ROB DURSTON PHOTOGRAPHY

Posts Tagged ‘dublin’

Pentax 645z- Mr ZED – One Year Evaluation

One Year Review – Pentax 645z – Love it, or Leave it

It’s been just over a year now since I took the plunge and dove into the deep end.

Sensor – Bigger is better

I love medium format, almost as much as I love large format, so when someone announced they were releasing a CMOS (finally) sensor based medium format, they had my full attention. The problem was that the manufacturer was Phase and just the back, (let alone the body and a lens) was $35k(€25k). That was out of my reach but it had definitely sparked my interest. The difference between the Phase IQ250 and everything else before it was that it now uses a CMOS sensor. Now if you are into photography you know that generally speaking CMOS is better in low light and power consumption and older styled CCD sensors had a “feeling” to them. Many MFD (medium format digital) users loved the skin tones and the general silkiness to the CCD cameras; remembering back to some of the first Canon and Nikon CCD cameras and the followings that some of them still have. If I was making my dream camera, it would be a full frame; either as a 6×7 or 645. It just seems that a 645 camera should have a sensor that is relatively close to being 6cm x 4.5cm and not 32.8mm x 43.8mm.
For me however it was about the ability to shoot in low light. I do a lot of work with available light, shooting out on location without lights or on film sets using the available lights there. While shooting with my existing cameras, there would be many a time, I’d be up at 640-2500 ISO, fighting with noise shadow detail and cursing with tripods. What I needed was a super high ISO CMOS based camera that had great DR (dynamic range) and a higher resolution wouldn’t hurt either. My dream camera was in my mind, something like a Contax 645 or even Mamiya RZ, full frame (hate to have crop factors) with modern electronics and a reworking of either line’s already amazing lenses. I already own a RZ with a few sweet lenses so if someone came out with a reasonable full frame CMOS back in the 36mp range I was ready for it; just not at $35k and not at a smaller than hoped for sensor size.
Then back in early 2014, Pentax of all camera brands, released the news that they were going to be updating/upgrading their 645 body to the new Sony CMOS sensor, basically the same as the one used in the Phase IQ250 but, get this, at about a quarter of the price, for the fixed body/back combo, crazy right? The difference being mainly the way the information coming off the sensor is interpreted and the fact that the back cannot be separated from the body (so no tech styled camera as an option). I thought it over in my mind; I had been a Pentax user in the early 90’s playing around mostly with the 67, shooting wind surfing with it and a 400mm f4 and a 2x tele converter. Then later I assisted a few photographers who used both the 67 and 645 together with lens adapters for fashion work. While I admired the robustness of the 67, I was never impressed with the 645, with its film inserts, plastic feeling body and constantly rotating spot on the Pentax repairman’s bench. That thing would fall apart in your hands literally. Now granted these bodies were well used but nothing any farther along than any of the workhorse RZ’s or Hasselblads in studios around the world. I felt they were always meant to be glued on a tripod, in some portrait studio, taking baby photos or some other non taxing job for them.
Then the Pentax 645D came out in 2010 and from all reports it was a worthy location camera; focused it seemed mostly on the portrait and landscape photographers. I did read up on it a bit when it came out and I might have even downloaded a few sample files but it really didn’t grab me, it wasn’t enough to make me sit up and beg.

Glass – Old and New

So, following the press release of the 645z, I decided to start stockpiling lenses. I kept my eyes peeled for some comparable focal lengths to my existing 35mm camera equipment; 17-40mm, 50mm, 85mm and 70-200mm. Pentax not being a large camera maker, didn’t always keep its lens line up to date so the lenses that were current for the 645z were few, I think at the time it was just the 55mm and 90mm. What they did keep though was a common lens mount so pretty much any lens from the past 30 years can mount on the “ZED”. Great and not so great at the same time; you’ll be able to find some real bargains of a wide variety BUT you’ll have to test the hell out of them to make sure they can live up to the resolution of the ZED’s 51mp sensor and not show off any unwanted chromatic aberrations of the older, less multi coated lenses.
So I immediately started scouring eBay and used camera joints for cherry Pentax glass, avoiding much fungus, dents and general abuse. I wanted/needed a really wide and the widest they made was a 35mm, which translated on the ZED is around a 24mm in 35mm format terms. I found the manual focus one on online for $200, which was a steal. I was slightly wary though, of it arriving and being a dog. It wasn’t, it was a fine example considering it was probably well over 20 years old. There was some slight discolouration on the edges of the front element but nothing that affected image quality.
After that there was the FA 45-85 for $286 from KEH, then a sweet FA 150mm f2.8 and finally the “kit” FA AW 55mm f2.8. The AW I should mention belonging to the 55mm, means All Weather, that’s right, this camera along with any AW lens, makes for wether proof system. I’ll talk more about that later.
After much initial testing all the lenses proved to be well worthy of the high resolution that the Zed can deliver.
So now armed with the body, 35mm, 45-85mm, 55mm and 150mm and a whole whack of batteries purchased on eBay for a fraction of the normal price I was set.
Here is a run down of my lenses and their characteristics.
The 35mm is a manual focus “A” lense, very sharp and contrasty but can be hard to focus on mid ground subjects.
The 45-85 is an auto focus “FA” lense, sharp around f8-f11 (the sweet spot). It is passable at f4.5 but much crisper at f8. Hard to get used to the AF/manual focus ring lock. You switch back and forth between the two by sliding the collar towards or away from you.
The 55mm is an auto focus “D FA” lense that is also weatherproof, completing the lense/body combination for a complete weatherproof system. It again is fine wide open at f2.8 but really shines around f8.
The 150mm is a “FA” lense with a very wide and fast f2.8 opening. There is slight chromatic aberrations but can be quickly cleared up in post.
I also just recently picked up a 135mm “A” LS (leaf shutter) lense. This lense allows you to sync with flash up to 1/500. So far it seems like a nice sharp, contrasty piece of glass, quite happy with it.

