645D AFTER SIX MONTHS
Back in the late 80s I seriously started to pursue landscape photography. I had been impressed with large fine art gallery prints that caught my eye and I wanted to be able to create those same types of images for myself. After six months with 35mm I knew it was a dead end for me. I jumped to a Pentax 67 and never looked back. As I got more into backpacking and hiking to locations that were sometimes physically demanding, I decided I wanted to give the Pentax 645n a try and I did, ultimately finding it suited my purposes and delivering a much higher image quality than was possible with 35mm.
Skip forward to the near present and my 645n has been lingering in the closet along with a bag full of P645 lenses. A Canon 5D2 received most of my attention with an occasional outing with the 645n or a Fuji G617. I found the 5D2 pretty much capable of equaling the 645n but still not delivering the smoothness in gradations and tone that I enjoyed from medium and large format film. Plus, it had some nagging problems with noise in the blacks, particularly in low light situations.
A fellow friend and well-known photographer, who also shot with a 5D2, made the decision to move to the 645D and after seeing his side by side comparison shots against the 5D2, I could wait no longer.
I have now owned my 645D for approximately six months. Like my 645n, it has so far been flawless in operation. It has a few quirks as a result of the fact that to meet the under $10K price point certain bits and pieces of hardware, firmware, internal digital processing, display, were borrowed from the Pentax K7/K5 bodies. Pentax has been behind the big names (Canon, Nikon, SONY) in DSLR sales for some time. Nevertheless, their sales numbers have been high enough that using existing parts from their consumer cameras have enabled Pentax to more than price match the big names in digital medium format.
ERGONOMICS: The 645D is about as good as it gets in ergonomics. It's not too heavy, even for a two or three day backpack along with camping gear. All the controls fall perfectly to hand, especially if you've used a Pentax 645 film camera in the past. There is a dedicated mirror lockup rotary switch. If you're casually shooting JPGs (three levels of quality/file size available) and want to grab a RAW file, simply push the RAW button.
With the mirror locked, a touch of the shutter release button delivers a buttery smooth mechanical release of the shutter, followed by the mirror return.
The viewfinder is big and bright and pretty much unrivaled by any from APS-C or FF DSLR land. Tripod sockets are fitted on the bottom and side, enabling the use of quick release mounts for quickly shifting from horizontal to vertical framing.
It will take you all of two minutes to figure out the basics without cracking an instruction manual. But it does offer some unique features that will require you to read the manual to fully understand.
IMAGE QUALITY: The 41 meg Kodak sensor is very quiet, certainly less noisy than previous generations. ISO 1600 is no problem if you're using software such as Light Room 3.0 or later to process the RAW files. Light Room noise reduction quality is excellent. The downside of using high ISO is a reduction in dynamic range although realistically low light scenes will typically require less dynamic range. I find the 645D to have well over a full stop of additional range over my 5D2.
In terms of tonal qualities, smoothness of gradations, rendering of subtle hues, the 645D (Kodak sensor) is far more film like than any of the Canon sensors, in my opinion. The RAW files generated by the 645D are robust, easily tweaked without creating a plastic, artificial look. Reproduction of detail in dark/near black areas is excellent with a bit of work in Light Room or Photoshop.
30"x40" images on fine art papers present no problem for the 645D, assuming good techniques, tripod, mirror lock, etc. If you stitch 2-4 frames, you can go MUCH larger and more than rival large format 4x5 film results.
SUMMARY: I'm extremely happy with my decision to move to the 645D. It has more than met my expectations and being a Pentax medium format film shooter, it was like going home.
No problems but certainly a few things to get use to:
Processing speed. If you shoot with two SD cards and backup to the second card, write time for a single frame can be 4-5 seconds. Solution: Write RAW only to one card only. Write time will be reduced to about two seconds.
Noise Reduction. If you do long exposure work, such as night sky shots, and you exceed 30 seconds. a noise reduction process requires a length of time equivalent to the exposure and appears to be none defeatable. So, a one minute exposure requires two minutes to complete, as an example.
Internal HDR processing: Don't even bother. This feature seems to have come along for free with the processing software the 645D inherited from the K5/K7 bodies. The frames are all processed from JPG files and poorly at that. If you want to do HDR, use Photomatix or one of the other sophisticated HDR processing software packages and do it right.
No Live View: Live view is great for focusing on a subject when a camera equipped with this capability is tripod mounted. Unfortunately, the Kodak CCD sensor does not lend itself to live view implementation. There is a digital preview that is somewhat of a workaround but it isn't like the real deal.
Lenses: The options for new lenses are limited at the moment so most buyers of the 645D have been depending on the used market to procure lenses. There is some unit to unit variability among the 645 lenses manufactured for use with the 645 film cameras. The 35, 55, 75, 120 mm film lenses can be excellent along with the zooms. Avoid the 45mm prime. It is considered among the 'weakest' of the film era lenses when used with the 645D. I find my 35 and 55mm manual lenses to be equivalent to the current Pentax autofocus models in terms of contrast and sharpness. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, the 645D sensor is smaller than a 645 film frame, so even when using older lenses, the sensor is working with the center sweet spot of the lens.
Computer Power: A single 16 bit RAW file from the 645D is 220 megs in size. When you stitch several frames or make certain adjustments in Photoshop, be prepared to go for coffee unless you're using a relatively current generation Mac or PC, loaded up with memory backed by processor speed. This is not a camera you want to work with using a ten year old PC or Mac to manage and process the files.
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