Pentax 645D vs Sigma SD1 Merrill (Part 1)

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Pro photographer Dave Kai Piper heads out on a typical shoot to test these two high-end cameras.

Description: Using the night camera for the job is paramount when you have a client to answer to. Both these cameras offer up amazing image quality, but in different ways.

Using the night camera for the job is paramount when you have a client to answer to. Both these cameras offer up amazing image quality, but in different ways.

Nikon or Canon these cameras are not, both the sigma and Pentax are slow and precise tools. Not for every photographer by any stretch of the imagination. However, if you’re looking for image quality over all else, there cameras are certainly worth considering. The concept of the innovative Sigma Foveon sensor going up against the raw size and power of the Pentax is the man area of review. One thing to keep in mind while reading this head-to-head, is that the Sigma is now available for a fraction of the Pentax price tag.

How Dave Kai Piper tested the cameras

During the testing process we set up a number of shoots-one was in Central London white another was a beach location. I had no doubt that the Pentax was going to be amazing in the studio and I have used the Sigma many times for client shoots, so I knew the quality it gave. What I really wanted to do was see what these cameras are like to live with outside of the studio I set a goal in mind for the cameras – a tricky shoot with a horse on a beach for the last test. The winning cameras would be the one I felt most comfortable with for the complicated shots I had in mind. Both of these cameras were designed for one thing: quality, and both models are slow fine turned tools. They are designed for careful thought and use, and the two of them can deliver equality breathtaking results when used in the right way. I’m looking for which one gives me the confidence to let my creative mind run free. Does the cropped Foveon sensor match the 44 x 33mm CCD Sensor in the 645D? Let’s find out…’

Camera build and handling

Description: The Pentax 645D

The Pentax 645D

There is not much bad to say about either of the cameras when it comes to build quality. Sigma lands the first blow with wonderful and innovative shutter that chops over the sensor when the lens is removed. Pentax gets night back by having a shutter exposure check release. Anyone who has used a medium-format camera will know of the lag whit these huge files are processed but Pentax has thought round this problem in a clever way. Neither camera has a fast frame rate. The Pentax 645D gives a fixed 1.1fps, whereas are the Sigma is faster, but with a longer processing time and limited buffering.

Both cameras fit in the hand well. The Pentax has a large grip, which aids the balance and poise of the medium-format-style body, housing a large 44 x 33 mm CCD sensor. For the size, the 645D is surprisingly light, nimble and easy to use. Having two tripod mounts on the Pentax is rice as is the massive viewfinder. The Sigma has some way to go in the ergonomics but once you find the buttons it does get move fluent to use. Having a quick menu to get to all the things you need is very handy.

Description: Sigma SD1

Sigma SD1

The Sigma SD1 is small, just a little smaller than a Nikon D700. For a body this size it is rigid and tough. Neither cameras are pretty, but they’ve been designed for a purpose. The Sigma has one of the most amazing sounding shutter releases clicking as if it will last a lifetime.

Ease of use, quality of interface

Sigma SD1 Merrill: 7/10: Built to withstand the elements, clearly function before form, no style points

Pentax 645D: 7/10: Well-planned and quick to learn, very light and nimble for a medium-format body

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