its permanently attached right side handle/grip the boxy
Pentax 645N is very easy to hold for horizontal or vertical
compositions. The front is relatively clean and uncluttered
since most operating controls are found on the top and
Evolution is inevitable in
all camera formats. The past two or three decades have witnessed a vast
degree in sophistication, automation, and electronicization of all types
of photo equipment. The Pentax 645N was the first medium format SLR
to incorporate autofocusing. There are others now, but this was the
original and Pentax got there first just as they did decades earlier
with practical Through The Lens (TTL) metering in the pioneering Asahi
Pentax Spot-matic introduced in 1964. Who knows what's next? Perhaps
sometime early in the soon to arrive next millennium an autofocusing
large format camera will come into being. Only time will tell.
I personally believe most medium and large format photographers tend
to be more deliberate, painstaking, and precise about each image they
expose. Far more so than the typical 35mm user, who often shoots away
indiscriminately, burning up excess film just because it is so inexpensive.
By virtue of this dedication, they often keep extensive written exposure
records, recording exactly how each picture was made. This new 645N
camera greatly simplifies this task as it imprints complete data pertinent
to each exposure onto the negative or transparency film, just outside
the image area. This imprinted data includes the frame number, exposure
mode, shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation value, metering
mode, and lens focal length. This automatic and thorough imprinting
sure saves a lot of tedious note keeping for those of us who normally
manually record copious amounts of data about each exposure. This is
a truly outstanding feature I would cherish in any camera--and it's
built into the Pentax 645N.
imprinted data on the edge of every image includes the frame
number, exposure mode, shutter speed, aperture, exposure
compensation value, metering mode, and lens focal length.
This automatic and thorough imprinting sure saves a lot
of tedious note keeping. This particular image shows it
was frame No. 13; Time Value exposure (TV); 1/2 sec at f/19;
no exposure compensation; center-weighted metering; 400mm
© 1999, Robert E. Mayer, All Rights Reserved
If you are not particularly
familiar with medium format cameras, don't be lulled into the belief
that these are particularly easy loading and operating cameras. They do
require a fair amount of user know-how and dexterity when compared to
their nearly totally automated 35mm or APS format cousins. Just loading
the light-tight black paper backed 120 film into the film holder is slightly
tedious. First the empty metal spool has to be placed into the take-up
slot and the new roll leader has to be threaded into a slot in the empty
spool. Then the film is wound slightly until an arrow (on the backing
paper) shows opposite a mark inside the camera. This is done before you
even place the holder into the camera. Extra film holders are available
that can be pre-loaded for faster film changing when working on fast paced
events or subjects. Then you must be sure to check, and if necessary,
reset the ISO setting since roll film does not have DX coding marks to
automatically set the ISO film speed. However, once the film is loaded
and the proper ISO film speed is set, operating this new 120 AF SLR is
quite similar to a conventional autofocusing 35mm SLR such as most of
us are familiar with. It even is held similar to a 35mm SLR since it includes
a built-in grip on the right side that often is an add-on extra on other
makes of medium format SLRs.
The camera's bayonet-mount lens is changed similar to those on 35mm
cameras (by aligning red dots) and once the lens and shutter speed dials
are set to the green "A" (Automatic) position, everything
is totally programed automatic in operation. A built-in motor drive advances
the film at 2 fps normally, but you have an optional consecutive advance
mode, which keeps tripping the shutter and advancing the film as long
as the shutter release button is depressed. You get 16 images on 120 film
or 33 on 220 film. The actual film image is 2.7 times larger than that
of standard double format 35mm film. In addition, there is powered film
advance winding to the first frame and run-off of the tail leader when
the 16th frame is finished. So film transport is very automated leaving
you to concentrate on the subject visible in the viewfinder. Naturally,
you also have the option of selecting aperture or shutter priority automatic
or complete manual operation when desired.
bright fall sunlight shining directly into the camera lens
through colorful leaves did not cause any metering problems.
(Fujichrome 100 RDP 75mm lens, 1/250 at f/11, center-weighted
Any of three metering modes
are easily selected by simply moving a lever located below the shutter
speed dial. The choices are multi-segment, center-weighted, and spot metering.
The multi-segment metering is classified as "Dual Six Segment,"
read by two sensors located on both sides of the viewfinder measuring
the lighting condition in two different areas. A wide sensor covers the
entire field while a narrow sensor monitors just the central area. When
dictated by varying subjects you can choose pinpoint spot metering or
conventional center-weighted metering modes. Exposure compensation of
1/3 steps in a range of ± 3EV is possible. When you want to meter
a particular exposure, retain it and then recompose the image; simply
push in a small ML (Memory Lock) button conveniently positioned below
the LCD panel to hold that setting.
