CKSandberg Photography fine-art photography and photo education

Pentax 645 Diary


This is the story of my moving from shooting in 35mm format to medium format, first wih a Pentax 645D digital body, and more recently with its successor, the 645Z. As the story has grown, I've rearranged it so the most recent additions are at the top…so if you want to start from the beginning, please scroll down to the "Part 1 - Introduction" section near the end of this page. I think this is more helpful to those of my readers who have been following the story and are coming here to get an update.

Part 8 - Adding a Backup Body

I am a firm believer in backups—for my images, for my computer equipment, for my travel equipment. That means I want to have a backup camera body with me when I am in the field shooting. The example I use in classes is, “So you hiked two hours to get to that amazing scenic vista. You take out your camera and it won’t start up. It’s completely unresponsive. Do you give up and hike back the two hours with nothing to show for the trip? Or do you pull out your backup body and get some good images, and save the day?”

Even though my 645Z (and the 645D before it) is an extremely reliable tool, I follow the Boy Scout motto and strive to always “Be Prepared.” I had been using a crop-format Canon DSLR as my backup, but that meant having a second set of batteries, an awkward lens adaptor to fit the Pentax 645 glass, and a very different set of controls to remember when I shifted over. Those irritations had become increasingly frustrating, so I set out in search of a better backup solution.

I found that better solution in a Pentax K-3. The K-3 is a mid-size SLR, with a 24 meg APS-C sized CMOS sensor. What initially attracted me to the K-3 was the range of similar features and capabilities to the 654Z:

• clean high ISO shots

• dual SD slots allowing me to use my EyeFi card for wireless transfers (I’ve gone to a Toshiba FlashAir III wireless SD card in the 645Z)

• Live View with H.264 video capture

• an electronic level

• no anti-aliasing filter

• dustproof, weather-resistant construction capable of shooting down to -10°C

• a magnesium alloy body.

Best of all, the K-3 has a control layout and operating scheme similar to my 645Z, so going from one to the other is extremely easy and comfortable. The two bodies use the same battery, so I don’t have to carry additional batteries and chargers. I can also mount my 645-series lenses with a Pentax-built adaptor, rather than some their-party concoction.

I’ve been so pleased with the K-3 that I’ve moved beyond just having it in reserve for emergencies. I picked up a Pentax DA 40mm f/2.8 XS lens (used, of course!) for under $100 that is the smallest lens I have ever used: it’s only .36 inches thick and weighs 1.8 ounces! Focal length is equivalent to 60mm on a full-frame 35mm camera, so it makes a good “normal” walk-around lens. I’ve taken to using the K-3 and 40mm pancake when I’m scouting locations and don’t want to carry a heavy kit, and when teaching. With a simple hand strap and the tiny lens, the camera is almost invisible for street shooting. Here are a couple of images (on an inch-ruled mat) of the camera with the 40mm lens mounted to give you a sense of its real compactness.

The camera/lens combination produces very clean, sharp images when shot at f/8 and above, and quite acceptable (some softening in the edges) wide open, and the images print out with good color and depth. I’ve become quite fond of the little guy!

Part 7 - 645Z

I've repaced the 645D with the 645Z, and will be updating the Diary with my experiences with the new body. Here's that update:

When Pentax released the 645D in 2010, it was a game-changer for the medium format market. Priced at $9,400, the 645D cost many thousands of dollars less than the other medium-format DSLRs available at the time from Hasselblad, Phase One, and Mamiya. Its fixed back allowed the 645D to be fully weather-sealed, a property not available on other camera bodies with removable sensor backs. As an outdoor shooter, that was a critical distinction; the other medium format DSLRs were really aimed at studio photography, not the landscape work I do. Weather protection was a key reason I had been shooting with the Canon 5D MkII, and I was not interested in giving up the ability to shoot anywhere.

