Professional Digital SLR
If ever a camera sums up the Pentax philosophy it’s the 645D. This is the company that popularised the 35mm SLR by making it more affordable without compromising its capabilities... and then went on doing it with every subsequent technological advancement.
In the digital era, Pentax’s ‘APS-C’ format D-SLRs not only represent exceptional affordability, but have often offered more features and performance than their pricier rivals. It’s not so surprising then that, Ricoh, looking for a way into the D-SLR market, should decide that Pentax was the best-looking doggie in the window.
There was much excitement when Pentax intimated it was considering building a medium format D-SLR and while it was a long time coming – more to do with upheavals in this sector than anything else – it was much better than anybody had expected.
Nearly 12 month after the Pentax 645D was launched, nobody has got close to it on pricing and certainly nobody has come within miles of offering comparable levels of features, useability and operational efficiencies.
Even alongside the ‘small format’ pro-level D-SLRs, the 645D still looks like A Good Thing, only let down to some extent by the small number of lenses available that are optimised for digital capture.
Of course, Pentax has been here before, turning the rollfilm SLR market on its head with the original 645 which made stepping up to medium format photography both affordable and accessible.
The pros of the day were a bit miffed that suddenly ‘everybody could do it’, but then many also quickly realised that using a medium format SLR didn’t have to be such a trial or be so expensive.
Some of that sort of snobbery is still around, but use the 645D and the same realisations are unavoidable. It’s comfortable, it’s quick and it has 40 megapixels of resolution on tap from a sensor which delivers all the imaging performance benefits of bigger pixels. Being built from the ground up as medium format D-SLR with the complete integration of camera body and capture back, it has none of the drawbacks of the systems that have evolved from the film days... such as separate power supplies for each of these components.
That the 645D also offers all the features and functions found on the better-equipped 35mm-based D-SLRs makes it even more of a remarkable camera, but the workflow benefits for professionals are undeniable given sitting at a computer isn’t actually earning any income.
Pentax is to be highly commended for taking up the challenge of building a camera like the 645D, but what makes it a really worthy winner is that it did such an outstanding job, exceeding all expectations.
Compact System Camera
Panasonic Lumix G3
The compact system camera sector has really hotted up in the last few months with the arrival of yet more different interpretations of the brief... notably from Pentax and Nikon. There’s undoubtedly more to come, but Panasonic stands alone as having the most cohesive and well-rounded approach, embodied in a line-up of camera bodies and lenses that are precisely targeted, but also cover a wide spectrum of potential users.
Panasonic has felt its way carefully and thoughtfully through the first few years of the CSC, perhaps helped by the fact that it doesn’t have a D-SLR program to consider, but perhaps more because of an awareness of what’s required to establish a whole new category of digital camera.
Early on, it was criticised for perhaps being too conservative, especially with the original G1, but now this looks like good planning as it fleshes out its CSC range with models designed to appeal to the ‘smartphone’ generation.
The G1 was also criticised for not being small enough – yes, we were among those making that observation – but as Panasonic’s ‘SLR-shaped’ CSC has evolved into the current G3, this too has come to make a lot of sense.
While the G3 has become smaller than its predecessors, it isn’t so small as to be compromised in its handling and useability. And while Panasonic is providing touch-screen control for those comfortable with such things, the G3 can still be driven is the conventional manner via hard keys and menus.
And the built-in EVF is such an important feature in terms of this camera’s acceptability to D-SLR users... eyelevel shooting is second nature and they don’t expect to have to pay extra for it either.
Of course, that the G3 looks like a D-SLR is helpful too, giving it the necessary ‘serious camera’ kudos which also appeals to the ‘step-up’ customer (i.e. one ready to move on from a fixed-lens compact).
Here, then, is the irony of the CSC market at present – the serious shooters want something compact for the times when they leave the D-SLR at home, while those aspiring to a better camera want something that looks this way... which means it doesn’t necessarily have to be compact.
Panasonic’s slight repositioning of the Lumix G3 covers this latter option without diminishing its capabilities as far as the enthusiast-level shooter is concerned. Consequently, its remains very much a realistic alternative to buying an entry-level D-SLR, now with size very much on its side.