Long term experiences: the Pentax 645Z, six months in

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Morning paper, Chicago

Buying into any camera system is a big deal – not just because of the financial investment involved, but because you’re probably going to have to make a decision on what to buy based on conjecture rather than any actual first hand experience. Whilst some of the luckier people may be able to test drive a system, sadly most camera companies don’t really offer this. It doesn’t help either if the camera you want to try isn’t something particularly easy to get hold of our mainstream. There’s only so much you can determine from a quick fiddle at a camera store, assuming a physical one even exists near you anymore. And that brings us to the purpose of this report – there was a lot of interest in the 645Z at launch, but I’ve been made to understand that locally at least, sales haven’t quite been the runaway success one would expect for a camera that’s a quarter to a third the price of the competition. Think of this as a continuation of my initial three part review, here, here and here.

I can say for sure that it isn’t because the sensor isn’t up to snuff; the more I use the 645Z, the more I’m convinced it has possibly the best sensor in any camera available today. I’m now about 7,000 frames and six months into my experience with the Pentax system, and still mostly running it in parallel with my Nikon. I’ve used it under almost all of the conditions under which I initially planned to deploy it, and probably a few more. I think that’s probably enough to form a solid opinion about what works, what doesn’t, and anything I wish I’d known going in.

Without question, the sensor remains the best part of the whole package. There are few situations in which you run out of dynamic range, or are unable to accurately reproduce colour. In fact, the Pentax implementation of processing behind the sensor is equally impressive – in particular, auto white balance is seldom wrong – I cannot say I’ve seen this level of accuracy amongst any of my other cameras. Most of the higher sensitivity ranges are very usable, too; I’ve got my high ISO limit set to 25600 for handheld work. One thing I’ve noticed is that because of the native tonal response curve, the camera seems to be about 1/2-2/3 stops less sensitive than you might think; the highlights are still off similar brightness, but the shadows and midtones are a little denser – no doubt this was a conscious decision by the engineers to mimic a more natural film curve and try to dial our some of the native linearity of the sensor.

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Home of the Golden Arches

A few months back, I had the opportunity to compare it directly against the Phase One IQ250* and found precious little difference in the way of image quality. If anything, the Pentax files were easier to work with as the required less colour adjustment and did not exhibit anywhere near as much moire. Operationally, I’d say things are a matter of personal taste, but the Pentax body felt a bit more robust and ‘survivable’. I preferred the balance of the Phase One though – the grip is further forwards, and this puts less torque on your wrist, especially with heavy lenses.

*Unfortunately I am not able to share the test images as the subject matter is highly sensitive to my client, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

We did know upfront that higher shutter speeds would be required for critical sharpness – a joint product of the camera’s higher resolution and the physically larger masses moving around inside the mirror box – but it seems 1/3-4x is the minimum for consistent sharpness. Either that or I’ve got shaky hands. This off course shrinks the [shooting envelope] somewhat – remember also that medium format lenses tend to be a stop slower than their 35mm counterparts – but in practice? I find the 645Z able to keep up with the D810.

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Untitled stoplight

On the flip side, if you really do set up for optimum image quality – base ISO, mirror lockup, solid tripod and head – then the results are something else. You land up with a file that’s not just very detailed, but contains an enormous amount of tonal latitude, too. 14 bit files be dammed – I honestly cannot see any difference to the 16 bit cameras I’ve used, which is perhaps a reflection of the last two bits not really being fully filled. Though I thought the purpose of the 645Z initially would be to increase the quality of my handheld documentary work, it turns out that this camera is really most at home on a tripod. Just don’t cheap out on that part of your kit, though. After quite a bit of testing, I was surprised just how much difference there was between even what I’d considered a decent travel tripod and a really good one. (It’s also very possible that I just needed something with more weight; every purge camera system I’ve used up to now, including the Hasselblad – was lighter.)

If you do a lot of long exposure work, this is really the camera for you. Aside from having dedicated bulb and time modes, it doesn’t require and dark frame noise reduction until you hit the 4-5 minute mark most of the time; and when it does, there’s a countdown timer that let’s you know exactly how long is left. The results are very clean indeed, with little tonal pollution and good sharpness (support caveats aside). As far as practical operation goes, a high resolution live view mode and automatic mirror lockup with self timer makes life very easy. Even better, you can always setup one of the U1-3 positions on the mode dial for this purpose.

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So far, so good, it seems – I’ll be the first person to admit that nothing’s perfect. Here we get to the list of things that could really use improvement. Firstly, it’s a minor cosmetic thing, but the paint finish could really be a bit tougher. Mine has managed to rub and wear in positions like the corners, showing bright spots even with extremely careful handling. Secondly, again a minor issue, but you have to be very square on to the viewfinder in order for the center of the frame not to experience blackout – this can be tricky if shooting from odd angles or if you wear glasses. I suspect it’s a consequence of the finder design itself not being the same as traditional DSLRs. That said, I shot with a Contax 645 not long ago, and despite that having a larger recorded area – 55mm wide vs 44mm – the viewfinder was noticeably smaller and darker.

However, I think the elephant in the room remains in the lens selection: I’ve done no flash or studio work with the 645Z because that wasn’t what I bought it for; a lot of photographers looking at the camera will probably be holding back because of the slow flash sync due to a lack of leaf shutter lenses. Some rumors report that Pentax is working on some new ones, but you can almost be certain that they won’t be cheap, and it may be too little, too late – sensor development moves on relentlessly. Though there are a couple of fully compatible legacy leaf shutter lenses available from the 645 and 6×7 systems, they’re extremely rare and limited in focal length.

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Milky way

I also have a more prosaic lens-related problem – weight. If you carry a selection of three or four, you’re also going to have to be on very good terms with your chiropractor. I’m now starting to think a two lens kit – three at most, with a light manual focus prime as one of them to cover your least used range – is the way to go for stamina. And the all-metal, made in Japan A- series manual focus lenses are seriously worth a look for this reason – there are some gems out there. Just beware sample variation, as usual. Even though they might have come out of the factory perfect, all it takes is a little drop or knock somewhere in the last twenty years to change that alignment for the worse.

Bottom line: if the current lens lineup has a solution for you, and you don’t need flash, you’ll be a very happy camper. I’ve been working mostly with the 55/2.8 SDM, the 35/3.5 A and 150/3.5 A – this is a very light solution that delivers excellent image quality with minimal weight penalty. It proved itself again during the last Venice Masterclass.

I’m going to finish with some thoughts on printability, and a speculation on why the camera isn’t experiencing the same kind of success as the other medium format offerings. Let’s just say that I’ve never been disappointed with any of the output from the 645Z: the physical output, especially through our [Ultraprint] process, is nothing short of spectacular. I’ve made a couple of 300+MP stitches that are absolutely retina-searing and feel utterly real because of their size. Even smaller prints have a pop that’s usually missing from most smaller format captures (the D810/ Otus combination is a notable exception) thanks to much better depth of field management; you *do* actually need that slight separation in order to create the effect of three dimensions and depth – simply because this is also the way our eyes natively perceive the world.

