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08-19-2010, 10:01 AM   #1
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Going into medium format?

Lately, I've been listening to a lot of the "Inside Analog Photography" podcast as I've started venturing into the film world from my digital SLR upbringing.

One thing I've found was that a lot of photographers who still use film today usually pick up medium format. Even wedding photographers! (aka Jose Villa, who uses a Contax 645)

Now, I've considered building up a 35mm film system but am curious as to the allure of medium format and whether maybe it's for me or something I can use? I saw a Pentax 645 system (don`t think it`s the `645n) with a 75mm f2.8 for $450 dollars and 120/220 film backs and was wondering if maybe it'd be a worthwhile investment for me - maybe as an add-on to my K-7 or a 35mm system.

My focus is on weddings, events and documentaries as well as portraits of people (all natural light). I do a little bit of street and landscapes and still-life's for fun on the side I shoot in a variety of lighting situations indoors/outdoors. I like to have subjects pop out from the background (less DOF).

Portability is nice, but I'm okay with lugging a big camera if necessary!

If I do get the system, I'm thinking using Kodak Portra 400 and 800 since they're still available and the film speed looks to match my needs.

Curious on your thoughts and wisdom?

08-19-2010, 11:18 AM   #2
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If I were to start over with a MF system I think I would go with a 645n. The prices of used kits are very affordable, I have seen a few listed here recently for around $550 for body, FA 75, and 120 back. I have seen some 645 kits ( same setup but no AF) sell on fleabay and craigslist for around $350. I like the idea of having AF with a medium format system. The FA 645 lenses are more expensive but you can always just mount an A-645 lens. My biggest complaint with the 645 is the battery holder. They seem to break very easily. I think this was improved with the 645n. I also like the idea of having data imprinting (analog exif data printed on the edges of the frame.) Also the control layout on the 645n seems better.
I don't think you could go wrong with either a 645 or 645n, but I think that with the going rate of 645n systems and the added benifit of AF I would go with the 645n.
That being said, I have used a 645 but have never used a 645n. I am sure some 645n users will chime in and have other opinions.
08-19-2010, 12:17 PM   #3
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I saw that add the other day and was contemplating that very same camera.......
Seems like a good starting point, but like Swift 1 has said and the research I've done, I think the 645n would be a better starting point.
Now if anyone has a copy of the FA 645 35mm F3.5 AL [IF] for sale, please let me know.
I was shooting with our Architectural photographer recently and he had this lens mounted on a shift/tilt adapter onto his 5d!
It's worth noting he only had one Canon lens (the 24 tilt/shift) and the rest were from all over the shop.
08-19-2010, 12:17 PM   #4
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You really can't go wrong with any medium format, especially if you like to go big when printing. 120/220 film gives so much latitude when enlarging, though 6x4.5 is the smallest of the medium format, it is still huge compared to 35mm.

You should at least see if a store near you has some different varieties in stock, so you can get a feel for them and their differences/features. I do love my 645NII (I got a screaming deal on it) and find it extremely easy to use, fairly light weight (though I am comparing a Pentax 6x7 ) and the world is ripe with accessories and lenses. As stated by Swift1, having the details printed on the film edges is beyond cool (no more notebook with that camera).

If you want to jump in relatively cheaply, you can always go with an older, fully manual 120 camera - like the Kodak Brownies, Yashica TLR's or cartridge cameras. eBay is flooded with them at cheap prices and they are a lot of fun if you can handle using your intuition (sunny 16, etc.) or a separate light meter.

The most important thing, is get something that you will enjoy, or your DSLR will be promoted to primary use again. Be warned, however, it is very addictive once you get going! I set out for a 645n and ended up with a whole arsenal of film cameras and a full wet darkroom! My poor K10d is so lonely!

Just my $.02. Feel free to ask more specific questions!

Mike

08-19-2010, 05:24 PM   #5
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Prices are really good on P645N systems. The quality is high, and they sold a lot of them to wedding photographers who have gone over to D700 and are finally dumping their old MF kits. With the P645D announcement, the FA lenses have mostly dried up at the online shops, but if you check Craigslist locally, the sellers are sometimes unaware of the pricing; that is, they only have manual lens prices at KEH to help them guess prices for their FA gear. The wedding photographers always have a full kit: lenses, backs, flash, so if you keep watching, you can get everything in one swoop.

I gave up on buying a FA 35mm, and happily paid $525 to get it in manual, a 22mm equivalent lens. All my other lenses were much cheaper, but 35mm is a critical focal length for landscape or street. The FA, if you can find it, would be much more more pricey, and I think it has a larger filter. I'm happy with manual focus on wide angle lenses. The best thing: these Pentax manual 645 lenses have dreamy-creamy smooth focusing gears.