The 645D was awarded the Camera of the Year award at the Camera Grand Prix Japan 2011. (Pentax celebrated that win with the release of a limited edition of the camera in a red lacquer finish and special camera strap, sold in a paulownia-wood presentation box.) With the acquisition of the 645D body and a set of Pentax 645 lenses, I took a huge step forward with my gear.

I greatly enjoyed shooting the 645D. The quality of the images was astounding and the ergonomics of daily use were excellent (the advantage of Pentax having refined the basic 645 camera body over the course of 34 years!) The difference between shooting with my 35mm bodies/lenses and the 645D and its lenses was significant: I found not only greater detail in the images but a much improved sense of depth and openness in those images from the 645D.

So, when Pentax announced in 2014 that it was adding a new body alongside the 645D, I was all ears. The 645Z built on the legacy of all the 645s before it, replacing the 645D’s 40 meg CCD sensor with a 51.4 meg CMOS sensor and a 27-point autofocus system. I was able to play with a sample of the 645Z in the Spring of 2015, and took the plunge, selling my much-loved 645D in the process.

I was attracted to the 645Z for several reasons. Least of those reasons was the bump in sensor resolution from 40 to 50megs. That 20% increase, while obviously helpful in providing more data and allowing more cropping flexibility, really didn’t expand the effective size of prints from the camera. The 645D produced raw images at 7264 X 5440 pixels, or 24.2 X 18.1 inches (at 300 dpi.) Raw images from the 645Z are 8256 x 6192 pixels, or 27.5 X 20.6 inches. That 2.5-3 inch marginal increase would not, by itself, justify the roughly $9,000 purchase.

What did attract me were the ability of the 645Z’s CMOS sensor to capture usable images at significantly higher ISOs, and the addition of live view due to the CMOS technology.

On the first issue, having the flexibility to shoot at higher ISO settings is a great help in my landscape work, since I can very seldom control the amount of available light! Working on a tripod solves many low-light problems, but doesn’t help when I am trying to capture a subject in motion and don’t want to smear the image with a long exposure. Ramping up the ISO and thereby getting a faster shutter speed can be the vehicle to get the shot I want. Similarly, in a circumstance where I can’t use a tripod and must hand-hold the shot, a higher usable ISO permits a faster shutter speed that may let me get the shot under low light conditions. The 645Z let me accomplish those goals, with very usable images up to ISO 6400 and potentially acceptable images even beyond that.

On the second issue, having the availability of live view when shooting stills (leaving aside completely the fact that the CMOS sensor allowed shooting video for the first time ever in a medium format camera), is a definite plus for my field shooting. Focus peaking on the LCD screen is a boon to getting precise focus and in many situations is superior to focusing through the (bright and accurate) optical viewfinder. Live view also adds exposure highlight warnings “blinkies” which are actually more accurate than the camera’s histogram: the warnings come straight off the CMOS sensor, while the histogram display is built on the JPEG version of the image. The lower dynamic range on the JPEG means less apparent headroom, so an exposure that appears blown out a bit on the histogram probably is not.

Combing those improvements with a larger and tilting LCD monitor screen make the Z a much more flexible and adaptable camera to use in the field than even the 645D had been.

One thing I didn’t expect was the Z’s ability to pull details from underexposed areas of captured images. The jump in effective dynamic range from the 645D was impressive, and I find I am less worried about having to “expose to the right” to be sure I can get a dynamic print. I still try to get all the high-end exposure I can to maximize the dynamic range in the finished print, but I know that I have a safety factor for some under-exposure, thanks to the sensor’s forgiveness at the dark end.

Pentax says the weather sealing on the 645Z is  improved over the 645D. I have no real basis for comparison (since I truly do try no to abuse my gear) bu I can vouch for the Z’s ability to shoot under adverse conditions, including light rain and Minnesota North Shore cold! Based upon some of the YouTube videos I have watched, including one where a Z was hosed off after shooting at the beach, I think the wether sealing with a compatible lens is more than adequate.