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Reflection, interrupted

But why, then, are there so few of these cameras in the wild? Certainly they are not cheap, but no more expensive than a Leica – and in some cases, cheaper; especially the lenses. They’re not that much more than the single digit Nikons or Canons; and you won’t be buying that many lenses, so total system cost is similar too. I put it down to a few factors: perceived cost; perceiced weight, the ‘intimidation factor’ associated with medium format, and a lack of any physical hardware to try. That’s for the people migrating from smaller systems. For the legacy MF shooters, it’s system again: either the lenses don’t meet their needs, or they’ve got everything they need already – so even though a new body might be 3x the cost, it still lands up being similar in price to a switch – and then there’s the familiarity issue to consider. What Pentax really needs to do is get more cameras in the field and in the hands of potential customers; until then, people won’t know what they’re missing out on. For myself, at least, I think the future stays with a larger format. Once you’ve become addicted to those files, there’s no going back. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay the 645Z is the images themselves: the subject matter is diverse and shows the versatility and enormous shooting envelope of the camera. MT


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  1. Steve G says:

    Do you still use the 645Z at all, Ming?

  2. Charles Millen Photo says:

    Hi Ming,
    An excellent and thorough review as always, very informative and populated with great images. I am wondering what your thoughts would be on going for the 645z as an alternative to 4×5? At the moment I shoot predominantly Fuji Velvia 50 and 100 which is getting harder to source and also more expensive, not to mention the time it takes me to build up enough images to warrant a processing run. I shoot about 40-50 sheets and then I process at home so that I get the maximum usage out of the chemicals. The chemicals are quite hard to source in Australia and prices are also rising. I love the look I can get from Velvia and working with a view camera, but I also recognise that I have to scan the sheets and enter the digital realm for output. I am thinking that perhaps I should cut out the chemicals and the scanning and go straight digital? I have considered briefly the A7 which doesn’t really excite me due to lens availability and I am dubious on the build quality, support and convoluted menus and features. My other option is a D810 and some nice Zeiss primes, which wouldn’t be out of reach financially. If I went for the Pentax it would probably be with the 28-45mm f4.5 though I cannot find much in the way of reviews for that lens, any experience with it or thoughts on it Ming or anyone else here? I do prefer primes, though the wide zoom is probably quite useful and I’d say probably quite impressive in terms of performance. I am not afraid of a bit of bulk as my view camera, three lenses, film holders and light meter and the rest of the tools all weigh well above 645z, and I regularly hike with it. I think the 645z is reasonable in terms of cost, yet the Leica S, Hasselblad and Mamiya systems which I have considered are out of reach financially. I have a young growing family which I am sure you recognise takes financial priority!

    Your thoughts greatly appreciated Ming, cheers!

    • Thanks. I don’t think you’re going to be happy especially coming from 4×5 because the 645Z has no option for movements. I’d actually consider a smaller tech camera solution instead, like a Cambo Actus and either the current Hasselblad CFV-50C back or CFV-39 if you don’t mind working at ISO 50/100 only and want a slightly larger sensor. Note that the -50C has live view, which makes focusing a snap. Another alternative would be the Hasselblad Flexbody or Arcbody and the same backs, though they don’t rotate so portrait movements are basically impossible. If you’re feeling adventurous, a second hand Phase One P45 would be a good choice for the Flex- or Arc-bodies, too: cheapish, and has two sets of mounts so you can remove and remount in portrait orientation.

      • Charles Millen Photo says:

        Great, thanks Ming I will have a look at those systems mentioned. I guess another plus for the 645z is the weather sealing and ability to withstand some harsher conditions. I missed a shot only last week after spending an hour setting up due to sudden wet season evening rain! All part of the process though…

        • Umbrella and and bungee cords to stick it to your tripod 🙂

          The -50C is pretty good value now after the recent price drop; the only thing is you will be challenged to find a good wide-angle solution.

          • Charles Millen Photo says:

            If only I could afford an assistant! I guess I can recruit my son in a few years when he is tall enough…

  3. Hi Ming,

    As always, excellent mid-term follow-up to the other 3 parts.

    I recently bought a used 645Z + 45-85 f4.5 + 80-160 f4.5 to use along with D810 & D4 (70-200 & 600) for wildlife. Was shooting in Kenya and Zimbabwe for about 3 weeks recently. Almost always hand-held, shooting mostly in a FF DSLR style of shooting. The camera handled very well, producing sharp images, as long as I had reasonable shutter speeds. Obvious limitation was the crowded focus points. So mostly just did center point AF and reframing quickly (shooting slowly moving animals.)

    A friend was shooting with D810 + 24-70 + 70-200mm. I used 645Z for wide/wide-normal situations and compared to my friend’s D810 as we were shooting alongside. There’s a certain but very subtle “medium format feel” to 645Z (at least the way we find) – a bit of more separation/3D feel, nicer depth of field and tonal gradation – while viewing on a 15″ screen. But we didn’t find that difference pop-out as much as we had hoped for. Do you think when printed on large dimensions, the difference in the look & feel between 645Z and D810 show up more? The main purpose of getting the 645Z is to print large and have the obvious MF look & feel.

    Do you think getting prime lenses with wider apertures, such as 55 2.8 and shooting wide open would bring out more of the MF look and feel?

    Our thoughts are that if we don’t have that much MF feel, it may not be worth keeping the 645Z, esp for our my purposes. Please lemme know you thoughts.


    • I think you need to go back to figuring out exactly what ‘that MF feel’ is.

      Given the sensor sizes aren’t that different, I think you’re going to be looking at a) resolution and b) tonal differences. The reality is both aren’t going to be that different to a D810 assuming you’re getting every last bit of information out of the files, and in some circumstances, I find the D810 to actually have a more pleasing highlight rendition. On top of that, the lack of anything faster than f2.8 for the Pentax means you’ll also get more depth of field control out of the D810 and fast apochromatic primes with ‘abrupt’ DOF transition like the Zeiss Otuses.

      • senthilcumar says:

        Thanks a lot for the response, Ming. Yeah, have read your article on the MF feel. Your reviews and opinions are the ones we trust the most.

        Yeah, have been having the same “apprehension” that 645Z sensor of 33 x 44 is not that larger than D810’s, but guess, have been in denial and hoping for something different from 645Z 🙂

        One more q. – do you think that there’s any option for a full-frame MF to get that real MF feel, ideally digital?


        • Sure – if you’re willing to put up with effectively film limitations and stratospheric cost, there are the Hasselblads and Phase Ones that have sensors pretty close to full 645…

    • John Giolas says:

      I’ve owned both systems in question–and now primarily use the 645Z. And I think you ask a good question, one that i continue to struggle with as well, but for a different set of reasons. First, I think it’s difficult to define “MF feel,” and differentiate it from the look produced by FF sensors—at least in the way we did in the film days. There are two factors related to film cameras that don’t really play out analogously in the comparison you’re making. With film, more film real estate, all things equal, was always better. Always. Better tonality, better resolution, better grain structure (less), better everything. With digital, resolution is not really the salient factor between FF and MF, since Nikon, Canon, and Sony make full-frame bodies with pixel counts nearly as high or as high as medium format cameras. The size of the 645Z sensor is not nearly as large as was the film plane size in film medium format rigs. The difference between the sensor sizes of the D810 and 645Z is not as great as was true of the difference between the 6 X 4.5cm film camera and 35mm camera. The size difference in the film era really did create a totally different “look” that does not delineate so starkly in the digital era.

