The Pentax 645Z: The First Medium Format Camera to Shoot Video

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This article has been updated based on newer information, as of 28th. April 2014.
If you thought the world of digital photography stopped at 35mm, or a Canon or Nikon or Leica, then you need to read this first. We’re talking about a medium format digital camera, from Pentax, specifically their second one.
The earlier camera was called the 645D, and it had a CCD sensor. The 645Z is the CMOS version, and is the first medium format digital camera ever to shoot video. Let’s see why all this is such a big deal.

The sensor

Here is the sensor of the Pentax 645z compared to a full frame 35mm sensor:
sensor comparison 645Z
You can see that the Pentax 645Z medium format sensor has roughly 1.7 times the area, with a crop factor of 0.82. It does not come anywhere near IMAX (film), but it’s a whole new aesthetic. Just like the Canon 5D Mark II introduced the full frame 35mm aesthetic to video, the Pentax 645Z introduces the medium format aesthetic.
Shallow depth of field just got a whole lot shallower.

The photography specs

The Pentax 645Z is primarily a photographer’s tool, and a mind-blowing one at that. Here are some important specs:

  • 51 MP 44mm x 33mm sensor (8256 x 6192)
  • Shoots RAW, TIFF and JPEG
  • ISO range – 100 to 204800 (This kind of ISO range is unheard of in the medium format world)
  • No AA filter
  • 27-point autofocus
  • 98% optical viewfinder, and once you look through this you’ll hate 35mm viewfinders forever after.
  • 3.2″ tiltable LCD screen
  • Media: Dual SDHC cards, UHS-I
  • Weight: 54.7 oz (1,550 g) with batteries – it’s as heavy as a Canon 1DX or 1DC
  • Totally weather sealed and built like a tank

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Who would need 50 megapixels? Those who print big or need to crop a lot. The 44×33 sensor gives a print size of 27.5″ x 20.64″ at 300 ppi. This camera is primarily for those who want to shoot landscapes, wildlife and anything else that needs travel. It doesn’t mean that fashion or street photographers can’t use it, just that its features tend to help the former group get their work done faster.
The most revolutionary part of the Pentax 645z is its price, which comes in at about $8,500 for the body alone. It sounds like a lot, but there isn’t a cheaper medium format digital system. An equivalent Phase One, Leica or Hasselblad system would start at twice the price.

The video specs

We’re more interested in its video specs. On paper, it is disappointing, especially considering the Sony A7S announcement. However, one must not forget that this is not a 35mm camera, but a medium format camera.
Update: Based on Dan Chung’s clarifications, the Pentax 645Z will not have the medium format aesthetic:

Q: Could you clarify what portion of the sensor is used for HD video? Is it the full width of the sensor with the top and bottom cropped off?
A: Its not the full width. 10% area is cropped off from each right, left, top, and bottom of sensor.
Q: Can you tell me what bit rates the video uses and clarify exactly which types of compression are used?
A: Bit rates: VBR 21Mbps, Movie compression: H.264, Sound compression: 48kHz 16bit linear PCM
Q: Is there the ability for the user to apply a flat or log picture profile to the video instead of a standard gamma? is there a user definable gamma setting at all?
A: No. Users can’t apply a flat or log picture profile to the video. There is no gamma setting for 645Z.
Q: Does the camera output a ‘clean’ HDMI signal in video mode that can be recorded using an external recorder in a similar way to the Canon 5D mkIII or Sony a7S?
A: No, it can’t.

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Here are the important video specs:

  • 1080p video at 60i/50i/30p/25p/24p
  • 720p video at 60p/50p/30p/25p/24p
  • The usable area for video is about 36x24mm.
  • On the flip side, the video will moire as badly as the Canon 5D Mark II upon launch. A lot of advancements have taken place in sensors since then, but we’ll have to wait for official tests to know for sure.
  • Codec: H.264 in a MOV wrapper at 21 Mbps
  • 4K interval recording (Timelapse mode) in Motion JPEG (3,840 x 2,160). This is a welcome relief, though if I really wanted to kick ass, I’d shoot 8K timelapses with this baby!
  • 3.5mm microphone jack with manual audio levels control, stereo audio
  • No headphone jack

So, what are the positives and negatives as far as video is concerned?

Positives:

  • Medium format stills
  • 4K timelapse mode
  • Tiltable LCD screen
  • Excellent low-light ability (unverified)
  • Audio levels control, both automatic and manual
  • Weather sealing

Negatives:

  • The entire sensor isn’t used for video
  • Possible moire and rolling shutter artifacts because it doesn’t have an AA filter
  • Pentax lens mount, and only 17 lenses available. None of these are cinema lenses
  • Battery performance in video mode is unclear
  • No headphone jack

Well, that’s it. It’s a camera that is far from perfect as far as video is concerned. It houses a Sony sensor, so it is not surprising that its video features are curtailed.

To see some sample images (sadly no video yet) from this baby, click here. To know what lenses are available for this camera, click here.

What do you think? Saving up money for the Pentax 645z?

2 replies on “The Pentax 645Z: The First Medium Format Camera to Shoot Video”

  1. I hope that this becomes a trend through 2015. Larger sensors, 35mm and above seem really appealing. Also, I really appreciate the amount of detail in these articles. This site is a great resource.

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