Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Shooting with the Pentax 645D...

Pentax 645D

A few months ago in late December I was liaising with Pentax Australia and the good people at the company wanted me to shoot some of my work with a medium format digital camera, their flagship camera the Pentax 645D.
Now just to set the record straight i'm in no way endorsed by any company to write favourable write-ups of any sorts.
If i'm offered a product to play with and i'm not too impressed with it for whatever reason I just won't talk about it much, but if the product makes a positive difference to my workflow and output then i'll have no hesitations in letting it be known. And so we arrive at this blog post on this camera which i've been meaning to write about for a little while now. Not a review, but more a short write-up of my thoughts on shooting with this piece of kit.

Firstly I have to state that i'm not a gear junkie! I don't really care much about cameras, brands, lenses, megapixels and other gear that we use to do what we do. Most modern dslr cameras produced within the last few years are more than capable tools. I stay away from camera forums where users post mostly brick wall or hair on the baboon's ass shots debating resolutions until the next camera or lens is released. I got over that hump years ago and my photography resulted in being much better for it. My whole philosophy to photography has changed over the years and I now see the camera as being more an obstacle to the creative process at hand than a creative tool. As far as i'm concerned the photography happens 2" behind the viewfinder in that mush between our ears, the camera is just a tool to record what we've pre visualized or learnt to see after it's taught us to see!

645D images
When I was offered to shoot with the 645D I didn't think much of it as I saw it as a possible hindrance having to learn a system, but coming from a Pentax K5 dslr the menu and control layout was all too familiar and other than the body weight and size, just handling it for a few minutes felt as if i'd been shooting with it for years.
The lens attached to this body was a D-FA 55/2.8 which is an equivalent to about a 43mm on a full frame sensor camera! For my style of shooting it's the perfect focal length, not too short or too long, just right for the framing I use, it's the way I see things. In fact I could probably get along doing what I do with just this one lens if I had to.
The camera is a little slow when comparing it to a zippier modern crop or full frame dslr camera but for creative type work that's a good thing as it slows you down as well and sort of forces you to think between every frame. Nothing new to me though as i've come from a film background and shooting in the past with mechanical K1000's was even slower and it's still how I tend to shoot with my current dslr.

With 40mp of resolution the raw files are large and that's to be expected. My editing system handled them without any issues but I did notice the slightly longer processing times when working with multiple layers in photoshop. Being able to work on such large files and knowing the printing size potential and cropping power felt like good insurance next to my K5's 16mp files. One thing i've constantly heard about with medium format is the certain look images have, I never really believed it but after using this camera for a little while there's definitely something in that. I'm not 100% sure what it is but i'm sort of putting it down to the shallower depth of field at equivalent apertures with the larger area sensor. Throw some creative lighting into the scene and the images have a certain three dimensionality to them that pop, something more noticeable in print than on screen.
As someone that uses off camera strobist lighting techniques I was a little bit concerned about the maximum sync shutter speed being only 1/125s. For indoor studio work maybe not so much of an issue but trying to tame down bright outdoor ambient whilst maintaining a larger aperture would be a tad limiting. Not a big deal breaker though as there are ways around it by using a heavy ND filter in front of the lens, the drawback being you'll need some serious wattage out of your strobe, it's a viable workaround to this issue.

Now i've never used any other type of medium format digital camera before so I don't have anything to compare it to, but at this price point this camera is a serious tool that needs to be considered for those that take their work more seriously and in particular those that make a living from their photography. Could I have taken the same shots I took with the 645D with my K5? Absolutely! The main difference being the resolution more than anything else and ultimately this is what you're paying for in dollars.
As good as what it was, all good things must come to an end and I recently handed the 645D back. After shooting solely with this camera for a couple of months or so the K5 dslr felt like a toy in comparison but the reality is i'll continue to shoot with the K5 dslr as it's still more capable a camera than what I am a photographer. I'd like to thank Pentax Australia for giving me the opportunity to shoot with it and fully appreciate what a fine tool is capable of.