      So as Ming touches on, it comes down to how the two sensors render the image and lens choice. I agree with Ming’s point regarding the D810 treatment of the highlights. It does this better than any system I’ve used—including the 645Z. The D810’s ability to recover highlight information, and the way it renders highlight tonally is SOTA in my opinion. The 645Z’s sensor has other advantages, however. The way it renders shadow to midrange tone is noticeably more nuanced and analogue (film-like) than is true for the D810. And the 645Z has better performance at longer exposures and higher ISOs. It renders detail in a more that is more natural to my eye when compared to the D810, and there is slightly more detail to be had, although this last point should not be overstated. On the other hand, it is slightly easier to get natural colors with the D810, especially with the new camera profiles available in LR (never use Adobe’s default profile). At the end of the day, and with all the complex variables considered, I do slightly prefer the look of the 645Z’s sensor.

      But this leads to the second consideration: lens choice. There is really nothing as good in the Pentax lens lineup as the Zeiss Otus lenses. For that matter, there is really nothing in the Pentax world that compares to the Zeiss 135MM APO. With the advent of the new, much more affordable Milvus lenses, especially the 50 and 85 F/1.4s, there are even more lenses to choose from that simply have no equal in the Pentax world. Additionally, Pentax has no perspective control lenses. But this list consists entirely of manual-focus specialty lenses.. When it comes to auto-focus, the advantage generally turns to Pentax. There is nothing the Nikon lineup that can match the Pentax 90MM, or the new Pentax 28-45mm zoom, both of which are pretty stellar. Unfortunately, the newer Pentax 55MM is merely good. I’m also curious about the new (very affordable) Pentax 35MM, although this one seems to be an update of an older (very good) existing lens. And Pentax’s older lenses are mix of merely good to truly good. But, At the end of the day, the list of truly great glass for the Pentax is pretty short indeed. And, if auto-focus is important, then the argument would just as easily shift back to the D810 by adding the fantastic Sigma Art lineup into the mix. While not as good, in my opinion, as the Otus and perhaps even the newest Milvus lenses from Zeiss (especially again the 50 and 85), they are certainly better than anything Nikon makes, and at least in the same league as the two newest Pentax lenses. I speak from experience having owned the Zeiss Otii, as well as the 135APO, and Sigma lenses (I don’t have any first hand experience with the newest Milvus models, although I’ve owned most of the ZF.2 lenses upon which most the Milvus lens are based) And, as Ming points out, all these lenses are much faster than anything in the medium format world.

      I think for most photographers, it is this last variable regarding lens choice the swings argument pretty compellingly over to the Nikon side.

      • senthilcumar says:

        Hi John,

        Thanks a lot for the detailed response. As you and Ming have noted, on 645Z I had to be very careful with the highlights, to the point that I was even a bit underexposing. D810’s highlights are certainly better.

        In comparing the D810 to 645Z on similar images with similar FOV, shot at the same time (I was shooting 645Z and my friend besides me with D810), it does seem like there is slightly better tonality and separation (for lack of better term) on 645Z; and certainly even better finer details, which I guess is a direct result of better resolution. Zeiss lenses would be wonderful on D810, if only it had AF as I shoot mostly wildlife. Though, I like the Nikon 24-70mm, I feel that there’s something that can be better. I have seen a few wildlife images (on more static subjects) on MF film – they are absolutely wonderful on large prints. Thus my quest….

        I have never looked into Sigmas, as I considered them not quite to the mark. May be I should check out the new Art lenses, if there’s a zoom to replace Nikon 24-70mm. Another option I have is to replace the old Nikon 24-70mm with the VR version, but then I read that its not that improved aside from some improvement in the peripheral sharpness. In any case, these are not gonna solve the search for “MF feel” 🙂

        Overall, I definitely like the 645Z but the decision to keep it or not comes to other factors – I shoot wildlife and have to travel quite a bit for it. If 645Z gives clear advantages to D810 then I don’t mind carrying it along with D4, D810, 600mm, 70-200mm, 1.4x and Pentax lenses; essentially carrying 645Z and 45-85, 80-160mm, which is what I did on this trip, instead of Nikon 24-70mm; so more weight.

        Ah well, dilemma continues….

        Thanks again for the time; more thoughts are always welcome.


        • It is a difficult question. I have thought about purchasing a D810 again, and keeping the Pentax, but like Ming points out, this is not very practical from a financial POV.

          You should definitely look into the Art lenses from Sigma. All of them are very, very good, and significantly better than the equivalent Nikons in both image quality and build quality. Sigma does not have current Art competitor for your Nikon 24-70MM, but the new VR version is hard to fault, as you’ve experienced. Another Sigma lens you should look into is the 120-300mm F/2.8—also a really great optic. With the newest Sigmas, it’s definitely not like it once was where they offer cheaper but lower quality alternative to the Nikon lenses; these are lenses that are successfully designed to compete with Zeiss. While they don’t quite reach the level of the Otuses (Otii?), they are a quarter the price and auto-focus.

          • I’m impressed by the change in philosophy at Sigma in the last ten years or so – they’ve gone from making cheap alternatives to unique lenses that really have not much competition, and frankly, put the OEMs to shame in a lot of ways. I suspect if the Otii did not exist, we’d be looking at the Art series as the reference benchmark…

          • senthilcumar says:

            Thanks a lot, John and Ming for more ideas and thoughts. Looks like Sigma has come a long way; wow, even as a potential reference!

            In the past, I had decided no more Sigma and like lenses. As you have noted, unfortunately, there’s no Art lens eq for 24-70 f2.8. Just checked – the 24-105 f4 doesn’t seem to have a great reviews online. Actually, I haven’t tried the new Nikon 24-70mm but read a few reviews. Do you think this new Nikon is much better than the old one?

            Now that I have the P645Z, I’m thinking of using it for some more time and decide. As stated earlier, ‘m used to Nikon 24-70 & 70-200mm. Trying to find equivalents for 645Z, and with wider aperture for shallower DoF, what lenses would you suggest? FL 45, 90 and 200 mm? The 90mm is quite expensive

            • The 24-105 is variable, from what I understand and have seen personally. The new 24-70 VR is spectacular but also spectacularly huge and expensive. It’s also now fully electronic, so you can’t even use it on anything else with adaptors (if that is a consideration) because the aperture is electromagnetic and not lever-operated.

              645Z – I landed up with 35, 55 and 150.

            • I have the new 28-45mm F/4.5, the 55MM F/2.8, the 90MM F/2.8 Macro, the 120 F/4 Macro, and the 150MM F/2.8. The 28-45mm is an excellent wide-angle zoom, again exceeding any stock Nikon lens by a comfortable margin. I would argue that it is in the Leica S league. But it is very large and heavy—huge really. The 90MM F/2.8 is one of their best optics, competing well with the Zeiss and Leica offerings, but falling short of the Otii. Again, I would argue these two lenses are in the Leica S league. The 55 is also very good–better than Nikon but perhaps falling short of the Zess. The 120 Macro is excellent–very sharp. But it’s not really made for bokeh—its out-of-focus rendering is a bit rough. It is excellent in all other aspects, however. The 150 gives you a classic, long-tele portrait rendering with wonderful bokeh, but it is also really great stopped down. The 150 has some magic that makes it unique. The 120 and the 150 are in the classic range, as are the zooms you currently own, and so show their age to some extent. But they are good optics worth having, and are relatively inexpensive by Zeiss/Leica standards. The newer lenses from Pentax, especially the 28-45 and the 90mm are world-class by any measure. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Pentax just released an updated version of the well-respected 35MM, which I’m very curious about. If nothing else, it is very compact compared to the humungous 28-45. They’ve also weirdly priced it lower than the outgoing model.

