Review: The Pentax 645Z is a Wedding Photographerís Medium Format Dream

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Iím an experienced wedding photographer who has wanted digital medium format for a long time. I use a pair of 1D Xs with the typical lenses that you would expect a wedding shooter to use. I never was intending on replacing my Canon gear, but rather supplementing it. My idea was use the medium format for location shooting, and use my Canonís for everything else.

However I only really started thinking seriously about medium format in late 2014 when two things happened:

1) A friend introduced me to the work of a spectacular wedding photographer called Jose Villa who has a absolutely beautiful style of photography from using a combination of a Contax 645 medium format film body and the Zeiss 80mm f/2. The first time I saw his photos I was transfixed. I already had many fast aperture lenses for my Canon rig, yet there was just a beautiful magical look about his shots that had me hooked. If you want to be really inspired, check out his website, the guy is an absolute genius.

2) Pentax released the 645Z in the middle of 2014. I certainly wasnít anywhere ready to jump ship over to it. I read reports that this was a very good piece of gear and for a medium format body was amazingly fast, but Iím the sort of guy to slowly analyze and research something before trying it out.

I did a lot of research into the Contax 645 and 80mm f/2 combo and eventually concluded that film probably wasnít for me. I do shoot quite a lot of shots at each wedding, and being a ex-computer engineer, digital just fits well with me. Also, I have a very efficient workflow based on digital from many years of shooting weddings with Canon digital SLRs.

So I wanted to try and replicate the look of the 645/80mm combination as close as I could, but in digital, and in a way that would be realistic to use at weddings. I didnít want to get some expensive gear and then have it gathering dust in my bag only pulled out for the odd hero shot.

You can add a digital back to the Contax 645 but my problems with that idea were that they were clearly targeted towards photographers working in studios, in that they were:

1. Slow
2. Had very poor to non existent high ISO support
3. Very expensive

Money aside, I felt that the speed and the poor performance above base ISOs would make it a deal-breaker for me.

Back to the Pentax 645Z. This looked like it fit all the criteria except for 2 problems: 1) it has a 1.3x crop factor (as most digital backs for the Contax also do), and 2) at the time I could not see a direct equivalent to the outstanding 80mm f/2 lens mentioned above.

I was doubtful that the overall look would be significantly more attractive for ďpeople shootingĒ than my existing Canon gear with itís fast aperture lenses. So I deliberated over it for months, looking at sample pictures from the 645Z but never quite finding someone who shot in a similar style to me.

One day I decided to just give it a try and dropped the local camera dealer a email to ask if they had any 645Zs in stock. The answer came back within a hour or two. Yes, a 645Z and 55mm/2.8 lens were waiting for me should I be interested.

I was still pretty doubtful at this point and I was by no means convinced that I was going to pull the trigger on it. I decided that I would try the camera in the store, and if I bought it Iíd sell it fairly quickly if I didnít feel it suited me.

The 645Z comes in at roughly $10,400 with the 55mm/2.8 lens. Whilst compared to the typical cameras used for weddings, this is horrifically expensive, but in the medium format world it is amazingly well priced. It is incredibly cheap compared to the Hasselblads and Phase ones out there ó even the ones that use the exact same sensors made by Sony.

As I stood in the shop while he unboxed the 645Z in front of me to try out, thoughts were still racing through my head. Should I do this? Will the difference be worth it? Is it really worth the hassle of running two camera systems?

I picked up the camera, expecting it to feel enormous. It certainly did feel big, but not as big as I was expecting. Being used to using a 1D X is probably a big reason for this. I imagine people using smaller cameras would probably find the 645Z extremely big.

I mounted the somewhat flimsy feeling 55mm/2.8 onto the Pentax and turned it on. It only took a few seconds to get it roughly where I wanted it settings wise for some simple test shots. I pointed it at my wife, set it to f/2.8, and took a single shot. As soon as I looked at the back screen of the camera I knew I was hooked. The simple photo there showed the most beautiful depth of field characteristics. The transition from in to out of focus was beautifully smooth, and the general out of focus regions were just a beautiful dreamy look with beautifully rendered highlights. And from a simple 55mm f/2.8 lens!

