Camera review: the Pentax 645 – by Martin Jeffery
I have had a Pentax 645 for few months and have really enjoyed using it, so this is an attempt to put some thoughts together on it. Consider this a user experience for want of a better phrase; a few thoughts as opposed to a technical tear down. If you want a good in-depth review then check here, it’s well worth a read.
This picture sums up the looks of the Pentax 645 better than I ever could.
For reference, the Pentax 645 isn’t my first or only medium format camera. I have had a Mamiya 7 for about a year now and recently picked up a Hasselblad 500C. Why then did I buy the Pentax 645? Well does anyone really need a reason to buy a new film camera? I can give you a few feeble reasons but being honest, I get a kick out of trying new cameras.
Anyway, I convinced myself I wanted a medium format camera with a faster lens than the Mamiya 7’s (f/2.8 v f/4), this with the idea of starting to taking a few more portraits of family and friends. My camera came via eBay with a 75mm f/2.8 lens. It’s pretty beat up but was a bit of a steal for under £200.
It is a beast of a thing, and not for the faint-hearted or if you suffer from a bad back.
It’s my heaviest camera by far. This should be no surprise though, it has autowinder and needs six AA batteries to run the winder and the meter. To give you an idea of the weight, let’s do a quick camera Weight Watchers weigh-in of the cameras that I own:
- Pentax 645 and 75mm f/2.8 lens: 1.75kg
- Hassleblad 500C and 80mm f/2.8 lens: 1.4kg
- Mamiya 7 and 65mm f/4 lens: 1.3 kg
- Olympus OM10 and 50mm f/1.8 lens: 670g (yes grams)
I’m used to carrying a fairly heavy bag and a couple of cameras with me, so the weight isn’t an issue for me.
Size-wise here how it stacks up to a standard 35mm film SLR.
The camera has a lot of modernish features, light meter, aperture mode, P mode, auto wind-on, and exposure compensation to name a few.
The readout on the top of the camera is digital like a 1980s calculator, this is cool. Focusing is easy through a nice bright viewfinder (with a dioptre feature, too). I love the focus of the 75mm lens that came with it, it’s really smooth and a pleasure to use. Mine is the manual focus model, there are autofocus models out there which will set you back more money for the body and the lenses. I find the 645 easier to focus for portraits with the split screen centre than the rangefinder of the Mamiya.
With 120 film loaded you get 15 shots to a roll which gives you a little bit more bang for your buck. The trade-off being the negative is of course, smaller than the 6×7 of the Mamiya 7. In medium format terms, it’s one of the smallest possible negatives (4x4cm super slide wins that), but it is still considerably bigger than your normal 135 stock.
I have read a few articles where people bemoan that 6×4.5 is too similar to a 135 negative. In terms of aspect ratio perhaps but in terms of surface area it’s 3 times bigger and with that comes more detail.
Wide open, the SMC Pentax-A 75mm f/2.8 lens gives you get a nice depth of field for portraits and stopped down the lens is nice and sharp. I have used it at 60th/sec handheld and gotten wobble free photos. I trust the centre weighted meter.
As I said at the start, I bought the Pentax 645 with the idea of taking a few more formal and street portraits with it, but I have also used it for street scenes around town. It’s not a discrete camera to use. It’s black, big and the shutter and auto winder make a fairly prominent noise.
There are some that wouldn’t even count 645 as medium format, which is funny as the negative is bigger than a digital Fuji GFX50 sensor. Personally, I have grown to love this ugly duckling of a camera. Yeah, it’s not got the hipster looks or the waist level viewfinder of the Hasselblad and it’s not got the big fat juicy negative of the Mamiya but I find it easy to use, if not easy to carry around.
I think the only thing that might tempt me to get rid of it, is if I got a super bargain Pentax 67 from somewhere. These though are increasing in value like the Mamiya 7 did last year. I’d also like to get a wider lens to try in the future.
The camera will stay in rotation for sure, and will definitely get pulled out when I find some more people that will let me take portraits of them. So, if you can get over the weight and the noise and the looks, then this might be the camera for you 🙂
Thanks for reading.
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