MF digital goes mainstream: early thoughts on the Pentax 645Z

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Image from Pentax UK.

A couple of days ago, Pentax threw down the gauntlet to the other medium format digital camera makers in the form of the 645Z. It uses the same ~50MP 44x33mm CMOS as the Hasselblad H5D-50C and Phase One IQ250, but with one critical difference: unlike the Hasselblad and Phase One, it’s feasibly within the reach of a whole load more people. And it isn’t just the shocking price – $8,500 plays $29,000 (Hasselblad) or $37,000 (Phase) – it’s the UI and operating gestalt, too. I think what we’ve just seen is an early game changer.

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Repost: Points of sufficiency: do you really know how much is enough?

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39-MP medium format overkill? For most things, most definitely. But if you’re making 40×50″ fine art prints for close range viewing, no.

I’m reposting this article from 2012 for the simple reason that I’m still getting far too many emails from people obsessing over equipment with bigger numbers or higher specs solving compositional and creative deficiencies. I think I’ll continue to do this on a regular basis so long as those communiques keep coming in…

The never-ending photographic arms race got me thinking recently about sufficiency: how many pixels, fps, AF points, ISO settings, etc. are enough? The troubling thing is that I thought I used to know the answer: I’m no longer sure it’s quite as clear cut. See, the thing is that if you’re viewing images online, in theory, anything close to your screen resolution (leaving space for UI elements, text, menus etc.) should be sufficient – 1000px wide is more than enough for most purposes. The images on this site are mostly 800px wide, for reference. In theory, that should mean an iPhone is overkill. Yes and no; just because resolution sufficient, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to have enough dynamic range, or color depth (or accuracy).

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Xmas 2013 picks

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Here’s one to get you into the spirit of Christmas: either treat yourself, treat a very good friend, or better yet, get somebody to treat you*. This list is mostly composed of new releases for 2013, or new items I’ve discovered during the course of the year. For a complete list of recommendations, see this page. Please note, all links from this page do award me a small referral commission; it doesn’t increase your price, but it does help to pay for all the bandwidth this site uses – thanks for your support!

*Here’s hoping the wife reads one of my articles for a change!

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My love-hate relationship with gear

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The guilt (and equipment) stacks up like tetris: this is only one of my equipment cabinets; if I don’t put everything in just so, then it won’t fit. And lighting gear, accessories, tripods, bags etc. are stored elsewhere.

Any photographer who tells you that they are a hundred percent, completely indifferent to equipment is lying. It is almost (I say almost to cover myself in the unlikely event there really is somebody out there) impossible to be immune to the lull of new cameras, lenses or accessories; we’ve all felt the pull at one time or another, no matter how weak or irrational. Actually, it’s the irrational that I’m going to talk about today – purchases that are necessary from a professional standpoint (e.g. you have to buy lights if you’re going to be a studio product photographer) don’t really require justification; at least insofar as there are degrees.

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What am I using now?

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As much as I dislike the ‘what should I buy’ type emails – just buy whatever feels good for you – I realize there’s one other question I’ve never really answered anywhere else on the site; that’s the question of what do I use for what. I did get featured on Japan Camera Hunter’s ‘what’s in your bag’ spot a little while ago; some of that is still current, some of it isn’t. In any case, I’m going to rectify that omission forthwith. These lists/ load manifests are current for the purpose as of the posting date, but I may of course vary them from time to time depending on the objectives of the shoot; they cover core equipment only. Yes, it’s a lot of stuff; do I wish I could get away with less? Absolutely. The problem though is once you’ve used the right tool for the job, and you can tell the difference in the output, it’s almost impossible to go back afterwards. Contrary to popular opinion, we pros don’t actually like to change our gear too often: it introduces uncertainties in the technical and creative processes, and when you’re on assignment, this is a risk that might make the difference between fulfilling the brief or losing a client. Before we take a new bit of gear out, it’s thoroughly tested in a non-critical environment first so we can at least get the measure of it.

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FD Shooting with the legends: the Nikon AI-S 58/1.2 Noct-Nikkor

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The Noct-Nikkor is perhaps one of the most legendary – if not the most legendary – of the lenses in the Nikon pantheon. Hitting the market in its first AI version in 1977, it was designed to do two things: firstly, be shot wide open, and secondly, push the limits of the F mount’s relatively narrow diameter with a lens that would collect enough light to shoot relatively slow film at night, and without a tripod. Although based on a traditional double-gauss design, the lens incorporated one enormous technological advance for the time.

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FD Shooting with the legends: the Leica M6TTL

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Advance disclaimer: I’m not a full-blown Leica M nut, so most of my opinions are just that: opinions. But I’ve used a few of these things in my time, both professionally and for personal work. These images predate my recent DIY film efforts, so you’ll see a mix of color negative and slide film in there – I was mostly shooting Provia 100 and Velvia 100F at the time. The vintage of the images is also given away by the early watermark…

The Leica M6 series is perhaps the most accessible film Leica for most; I mean this in terms of both usability and price. A very large number of these cameras were produced in several key variants from 1984 to 1998; this volume means that prices on the secondary market have stayed relatively affordable. For not much more money over a ‘classic’ M2, M3 or M4, you can have something with slightly updated materials – likely resulting in longer service intervals – and of course, most importantly, a meter. With any of the classic M bodies, you need to use an external meter or an experienced eyeball to determine your exposure. Ignoring the design oddity that was the M5, the Minolta-collaborative CL and the more recent (and expensive) M7 and MP, we’re left with the M6 for most people if you want a film M camera with a meter.

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FD Shooting with the legends: The Olympus [mju:]-II

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I suppose it’s possible to call this camera the epitome of film point and shoots; it was, after all, quite possibly the Volkswagen Beetle of its generation. Made in huge numbers (3.8 million for this model alone, 10 million of all Mju variants), not especially expensive, but by all accounts incredibly reliable and delivering consistently excellent results. I certainly remember lusting after one while growing up, but through some strange turn of events landed up buying a rather useless Fuji 1010ix APS camera instead, which I still regret to this day. Thanks to some blind luck and the quick actions of a friend, I managed to eventually get my hands on one – new in box, for not much more than a brick of film.

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FD Shooting with the legends: The Hasselblad 903 SWC

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All of Hasselblad’s SWC (originally ‘Supreme Wide Angle, then Super Wide Angle, then abbreviated from ‘Super Wide Camera’) cameras are slightly odd beasts: they’re tiny for medium format, but large for anything else; they look very much like stunted miniature versions of the regular V series bodies. It’s as though somebody chopped the middle section out, taking the winding crank and waist-level finder out along with it. In place, the camera has grown a large megaphone-like viewfinder, and the shutter release has migrated to the top of the body.

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FD Shooting with the legends: The Hasselblad 501CM

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There are two cameras that are synonymous with 6×6 medium format film: the Rolleiflex TLR, and the Hasselblad V series. (I may well do a piece on the former in the future). Today’s subject, however, is one of the final incarnations of the V line – the 501CM. I suppose you could think of it as the distilled essence of the V series – unlike the 503s, it lacks TTL flash metering; unlike the 200-series, it still relies on a lens-based leaf shutter and remains completely mechanical. But at the same time, the camera has interchangeable focusing screens and the gliding mirror geometry of the 503CW to prevent vignetting with longer lenses. (I have a brief intro to the Hasselblad V series here.) It’s my pick of the bunch because a) I have no intention of using it with TTL flash, and b) I’d rather not have to rely on electronics in any way – there are modern digitals for that…

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