There are some modest control changes from the 645D to the Z, but nothing that I didn’t adapt to in very short order. The live view and video modes have new controls, but the fundamentals—immediate access to f-stops and exposure compensation, quick ISO adjustment, auto mirror lockup with 3-second self-timer—remain focused on who real photographers work, not on some software engineer’s idea of how a camera might be used.

In short, the jump from the 645D to 645Z was almost as significant a change as going from 34mm to medium format. I know that tI am getting images much closer to what I see when I am standing in beautiful outdoor settings, and I am much more confident that I will be able to print images that capture the scope and power of those settings.

Part 6 - Lenses

I've also added some new glass to work with the 645Z - I'll update that part of the Diary shortly.

The best camera body in the world can't take pictures without a lens being attached. I've been developing my set of lenses for the 645D, and this note is intended as a sharing of experiences more than a formal review.

One basic difference between the lenses available in medium format and 35mm format is the absence of wide-range zooms. With my 5d MkII, I shot 80%+ of the time with Canon's 24-105L  mid-range zoom. Paired with a 100-300mm zoom, I had all the range I needed in two lenses. I can't cover that range with my Pentax in two lenses.

But I’ve come to rely on a shorter-range zoom as my “go to” lens with the 645D. That lens is the SMC Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm F4.5 zoom. It has an overall focal length equivalent to about 36-68mm in 35mm terms which is a very useful range for landscape work where I generally want a fairly broad view of a scene without the exaggerated feeling that creeps in wide super-wide focal lengths. The 45-85 has become my most-used lens for my outdoor work as a result.

Here's the rest of my arsenal:

SMC Pentax-A 645 35mm F3.5. This is my wide-angle lens, with a focal length equivalent to about 28mm in 35mm terms. The “A” designation identifies this as a manual focus lens, which is not a practical drawback given its wide depth of field at f8 and above. The manual focus version is also smaller and quite a bit lighter than the autofocus version, which I really appreciate on the trail!

SMC Pentax-FA 645 80-160mm F4.5. This longer zoom runs a focal length equivalent to about 66-128rmm in 35mm terms. It’s a great companion to the 45-85 and is often the only longer lens I will carry on a day’s work.

SMC Pentax-FA 645 75mm F2.8. This is one of the two fast lens in Pentax’s lineup, and provides a filed of view like a 60mm lens on a full-frame 35mm body. That’s essentially a “normal” lens and I use this al lot as a “walk-around” lens. It’s small and light, and makes the camera a lot less intimidating than when I have one of the larger lenses mounted.

SMC Pentax-A 645 120mm F4 Macro. While I don’t do a ton of macro work, I wanted to have the ability to get in close for floral and abstract work. I can get a 1:1 ratio with the 120mm, so those close shots can really fill the frme. It's also a nice medium telephoto (about 95mm in 35mm terms) and very sharp in that use as well.

SMC Pentax-FA 645 150mm F2.8 [IF]. This is the other fast lens in Pentax’s lineup. While it fits within the focal range of the 80-160mm zoom, being 1.5 stops faster can mean the difference between getting a shot and walking away from a scene because it’s just too dark. I really like that additional range, and the lens is a great, crisp portrait option,

SMC Pentax-FA* 645 300mm F4 ED [IF.]  My longest lens, with an identifier that deserves some explanation. Pentax has, over the years, released some of its lens in a limited “star” version, which the company explains as the “high-performance Star lens [which] assures exceptional image rendition with edge-to-edge sharpness.” The “star” lens are generally seen as having op notch optical and mechanical engineering, and I was pleased to locate this one. As with the other telephotos, it is a very study, well-made lens that feels "right" in the hand.

I also have the Rear Converter-A 645 2X, which I picked up before I tracked down the 300mm. I've kept the teleconverter as an option for when I want to travel light, as I can throw it into my small bag and get some extra reach on a couple of shorter lenses.

