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02/15/14 News from the CP+ Show in Japan–Pentax 645DII CMOS 50MP Camera

Pentax 645D 2014

A view of the Pentax 645D 2014 from the back showing new LCD design

CP+ the Japanese eqvilent to the U.S. CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is going on through tomorrow. and one of the highlights as far as larger camera systems goes, is the information about the upcoming Pentax (now Ricoh) 645D2014.  Instead of calling it the 645DII, it seems for now that the camera will be just called the 645D 2014.  Interesting name indeed.

From looking at the announcement literature by Ricoh, this will be a pretty significant camera system for Medium Format users.  Here are some high points that I gleaned from the overview.

  1. The camera will have a larger sensor in total Megapixels than the current 645D (which is 39-40MP) and will be CMOS.  The CMOS chip is more than 98% going to be supplied by Sony, but I have not seen anything in print on that.  Based on the testing I have seen on the Phase One IQ250 which does use the Sony 50MP CMOS chip, the results should be impressive.
  2. Pentax/Rioch have totally redesigned the body, and have given it a much larger/higher pixel count LCD that has a tilt feature.  To me a bit plus.
  3. The camera will have USB3 support, so it’s highly possible it will tether.  As to if Capture One (Phase One’s premier imaging software) will allow it to tether is a different story.   However I will assume that there will be support provided by Pentax/Ricoh.
  4. Pentax is working on improving the current lens offerings for this camera and a new wide angle zoom is also mentioned in the press releases from CP+
  5. WiFi is still a question, as the only mention is a FLUCARD and I am not familiar with that.  It may be some form of WiFi enabled SD card which would imply that WiFi will not be built into the camera.
  6. As it’s CMOS, it’s far to expect Live View support and very clean images at up to 1 hour in length or possibly longer.
  7. From conversations held at CP+ the price being talked about for just the body is one million yen (9811.00 U.S.), which if this happens will be a significantly lower entry point for a 50MP CMOS chip.
  8. First deliveries will be April 2014, not sure if this is U.S. or Japan.
Pentax 645D 2014 50MP

Side by side shot showing the original 645D and the new 645D 2014

Pentax first shook up the Market 5 years ago, when they first started listing a new 645D Digital camera, that would be based on the Film Pentax 645II.  I was originally excited by this announcement but Pentax did little more than talk about it for several years and showed mock ups.  I owned several good Pentax 645 lenses, that I was using on my Canon system with a Zork adapter, so the 645D would have been a perfect fit for me.  However the long delay, pushed me to the Phase One camp and I purchased the P45+.

Pentax did finally ship the 645D about 1 year later, with a similar sensor to the one in the P45+ (it’s my understanding it’s not the exact same sensor) and they brought out basically the body with no new lenses.   About 1 year before the actual ship date of the 645D, Pentax had a pretty good lineup in their primes and zooms for the 645II in the FA lenses.  I had both the 35mm FA (excellent) and the 55mm FA, and had been thinking about the 35mm to 55mm zoom.  Since Pentax still had a manual aperture ring on all the FA lenses, you could stop them down on other camera systems, like the Canon with a Zork adapter.   However by the time the 645D shipped Pentax was no longer selling the 35mm FA in the U.S. (it’s my understanding that this lens is still sold in Japan).  Also there was not much of a dealer network in the U.S. so anything that involved service would be possibly a bit of an issue.  All repairs were still done in Japan, and there was only a 1 year warranty.  Phase One at the time had their 3 year (now 5 year) value add warranty and I found that I preferred that type of warranty, even though the cost of the 645D was much less than the P45+.

Now with the 645D 2014, Pentax is showing that they have listened to the photography market and it seems that they are bring out this new camera with some much needed refinements. For studio photographers, the lack of a tethering solution on the 645D was a big issue.  I am assuming that the 645D 2014 will have tethering since it’s shipping with USB3 support.  The LCD on the camera is significantly larger, has more resolution and provides more information to the photographer, not to mention it has a tilt option which allows the camera to be used at waist level (a big plus to me).  The CMOS sensor should be 50MP, not a huge jump over 39MP from the first 645D, but if it’s the same sensor that’s in the Phase One IQ250 or a similar Sony design, then I think you can expect some great things from this camera.  The IQ250 (see this article I wrote on the IQ250) has shown to have an amazing dynamic range and this should cross over to the 645D 2014 when it ships.

