The Pentax 645D
The Pentax 645D was announced in March for shipment worldwide in May, and finally made it to these shores (the U.S.A.) just recently. Its history has been plagued with starts and stops: its development was famously jettisoned only to be resuscitated when Pentax was purchased by Hoya. The timing turned out to be just right. Now, Pentax has another problem on its hands. It was expecting the 645D to be a prestige product, an image leader. It has been caught by surprise by the heavy demand, especially in emerging markets. Who expected this to be a viable product?
It's looking like it is. We haven't seen one yet, so my comments will be limited. But, according to early reports, none of the vagaries of its development seem to be mirrored in the camera itself. Pentax had a basic body design to build on that was both a well-conceived camera originally and also had been steadily developed and refined to create an exceptionally well-thought-out design. The addition of the large digital sensor (40MP, 44x33mm) breaks the bounds of "full frame" (24x36mm) to which larger cameramakers are currently constrained.
As such, the 645D has only scant competition: its direct competitor is only the S2 by Leica, another smaller maker with a long heritage, and the Pentax is less than half the S2's price. Each also competes with modular medium-format cameras with digital backs, but the 645D compares favorably there as well.
We have one medium-format camera review under way currently, and we hope to be able to use a 645D later this year to add our modest contribution to the collective impression. But even with direct experience pending, the verdict is clear: 2010 was the year the 645D got here. Here's to the future.
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Edd Fuller: "I think this is good news for Pentax users. Pentax's ability and willingness to compete with other camera makers has been questioned frequently in the past, often with dire predictions that Pentax users will eventually be left high and dry. I don't expect to be in the market for a 645D anytime soon, but I will continue to use Pentax as my primary platform. The success of the 645D makes me more comfortable that I can rely on the future of the Pentax system overall."
Featured Comment by MarkB: "Here's to the promise of dreams fulfilled! Dreams of ownership have now supplanted dreams of availability...."
Featured Comment by Harriet Rubin: "I value this site for its precision in writing and sensibility, particularly of the no-nonsense variety. So how can a camera you haven't reviewed and nobody or almost nobody has yet used be the camera of the year '2010.' I hope it isn't sponsor pressure. Shouldn't you wait until 2011 to add it to any list?"
Mike replies: "Camera of the Year" isn't a review. It doesn't say that the camera is "the best" or "the best of its class" or even "good." It's just an evaluation of significance. As Gordon says, if you were to name the Man or Woman of the Year, you wouldn't have to know the individual personally in order to make an intelligent choice.
I would of course never review a camera without having used it myself...normally, pretty extensively. When I reviewed cameras for magazines my standard was that I had to use a review camera for three months, using it for real work. That was a far stricter standard than most reviewers held themselves to, then or now.
Nowadays I'll review a camera without having used it extensively, but I'll always tell you what the extent of my experience with it actually is. If it's just my impressions from having handled it at a camera store, I'll say so. If I own the camera, you'll know. You can evaluate what I say accordingly.
In keeping with that, you're certainly free to ignore my "Camera of the Year" choice if you want to. (Or anything I say about anything, for that matter.) I have no objections at all.
Featured Comment by Zalman Stern: "I've shot with one and agree with the choice. The unexpectedness here is really the sum of the design decisions Pentax made. It isn't just one thing that makes the camera great, it is the whole package. The 645D is of course on the big side and handles like a medium format camera, so its audience is generally photographers who are used to those things. That said, the 645D is the only medium format digital that feels natural to someone used to 35mm DSLRs."