Thursday, 31 January 2008

First Images from the Pentax 645

I've used the Pentax 645 for a couple of weeks now - long enough to put through several rolls of film. I've been using Fuji slide film for the most part, but have also started to put through some Agfa Optima colour negative as well.

There's no lab where I live that can process 120 E-6, so I have had to send it to the nearest city (Christchurch) and have them courier the developed and sleeved film back to me. Adds another few days to the whole process, but that's the 'joy' of working with film again - it certainly isn't immediate.

Long story short - I've really enjoyed using the Pentax 645 and I'm glad I've got it. No, it won't replace my existing digital kit - which I also still love - but it certainly forces me to shoot differently, which I like. Anyway, I sent my first four rolls of 120 away recently and they arrived back yesterday. So what did they turn out like?

Not bad really. I'm very happy with the 645 format for shooting, and the image it produces is certainly large enough for my purposes. One thing I've 're-learnt' by looking over the slides is that I need to bracket my exposures more often. I basically relied on the Pentax's built in meter for everything, and it's probably .5 to 1 stop 'under' exposing almost every frame. Must remember to bracket!

Having said that, I'm very pleased with the colours (although that has a lot to do with the lovely Fuji slide film), both lenses look sharp and contrasty, and the detail from the medium format image is worth the price of admission alone. And before I forget - all the images here are basically being shown full-frame, with perhaps a slight cropping when a horizon needs to be levelled in Photoshop.

Above is an image that I have also taken a lot using digital cameras - one of my favourite spots to go and 'test' gear from. This was taken using the 150mm lens, and again no complaints about colour, contrast or sharpness. The colours here are pretty much straight from camera, with a little sharpening applied due to scanning for the web.

While we're on the subject of scanning, it may pay to outline my scanning workflow, because this is where I believe the medium format slide comes into its own.

These images have been reduced for web purposes (obviously), but the beauty of scanning medium format is that you can set your own dpi (dots per inch), depending of course, on what your scanner can go up to. What do I mean by this?

Well, if you take digital cameras, they are 'measured' in 'mega' pixels - that is 'million' pixels, depending on the size of image sensor they use. If, for example, you have a camera with a sensor that captures 3000 pixels across by 2000 pixels down, then you have a 6 megapixel camera - it's capable of capturing 6 million pixels. That's pretty common. Now if you take that file, and print it out at a 'hi-resolution' of 300dpi (300 dots per inch is seen by the human eye as continuous tone), you will get a print slightly smaller than A4 - about an 8x10 inch print (give or take). Not bad, and cetainly about as big as many people want to print.

But what say you want to print bigger? Well then you have to 'increase' the size of the file - either by making each pixel larger, or by 'adding' extra pixels to expand the image beyond what it's optimal printing size should be. You can get away with this - up to a point. But it isn't long before things start to look decidedly dodgy and you get that classic 'digital' pixelated look to your enlarged image. So with any digital camera, you are constrained with enlargements by the megapixel rating your sensor has. And as with the case of most things, bigger means better.

As a landscape photographer, I want to print my work big - as big as I can. So following what I've outlined above I will need to go for a camera with as many megapixels as I can lay my hands on. Right? Well yeah - problem is those camera cost a small fortune and I'm kinda lacking in the fortune department. But there is another way...

With my medium format slide, I can scan it to whatever dpi I desire - up to 12800 (as much as my Epson scanner goes up to). So, for example, the originals of the images shown here were scanned at 3200dpi. This took a speedy 4 minutes each, and resulted in a 100MB file! That's 6894 x 5111 pixels with a final optimal print size of 58 x 43cms at 300dpi. The equivalent of a 35.2 megapixel camera!!! Do you know how much it would cost me for a 35.2 megapixel camera - if they made them! Pentax is rumoured to be producing a digital 645 that will use a 31 megapixel chip - but it will cost an arm and a leg (when and if it eventually comes out), and I'm quite partial to my arms and legs thank you very much.

My Epson V700 is a professional flatbed scanner - with image quality approaching that of drum scanning (the very best scanning devices) - and it wasn't cheap. But still, if you factor in a top of the line scanner and shoot medium format you are still coming out smelling of roses, and kick digital butt in the megapixel file stakes.

I was curious, and wanted to know what 12800 dpi did for a file. So I scanned one at that resolution as well. The resulting image took 35minutes to scan, and then another 10 minutes to load into Photoshop. Boy, with times like this you just 'know' it's gonna be a big file. And I wasn't disappointed. Scanning a 645 slide at 12800dpi gives you a 1.6 Gigabyte file. That's right ladies and gentlemen - GIGABYTE file. Not megabyte - Gigabyte! That's 27815 x 20453 pixels - a 2.3 x 1.7 metre print at 300dpi! Unbelievable. I tried to calculate how many megapixels that was and my calculator exploded. It literally didn't have enough spaces for it. Even I don't need to print that big. But I 'could'. With film.

