Me & the Pentax 645Z review.... Brett Harkness Portrait Photographer


Ricoh Pentax 645z.....It's a marriage made in heaven! 

3 years ago I visited the flash centre in Leeds and borrowed yet another medium format camera! Having rented out Blad, Phase & Mamiya cameras little did I know what this rental would ultimately lead to!
I have always been fascinated with MF camera, not only the amazing image clarity, the handling and the awesome dynamic range but how they slow you dowload make you think like you used to have to when using film! 

I took the 'Z' to Manchester where I met an old friend and model Michael. We walked the streets of Manchester on a cold , rainy November day. No reflectors, no flash no anything! Purely to test the camera out before a shoot later in the week. 

These are a few of the images I took that day


I knew it was a camera with a difference. That very next week I took the camera to a shoot I had with The Wild Rumpus, an acting company that performs 18C carnival acts. These are some of the images I took that day..

As luck would have it around that time Ricoh | Pentax were considering taking on an Ambassador for the MF camera Pentax 645z! My name was mentioned to Pentax by a few different people sparking their interest. On the back of these images and my wedding & portrait reputation they asked me to come onboard as UK & European Ambassador for their camera. Part luck, part good timing and part decent images! 

IF I WASN’T a UK ambassador for the Pentax 645Z, I’d have bought one anyway at that time.  It’s an amazing piece of equipment and I’m not a photographer who makes claims lightly. It’s a camera you fall in love with; I truly believe it’s changed how I take pictures, producing the quality of images I’ve always dreamt of and knew I could achieve! I actually find myself staring at the images on the LCD screen awe-struck by how exquisite they are – the images have a special quality that surpasses words and even the best 35mm-based DSLRs I’ve used.

It’s been just over3 years since I started using the Pentax 645Z. I use it for everything – fashion, families, portraits and commercial shoots. It’s only weddings that I still use a Canon EOS-1D X for and that’s due to the pace; the Pentax deserves a more considered approach although plenty of photographers use it for weddings, I am sure its day will come with me.

You know what you want the 645Z to do for you and you know what you want to do with it, and it doesn’t disappoint. I’ve used medium-format before, in fact a Pentax 6x7 medium-format camera was one of my rst cameras many years ago, but this is the rst one I’ve picked up – without reading the manual – and was able to treat like a 35mm. 

I’ve learnt how to get the best out of it and I’ve pushed it to the ‘max’. I’ve shot with the 645Z up to ISO 3200 on jobs but you can push it to an amazing 204,800 if need be. But it’s not the 51.4-megapixel sensor that’s 1.7x larger than a 35mm full-frame sensor that does it for me: it’s the dynamic range.
A 35mm full-frame sensor has never hit the mark for me, despite having used them for most of my career, but images from the Pentax 645Z have me in awe with every frame. The detail it captures and how it handles tonal range is amazing – it’s a far bigger leap in performance than I could ever have expected and enables me to get really creative with light.

I recently used it for a lighting workshop in Italy. We hired the beautiful Villa di Corliano in Pisa to photograph creative fashion portraits and we pushed our creativity and camera kit to the max. I used my favourite 90mm lens, Lee Filters ND filters, up to four heads and the new Elinchrom ELB 1200 packs, Manfrotto stands, several modifiers including square dishes and 135cm Octabank and, occasionally, a smoke machine to give the light something to grip on to. We (delegates, models and stylists) were there to create images together and the Pentax truly proved its worth. The main reason I choose to use it is it slows me down and I shoot less. It makes me consider every capture more carefully and I end up getting to where I want to be much faster than with a 35mm DSLR. Over the three-day workshop, I only shot about 300 images. It feels like you’ve got lm in the camera and you don’t want to waste it.

The Pentax makes me put my best hat on when I’m using it. It handles like an oversized 35mm DSLR with all the buttons where you would expect them to be. It’s a camera to grow with and you will find yourself nding features months after you start using it that you never knew were there! While you can shoot high-speed ash with a Pentax ashgun to combine ash with a wide aperture, I prefer to use a lot more power as it wraps around the subject di erently to a small burst of ash. I also prefer to use ND lters to balance the highlights as I like to shoot relatively wide open. Mostly gone are the days of shooting at f/11, the Pentax’s shallow depth-of- eld is wasted if shooting smaller than f/3.5. The combination gives portraits an ethereal, painterly look and for me the bokeh on the 90mm is something to behold. I like to use so much light that it’s hard to dissect what it’s a mixture of by looking at the pictures, but the key to Italy was we weren’t going to be hindered by highlights despite shooting throughout the day and, when on location, keeping control of the sun is always going to be a challenge. We were putting the models where the light was very di cult and then working our way around it. Sometimes if a subject was heavily backlit we’d put a ash where the sun would be – something you’d think would be the last thing you’d do – but that meant that the ash was 100% controllable. The Pentax 645Z handled the extreme dynamic range meticulously, capturing the ultimate detail. It made little visible difference that I rarely shoot Raw but rather TIFFs as each frame is beautiful straight from the camera. Ultimately a camera doesn’t make the photographer, but when you know you have something in your hand that will help you to achieve near-perfection – combining the skills of a photographer and their kit – then it is a force to be reckoned with!