For any long-standing full-frame camera owner, the medium format has always been in our peripheral vision. Generally speaking, the joys of a larger sensor, extra resolution, and depth of images are more than offset by the high prices and slower shooting speeds. Then came along the likes of the Pentax 645Z, which is now as affordable as one of the latest mirrorless cameras.
Pentax basically showed the market that you didn’t have to trade a vital organ to buy into the medium format, with the likes of Hasselblad and Fujifilm following suit.
The Pentax 645Z is also a relatively old camera, being released back in 2014. This may seem ancient by some standards, but medium format cameras follow their own timeline. So can the Pentax 645Z still deliver in today’s market, especially when compared against the latest full-frame offerings? Let’s find out.
Along with being relatively affordable, the Pentax is available with a wider range of lenses and can take older 6×7 lenses when used with an adapter. The immediate benefit to the camera is the 51.4MP CMOS sensor, without an anti-aliasing filter, which falls into the small medium format category. Full-blown Hasselblads have the largest medium format sensors, but they also come with a huge, premium price tag, making them, for many, a cost far outweighing the benefits.
In terms of other basic specifications, the ISO range comes in at 100 to 204,800, a maximum burst speed of 3 fps, HD video at 1080p 60i/30p, and a total weight of 1.55 kg. The extra bulk and weight come mainly from the large internal mirror system.
The body is made from magnesium alloy and is as tough as a tank in build quality. The dimensions of the Pentax make the average DSLR look small and, once a lens is attached, this isn’t exactly a discreet-looking camera. Although the weight may not be a problem to some, it may become a factor on day-long shooting sessions or when you have to shoot at very low shutter speeds. If you don’t work out your arms or deltoid muscles on a regular basis, a tripod is a prerequisite.
The grip on the camera is easy to grab, with enough depth to swing about when you’re freestyling your shots. As many landscape photographers would use this camera on a tripod, there’s a tripod mount on the bottom and on the side of the camera for easily changing from landscape to portrait views.
All the buttons have been sensibly placed, with a mirror lock-up switch on the right-hand side. The ISO and exposure compensation buttons are conveniently located near the shutter release, with the general mode dial being on the right-hand side. This dial has three user settings, with a very useful Hyper Program mode included in the mix. The menu system is also very easy to use and far more intuitive than many other brands of camera.
There are plenty of buttons on the rear of the camera, which takes some familiarization. Once you get used to where everything is placed, it’s just a matter of practice to build up muscle memory to grab the most-used features at a moment’s notice. The tilting LCD screen is a wonderful addition and allows for shooting at extreme angles.
The autofocus system utilizes 27 autofocus points, which means techniques such as focus and recompose are very much needed. This can also be a problem with wide aperture lenses, which means you’ll be shooting in manual focusing mode many times. The AF speed and accuracy is quite slow compared to modern cameras. This may not be a problem for landscape shots, but it’s far from a solution for photojournalists or sport shooters.
The ISO quality is where the Pentax 645Z stands out. Although many DSLR and mirrorless cameras have ridiculously high ISO ratings, they still start to introduce noise in general after around ISO 1600. The Pentax can generally look good up to ISO 6400, where other cameras would start to introduce a significant amount of noise. In this regard, the Pentax is far better at handling noise than a full-frame sensor.
The 4:3 aspect ratio is something you will need to get used to when coming from a 3:2 full-frame camera. This will be more of a concern for wide-angle shots, with the medium format sensor producing a more square image. However, the extra resolution pulls out so much detail in a scene, it’s easy to crop the image in post-production to any size you want.
The Pentax 645Z Compared with Other Cameras
One newer type of camera, which is largely in the same price bracket as the Pentax, is the Fujifilm GFX 50S. The Fuji also sports a 51.4MP CMOS sensor, with a very usable ISO range, HD video, and fixed rear touchscreen. Being a newer version of the camera, the Fuji also has a better autofocus system with 117 AF points.
The Fuji also benefits from the renowned film simulation modes, which does a fine job of processing images in-camera. For just a touch more money, the Fujifilm GFX 50S benefits from a more modern design, with some of the niceties we have come to expect from modern cameras, such as Wi-Fi.
|Pentax 645Z||Fujifilm GFX 50S|
|Bit Depth||14 Bit||14 Bit|
|Video||Full HD||Full HD|
The Pentax 645Z Is a Solid Choice, but Other Makers Are Closing In
The Pentax 645Z still has a lot going for it, providing excellent resolution and image quality wrapped around a rock-solid and substantial camera body. From pure image rendering alone, the Pentax is still a fantastic camera and definitely worth the money. However, the camera still carries with it the large and unwieldy principles of the medium format. For those who want a smaller, faster, and more lightweight solution, full-frame mirrorless cameras would be the better choice.
Other medium format makers are now downsizing their camera bodies, with almost equal prices to the Pentax. While the Pentax stood alone a few years ago for its price and features, there is far more competition these days from the likes of the Hasselblad X1D 50C and, obviously, the Fujifilm GFX 50S.
However, if you can live with its size and weight and don’t mind the 3 fps shooting speed or the low amount of AF points, the Pentax can still provide professional-level images. For studio photographers, the Pentax may feel like a more worthwhile solution, especially if you’re coming from full-frame cameras and wouldn’t mind the extra levels of resolution and quality.