In late 2010, Pentax stunned the Medium Format photo world by releasing a 40Mpix camera at a price point that seriously undercut the competition’s. Using a 44x33mm CCD, it slightly outresolved the best full-frame DSLRs such as the D800e at base ISO, but crumbled rapidly after ISO 800 and suffered from lower dynamic range.
Today, Pentax is back with a 51.4Mpx CMOS sensor from Sony and an even “cheaper” retail price. Irresistible? Dunno …
Back in early 2011, the lure of larger sensors and larger pixels was strong. Today, things have changed quite a lot and cameras such as the Sony A7R provide amateurs and pros with all the technical quality required to create excellent 40 inch prints in a small and easy package.
In terms of absolute resolution, there’s not much in it. At 8256×6192 pixels (Pentax) vs 7360×4912 pixels (Sony), there’s only a 12% increase on the long side and 26% on the other. Hardly noticeable in most prints. And since the two sensors share similar technology, there won’t be difference in per-pixel quality. The 18% larger pixels on the Pentax won’t be the source of a quantum leap in quality either. Call it a *very* slight win for the Pentax, on paper.
What’s much more important to my eyes is the 4:3 format which is more pleasant and often requires less cropping. A clear win for Pentax.
Pentax wins because of its more extensive and reasonably priced range. Sony have now almost reached a point where they produce more full frame bodies than full frame lenses, so any reference to a range is laughing matter.
But, what Sony lenses have released are mostly excellent and significantly cheaper. The Sony/Zeiss FE 35 and FE 55 and absolutely stunning lenses that few other – regardless of price or format – can touch.
Contrast this with the more extensive Pentax SMC range, below:
And add the endless pile of older Pentax 645 lenses available very cheap in second-hand stores and on eBay and the possibilities are infinite.
However, these are much larger than the Sony’s and not always as bitingly sharp. Besides, the A7r can also count on a large variety of legacy glass, one I am particularly fond of being the very affordable Leica-R range. Because of the price, weight and sharpness advantage, I feel the A7r catches up with the Pentax here. Call it a draw.
It’s hard to fall in love with the Sony’s ill-conceived ergonomics. Very hard. But it’s small and nimble. It’s likely to be with you where the much larger and ponderous Pentax will not be able to follow.
Advantage Sony A7r.
That Medium Format look
This is where a larger sensor truly shines and where the Pentax should show its heals to the Sony.
That look many of us were hoping for in our long wait for full-frame sensor is a combination of smooth tonal gradations and acute sharpness. While none of the samples released so far are really convincing in terms of sharpness, the tonal rendition is really lovely.
However, the A7r shouldn’t be discarded too quickly as it too can produce that look in spades and with the right lens, sharpness is second to none this side of 10 grand.
A slight advantage to the Pentax 645Z.
With a more recent sensor that’s also 68% larger, the Pentax should dust the Sony easily here. And the crazy max ISO specs of the Pentax also hint at amazing performance.
But none of the pictures I have seen so far have convinced me of this superiority. And if I tell you the A7r Bosphorus image above was shot at ISO 3200 and remains buttery smooth, you’ll probably agree there’s little lacking in the Sony’s performance.
The jury is still out on this one.
As impressive and laudable as Pentax’s achievement is, the Sony is still 60% cheaper and most of the excellent++ lenses also are.
Clear advantage to Sony.
If you already own a slew of Pentax lenses, your decision’s already made.
If, like me, you wake up at night dreaming of technical cameras, the Pentax is a step in the right direction, though probably not a tipping point.
For most photographers, and particularly of the Traveling Wilbury species, the Sony is the far more logical choice. Of course, I’ve yet to lay hands on a 645Z, but I strongly doubt I will feel sad when I do and hand it back to return to my A7r and it’s gorgeous glass.
So I guess the real verdict is that you must all petition Sony to release that rumoured (nudge nudge, Andrea) medium format RX2 and give the (leaf-shutter) fixed 45/2.5 Distagon (Sonnar?) all the love and know-how they can muster. If they do, the waiting lists will be huge. I’m in!
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