              I should report that I just also repurchased a Nikon D810—took advantage of the $500 rebate on B&H. I also purchased the 50 and 85 Milvus (Milvii?), and the new Sigma 24-35MM F/2 zoom. Not to replace the Pentax, but as a backup. I’ll have a chance to do some further comparisons. Sadly, my accountant said “no” to any Otii this time around, but I am excited by what I’ve seen from Ming and Lloyd Chambers’ excellent reports on these two Milvus lenses. Also, I’m shooting more and more video, and I’m tired of renting…. The D810 is an excellent video camera.

              See sample of a 28-45 landscape I took here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/72150860@N08/21385751264/in/dateposted-public/

  4. ianimage says:

    Does anyone have experience using the 645Z with 67 lenses regarding image quality (compared to new AF models) and if so, which would you consider the best?
    I have tried 45, 55, 100 macro, and 300 ED (Pentax 67) and am impressed, but had only one day, so little chance to capture anything for use as a yardstick regarding resolution, sharpness and color rendering…

    • The 645 lenses – especially the new ones – are much better. I would only use the 67 lenses if you need the leaf shutter.

  5. I own the Pentax 645Z, Mamiya and Leaf Credo 50 digital back (CMOS), and the D810, and have used all three extensively, so I will add a few words to your excellent review. First, Ming, you are right about the incredible image quality of the Pentax and its fantastic build quality. It is an amazing camera, especially for the price, and I intend to keep mine. But unfortunately, it did not fit all my needs and I still went out and got the Mamiya Credo system. Some of the reasons you touched upon, but these also stand out:

    1) 1/125 low synch speed for flash and lack of any auto focus leaf shutter lenses. I shoot mostly fashion and work much of the time in studio. 1/125 is simply not fast enough to capture any real motion at all. Even Canons and Nikons have 1/200-250, which is much better than 1/125. The Mamiya can go to 1/1600. If you are shooting static subjects, then 1/125 is great, but anything with motion usually requires higher speeds. This is a real issue for fashion photographers, who make up a big portion of the medium format market. The Pentax will have trouble in this market because of this limitation.

    2) Lack of Capture One software support. This is not Pentax’s fault, but it is still a big problem for many photographers, especially in fashion and among existing medium format owners. Capture One is the amazing program, especially for tethering. We have organised much of our workflow with Capture One, so the lack of support make the Pentax images harder to integrate and work with. A vast number of pros in fashion and commercial shoots use Capture One, will make it harder to get into that market. Again, not Pentax’s fault, but it is reality nonetheless.

    3) Limited tethering options. The Pentax tethering was not available for some time, and to my knowledge the first version worked with ipads only. This related to the Capture One problem – so many people use Capture One for tethering and rely on it. This is also a problem for Hasselblad, which is also not supported.

    4) Limited lens selection. The 55 mm is an amazing lens, but it has distortion for portraits and close-up work. In my view, would have been smarter to develop a new and decently priced 80 mm, which has been a standard for medium format shooters since it come close to a 50 mm, which is more versatile. The older 75 mm is not up to the same quality at all. The new 90 is appealing and probably has the quality but the price of over 4K puts the system in the range of Mamiya/Phase One/Hasselblad CCD sensor systems. If the price is the same, many people might go with the competition for the reasons listed above. I will say that the 120 F4 macro is a stellar lens. First rate. But 120mm is too long for most people as a standard lens. So, in my view, the Pentax lacks a standard focal length that does the sensor justice. I bought two legacy leaf shutter lenses, when you are shooting at super high speeds, manual focus becomes an issue – manual focus is not as reliable when there is lots of faced paced motion. So, the leaf shutter lenses while great, still have major limitations.

    5) Intergrated sensor vs digital back. There pros and cons to both, but when you spend this much money on a system, the nice thing about the digital back is that you know that you can upgrade backs and still keep the camera itself. It also means it there is a problem, you can replace the back, if need be, or vice versa without starting from scratch.

    6) Finally, this camera is rated at 100,000 acutation shutter count. This is not very high at all. Most competitors, including other medium format systems are rated much higher. The Pentax is a beast and built like a rock, so they may last longer, but it is a consideration.

    Despite the above remarks, I do not hesitate to state that this is an amazing camera and I love mine. it is important to recognise the limitations of it, that is all. For travel, landscape, architecture, some products, macro, night, and many other kinds of photography it is absolutely ideal You will not find better. However, for other things, especially fashion work in studio or tethered shooting or for those people who use Capture One, it has limitations.

    Ok. That is that

    • 1) It’s definitely NOT a studio camera, in my book. Its strength is when you want maximum image quality under uncontrolled/uncontrollable situations; landscape, documentary and fine art/still life come to mind.

      3) Hasselblad at least has support via LR and Phocus, though. Pentax has none. Again: it seems to be more of a filed camera.

      4) Agreed, but they at least have a roadmap. Unfortunately, most of the lenses on that map are all over 4k…

      5) Moot point when the integrated body/back option is one third the price of the equivalent Hassy or Phase…

      6) Nope, the 645D was rated at 50k…and they did start going pop at about 50k, judging by forum traffic. Partly relating to this is the lack of professional support: a busted shutter on a Nikon isn’t a big deal because of NPS, loaners, and a next day (sometimes even several hour) turnaround. On a Pentax – in Malaysia and I suspect a lot of the world – you’re SOL until your body comes back from Japan in three weeks. Again: at least they’re cheap enough that you could feasibly buy two if you were going in for a Hassy or Phase…

      • Thanks for replies. One thing I did not make clear in my comments above is that the Pentax 645Z is absolutely fantastic for travel and in this sense also perfect for landscapes, documentary, and uncontrolled situations, as you state. The astounding ISO also makes it perfect for such applications, as well as build quality and weather proofing. And the price, while not cheap, makes it much easier to feel fine about throwing in a rucksack or simple padded bag, whereas I would not treat the Mamiya 50 or Phase One as roughly, due to the much higher price and the potential issues of the digital back.

        I should also state that in 9 months of using the Pentax 645Z, I have never once had a single issue or problem with it. It has worked perfectly every time, in all kinds of circumstances. The Mamiya Credo and Phase One systems, while stronger in other areas, are finicky and there is often some kind of issue on a shoot at some point or another that requires a reboot or re-doing of tethering connections, etc.

        So, in conclusion, I would say that the Pentax 645Z is a different kind of tool, and for its own applications and uses, it seems absolutely unsurpassed, especially at the price. My original comments were more to explain what it cannot do and to speculate why it is has not made a huge inroad in the medium format market, which I suspect is, to a large degree, made of studio photographers who need higher flash synch speeds, tethering, Capture One, and a wider selection of lenses.

        But it is remarkable, and I use mine all the time and will definitely keep it!

        • J. Giolas says:

          I have to disagree with both Dylan and Ming on the merits of the 645Z as studio camera. To say the Pentax is “definitely not a studio camera” is too absolute. Yes, if fast shutter sync-speeds are a priority, then the Pentax doesn’t make sense. I am a studio photographer, shooting products, architecture, and portraits, and I use the 645Z as my main rig. I also use it to do environmental product shots and environmental portraits, and here, the Pentax works stunningly well, too. When working with strobes in a dark studio environment, where the flash durations are far shorter than 1/1600, the shutter speed is not a factor for freezing motion. Period. Unless there is a great deal of ambient light, such as there is when using strobes outdoors, the subject would indeed be frozen by the short duration of the strobe–even at 1/125. With strobes in a darkened studio, the shutter speed is well nigh irrelevant. The only time leaf shutters (with which I’ve shot and have owned) become an advantage are in those situations where you have high ambient light, such as shooting outdoors, and where motion is a BIG factor.

