Earlier this week, Ricoh Imaging introduced the Pentax 645Z, a high resolution 51.4 MP medium format DSLR camera. While Nikon has been relatively quiet on the resolution front with its now 2+ years old 36 MP D800/D800E models and Canon has not stepped up above 24 MP, Pentax is stepping in with a larger sensor that provides super high resolution 51.4 MP images. With its 43.8 x 32.8mm size sensor, the 645Z has a smaller version of the medium format (MF) sensor that is similar in size to the Leica S-System, although with a different aspect ratio of 4:3 vs 3:2. Compared to full-frame sensors, the physical size of the 645Z MF sensor is about 166% (or 1.66 times) larger, which is a huge difference. Enough of a difference to allow for relatively large pixel size of 5.3 microns – bigger than 4.8 microns on the Nikon D800/D800E. Why does this matter, you might ask? Well, that’s because the Pentax 645Z comes with a CMOS sensor, which is similar technology as we see on all modern DSLR cameras. Compared to traditional CCD sensors used on medium format cameras, a CMOS sensor is capable of yielding images with very little noise at high ISO sensitivity levels. As a result, the Pentax 645Z has an ISO sensitivity range of 100 to 204,800, which is a mind-boggling number for a medium format camera.
With its 51.4 MP CMOS sensor, the Pentax 645Z captures images at 8256 x 6192 resolution. Since Pentax is now using a Sony sensor, we can expect it to produce exceptionally beautiful images with very high dynamic range and superb colors. If the pixel-level quality of the 645Z is superior to the D800/D800E (and it should be, given the larger pixel size), the extra resolution will create more down-sampling opportunities to yield clean images with lots of detail even beyond ISO 6400. I won’t be surprised if the Pentax 645Z steals the “low-light” crown from the Nikon Df at DXOMark.com when it is tested. In fact, other CMOS MF sensors from Phase One and Hasselblad will probably rub against each other in such tests, since the sensor technology is pretty similar. At the same time, I am not sure if DXOMark will hit a ceiling with its test procedures on such a high-resolution sensor, since their methodology to down-sample to 8 MP images might skew results badly.
The most exciting part about this announcement is the price – compared to the previous generation Pentax 645D that cost $10K MSRP, the price of the 645Z has been lowered to $8,500. And with the introduction of this new camera, the 645D was offered for around $6,500 in March, before the announcement. With medium format prices constantly pushing downwards, it is pretty clear that Pentax wants their 645-series cameras to serve as “a bridge” to medium format for pros and enthusiasts shooting with full-frame DSLRs. Compared to the very expensive PhaseOne and Hasselblad offerings that start at $27.5K, the 645Z is certainly a bargain.
If you have shot with medium format film or digital before, you know that these things are not designed to be small. With its body dimensions of 156 x 117 x 123mm, the 645Z is significantly larger than a full-frame DSLR. Its box-like body comes with a lot of different controls and even has two separate tripod mounts – one on the bottom and one on the side for vertical / portrait orientation shooting.
The autofocus system on the 645Z has been significantly improved compared to 645D, with a total of 27 focus points, compared to just 11 on the 645D. This is no sports or wildlife camera, so do not expect the AF system of the 645Z to be anywhere as good as on something like the Nikon D4s. Medium format cameras are built to be slow and the 3 fps continuous shooting speed reflects that. That’s expected, given the size of the sensor and the amount of data that is processed on medium format cameras.
Here is the official press release:
DENVER, CO, April 9, 2014 – It is not often that a camera can be referred to as a game-changer. One that can provide photographers with the tools that not only enrich their craft but are capable of producing images so distinct they are easily set apart from the competition. Today, Ricoh Imaging Americas Corporation is pleased to announce the game-changing PENTAX 645Z medium-format DSLR, thus altering the landscape of professional photography.
Developed on the multi-award-winning legacy of the PENTAX 645D and the historic PENTAX 645 film cameras, the PENTAX 645Z improves upon one of the most lauded cameras in the company’s 95 year history. Featuring an amazing 51.4 megapixels on a high-performance CMOS image sensor, the PENTAX 645Z assures super-high-resolution images with a stunningly realistic sense of depth combined with vivid colors and rich shadow detail. The resulting images feature a uniquely distinct look and an unmistakable brilliance that clearly differentiate professional photographers to their clients. The thoughtful inclusion of a CMOS image sensor enables live view on a tiltable LCD panel while also making the 645Z the first and only camera in the medium-format category to offer video recording capabilities, resulting in footage that captures amazingly lifelike reproductions with tangible depth and incredible dynamic range.
“Our diverse lineup of DSLRs enables us to offer professional tools like the 645Z at a price point within reach of many photographers,” said Jim Malcolm, Executive Vice President, Ricoh Imaging. “Today’s photographers are looking to differentiate their craft and the 645Z offers the perfect option as an exceptional medium-format camera that does not sacrifice in quality or specification, with affordability.”
The new PENTAX 645Z has also received several significant enhancements including an improved and highly responsive shooting experience that can capture an incredible three frames per second—a significant benefit when compared to other medium-format cameras featuring CMOS sensors and an equivalent resolution—with a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second. The 645Z is equipped with an amazing top ISO of 204,800 for images with exceptional quality, even in situations with very low light or pushing for higher shutter speeds in all lighting conditions, providing the photographer with totally new creative options far beyond the scope of existing medium-format photography. Additionally, the 645Z is compatible with the recently introduced FLU Card, providing remote operation of the 645Z including the ability to release the shutter, view a live-view, and browse and download the images recorded on the card using a wireless connection to a smartphone, tablet, computer or any web browser enabled device.
Widening the 645Z’s already diverse applications for shooting is an articulated LCD with a 3.2-inch LCD monitor with approximately 1,037,000 dots, ensuring even the most agile photographer captures waist-level, high and low-angle images with precision and ease. Finally, the PENTAX 645Z features an incredibly sturdy and dependable body with a magnesium alloy frame and a diecast aluminum chassis, complemented by 76 weather-seals for a cold-resistant, weather-resistant and dustproof shooting experience.
In conjunction with the launch of the PENTAX 645Z, Ricoh Imaging is also excited to announce the availability of 13FA 645 lenses to support an even wider variety of optics providing the perfect system that spans numerous shooting scenarios.
Since the corporate headquarters of Ricoh Imaging USA is located right here in Denver, I reached out to them today and asked if they would be open to working together in the future. Hopefully I will hear back from them and get a review sample pretty soon, so stay tuned for more exciting coverage and comparisons!