Pentax 645D Hands On Review

Thanks to David at Camera Craft Inc. in Rockford Illinois, I was allowed to get some shooting time with Pentax’s 645D medium format camera.

Here is a 40 second video clip of the camera in action (youtube link):

I’m going to go over the camera in bullet points because there are a lot of small things I noticed.

Body and usage:
– The camera is of course big, but manageable with one hand. The grip portion is offset forward making it easy to hold.
– Coming from a K-7 or K-5 you will feel right at home. Everything about the body construction to button placement and menu system, it all has the familiarity of the K-7 and K-5 camera bodies. It even uses the same batteries.
– The menu interface seems like a mixture between the K-7 and K-5. I didn’t notice multiple user modes, but maybe that was or will be added in a firmware update.
– Useful buttons and switches everywhere. This makes setting changes a snap.
– Auto focus type and point selection use dials instead of switches like the K-7 and K-5. I like the dials a lot more because they are easy to turn and select the correct setting. The metering selector has similar placement to the K-7 and K-5, but has an extra ridge to make it easier to change.
– The settings LCD screen is tilted downward and big, making it a lot more useful than the ones on 35mm bodies.
– Full auto mode on the main setting dial and built-in flash don’t exist. I wish they would give a professional level 35mm DSLR the same treatment. I think the flash should be replaced with an internal RF wireless system as I mentioned in a previous article. I never use that full-auto mode on the 35mm cameras because it forces JPEG formatted files.
– The viewfinder is big and vivid. If only 35mm APS-C cameras could somehow have a large viewfinder like that…
– The auto-focus appears to be fast and accurate.
– The auto-focus grouping is small and in the center of the frame. While it has 11 points, it is almost like having center point auto-focus. I used center-point with recomposition most of the time because I didn’t see a reason to select one of the others like I do with my current camera bodies.
– The 55mm f2.8 lens feels very similar to the DA* lineup, but not exactly the same. The focus ring felt smooth but looser than say my DA* 55mm. The ring also had different grip and focus texturing. It has an AF/MF switch like the DA* line.

Image result aspects:
– Razor thin depth of field. That’s both a blessing and a curse. I was shooting in MTF (f4) most of the time and the area of perceived sharpness is really thin. I’d really love that ability for people/convention photography. Considering that MF means diffraction is less of an issue and assuming the lens is strong at small apertures, this isn’t an issue I can see coming up for most settings.
– The dynamic range seems big. Skies were always properly exposed, which was great and I didn’t even have highlight correction on.
– As expected, green foliage is no problem for the 645D. With that wide angle lens coming out it would be an amazing landscape setup.
– ISO 1600 doesn’t look too bad. It could clean up nicely with a decent noise reduction plug-in for Photoshop or similar. I don’t think I took any photos at ISO 100, but 200 seems clean enough.
– Seeing sharp text on signs from a good distance away is really impressive.
– The D-FA 55mm f2.8 SDM AW seems like a pretty strong lens. Very low chromatic aberrations and high detail considering how large of a sensor it has to cover. The focus was a bit slow, but I guess it needs to be with such thin depth of field in many cases. I don’t know how the old lenses fair, but I’m surprised more of the 645D owners don’t buy one of these to go with their body. If you are going to spend $10,000 on a camera body, you should fork over an additional $2000 to get a weather resistant quiet focusing lens with low aberration to go along with that new body.

I had full-resolution files on Flickr, but I’m no longer able to pay for their Pro service (link removed).

I did post processing of some of the images and uploaded them here so you can see what some extra digital pizazz can do (resulting images are 640px in the largest dimension):

So the big question is, would I ever be interested in something like this? Sure, if I had $12,000 of discretionary spending money to drop on camera equipment. Putting things into perspective, I could see valid uses for such a beast and considering other big purchases like cars are easily justifiable if there is a suitable need. If I somehow became a national or world-renowned photographer with compensation to match, I’d put in an order for two! Although, using a tool like that almost seems a little unfair to anyone in the same market. 🙂

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