          I should also say Pentax’s newish tethered software for the 645Z is more robust, simple, more reliable, and easier to use than Nikon’s finicky and crash-prone Nikon Capture or View programs, which consistently gave me grief and caused down-time on my shoots–over many years and several iterations. It links up effortlessly with Lightroom. I also have to say my results in the studio with the Pentax have been absolutely stunning. I never need faster sync speeds for the work I do, which is indeed true for the vast majority of studio shooters, so indeed, from my experience and POV, the Pentax is perfect for that type of work.

          Most people think they need leaf shutters and fast sync speeds, but at the end of the day, when using strobes properly in a darkened studio, sync speed is simply not a relevant factor.

          • Ming – thanks so much for your thorough reviews. Always a pleasure.

            Was actually wondering what J Giolas studio situation entailed. I use PocketWizard Mini TT1 (canon) with AC3 and am wondering if will work on the 645z. PW says it should work theoretically but I’ve experienced weird sync issues when working with other cameras other than canon where sync speed seems to work fine and then it gets out of sync — sometimes I can’t achieve flash sync unless I’m at 1/60 or less (was testing using an a7s). Anyway, wanted to be able to use the 645z for potraiture in studio without finding a new triggering situation.

            Thanks all.

            • No idea, sorry. I don’t use/own PWs…

              • J. Giolas says:

                I use a Pocket Wizard Transceiver Plus II (one generation old) with a pre-Air Profoto D4 generator, both of which work very, very well with the 645Z (as well as the Nikon D810, my backup rig). I also use the Profoto Air controller, controlling D1 Monos and a ProB4 1000 battery generator (wonderful, that), with both the Nikon and the Pentax, with sync speeds up to 1/250 on the Nikon and 1/125 on the Pentax. I also use the Elinchrom radio trigger, with the BRX Monos and the Ranger battery generator on some location shoots. In my experience, the Pocket Wizard, the Elinchrom, and the Profoto Air radio controllers all work consistently at any sync speed when used with either the Pentax or the Nikon. I would say the Profoto Air system is much nicer to use and is utterly reliable when compared to the other two.

                Unfortunately, I don’t know firsthand if the Mini TT1 is compatible with the 645Z, but have read that there some sync speed issues above 1/80 with this combination. See the Pentaz forum thread here: http://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/48-pentax-medium-format/283810-pentax-645z-minitt1-flextt5-pocket-wizard-troubleshooting.html

                See screen shot here of recent photoshoot with the Pentax in the studio where the sync speed was 1/125: https://www.dropbox.com/s/rbyjsym5bgmt91c/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-19%20at%206.11.30%20PM.png?dl=0

                • Thanks guys for the quick responses. J. really appreciate the insight. Great work, btw. Hoping to pull the trigger here. Do yo speak. Thanks again to both of you.

  6. Hello!
    You say the shooting enveloppe is big. Is the AF performance is enough to photograph moving people for fashion show for example?
    The high isos are so clean I wonder if the 645z could be used to shoot concerts. Is it part if his shooting enveloppe?

  7. JNSuojanen says:

    A few thoughts. I held the Pentax and it was big, bulky and heavy. The mirror slap was less than a digital Hasselblad, but still substantial. I’m certain in the right hands (like yours Ming) with enormous tripods and tripod heads that the 645Z files can make wonderful prints. Though realize that at standard print sizes at normal viewing distances, the human eye cannot perceive any difference between a 50 MP file printed at whatever resolution and a 24 MP file printed at 300 dpi (and even smaller files and/or less density for 95+% of the population); just not physiologically possible. Close up with a loupe, however, the difference may be obvious. Just like with modern fighter jets, the photographic technology far exceeds human capabilities. I think the Pentax hasn’t taken off because most photographers sense this overkill situation.

    I spend all day looking at 512 x 512 images on huge monitors (CAT scans, MRI’s and ultrasounds). Regular X-rays demand more resolution – about 2400 x 1800 pixels. Millions of research hours and billions of dollars were invested to find the resolutions required for the human brain to see what it needed and what pleased the eye. Hence 4k video. So for those of us who choose to not print above 20″ x 30″, current 16-24 Mp cameras are really all we need. We can pack lighter and smaller, realizing that the potentially larger photocells in full frame or medium format sensors may yield more latitude in exposure and adjustment in the VERY limited dynamic range of prints. [as an aside, the photocells in the 24mp Nikon D750 sensor are larger than those in the 645Z’s, so they should provide a better dynamic range/ less noise, a la the theory and practice in the Sony a7S. All that resolution does come at a price].

    Nonetheless, when Sony or Mamiya release their mirrorless MF cameras, getting rid of those huge mirror boxes from the 645Z and the Hasselblads, I will sell my Leica M to buy one. I just want MP to burn!

    • You may not have seen any difference because of your printer hardware. I can assure you that the difference is obvious at a foot or so (and there’s evidence here. Another reason may be a lack of shot discipline. At these sizes/ resolutions, it really becomes a question of output medium…

    • I don’t think 4k was the result of R&D to figure out what we needed to see and what pleases the eye. The Japanese are already demoing 8k systems. Cynically, one can say they’re engineering the next transport system so they can resell us the same content, but upsampled to a higher resolution. Same thing’s been happening for decades in digital audio. Optimistically, you could say that what we have isn’t sufficient yet.

      From my own experience, I recently got a 36 MP camera, and I was doubtful at first not knowing what I’d use all of that resolution for in my everyday shooting. But what I saw surprised me: I got an increase in smoothness of tonality, and now that I see what I can get, I don’t want to go back again. Can I tell in a blind test between my E-M1’s files and the D810’s? I’m pretty sure that I can and have in an open comparison, even printing at 300 DPI on a letter-sized print on my Canon Pro-10.

      But more exciting are the artistic possibilities that increased technical capabilities open up. A D810 and a Zeiss 55 Otus lets me cleanly record huge brightness ranges, so I can place a tiny dark subject against a blown out background and see only minimal edge fringing. There are other examples, but I don’t think before the cameras and lenses we have today, we could create images in-camera that we’d have to resort to multiple exposures and extreme post-processing manipulation in the past.

  8. Awesome photos Ming, Thanks!

    Question, do you have any comparative photos you took for this page against say Nikon or other cameras to show how much better is the DR with the Pentax?

    I would love to see how the second photo here would stack up when taken with an E-M1, D810, or GR.

    • I don’t shoot the same image twice with different cameras, but I’ve used them under a wide enough range of situations to be confident of the differences…

  9. The MP war is constantly raising in the full frame dslr market. Rumors pointing to canon making a camera with 50mp, D810 with 36mp. I think they need to start thinking in some way of making this new high mp camera to be more handholdable. Maybe the solution is in camera stabilization, like the OMD`s and the new A7 II. I wonder if it would be possible to implement this in medium format too…

  10. One of the problems I have with Pentax is there PRO support or lack of it. I am currently a Nikon and Hasselblad H4d user and for either company they have reps that respond to questions or loaner gear through NPS. I have been trying for over two months for someone from Pentax/Ricoh to get back to me so I might be able to try the 645Z and decide whether to sell the Hasselblad and go to Pentax. Frankly, after zero responses to their company with phone calls and emails, I have gotten no return calls. Disappointing. Not sure if you make a living with a camera you could put up with that type of lack of customer service. I doubt you would want to. Nikon, Leica and Hasselblad are all very responsive to the professional market, so why take the chance

  11. Spelling error: “I put it down to a few factors: perceived cost; perceiced weight,…”

  12. Hello Ming !
    As you are talking about tripods, could you tell what tripod you suggest (+ Ballhead) to use with a Leica M system ?
    Moreover what is your percentage of pictures taken on a tripod ? That would be interesting to know 🙂
    Thank you,

  13. As an enthusiast, the cost is still a factor (as is my own lack of ability and printer hardware to generate anything like an ultraprint), but so is the prospect of a mirrorless MF system. There’s kind of a window here for a an all new consumer-level system to spring up, even if they only launch with 3 lenses like sony’s FE did, they’ll be well positioned. For a landscape shooter who shoots a lot of live-view and wants to carry their camera all the time, ditching that giant mirrorbox would be a distinct advantage with little loss. The constant whisperings of an impending sony or fuji MF system do a lot to keep me away from a 645Z.