So I work with manual 35mm and 55mm, but have autofocus on 75mm and 200mm. I sometimes think I want a 120mm or 150mm, but in practice, I find I need more choices in the normal to wide range. When I need long, I need to jump way up.

Oh; The 645Nii is much more expensive than the 645N, but I'm not sure it's features are worth the bump. Mirror-Up is the big one, but everyone says that the mirror counter-balance in the 645N is great. Reichmann at Luminous Landscape tried to measure any problems with mirror thrash, but couldn't find any. (Of course, he is now Phase One 65M back, but that is a slightly different price bracket.)
08-19-2010, 06:37 PM   #6
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dugrant153,
I would look for a 645N or 645NII kit with the FA 75mm F2.8. If later you want more than the lens choices are not as expensive as Contax for example.

I love those podcasts: Inside Analog Photography, WPPI, Rangefinder Forums etc
(here is one Inside Analog Photo)

I shoot plenty of Portra and Fuji 400H. Both are amazing for portraits and more importantly are awesome for reproducing whites.

Here are some blogs of portraits/wedding photographers I like:
http://josevillablog.com/
Jonathan Canlas Photography
richard israel photography
Twin Lens Life ~ Fine Art Film Photography ~Los Angeles Southern California
08-19-2010, 07:12 PM   #7
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You asked about portability.

The P645N seems large at first sight, but it handles so well, that it doesn't feel bad at all. The handle/battery holder fits your fingers easily. Even hanging it on your neck is surprisingly comfy.
08-19-2010, 10:09 PM   #8
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hmm... seems to be that most people are recommending I skip the older Pentax 645 and go for the "645n" version. I guess the only issue is that I think going for the 645n starts pushing my 'budget'. If I go down the MF road, I'm thinking of shooting with maybe a basic 645 (if I can find for cheap) and then I can always upgrade to the 645n body later?

I don't see any 645n's on my local craigslist at the moment, but plenty of 645's. They look very enticing!

QuoteQuote:
I love those podcasts: Inside Analog Photography, WPPI, Rangefinder Forums etc
(here is one Inside Analog Photo)
Ditto here! I've been listening to these podcasts like mad the last few days. It's kinda made me go 35mm film, but I keep hearing people pick up those medium format Contax, Mamiyas, etc etc.


Btw, has anyone ever used their 645 for photojournalistic endeavours?


Last edited by dugrant153; 08-19-2010 at 10:18 PM.
08-20-2010, 06:21 AM   #9
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Getting into MF

QuoteOriginally posted by dugrant153 Quote
Curious on your thoughts and wisdom?
At the risk of being tried on charges of heresy, there are many fine, cheap, manual focus medium format systems besides Pentax: Bronica, Hassy, Mamiya, Contax, etc. Browse eBay or KEH.com to get a feel for what a complete system might cost.

I chose Pentax because I need autofocus (I am legally blind) and that narrows the list considerably and, of those, Pentax was more affordable. I think you might find the ergonomics of the 645N/NII a bit better than the original 645, both in the handling and controls, but YMMV. I have two 645NII bodies and they are a joy to hold and use and the lenses, well, some of them, like the FA 120mm macro and FA 35mm, are just amazing. Were I able to manually focus, I no doubt would have gone with a 67 or 67II instead, possibly even with a large format 4x5.

Buffy
08-20-2010, 07:23 AM   #10
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The important thing about the 645N is the handling, not the autofocus, although that is kind of nice. Also, film edge data printing!

After using the 645N, I would hate the controls on the 645. You have buttons, modes and a menu, like so many modern Point&Shoots and DSLRs. On the 645N everything is wonderfully non-modal with separate knobs for each function: Shutter Speed, EV, Metering Mode and Aperture. Set a knob to green and it is automatic; move a knob off green for manual. All green: shoot and go with matrix metering. Okay, setting ISO is done by holding a switch while toggling an up or down button.

(Do any other Pentax cameras have similar green-knob, non-modal handling like the 645N? Any of the last 35mm film cameras?)

I'm not against manual cameras. It's just that the 645N let's you go manual on each feature as you need it. Visually, the green automatic indicators are great. On my DSLR I'm always in some white balance or focus mode that I forget about the next time I pick it up.

Price differential is only $100-$150 on the camera which usually includes the 75mm lens. For most purposes you only need one or two additional lenses. Like I said, I wasn't about to pay for the FA 35mm lens, which is made of unobtanium, but love the manual 35mm.

