New Pentax 67II Medium Format Camera Review

The Pentax 67II medium format SLR camera looks similar to and handles just like an oversize 35mm SLR in every respect so there is minimal learning necessary to switch up to a far larger format 6x7cm image which is approximately four and a half times larger than a conventional 35mm format image. When the 67II is placed next to a "pro" 35mm SLR and you lift both cameras, there is actually not that much difference in the size or weight especially when you realize the film format is so much larger.
Photos © 1999, Robert E. Mayer, All Rights Reserved

The recently introduced Pentax 67II medium format SLR camera extensively updates the original model Pentax 67 which was introduced in 1969 by incorporating today's technologies. This resulted in improved performance, excellent maneuverability and reliability while retaining compatibility with existing 67 system lenses and user-friendly accessories. This medium format SLR is designed for professionals and advanced amateurs; not only those individuals who have owned the original Pentax 67 (and still have this equipment) but also serious 35mm SLR users who seek larger film images. Since the control layout and handling are very similar to most 35mm cameras, transition to this far larger image camera is relatively easy. One appealing aspect of the 6x7 format is it produces almost the same proportions as standard photographic papers, thus little if any, image cropping is needed when making 8x10, 16x20, or bigger enlargements. Besides, these large, crisply detailed, images are well suited to really big enlargements.

The major exterior design change is a large right-side grip protrusion in the front plus a thumb hook on the back cover for even firmer right-hand gripping while holding it to the eye for active shooting.

Switching between 120 roll film (10 frames) and 220 roll film (21 frames) only requires sliding the film pressure plate to the inside marking for the film type in use when the back is open. A newly designed, thumb-operated film wind-up lever makes film advance smooth and rapid. A new film transport mechanism is said to transport the film more smoothly and accurately than on the original 67, that's why 21 frames instead of the usual 20 can be taken on one roll of 220 format film.

Even bright winter sun backlighting did not fool the TTL metering of the Pentax 67II. Interestingly, the crystalline sparkles on the snow prismatically refracted many different colors when this chrome was viewed with a strong loupe. (Kodak Ektachrome E100SW, 105mm f/2.8 lens at f/11, aperture priority automatic exposure.)

When the accessory hot shoe grip is attached to the left side of the body you not only have an extra secure two-handed grip but you also obtain a dedicated hot shoe needed for TTL metered flash operation. The grip protrudes forward from the body and is contoured for a positive grip. Since it attaches to the twin lugs normally used for the neck strap, there are two additional lugs on the grip itself to support the neck strap. A five-pin dedicated shoe terminal transmits data between the flash and grip.

In addition to a standard PC terminal there is a four-pin dedicated terminal for use with the Pentax AF 400T handle-type flash unit without needing the grip. The Pentax flash units all operate in TTL metered auto flash mode and manual plus additional applications such as contrast-control flash, trailing-shutter curtain synch flash, and multi-flash setups.

All of the camera's controls are large and exceptionally well marked in white on the black body, so you can easily see them in practically any type of light or situation. All of the various adjustment controls have very positive detents and/or a separate locking button that must be pressed in before you can change or adjust the knob away from a primary setting.

Metered automatic on this camera is always aperture priority mode as you must manually set the aperture you want to use. This is accomplished by adjusting the aperture ring selecting one of the full or half stop settings. When the main shutter speed control dial on the body top is set at the green "A," then the metering system will select the appropriate shutter speed for the aperture and prevailing lighting conditions. The shutter speed chosen shows on an LCD panel at the bottom of the viewfinder and has an "S" that shows up for exposures of 1 sec or longer that immediately informs you that it is a longer than normal speed.

This Potawatomi Indian display included beads in addition to finished necklaces, old coins, and other items for sale. Everything was very colorful and sharply detailed by the 105mm f/2.8 lens at f/8 on Fujichrome 100D RDP, aperture priority automatic exposure.

Changing from six segment to center-weighted to spot metering is as simple as moving one lever at the left rear of the meter prism. When this is done, an indicator LCD in the viewfinder also informs you of which metering mode is in use.

The viewfinder gives a bright full frame field of view of what the lens sees. There are two central microprism focusing spots that assist in focusing but the entire matte field also shows the focus so once the diopter adjustment is made for your eyes, critical focusing is simple.

The LCD panel at the bottom of the viewfinder is entirely outside the image area and is very easily seen without having to adjust your line of sight. The shutter speed, metering mode, and frame number all show there. A bar graph used for manual exposure only illuminates when the camera is out of "A" automatic shutter speed mode, or when the exposure compensation is in use when in "A."

The bar graph in the viewfinder is used for setting the exposure when operating the camera manually (that is adjusting the shutter speed rather than leaving it in automatic mode). It indicates the proper exposure when a single illuminated bar appears over the center of a line of the row of permanently visible bars. Moving one bar on the top indicates a mere 0.3 f/stop variation while the entire bottom graph shows a full +/- 3 f/stops. This same bar graph is also used in connection with exposure compensation in manual or "A."

