Medium Format back to 35mm

Gear / April 23, 2018

I have been a happy photographer shooting my Pentax 645z over the past four years, shooting many thousands of images over that time and taking up tons of hard drive space. The system has done just about everything I’ve asked of it and I could honestly say it was one of my favorite cameras ever. That being said I’ve made the decision to move on from the Pentax and it was not a quick decision or something I wanted to do if I had more of a choice in the matter, in fact I would go so far as to say this was 100% Ricoh Pentax’s fault. You see I’ve been working on landscapes for a while now and I’ve been hitting the same problem over and over again. The lack of lens selection is killing my options for getting the shot I want when in the field.

The final straw was when shooting in the Lofoten Islands of Norway this past winter trying to get some of the majestic shots of fjords rising from the water just in front of you all while keeping some foreground elements around. In quite a few of the locations I’ve visited recently this requires to have the 35mm equivalent of about a 15mm lens something that is not obtainable in the 645 lens line up. Some of you may point out that Pentax did indeed have the 28-45mm zoom but this still does not go wide enough and it’s a $5,000, 3 1/2 lb, 6” long and 82mm wide, it’s a monster lens, and one that still does not quite fit the bill at approx 22mm (35mm equivalent).

Lens selection was not the only consideration mind you, at four years old and not a word from Pentax about long term viability of the camera and platform, it makes investments difficult. I’d like to know if I invest $8,000 in two new lenses the 90mm and the 28-45 that they will continue to work and be good investments for years to come. The fact that we don’t even know if there will be another iteration of the 645 from Pentax makes investing in new glass from Pentax untenable from my point of view. Also if you look at the last four years and see the investment that Pentax has made in this system you start to see a clear lack of support for the 645, from what I can see Pentax has made what amounts to 4 new lenses for the 645 series cameras both D and Z and have already canceled one of them.

  • 25mm (discontinued)
  • 28-45mm Zoom
  • 55mm
  • 90mm Macro

Next of the list of reasons for moving camera systems the fact that I’ve been wanting to try new types of photography lately. I’m primarily focused on landscapes but I have been looking at wildlife photography lately and becoming interested, in what I could do in this arena. The Pentax was not designed for this and I don’t blame them for this, it’s not a use case that I would say falls into the sweet spot of Medium Format. I needed long lenses, fast frame rates and great autofocus. None of these are things the the 645z excels at. This is not the dagger in the coffin of MF for me as it was just a side interest but it is something to think about. Carrying two systems was an option here but obviously not the ideal option.

Lastly on my list of problems was as I want to start traveling for photography more and more I want to protect my investment in that trip by having two camera bodies with me. There are two problems with this and the 645. Firstly was the price at between $8,500 and $6000 the body for the 645z is not cheap and that makes it hard to own two of these. Secondly is the size and weight of the camera body, it’s not simple to pack another camera the size of the 645 and travel the world without sacrificing something else. Maybe some of you are better packers than I am but I just didn’t have room in my camera bag for two MF bodies.

I am going to miss Medium Format though, I loved the feel of the images, the narrow depth of field at f3.5, the 6x4.5 format and although I it’s specific to the Pentax I will really miss the layout of the camera. You’d be surprised the number of buttons you can fit onto a camera of that size. Dedicated mirror up dials, physical dials for auto focus modes, bracketing and many many more. It was truly a great camera to work with and I had no desire to upgrade, rather I feel I was pushed by my subjects to need more from my camera and my hands were tied by the fact that I wanted to capture the best photos I could imagine in the field.

Perhaps with the advent of Medium Format mirrorless we’ll see some cameras that offer the qualities of Medium Format image quality wise with some of the technology we see in the DSLR and mirrorless world of cameras. Time will tell if this will happen, I hope people will continue to buy these systems so the manufactures will keep upgrading them, adding lenses and making them more capable all around cameras. Until then I’m back to the world of 35mm so that I can get from one system a wider range of capabilities.