Monday, June 26, 2006

Anticipating the Pentax 645D

Ever since a prototype was first displayed at the Photo Imaging Expo 2005, and then again at the 2006 PMA, it's not only been 645 fans who've been eager to see what Pentax will finally unveil before the end of this year. Plenty of people are anticipating the 645D to be the first affordable prosumer 18MP camera, and to be priced well below the top of the line Canon and Nikon cameras, as well as the other notable medium format alternative DSLR, Mamiya's ZD, which is over $7,000 US. In fact, it's quite possible the 645D will be priced in the same range as its predecessor, the 645NII, which retailed below $2500 US, perhaps making it one of the best megapixel values on the market, period. It's expected to be announced this fall.

Photo from Pentax.co.jp, 2006.

The Pentax 645 was notably one of the most durable and SLR-like of all medium format cameras, with TTL auto-flash, a leaf shutter, and 7 exposure modes, making it quite popular not only in studios, but with photographers looking for a medium format camera good for handheld shots without a tripod (eg. landscape, wedding, and portraits). The first 645 was released 22 years ago in 1984, followed in 1997 by the 645N, the first ever autofocus medium format camera, and then the more refined 645NII, which was finally discontinued this year. The 645 refers to the 6 x 4.5cm aspect ratio that the camera masks each shot on 120 or 220 film, allowing for wider shots per standard 120 roll compared to the typical 6 x 6cm Hasselblad format, or Pentax's largest, 6 x 7cm.

It wasn't until an announcement by Kodak, in March of 2005, that it was obvious how seriously Pentax was pursuing a digital 645D. The KAF-18000CE sensor designed by Kodak for a 6 x 4.5cm format (2.7 times larger than the 35mm format), with 18.6 million pixels, was introduced as part of a group of chips specifically designed with aspect ratios to replace standard medium format film. Pentax was said to be the primary party interested in the 645 chip, which Kodak says has a "dual-output architecture that enables faster sensor read-out times, allowing camera designers to achieve increased frame rates in their final camera designs." This is still likely to be the sensor Pentax will use, even though their other consumer cameras may be migrating to Samsung sensors.

Top: From digitalcamerainfo.com, the PMA 2006 prototype. Below: from dc.watch.impress.co.jp, the PIE 2005 prototype.

From the photos of the most recent prototype, it looks like the released model is going to be very close in size and interface to the aluminum body of the 645NII, only noticeably missing the top right dial for shutterspeed, which is now a digital command dial function. Although there is no confirmation, it looks like there are the following attributes:

- Program, AV, TV, Manual, Bulb, and X Sync modes
- capable of 1/4000s shutter speed
- Auto-Exposure Lock button, EV+- button, and AF button
- on the front there is a mirror lock-up switch (like the 645NII)
- electronic cable switch ports and flash sync terminals
- IR connectivity to remotes
- built-in diopter

Interestingly, there is one switch near the top rear of the camera for continuous to single autofocus, and another for wide to spot metering. Also on top, there appears to be a row of contol buttons on either side of the top of the viewfinder, for enabling manual focus on the right and what appears to be burst modes, frame resolution +- (to reduce MP on the fly), and flash synch on the left. And like the *ist D, there are two command dials, one in the front under the shutter trigger and another behind at thumb level.

It's unclear from current reports whether the 645D will use Compact Flash or SD memory cards, or whether it will include Pentax's Shake Reduction (which was only announced in May of this year), or even whether it will ultimately be capable of the same ISO range as the *ist and digital K DSLRs. Also, no one knows just how fast the autofocus works.

It will however be backwards compatible with every 645 lens ever released by Pentax (with obvious limitations on non-AF lenses), which puts the camera readily in the hands of current 645 users, or anyone looking to save some money by buying used lenses. All in all, it looks like an important camera for Pentax.

Links: Pentax 645D (Tentative Announcement), Pentax Digital 645 Prototype: A First Look, Photo Imaging Expo 2005 Pictures, Kodak 18MP Sensor

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"it's quite possible the 645D will be priced in the same range as its predecessor, the 645NII, which retailed below $2500"

Where did you come up with that? The most optimistic reports I've seen speculate in the $7k range. Well, we can only dream.

Anonymous said...

The 645d has just been announced....http://www.camera-pentax.jp/new/

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