What’s key here is that Pentax ship this camera on time i.e. April of 2014.  If they miss their dates and push it back then they will loose momentum and photographers will look elsewhere.  I don’t think they will have any problem showing good quality images, as I don’t think this chip can take a bad picture.  I also hope that Pentax steps up with their dealer support in the U.S. and possibly offers a similar program to the Phase One Value add warranty.  Time will tell on this.  If the price does come out at under 10K U.S, I expect that it’s possible the flood gates may be opened in the U.S. since this chip is showing to be such an excellent performer and is definitely changing the game in the world of medium format digital.  One thing that Pentax does not have here in the U.S. is a strong dealer channel pushing the product to the market, and allowing demo’s for both landscape and studio shooters.

Here are two translated links that give more detailed information from the press conference at the CP+ show in Japan.

Google translation for first information from CP+ show

Google translation for Ricoh imaging new from CP+ show

I have no idea how long these links will stay up, but hopefully they are kept in good order as they contain quite a bit of details on this new exciting MF camera.





01/22/14 Phase One to announce IQ250 with 50MP CMOS Date Uncertain

Phase One IQ260 in Box

Phase One IQ260 in Box

01/23/14–Just a bit more information.

Phase one obviously has a camera done as briefly yesterday they has some image posted on the main Denmark website from the IQ250.  So at least the name is certain.

It will be interesting to see if this back is full frame or 1:1 like the old P45+ or even 1:3 like the IQ140.  Hopefully Phase will be able to continue some development to the IQ260.

The latest rumor is that the Phase One sensor may be made by Canon.  To me this would be even more shocking by far as Canon has yet to bring anything new to their 35mm lineup in about 4 years.  I don’t count the 5dMKII as that was just a refreshed 21MP sensor that is also in the 5D MKII and 6D.  Canon has yet to cross the 24MP barrier and as it’s taken them so long it’s very possible that they do it in great style by bringing a larger 35mm sensor out at the same time Phase One brings the IQ250 (name is a guess and more than likely it won’t be called this since photo rumors already leaked this).  I would love to see Canon pull out such a rabbit from their hat and thus allow themselves to become a leader again.  My only concern would be that Canon has made some form of revolutionary chip development that allows them to get the same DR at base ISO as Sony did for Nikon’s D800.  The Nikon D800 at base ISO of 100 was a major game changer for me.

Original Post Begins Here:

If you believe in large scale rumors, and in reality most rumors are from leaked from fact, then Phase One is set to announce a 50MP CMOS back, the IQ250 soon.  Hasselblad may have beaten them to the punch so Phase One may hold off the announcement for a while so that they won’t be seen as a “me too”.

Here is the Link to Photo Rumors.

It was always pretty clear that Phase One was headed this way and I had assumed since around late 2011 that a CMOS back was coming from Phase One, but I also did expect to see 50MP in a medium format chip for another year.  Sony has been rumored for months now to be creating a 54MP 35mm chip for a new Sony DSLR and a version of this chip was going to the Nikon D4x.  Neither of these have showed anything more than a distant rumor, but now with the Hasselblad, then Phase One news, it’s pretty clear the Sony has been busy.

As the owner of an IQ260, this news from Phase One is a bit disconcerting in that it followed so close on the heels of the IQ260.  The main advantage the to the IQ260 was the fact that it would allow for exposures up to 1 hours in length, same as the older P45+.  Still the only CCD Medium format backs that allow this.  Most other backs in this range will only go to 60 seconds, IQ160 and 1:45 seconds IQ280.  Now with a CMOS chip, Phase One or any camera company should be able to have 1 hours exposures or even longer than 1 hour exposures due to the nature of a CMOS chip.

