The next generation of Canon 5D (5D IV or 5DX) soon approaches and there is a possibility of a Nikon D850 or D900 with a sensor exceeding 36MP. This is the way of things: Canon and Nikon are the big players and it is only very recently that anyone has impacted that, courtesy of Sony. With their mirrorless FE bodies sporting superb Sony sensors, Sony has been able to entice quite a few Canon users (including myself) to buy A7 series bodies upon which their Canon lenses can still be used via a Metabones adaptor.
The question is, what on earth has Pentax got to do with the above? Well, to answer that question I am not going to refer to their APS-C DSLR offerings, but to the Pentax 645Z and earlier 645D. Pentax released these bodies with high end specifications and low end prices and I am wondering if the company has similar intentions with the new Full-Frame body, due Spring 2016. You can read more about the Pentax FF camera here at Pentax Forums.
Continuing with the Pentax 645Z, Ricoh (which owns the Pentax brand) showed that they could produce a super-tough, high spec body with excellent ergonomics, intuitive User Interface, class leading weather sealing and supported by new release lenses of exceptional quality. History seems to be repeating itself, with Pentax promising five FF lenses at launch.
Rumors are now suggesting that Pentax/Ricoh has secured the 42MP BSI sensor from the A7R II, which is an incredible performer. While the well-polished D810 offers superior base ISO Dynamic Range (DR), the A7R II puts in a much stronger high ISO performance, where noise and especially colour shifts are in new territory for such resolution. We know that the implimentation of Sony’s 51.4MP 44mm x 33mm sensor in their 645Z is seen by many as superior than seasoned Medium Format manufacturers have managed in their 3-4 times more expensive bodies. Pentax is known to produce great sensor performance, including colour (which tends to be very natural/neutral with good skin tones). I love the colour coming out of my 645Z and Ricoh GR.
But it takes more than a fancy 42MP BSI sensor to sell a camera – it takes a system. Pentax has been smart here. They have laid down the two workhorse pro/prosumer lenses right at the outset: the 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8. Sadly, they have also continued their tradition of long, unmemorable product names:
HD Pentax-D FA 24-70 f2.8 ED SDM WR (see techradar.com article)
HD Pentax-D FA* 70-200 f2.8 ED DC AW
There are strong indications that the 24-70 f2.8 is a variant of the Tamron SP 24-70 f2.8 Di VC, which is well regarded. However, there are indications that there may be some improved internal elements and image stabilisation is missing from the Pentax version. This lends credence to the entrenched rumors that the new Pentax FF contains In Body Image Stabilisation. By dropping it from lenses, you can make them smaller, lighter and with more reliable performance (especially at short focal lengths). There is an ephotozine review available for the HD Pentax-D FA* 70-200 f2.8 ED DC AW (presumably pre-production lens) tested on APS-C and it looks superb at the wide end, but weaker than the competition at the 200mm end. Considering that this lens is in the same price bracket as the stunning Canon 70-200 f2.8 L II, this could be a tough sell, especially considering that the Pentax weighs 300g more, at 1800g. Lets see what production lenses look like on the Pentax FF before leaping to conclusions, however.
Without getting into other rumors, such as the possibility for a super high resolution pixel shift mode, the initial package is interesting and I fully expect it to be at a price that makes Canon and Nikon wince.
There are quite a few wedding photographers out there who only shoot with their 24-70 & 70-200 f2.8 pro zooms, but clearly Pentax will need to add some compelling primes to really convince most professional users. A 35mm f1.4, 50mm f1.4 (updated) and 85mm f1.4 would be first on the shopping list for many, followed by a 16-35mm and 24mm f1.4. So this is my take: Pentax is 2-3 prime lenses and one zoom away from having all that a ‘Mr Average’ pro wedding photographer is likely to want and this makes Pentax dangerous to Canikon.
The one Achilles heel is pro support. If Pentax really is aiming for the professional market, they will need to ensure they can provide competitive turnaround and customer service for pros whose equipment is their livelihood.
But wait. This is a DSLR with the typical register that entails. Pentax does not need to rush to produce lenses, because existing Sigma, Tamron and Tokina will drop Pentax mounts on existing designs…..
I have no doubt the camera will be very good, so it all depends on price. The incredible performance of third party lens manufacturers in the last two years have put Pentax in a wonderful position to really upset the apple cart. And I suspect they will.