Ken Rockwell really likes the Pentax 645 and 645N. See his reviews for comments and pictures. Looking at the top of the cameras, you can see what I mean about knobs vs buttons.
- Pentax 645N
- Pentax 645
08-20-2010, 08:46 AM   #11
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One approach is to not have you MF camera compete with your digital in terms of automagic features. When you what to slow down and shoot for pleasure of it, reach for a mechanical MF camera. When you need the money shot, reach for the digital.

Now you could buy from a wide range of mechanical MF cameras, possibly increase that image size projected on the 120 roll and even save some money too. So if you find that MF film is not your thing, you haven't soaked a lot of money into it.
08-21-2010, 10:12 AM   #12
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I'm actually thinking of using all 3 - digital, 35mm and possibly Medium Format... or even just 35mm and Medium Format (with digital being for extreme ISO cases or crazy light switching situations - or even just as a backup).

I was thinking of other systems for MF until I tried the Pentax 645 (non-N version) and WOW... the 645 is awesome! Not much larger or heavier than a Nikon D700 + zoom lens. What really caught me was the amount of background blur you get with MF.... WOW... full frame feels like "crop frame" in that regard, in comparison!

That being said, seeing as how the FA lenses are few and far between, I think I might be better with the original 645 b/c it comes with a split focus screen, which would be greatly helpful for me when focusing manual A-lenses (the most valuable at the moment). I would actually describe the original 645 as a Pentax P3 on steroids. I'm used to both the dial modes (just as on my Canon Elan II), but my previous Pentax film cameras were both switch-based (Pentax P3 and SF1n) so using the original 645 was pretty intuitive for me.

Question - when I was trying it yesterday, I couldn't get the camera to meter yesterday (it was always set to F16 and 1/1000) - note that there was no film in the system and the guy had to take the film insert out for the camera to fire.... hmm....
08-21-2010, 04:26 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by MetaD Quote
Also, film edge data printing!
That's a killer feature for anyone learning film photography. Me, I chose the 645N due to superior ergonomics. And someday will do something good with it.
08-23-2010, 01:21 PM - 1 Like   #14
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I'll plug the plain 645: for the money you do get an excellent camera, for me the spiritual peer of the Program cameras - though probably the P3 is even closer. Not too difficult to learn the push button thing.

With any Pentax 645, you're not likely to lose a lot of money buying one and then selling it if you don't get along. Pentax in med fmt suffers from the same disease as in 35mm - the desireable stuff is relatively rare and thus pricey, when compared to some of the higher volume competition (e.g. Mamiya).

However, to test the waters I also recommend a nice folder or TLR from the 50s - these are as manual as you get, don't bother paying for a built in meter... You'll get a sense of what the format does for you image quality/handling wise, as well as what processing the (color) film does to your pocket.
08-23-2010, 07:13 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by dugrant153 Quote
I'm actually thinking of using all 3 - digital, 35mm and possibly Medium Format... or even just 35mm and Medium Format (with digital being for extreme ISO cases or crazy light switching situations - or even just as a backup).

I was thinking of other systems for MF until I tried the Pentax 645 (non-N version) and WOW... the 645 is awesome! Not much larger or heavier than a Nikon D700 + zoom lens. What really caught me was the amount of background blur you get with MF.... WOW... full frame feels like "crop frame" in that regard, in comparison!

That being said, seeing as how the FA lenses are few and far between, I think I might be better with the original 645 b/c it comes with a split focus screen, which would be greatly helpful for me when focusing manual A-lenses (the most valuable at the moment). I would actually describe the original 645 as a Pentax P3 on steroids. I'm used to both the dial modes (just as on my Canon Elan II), but my previous Pentax film cameras were both switch-based (Pentax P3 and SF1n) so using the original 645 was pretty intuitive for me.

Question - when I was trying it yesterday, I couldn't get the camera to meter yesterday (it was always set to F16 and 1/1000) - note that there was no film in the system and the guy had to take the film insert out for the camera to fire.... hmm....
If there's no film in the camera it will only show a few of the available settings. (This and the failure to fire when there's no film in made me very nervous when I first got the camera home after buying it-thought I'd gotten a defective one, the seller's assurances notwithstanding!)

There's a "demonstration back" which will allow you to meter without film, but I just put a roll of film in and shot some just to get a feel for it. New to medium format myself (and only getting back into photography after a long hiatus), but having a complete blast relearning everything with this excellent camera!

>Tom<
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