Since I wrote this post I have used the 645D for a wedding as second shooter by special request of the primary shooter and the groom. That post is here:
Now back to this post.
As stated in my review of this camera I finally managed to get my mitts on a medium format digital camera to review. Then a ramble-fest ensued.
But after living with the camera for a minute I was struck by… how normal and even practical it is. Clearly I have lost it this time. A medium format camera released in 2010 is normal…. practical?
Bear with me on this. Surely there are some odd hurdles to clear.
- No video.
- No live view.
- Slooooow to write to the SD card and fps (1).
But that is about it.
No video is fine for me. Not what I am looking for here. I came for the absurd.
- Medium format sensor.
Before I go on here are my comparison ground rules:
- Has to be “special”.
- Meant as a stills solution.
- Not meant to be a primary device.
- Can’t break the bank.
On the normal/practical side.
You read that right. Judged in isolation paying $2,000 for a years old camera sounds crazy at first. But after some time and thought it is not all that crazy compared to other options.
Current Full Frame Digital
I would never cross shop a new full frame camera, because medium format, but if one did have only one camera, The DSLR Canon 5DS R can best the MP count and price. But all fall down on the “special” side of things for me. As I have opined special is accessible with full frame also, but requires “special” glass (Personal opinion.).
This is where the difference lies for me. With full-frame I found myself pursuing faster and faster glass where the cost rises sharply if AF is on the table. But courtesy the larger image capturing surface area lenses of reasonable cost and mundane spec can produce that “special” look I am after. Many Pentax 645 lenses cost hundreds, not thousands. Two lenses (here and here) barely broke into the triple digits.
This lens thing is going to be a common theme.
Current Medium Format Digital
Same as above with an even larger native AF lens price gap.
645D Contemporary “Special” Full Frame
There is another full-frame camera I have looked at that came out around the same time as the Pentax 645D. The released in 2009 Leica M9. These go for at least $1,000 more than the 645D and many would not bat an eye at that price. As I always say money no object I would have one in a minute, but back here in Eric land I cannot ignore the comparison.
- A very different brand of special, but the 645D is special as well.
- 645D has AF.
- Neither have video so stills purists rejoice.
- Both have CCD sensors that some swear by whether myth or reality.
- Also why neither have Live View or Video due to the limitations of CCD sensors.
- 645D has two SD card slots.
- Again, the AF 645D lenses cost way less than Leica M glass.
There are two things I have always wanted to say. “I own a Leica” which I did (film M mount, film M mount, and digital but never a digital M) and great cameras all. Have also traded away all. The other thing I have wanted to utter is “I have a medium format digital camera”. Well, compared to…
645D Contemporary Medium Format Alternatives
It seems like the 645D is the least expensive point of entry even compared to older used medium format cameras if you are expecting it to come with a digital sensor.
Medium format is the target here. Like I said in the last post.
I am after the larger sensor look, not more MP. I have previously mentioned an Ellen DeGeneres joke from her stand-up days. She is at a hotel and asked room service for shampoo and they gave her lots of conditioner because they were out of shampoo. The punchline is when she says,
“You do understand that no matter how many bottles of conditioner you bring me, it does not make it shampoo.”
And the prices climb quite a bit, some into 5 digit territory. Worth it? I am sure. Would I pay those prices? No. And unlike the M mount digital bodies where I would splurge if I had it, I cannot say the same for some of the more expensive older medium format offerings. Personal preference.
Bonus Round: Medium Format Film Options
Courtesy the crazy times we find ourselves in the Pentax 645D is a relatively reasonable option price-wise compared to some film medium format cameras. While there are relative bargains to be had there are also many film medium format cameras that cost more body alone.
Ok, I will admit that was a lot of words and “normal” and “practical” may not have jumped out at anyone quite yet. So what am I on about? Welp.
- It is a big DSLR… period. Everything is where you would expect it. Viewfinder, large grip, top LCD, shutter button, dials. Set everything to green and anyone who has ever used any camera can take a shot with no instructions. If you wish it is the mother of all point and shoots.
- For those who wish to do more or all of the driving, it has a button or switch for just about anything you could want and all are intuitive to use.
- No odd or missing view finder.
- No one center focus point only stuff that some older medium format cameras provide, but an array of useful AF points.
- Two card slots.
- Solid AF and AE.
- Flash Support
- Takes all Pentax system flashes even on camera and remote third party flash support with TTL like the Godox/Flashpoint system.
- Includes an old school flash port as well.
- As solid as they are many older medium format digital cameras are modular requiring separate body, viewfinder, and digital backs and quite large. I would not make use of this interchangeability so I prefer the more compact all of one 645D design.
- Weather Sealing
- Were I so inclined I could take the 645D out in bad weather assuming I picked up a WR rated lens just like near any other Pentax DSLR. A nice option to have.
That is a long-winded way of saying that this is an easy camera to use that is capable of great results.
In that last post I spent a good chunk of time comparing it’s film predecessor, the 645N.
Given the lineage this makes sense on paper. But in actual use this camera has more in common with the Pentax K-1.
For example I brought the 645D with today while running errands with my wife. My strap recommendation is to utterly ignore the strap lugs on the shoulders of the camera. I cannot imagine carrying this camera this way given its ample snoot and weight. Instead I use the much appreciated side tripod mount and a Black Rapid strap shoulder sling.
Carrying the camera this way all day would be no issue. Here are the shots.
Medium format digital cameras are often seen as exotic and unattainable, but here is one that is as straightforward in use as a DSLR. Well done Pentax.
Why not a 645Z if the 645D is so great?
Personal preference. It is a great camera also, but:
- I do not need the extra 10MP.
- Myth or not I kind of like that the D has a CCD sensor.
- Would not make use of the video.
- While I admit a tilt screen and Live View could be nice I rarely use either with the K-1 so I do not miss it.
- A 645Z with as low of a shot count and as clean as the 645D I have would have cost significantly more.
- Lastly the least spec required to meet my needs is kind of a thing with me and it applies with the 645D.
All that being said I end this pretty much where I did last time.
Is this a reasonable choice, really?
Am I saying this is a must-get and no other solution will match it?
If you are not afflicted with a medium format obsession flee now while you have a chance. There are plenty of great full-frame and crop digital cameras on the market.
But if you are looking for the lowest price entry point to medium format digital stills photography the 645D will more than do just fine. It is a joy to use and is capable of creating some great images. There are sacrifices to be made, but that is true of all cameras. If you can make peace with those sacrifices you will have a stellar image capturing device in your hands.
Below are the samples photos from the first post…
…along with a link to an ongoing gallery.