Pentaz 645Z – The Medium Format Monster

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Pentaz 645Z – The Medium Format Monster
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Photo: 3 Guys & A Pentax 645Z (L-R: Editor AL, Editor Chester Chen & Guest Reviewer Vince Tan.

*Disclaimer: All illustrated photos were not edited and straight out of the Pentax 645Z. Except the behind-the-scenes photos that was edited and shot with something else.

18th August 2014, Singapore – We are probably really late to review this. Since its launch in April 2014, reviews had sprung up everywhere on the net and we thought we will never ever get to review this as what we were initially told. Then about 2 weeks ago, we received a surprise call from the local distributor APD that they have a Pentax 645Z for us. Without thinking, we flew down to their office and collected the Pentax 645Z & 2 other lenses.

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Photo: AL with the Pentax 645Z

The Pentax 645Z is a 51.4 megapixel medium-format camera. It has a CMOS sensor and surprisingly, no low pass filter. The large sensor offers an imaging area that is (about) 1.7x larger than a regular full-frame sensor (35mm). The Pentax 645Z has a ISO range of 100-204,800, 27 AF sensor points (with 25 more cross-types), a new Prime III processor, an insane 86,000 pixel metering sensor and it is built as a “dust & splash proof” camera.
Personally, I like the high resolution (tilt screen) 3.2″ LCD monitor. The 645Z has an OVF with 98% coverage, a (decent for MF) 3 fps shooting speed, dual SD memory card slots, and it is capable of 4K videos too.

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Photo by AL: Tropical Flowers, GBTB East, Singapore.

When we say Medium Format, many photographers will think that the camera will be large, bulky and heavy. Contrary to what most believes, the Pentax 645Z is actually much smaller and lighter than you imagined to be. It weights just a little over 1.5kg with battery.
Made with magnesium alloy & die-cast aluminum, the 645Z has 76 rubber seals to keep out dust, cold and water. The 645Z has a top shutter speed of 1/4000 and indestructible 100,000 shutter release life-span. Surprisingly, the 645Z is easy to use – even to non-Pentax DSLR users. Most of the shooting functions has assigned buttons and one can easily find all the button on the body.

Handling wise, the design of the 645Z allows the user to hold the camera comfortably with its thick grip that is made with a grippy rubber compound. The weight distribution seems to skew more towards the rear end of the camera but I guess this is to counter the weight of the lens. Medium format lenses are much larger and heavier than its 35mm counterparts.

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Photo by AL: Tropical Flowers, GBTB East, Singapore.

I had decided to invite Chester Chen, an award-winning photographer as well as our sub Editor along for the review. I had also invited Vince Tan, a semi-pro photographer as our guest Reviewer for the Pentax 645Z and we ended up as “3 Men & a Pentax” – pun intended.

Before we carry on, as usual, I would like to disclaim ourselves that we are NOT a technical review site which goes into the details. We are only keen on what this camera can do for us and the type of images it can produce. If you need more specifications, please visit here.

OK, for now, let’s see what the boys have to say about the Pentax 645Z.

– ED AL

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Pentax 645Z – by Chester Chen
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Photo: Chester Chen with the Pentax 645Z

Pentax was the camera I grew up as I elected to take a photography credit in Secondary School. The school used Pentax K1000’s. The K1000 is a tank and simple to operate yet hardy enough to take knocks and that was something school equipment had to handle.

The Pentax 645z is also built like a tank and yes it weighs in like a tank. At over 1.5-kilograms for the body only that would tip the scale against a full frame like the Canon 5DMk3 at 950-grams. The difference in weight is noticeable and would put off most users as a system to be carrying and using outdoors for landscaping or street shooting. If your work demanded the insane amount of pixels for commercial work then you really have no choice.

Okay, so you know the camera is big but it does handle well as it feels balanced enough with a lens attached and you could hang it on a shoulder with a strap. Button placement labeling is clear enough but I felt not as intuitive as you’d find on a Canon or Nikon and there’s quite a few buttons and switches.