The main shutter speed control dial can be rotated through the entire manual shutter speed range of 1/1000 to 4S to Bulb by simply turning it while detents hold the speed selected. But to set this dial to green "A" (Automatic) or red "X" (1/30 sec flash synch) speed you have to first press in a center button to access one of these settings, or disengage the setting. Since you don't have any need to change the dial in either of these two settings, this allows you to shoot away and not be concerned about any accidental change of the large speed dial.

It takes one full stroke of the wind-lever, which moves about 180°, to fully advance the film and cock the shutter for the next exposure. If perchance the wind-lever has not been advanced, and the shutter is uncocked, then an arrow shows on the body top LCD panel alerting you to this condition.

Instead of using alkaline or silver-oxide batteries the 67II uses two 3v lithium batteries (CR123A or equivalent) which are said to provide longer battery life and more stable operation under very low temperatures. One unique feature is a PS (Power Saving) time mode. This is used when making unusually long-time exposures. It is intended for use instead of conventional B (Bulb) exposure since it minimizes power consumption and thereby saves batteries.

Studio or location portraits or fashion shots are a natural for the Pentax 67II. Here JTL J-500 and Excalibur 3200 AC powered flash units were directed through Westcott diffusion umbrellas. A Pentax SMC 200mm f/4 telephoto lens used at the "X" synch setting produced really crisp, colorful images of my granddaughter on Fujichrome 100D RDP film.

Practical Testing. Since I had never worked with the original Pentax 67, I got together with a friend, Gerald Oswalt, who has had a Pentax 67 for nearly 20 years that he uses primarily for aerial and wedding photography in our community. We made direct visual comparisons of his early model camera and the brand-new 67II I had. The prime external differences we immediately noticed were as follows. There is now a protrusion on the front right of the body making it far easier to firmly and securely hold the somewhat hefty and bulky camera with just your right hand. The shutter release has been repositioned so it's on a beveled area at the top front of the new grip making it easier to operate. The rotary on/off timer switch is now located around the shutter release.

To release the prism there are still two push buttons, one on either side of the prism, but they must be first turned before pushing in to unlock the prism, a far more secure and safe locking method than before. The earlier camera's meter prism had an extension housing on the left that coupled with the shutter speed dial and there was but one metering method. This coupling has been eliminated and there are now three metering choices. Changing over from 120 to 220 film still requires moving the pressure pad, while before you also had to move an external lever. Naturally there was no informative LCD panel on the original model. The camera's press release said the finder is 60 percent brighter on the 67II so it was no surprise that the viewfinder was noticeably brighter on the new camera when the same lens was tried on both bodies.

As is the case with all medium format SLR cameras, there is considerably more bulk and weight to this camera than is found on a pro model 35mm SLR camera. This is inherent with obtaining a huge 6x7cm image (actually 55x70mm), which is approximately four and a half times larger than a conventional 35mm format image. This camera handles like an oversize 35mm SLR in every respect so there is minimal learning necessary to switch up to a far larger format image. Surprisingly, when the 67II is placed next to a "pro" 35mm SLR and you lift both cameras, there is actually not that much difference in the size or weight especially when you realize the film format is so much larger. True, the 67II does not have autofocusing or lots of electronic bells and whistles that today's 35mm SLR cameras have, but everything is there, readily accessible, to make memorable medium format images.

During my several months testing of this equipment I exposed many rolls of Fujichrome 100D, Kodak Ektachrome E100SW and E100S. All of this E-6 process film was competently processed by Accu-Color Lab, Inc., Fort Wayne, Indiana. Exposures were made inside using the dedicated flash and with studio flash for portraits and outdoors in all types of lighting and weather. I think what most impressed me with the results was the unerring accuracy of the camera's TTL metering system in multi-pattern and center-weighted modes. All of the daylight and dedicated flash TTL metered exposures were what I would consider right on the target resulting in transparencies of excellent density and crisp detailed quality. The Pentax AF-500FTZ dedicated flash was used on a variety of indoor subjects and it too produced excellent exposures via the TTL metering obtained with the hot shoe grip. The spacing between the frames on each roll was consistently even without erratic gaps between images as I have often encountered on other medium format cameras having manual film winding mechanisms.

I used the camera on a tripod to make some studio portraits using JTL J-500 and Excalibur 3200 AC powered flash units through Westcott diffusion umbrellas using manual exposures determined with a Sekonic L-508 Zoom Master flash meter. For these subjects I used the borrowed SMC 200mm f/4 telephoto lens and obtained really crisp, full color, images.

The variety of existing and new lenses for this system is extensive. There are 21 different SMC Pentax 67 lenses ranging from a fisheye 35mm f/4.5 to a 1000mm f/8 reflex telephoto plus 1.4x and 2x tele-converters. Available lenses include: SMC67 35mm f/4.5; 45mm f/4; 55mm f/4; 75mm f/4.5; 90mm f/2.8 or 105mm f/2.4 (normal); 165mm f/2.8; 165mm f/4 leaf shutter; 200mm f/4; 300mm f/4; 400mm f/4 ED (IF); 500mm f/5.6; 600mm f/4; 800mm f/4; 800mm f/6.7 ED (IF); 55-100mm f/4.5 zoom. Four special purpose SMC Pentax 67 lenses are the 75mm f/4.5 shift; 100mm f/4 macro; 135mm f/4 macro; and 120mm f/3.5 soft focus.

