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One Year with the Pentax 645Z

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Almost one year ago, my Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) started flaring up. I started getting interested in medium format photography, and the Pentax 645Z caught my attention.

At the time, I had the Sony A7II, A7S, and RX1, but I wanted to experience the bigger sensor and all the goodies that came with one. I researched, and pondered, and finally just decided to pull the trigger on a used one. I’m glad I did, because it’s been an amazing experience.

Initial Impressions

The camera is huge! I bought a 75mm f/2.8 to start, and it looked weird on the camera because of the smaller size of the lens. The 150mm f/2.8 looks like a better match, but the combo is heavy. On the other hand, it’s great if you’re trying to build bigger bicep and forearm muscles.

It handled like an oversized DSLR which made it very easy to get comfortable with the camera. I was able to figure things out quite quickly and, before long, I was ready to shoot.

First Shoot

First, I did a quick simple shoot to get comfortable with the camera. I found a model, we met downtown (Chicago) and proceeded to shooting.

I loved the way the files looked on the LCD, and the LCD screen looked really good for reviewing files. They looked sharp, and detailed. Oh, and the screen also articulates, even though the autofocus in live view is painfully slow.

The AF was quite snappy in simple situations, and it was accurate. The focus wouldn’t lock on without getting accurate focus. My first shoot was so much fun that I was hooked! There wasn’t an ounce of buyer’s remorse at this point.

On Location

I do 90% of my fashion shoots on location, and I decided to shoot with available light on the 645z. I planned my shoots with the weather to get the specific looks I wanted.

Boy, does this camera shine on location. The dynamic range just makes pulling highlights and shadows a breeze. I loved shooting in harsh light because I could always get great shadow detail, and I never worried about blown-out highlights.

In the Studio

I don’t do a lot of studio shoots, but I tested out the 645z in my friend’s studio for good measure. I loved how the camera rendered skin tones with simple lighting. I only did three studio shoots with the camera, and I liked the results. I’m working on doing more this year.

Low Light/High ISO

I did one shoot with the camera in low light. I used LED light sticks and brought a tripod along because I wasn’t sure how the camera would handle slow shutter speeds. Lo and behold, I was pleasantly surprised.

I was able to get sharp photos at 1/100 sec and ISO 1600. I didn’t need to go higher than 3200, and I was getting very clean shots. It was a quick shoot because it was cold outside, and the model wasn’t comfortable with the temperature.

Editing and Colors

I love editing and tweaking my colors in Photoshop, and the 645z makes it even better. The files have so much latitude, and I discovered that I could really adjust colors to my heart’s content without seeing any banding or artifacts. It also made me improve the look of my images.

The ‘Medium Format Look’

This is something I noticed right away: there is an organic feel to the images that come from this camera. I don’t know how to quantify it, but the photos just look more life-like than my RX1 and Nikon Df photos. Even the grain I add in post looks very organic, and pleasing.

Drawbacks

Of course, no camera is perfect. The 645z does have some issues.

For one, the focus is slow and hunts in low light, although this might be because I didn’t get the latest Pentax medium format lenses.

It is big, heavy, and attracts attention. It’s impossible to shoot without having people looking, especially when I try to shoot in locations where I could get in trouble for shooting. Every shoot becomes an event.

That doesn’t help when you’re trying to go under the radar, or if you’re trying to travel light. I remember when I packed for my last trip to New York, I didn’t want to lug the camera around, so I took my Nikon Df because I wanted to carry just one backpack for my 3 day trip. I wouldn’t even consider shooting a wedding with this thing because having it hanging around my neck for 10 hours sounds like torture, and dealing with over one thousand 51 megapixel files would be a chore.

Conclusion

I have loved using this camera, and it has forced me to improve the quality of my work. I’m looking forward to many more years with this big beautiful camera. I even nicknamed her Helga, because I usually give my cameras names, and Helga seemed to fit perfectly.

You can view more samples of my work here. And if you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments.


About the author: Isi Akahome is a Chicago-based fashion photographer who came to the US nine years ago. He started photography in 2010, and his goal is to make an impression on the viewer with every image he takes. You can find his work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram.

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