The camera's body is made of aluminum protected by a glass-fiber
reinforced polycarbonate coating which is thicker than normal to provide
more shock and wear resistance. All existing SMC Pentax-A 645 lenses can
also be used with the new 645N camera without any modification--except
they will not be capable of autofocusing. There are five brand new SMC
Pentax FA autofocusing lenses designed specifically for this AF camera.
A flat prism gives a bright, right-side-up image with full data about
the exposure visible on an LED just below the image area of the viewfinder.
Data shown is the shutter speed; aperture; flash status; in-focus indicator;
exposure indication; and a bar graph (used for exposure compensation or
metered manual). The brightness of the LCD data is automatically adjusted
according to the subject's illumination level. In the center of
the natural-bright matte focusing screen is a circle for spot metering
and two bracket marks indicating the three-point AF frame. Optional screens
include AF split image, AF microprism, or cross-lined matte. The eyepiece
has a built-in diopter adjustment with a range of -3.5 to +1.
late afternoon sunlight brought out the color and texture
of the large leaves on this new tree growing in our front
yard. Keeping the background in the shade and drastically
out of focus placed the emphasis on the central leaves.
(Kodak Ektachrome E100SW, 75mm 1/90 at f/4, spot metering.)
Logically clustered around
two primary control large dials on either side of the prism eyepiece are
most of the optional controls. The shutter speed dial to the right of
the viewfinder securely locks into the green "A" Automatic
or orange "X" flash synch setting. To make any change from
either of these two primary settings a button in the center of the dial
must first be pressed in before a change can be made. Thus you cannot
accidentally change the shutter speed easily. When set for any of the
remaining speeds of 4 sec to 1/1000 sec or Bulb there is just a positive
detent to hold the actual shutter speed selected. Just below this dial
is the switch for selecting any of the three metering methods with the
primary multi-segment metering marked in green for easier locating.
The other large dial on the left controls the exposure compensation while
below it is a lever which in one direction permits changing the ISO film
speed while in the other direction sets the automatic bracketing for "0",
1/3, 2/3, or one stop increments. The shutter release is located in the
front top of the grip and it even has a tapered thread for a cable release,
something you don't see often today. Around the release is a rotary
lever used to choose the desired drive mode or the self-timer. Just behind
the LCD panel is the primary on/off switch while at the end are found
triangular up/down buttons used primarily for adjusting the ISO speed
but they are also needed when canceling the data imprint function. Along
the top rear of the body are found the Servo/Single AF mode selector switch
and the AF frame selector switch.
At the front of the body is the lens release button and just above it
is a handy depth of field preview lever. On the left side of the body
is a second tripod socket (to hold the camera for vertical compositions),
a multiple exposure switch, and a covered X-synch PC terminal socket.
On the base is the primary tripod socket and a covered external power
terminal plus a small button which will wind up the remaining exposures.
Concealed under a flap is a terminal for connecting an electronic shutter
release cord. To disengage the autofocusing, simply slide a control on
any Pentax FA lens from AF to M. In manual focus mode you can visually
determine the focus on the ground glass or check when the AF symbol visible
in the viewfinder is illuminated.
The film holder has a flip-up, rotary lever which loos-ens the magazine,
but to actually remove the holder this lever must be turned a bit further
past the stop position to permit lifting it out of the camera body recess.
A light-tight protective housing comes with the film holder, which serves
as a carrying unit when extra holders are pre-loaded with film for faster
changing. Since the film holder completely recesses into the body of the
camera, a Polaroid back cannot be used with this camera.
A relatively small yet legible LCD panel on the top shoulder of the body
includes a frame counter (that conveniently remains visible even when
the power is switched off); ISO film speed information; film status (blank
or END); battery level indicator; and imprinting exposure data icon (on
Practical Use Testing. The camera handles surprisingly
easy considering it's bulkier and heavier than most top models of
35mm AF SLR cameras. Sure, it's a bit heavier, but not excessively
so and it balances very well. The built-in grip (which encloses the six
AA size batteries) makes it convenient to grip tightly with your right
hand as you support the broad, flat base with your left hand. The controls
are well marked, logically located, and easy to operate when you decide
to shift from full automatic operation or deviate from neutral normal
I found the camera's autofocusing was very accurate and precise,
functioning equally well on vertical and horizontal textures in all types
of lighting, and that's all you should really expect from this advanced
type of automation feature. Unlike many 35mm AF cameras, there is no focus
assist light on the camera body, but it accomplished the autofocusing
rapidly and accurately even under dim indoor lighting with dark subjects,
so the light did not seem to be needed. There is a focus assist light
on the shoe mount flash units since they often might be used under even
dimmer light conditions.
I particularly liked the automatic three frame bracketing feature which
you can easily switch on or off by moving one lever at the left of the
prism. I found all three modes of the TTL metering (six segment, center-weighted,
and spot) to be very precise and accurate, but even so, there are still
some situations when you might want to bracket exposures (especially on
critical color slide film) to be certain one is exactly as you envisioned.