    • It’ll happen eventually; the question is when and how much. As usual, the camera companies are probably just dribbling out iterations to get more money…

  14. I think you’re wrong about how it’s selling. This is a low volume item, so in ‘relative’ terms I would say it’s an extremely hot seller. B&H is currently sold out! I’ve seen more of Z’s in the wild than S2s, Hasselblad H5D-50cs, or Phase cameras. Wedding and portrait people love this camera. I think studio people who needed the leaf system of Hasselblad or Phase LS lenses don’t understand the camera, but it’s really not currently targeting that market. This is your field day-in-day-out camera. The Pentax will be better suited than even a Phase in the rain, snow, even hanging on a rapid strap. I don’t know why people try to compare them like they’re the same! They’re not. I hope to own one some day!

    • Because they do much the same thing and are aimed at much the same market. The people I know who’ve got them also considered Hassy and Phase, as did I. I also said they were selling poorly in the local market, which is true (no idea about overseas; I’ve only ever seen two in the wild other than my own – which is not the same of Hassy and P1.)

    • FYI, B&H has the 645Z in stock as of tonight.

  15. John bresnen says:

    Really enjoy your columns and pictures Ming. I just read your comparison of the cool pix A and the Ricoh gr. I have read elsewhere
    That the Jpegs on the GR are not so good…..Have read nothing about the cool pix JPEG quality. One other thought. I’m almost
    80 and just starting to shoot in manual..I bought an Olympus 35 RC. Back in 1972. I always used it in auto though it worked in manual.
    It is a beautiful little camera and I took maybe 200 pictures with it. They all looked great. Probably would have been better in manual.
    Once again, many thanks for your mail. Really enjoy them. I get 25 or 30 emails a day and almost all are trashed. Best to you.
    John B.

  16. Ron Scubadiver says:

    MF digital is nothing like MF film in terms of the breath of its appeal. A camera like the D810 is already so good and there is no shortage of glass. Then again, MF digital appears to be a fit for your style, Ming.

  17. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Something I notice in comparing the medium format cameras I’ve explored, including this Pentax, with full frame is that I don’t see the equivalent fast lenses below 100mm or even 150mm on the medium formats. For example, one of my favorite AF lenses I’ve shot on full frame is the Sigma 35/1.4 Art. There is not a 50/2 (or 55/2) lens to compete if I moved up to this Pentax to shoot the artistic shots I enjoy. Sure, even your shot of the red truck at the intersection is beautiful and that’s largely because of the huge dynamic range from the medium format, so there are certainly shots that benefit greatly from the larger sensor, etc. But for now my GAS is under control with just full frame and fast primes (e.g., the Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.2 II).

  18. “remember also that medium format lenses tend to be a stop slower than their 35mm counterparts”

    Why is that actually? Are they just to difficult to manufacture? Or would the DoF just be too shallow?

    • Bigger image circle = more glass = more weight + more cost. And most MF lenses are leaf shutter driven; there’s a limit to the size of those mechanisms.

  19. Wonderful read Ming! Stunning photos. Have you settled on a tripod for it?

    • Yes, the RRS 24L and Arca-Swiss Cube. Unfortunately, the Gito 1542T/P0 combination just isn’t rigid enough anymore. MF cameras require MF tripods… 😦

  20. “and a lack of any physical hardware to try”: Agree. Pentax ought to make it very easy to get a loaner.
    Also there are quite a few shops that do not carry it (at least the ones I buy from usually).
    I wonder what the yearly production run is?

    I wish Pentax every success – now they just need to put that sensor into a GR-XXL 😉


  21. For readers with GAS attack, here’s a hilarious and equally honest (short-term) review that shows what happens if you expect the camera to automatically improve your art: http://www.dpreview.com/articles/0121577106/medium-well-done-two-takes-on-the-pentax-645z

    Thanks again Ming! There is something primal in us that responds to reviews of top-notch technology. Have you considered getting a second car? 😉

    • It might improve your art, if you’re willing to live with it for a while and let it show you just where you’re weak…but you’ll have to work for it.

      Second car? Hah! Not likely in this economy and certainly not as a photographer, unless you’re interested in an old banger or a 800cc local econobox hatch…

  22. Solid article Ming. Thanks a lot.

    Each and any article you write about the experince and usage of gear, what it brings to the table, the price of the dinner and the pleasure having spent a jolly good time with it, it brings me closer and closer to find the sweet spot where enough is enough.

    I had the luck watching you using the 645Z both at the work shops in London and Venice. I’ve seen the resulting files and I’ve seen part of your stiched Ultraprints based on the Z files I’ve come to the conclusion it is hard to explain the realism one is confronted with, and if something looks like nature shows itself to us, this is it. I would claim it’s even better ‘in some sence’ because the image freezes the second in a still which can be studied and enjoyed at several distances and at any moment you want. Nature isn’t willing to stop up for you in this way. Well apples and pears perhaps, it is another story.

    Having hold your 645Z camera in hand I was supriced it actually wasn’t heavier than it was. The size indicates a heavier load in your hands and arms than it actually feels and I thought at the moment .. even I could shoot this fellow. Modern lightweight materials works for us in this case. I also noticed how logic the levers and buttons are laid out. They are placed where you expect them to be. The grip feels just right. So the general feeling is, this is pretty much the same like shooting a D4S or similar pro FF DSLR.
    It seems also here the similarities stops. The shooting decipline one have to practice in order to ustilize its inherent resolving power is one I’d never be able to implement the way I want to shoot. My previous thoughts aquiring such a camera, thanks God never released a buy. I would not be able to utilize this kind of resolution or for that sake printing standard lab DPI resulting in hilarious big prints where no wall in my place would show enough space for it.. Downsizing files seems to me a bit of an overkill after all.

    As a casual amateur that just love to slender around and shoot what I find interesting there are today alternatives that comes close to a 645Z re. IQ and it seems, however there’s just one camera and lens brand combination for now, to be the D810 and the OTUS lenses. That combination equals output quality to the Z as far as I can see on prints to a very large degree and I give the credits mainly to the ultra tarnsparent OTUS lenses (haven’t though seen prints where the OTUS 85 were transpassing the light but bet it’s the same class as the 55mm). At least 3 persons I know confirms that once you tried an OTUS 55 there’s no way back. It is all so tempting.
    But it brings me back to my shooting style: Slendering around with a camera in hand. The D810 and a couple of OTUS lenses aren’t that much smaller, lighter or requires that much lesser shooting decipline versus the Z as far as I can understand.

