Category Archives: Pentax 645D

smc Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 lens performance

In the quest for a lens with a focal length that would be considered close to normal, I tried the following two lenses:

  • smc PENTAX-DFA 645 55mm F2.8 AL SDM AW [IF]
  • smc PENTAX-FA 645 45mm F2.8

The first is the lens that was originally released with the Pentax 645D camera. While the image sharpness was fine at the centre, the soft edges were not acceptable for the type of work I do. Same comments are true for the 45mm lens. I returned both and purchased a 45-85mm zoom to see what it can do.

In my blog post on the 45mm fixed lens, I photographed a brick wall to see how the centre versus corner sharpness compared. The same wall is featured below with the 45-85mm set to 45mm and an aperture of f/8. Due to the closer camera to subject distance of the asphalt in the lower corners, I’ve chosen a crop slightly up from the bottom of the frame.

Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 lens shot at 45mm f/8 - overall view

Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 lens shot at 45mm f/8 – overall view

Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 lens shot at 45mm f/8 - top left corner

Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 lens shot at 45mm f/8 – top left corner

Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 lens shot at 45mm f/8 - top right corner

Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 lens shot at 45mm f/8 – top right corner

Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 lens shot at 45mm f/8 - bottom right corner

Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 lens shot at 45mm f/8 – bottom right corner

Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 lens shot at 45mm f/8 - bottom left corner

Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 lens shot at 45mm f/8 – bottom left corner

Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 lens shot at 45mm f/8 - bottom left corner with chromatic aberration adjustment enabled

Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 lens shot at 45mm f/8 – bottom left corner with chromatic aberration adjustment enabled

The crops from this image demonstrate the superior performance of the 45-85mm zoom compared to the 45mm f/2.8 fixed lens. The centre and corners, except for the top right, are consistently sharp and exhibit good detail. Focus was set to Auto as it is generally more reliable than my eye. Camera was on a tripod and ISO was at 200.

The second last image in the series shows the chromatic aberration that can show up with this lens when it is shot at 45mm. Turning on the correction in Adobe Lightroom (same as Adobe Camera Raw) eliminates the colour fringing very effectively. The lens exhibits barrel distortion which can also be removed by enabling the lens corrections.

I was very impressed with the performance of this lens at the wide end of the zoom range. In the more than three years that have elapsed since shooting this test and creating this post, I have shot with this lens extensively. Focusing manually is challenging with the slow maximum aperture, however I have found using autofocus is mostly reliable and any shortcomings in image sharpness have usually been related to insufficient depth of field or not choosing a focus point that maximizes the available depth of field.


Long-term with the Pentax 645D – A Redux

In August of 2013 I posted my experience with a shutter failure on my Pentax 645D. I was  disappointed, but what can you do when you’re now the owner of a $9000 brick? You get it fixed so it can continue to earn you money.

I approved the nearly $2000 repair estimate and off to Japan my camera went. Apparently a new shutter is not something that can be installed in the Canadian repair office.

It took roughly two months to have the camera repaired. For a full-time professional this would not be acceptable and is the reason backup plans need to be in place. Lens rents the 645D out for $375 for a 5 day period. I suppose as long as it wasn’t a last minute or weather-dependant photoshoot this could be a viable option. I’m not in a position to justify a second 645D body or a backup Nikon/Canon system. Borrowing equipment from friends did come in handy a couple times.

Earlier this year Pentax announced the 645Z—a fairly major upgrade to the 645D. Many sites have a full listing of the new features, however one really caught my eye. It has a shutter rated for 100,000 activations. Sounds like an attractive upgrade to me.

Long-term with the Pentax 645D

I’m closing in on three years with the Pentax 645D. Overall, I still enjoy using this camera. There’s a lot to like.

I spent about three weeks with a Nikon D800 and D800E. After shooting many images side by side with the 645D, I am confident that it still has an edge over the full-frame 35mm DSLR bodies when it comes to per pixel image quality. More to come at some point on that one.

This summer I was looking forward to some personal photography to add to my Deserted Lands series. Looking at the image below, I didn’t drop the camera. Instead, after roughly 9,500 images the shutter decided to pack it in. I recall reading online somewhere that is it rated to 30,000 images. Not that it matters when you’re standing in Montana wishing the camera would capture an image.

Ricoh (Pentax) Imaging Canada has been very helpful and had an estimate within a couple days of receiving the camera. Here’s where I feel potential purchasers of a 645D should be fully aware of what they’re buying. You already know this is a niche product. My shutter is being fixed in Japan. This is not a quick process. Nor is it inexpensive. At nearly $2000 for the repair, I’m two thirds of the way towards buying a Nikon D800 body.

What does one do? Fortunately I have clients that have a flexible enough schedule and can postpone their projects. I’m hoping the new shutter lasts a lot longer that the first one. At the current rate, it’s costing me nearly $0.20 each time I fire the shutter. I take solace that it’s still cheaper than a frame of film.