An overall note: I have not purchased (yet) any lenses for the 645D new - all have been used glass purchased either online from KEH or private sellers,  or from a local camera shop with a good used-gear department. I was initially hesitant to buy lenses sight unseen, but I have attempted to perform due-diligence on the sellers, and have not been burned yet. All the glass has been as described, and KEH in particular is quite conservative in its grading of used gear. I even bought a “package” of a 645N body, film back, and two lenses in order to get the 45-85 and 80-160; the camera body and back went to a film enthusiast in Chicago two days after it arrived at my workshop!

One criticism I have noted from some reviewers of Pentax's 645 lenses is that they are not as sharp as they should be at wide aptertures. I simply have not found this be to true. Part of the reason is that I just don't shoot wide open very often: I'm usually trying to get a large depth of field for my landscape work, and shooting at f/8 or above. But when I have used wider apertures, as when I shot a stage performance at Retro-Rama at the Minnesota History Center last year with the 150, and never went off f/2,8 - and got good autofocus and sharp images.

A very positive development from the Pentax-Ricoh merger has been a surge in new 645-series lenses being available from Pentax. In addition to putting their classic FA lenses back into circulation, they have released an expended line of DA/D FA lenses which are weather-sealed optimized for digital bodies. I tested the SMC Pentax-DA 645 25mm F4 AL (IF) SDM AW (yes, the naming conventian is getting a bit silly…) and was impressed with its image quality and I the extra width of view. The trade-off was its bulk compared to my A 35mm: 90 x 149mm and 1040g versus 80 x 67mm and 470 g. There's also a brand new HD Pentax-DA 645 28-45mm F4.5 ED AW SR zoom that is just for digital bodies. I like the focal range and the fact that it has image stabilization. I think that lens might be worth the size/weight trade-off: 99 x 151.5mm and 1470g.

Part 5 - Trekking the Gorge with the 645D.

I spent three days along the Columbia Gorge in Oregon (mostly) and Washington (two stops), shooting exclusively with the Pentax.  I took three lenses: the 35mm A3.5, the 45~85mm FA4.5, and the 80~160mm FA4.5 (the zooms are autofocus, the 35mm prime is manual).  They all packed tidily into my LowePro Trekker 400, along with my T2i/short zoom as my backup (never took it out of the pack) plus miscellaneous gear.   

The slightly-less than full frame sensor in the 645 D means all the lenses shoot at an effective focal length of about 80% of their labelled length, so I really had a 28mm, a 36~68 zoom, and a 64~152 zoom.  While that left me without a long telephoto, I didn’t hit a shooting situation where that caused a problem.  I do tend to shoot wide rather than long, so this combination of focal lengths is working well for me so far.  I thought I might miss my 15mm EOS lens, but there were no situations where I would have wanted the odd perspective that lens produces.  The new D-FA 25mm 4.0 would get me down to an effective 20mm, but the $5,000 price tag has dampened my enthusiasm about that lens for the moment…

I ran the EyeFi card in slot 2 for the whole trip, and liked being able to grab the JPEGs wirelessly and have them immediately available for posting or sharing.  I also found the Pentax is much less of a dust magnet than my 5D II was - the sensor shake feature really seems to work!

I shot hand-held only one time on the trip, at the Columbia Hills State Park petroglyph site, where I had bright sun and fairly shallow depth of field on the subjects. I had no trouble with the hand-held shots, and this is a very small crop from a larger image of several petroglyphs.

Most of the time I kept the 645D on the tripod, since I was shooting waterfalls and wanted slow exposures to smooth out the running water.  I generally kept the Pentax at ISO 100 with apertures between f11 and f20.  I mostly used the 2-second delay with mirror lockup to reduce vibrations, and didn’t see any signs of camera shake, even on shots lasting between one and 1.5 seconds.

I was very pleased with the virtual absence of any visible chromatic aberrations, since I was often shooting fine branches and leaves at very small apertures.  I kept looking for instances where I would need Photoshop to do some cleanup, but I only found one: the top of a waterfall at the very edge of the frame with the 35mm.  A bit down on the red/cyan and up on the blue/yellow sliders in Adobe Camera Raw and that trace of fringe was gone and focus at the edge of the frame was crisp. Photoshop has lens geometry settings for all three of my lenses in its database.  The software likes to take out just a bit of vignetting on my zooms, and doesn’t need to do even that on the 35mm.