That was it. Out came the credit card.

I was in a 2 week gap of weddings and took full advantage of it, taking the camera out nearly every day and practicing with it. The kids got a few extra outings as I chased both them and the animals at the local zoo getting familiar with the camera.

150mm @ 2.8, 1000 ISO

150mm @ 2.8, 1000 ISO

150mm @ 2.8, 320 ISO

150mm @ 2.8, 320 ISO

The camera is very easy to use and doesnít really have much of a learning curve, however as with any camera you need to find your way around the camera and learn how to make it work efficiently for you.

Though Iím not a landscape guy by any stretch, any excuse to use the camera was taken.

55mm @ f/14, ISO 100

55mm @ f/14, ISO 100

55mm @ f/11, ISO 160

55mm @ f/11, ISO 160

150mm @ 2.8, ISO 6400

150mm @ 2.8, ISO 6400

35mm @ f/11, ISO 6400

35mm @ f/11, ISO 6400

55mm @ f/11, ISO 100, 15 seconds

55mm @ f/11, ISO 100, 15 seconds

Please note those above photos were cropped a little to give it a more panoramic look I often prefer. Hereís an uncropped photo.

35mm @ f/16, ISO 100

35mm @ f/16, ISO 100

By the time the first wedding came around, I was pretty comfortable using it. Not to the same extent as my Canon gear, but still ready to use in a paid shoot. I only used it sparingly, using my Canonís for the majority of the time.

Operation and Handling

If you are well versed in handling a digital SLR, youíll be fine with a 645Z. It really feels like a slightly oversized DSLR with a big sensor inside it.

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Physically, it feels nice to hold. Thereís no getting away from the fact that this is a serious chunk of gear, but itís not uncomfortable and it feels nice to hold and operate for the most part. It has a nice deep grip and feels very sturdy when holding it.

In the world of medium format, comparing it to cameras like the Phase ones, it is an absolute speed demon. Comparing it to a Canon or Nikon DSLR the opposite is true. You canít just blaze away with this camera and expect it to keep up with you. Itís fine for short bursts up to 3fps but you need to regulate your usage of the camera, as when that buffer gets hit the camera effectively stops working until the buffer is clear.

On the Canon 1D X, I often use auto ISO. Whilst itís certainly not for everyone, I find it works well for me. With auto-ISO on the Canon, I set my minimum shutter speed to what I want (typically 1/250) and sit in Aperture priority mode using exposure compensation as needed.

The 645Z does have auto ISO but in a fairly limited fashion. You canít run it in Av mode like I described above as there is no way to set the minimum shutter speed (that I am aware of), but rather there is a TAv mode where you set the shutter and aperture and then auto ISO will move the ISO to match. This to me is far from ideal as the lighting situation may change so much that the camera canít keep a good exposure just by changing the ISO, so Iíve ruled this mode out.

Iíve ended up mostly shooting the 645Z in full manual mode. Typically at a wedding I have both a 1D X and a 645Z on me. The Canon is setup in auto ISO as described above and is ready to go at any time. The 645Z I use more for shots where I can take my time and control the light, and left in M.

There is an incredibly convenient green button on the back of the camera that (when in M mode) will quickly set the correct exposure as the cameras meters it ó itís a quick way to get going quickly before you are 100% sure what the settings are for a decent exposure.

The buttons on the camera are pretty predictably placed. I donít find it as quick and easy to jump round as a Canon, but itís far from bad and with a bit of experience you get used to where everything is and donít really think about it.

The one exception is the placement of the autofocus buttons. You press 1 button to engage a AF point selection mode then you use the 4 buttons surrounding the center ďOKĒ button to move the AF point around. The problem is, at least with my fingers itís very easy to bump the OK button which kicks you straight out of AF point selection and you have to start again. Super frustrating.

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Battery life? No complaints. Iíve used a 645Z solidly at a wedding and only changed the battery after roughly 8 hours of shooting.

