One of the most famous of vaporware products is vaporware no more. Originally announced in 2005, then again in 2007—failing to materialize on both occasions—the Pentax 645D is about to become a reality in Japan.
The MSRP will initially be ¥850,000, which is currently less than $10k. The BJP is reporting that there are no plans to export the camera to other markets.
Based on the venerable Pentax 645, which was first a manual-focus and then an AF film camera, the 645D has a 40-megapixel Kodak-made CCD sensor that is 33x44 millimeters in size, or 1.7X what is called "full-frame" (i.e., 35mm film size), which allows for a still-generous 6 micron pixel pitch. Like most medium-format digital cameras and backs, the sensor will reportedly be optimized for extended dynamic range rather than high ISOs, and will have no anti-aliasing filters (the Leica M9's trick for increasing image sharpness).
The camera is weatherproof, and so is the initial offering in the new Pentax-D FA 645 lens line, a 55mm ƒ/2.8. This is the equivalent on the new format of Pentax's justly famous 43mm Limited lens on a 35mm. The newly-designed lens pulls out all the stops—it's a 9-element aspherical, with ultrasonic, internal focusing, and Pentax says, "all lens characteristics are optimized for digital photography." That means, among other things, that the rear elements will be coated like the front ones, a crucial modification for best performance with digital sensors, which reflect considerably more light back at the lens than film does.
The lensmount is called the 645 AF2 bayonet mount, which will accept 645AF2 (the new 55mm), 645AF (all older autofocus lenses for the 645N and 645NII), and 645A (wayback manual-focus) lenses.
I personally haven't used a Pentax 645 since the "N" version of the AF camera came out, but I found that one to be ergonomically a honey, with very sensible and intuitive control configurations and a satisfyingly grippy shape.
A few more high points from the press release (which I assume you're capable of reading for yourself if you're interested): 14-bit A/D conversion; dual card slots (it takes SD/SDHC cards); tempered glass protecting both viewing screens; a newly-designed 11-point AF system; an ISO-priority exposure mode; 77-segment multi-pattern metering; and a 98% finder with a huge –3.5 to +2 diopter correction range.
There's going to be a special website, but it's mostly still under construction and I assume it will be in Japanese.
Despite the Digital 645's longtime Lucy-with-the-football tease, this might well be the best time for this camera to come along. It would have been too primitive in 2005, and too expensive in 2007. It even makes sense—well, a little sense—for it to be Japan-only, since "645" (shouldn't it be called 3344?) was always much more popular in Japan than it was in the rest of the world even in the days of film, and the film versions always sold much better in the home market than anywhere else.
Anyway, it's probably a good thing for me they're not bringing this to the States. If they ever do, tie me to the mast, boys, tie me to the mast.
Featured Comment by David: "'No burned highlights,' they coo. 'Look deep into the shadows,' they purr. The sirens are calling. Calling. Calling."
Featured Comment by Ned Bunnell, President of Pentax USA: "The 645D will initially be available only in Japan. Right now, we have no firm plans to bring this camera to the U.S. However, we are evaluating the type of sales and support program that would be required to ensure the 645D’s success in our market."
Featured Comment by Cateto/Jose: "Yesterday I did a quick search to compare the price of the new Pentax 645D to other peers in a similar league. Thus I found a recent comparison of medium format cameras, posted by The Luminous Landscape. Then I payed special attention to their 'Pricing' paragraph. Based on that information, and also after visiting some online photography stores, here you have a quick price comparison:
Hasselblad H4D (60 MP): $42,000
Phase One DF + P65 back (60 MP) + 80mm lens: $42,000
Leica S2 (37.5 MP) + 35 mm lens: $28,300
Pentax 645D (40 MP) + 55 mm lens: $10,500
Of course this is a very rough comparison, and the respective qualities/capabilities of each model are quite different. But going to the core reason to jump onto medium format (i.e., huge increase in resolution compared to full format), it seems that the 645D is starting its career at a very advantageous position. To oversimplify things, you can buy four 645D for the price of one Hasselblad H4D or one PhaseOne DF, or three 645D for the price of a Leica S2.
My budget will never reach those levels, but if I seriously considered that range of products, I think the conclusion is quite clear.
Featured Comment by Lindy: "Here's a link from the CP+ Show in Japan showing a see-through 645D and a cutaway 645D."