One function I kept looking for and felt like banging my head, even after figuring it out, was switching to Manual Focusing. Usually the lens has a switch to enable or disable Auto Focusing. That switch is usually on the lens or sometimes a lever on the body. In some instances it is a menu option. I don’t usually read a manual so before you tell me I should have RTFM these things should be intuitive enough that it smacks you in the face when you need to figure it out. So, how do you engage Manual Focusing on the Pentax 645z? The switch is actually the focusing ring. There is a label that states Auto Focusing. If you slide the focusing ring back you go into Manual Focusing mode and no longer see the Auto Focusing Text as the sliding motion of the AF ring covers it. This means no full-time manual focusing is available when AF is enabled.

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Photo by Chester Chen: Curved Staircases, Bugis Village, Singapore.

I found the Autofocusing (AF) to be fairly loud and there appeared to be quite a difference in focusing speed and locking focusing when in LiveView versus Viewfinder. The former took longer and often had difficulty hunting. Choosing the AF Mode was straightforward and I liked the fact that there was a ‘quick’ menu option to get at commonly used settings. Very similar to Canon’s Quick Menu.

I was able to shoot with two lenses, the 45-85mm zoom and the 150mm prime. The zoom is big and I think quite capable to shoot most things except close-up as the minimum focus distance is quite long. I didn’t go pixel peeping but when working with the files I found it to be sharp. I didn’t measure the sharpness in the corners or the edges. I leave those specific numbers to the technical review sites. My stitched panoramas turned out very sharp and detailed and it would do that if the lens wasn’t good.

That brings me to the file size and working with the files. The 645z can save files in a variety of formats and each will have their unique advantage. JPEG is of course supported. There are two raw formats – DNG and PEF, the later being Pentax’s file format. The last raw as it gets file format the camera can record in is TIF. There are two panoramas I shot with the 645z. One of the city skyline overlooking Chinatown and that was 8 shots in portrait orientation. The other is the Chinese Garden pagodas made up of 5 shots in portrait. First, if you plan to do any more than 8-shots for a panorama you better have at least 16GB of RAM, a fast SSD and at minimum a Quad Core processor. I have an i7 Extreme but my motherboard is limited to 12GB and my system crawled with 8 raw files. I eventually gave up and stitched the JPEG and even then it was slow. You can see the result is very detailed.

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Panoramic Photo by Chester Chen: City Skyline overlooking Chinatown, Singapore

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Panoramic Photo by Chester Chen: Chinese Garden Twin Pagodas, Singapore

I tried shooting some long exposure landscape and that turned out ok except the weather and light was not ideal. In any event, the details rendered by the 51-megapixels for just a single shot is incredible. Just take a look at the shot of Marina Bay Sands and the Gardens By The Bay.
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Photo by Chester Chen: Gardens by the Bay against Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.

Handling the camera to shoot moving targets was easy enough but getting off enough shots as you panned was the limiting factor. Check out the foldie-bicyclist panning shot. A little walkabout that day gave the opportunity to shoot some portraits as there was a CosPlay event. The sheer resolution can make portraiture downright scary because there is so many pixels that every nook, wrinkle, blackhead or blemish can be seen.

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Photo by Chester Chen: Panning a Cyclist.

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Photo by Chester Chen: Cosplayer Portrait.

The 150mm f/2.8 is great for shooting portraiture. It is really bokeh-licious just take a look at my shot of Yoda and the two guys singing. The latter was shot at ISO1600 and came out quite okay. I actually had to blow out the background because the stage didn’t have any light on the singer’s faces. So, with enough dynamic range and headroom I was able to pushup 3 stops yet not blow out the background.

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Photo by Chester Chen: Yoda.

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Photo by Chester Chen: Musicians Singing.

Here’s a few more things worth mentioning. I won’t say they are good or bad as it all depends on your own perspective.

The battery life meter tends to drop to a warning level quite steeply. You may be happily shooting at you are at what looks like 75-percent (3 bars) but then suddenly the meter drops to 1 bar. I can be a bit worrisome if you are out in the field.

The Liveview LCD appears to over-saturate the playback of files.

With only a tilting (back and front) Liveview LCD it is difficult to change the orientation of the shot without looking with a crooked neck. It is nice though that the camera has two tripod socket screws so you can mount two tripod adapters. This makes changing from landscape to portrait mode a breeze.

