Genre bender: Pentax 645z

Genre bender: Pentax 645z

An affordable medium format camera, that behaves like a big DLSR.

Affordable is a matter of perspective of course. You can buy three Canon 5d3 bodies for the cost of the Pentax. But until the Pentax came along, there was no half way house, functionally or financially, between the 35mm formats and the majesty of the twenty-grand-plus Hasselblads or Phase One cameras. And the limitations of the medium format cameras are well known. Designed for use in controlled circumstances, the autofocus isn’t as versatile or sensitive as the humble Canons and Nikons, and the image quality rapidly becomes hopeless in all but the best lighting conditions.

So an medium format camera with all the qualities of a DLSR is a tempting proposition – huge, detailed files with subtle tones, and the responsive controls and versatility for field use too.

Literally the first thing I did after buying it was take it to a dark, dangerous hot place. A foundry based in Manchester. A place that would test its capacity for focusing in low light, performance at high ISOs, and the dynamic range to capture a bright river of molten metal without losing all detail in the shadows around.
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The Pentax did everything it said it would do. Created large, beautiful and detailed files in difficult circumstances, while operating just like my Canon would. The amount of recovery I could pull from the shadows was insane – and at ISO 1600 I could push the RAW exposures very hard before destruction set in. Is the autofocus as fast as my Canon? Not quite as fast – so I won’t be shooting football on it.

So who really needs the 51.4 megapixel Pentax? Many of my clients don’t, that’s for sure. 23mp on my 5d3 is resolution enough for most briefs. But then there’s the matter of how it is for the photographer. A career that requires you to continually grow creatively means you have to switch perspectives once in a while, and though the EOS range is brilliant, for me there’s long been a sense of just knowing how the world looks through it. I can rediscover all that now.

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