Autofocus

Somewhat similar to above, itís excellent for a medium format but average compared to a modern Canon or Nikon. Its saving grace is that it is at least very accurate ó itís pretty rare that Iíve had a photo blatantly out of focus due to the camera missing it completely, but again you canít just blaze away with this camera.

Unfortunately the 27 AF points are gathered somewhat to the center of the viewfinder, I do wish they were more spread out, even if there was less of them.

I actually find manual focus very useful on this camera as the viewfinder is nice and bright. Manual focus is fairly easy. Not for everyone but when Iíve used it Iíve had good results.

AF performance varies lens to lens. For example the 55mm lens is prone to hunting, whereas the 150mm lens I later bought is relatively snappy.

Live View

The rear LCD screen is beautifully sharp and detailed. Itís easy to see if your photo is in focus even without zooming in.

Live view is excellent and has a real time histogram to help with exposure. Obviously more useful to the landscape guys, but very nice when used. When in live view mode you can zoom in 16x to check focus. The LCD screen can be flipped out so you can look down at the camera, however this is not useful for me as a wedding guy.

Second Tripod Mount

This is new to me: the camera has 2 tripod mounts, one on the bottom and one on the left hand side of the camera. I find this useful in a way that I doubt the 645Z makers imagined: at weddings I use a Spyder holster system that essentially involves you attaching a metal plate to the camera tripod mount, which then has a clip that you can attach the camera to your belt in a fraction of a second.

I also use a quick release plate for my tripod, and when you mount the 2 together it can be a bit uncomfortable to hold. However on the 645Z I can put the Spyder plate on the left mount and my tripod plate on the underneath of the camera without losing any comfort holding the camera.

Available Lenses

The bad news is the lens selection for the 645Z is pretty limited compared to the Canon. On Canon, there is a dizzying number of lenses with some available in some extremely fast f/1.2 apertures. This just does not exist in medium format world. Most medium format lenses are f/2.8 and slower, and because of the larger sensor thatís not necessarily a bad thing DoF wise (as I thought before owning the gear) but it does mean you need to watch your shutter speeds a bit more carefully than when using faster glass on a Canon setup.

The good news is the available lenses are outstanding quality. These are the Pentax lenses I ended up with to shoot weddings with:

Ė Pentax 35mm/3.5 (roughly 28mm equivalent)
Ė Pentax 55mm/2.8 (roughly 43mm equivalent)
Ė Pentax 120mm f/4 Macro (roughly 100mm equivalent)
Ė Pentax 150mm f/2.8 (roughly 130mm equivalent)

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From left to right, the 150mm, the 35mm mounted on camera, then the 55mm and finally the 120mm Macro.

The 35mm and 120mm were bought 2nd hand from eBay hence they are not the current autofocus versions. I preferred this, as I always manually focus macro shots and most wide angle shots.

They are all outstanding pieces of glass. The 35mm, 55mm, and 120mm have levels of sharpness and detail that are mind boggling. You can also use (via an adapter) Pentax 67 lenses and Hasselblad V series lenses.

Image Quality

Everything you have read in other reviews is true. The image quality is just jaw dropping. The files are big, colorful and full of detail. The dynamic range is through the roof and the files are a pleasure to edit ó they can be pushed to the most ridiculous extremes.

The depth of field is beautiful. On smaller sensor systems the DoF drops off near instantly when using fast aperture tele lenses. On medium format you just get this beautiful roll off to the out of focus regions. I just canít get enough of this look. I donít say this to disparage 35mm based systems ó Canon and Nikon both make some absolutely beautiful glass. But the way the medium format looks is just more what I am after when shooting people.

110mm @ f/2, 400 ISO

110mm @ f/2, 400 ISO

150mm @ 2.8, 2000 ISO

150mm @ 2.8, 2000 ISO

Personally, I enjoy the wider aspect of the verticals with the different aspect ratio to the Canon.

