What is Pentax thinking? On March 10th, they announced their new 645D camera, a 40-megapixel medium format SLR for $9,500 (body only). Yes, just $9,500. That’s half the price of similar cameras being offered by Pentax’s competitors. Mamiya’s DM40 camera sells for about $22,000 with a lens, and Hasselblad’s H4D-40 camera comes in at just under $20,000 with a lens. Although the 645D won’t be available until May, Pentax went ahead and announced it just nine days after Mamiya’s press release on their DM40.
The public takes notice when a company prices its product for 10% less than a competitor’s. But selling a product for 50% less than the competition is the corporate equivalent of kicking the competitor in the shin. An amazed public will stare at the one who has been kicked to see what response might be forthcoming. One wonders what the atmosphere is like in the marketing departments of Hasselblad and Mamiya, as they try to explain to their customers confidently, and with a smile, why their cameras cost twice as much as someone else’s. Perhaps there are good reasons, but the photo community would like to hear them.
Pentax also got Nikon’s and Canon’s attention with their pricing. Although full-frame cameras and medium format cameras are like apples and oranges, they are both cameras. They both take pictures. If the prices of the two are close, some photographers who were contemplating a top-of-the-line Canon or Nikon may look at the Pentax, also. The 645D is about $2,000 more than the Nikon D3X, but it has a bigger sensor and 15 more megapixels. The extra $2,000 for the medium format may be significant to someone who is earning a meager living in photography, but it is nothing to top wedding and commercial photographers who make several times that much on one job.
Photojournalists and photographers who shoot sports or wildlife have good reasons to stick to full-frame cameras, but those who shoot weddings, fashion, food, architecture, products, and landscapes are all prime candidates for a medium format camera. Photographers who have already taken the plunge into medium format are likely too heavily invested in lenses to switch to Pentax, but many others have been holding off buying because the price was too high. The latter group may want to get the 645D in their hands to study it.
That could be a problem for a while, however, as Pentax is only selling it in Japan initially. It is not mentioned on Pentax’s USA website, but it is on their Japan website (in English). Imaging Resource has an article on the 645D with more photos. You can read more about medium format cameras here.