Pentax 645 medium format camera review: My new favourite portrait camera

Some cameras attract your attention because of their sleek industrial design others with their classic style and charm - the Pentax 645 is not one of those cameras!

 Seen here lurking in it's natural environment -the pentax 645 sneaks up on an unsuspecting roll of Fuji pro 400H.....

Seen here lurking in it's natural environment -the pentax 645 sneaks up on an unsuspecting roll of Fuji pro 400H.....

At first glance the Pentax 645 looks like a big plastic box with a lens sticking out of the front and at second glance it also looks like a big plastic box with a lens sticking out the front, but hey this ain't a beauty contest! it's a camera and a bloody awesome one too! in fact (and yes I know that I say this a lot) it's my new fave camera and i really, really,really-really-really mean it this time, honest.... no, really....

IMG_5398.JPG

I think I've reached that point in my film camera tomfoolery where I'm looking for my cameras to do different things or have specific purposes - I've shot loads of different cameras so I can speak with some experience that most 35mm film SLR cameras are a variation on a theme - they have various control layouts/feature sets etc but ultimately they are much of a muchness so whilst I am thinning out my collection of 35mm film cameras which all do pretty much the same thing I am also expanding the collection to include cameras which do things a little bit differently - and therefore in my warped Gear Acquisition Syndrome afflicted brain I can be justified in purchasing...the Pentax 645 which is a medium format film camera and it's amazing, let me introduce you..

The first thing that is obvious is what era this camera hails from - this thing is so 80's it hurts!! the buttons and the chunky design are total give aways and i love it!! despite it's brick like subtlety the 645 is actually very ergonomic and I love the button placement, there are loads of hokey reviews out there on the net talking about all sorts of nonsense about this camera like the viewfinder being dim (it's not - it's VERY bright and HUGE) and there is an even larger amount of claptrap out there about the shutter being VERY LOUD (it's not.... yeah you can hear it but it's not THAT bad) what else... oh yeah people complain about the button placement, for me this is just not an issue at all....this thing is so easy to shoot with!! it has a full range of shutter priority, aperture priority and full manual modes (there are also people out there claiming that the 645 doesn't have a full manual mode, erm yes it does)..... the great thing about all these crap reviews and internet forums recylcing this duff info about the camera is that nobody wants to buy it - so it's CHEAP!!! like REALLY cheap!! hurray!

IMG_5399.JPG

These cameras are not particularly common in the UK these days so I imported mine from Japan and even with shipping and Her Majesty's rip off merchants at UK customs it was still a good deal! If you think you want a Pentax 645 then buy one - you will not be dissapointed! Mine came with the standard 75mm 2.8 lens attached already and I very quickly added a 150mm 3.5 lens too - the pentax 645 glass is AMAZING! it's a totally manual focus system and that's the way (a ha a ha) I like it! very smooth focussing action and a lovely bright viewfinder to nail focus - Love it!!

IMG_5430.JPG

Above you can see my set up - the Pentax 645 itself sporting the 150mm lens, a spare film back which can be preloaded with film making it much easier in the field to load a new film, a light meter which I've just started using to help nail exposure and of course a few rolls of film - the 645 is a bulky beast, but it's not mega heavy, I use my Joby slingstrap with it and I've carried around for a few hours at a time during a shoot with no bothers.

Anyway enough with the camera review stuff - I don't shoot film just so I can review cameras, in fact the real reason I shoot film is in no small part becuase as a photographer what I like to do is take photographs!! yes i know! crazy! what I mean is I'd like to spend a little more time on the photograph taking side and a little less on the sitting in front of the computer editing side of the euqation - I fully believe that editing and processing is an important part of the photographic process but with film it's a much more hands on process, film also gives you some constraints to work within and I like that too, oh and it looks flipping awesome too - did i mention that already?

0-13.jpg

Anyway for someone who is trying to reduce the amount of camera review waffling I don't half bang on about cameras - let's call it a work in progress, now let's talk about the photos instead though shall we? These images were created on a modelshoot with the amazingly talented Pandora Belle - for the shoot we took a walk in the woods on a bright sunny day just outside Bradford in a place called Judy Woods, a beautiful setting with soft light filtered through the trees, the bluebells were in full swing and Pandora suggested a goth look which I think works great in this setting. Over the moon with how these turned out - this is how I want to work from now on, spend more time being much more intentional about visualising the shot and getting the compostion and exposure right during the shoot so that the images look how I imagined right off the bat - beautiful!

0-15.jpg

I've been wanting to incorporate film into my professional work for some time now - in particular for portraits, but to do that i first needed to build some experience of shooting portraits on film and at the same time build my portfolio in that direction so i have something to show people, this is where working with models on a TF (Time For) basis is a great option as it helps us both build our portfolios so it's mutually beneficial - it's also a good creative outlet and you can test out new ideas (like shooting with film) without the pressure of a paying client.

0-2.jpg
0-3.jpg

These images were shot on Fuji pro 400H film and wow!! I love how they look - i intentionally overexposed the film which is a way of creating a more light and airy feel to the images and I think it's worked great, what this means is I rate the film as 200 speed so in effect treating it as though it requires twice the amount of light and voila! amazing tones and lovely feel to the photos - I did next to nothing with the scans I got back from Exposure Film Lab because to my eye they look exactly how I'd envisioned things, fantastic stuff :)

0-1.jpg
0-3.jpg
0-3.jpg
0-10.jpg
0-14.jpg

Exposure Film Lab did such a great job of developing and scanning the film - it was my first time using these guys but I have to say they did a wonderful job and I cannot recommend them highly enough, and also a huge thank you to Pandora Belle for working with me on this shoot - she's a very creative and talented model and I'm sure we'll work together again soon!