Moving to the Larger Side - Part 2 - Phil Corley

Moving to the Larger Side: Part 2

Category: Equipment
May 8, 2014

Well, it has been a few months since I made the leap (of faith) to a Pentax Medium Format 645D, so how am I finding my new set-up?

One warning about this article; this is not a review of the Pentax 645D, purely my thoughts and findings about using the camera.

My first real outing with the 645D was a day around Snowdonia. It was a good first outing, as I know the area well I could therefore focus on using the camera, not worrying about the location and compositions available. If you measure the day by results it was an excellent day; with two images added to the portfolio. If you measure the day by the weather it was very so-so; the morning was dull, overcast and very strong winds (this was the day before the big storm swept across the UK, so that explains the winds!), but when we dropped to the coast the weather had a brief couple of hours of excellent light – but still very windy!

My next outing, and one where I had time to give the Pentax a real workout, was five days in Torridon in the Scottish Highlands. In this time the elements threw everything at the camera; wind, rain, hail and snow. For one shot I set the camera up, put a shower cap over the filters and waited for 50 minutes in horizontal rain and strong winds. When there was a break in the weather, shower cap came off and I captured the luminous light that flooded the scene for just two minutes. The 50 minutes were wet indeed, but the camera and its 55mm weather sealed lens just ignored it. Without the confidence the Pentax gives me, I may have put the camera away until the weather lifted; but then I would have missed the shot.

After the five days in Torridon, I had experienced no problems with the camera and not found one instance where the camera couldn’t handle what I wanted. In fact, I did carry my D800E with me, but I didn’t feel the need to get it out of the bag. The only problem I had was lack of a longer focal length (so I have now added an 80-160 zoom to the bag).

Image Quality

Now I don’t profess to being anywhere near an expert on image quality, but I like to think I know enough to produce good images from captured files, so you are not going to find technical analysis or micro-examination of the files produced by the 645D, just my thoughts on processing these files.

What I have found with the Pentax’s RAW files is a file that holds tremendous detail, tonal range and very smooth gradations. Working these files into final images is very easy and produces excellent results.

My simple comparison between the Nikon D800E files and the Pentax’s is that the Pentax produces much “nicer” images (really technical term there!) and ones that have a much better “look” (another technical term!). Why the difference I don’t know, but reasons could include:-

  1. The increase in resolution - very small increase so I doubt it
  2. Another emotional difference - so more in the head than the results, but again I don’t think this is the case
  3. The CCD sensor used (whereas the Nikon has a CMOS sensor) – people do talk about a look to images produced by a CCD sensor
  4. The Lenses – I have found the Pentax lenses are really excellent, especially the 35mm manual focus lens; but so were the Zeiss lenses I was using with the Nikon.

As I said I am no expert and in the end this is purely based on what I am seeing, so for whatever reasons there is a difference and I really like the images I am getting.


But how did I find using the Pentax? to be truthful, I found it immediately brilliant; the handling was just what I was looking for with a form factor that worked for my hands (I don’t have big hands); the controls are all in a sensible place so I didn’t spend long looking for whatever button I needed; it feels very robust and solid – something that is appreciated when it is sitting on a tripod in horrible weather.

Basically the construction and build of the camera provides a lot of physical confidence, something that I feel is needed for the landscape photographer.

The key difference I am finding in using the Pentax over the Nikon is the viewfinder. This is just absolutely brilliant; it is so much larger and brighter than the D800E it makes composing and focusing so much easier.


In Part One I talked a lot about the emotional aspects of using a camera in the field and how I felt this was not working for me using my Nikon D800E. What the reasons are I am not certain, but what I do know is that since changing to the Pentax, I have found my success rate in creating portfolio images has increased.

The simple fact about the Pentax is that I am enjoying using the camera. Yes the image quality is noticeably better than the results I was getting with the D800E and Zeiss lenses, but the main difference is the level of enjoyment I am getting and that must translate to being more engaged in the landscape, increasing the success rate.

So, will I be staying with the Pentax? Definitely, it has proved to be the right thing for me and this can be demonstrated by the fact that I have now sold all of my Nikon and Zeiss gear – no going back now!

Positives / Likes

  • Viewfinder
  • Form Factor is brilliant
  • Sensible layout of controls
  • Robust and solid field camera
  • Speed - Often quoted as a disadvantage, but it slows me down; which is a good thing

Negatives / Dislikes

  • Remote control – When using the Infrared remote control, the camera drops into power saving mode after a period of inactivity. This means you have to wake the camera up by pressing the shutter button before you can trip the camera with the remote.

The future

A few weeks ago, Pentax announced a successor to the 645D – the 645Z. This release builds on the 645D, with improved performance, an increase to a 50mp sensor, Live View and higher ISO (or low light) performance. More importantly the 645Z moves to a CMOS sensor, away from the CCD sensor used in the 645D.

This is great news for the people that have invested in a Pentax 645 system, as the lenses will be compatible with the new model and also shows Pentax is serious about remaining in the medium format market.

What I am not so sure about is the move to the CMOS sensor. Whilst this does give advantages (Live View), I wonder if some of the “look” I like is from the CCD sensor in the 645D? If so, it would be a shame to return to the CMOS “look” that all the other DSLRs produce. It is nice to produce images that are different to the rest; however, it is too early to know if this does affect the “look” and I will wait to see what the general feeling is from the early adopters of the 645Z. Luckily I don’t have any plans to move to the 645Z in the near future, as the 645D is providing all I currently need

Update: Towards the end of 2015 I gave in and purchased the Pentax 645Z with the 28-45 zoom - and I love it!

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