    I am/was a MFT shooter until lately where I aquired a D750. Even that relative forgiving camera challenged my shooting decipline a lot. Stopping down to equal the ‘everything in focus’ MFT DOF turns the camera into a decipline requiring machine like almost anything else in the FF and MF land. Tripods.. strong light faster heavier lenses .. whatever. My point is then beside the appreciation of the higher quality of the files from FF and MF, that the funfactor shooting with small sensor mirrorless cameras are just so much higher. These articles leaves me closer to finding the sweet spot where everything is just enough and each influencer that may serve your purpose or go against it is hopefully bringing the search for the oly Grail to an end. Then I could maybe finally be happy and freed from GAS so more time could be used shooting out there.

    • I think the 645Z is still a notch above the D810 with the right lenses, but with the wrong ones, the D810/Otus combination pulls ahead. When you’re at the bleeding edge, small factors make a huge difference – criticality of focus and stability, for one. The Otus 85 is even better than the 55, in my experience. And no, there’s no way back afterwards. My 645Z plus three lenses (A 35, 55 SDM, A 150) weighs in at about 3kg. A D810 and one Otus would be close; let alone three. Granted, there’s a matter of maximum aperture etc…but there are no ‘slow Otus’ alternatives.

      Bottom line: the better the files, the more work and supporting paraphernalia is required.

      • Thanks, Ming, for your ongoing coverage of the 645Z. After borrowing one for a location product shoot from my local dealer, I purchased a 645Z and four lenses. I also have the Nikon D810 and a bevy of both Zeiss and Nikon lenses, including both Zeiss Otuses. Having used the 645Z now for both my studio/pro/location work and my art photography, I can comfortably observe that the 645Z provides a substantial increase in image quality over the already stunning D810. From my extensive use, this is true even when the Otuses are in play, because some of the differences and improvements the Pentax offers are in the areas of tonality, micro contrast, and dynamic range–qualities that are less lens dependent. They is especially true when using the stunning 90MM F/2.8, but is noticeable with all the lenses. (The new 28-45 zoom is remarkable, too.) I have to say that I’ve been disappointed in Lloyd Chambers’ coverage of the Pentax, and have appreciated your far more nuanced and balanced (not to mention, extensive) coverage of the system. By reading Chambers, you simply do not get an accurate idea of the improvements available with the 645Z.

        I recently also purchased the tethering software for the Pentax. I should say that I much prefer using the Pentax in the studio over the D810, for the very same reasons I prefer it in the field (when a high-res DSLR is the appropriate tool). My professional work mostly involves products, an area where I simply don’t need the high-sync speed of the leaf shutters–a factor obviously also not in play or available with the D810. I’m not sure I understand the equivocations I’ve consistently read on the Pentax as a studio camera. In reality, when it comes to studio work, the Pentax is more likely an upgrade candidate for those who now shoot a Pro FF DSLR, such as the Canon or Nikon, and in this context, the Pentax is a no brainer. At least it is for the way I shoot. With the tethering software, other than perhaps fast focus speeds, there is simply very little downside when comparing the 645Z to the Nikon or Canon pro FF DSLRs, and many qualitative advantages. For product photography and other static objects, where the pace is by definition unhurried and benefits from meticulousness, the Pentax increases its lead over any system I’ve ever used. So much so, I’ve recently decided to sell my Nikon rig. (I also use the Fuji X-system and Leica M when size is an issue, so the Nikon is the odd system out.)

        In any event, thanks again for your informative and insightful coverage of this important product.

        • No problem. It’s expensive to continue to test everything though!

          Practically, you really have to have the right lenses to make it work. And I’m not sure the highlight handling at the extreme bright ends is as good as the 810 – the 810 has a very non-linear rolloff that makes for a smooth transition; however the 645 has far more in the bottom. Tradeoffs and the right tool for the job, I guess…

          • Yes, I agree on all points. The 645Z’s dynamic range is noticeably wider than the 810’s, but care should be taken with the highlights. I also agree on your point regarding the lenses, but would also say this is true for all systems, including the Nikon. As it happens, there are very few lenses that work well with the D810, too. There are the Otuses and the Zeiss 135MM F/2 (stunning lens, this), and perhaps a half-dozen Nikons–but that’s about it. And… the Pentax lenses are generally at the very least competitive to what Nikon offers, and in some cases such as the new 90MM and the 55MM, significantly better than anything Nikon makes. As it happens, the strong Pentax lenses suit my needs nearly perfectly. (I would argue the selection of the great Pentaxes would serve most photographers well.) All that being said, the Pentax is a specialized tool for me, and could never replace my Leica or even my Fuji system (or the Olympus, if you prefer). What it does well, it does uniquely so. And it does, for all intents and purposes, render my D810 superfluous.

            To paraphrase your last point, it’s all about the right tool for the right job.

            • The highlight rolloff on the 645Z is a bit ‘hard’, for want of a better word – it feels like a linear CMOS, similar to the older D800E. Dynamic range resides in the shadows, not the highlights (unlike the D810, which appears to be an anomaly).

              Agreed on lenses. There are quite a few dogs in the Pentax lineup too…but if you can find what you need, it’s a strong system. I’d suggest also looking at adapting Hasselblad Zeiss V glass – the 2/110 is stunning…

    • Gerner’s post reminds me of two slightly separate things I’ve been thinking about, since I’ve been migrating from a mirrorless system back to a DSLR (Nikon D810) system, which is might be related to Ming’s journey to the 645Z.

      The first issue is one of adoption, and I know there was a recent article (of many) that talked about how Sony could speed up pro adoption of their mirrorless system. It would seem to apply here to the question of 645Z adoption, too. I look at it as a system of push and pull factors: a system has attractive things that make you want to switch (the pull), and things that keep you away (the push). In the case of the 645Z:

      Unmatched image quality, and at least a few lenses that let you use that IQ
      Ridiculously good high ISO, low-light performance.
      Price is good for what it is
      Slightly larger MF sensor
      Good handling and haptics
      Modern facilties in an MF body, like liveview
      Rugged, weatherproof, like many Pentax bodies.

      It’s more expensive than a 135-frame camera (except for stupid stuff like Leica)
      It is heavy and big
      There aren’t that many lenses, and not all of them are good enough
      Files are huge
      Highly demanding of shot discipline
      Somewhat unavailable (which also leads one to question the pro support network)

      So it seems like the kind of system where you’d look at it only if you need the resolution, and can deploy the resolution for the few lens FOVs it gives you. I’m not sure this makes it work for many pros. Landscape shooters should be running to this thing in droves, I would think.

      And here’s my tally for the Sony system:


      IQ compromised in several ways: shutter shock, RAW compression, non-availability of good native lenses except for maybe 1 (55 FEZA?)
      Limited lens library
      Unknown support network, compared to CPS and NPS.

      It seems Sony is trying to fix some of these, but the only pull factor for it is that it’s smaller and cheaper. The EVF is a good one, but experienced shooters can work around that in many ways. It’s probably not that much cheaper or smaller once you get lenses that can fulfill its IQ potential (eg. Otus, assuming there’s ever one in a FE mount), assuming Sony fixes the shutter shock and RAW problems. So you have to wonder why pros might even want to switch given that there really isn’t anything it has to offer above the CaNikon duopoly.

      The second point is about image quality, and this is only peripherally related, but the Sony FE system made me thing about it. The way I think about it is that the sensor represents potential image quality, and everything around it can either preserve or degrade that image quality. Nothing can improve it.