Some of the drawbacks to this particular system include no mid roll change capability and not being able to use any Polaroid back for rapid proof images. Changing film spools and loading film is a bit tedious, but like when using any new device I'm sure some practice would make it easier to do. When the hot shoe grip is attached, it is a bit more difficult to plug into the PC contact to the left of the prism when you want to use conventional studio flash units.

The suggested list prices for this new equipment are: Pentax 67II body $2432; SMC Pentax 67 105mm f/2.8 lens $1267; AE TTL prism finder $1138; and the hot shoe grip is $367. It is about as extensive a system of accessories as you will find for most major 35mm SLR cameras.

Contact: Pentax Corp., 35 Inverness Dr. E, Englewood, CO 80155; (800) 729-1419, (303) 799-8000; fax: (303) 790-1131;

What's New About the 67II
Quite similar in appearance to the original Pentax 67. The main exterior design change is a large right-side grip with a thumb hook on the back cover for even firmer griping while holding it to the eye for active shooting.
Brand new features include:
· AE mode and six segment multi-pattern metering with selectable spot or center-weighted metering.
· Dial-controlled exposure compensation.
· Memory lock.
· Multiple exposure capability.
· TTL metered auto flash when used with hot shoe on accessory grip.
· Large LCD data panel.
· Extra-bright, user-replaceable, finder screens.
· Repositioned, easier to use, beveled shutter release.
· Rotary on/off timer switch is now around the shutter release.
· Two prism release push buttons must be first turned before pushing in to unlock the prism, a more secure and safe locking method.
· It does retain full compatibility with existing 67 system lenses and most system accessories.

Technical Specifications
Type: 6x7cm ideal format SLR camera with TTL autoexposure control
Film: 120 roll film (10 exposures) or 220 roll film (21 exposures)
Picture Size: 55x70mm
Lens Mount: Dual bayonet mounts (with inner and outer bayonets)
Applicable Lenses: SMC Pentax 67 and SMC Takumar 67
Exposure Modes: Aperture priority AE (with optional AE penta-prism finder 67II), metered manual and flash
Shutter: Electronically controlled horizontal-run focal plane cloth shutter
Shutter Speeds: 1/1000 sec -- 30 sec stepless (auto); 1/1000 sec -- 4 sec (manual)
X-Synch Speed: 1/30 sec Bulb and time exposure available. Leaf-shutter lenses offer faster synch speeds
Finder: Interchangeable finders (AE penta-prism finder 67II, penta-prism finder 67II, folding focusing hood 67II, and rigid magnifying hood 67II)
Interchangeable Focusing Screens: Natural bright matte focusing screens (Microprism matte screen is standard)
Viewfinder Image Area: 90 percent with AE penta-prism finder 67II or penta-prism finder 67II; 100 percent with folding focusing hood 67II or rigid magnifying hood 67II
Magnification: 0.75x (with 105mm lens at infinity and --1 diopter)
** Exposure Metering: TTL six segment multi-pattern metering, center-weighted metering, or 2.5 percent spot metering
Metering Range: EV2 -- EV21 (at ISO 100 with 105mm f/2.4 lens)
** Exposure Compensation: +/- 3EV in 1/3EV steps, dial-control system. Memory lock.
** Viewfinder Indication: Exposure compensation, bar graph pointer, shutter speed, metering mode, memory lock, flash status, and exposure frame counter. Backlight illumination provided.
External LCD Panel: Battery exhaustion warning, ISO film speed, film loading confirmation, film-advance indicator, exposure frame counter, flash status
Film Speed Range: ISO 6-6400
Film Transport: Wind-up lever (with 180° stroke and 10° stand-off angle) with self-cocking shutter. Semiautomatic film loading with start mark on film paper. Film advance/film end indicator provided in LCD panel.
Self-Timer: Electronically controlled type with 12 sec delay. PCV sound. Mid-operation cancellation possible.
Multi-Exposure: Easy set type with multi-exposure switch
Mirror: Swing-back instant-return mirror with mirror lockup mechanism
Flash Synchronization: X-synch (PC) terminal and 4-pin/5-pin TTL auto flash terminals. TTL auto flash sensors built-in.
Flash Synch Speed: Under 1/30 sec and bulb (1/500 sec max with leaf shutter lenses)
Power Source: Two 3v lithium batteries (CR-123A type)
Battery Life: Approx. 500 rolls of 120 roll film, 250 rolls 220 roll film
Dimensions: 7.3x5.9x4.2"
Weight: 58.6 oz (with AE penta-prism finder 67II and without batteries)
** These features are only available with optional AE penta-prism finder 67II.