Will it last?

Will it last?

Trying out the smc Pentax-FA 45-85mm f/4.5 lens

The pause in blog posts has not been due to lack of happenings, but rather quite the opposite. In the past few posts I’d been discussing the challenges in finding a decent mid-range lens for the Pentax 645D. I have written about the older FA 45mm lens. Most users are going to be disappointed by the performance of that lens. Similarly, the new “digitally optimized” 55mm lens also has poor corner sharpness. Twice bitten, now what?

I had read online about some users obtaining good results with the smc Pentax-FA 645 45-85mm f/4.5 zoom lens. This seems to go against the usual wisdom of a prime lens being sharper than a zoom, but I was willing to try anything at this point. My other option was to turn to a Pentax 67 lens with an adapter for the 645D and that was not a road I was interested in traveling just yet.

There is a camera retailer in the U.K that I had purchased my smc Pentax-FA 645 200mm f/4 lens from in December. Great prices and good service. I figured it was worth another email now that I was looking for the 45-85mm lens. Once again, Mifsuds was excellent to deal with and my lens arrived a little more than a week after my email was sent. I normally try to support my local dealers, however going that route in this case would have meant a 3X surcharge.

It’s worth looking at the recent prices on EBay to see what lenses are proving to be popular on the Pentax 645D. The 35mm, 45-85mm and 120mm Macro have all experienced stronger pricing since the 645D became available outside of Japan. It does not appear the 75mm has seen the same increases, although it is an excellent piece of glass as well.

Within a day of it’s arrival, I was out shooting with the 45-85mm lens. It is tougher to focus manually than the 45mm or 55mm lens since its maximum aperture is about one and a half stops smaller. The focus just doesn’t “pop” as well. This is not unique to this lens, however. It’s just a fact of using a slower lens.

So far, I’ve found the 45-85mm to be a good performer with the autofocus system in the 645D. Most images are in the “keeper” category, though keep in mind that I’m mostly shooting subjects that either don’t move or move very slowly. It’s possible to manually focus this lens successfully in good light.

In my next post I’ll show some examples with the 45-85mm. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a mid-range lens for the Pentax 645D, this is the one to go with or should at least deserve your strong consideration.

Long Exposures and the Pentax 645D

I spent about three hours on New Year’s Day wandering around Cliff Gilker Park in Roberts Creek, BC. On the way back, a spectacular sunset greeted my arrival into Davis Bay. After working in a few photolabs for a combined total of nearly seven years, I thought I more than had my fill of sunset photos. Mother Nature still has some surprises!

The Pentax 645D has very low noise images in general, but I haven’t had the opportunity to really push it to the limits of the marked shutter speeds. The lowest user-selectable speed is 30 seconds. The image below was shot at 25 seconds f/11. I was pretty much tripping over the rocks at that point. It was dark! The subtle fill light in the rocks was from a single street light located at least 50 feet behind me. Fortunately for me, it was sodium vapor so the color matched the sunset quite nicely. This image was shot about 30 minutes after the sun dipped below the mountains on Vancouver Island. The city lights in the distance are Nanaimo.

As an aside, white balance can be an easy tool to altering the appearance and mood of an image. A cool white balance for images of people is seldom attractive unless going to a particular style. Warm it up a bit and the skintones look attractive.

For the image above, I played with the white balance setting on the camera then tweaked it further in Lightroom. The fluorescent setting can give quite an attractive appearance to this sort of image. As is standard on most DSLRs these days, the 645D offers further tuning on the cyan/blue versus yellow/red axis as well as the magenta versus green axis. Very handy!

Back to noise characteristics… I mentioned there was a street light behind me and to my right. It provided some fill on the rocks in the foreground, however the sky was changing quickly and the light was fading. To wait for better balance between the street light fill and the sky wasn’t going to happen. Plus it was cold. After a half hour crouched over the tripod I was done. No suffering for my art. Adjust in post.

Below is a 100% crop from the rocks near the waterline in the center of the image.

Bringing more detail into this area can be accomplished via a number of methods in Lightroom / Camera Raw or later in Photoshop. While I don’t favor the extreme brightening in the image below, it shows what lies in the shadows of a 645D image.

The Fill Light slider was moved to a setting of 50 from its default of zero. Noise reduction is at zero for Luminance and 10 for Color. Reducing the Color slider to zero shows some noise, however if you consider that the default setting is 25, I don’t feel zero is a realistic setting.

I think the engineers at Pentax should be lauded for the excellent long exposure noise characteristics of the 645D. (Kodak too, since they manufacture the sensor) Compared to some other cameras on the market, this looks great. To top it off, the long exposure noise reduction (dark frame subtraction) didn’t even kick in at 25 seconds. In other words, there was no waiting after each exposure before taking another. Wow.