Self-Portrait taken with the 55mm lens at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
I believe I mentioned in a recent post that I’d sold my firstborn (ok, I don’t have kids so that’s not entirely true – I sold someone else’s firstborn – just kidding) to purchase a new Pentax 645z medium format body and a couple of used lenses (the 55mm and the 28-45mm zoom). I haven’t really gotten out with it, much; this camera is sort of like saving the “good” silverware for use at that special dinner party. Also, I currently live in a part of Texas that is totally blah when it comes to scenic landscapes, especially in the summer. Hey, I was born in Montana and also lived in Washington State, so I tend to measure everything else by those yardsticks. I did, however, need to get the camera set up and start learning how to use it so I wouldn’t be wasting valuable sunrise or sunset time fumbling around the controls during its use while on vacation.
I’ve got several reasons for adding this camera to my Canon family:
- I’ve wanted to follow in my father’s photographic footsteps. After all, Dad is the person who instilled in me the love of photography. Back in the day, when the family lived in Montana, Dad would take his Mamiya medium format film camera and drive up to Glacier National Park or maybe Big Mountain in Whitefish to spend the day capturing the scenery. One of my bucket list goals is to get up to Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana, and photograph the snow ghosts in black & white with my new medium format camera, like Dad did.
- It’s been a great desire of mine to try out medium format for landscapes as I love the dynamic range capture ability of medium formats. To see the sensor of a medium format camera compared to the sensor of a full-frame camera is always an eye-opener. Sure, I could rent a medium format, but I figured that for the price of repeated renting (basically to take along for each and every one of my vacations), I might as well just buy the camera outright for use for the rest of my life (fingers crossed that I at least live long enough to justify the price of camera and lenses).
- I’m really interested in comparing the 645z to the Canon 5DSR
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my Canons. I love Canon glass and I love my 1DX and 5DSRs. That won’t change. The Pentax 645z is like the rich aunt coming to live with the family, promising to buy a new house of the family’s choice, for the family’s use in perpetuity.
Why did I choose the Pentax 645z, a camera that’s been around since 2014, as opposed to the new Hasselblad X1D-50c mirrorless or the Fuji GFS 50S mirrorless?
- Price – I wanted a new, not used, camera body. That was non-negotiable. On the BH Photo site, the Pentax lists at $6,996.95, the Hasselblad sells for $8,995.00 and the Fuji sells for a comparable $6,499.95.
- Online reviews and sample images; I used Flickr.com a lot for sample image review. I must admit that the images are all comparable, so I knew that whichever medium format camera I chose would produce great pics.
- Established quality and reliability. The Pentax is a great brand and it’s been around long enough to have established its quality and reliability with users (a Pentax was my first SLR purchase when I entered high school, eons ago). Hasselblad – well, that goes without saying, and I did consider purchasing this camera except that it is more expensive and the wide-angle landscape lens I wanted to pair with the camera (Hasselblad XCD 30mmHasselblad XCD 30mm) has been on backorder forever. The Fuji looked interesting, but it’s brand-spankin’ new, I’ve never used a Fuji before (nor have I ever used a mirrorless, actually) and it didn’t have enough reviews or images to change my mind away from the Pentax. It’s also easier, at this point, to find used Pentax lenses from places like KEH and Lensauthority.
- AF fine-tune adjustment (aka micro focus adjustment). This was the major deal breaker for me (aside from price). I wanted the camera to have some sort of AF fine-tune adjustment in its menu. I don’t care that lenses are supposed to focus perfectly with all cameras of the same brand – they don’t. I have had to use micro-focus adjustment on every single one of my Canon L-lenses to make sure they focus correctly between all of my Canon models. I read that legacy lenses for the Pentax (like the 55mm lens I own) have front/back focus issues and need to be adjusted. In all my research, I never found out if the Hasselblad or the Fuji had the ability to fine-tune focus.
Below are my first thoughts of the camera right out of the box and after a couple of very short photo sessions: a morning session at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, and a session at my DIY studio in my apartment.
Out of the box:
- Without any lens attached, it’s actually as light as my 5DSR and definitely lighter than my 1DX. It feels like that to me, anyway. The heaviness comes from the lenses. That 28-45mm zoom lens I have is a freakin’ tank! The 55mm lens, on the other hand, is light as a feather. Ok, allow me to amend this: any lens affixed to the Pentax after hefting the camera with the 28-45mm zoom attached would feel light as a feather.
