Back in 2011, we compared the Pentax 645D medium format DSLR to the Nikon D3x, the highest-resolution full-frame DSLR offered at the time. The 645D ended up proving that it could deliver much better image quality than the D3x, but because the D3x made up for this by offering superior performance and more versatility, we ended up giving both cameras the same rating. Back then, the prices of the D3x and the 645D were comparable: $7999 vs. $9999, respectively. $9999 definitely didn't seem like an unreasonable amount to ask for a high-resolution camera like the 645D, and we couldn't help but strongly recommend the Pentax for studio and landscape shooters.
However, with the announcement and launch of the Nikon D800 and D800E (a variant of the D800 without a low-pass filter, just like the 645D) earlier this year, things have changed a bit. Even though the Nikon D700 (which preceded the D800) only featured a 12-megapixel sensor, it received praise as one of the best full-frame DSLRs ever made. Thus, Nikon had a challenging task ahead of them, and they decided to focus on improving the resolution in the D800 above all else. The D800 series represents a bold move by Nikon, not only because of the high 36-megapixel resolution, but also because of the comparatively low price for a camera of such high caliber.
With its new 36-megapixel sensor, the Nikon D800E rivals the resolution of the 645D, at least on paper. Given its $3299 price tag, we were very tempted to see just how well the D800E matches up against the Pentax 645D, which fortunately managed to fall to a more reasonable $8799 earlier this year.
So, which takes better pictures, the D800E, or the 645D? Which camera is the better choice, and for whom? Is medium format still the only way to go for ultra-high-resolution photography? Read our in-depth comparison to find out! If you're a professional looking to step up to a DSLR delivering better image quality, we hope you find this review useful!
We used a production Nikon D800E and a production Pentax 645D with the latest available firmware (as of 11/2012) for this review. We were also able to acquire the SMC Pentax-D FA 645 55mm F2.8 lens to use with the 645D, and on the Nikon, we used the 50mm F1.4G and 24-70mm F2.8G lenses.
Review originally published on December 1st, 2012