You can select increments of 1/3, 2/3, or one full stop bracketing whenever
you encounter especially difficult lighting and you want to be absolutely
certain you expose the subject properly on at least one frame.
For testing we had a Pentax 645N camera; SMC Pentax-FA 645 75mm f/2.8
normal lens; SMC Pentax-FA 645 400mm f/5.6 ED [IF] Internal Focusing telephoto;
and a Pentax AF-330 FTZ TTL dedicated flash unit. There were five new
SMC-Pentax FA lenses introduced along with this new autofocusing camera.
They are: 75mm f/2.8 (normal) focusing to 2'; zoom 45-85mm f/4.5
focusing to 1.6'; 45mm f/2.8 focusing to 1.5'; 300mm f/4 ED
[IF] focusing to 9.8'; and 400mm f/5.6 ED [IF] focusing to 9.8'.
Three additional new AF 645 lenses were just introduced at the '99
PMA trade show. SMC Pentax-FA 645 200mm f/4 [IF]; 80-160mm f/4.5 zoom;
and the 645 Macro 120mm f/4. All of these new FA lenses feature fully
automatic diaphragm control and TTL open aperture metering. The Extra-low
Dispersion (ED) optical elements and [IF] mechanism on the telephoto lenses
are said to produce crisp images with minimal chromatic aberration and
retain a good weight balance due to the internal focusing.
I liked the fact that the LCD panel constantly shows the next frame number
so you can check to determine how many exposures are left even when the
camera power is switched off. As would be expected on a professional camera,
the 645N not only has a dedicated hot shoe on top but there is a PC contact
hidden under a cover on the upper left side of the body. A camera of this
caliber will often be used with studio AC powered flash units so the PC
contact is imperative. Of course the TTL flash metering does not function
when the PC contact is used, but most pros will be using a flash meter
to determine exposure in any type of studio situation.
During my several months of testing the Pentax 645N I exposed 10 rolls
of E-6 color transparency films. They consisted of Fujichrome 100D, Fuji
Velvia, Kodak Ektachrome 64X, and Ektachrome E100SW. This type of slow
speed film was used exclusively since it shows the capability of the metering
best and has the finest grain for checking resolution and sharpness. The
transparency films were all processed at Accu-Color Labs., Inc., Fort
I was particularly impressed with the accuracy of the TTL exposure metering
in all three modes. A diverse variety of lighting situations were metered
in each of the dual six segment, center-weighted, and spot modes and each
exposure was exactly as I would have wanted. Harsh, bright, fall sunlight
was the dominant type of lighting for my outdoor testing which was positioned
in every compass direction possible to check the metering when the light
was primarily side or backlighting in addition to conventional front lighting.
Even having lots of deep shadows surrounding small brightly illuminated
fall leaves did not fool the sophisticated TTL metering. The resulting
images were sharply detailed, crisply focused, and had right-on exposures.
Naturally, I also tried the automatic exposure bracketing, primarily on
extreme backlit subjects, but found the first "normal" exposure
was generally the best of the three bracketed exposures even when lighting
was difficult to meter.
The Pentax AF-330 FTZ TTL hot shoe mount dedicated flash unit automatically
coupled and dedicated with the camera perfectly giving excellent main
exposure lighting in dim situations when it was the dominant light source.
In addition, when used for flash fill on severely backlit outdoor sunlight
situations once again it coupled with the TTL metering resulting in just
the right level of fill flash coming from the camera to balance with the
prevailing light conditions.
As usual, I shot part of a roll of a brick wall while the camera was held
steady on a heavy tripod to roughly check the lens capability. I don't
believe I have ever seen straighter edge lines without any hint of bowing
out or in (barrel or pincushion) distortion. In addition, the bricks were
exceptionally crisp and sharply detailed from the corners to the center
of the image.
The size and weight of the camera are as suitable for easy handheld operation
as that of a large pro model 35mm SLR. The balance and handling were excellent.
The viewfinder was bright and pertinent exposure data located along the
bottom below the image was very legible. It was easy to adjust and operate
in all modes. If your photographic endeavors require working with a larger
format rollfilm camera that produces images nearly three times larger
than conventional 35mm film, then it should be seriously considered. It
should be a capable performer in the hands of any serious photographer
no matter what type of subject they record on, any type of 120 or 220
format roll film.
The suggested list prices for this equipment are: Pentax 645N camera body
$3190; SMC Pentax-FA 645 75mm f/2.8 normal lens $735; SMC Pentax-FA 645
400mm f/5.6 ED [IF] telephoto lens $3414. The TTL metering prism is built
into the camera. In addition to the lenses and dedicated flash units there
are many other accessories offered for this camera system.
Contact: Pentax Corp., 35 Inver-ness Dr. E Englewood, CO 80155; (303)
799-8000; fax: (303) 790-1131; or on the web at: www.pentax.com.