The Pentax 645Z review, part III: SDM lenses and long exposures

Exif data is intact for all files – click through to flickr to view it, and larger versions of the images.

Having a bit more time with the relatively new Pentax 645Z under my belt has given me the opportunity to try a couple of things I’ve been curious about: long exposures, and a more thorough evaluation of the three SDM lenses currently available for the 645 system. The former is probably only of interest to landscapists, architectural photographers and people who have severe allergies to controlled lighting, but I feel the latter is probably a critically important topic in itself. Let’s start there.

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Review: The Pentax 645Z, part II: compared to the 645D, Nikon D800E and Hasselblad CFV-39

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The contenders. From L-R: Pentax 645D, Pentax 645Z, Hasselblad 501CM with CFV-39 digital back, Nikon D800E.

Four cameras, 166 megapixels, no sensor smaller than 36MP and 36x24mm. It’d have been nice to get the Phase One IQ250 and Leica S along for the ride too – sadly there’s no Phase distributor in Malaysia and nobody from P1 has ever replied any email I’ve sent though. So we’ll make do with four: two from the old CCD guard and two from the new CMOS challengers. Lining up on the right are the Pentax 645D (33x44mm, 40MP) and Hasselblad CFV-39 on a 501CM body (49x37mm, 39MP) against the Pentax 645Z (33x44mm, 51MP) and Nikon D800E (24x36mm, 36MP). Perhaps we should have gotten one of the 41MP Nokia PureView phones along for kicks, too. That said, the rationale behind these choices is as follows a) I had access to them; b) to build a more or less complete system would be roughly the same price; Nikon and Pentax new lenses are more expensive than the used screwdriver Pentax FA or Hasselblad V glass; by the time you add everything in, the 645Z is obviously the most expensive option – but also arguably has the highest IQ potential. Welcome to part two of the Pentax 645Z review – the first part can be found here.

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Review: The Pentax 645Z, part I

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After a bit of – drought, it’s review bonanza week: at the opposite ends of the spectrum. First we had the Sony RX100 Mark III, and today will be the first part of the Pentax 645Z review; to be split into an assessment of the camera itself and a relative comparison to its predecessor, a previous generation CCD-equipped Hasselblad CFV-39 digital back, and the Nikon D800E. As far as I can tell, this is the first review of a production 645Z, anywhere. This part alone is going to be a 4500+ word monster, so grab a large coffee and settle in for a bit. Unfortunately the weather at the moment in Kuala Lumpur is extremely hazy – 120+ APIs thanks to various burning vegetation – which is not ideal for camera reviewing. However, as the 645Z is part of my personal equipment, bought at retail from Malaysia, it will be with me for some time and be subject to mid and long term updates – much like the Nikon D800E.

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Photoessay: Tokyo architecture

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Buildings, architecture and abstract geometry are amongst my favourite subjects. Actually, I got that back to front: the idea of abstraction and deconstruction of composition into considerations of pure colour and form is probably the underlying linkage between all of my images. As a result, buildings and architecture rank high on my list of preferred subjects because they are very conducive for doing just that: they’re static, so you can take your time with the composition; they reflect their environments – or not – and change in personality as changing light plays off different surfaces and textures in different ways; finally, there are always interesting details incorporate into the structures which are a reflection of their architects; much as a photograph is a reflection of the photographer.

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

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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Medium format digital in the field

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There are quite a number of medium format digital cameras available today; the vast majority are designed to handle like oversize DSLRs, and in some cases, there’s very little difference size- and control-wise between these cameras – take the Leica S, for instance. This makes them both familiar and easy to use, but also somewhat liable to catch out the unweary. My digital field work with medium format is done with a Hasselblad CFV-39, mounted on a 501CM body. The method of operation constantly reminds you that this is most certainly not another DSLR; not least because you have to wind the camera after every shot to recock the shutter and lower the mirror! The intention of this article is to look at the practicalities – or impracticalities – of using medium format digital in the field or while travelling as a DSLR replacement, and more importantly, in a way that lets you actually see enough of a difference to justify it in the first place.

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Photoessay: Borneo seascapes

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Following on from the previous post on my recent acquisition of a medium format digital system, I thought it’d be appropriate to share some of the results from the first serious shoot I used it for a little while back. I found that the system was much more sensitive to camera shake than expected; mirror lockup was an absolute necessity, though the Gitzo GT1542 carbon traveller and Arca-Swiss P0 head both performed very well and offered more than sufficient rigidity. (In hindsight, I should probably have bought the cup feet for the tripod to prevent it sinking into the mud though.) Though you can’t see it at this size, the frames with mirror lockup are distinctly crisper at the pixel level than those without.

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How I landed up going medium format digital…

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Earlier in the year, many of you saw me post the image of the Hasselblad 501CM hanging off a tripod at 90 degrees near the surf line. Several asked why on earth would I need to turn a square format camera sideways; apart from the obvious answer of ‘to shoot vertically!’ there’s definitely more than meets the eye. Firstly, Hasselblad did actually produce an A16 645 format magazine for the V-series bodies; they’re relatively rare nowadays and must obviously be used with the correct focusing screen to ensure accurate composition. In addition to being better suited to the typical print rectangles, you also get 33% more images per roll of 120 (16 instead of 12, as the name suggests). I was using something a little more exotic; though like the A16, it isn’t rotatable and so requires you to turn the camera through 90 to shoot verticals. It’s not very convenient, to say the least.

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