Think about it.

And finally - (sorry for the extra long post) - I've already started adding to my medium format kit. I managed to pick up a dedicated Pentax AF280T flash and had to give it a whirl. I'm very happy, and a little surprised, at the excellent results I got using it in full auto mode. The above test shot of my wife (thanks honey, I won't show it to anyone, honest), was taken in very low light, but has turned out perfectly. The light was so low, in fact, that I had trouble focusing. But I bounced the flash off the ceiling, and it has hit the exposure bang on. Impressive.

Is shooting medium format film for everyone? No, I'm not suggesting that it is. But maybe it has digital advantages - over digital? Maybe it's not the tired old dinosaur the camera industry would have you believe it is? Maybe.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Fish On!

I have dabbled a little in the past with catching fish - but never very successfully. So I was very excited when Rob, one of the guys at church, asked me if I'd like to go fishing with them one weekend. He builds his own boats, which in itself is pretty impressive. But what attracted me was the 'guarantee' of catching a fish!

I'm as primal as the next man. The old 'hunter gatherer' instinct is ingrained in our psyche, and I was keen to provide tea for the family. There's something about catching (yes, that could also read 'killing') your own meal. Heck of a lot more satisfying than "whipping down to the supermarket to pick up a couple of things" for tea.

It was a beautiful Saturday when I got the call that it would be on that day. I was very excited, but also a little anxious. Water and me don't get on too well, but Rob also guarantees that his boats are 'unsinkable' due to the use of polystyrene floats placed under the seats. So armed with a rod, life jacket, and an unsinkable boat, not to mention the guarantee of catching fish, it was all on for a very exciting and fun day of fishing.

After a successful launch into the lagoon, it was off into the headwaters of the Grey River, in search of the mighty 'Kawhai' (car-why). And it wasn't long before Niki - our Pastor's wife, was reeling in the first fish of the day. It was a very healthy 6 pound fish, and we were off to a good start. Behind Niki is Henk - outdoors man, fisherman and skilled net brandisher extraordinaire. He also fillets a mean fish.

It's very fitting that Niki caught the first fish, after something of a 'drought' that her husband Tim was very keen to have her on about. He even suggested to Rob that we should rethink Niki coming out with us, least she jinx the expedition. Well, needless to say Niki has had the last laugh, and Tim has had to eat his words (literally).

Once the first fish was landed, it was all on. No sooner had I cast my hook into the river, it was snaffled by a hungry Kawhai and my first catch was on the way. What a buzz! And a pretty good sized fish as well. Thanks to my pal Eric for taking this photo of me with my first fish. Cheers mate!

In fact, here's a photo of me mate Eric, showing off just a couple of the spoils of a great days fishing.

It was an amazing day, spent on a beautiful river, catching lovely fish. Thanks to Rob for suggesting we all go out, for organising the trip, and for building an amazing boat that made it all possible. We tripped around the river for a good three hours, caught plenty of fish for our tea (the kids had their favourite - home made fish and chips), and spent a day out that none of us will forget in a hurry.

Couldn't resist one last photo - of 'Captain' Rob and 'First Mate' Eric rowing us ashore. And no - we didn't make Rob row the whole trip. The boat is actually powered by an outboard motor, but Rob and Eric used the oars to position us carefully for a perfect landing back on terra firma. Well done chaps.

Friday, 11 January 2008

My 'new' Pentax 645 kit

My wife tells me that when I set my mind to something, I don't muck around. Maybe she's right.

After musing for about a week on what owning a medium format kit would be like, I now own one! Granted, it's not the latest and greatest auto focus digital billion megapixel jobby - in fact it's not even digital! It takes 'dum-da-da-dum' (drum roll please and a collective gasp of breath while the ladies faint and the men avert their eyes)... FILM. I know - tell me about it!

Yep, there it is, as taken from the internet auction posting that I won last night. Consists of a Pentax 645, 2 120 film holders, standard 75mm f2.8 lens (50mm equivalent in 35mm terms) and 150mm f3.5 (100mm lens in traditional 35mm terms). All for the princely sum of NZ$500. Which I thought wasn't too bad.

Of course to get the kit ready for landscapes - which is 'primarily' what I want to use it for, I will need to buy a wide angle lens for it - probably both the 45mm f2.8 and the 35mm f3.5 eventually, together with some Cokin adapter rings etc. So the total kit will probably reach the NZ$1000 mark before too long. Still not bad for an entire medium format setup I reckon.