I experimented further with bracketed exposures, since I had fairly strong light most of the time I was out in the field.  Back home, I worked on the “HDR versus pulling images from the underexposed bracketed shot” issue I discussed above, and again I was happier with using a somewhat underexposed image rather than dealing with the false colors and registration issues (moving leaves and water) that I see with Photoshop’s HDR Pro processing.

The weather never did anything more unpleasant than a brief sprinkle, so I didn’t get much more experience with running the 645D in adverse conditions.  There was a lot of drifting spray at Falls Creek and I just kept clearing off the filter on the lens while shooting there - no camera issues at all.

I am getting spoiled by the 645D’s electronic level.  Not only does it give you a horizontal level in the viewfinder, you can set the back panel LCD display to show both side-to-side and front-to-back tilt. On the tripod, this helped me avoid post-processing issues numerous times on the trip.

This trek gave me lots of opportunities to compare auto and manual focusing on the Pentax.  Both zooms have auto-focus, and I did use it when I was shooting the main subject at a distance without much foreground, like this closeup at Multnomah Falls.  I wanted the bridge in focus, and let the Pentax drive the 45~85 zoom.  I took the shot at f18 for 6/10 of a second, so the people on the bridge have motion-blurred, but I think the bridge focus is spot on.  The auto-focus is fast and quiet, and worked well when I used it. The only thing I miss from my L-series EOS lenses is full-time manual override; with the older FA lenses, it’s auto or manual, no in-between! 

For the majority of my shots I was in manual focus so I could work towards a hyperfocal point rather than a specific part of the scene.  Focussing on all three lenses is smooth and solid, although with the huge depth of field on the 35mm there isn’t really much focussing required. 

So, a successful and uneventful trip with the 645D.  I never ran out of battery power during a day of shooting, so I still don’t know exactly how much shooting I can do on one charge.  I getting to the point where the Pentax’s controls feel natural, and I continue to greatly enjoy working with it!

Part 4 - About the images!

I have been impressed by two aspects of the 645D’s images, one expected but the other a happy surprise.  First, the level of detail captured in 40 megs is impressive.  Here’s a shot at Minnehaha Falls, showing a good bit of the sandstone wall adjacent to the falls.  Native from the camera, that image would print at 18 X 24 inches (at 300 dpi).  I pulled a crop from that image - the area of the crop is in highlight. The second image shows the cropped detail.

That crop scales to about three times actual print size at 300 dpi, and I’m very impressed with how

well the detail holds up!

The other aspect is dynamic range. I took a series of shots a waterfall in Wisconsin on an afternoon with bright sun hitting the top of the falls while the bottom of the falls was in shadow - a very demanding scene.  I assumed I could not get the entire dynamic range of the scene in one shot, so I did a set of bracketed exposures, planning of merging them later in Photoshop.  I put the series through Photoshop’s (CS6 beta) HDR processor, and the result is on the left. That worked fairly well, but I was still blowing out some highlights at the top of the falls, and having to deal with some false colors in the dark areas at the base. And I was still stuck with the "HDR look."  So I decided to take the under-exposed image from the series and see what I could recover in the very dark shadows. The image on the right shows how that came out.

I like the overall balance better than the HDR version - the highlights are maintained while the dark areas under the falls have come up cleanly, with no false colors. I had to pull the shadowed areas the equivalent of almost three full stops to bring back the detail, and that’s a degree of recovery I’ve never been able to do with any other DSLR!  That sort of post-processing flexibility is exciting, and I think it will open a world of opportunities to capture difficult outdoor lighting situations.

Part 3 - Shooting.

