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High-end Pentax 645D camera heads to Europe

The Hoya subsidiary announces at Photokina that it's bringing its medium-format 645D camera to Europe. Coming along is a more aggressive marketing stance.

Pentax's 645D medium-format digital camera at Photokina
Pentax's 645D medium-format digital camera at Photokina Stephen Shankland/CNET

COLOGNE, Germany--How much room is there in the medium-format digital camera market? Pentax is hoping to find out by elbowing its way in with its 645D.

The company showed off the hefty camera at the Photokina Imaging show here this week. It's been for sale only in Japan so far, but at Photokina, Pentax announced it will go on sale in Europe starting in December.

"The 40-megapixel picture-taking mean machine, [which] delivers unprecedented image quality while offering top end control and user friendly handling, will be spreading its reach beyond Japan to invade European photography," Pentax said in a statement.

When Pentax launched the 645D earlier this year after years of on-again, off-again development, it downplayed its ambitions by saying the camera was chiefly for Japanese landscape photographers who have equipment from Pentax's medium-format 645 film camera days. But the company is taking a new tone with its aggressive statement about geographic expansion. It's also investing in work to ensure Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom can automatically correct Pentax medium-format lens issues, even before more mainstream optics have that support.

The 645D will have to reckon with two main classes of competitors. First are full-frame SLRs from Canon and Nikon, models that benefit from those companies' large customer base, relatively low costs, and broad research and manufacturing abilities. Second are medium-format rivals, chiefly Hasselblad and Phase One, the latter controlling the medium-format assets of Mamiya and Leaf.

Medium-format cameras use sensors larger than those in full-frame SLRs, whose image sensors measure 36x24mm, the same as a frame of 35mm film. Medium-format sensor sizes vary, but Pentax's is 44x33mm--not the biggest by any stretch, but larger sizes also mean higher costs. Larger sensors can capture more light, resulting in a combination of lower noise and more pixels, although there's plenty more to sensor design than mere surface area.

Pentax, a Hoya subsidiary, doesn't have a full-frame camera line to protect. Its new top-end model, the Pentax K-5 also announced at Photokina, has a 23.7x15.7mm sensor in line with those of mainstream SLRs.