      Obviously lenses have to be good enough. But there are more things. The Olympus E-M1 is an interesting camera in that it makes it pretty easy to maximize the quality you get from that camera, once it’s set up correctly. OK, the sensor isn’t that great to begin with, but the IBIS helps you wring out quality, and the haptics help too. How? A camera that’s unpleasant to use and is never used has zero image quality, because you don’t take pictures with it. If it’s hard to hold, you can get camera shake. If the menus are confusing, you may not be using the best settings to help you get the best out of the camera.

      A good tripod is an IQ-preserving device.

      Even having a ground glass focusing screen that snaps into focus is a big factor in preserving IQ, since it helps you set focus. Using a screen magnifying loupe (like the Zacuto) with liveview on a DSLR helps you preserve IQ. A bad RAW developer (either awful like Adobe’s Xtrans support or awful to use like Sigma’s SPP) can also degrade IQ because you can’t or don’t want to spend the time making the software work its best. I know I almost never change anything in SPP because it’s too slow.

      Anyway sorry for the long rambling post: just a few thoughts I had to get out while I was thinking about my own path. There’s a lot more to think about than just the immediate equipment in front of you.

      • Great input Andre and I fully back up you thoughts.

        I think (we) I can conclude image quality is terrible adicting. So is camera performance. Unfortunately it does rarely come hand in hand. And this is exactly where I have fallen combat for more and more of less. MFT isn’t good enough and 645Z isn’t light and handy enough taking display enlarger lenses and tripods into account ( speaking for my self of course 🙂

        Just the matter of the fact that only ultimate shooting dicipline results in the ultimate image quality and the demands of the former just just goes up and up for each rising crediment in sensor and lens performance, when have we all reached the sweet spot where ease, pleasure and end result satisfaction finds its balance point and makes us contend and satisfied? I do of course not like to sound like after satisfaction there is only boredom and trivialities left just because there’s no GAS anymore to fill the holes.
        I know too well by own experience that passing beyond the sweet spot means there’s an expensive high performing camera laying around in a corner with no IQ since I will never pick it up before going for a shootout. Have it not been for the latest couple years of rapid development of relative high performance mirrorless cameras (Leica excepted since they have been there for a very long time), we would likely never raise a question or discover a need and just shoot away with our DSLRs. But there’s the phenomenon, once tried anything ‘better’ it is hard to go back.

        I trust I will not find my peace until I have that mirrorless camera that offers high and unspoiled image quality by both adequate resolution = the maximum MPx I can focus and shoot handheld having IBIS on board, and choises of flawless small lenses showing high transparency to go with it. I think it can be done and I care less about the size (crop) of the sensor since it seems even 50 MPx soon is available in relative compact mirrorless cameras, noise and DR issues not mentioned.
        The good question is if we just knew when all these demands would be available in form of a ‘complete’ homogenious camera system, then one could make gear aquicition much more rational, economical and efficient. I wouldn’t be forced to enter into a new camera system like the D750 + some Nikon lenses and a single ART lens just because I cannot live with the IQ of the MFT as is anymore, and then insanely miss IBIS and shooting comfort as I really do. I could wait until it’s there or if desperate enough fill in the gap with a sound investment in a higher performing camera I could wear out economically before it goes to the cemetary.

        We are a few that hopes Sony will give birth to a mirrorless that levels D810 sensor and RAW performance, has IBIS, global shutter and all that, and a bunch of excellent compact lenses to follow soon too. Or either we see MFT cameras tremendously grow in IQ and the existing lenses hopefully could follow and not require too insane internal digital correction. (not likely to happen tomorrow if ever). Well either would make me happy.

        • Make a mirrorless D810, and that would do it for me. Get rid of the pentaprism and mirror, and either have an EVF or a good way to strap a magnifying loupe onto the screen. Maybe replace the CF slot with an SD slot.

  23. Simply not the breadth of lens options, the best lenses cost more than Otus lenses (and Otus MF glass, like Leica glass, has the potential to survive the system and the system itself is more likely to survive anyway).
    If Zeiss came out with leaf shutter lenses for the 645Z I would look again.
    The D810 allows me to migrate to different lens options if I want to later – tilt-shift, fast vibration reduction super telephotos, etc. I might never do it, but it’s nice to know. And even if E-mount all but kills F-mount, it won’t be instant.
    (And let’s set aside the question of ‘sufficiency’).
    B&H’s site still shows this camera “back-ordered”, so perhaps demand in the US remains strong. But will it be strong enough to give this mount enough traction to become a fuller ecosystem?

    • I think if the ‘good lenses’ work for you – I now mostly find myself using the A 35, 55 SDM and A 150 which are light, small and very cheap (the 150 was ~$160!) – then it’s a viable system now. The lens selection won’t get worse. Same considerations for most other cameras, I suppose: if it works for you now, great. If it doesn’t, move on. And of course the 35 DSLRs have more lens options, but that’s to be expected – they always have, even compared to established MF systems like Phase, Hassy etc. It is a specialised tool; a scalpel, not a Swiss Army knife. But oh boy, the quality of those files…

  24. Reblogged this on Mistrz i Małgorzata.

  25. that is one impressive machine.

  26. All you need to do is show how much better these files are as compare to a Sony A7R … and they’ll sell a few more. It is better … right … ?

    • My old Leaf Aptus 75S (2006) produces better files than A7R – no comparison there (both cameras were on tripod, matched exposures and AoV). This Pentax would run in circles around it, such comparison would be complete waste of time.

    • Frankly, I don’t care if they sell more or not – selling is the camera companies’ job, not mine…if people wish to be blind/ignorant/not do their research, it’s also their loss.

  27. Stunning images Ming;^)


  1. […] at the time – I would have to build a completely new system. That camera was of course the 645Z; fortunately, it turned out to be pretty good. I knew it would ‘work’ for me after making this […]

  2. […] CMOS we know and love from previous cameras since 2014 including the H5D-50c, CFV-50c, H6D-50c, Pentax 645Z, Fuji GFX and Phase One IQ250/350 series. It’s a tried, tested and proven sensor with a good […]

  3. […] more expensive, too. None of these cameras have leaf shutters or sync to 1/2000s. Surprisingly, the Pentax 645Z wasn’t as disruptive as anybody expected other than outside Japan; perhaps because it filled […]

  4. […] start to see window edge or engine), the D810/ Zeiss Otus 85, the Canon 5DSR and 40/2.8 STM, the Pentax 645Z and 90 SR Macro, and the A7RII** and Zeiss FE 55/1.8 or 85/1.8 Batis lenses. Zooms are generally […]

  5. […] those with extended dynamic range and very smooth shadow transitions such as the D810, D800E and 645Z) is the ability to neatly manage shadow zones such that we can still leave in subtle hints of […]

  6. […] Nikon D810, the resolution-champ Canon 5DSR, the tech-heavy Sony A7RII, medium-format-on-a-budget Pentax 645Z and now the Leica SL. You’re looking at a similar financial outlay to make a meaningful […]

  7. […] to expand the envelope somehow. I am curious as to whether the 5DSR will do this – I sold my 645Z a few months back because I could not justify ow ning a second system against the need for a larger […]

  8. […] high resolution machine yet – Canon’s untested 5DSR and the smaller-shooting envelope Pentax 645Z aside – it really shines when used with the care and deliberation befitting a larger format, even […]

  9. […] series was shot with a Pentax 645Z and Ricoh […]

  10. […] This series was shot almost entirely with a Pentax 645Z. […]

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