I’ve been able to get out now and start making photos with the 645D.  The first thing you notice in the field is the bright, large viewfinder.  The 5D MkII is by no means a dim viewfinder, but the Pentax is a definite step up.  The other thing I have immediately come to appreciate in the in-viewfinder electronic level.  Two simple bar graphs tell you if you have the camera tilted side-to-side or front-to-back - a great improvement over having to fit an external bubble level in the hot shoe!

Another bit of proof that real photographers were involved in the design of the 645D is found in the self-timer.  Set to 10-second delay, it works like every other SLR I’ve owned: it counts down and trips the shutter.  But on 2-second delay, the Pentax adds another step: it activates mirror lock-up during the delay, and then trips the shutter!  This makes perfect sense: the 2-second delay acts like a remote shutter release when you want to minimize vibrations by locking up the internal mirror.  Very thoughtful - and a feature I have begun to use on a regular basis.

I’ve added two auto-focus lens to my arsenal, a 45-85mm and an 80-160mm (multiply by 0.8 to get an approximate 35mm equivalency).  They are both a bit larger (the shorter zoom about an inch deeper and the longer zoom about two inches) and heavier than the 55mm in the comparison images above, but the camera stays well-balanced in the hand and sets up easily on a tripod without drifting or creeping out of position.  All the basic controls fall easily to hand as you work, and (like the 5D MkIII) the Pentax has a locking button that keeps the primary mode selecting dial from freely moving - the lack of that lock is one of my few but repeating frustrations with the 5D MkII, as I have too often found that camera changing itself from aperture priority to manual or some other setting as I pull it out of a carry bag.

Raw files from the Pentax are large - most running between 65 and 80 megs.  I’ve gone to a 32-gig SanDisk Extreme SD card, and the 645D projects getting 355 shots on the card when freshly formatted.  I’m also experimenting with an EyeFi 8-gig card in the second slot, set for JPEGs, and the image project for that card is 999 (which I interpret as meaning “over 1000”).  My goal is to be able to pull JPEGs off the camera wirelessly in the field and move them to my iPhone for posting or iPad for quick viewing.  We’ll see how well that works over the next few weeks.

I haven’t been caught in any serious rain so far, just a light sprinkle or two, and the Pentax has shown no sign of distress.  The sensor-shake seems effective, as I have noticed no unexplained dust spots on my images.  Start-up from cold is quick and wake from sleep has almost no delay.  All in all, very accommodating in the field.

Part 2 - The Camera


Moving from 35mm to medium format suggests a significant jump in camera size, but that doesn’t work out in practice with the 645D.  The basic specs show that the 645D has almost the same dimensions in two planes as my current 5D MkII:

          •645D - 6.1 x 4.6 x 4.7 in

          •5D MkII - 6.0 x 4.5 x 3.0 in.

Virtually the same height and width, but deeper front to back by over an inch and a half.  Most of that is swing space for the larger mirror, but it does change the overall shape of the cameras.  With with a compact prime lens on each body (55mm 2.8 for the Pentax on the left, and 50mm 1.8 for the Canon), the Pentax + lens is about 2-1/2 inches deeper than the Canon + lens. While the vertical and horizontal dimensions are virtually the same, the Pentax is a bit “fuller” across the top plate.

But things are a bit more complicated in real life. I shot my 5D MkII with a battery grip and an L-plate attached, since I wanted to be able to flip over from landscape to portrait orientation quickly without having to re-set my tripod, and to have controls in place when I did.  Comparing the 645D with the 5D MkII and the accessories I actually used (grip, L-plate, and quick-release plates on both cameras), the overall volume of the two cameras comes out very close.


It’s a similar story on camera weight.  Basic body weights (no battery in either) come in at 49.4 oz for the Pentax and 28.6 oz for the Canon - a difference of 20.8 oz or 1.2 pounds.  But add batteries, grip, L-plate, quick-releases, and the 50/55mm lenses, and the story changes:

• 645D: with battery and 2 SD cards, 55mm 2.8 lens, and 2 QR plates - 73.1 oz.