I still have the 67 that I will take out again this weekend. Between it, and the 645, I'll have a fair idea about whether I want to continue down this medium format track or not. And believe me, with the price of digital medium format, that will mean using film for quite some time to come. Who would'a thunk it!?

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Images from a Sunday Drive...

Hey, wadda ya know... two postings in a row. Don't worry, it won't happen again :-)

Took the family for a Sunday drive today, out to the West Coast Goldmining 'Ghost Town' of Waiuta (Why-oo-ta). I'd love to say it was so I could try out the Pentax 67 (see last post), but it wasn't. Took the 30D and 10-20mm instead and all shots below were taken with that combination.

What I did get to try out was my most recent accessory, a lens hood for the 10-20mm. My wife got it for me on my 40th, and I was glad to have it today given the bright mid-day conditions. The hood fits perfectly, as you would expect as it was designed specifically for the 10-2mm, but it ain't small. It looks like you've got a black bread & butter plate mounted on the front of the lens. Still, it does the job, and that is most definitely the main thing.

Waiuta is the remnants of what once was a thriving gold mining town on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Built in 1900 around one of the largest and richest gold mining operations in New Zealand, it was all but deserted by 1952 after a major collapse at the main mine site. Today it is a ghost town, with only a few of the last cottages left standing. Foundation stones and parts of chimneys also dot the area, interspersed with rusting metal components of the old mining machinery.

At the end of the day I also came by the Blackwater School which has been closed for many years. It saddens me to think that these once thriving places are now being left to slowly perish and die. Then again, I suppose that the upshot for me is that they tend to make for great photo opportunities. Just like the kind I had with my family today.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

2008 - A new year, a new outlook

Hello all. I know, it's been a while - but I've concentrated in the last couple of months on the graphic design, and a lot less on the photography.

But early in 2008 that may be about to change, in a way that I hadn't quite envisaged. In the not too distant future, I may try my hand at medium format film again, with a Pentax 67.

What's sparked this sudden interest in medium format? Well, a couple of things really. First, it's 'calendar time' again at work, where we are sifting through thousands of 35mm and medium format slides - as well as the odd digital CD submission (even one from yours truly).

What I've noticed during this exercise (apart from the fact that hunching over a light table for 8 hours a day does nothing for your posture or your eyesight), is how fantastic a great medium format slide looks compared to 35mm. And this doesn't really go away once it's scanned (there's the digital part) for the calendars. In fact, this year I told the boss not to pick any 35mm if possible and stick to either medium format or digital submissions. And while he hasn't quite stuck with this advice, I think it remains sound for reproduction terms nonetheless.

There's just something about a large 6x7 film image viewed on a light table that still takes my breath away. In my previous life as an art director/fashion photographer I used the 6x7 format all the time with a Mamiya RZ67 - a beast of a camera and very temperamental, but I loved the images that came from it. Long story short, I left that job, moved into digital, and haven't shot medium format 120 film since. But I know where I can get my hands on one, so that may be about to change soon.

The other thing that's sparked my renewed interest in using 120 film is coming across the work of Chris Willson.

Chris is a travel writer/photographer living and working in Japan - working exclusively with the Pentax 67II medium format camera. His images are stunning - as you can see from the photos reproduced above and below. Check out more of his beautiful imagery at You'll be blown away. Chris shows exactly what you can achieve with dedication, careful planning and a great eye - using medium format film in this increasingly digital age.

I don't want to turn this into a 'digital v film' posting - that's not the point at all. BOTH are valid formats, both have their pros and cons, and both are different experiences worth having in photography. It saddens me that the 'new breed' of photographers will probably never shoot with film, will never know the difference between Fuji or Kodak emulsions, and won't experience the fun of developing and printing their own black and white prints in a darkroom. But then again, I did just turn 40! I suppose that just about makes me a photography dinosaur?

I love my Apple Mac set up, using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, working on my digital files in the full light of day, to create prints exactly how I want them to look. But I can do this with film too - I just need to add another step in the process and scan the large format slides.

Some may ask 'why bother'? Fair enough. But as I said earlier, it doesn't have to be about one over the other. You are allowed to like BOTH. I love digital, and will use it every day. But I also love the 'craft' of shooting with medium format film. It slows me down, makes me really think hard about the images I am making, and places me back in the creative process in a way that I don't feel as much with digital capture.

Maybe that's just me. Maybe I've developed a romantic vision of the 'good old days' of film? Maybe. Either way, I'm about to find out. I can hear the Pentax 67 calling my name. And for my own sake, I'm not about to ignore it. I'll let you know how I get on.

*Images reproduced by kind permission and are copyright of Chris Willson @ Travel67