Pentax 645D, 55mm f/2.8 lens, f/2.8, five frame HDR, ISO 200.
I recently bought a Pentax 67, which is a medium format camera that shoots film. This was my first real taste of shooting this way.
Why’s it called medium format?
Let’s explore the origins of the formats.
- Large Format. Well, large format refers to film that is at least four inches by five inches—these cameras are the big ones with bellows on the front, a hood over the shooter’s head, and the film is on a plate that mounts in the back of the camera.
- Medium Format. Medium format cameras use 120 film, which is about 6cm wide and comes on roll (different cameras use different amounts of that film in each shot; my 67 makes a 6x7cm image; 6x6cm and 6×4.5cm are also very common).
- 35mm Format. Smaller than Medium format is 35mm, which is what our full-frame DSLR’s are (24mm x 35mm sensor).
So, medium format is much bigger than what we’re used to on DSLR’s, and it’s a slightly different shape of image (DSLR’s create a 2×3 image, MF is 3×4, like a micro 4/3 camera (see? they’re the same ratio), etc.).
What I’m Enjoying
Since I started using the 67, I’ve been invigorated. The bigger size is remarkable when I’m shooting; it changes the composition and my whole view of the world is different. Plus, where I would need a wider lens on a DSLR I can use a longer lens on MF. That means the subject is less distorted but appears the same size. Trust me, this is cool.
The thing is, film is slow. I can’t see my pictures immediately and make a change. Call me a prima donna, but I really like the feedback my LCD screens give me about the images I make.
Enter Digital Medium Format
Fortunately, LensRentals.com has medium format digital cameras. I’ve rented one, and I’ve fallen in love with it. I rented the Pentax 645D and three lenses, including the incredible 25mm f/4.F, a 55mm, and 150mm. I was so excited to have this wonderful tool to try, so I grabbed my pals, Carlos and Mel and headed for the coast.
Unfortunately, we got a flat tire on the way out and nearly missed the sunlight at the beach. It’s too bad LensRentals.com doesn’t rent cars because I recently had an issue with a lens and they immediately shipped a replacement overnight; service was not so good from the car rental company.
My Photo Journey
We went to Ecola State Park in Oregon, which is just North of the famous Canon Beach and Haystack Rock (remember the movie Goonies?). Our first stop was at the overlook in the main parking lot, with Canon Beach to the South. (click to see the images larger)
I made this image with the 55mm f/2.8 lens coupled with my super cheap variable neutral density filter (I think I’ve about proved the value of that filter and am ready to upgrade). I spent several minutes making pictures here, trying different exposures, and experimenting with wave placements. Seeing the image on the LCD let me notice immediately that the waves added interesting detail in certain areas, and by waiting for them to be in the right spot I made a better picture. I just wouldn’t have seen that on my film camera.
The Pentax shows a terrific JPEG preview on the LCD, and I found that the JPEGs from the camera were really good. Unfortunately, Adobe has not made profiles for the 645D that I can access in the Camera Calibration tab to make my RAW images look just like the JPEGs. So I shot RAW+JPG to get the best of both worlds. I really hope Adobe will make some profiles for it (and the ability to shoot tethered in Lightroom…).
After working the overlook for a while, we realized the sun was going quickly and wanted to be at a different area for the sunset. We boogied up the road to Indian Beach where I made the image at the top of this post. I made a similar image to this one last summer from the same spot, using a 50mm lens on my D7100 (cropped sensor). However, I had to shoot that one as a panoramic grid to get the whole scene; this time I created a similar image with just a single frame and a similar lens (55mm). I love that, and I think you’d better just try it because trying to explain the bigger sensor advantage is inadequate.
As you can see from the orange clouds above, the sun was going quickly. I had a couple of other pictures in mind, however, and started running down the beach toward the tide pools and rocks, and I switched to the 25mm lens.
Now, on a DSLR, 25mm isn’t all that wide—it’s pretty usual to get a kit lens with a similar wide end (18mm on a cropped sensor is similar to 24mm on a full frame sensor). This 25mm MF lens is similar to 19mm on a DSLR, and that’s formidably wide. I also used it for some interior architecture images and found it plenty wide. If this lens comparison is tricky for you, LensRentals.com tells you what each lens is similar to in their product notes, and I think that’s good service. Again, the more square image ratio is a big boon to composition. This is the same shape as a 30×40″ print…and I’m thinking I might want to make a few of those.
I shot a five frame bracket sequence for this, I think they were two stops apart. The 645D’s bracketing is the best of any camera I’ve used. For one thing, when you activate bracketing, it automatically shoots all five with one press of the button instead of having to hit the shutter button for each frame of the bracket. I shot several sequences as the sun moved lower and lower. Since I could view my LCD, I knew when I had the right picture in the bag. Can you see that I’m not cut out for film shooting? With a little sun left, I had another picture in mind, so I picked my way as quickly as possible over the slippery rocks to reframe; the main things is that I was looking for starfish. For reference, the rock in the middle background on the far right is the same one in the background of the image above.
As I look at this image, I can’t count all the starfish in it; every time I look I find more. I’m at about 40 right now. This one is also a five frame HDR composite. The thing is, I got nearly the same brightness in the shadows and color quality for both this one and the one above from a single jpg. This is remarkable because the 645D is several years old, and uses a CCD sensor which is generally inferior to the CMOS sensors all our DSLR’s have used since about 2008. The dynamic range of this camera is really something. I can’t wait to try Pentax’s new 645Z—it’s a CMOS sensor with a top ISO of 204,800! It ought to be incredible.
This image is a single exposure, and the sun is long gone. That means that the camera can’t see to focus, and that could be a problem. Fortunately, the 25mm lens has a depth of field scale which shows me that if I shoot at f/11 then a certain range of distance is in focus. I can estimate that the starfish is about four feet away and then set the focus on the lens so that that distance falls within the bracket for f/11. (Most new lenses for DSLR’s don’t have theses markings; you’ll know if yours does because numbers like 8, 11, and 16 will be listed on both sides of the center tick mark next to the focus distance viewer on the lens.) That’s how I got my starfish in focus in the dark. You’ll notice that the horizon is not in focus. Also, using a MF camera kinda gives you a shallower depth of field because you are able to position yourself closer to your subject to begin with, and when you focus on something closer to your camera, that makes the depth of field shallower.
This one is also a single exposure. Let me tell you, it was dark by now. I shot this one at f/4, and that aperture has a very shallow depth of field, so when I view this image at 100% magnification on my computer, it’s pretty soft. However, when you record a big picture (lots of megapixels—40 on the 645D) and then downsize it on export to a smaller picture, it appears sharper. This one doesn’t look too bad at this size—another bonus of shooting on a huge sensor! It’s probably not salable, but next time I go, I’ll shoot it again and get a better image. Here are those last two images side by side with the out of camera exposure. See how much I could pull out using only Lightroom 5?
This was a wonderful camera, and it really helped me unleash some pent up creativity. Most importantly, it gave me a great excuse to get out and make some photographs with good friends.
This camera can get expensive to purchase but renting the Pentax can be a much better option for your budget. A big thanks to LensRentals.com for the opportunity to experience this great camera first hand.
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