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The Pentax 645d, is a pretty amazing camera and I have never been more upset to have to return a loan unit from a camera company. I had the camera on loan for a camera review for Digital Photographer magazine. As this is a very special camera we decided to set up a very special shoot. Lets have a horse fly down a beach at full speed and lets use the slowest frame rate camera we can find. But, I knew if we pulled it off we would have the most amazing shots. In my head this is what photography is about about.
We had the crew, the location and the camera. On the first glance the 44mmx33mm, 40 megapixel sensor Pentax would seem a strange choice to tackle a the shoot we had in mind. In my head I only wanted one image from this days shooting. I wanted my very own Eadweard Muybridge Flying Horse photograph. Getting a shot of the horse with all four legs up in full flight was the aim, capturing this in full medium format glory with a 1.1 frames per second meant that it was one shot per pass. Working with a very tight window due to tides and sunlight the challenge was on.
When I reviewed the camera I gave it 9/10. The 645d had just won the EISA Professional Camera of the year award in 2011.
Link to high res files
The past few weeks I had been testing the camera out shooting my typical landscapes and portraiture. Using the Pentax in the studio was frustrating at the start as the flash would not sync on anyother setting than the X-Sync mode. This was something that we worked out after a good while. The 645d has some very interesting shooting modes unique to Pentax. The hyper program and hyper manual modes are most certainly worth a look, however, most of my shots were shot on full manual. The 645d’s metering system is wonderful, fast balanced. Focusing is fast, simple and pretty amazing. Using the SAFO IX+ auto focus system is easy to make sure you don’t miss critcal focus. The 645d out preforms many other MF digital back cameras and beats the D800 hands down.
The Pentax outputs DNG files, something I was very glad to notice, one of the worst problems of testing cameras, especially new cameras, is that they just don’t fit into a workflow system. The DNG files are great to handle. Duel SD cards are great too, the write speeds of the SDHC cards are pretty fast these days so I was not upset by no CF card. The camera is a has a wonderful white balance, the viewfinder is wide and bright, great for shooting on a windy overcast beach. The airtight, all weather construction of the camera was also reassuring. But, the main reason I love the Pentax is the stunning images the 44mmx33mm CCD sensor creates. Having a unique shutter braking mechanism ensures the very large shutter is quiet and free from the big vibration that other large sensor cameras can suffer from. The the shot above was at 1/50th of a second.
Pentax claim: Rich graduation, natural depth-of-field depiction at open aperture, and crisp image definition at smaller apertures. The large image circle and broad sensor plane of the medium-format image sensor assures these benefits — factors essential for producing super-high-quality, true-to-life images unrivaled by 35mm-format counterparts. I can no disagree on any points and only add to the statement. The Pentax offers up the most life-like tones I have ever seen on a camera. Pentax have a low-pass-filter-less design in the 645d which means the sharp, razor sharp. It took Nikon almost 3 years to catch up with the medium-format image sensor with this concept.
However, when you have a camera of this nature and sensor size, there are some problems that can crop up. As users of MF Digital back cameras and D800 users will notice, the speed of the camera is limited and noise across the higher ISO’s become more apparent. This camera was designed to work at low ISO’s and with such incredibly sensitive sensors, noise will be a problem when you push the sensor. Pentax capped the ISO at 1600. The exposure test / shutter release functionally of the 645d is a well thought though way round on or two problems letting you take a measured test shot for exposure review and not saving the file thus speeding up work flow. Other points to mention could be the cost. When the camera came out, it was a penny away from 10k, now, a year on and some firmware updates, you can find a 645d for near 8k. Still a big investment especially when a £2700 will get you a d800. But in all honesty. The D800 is now where near the 645d when it comes down the image quality. I have used both camera for a long time, the D800 is still has to win my confidence.
Is it worth the money ? Well, yes and no. If you know what you are doing and you can expliot a camera as finely balanced as the 645d then you can see very quickly where the investment can be found. This camera is about subtle colour and mood. It is about taking your time and getting it right in camera. Using the Rervesal Film modes can be rewarding as can be creating your own custom image modes. This is a photographers camera in every way. If you are going to try and shoot a wedding with this camera or some kind of event I would advise something like the Canon 5dm3. As a Fine Art camera, this is pretty much the finest camera in the world.