Monday, June 6, 2011

Pentax 67 - From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

My 35mm camera system of choice at the moment is the Olympus OM series - the OM2 and OM10. I love their beautiful design qualities, rugged reliability and most of all, their compact size. Carry an OM2 with three lenses, spare OM10 body and a few films and you hardly even know you're carrying anything! Nice.

But medium format is a different matter entirely. My Bronica S2 is a large, square beast and you know when you've been carrying it around for more than half an hour. Fortunately, it also produces a large, square, beast of a negative - a 6x6cm square format.

To be honest, the 6x6 format has presented me with some compositional challenges. I just don't 'see' the world as a square (yet). I'm a child of 35mm. So I'm much more comfortable with the more rectangular field of view. I'm not giving up on the Bronica mind you, but I'm also open to something else.

For a while a few years ago I owned a Pentax 645 kit - which just happens to be more in line with the 35mm aspect ratio - just 2x bigger. But it never really felt 'big' enough. For the size of the negative I was getting, compared to the size of equipment I needed to lug around to get it, I figured I was better off shooting 35mm. So I sold the 645.

The 6x6 format of the Bronica is bigger, and much more like it - but as already mentioned, it's square. What I need is something more like - oh I dunno - 6x7. Enter Pentax again...

Pentax 67 next to the Olympus OM2. David vs Goliath! 
The Pentax 67 might just be the perfect compromise - although it's by no means the perfect camera. Large, heavy, tricky to load, no changeable film backs and very basic in operation. It is, as many have already stated, a 35mm SLR on steroids. Lots and Lots of Steroids!

Also, the shutter and mirror are massive - with the recoil of a winchester rifle. This camera doesn't have a shutter click, it has an explosion! So MLU (mirror lock up) and a heavy brute of a tripod are a must when using this camera. You can use this hand-held, but it had better be with a fast film and even faster shutter speeds.

Looking at it next to the OM2, it has to be 4 times the size (and about 8 times the weight). So what's the point? Well not only is the camera body 4 times the size - more importantly, the negative is 4 times the size. And in the film/digital camera world bigger, is indeed, better.

And of course, size and weight is all relative - especially when you're talking medium format. For example, the Mamiya RB67 weighs in at a whopping 2.6kgs - whereas the Pentax 67 is a respectable 1.7kgs. So when you look at it like that, the Pentax is practically anorexic :-)  Although I haven't actually weighed it, my Canon 5D with battery grip and 28-105mm IS lens is definitely comparable in terms of both weight and size when placed next to the Pentax 67. So although it might initially look bad, for a camera that shoots in the 6x7cm negative format, the Pentax is actually a bit of a featherweight!

Pentax has a huge range of lenses available for the 67 - the most of any medium format system - and all can be used on any Pentax67 camera (version 1 or II). The Pentax 67 I have (on permanent loan from a friend) has the 90mm f2.8 leaf shutter lens - a standard lens that lets you sync flash up to 1/500th sec (as opposed to the Pentax's normal 1/30th sec flash sync.) Apparently the leaf shutter lenses are rare and hard to come by, so that's a bit of a score.

Not that I'll be using it for flash photography anytime soon. For me, the Pentax 67 will be a Landscape camera (for the most part). With just 10 images to a 120 roll of film, and with the sheer weight and size of the thing, the camera will require a slower pace of shooting - a more measured and contemplative approach to photography. It just so happens that this is one of the things I like most about shooting with not only film, but more specifically medium format film. I regularly get 5 or 6 images from a 120 roll that I am very happy with - that's a 50 to 60% 'keeper' rate. And I don't have 600 photos to process or go through to get those 5 or 6 either!

So I'm very much looking forward to taking the Pentax 67 out and making some landscape images with her. I'll post the results and my impressions on using the camera soon.

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