This Old Camera: Medium Format Corner – Pentax 645

Having just received my first lens for this camera today so not one roll of film developed I may be putting the cart before the horse, but I am so impressed with this camera already I figured I would proceed…

For family reasons I wanted to obtain 3 medium format cameras. It relates to kids and is kind of mushy so I will leave that there. Having had one medium format film camera fall in my lap and another call to me from beneath a glass enclosure at the local camera shop the only question was “What to get?”. While I like to claim brand ambivalence…

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it is hard to ignore the fact that I have Pentax leanings.

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So Pentax it is. The obvious go to darling for a Pentax medium format camera would be the Pentax 6X7.

Pentax 6×7 MUBy Jan von Erpecom – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Like many others I already had eyes for it. Having access to a respectable, but not massive, unexpected windfall at my disposal I got to researching. Why not shopping? No matter how sure I am about something I always research it first. Glad I did because due to the medium format cameras I had already and some other factors a different camera kept rising in the rankings for me. First off things that moved me away from the 6X7. Very personal to my tastes, but there were a few ‘already hads’.

  • Already had…
    • a fully manual camera in the Hasselblad 501c.
    • a 6X7 in the form of the Mamiya RZ67.
    • one camera of considerable size and weight.

Then there was the fact that a 6X7 would cost a bit more than my windfall and spending my own money because I got unexpected money seemed counter-intuitive. Especially if there was another valid option and there was. I had never heard of a Pentax 645 film camera before. Contax 645? Yes. Mamiya 645? Yes. Pentax digital 645 D and Z? Yes. After reading some reviews including one by Ken Rockwell I was hooked.  Why? Glad you asked.

  • The Pentax 645 was nearly half the cost of a comparably spec’d Pentax 6X7 or even it’s succesor, the 645N.
  • Getting this camera would cover the popular medium format image sizes, 6X6, 6X7, and now 645.
  • Not only had a light meter, but automatic exposure modes as well.
  • The incremental stops and autofocus gains of the 645N were not necessary for me.

Now that I have had some time I can report that the handling of this camera is very solid. It may pass, but there are aspects of this camera that could elevate it in standings. Namely…

  • Program modes are quick to pick up and once you get used to them the LCD user interface is pretty handy.
  •  Many lamented the lack of dials, that were added on the 645N, and put down the the push button interface of  the 645, but I like the button layout.

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  • After taking some time to acclimate myself and obsessively reading the mildly comical instruction manual here is a run down of the modes I use most.
    • Program: Set it and forget it.
      • Aperture Ring: A
      • Notes: Seems to favor 1/250s shutter speed when possible and adjusts as need be given the conditions.
      • Handling: Frame, focus, shoot.
    • Aperture priority: My usual go to auto mode.
      • Aperture Ring: A
      • Notes: Like on a Pentax 35mm SLR or DSLR the aperture is adjusted using the up and down buttons near the shutter on/off switch rather than the aperture ring.
      • Handling: Note the LED display on the inside, lower right corner in the viewfinder, frame, rough focus, adjust the aperture, fine focus, shoot.
    • Shutter priority: Less used, but handy in bright conditions for me.
      • Aperture Ring: A
      • Notes: Like on a Pentax 35mm SLR or DSLR the shutter is adjusted using the up and down buttons near the shutter on/off switch.
      • Handling: Note the LED display on the inside, lower right corner in the viewfinder, frame, rough focus, adjust the shutter speed, fine focus, shoot.
    • Manual
      • Aperture: This is the one mode where you adjust the aperture using the physical aperture ring.
      • Notes: Shutter speed is adjusted using the up and down arrows next to the shutter on/off switch. Light meter gives you reading in the viewfinder.
      • Handling: Handle your business as you see fit, focus, shoot.

Pluses.

  • A compact point and shoot in size compared to the RZ67 and were it not for the grip it would be smaller than the Hasselblad 501c.

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  • The 75mm is quite the dainty lens. This makes for a very well balanced camera that was no trouble at all to carry around. When I first unpackaged it my first thought was that they must have sent me a 35mm lens by mistake. Smaller image, smaller image circle, smaller lens I gather, but look at the difference in the shots above.
  • Once you get the hang of the settings navigating the camera is a breeze.
  • The grip is great. Makes carrying the camera around way more comfortable than the other two. There is even an opening between the grip and the body that makes it easy to get a very secure grip on the camera when carrying it around.

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  • Some reviews lamented a lack of dials like the 645N, but I actually liked the button layout very much in practice (which I did not expect). As an example I found it very easy to read the meter in the viewfinder while moving my index finger over to the up/down arrows to make any necessary adjustments without ever having to take my eye away.

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  • Auto advance. Turns out I LOVE auto advance. Go figure. Far too often I still forget to advance the film in all of my manual advance cameras. Minor, but one less thing to concern myself with.
  • Loading film is a breeze. The integrated film back is well done.
  • Focusing is also a breeze. Some noted a dim view in the finder, but that was not the case with me.
  • Time will tell, but so far metering seems spot on.
  • Value. With what I paid for the camera and lens I bought separately combined I would be hard pressed to find a body only Hasselblad. The Pentax 645 body with film door (viewfinder and film back being integrated) cost only $20 more than what I was recently quoted for a Hasselblad film back.
  • Some other things I will think of and add later…

No real demerits for me, just a few oddities to familiarize ones self with that were trivial.

  • What would be the detachable film back on many medium format cameras is internal here so there will be no switching between backs mid roll. I own exactly one film back for my other 2 so this is a non-issue for me.
  • No incremental stops. Not an issue for me personally.
  • The on/off button only turns off the shutter,  not the entire camera.
  • I can hardly believe it, but I actually miss having a dark slide. I mean I curse them every time I go to take a shot and nothing happens because I forgot to remove it and they are constantly at risk of getting lost once removed. But in place it is an excellent insurance policy that keeps me from taking an errant shot and when removed inner mechanical shenanigans prevent me from ruining exposures by absent mindedly removing the film back altogether. On my Mamiya removing the dark slide also keeps me from dumping the film back on the ground like a bad habit by accidentally hitting the release lever on the bottom. I do stare at that back release lever that says ‘OPEN’ right on it knowing we may ruin some exposures together one day. But I cannot hold a camera responsible for my short attention span.
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It even says OPEN.
  • That is all I have.

I went ahead and tele lens while I was at it.

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The last test was image quality, but given my past medium format and Pentax experiences I was not concerned and the 645 did not disappoint. Here is the ongoing album and below is a sample gallery:

-ELW

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