I have been using the Pentax 645D for over 4 years, and it has proven to be the most reliable all weather camera out of any system I own. It has accompanied me in snow, ice, rain and hot desert climates without skipping a beat. While it’s a heavy and slow camera compared to smaller formats, the resulting image quality never disappoints.
The Achilles heel of the 645D however, was it’s somewhat unreliable auto focusing system, which without live view required me to fire off multiple shots to make sure I had one image with proper focus. Critical focus is a must on high resolution cameras, without it the resolution advantages quickly disappear.
The 2014 released Pentax 645Z promised to fix a lot of the minor issues that were present in the 645D. Pentax/Ricoh included live view and vastly improved high ISO performance courtesy of the new Sony sensor – the same sensor that is used in the Phase one IQ 250 and the Hasselblad H5D-50c.
I was debating for a long time if I should upgrade to the Pentax 645Z given the modest upgrade in resolution (40mp to 51mp), but having seen some samples of the high ISO performance of the new sensor, as well as the lack of anything exciting being announced in recent months (including the new Canon 5DS), I decided to stick with the Pentax system due to it’s reliability, solid design, and my prior investment in multiple Pentax lenses.
My 645Z arrived the day before easter weekend, giving me 3 days to shoot with the camera and get a few initial thoughts.
As with the 645D, the new 645Z body does not try to be a fashion item or designer gadget disguised as a camera. Every function that is needed for actual picture taking is front and centre, while all the “fun” features are hidden deep within the menus, most of them turned off by default. The camera can actually be used through thick gloves in old weather due to it’s deep and comfortable grip.
The first thing that struck me about the sensor was it’s high ISO performance. Images shot at 6400iso are clean enough for big prints, even a few shots I tried at 12,800iso are remarkably good and usable for smaller reproductions.
The live view is great, and unlike my Sony A7R, remembers the last zoom state when it’s re activated. Many little details like this, present on both the 645Z and the 645D before it, show clearly that photographers still have a say in designing cameras at Pentax. Another welcome addition is the articulated screen. It will certainly get a lot of use especially on low angle images off a tripod.
From what I can tell, the battery life is noticeably shorter than on the 645D. Most of this I assume is due to the live view and my more frequent use of the back screen.
The files from the 645Z are remarkable and have a lot of dynamic range. More important than dynamic range (for me), is the fact that the files are not compressed like the Sony A7R files. This quickly becomes apparent when manipulating colours. None of the banding or bizarre posterization effects in lower tones seem to exist in the resulting DNG files. While I still love my A7R system for lightweight travel, I had to discard ruined images in the past from the lossy compression Sony imposes on it’s raw files.
Below are some additional sample shots from this weekend. I will try to post more comments about this camera as I’m getting more aquatinted with the differences it has compared to the 645D.