150mm @ 2.8, 400 ISO

150mm @ 2.8, 400 ISO

150mm @ 3.5, 400 ISO

150mm @ 3.5, 400 ISO

110mm @ f2, 400 ISO

110mm @ f2, 400 ISO

High ISO

Although I try to keep ISO as low as I realistically can, the low light abilities on this camera are superb. I would say they are roughly 1 to 1.5 stops better than my Canon 1D X in high ISO noise.

55mm @ 2.8, 5000 ISO

55mm @ 2.8, 5000 ISO

To push things a bit more, hereís a very high ISO shot.

55mm @ 2.8, 10000 ISO + 1 stop in Lightroom

55mm @ 2.8, 10000 ISO + 1 stop in Lightroom

Cropping

One welcome aspect to having such large files, is that you can crop the files really to almost however you want and you will still have a sizeable amount of resolution left.

This can be a huge benefit in some circumstances. Iíve always liked cropping photos in a more panoramic aspect ratio but rarely do it on my 1Dx as the end file size will typically be a bit smaller than I would like. No such problems on the 645Z.

File Sizes and Editing

I shoot raw in .DNG format and each file is typically 60MB. I use 2 x 256GB 95MB/s cards and shoot raw to the first card and JPEGs to the 2nd card as a backup. With 256GB cards, I donít need to think about changing cards at a wedding or shoot.

Storage wise, this isnít a problem for me. Disk space is cheap. But the processing side can be a bit of a pain. On my computer editing the files are fine once they are loaded, but the initial rendering of previews and also the export out to jpeg at the end of an edit takes an absolute eternity. A faster computer is definitely in the future.

55mm @ f2.8, ISO 100

55mm @ f2.8, ISO 100

When the Camera Comes in Handy

At a wedding Iíll use it for anything that doesnít need super fast speeds. So this would typically mean:

Ė Wedding preshoot / engagement shots
Ė Detail shots of dress/flowers/jewelry
Ė Bridal portraits
Ė Boudoir shots (no samples sorry!)
Ė Certain shots in the ceremony that arenít moving fast i.e. bride/groom standing at altar in a church
Ė Near all of the location/portrait shoot
Ė Reception detail shots

What the Camera Isnít Good For

Unsurprisingly, anything fast. So Iíll grab my 1D X for:

Ė The first kiss!
Ė Candids
Ė Bride walking down the aisle
Ė Couple leaving the church
Ė Speeches / Speech reactions
Ė Anything else that needs a snappy camera

Back to the Contax 645 and 80mm f/2 Idea

Of course Iím never going to 100% replicate the beautiful look that the Contax setup gives, but I still wanted to get as close as I could.

Once I was settled and comfy with the 645Z I gave this a bit more thought and research. The 3 choices that I found were the closest were:

Ė Pentax 90mm f/2.8
Ė Hasselblad 110mm f/2
Ė Pentax 67 105mm f/2.4

The Pentax 90mm was a tempting option. Itís a brand new modern lens, with autofocus, image stabilization, and of course being a new lens the 645Z would be able to talk perfectly to it. The Hasselblad and Pentax 67 lenses are manual focus and require an adapter to mount to the 645Z.

The Pentax 105mm didnít really grab my attention too much from sample photos I found on Flickr. Itís not a bad lens by any stretch, but it just didnít really click with me.

The Hasselblad 110mm on the other handÖ the sample shots I found of this lens online were exactly what I had been looking for! I went onto eBay, found a mint condition one, and ordered it along with an adapter. I was intending to then take it to the camera store and do some quick comparisons with the Pentax 90mm but honestly Iíve fallen in love so much with this lens that I donít need to.

Iím still very curious to try the 90mm, but the Hasselblad lens is working so beautifully for me that itís nowhere near the top of my to-do list.

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110mm @ f/2, 100 ISO

110mm @ f/2, 100 ISO

I believe that with the 645Z and the 110mm f/2, I have gotten as close as I can realistically get to the Contax 80mm look that I can get on digital. The 110mm is a bit of a pain to use on the 645Z but well worth it.

110mm @ f/2, 400 ISO

110mm @ f/2, 400 ISO

Iíve never had the look from a lens resonate with me as much as this 110mm does. Itís truly a magic piece of glass and Iím looking forward to using it at upcoming weddings.

