The Pentax 645Z is the most sophisticated medium format camera ever
released. With a new 51 megapixel sensor, live view, and modern DSLR
functionality, it’s an incredibly versatile tool. It’s also the first
medium format camera ever to shoot video! The TCSTV crew went out to
test the stills, and we met up with our friends at Deluxe Design Group
to shoot a movie trailer and test the video capabilities! Is this the
camera that will restore the popularity of medium format digital?
Featuring the short film Black and Blue, directed by Chris Krieger
Special thanks to everyone at Deluxe Design Group
Music Provided by BeatSuite.com
Shot and edited by Jordan Drake
Filmed on the Sony A7S and FS700
We’ve been looking forward to this one for a while! Chris and I are both huge fans of the Pentax 645D, it’s one of the best designed cameras ever made. It also holds an important place in the history of TCSTV, since our 645D review was the first episode that was done in the ‘field test’ style that became our standard. Since that brilliant camera’s release, however, nothing really exciting has happened in the world of medium format cameras. When the new Pentax 645Z was announced we immediately put it at the top of our list of cameras to test. The video capability immediately captured my interest, as we’ve never been able to shoot video on such a large sensor and I love the aesthetic that medium format lenses and sensors bring to stills. We requested a sample as soon as one was available. Then we waited, and waited.
During the incredibly long wait between the 645Z’s announcement and delivery, Chris and I tried to find a way to really test the video capability. I wanted something to emphasize the cinematic potential of the huge sensor, so we asked our friends at DDG (Deluxe Design Group) to help us up the production value in a big way. They generously agreed, to shoot a short film on the 645Z, and we could document the process. They were great about keeping their schedules flexible while we dealt with interminable delays in getting the camera.
For the stills test, Chris and I went to do some landscape shooting to really analyze the resolution and dynamic range of the new sensor. We used the Pentax 25mm F4, 55mm F2.8 and brand new 90mm F2.8 SR lenses. This part of the review was shot on the new Sony A7S, a camera I’ve been testing extensively. Since I’m still recovering from surgery, the weight and portability made a long shoot much more comfortable. The video was filmed in S-Log, with a Sony FE 24-70 F4. Audio was capture with a Sony UWP-V130 wireless system, with the capsule encased in a Rode Invisilav, to dampen clothing noise.
As always, our music came from the fine people at BeatSuite.com.
For the video test, Chris Krieger directed a short script he had written, a trailer for cop show, with a very film noir feel. He was extremely flexible in working within the limitations of such new technology, but also knew exactly what he from the finished film. Nick Thomas, the Director of Photography, was great about using a less than optimal tool, yet playing to its strengths. He used the Pentax 25mm F4, 33-55mm F4.5, 55mm F2.8, 90mm F2.8 SR and 120mm F4. The entire crew was enthusiastic, professional, and a pleasure to work with. I documented the process with a Sony FS700, recording to an Atomos Samurai. I used just the Tamron 24-70 F2.8 VC on a Metabones Speed Booster for glass. I probably should have brought some primes as well, things got a little too dark for the zoom, especially on the second night.
The stills quality is without a doubt the best I’ve ever seen from a camera. We expected sharp images with great dynamic range, but Chris and I were floored by the low light performance and great colour, even before processing the files. Pentax’s great choice of using the DNG format meant we didn’t have to wait for RAW support on Lightroom, so we could really see what the camera was capable of, even at this early stage in its life. The only issue we could see is that while the Pentax 645Z offers the best image quality we’ve seen, full frame cameras like the Nikon D810 and Sony A7S aren’t that far off, and they cost and weigh a fraction of what the Pentax does. But if you want the best images available right now, the 645Z is your ticket.
Along with Chris and Nick from DDG, we were pretty disappointed by the video quality. At base ISO, you can see that the sensor is capable of producing a lovely image. The sensor also scans very quickly, as rolling shutter was better controlled than most full frame chips, about on par with our FS700, a dedicated video camera! But the image was always let down by the poor image processing and low data rate. It’s a huge shame that we could not get a usable picture when attempting to record externally, the camera looks like it should be capable of much more flexible picture if we could record a proper 1080P image from the HDMI port. Maybe Sony will release this sensor in camera more capable of processing the picture, and we’ll see what this chip is really capable of. I did find the aesthetic of the large sensor quite beautiful, the fall off is very nice. If we ever saw a 4K shooting version with proper video controls and assists, it would likely be very popular for filmmakers looking to duplicate that ‘old 70mm look’. We’d also love to go out with everyone from DDG on another shoot, when we have a very capable camera that will really show off the brilliant things this team is capable of.
In my opinion the 645Z is currently the best medium format camera on the market. It’s also very likely to keep getting better. Our only issue on the stills side is the slow flash sync, which can be rectified if Pentax produce some current leaf-shutter lenses. The video issues could potentially be solved with a number of software updates, though I’m not sure if the issue is software or the 645Z’s processor. For landscape and commercial shooters who want the very best picture quality and don’t mind hauling some weight around, the Petax 645Z is the best thing out there right now.