The 645z has a Focus Peaking mode, why I am not quite sure. It could be for shooting video, which by the way, this medium format beast of a device supports.

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Photo by Chester Chen: Park Path, GBTB East, Singapore.

There does not appear to be a way to totally disable the Long Exposure noise reduction so if I shot a 300-second exposure I would have to sit and wait through a 300-second dark frame and noise reduction.

The raw file types can be confusing and they are huge. If you record to .TIF files your SD Card better be very fast to write because it needs to write a 150-Megabyte file.

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Photo by Chester Chen: Jap Bike on Display, Marina Barrage, Singapore.

I am surprised that after so long Pentax couldn’t mash a wifi antenna system into the the body so you didn’t have to depend on the likes of Eye-Fi or the Flu Card.

You can record 1080p video footage. Not sure how useful that is given just how bulky the 645z is. You’d be better off with a dslr or aps-c camera.

– Chester Chen

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Pentax 645Z – by Vince Tan
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Photo: Vince Tan with the Pentax 645Z

As a DSLR user, I was thrilled when the Editor AL invited me out to try the Pentax 645Z. I had never touched a digital Medium Format camera before and this is my first time – not only touching it but also get to use it. First and foremost, the 645Z is not anywhere light when compared to my DSLR, however, weight is not everything when image quality is concerned. The bulk of the weight is probably contributed by the solid alloy body and the lens’ weight.

As a photographer who are used to another brand, operating the Pentax 645Z is not difficult at all. I managed to locate all the functions that I need easily and I think it is a great idea to have most of the functions in individual buttons all on the camera exterior. This means there is no need to fumble into the menu and the endless sub menus to find what I need.

IMGP9661Photo by Vince Tan: Canoes by the Sand path, Pandan Reservoir, Singapore.

I was issued the 645Z with the 45-85mm zoom lens which was really heavy and huge. But these discomforts slowly disappears after I started shooting. Every details captured within an image blown me away. And I really mean every details here. Do click on the photos here and view it in 100%, you will understand what I meant.
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Photo by Vince Tan: Canoe Launch Berth, Pandan Reservoir, Singapore.

The other thing I like about the 645Z is the colors it renders. Rich and not overly saturated (when camera is set to neutral for all color settings), this will be great if the photographer need to do custom adjustments later at the post process stage.

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Photo by Vince Tan: Pandan Reservoir, Singapore.

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Photo by Vince Tan: Pandan Reservoir, Singapore.

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Photo by Vince Tan: Pandan Reservoir, Singapore.

I am a man of few words so I will just let the photos do the talking. The Pentax 645Z is a fine camera that far exceeds what I usually do. According to the Editor AL, this camera is a Studio Portrait King or a Landscape Monster, although I cannot agree or disagree due to my interest in other photography genres, I would like to conclude that the Pentax 645Z is a serious camera for professional photographers. I am not sure how much is this camera selling but I am sure it will not be any where near to cheap.

– Vince Tan

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Thanks to Audio & Photo Distributor (APD) for giving us the opportunity to handle, experience and explore the Digital Medium Format capabilities with the Pentax 645z.
– From AL, Chester & Vince (Ourshutterjourney.com)

Some BTS photos here;
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About APDS (Exclusive Distributor for Singapore)

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Audio & Photo Distributor (Far East) Pte. Ltd. formerly known as MHE Consumer (S) Pte. Ltd was founded in 1973.

Since its inception Audio & Photo has had been the distributor of many well-known international consumer brands such as Konica cameras from Japan, Kenwood and Nakamachi hi-fi products from Japan, and Metz flash and accessories, Rollei cameras and Jos Schneider enlarging/professional lenses from Germany, to name a few.

Currently Audio & Photo Distributor is the sole distributor of Pentax & Ricoh cameras from Japan . With over 35 years of marketing experience and history, Audio & Photo has developed a strong network of dealers located islandwide in Singapore with whom it enjoys close rapport and support.

Audio & Photo Distributor (FE) Pte Ltd bides by its belief that it exists because of the customer, and therefore it will always strive to serve the needs of its customers with full dedication and commitment.

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About Editor AL

About The Web Editor: http://about.me/shutterjourney
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