can be chosen and assigned to one of the 19 buttons.
There is a dial switch for the different metering modes, along with a separate one for things like mirror lock-up and white balance. The rear of the camera features a 3-inch LCD screen, which comes with wide-angle viewing options and a 32x magnification to make sure every image is spot on. The ISO range is also quite limited by today’s standards between 100-1600, but this will only start to be a problem once you venture out of the studio environment.
The 1.1 burst rate isn’t going to excite many action or event photographers. But at least the camera has built-in HDR capabilities, being able to blend three consecutive frames, which can be outputted via HDMI. The supplied battery should also be good enough for up to 800 shots in most shooting conditions.
The Pentax 645D in Use
The one button per function layout is very quick to use in reality and makes perfect sense. Tapping just one button to access any type of functionality, along with a few custom buttons is a great way to work. The menu system is very simple to navigate, with Pentax taking lots of functionality principles from DSLR cameras of the day to make a straightforward shooting experience.
Support for tethering is still weak for the Pentax 645D and while there is software available to get images from the camera to computer, the likes of Capture One and Lightroom still don’t play nicely.
If you’re happy shooting onto internal memory cards and previewing images on the back of the camera, you won’t have any trouble with the shooting experience. However, the 645D isn’t exactly rapid when writing files and will require very fast SD cards.
Quality of Imagery
While your patience levels need to be increased for each successive shot, you will not have to worry about the overall image quality. Resolution is in abundance, which gives plenty of confidence to crop down to any smaller ratio you like. Although the ISO range only goes up to 1600, it’s relatively noise-free up to the highest levels.
Color settings are as professional-looking as you would expect from Pentax. The white balance settings are generally accurate, but still, need a gray card for the most accuracy. The camera has a built-in RAW converter to quickly generate JPGs and there’s also a facility to generate a RAW file from the last image taken.
The Pentax 645D definitely makes you slow down your workflow, which does have its pros and cons. If you like to quickly rattle off images, capturing all those small precious moments, the Pentax is a bit slow for that application. But if you have the time to deliberate over every shot, like in a studio environment, you won’t be disappointed with the fantastic resolution and image rendition.
How Does It Compare?
Back in the day, if you couldn’t justify the cost of a medium format camera and needed something faster, then the Canon 1Ds Mark III was the tool of choice along with the Nikon D800 and later D850. In today’s money, the Canon can be picked up for the same price as a reasonable quality prime lens and can still produce fantastic images. However, compared with the latest crop of cameras, its 5 fps burst mode and ISO range up to only 1600 looks very conservative.
Between the two cameras, the Canon is more the Swiss army knife, being useful in lots of different applications. The Pentax has a more limited scope, where more finely detailed resolution is the number one factor, above speed, and anything else. Another camera to consider is the Canon EOS 1D X.
|Pentax 645D||Canon 1Ds Mark III|
Although the Pentax still feels relatively expensive for this era of camera, it’s still affordable for a medium format sensor. Compared to other medium format cameras of its day, the Pentax 645D can produce equal amounts of resolution, with more DSLR friendliness.
You have to be fully aware of its limitations before using the Pentax 645D as your main camera. It’s not going to be a low-light specialist and the burst mode is really sedated. That being said, when the images do eventually write to the memory card, they are every bit as high-quality as you would expect from this level of camera.