I purchased my medium format SLR Pentax 645N back in 1997. I got this camera because it was cutting edge at the time offering offering auto focus for medium format photographers. Fast forward 14 years to 2011 and this camera is as relevant today as it was the day I bought it. I think this is one of the benefits of choosing to use film cameras in my photography. The same story goes with my Mamiya RZ67 Pro II that I got for studio work around the same time. I was recently featured in an article on the Mamiya USA blog where I discuss my photography with the RZ67 Pro II and the Mamiya 7 Rangefinder. All of these cameras have been a fantastic investment for me and I can’t imagine doing my work without them. The same goes for the Mamiya C220 TLR and Hasselblad 503CW cameras too. The TLR dates back to the late 1960′s and it is still producing professional photos today as I suspect the Pentax 645N will as well. The Pentax 645N is a 6 x 4.5 format film that is a little over 2 1/2 times the size of a full frame 35mm camera.
This photo is of my son Alec on his birthday. He got a new Macbook and hasn’t been able to part with it since he got it. This image is at 85mm 1/15th and f/5.6 using Tri-X 400 rated at EI 1250.
At that time I shot the Mamiya RZ67 Pro II for my studio work as well as landscapes. The Pentax 645N was and still is a great option for mobile photography. There was one more update to this model, the 645 NII, but I didn’t see any reason to update the camera. The main differences between the N and NII are xxx. If you need a manual for one of the Pentax 645N cameras go here. You can read reviews on the 645N at the Pentax Forum.
Pentax 645N Specifications
The 645N preceded the 645 with autofocus, a very usable exposure compensation dial/knob on the top of the camera, shutter speed dial, matrix metering and among a few other features data imprinting on the edge of the film. I really appreciate the data imprinting on the film. The exposure compensation is in 1/3 stops and as you might expect and auto exposure lock along with manual metering. The metering graph is a big bar graph in the viewfinder that is super easy to read.
I bought the camera with two lenses: 45mm-85mm and 80mm-160mm zoom. The wide angle zoom is a fairly heavy lens at 870g or 30 ounces/1.8 lbs. The weight doesn’t bother me because I am more worried about the optical performance. This lens has 11 elements in 9 groups with a minimum aperture of f/32 and maximum of f/4.5. The filter size is 77mm making it a good size for me because my other professional glass is either 77mm or 72mm. For my style of photography I wish the lens was faster (f/2.8) because the f/4.5 is limiting for me at times. It is a non-issue for landscape and nature photography most of the time. If the 45-85mm is not ideal for you, Pentax does make a series of prime wide angle lenses ranging from 35mm to 55mm. If your brain works in 35mm terms then the Pentax 645N FA 45-85 is equivalent to about 27mm-51mm.
In this photo Alec was about to dig into his ice creak birthday cake with a little help from Abby, Samantha and Sarah. The focal length was 65mm at f/5.6 and 1/45 shutter using Tri-X 400 rated at EI 1250.
Pentax 645 lenses are becoming a hot item with the recent announcement of the Pentax 645D medium format digital camera. The new camera can use the FA (auto focus) and A (manual) lenses making these older lenses a hot item these days.
The size of your film can be a big deal at times and this is why most associate medium format with higher quality images. The logic is simple…the bigger your source image (negative or slide) the less room for optical problems when you enlarge your photos. Keep in mind your photo has to be technically correct. If you take a bad exposure on your 4×5 large format, it is still going to look horrible! The visual comparison between film sizes is very telling.
In this simple snapshot Abby (Alec’s sister) is making good use of her time on her Netbook while enjoying a snack before the birthday cake. This along with the other photos in this article are family snapshots, not intended to be photo masterpieces. I use all of my camera in real life situations as I do professionally. This photo was at 50mm, f/5.6 and 1/45th. There were all hand-held shots and as you can see from the shutter speeds that isn’t the greatest idea in the world technically speaking, but no one really cares because we just enjoy the photos as they are meant to be.
I had a couple extra exposures left on this roll because I am not used to having 16 exposures when shooting medium format. This next photo is of my RZ67 Pro II. This was taken at 130mm, f/5.6 and 1/30th.
This is my 4×5 large format camera. I have the camera sitting next to a window in my office using the available light for the photo. If you look in the lens closely you will see the window and blinds reflecting. This photo was taken at 130mm, f/5.6 and 1/45th.
This final photo is of my Mamiya C220 TLR with the 80mm f/2.8s lens. I love this old camera because it still takes absolutely beautiful photos after 40 years. This photo was taken at 160mm, f/5.6 and 1/90th. You will notice this image looks a little sharper than the others above because the shutter speed was up a little. In fact, this is a good illustration of why I always use a tripod for serious photography.