Pentax 645Z: The Medium Format DSLR Gets a Major Sensor Upgrade

Medium format digital cameras are out of reach for most, but Pentax has been providing ones on the "affordable" side (under $10k), for a few years now. Their new guy, the 645Z, packs a brand new, friggin large, 51 megapixel CMOS sensor.

How is that different from the old 645D? Well, that camera, and all other medium format digital ones, used older CCD sensors, which yielded great image quality but were pretty terrible in low light. The newer Sony-made CMOS sensor, which is apparently going to be used in medium format cameras from PhaseOne and Hasselblad, should be just like modern DSLRs in terms of low light shooting, going right up to ISO 204,800.

Pentax 645Z: The Medium Format DSLR Gets a Major Sensor Upgrade

Pentax 645Z: The Medium Format DSLR Gets a Major Sensor Upgrade

The 645Z has a 27 point AF system, 3.2 inch tilting LCD, weather-sealed body, and shoots full HD video. The video capability is a first for medium format digital, and while we don't know how good the video will look, it is exciting to ponder that extra large field of view for filmmaking. There is a very limited 4K option, but it only does interval recording for time-lapses at that resolution.

To refresh your memory, medium format means that the sensor is larger than the standard full-frame 35mm sensor. The 645Z's sensor has an area of about 33 x 44mm—1.7x that of 35mm. That means an increased field of view with less distortion, and of course, more resolution.

For a rumored price of around $8500, the 645Z is still a huge amount of money for a camera. You will probably see mostly high-end productions and rental houses carrying this guy around. But it's a key step in making medium format photography a practical and modern endeavor. Currently, medium format is one of the best reasons to shoot film, with cameras, film, and processing still relatively accessible.

Pricing and new lenses are set to be announced later this month. Now if only they could make it not so ugly. [Pentax Ricoh]