It's been just under a year since Pentax first released images of its 645D medium format digital SLR camera and the company has finally announced its launch, albeit only in Japan for the moment. Offering 40 megapixels, dual-memory support and professional-level image processing you could be in for a pleasant surprise if you were assuming an astronomical price tag.

Much speculation and buzz followed an announcement on 24 March 2009 that Pentax was to produce a medium format digital SLR camera. Now almost a year later, the company has made things official with the Japanese launch of the 6.1 x 4.6 x 4.7 inch 645D. Contained within the lightweight, weather-resistant magnesium-steel-alloy frame and diecast aluminum chassis is a 40 megapixel 44mm by 33mm Kodak CCD sensor with an ISO200 to ISO1000 sensitivity range (ISO100 to ISO1600 extended).

With a viewfinder offering about 98 percent field of view and a tempered glass toughened 921,000 dot 3in anti-reflective LCD display with brightness level and color adjustment, the user is given the choice of optical digital image preview. Pentax's original PRIME (Pentax Real Image Engine) II caters for high speed processing and a new specifically-designed algorithm is claimed to give "super-high-quality images rich in gradation and faithful in color reproduction".

The camera benefits from a 14-bit analog to digital converter, 77-segment multi-pattern metering system and a complete redesign of the auto focus system to produce the new SAFOX IX + wide-frame auto focus system with 11 focus points. Naturally, in-camera manipulation of such things as hue, contrast and saturation is available via a Custom Image function but the unit comes bundled with the Pentax Digital Camera Utility 4 software package for computer-based editing.

Pentax has also released an FA 645 55mm F2.8 AL[IF] SDM AW lens to go with the camera body but the 645D is compatible with all 645 system lenses and a piezoelectric element is used to keep dust from the sensor when swapping them over. Having two SD/SDHC card slots gives the photographer the option of output of RAW images to one medium and JPEG to another. The camera will function in temperatures as low as -10C/14F and the D-LI90 Li-ion battery is claimed to be good for at least 800 images between charges.

Unlike the Mamiya model overviewed recently, the 645D is not going to cause cardiac arrest at the bank but is still likely outside the price range of most amateur photographers, with a suggested retail price of ¥850,000 (just shy of US$9,400). Sadly, for the time being at least, Pentax has opted to release its new medium format camera in Japan only.