Back in Q1 of the year, there was a lot of excitement with three big players—medium format giants Hasselblad and Phase One along with the not-to-shabby Pentax—announcing medium format systems utilizing a new 50MP sensor from Sony (at 44x33 cm, a standard size, albeit small, for "digital 645"). Pentax' camera, the successor to their comparatively economical 645D from 2010, had been rumoured for over a year with Pentax management indicating that they had planned to release it in 2013 but had met with delays. The 645Z predecessor, the 645D was well received by enthusiasts excited by the prospect of digital medium format at an economic level. Unlike other medium format systems, it featured a package familiar to the enthusiast market that was already using a digital SLR: it supported similar auto-focus and display modes, its ergonomics was a bit unwieldy but similar to an overgrown consumer SLR. Unlike models from Hasselblad and Mamiya, but like cameras from Canon and Nikon (or Pentax's existing digital line), it had an integrated camera and back which was familiar and allowed for a modest level of weather sealing to be built-in. The 645Z builds on the same strengths of the 645D while hoping to address some of its most talked-about weakness.
One of the benefit of the Pentax 645 system is the wide availability of legacy 645 and 67 (via adapter) lenses available, although these lenses will not take full advantage of the modern capabilities and 50MB sensor found in the 645Z. Pentax released only a small number of lenses specifically designed for the 645D (90mm F2.8 macro, 55mm F2.8, and 25mm F4). To coïncide with the 645Z, Pentax will significantly add to their modern lens lineup with over a dozen new lenses, including not just an array of primes but also a couple zoom lenses. The legacy Pentax zoom lenses are notoriously disappointing compared to the legacy primes, and technology has significantly improved in the intervening time, so this could be a promising option for some potential buyers.
Like its predecessor, the Pentax 645Z is aimed for those "on a budget"; it's priced like a high-end 35mm full-frame SLR (around the $10k mark) rather than other medium format systems. It builds on the features and familiarity of Pentax' consumer SLR line-up with its 35mm-like handling, multi-point autofocus, and even video capabilities. Pentax' medium format cameras have always been in this position. Even when comparing film cameras, despite their well-regarded optics and amazing detail in their 6x7 line-up—Pentax lenses have been seen as inferior to a Hasselblad mounted Zeiss or Fujinon. While Hasselblad had a wait-level viewfinder, Pentax had an awkward eye-level, 35mm SLR-like, pentaprism and design. The Pentax 67 supported auto-exposure! Despite various corporate changes, the new digital Pentax medium range cameras are a promising reflection of the company's past. We look forward to future generations of the line.