- The Pentax 645z body is sort of “boxy” compared to my Canon’s, but I love the grip – it’s a deeper grip which allows my small arthritic fingers to get a better handle on the camera.
- This camera has a built-in remote receiver, so I don’t have to attach a wireless receiver to the hot shoe or any other internal attachment point like I do my Canons. Plus, the Pentax wireless remote sender is cheaper than the ones purchased for my Canons (naturally, it must be purchased separately, because – well – they want to make all the money they can off of you in terms of accessories). That said, after use for all the self-portraits, I can say the Pentax wireless remote is definitely less sensitive and much slower than my Canon wireless remotes. I can hold my Canon remote sender behind my back or on the floor (pushing the button with a toe) and the Canon picks it up. Not so with the Pentax remote sender/receiver setup.
- Cameras of different brands will, of course, have their buttons located in different positions, those buttons will represent slightly different uses, and even the way a lens is attached to the camera body will be different. So, I continue to have a bit of a learning curve.
- Both of my lenses (55mm and 28-45mm) needed to be AF fine-tuned. Easy enough, except here’s the kicker: unlike each of my Canon cameras, which allow for, and keeps in the camera’s memory, each of the settings for the wide-angle as well as the telephoto portion of a zoom, the Pentax 645z does not do that. Oh, it does remember the AF fine-tune settings for each separate lens, but when it comes to fine-tuning the AF of a zoom lens, it only remembers the last setting entered for that lens. So, I must remember the separate settings for the 28mm focal length and the 45mm focal length, then re-adjust in the camera depending upon which focal length I choose to use for a shot. Oh well, memorization is good for the aging brain, right? It just takes a little more time to set and then re-set focus adjustment for focal lengths, so it’s good I am photographing only landscapes and not wildlife or sports.Speaking of which, I did not purchase this camera for sports or other action shots. I only wanted this camera for landscape and portrait imagery. Good thing, because the Pentax 645z has a speed of 3 fps (frames per second) as opposed to my Canon 5DSR (5 fps) or 1DX (12-14 fps).
- All of my Canons sport L-brackets. I love those things because it allows easy setup on the tripod for vertical or horizontal shots. Initially, the closest thing I found to an L-bracket for my Pentax 645z was to purchase two separate quick-release plates from Really Right Stuff (RRS), which I did. Each plate is $55.00. Another, later, search dug up camera plates for this camera as sold from KES (Kirk Enterprise Solutions).
Regarding quality, I LOVE the results from this camera. Below are some landscape and studio self-portraits captured using each of the focal lengths on my lenses. The dynamic range is amazing, as is the ability to crop to 100% and still get awesome resolution.
Sunrise over Big Slough in Brazoia National Wildlife Refuge (28-45mm zoom at the 28mm focal length)
The boardwalk over Big Slough at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge (28mm focal length cropped)
The boardwalk over Big Slough at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge (28-45mm zoom lens at the 45mm focal length)
The Brazoria NWR trip was the very first time I’d used this camera and lenses, and of course I’d forgotten the AF adjustment settings for the zoom lens focal lengths. So I messed around with the adjustment there at the refuge, not really knowing if I’d applied the right settings (I had not). Thankfully, these zoom lens shots still look pretty good, as long as you don’t zoom in 100% on those two black-bellied whistling ducks perched on the railing way in the background.
Taken with the 55mm lens
Taken with the 28-45mm zoom at the 45mm focal length
Taken with the 28-45mm zoom lens at the 28mm focal length with the top and sides cropped.
Taken with the 28-45mm zoom lens at the 28mm focal length with the camera and tripod moved much closer to the subject and the top and a bit of the sides cropped off.
These self-portraits were all edited with some very minor sharpening applied. The 100% crop below of the second image in the series above shot using the 45mm focal length, however, is the original with no sharpening applied.
I’ll be taking this camera and the lenses (as well as my Canons) along for my Mt. Rainier National Park and Glacier National Park trips this year. I am super-excited about this and will, of course, share my thoughts and images here. I especially want to see just how well this medium format camera does with high-ISO environments, like night photography and other general low-light conditions.