Monday, April 21, 2014

For years now, many people have been whining about Pentax not having a full frame DSLR. After all, Nikon, Canon and Sony all have full frame DSLR on the market.


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 Hi Photographer friends,

For years now, many people have been whining about Pentax not having a full frame DSLR.  After all, Nikon, Canon and Sony all have full frame DSLR on the market.


Let me talk about the concept of full frame. Digital cameras were first introduced as simple point and shoot cameras with a small sensor for several years. Then, as the technology evolved, manufacturers wanted to introduce digital SLRs that would be using bodies similar to the then popular 35mm film cameras. Doing so would also allow the use of the lenses designed for 35mm film cameras and some small change to bodies would be required. It was all about economics and thought off by manufacturers in order to save production costs. The problem was technology. No manufacturers had yet been able to designed a sensor with the same dimension as a 35mm film camera, which is 24mm x 36mm.

The first sensors used with 35mm film like bodies were smaller. The APS sized sensors, for instance, were introduced with variable dimensions depending on the manufacturer. The APS sensors were roughly 15.60mm x 23.60mm. That was the beginning of the so called “Cropped Sensors”. The sensors were smaller than the image circle produced by the lenses and thus a factor of roughly 1.5x was used to determine the size of the cropped image. In other words, a 50mm lens only had the angle of view of a 75mm lens (50mm x 1.5 = 75mm). As technology advanced, through the years, manufacturer were able to make sensors in a larger size, equaling the size of a 35mm film camera of 24mm x 36mm. That was the beginning of the full frame sensor.

All manufacturers eventually made camera lenses to match the APS sensors image circle and that in itself could have been full frame sensor for this new format. Olympus came out with the 4/3rd sensors and lenses to match. This was indeed a full frame size for that format. In the film camera era, there was all kinds of formats, 35mm, medium format, large format, 4 x 5 cameras, 8 x 10 cameras, etc. They were all full frame in their category. Although adapters were fabricated to adapt lenses to other formats, there was no description of them being cropped formats.  

So now, Ricoh/Pentax have just introduced the 645Z with a whopping 51.4 MP CMOS sensor with an actual dimension of 33mm x 44mm which trumps the Nikon and Canon so called full frame sensors. The price of $8,500 is ridiculously affordable for professional photographers that have been using from the Nikon D4S ($6,500) to the Hasselblad H5D-200MS ($44,000).

I really do not see why Ricoh/Pentax would want to spend any time and money making a DSLR with a 24mm x 36mm (so called full frame sensor). They are currently the king of APS sized cameras with the K-3. The 645Z is a better choice than the full frame Nikons, Canons and Sonys. The sensor is bigger and the prices are about the same. When compared to the “Medium Format” DSLR like the Hasselblad and the Leica, the 645Z is such a bargain. Ricoh/Pentax have reintroduced all of the FA 645mm format lenses (13 of them) and the choice of lenses is ample.



Pentax was really the first company to introduce a 24mm x 36mm sensor, but as history has it…

Timing is everything.  Did you know that the first Full Frame DSLR was actually designed by Pentax, but the wrong timing and other factors prevented them to release what would have been the first Full Frame, 6 megapixels DSLR, in 2001.

Here is a press release issued on February 10, 2001:

DENVER, Colorado (February 10, 2001) . . . PENTAX Corporation will preview a new digital autofocus SLR camera (The MZ-D)) at the PMA (Photo Marketing Association) Show held in Orlando, February 11-14, 2001. The addition of this advanced digital SLR camera complements one of the most extensive photographic lines of any manufacturer in the industry including 35mm, APS, medium format and digital for various levels of photographers.

The MZ-S was the last 35mm camera that Pentax produced. I loved the design. Actually it wasn't their last 35mm, the *ist was, but the MZ-s was the last flagship model.

Created along the same developmental concept lines as the new PENTAX MZ-S professional 35mm autofocus SLR camera, this high-end digital SLR will feature a 
35mm-film-sized, six megapixel CCD image sensor as well as a DSP and other digital processing components. This package was jointly developed with Philips Electronics in order to realize high-grade image quality, top-level performance and compact dimensions simultaneously. Offering compatibility with the existing PENTAX KAF2 lens mount, it will also accept PENTAX 645-system and 67-system interchangeable lenses (when used with an adapter). This high-performance digital autofocus SLR camera will be ideal for advanced amateurs and professionals who demand top quality images and SLR maneuverability.

The camera will be compatible with four new accessories introduced for the new MZ-S 35mm SLR camera including: 
1.) BG-10 Battery Grip, 
2.) CS-105 & CS-130 Cable Switches, 
3.) TS-110 Release Timer Switch, and the 
4.) AF360FGZ Dedicated Flash Unit. The final product specifications, pricing and marketing dates will be announced at a later time.

This DSLR still appeals to me today. I think the design is incredibly beautiful. Who's to say that Pentax couldn't reuse this design with a new / current Full Frame CMOS sensor!

The  LCD screen is small in today's standards, but look at the top panel of the camera...pure beauty. Remember that this was in 2001, that's ancient in digital technology, and yet Pentax was at the forefront of Full Frame DSLR.

 So why wasn't it ever mass produced?

Well, as it turned out, the Phillips sensor fail to deliver. Actually, Contax were to introduce a new DSLR as well, based on this same sensor, but the failure to deliver from Phillips actually drove Contax to extinction. Aren't you glad that Pentax was strong to hang in there? If that sensor would have succeeded in producing great images, Pentax would have been ahead of Nikon and Canon. It took them a while to get back on their digital feet, but now with the 645Z, the K-3 and Ricoh GR, Ricoh/Pentax is definitely in the game.

Note: At the time Pentax were going to introduce the new MZ-D Full Frame - 6 megapixels,  Nikon's flagship model was the D1, with only an APS-C sensor @ 2.7 megapixels.  Canon had the EOS-1D with a Panasonic 1.3x APS-C sensor @ 4 megapixels. Nobody else had a Full Frame in the works. Technically speaking, and timing wise, if the Phillips sensor would have delivered, Pentax would have had the best DSLR way at the beginning of the DSLR revolution. But it isn't over yet, and with the current line of DSLRs, I am confident that Ricoh/Pentax will be at the top in the near future. Hang in there, the Ricoh/Pentax world is about to change the game. Never, never, but never give up!


Back to today:

Look at the images of Large Sensor equipped DSLR of today, compare the prices and sensor sizes (in megapixels and physical dimensions) and you should see why the new Pentax 645Z is such a deal.

Thank you for reading.
Yvon Bourque

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