110mm @ f/2, 400 ISO

110mm @ f/2, 400 ISO

Pentax 645Z Pros

Ė Itís easy to use. Thereís nothing complex about it. Pick it up and start using it. It handles just like a typical digital SLR, just with incredible image quality.
Ė The image quality. I canít get enough of it. As Iím at a wedding using it, I see the photos coming up on the rear LCD and they just look so good it gives you confidence knowing you are getting fantastic results for your clients. Iím finding myself making trips out during the week taking photographs just for the sake of it because I enjoy using this camera so much.
Ė What lenses there are available are outstanding quality.
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Pentax 645Z Cons

Ė As mentioned earlier, though itís fast for a medium format itís very slow coming from being used to fast SLRís. It will never replace my Canonís for that reason and thats fine Ė use the right tool for the job.
Ė The buffer is too small and when you hit it you might as well forget about using the camera for a bit.
Ė Selecting AF points is a bit awkward and they are grouped too close to the center.
Ė If you pull the memory card out of the computer before cleanly ejecting it, the 645Z complains that the card is not formatted.
Ė If you are used to shooting with f/1.2 to f/2 glass moving over to a system that has mostly f/2.8 to f/4 glass might catch you out a bit shutter speed wise until you get used to it.
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150mm @ 2.8, 400 ISO

150mm @ 2.8, 400 ISO

Ideas for Improvement

Ė Make the buffer on the camera enormous. I donít really care how long the files take to eventually write out as long as itís unlikely that I hit the end of the buffer. The overall speed of the camera I can deal with. The buffer I canít and have to actively manage my shoot to avoid it.
Ė Make the autofocus a bit easier to change the active AF point. I would suggest setting the ďOKĒ button as center AF point.
Ė The day that Sony makes a full frame 645 chip, get it in there! Iíll buy it the day you release it.
Ė Please continue to update your lens lineups. Some modern fast f/2 telephoto primes would be nice!

55mm @ 2.8, 800 ISO

55mm @ 2.8, 800 ISO

55mm @ 2.8, 800 ISO

55mm @ 2.8, 800 ISO

For the Pixel Peepers

The Hasselblad 110mm is incredibly hard to get the focus bang on, but when you get itÖ

110mm @ f2, 200 ISO

110mm @ f2, 200 ISO

mcblad

Not bad for a near 25 year old lens.

Going to landscape style photography, the sharpness stopped down, with careful focus on live view is incredible.

This house shot is straight out of camera

55mm @ f16

55mm @ f16

housecrop

It ended up being part of a 2 shot stich and ended up looking like this.

thredbo0328

Iíve had the house shot printed out fairly big and the sharpness and detail of the print is just on a whole new level to anything Iíve had before.

Summary

This is a brilliant piece of gear and I feel it will serve me very well.

150mm @ 2.8, 800 ISO

150mm @ 2.8, 800 ISO

It will never replace my Canon SLRs, but the image quality, and that beautiful medium format look is something that has inspired me as a photographer, and Iím looking forward to my future shoots and weddings like I never have before. The general look of the camera/lens combination suits my shooting style very well.

Iíve only done a handful of ďrealĒ shoots with it so far. Iím coming into my busy wedding season now and have weddings pretty much every weekend until Christmas coming up. Iím hoping that even though my couples wonít necessarily know what medium format means, that theyíll appreciate the overall quality of the images and the effort Iím putting in with it.

I hope this article helps someone out there who was in the same position as I was before buying the camera. When googling for reviews of the camera, I wasnít able to find a huge amount of samples that were relevant to the way I would use the camera ó namely, wide open tele shooting of people. At some point I had to essentially take a leap and try it out (with the intention of selling it if it didnít click with me). Thankfully it worked out well and Iím very glad to have added medium format to my setup.


About the author: Gavin Cato is a wedding photographer working in Wollongong and Sydney, Australia. You can find more of his work on his website. This article was also published here.

Source Article from http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/PetaPixel/~3/929djzj20rU/

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