Tag Archives: Usability

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 Rentals.com 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?

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.

More thoughts on usability – Pentax 645D

As is the style with most DSLR’s these days, the Pentax 645D has a long list of custom settings. There are a couple that have become definite favourites of mine that help make creating photographs with this camera that much more intuitive.

There are front and rear control wheels (or “e-dials” in Pentax-speak). This is a similar design feature on most DSLR’s. As with many other cameras, they can be customized. For a Nikon user like myself, makes the camera faster to use since it can operate in a similar manner to the other cameras I regularly use.

I generally use Aperture Priority and occasionally Manual. There are two well thought out features regarding the e-dial customization.

1 – Separate settings for each of the exposure modes (With TAv & M, plus B & X grouped together)

2 – In Aperture Priority (Av), the front dial can be set to control the aperture and the rear dial can be set for either Exposure Compensation or ISO. The option for Exposure Compensation or ISO is particularly useful since these important functions can be controlled without looking away from the viewfinder. Great feature!

Usability of the Pentax 645D

One of the challenges lately has been the weather. It has been hovering around zero (Celsius). Battery life is usually reduced under these conditions, however the 645D has just kept on going. I’ve shot about 200 frames on the same battery charge. Lots of chimping due to my unfamiliarity with the camera and also evaluating sharpness and depth of field. The display shut-off is set to a long-ish three minutes so I’m definitely not trying to stretch battery life. Total time to shoot these images and general wandering around amounts to roughly four hours.

The battery display has been alternating between 2/3 and 1/3 charge. Very impressive. When I’ve shot with the Hasselblad H3D-II 50 and Phase One P25, neither exceeded 300 images on one charge. This was with trying to conserve viewing time on the display screen which, incidentally, was nearly useless except for exposure evaluation via the histogram.

Although I would always carry an additional battery, I suspect the 645D could go a full day on one charge. Well done Pentax!