Anyway, the IQ260 possibly  took a considerable hit.  It may turn out to the be the shortest lived back on the market, as if you have a Sony chip in the this upcoming Phase, then it’s fair to expect:

  1. Amazing DR at base ISO.  This should be the same as the DR of the Sony 36MP chips out currently in the A7r and Nikon D800 family.  These chips show an impressive range of DR at their base iso of 50 (Sony) and 100 (Nikon), which allows the photographer to have as much 2.75 stops of exposure.  Shadows details that are the most impressive I have seen when pulled up 2 stops and the ability to handle highlights much better. 
  2. Long exposures at 1 hour or longer at the user’s whim, no need to dial in a special ISO 140 like on the IQ260
  3. Potentially no longer a need for sensor plus which is Phase One’s pixel binning technology on the 60MP and 80MP backs to allow for higher iso shooting.  Instead if you extrapolate up from the current 36MP Sony chips on the market today, it would be fair to assume ISO 1600 and maybe even 3200 at full resolution of 50MP with a useable file instead of having to drop down to 1/4 of the total resolution which is how it works with sensor plus.
  4. Color rendering differences between a CCD and CMOS.  This seems to be one of the only remaining advantages that CCD’s have over a CMOS chip.  Many photographers seem to feel that the CCD can render tones better i.e. skin tones or green hues.  I actually have not personally seen any measurable differences between the Nikon 36MP CMOS and IQ160 or 260 in my work.  I also feel that most of not all of the “implied differences” are going to be lost when the image is printed or even worse placed on the web.  To me this is a moot issue.
  5. The perceived gap between 50MP and 60MP will not be that great especially since the newer CMOS back most likely will have a workable live view from the back’s LCD, which on an IQ back is stellar.
  6. Will Phase One continue to improve the image quality of the IQ260?  This was one of the main reasons I moved to the 260 vs staying on the 160

As the owner of a IQ260 purchased in August of 2013, am I concerned by this announcement?  In two words, YOU BET!.

Financially, the value of the IQ260 just took a hit.  If a 50MP CMOS back with the same features that all current IQ backs have is brought to the market, I dare say it will be the end of the IQ260.  If this same technology had been brought out in a 40 to 45MP size, then that may to be as true.  CMOS should actually work better for both types of shooters, tech camera and Phase One DSLR bodies in that you should expect to see these types of improvements:

  1. Faster frame rates, so the user of a DF+ body or follow on body would enjoy the ability to possibly shoot some action photography
  2. Real Live View from the back’s LCD, if you are the user of a Tech camera like I am, then you already know just how important this will be
  3. Much better AF since most new CMOS chips are starting to incorporate a phase detect AF system on the actual chip so both fast and more accurate AF may be possible
  4. Considerably cleaner files at base ISO and I can’t state just how important it would be to have a medium format back with the shadow range of the Nikon D800
  5. Possibly faster activation times on the back i.e. on/off, loading of images on the screen, faster write times to the card
  6. Better overall use in colder weather

I can’t blame Phase One for this announcement as a company they have to stay competitive.  However I do tend to fault the lack of overall information that seems to be passed down to the average user.  This can be pointed to both Phase One and the dealer channel.

I don’t understand why both Phase One and dealers can’t use a non-disclosure type of agreement, and they might but it seems only in limited offerings.  This type of decision is a huge one for a company of my size and knowing that such a product would announced inside of 9 months from the delivery of my IQ260 would have been most helpful.

But more importantly what does this say for any more development to the IQ260 and image quality.  In the past with the P45+ and P65/IQ160,  Phase One made many firmware updates that provided better image quality from the first ship date.  In fact Phase One has been one of the only camera companies I have seen that has continued to improve on a back/camera after the first ship.  Nikon and Sony both are pretty much done at ship, I have never seen any firmware updates from them that improve image quality, where as Canon has made some impressive updates, notably on the 5D MKII, 7D, and 6D.

I bet with my purchase that Phase One would give at least one more firmware update to the IQ260 that allowed for a bit cleaner files at base ISO.   So far nothing like this has occurred and now with the launch of the IQ250, it may never happen.  Phase is a small company with limited resources and a new CMOS back will take a lot of their focus.

I would expect to see this 50MP CMOS out sooner than later as Hasselblad has taken a lead and there are only so many qualified customers at this price point.