• 5D II: with a CF card, battery grip and 2 batteries, L-plate, and 50mm 1.8 lens - 63.7 oz.

The “in the field” difference is down to 9.4 ounces - just over a half pound.

No doubt about it, the Pentax is heavier.  But there are two other factors that don’t show in the specs.  The first is balance: the 645’s squarer footprint results in a camera that is more balanced front-to-back (with a lens attached) than the Canon. For me, that reduces a good part of the strain of holding a camera. The second is a design element: the finger grip on the Pentax is materially deeper than that of the Canon.  The fingers of your right hand can wrap completely around the grip, with the tips tucked quite a ways into the body.  The result is a more secure hand-hold, and (at least with my larger hands) I find that offsets the effect of the weight at well.

Part 1 - Introduction

I’ve been a digital Canon shooter for the last nine years, working with a 10D, a 1Ds, and (for the last 3-1/2) years, a 5D MkII, with Canon film cameras going back way before that.  I was among the many eagerly awaiting the announcement of the 5D MkIII, but I was disappointed that the improvements (useful though they definitely are for some photographers) just didn’t speak to me.

As you know, I like to shoot and print large landscape images.  As a result, I am always on the lookout for more and better pixels - I really want to bring back as much information in each shot as I possibly can!  So, after playing with a friend’s new 5D MkIII and being generally impressed (improved autofocus, high ISO...), I was left unsatisfied by Canon’s decision to stay at 22 megs resolution on a 35mm chip. 

So I decided to look at going to a medium format camera system to get the next step up in image size and quality. (The Nikon D800 was intriguing, but I’ve never been a big Nikon fan, there was still no availability at the end of March., and I would still be cramming more pixels into a 35mm imaging chip.)

We have a Mamiya 645 Pro body and several lenses, but it was the last film body in that series which cannot take a digital back.  So moving into medium format digital via a recycle of that camera was a closed path.

I spent a good bit of time researching my camera and digital back alternatives.  While having a detachable back would provide a potential future upgrade path, I just was not comfortable taking a back-and-body combo into the field with the rain, snow, cold, and dust that I encounter doing landscape work.

I liked the idea behind the unitized Mamiya ZD, which was a compact medium-format camera, first announced in 2004. Rather than taking the form of a digital body-plus-back solution, it was all built into one unit, much like a 35mm camera. This camera used Mamiya 645 lenses and had a resolution of 22 megs.  But it was actually released in 2006, and by today had become outdated in features and performance, with an ISO range of only 50—400, a very small LCD screen on the back, and no effective increase in resolution.  I decided it was just not a good trade off, even at the prices being quoted for clean used examples.

An integrated medium format digital I could buy new would be the Leica S2.  That is a 37.5  meg camera, with weather sealing and a contemporary 3-inch LCD - but $23K for just the body was a painful idea. Looking at the non-integrated body-back options, to get into a ~40 meg combo was going to cost at least $15,000 - and would still have the concern about field work.

And then I started looking at the Pentax 645D.  This (like the ZD and S2) is an integrated camera/imager package, and like the ZD had a long gestation period. Pentax first announced the camera in 2005 but didn’t actually release it (in the Japanese domestic market only) until 2010. We finally got US distribution at the beginning of 2011.

Pentax describes the 645D as the first medium format camera to be equipped with a sensor dust removal system and full weather seals.  It’s based on a 40 meg, 44mm X 33mm Kodak CCD sensor, in a magnesium-steel alloy frame and die cast aluminum chassis. Its LCD panels are protected by tempered glass plates.  Clearly, this is a camera you can take into the woods!

I really liked the combination of practical features (such as dual slot SD/SDHC memory card storage compatible with EyeFi, and an extra tripod mount for portrait orientation without the need for an external L-bracket) and price:$9,995.

At the beginning of April, 2012, I took the plunge and bought a 645D.  This diary will follow my initial experiences with the camera, and share my discoveries (and thoughts) about this new tool.

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