Last week I had an architectural photography job for a Melbourne advertising agency that required larger RAW files than possible on either a Canon 5DII or probably any DSLR that is currently on the market. The solution to this was hiring a Pentax 645D for the shoot.
As the purpose of my blog is to keep it as creative and graphical as possible, I'm going to keep the nitty gritty tech specs to a minimum as there are several reviews that detail these in great depth.
The purpose of this review will be twofold. First i want to show you some images. The second is to touch on the usability and practicality of this camera and compare this to its competitors.
We'll start this on this point, competitors. Who are they? Strangely this medium format camera could arguably fall into two or potentially none. Why?
Well, never before has a medium format camera offering a staggering 40MP with accompanying quality of build and lens quality been able to compete around the price points of the top of line of high end DSLR such as the Canon 1D MkIV.
PRA Imaging in Perth retails the Pentax 645D for $12,500 AUD body only. Compare that to anything on offer by Phase1 or Hasselblad and your a mile in front financially and you'd have to work hard to convince me of the superior image quality available by the aforementioned. Similarly it is priced in the ball park of the Canon 1D MkIV and Nikon D3 F, yet trumps both for megapixels and sensor size.
Aside from it's competitive price point, there is a lot too like about this ground breaking camera. Where to start. Well it's a big camera…but not too big. Weighing in just under 1.4kg for the body you feel secure in it's build quality but it's not bulky to the point of fearing taking this on an extended shoot or to use on a daily basis.
One of my greatest praises i can sing for this camera is it's simplicity of use. As my commercial job was for for a sunrise architectural shoot i didn't want to have to spend the night sifting through the instruction manual to find out how to change the shutter speed or ISO. Thankfully it is a very intuitive camera and i worked it out without having to refer to the Pentax instruction manual once (I know a typically male trait!).
Among the functions that i love was it's mirror up dial that sat just above the view finder. Simply twist the dial and the mirror flips up for the ultimate in stability, perfect for my Perth cityscapes taken on 30 second exposures. The dials were very similar in layout to a Canon DSLR which aided in a simple and natural learning curve for me. There were pre-set modes including shutter and aperture priority modes, program mode and full manual. With two dials within finger reach of the shutter release there was no delay in getting the correct exposure.
The menu system was very shallow with no requirement to go digging through multiple levels of navigation for any function that i required. It really is a photographers camera and while i hate cliche's it really became an extension of your vision and felt very natural to use.
Image quality. One word "supurb". Colour reproduction was impressive as was noise level at higher ISO.
Now for the fun bit the images. My initial plan was to take the Pentax 645D up to Kings Park in Perth to try and get some super high res panoramas for the typical stock library shot of a Perth skyline at sunset that are always good to have on file and are also popular with tourist publications and sell well. However all that went out the window when it took me two hours to travel from Mosman Park to PRA Imaging in East Perth. Arriving ten to six, my opportunity to get back across town in time for the last of the fading light was in taters. My contingency plan was to visit the river inlet around East Perth and fire off a few shots while there was some colour in the sky before making a second stop on the Perth foreshore and get some night time cityscapes.
While web optimised images are the sacrificial lambs of photography (and a necessary evil in any photographers folio), i can truly say i was amazed in the colours, low noise levels and image quality of these shots. I hope to print a few of these at a large size to demonstrate the amazing detail contained in each RAW file.
In conclusion, I'm a huge fan of the Pentax 645D and would love to own one. While the price point is ground breaking compared to others in the Medium Format Market the investment i have in my Canon DSLR kit with the variety of lenses and accessories means i can't make the switch immediately, but for those in a position to invest i believe you will be very happy with your decision. For the time being i hope i get some more commercial photography work in Perth that requires me to use this camera again.
Chris Bishop professional commercial, landscape & travel photographer based in Perth, Western Australia.