Trial By Fire – The First Big Project

So, the first images I set off to create after my testing was a fairly large project for Failte Ireland(Tourism). It would consist of location shooting for 28 days in all sorts of conditions. I set the camera up to shoot DNG’s to the first of its two SD slots, with a EyeFi X2 SD card in the second slot. On the X2 card the camera was writing small 1920×1080 jpgs, that would be wirelessly transferred over to an iPad Retina for the client to observe from. For the most part this method worked well and occasionally would need to be awoken or reconnected with the EyeFi network. The project was actually based on a different camera using a slightly smaller sensor (7360 x 4912px) to the Pentax’s larger sensor (8256 x 6192px); that plus the extended dynamic range and low light/high ISO qualities of the ZED made for some really stunning results.

Couple at the Martello Tower at sunset in Sutton, Dublin

Couple at the Martello Tower at sunset in Sutton, Dublin

Couple visiting the Long Room at Trinity College, Dublin

Couple visiting the Long Room at Trinity College, Dublin

Couple having Champagne looking out on the view of the Dublin coast

Couple having Champagne looking out on the view of the Dublin coast

Couple talking to a local fisherman at Colliemore Habour, Dublin

Couple talking to a local fisherman at Colliemore Habour, Dublin

Couple at the National Concert Hall, Dublin

Couple at the National Concert Hall, Dublin

Three surfers at the Dollymount Beach in Dublin

Three surfers at the Dollymount Beach in Dublin

The final presentation of the images was to be displayed on a giant video (5m x 2m) wall in Dublin. As a bonus to using the ZED’s larger pixel dimensions, the client was able to add movement to the images, by panning, zooming and generally moving throughout the image.

RDP_20150219_0023

What did I take away from this first “dive into the deep end” project with the Pentax 645z?

Well the negatives, the little things and larger things that bugged me while trying to work on a tight schedule with a crew looking over my shoulder, started something like this. . . .

1. The AF zone is based on Pentax’s smaller cameras, not even a full frame 35mm camera but their cropped sensor cameras. This is just too small and confining for a medium format camera, to have a small zone covering about 1/3 of the frame vertically and a 1/5 of the frame horizontally. So whenever you have the subject outside that zone, you really need to be using LiveView to properly get an accurate focus.

2. I was having some very difficult times getting an accurate focus lock. This seemed to be a more serious problem with the kit lens, the 55mm, that came with the body. Since then the camera and lens were sent away to Pentax service in France for an obvious n/c servicing. Upon its return I haven’t had any more issues.

3. The lag between firing off a frame to the time you can change the SS or aperture. I’ll take this one as a user error issue. Me + new camera + heavy schedule = anxious. Since then I have adapted a much better cadence to my shooting as opposed to the ol’ blast ‘em off 35mm style.

4. This one is a definite design flaw, the grip is way to small and after 8 hours of shooting, even with down time, my hand was cramping. I love the idea of the second tripod mount for verticals but I think a second grip could be 3D printed or something to utilise this mount and allow the weight of the camera to be shared between both hands. I’m 6 foot and I would say I have normal sized mitts, but this was designed with a smaller, much smaller person in mind.

5. The camera has two SD card slots, thats great. However they are hidden underneath the mounting point for the camera strap. So every time you go to change cards, you’re fighting with the strap like a bad Laurel & Hardy skit.

6. On this all weather camera, there isn’t a cap for the PC sync connection, what gives there?

7. This is probably related to #3 as well, the wait time to view on the display after firing off a few frames. This might be cured with an update in firmware but I suspect it is more about the actual PRIME III processor speed.

8. Bracketing feature seems to change both SS and aperture. Since this I have found out online that there is a menu option where you can change the green button’s purpose to only change the SS during bracketing. It wasn’t very clear in the manual but I thank the online forums for this cure.

9. At present there are a handful of “new” lenses available for the ZED, a year ago that wasn’t the case and I had to purchase a few of the older styled FA lenses. The AF/MF collar on the FA glass is a real PITA when you just want to snap something in focus then turn it over to MF. The obvious cure for this is . . . . buy new lenses.

10. My last nick picky comment about the system is the tunnel like viewfinder. You really need to keep your eye centered to be able to see all four corners.

Now to be only fair, the positives I love about this camera system are . . .

1. Dynamic range, the Sony sensor is truly amazing and as much as the Canon 5D mk2 was a game changer, this sensor is the heart and soul of this one. Expose for the highlights and open the shadows up in post.

2. 51mp of resolution, gives the client lots of room to crop, down rez or just even hide some unwanted dust, shmedges etc

3. A nice, big, rear, flip up LCD monitor perfect for viewing on the fly or shooting waist level style.

4. Dual SD card slots; they let you set it up to record sequentially, mirrored or separate formats like RAW and JPG.

5. The vertical tripod mount is a super nice touch; I have a small ArcaSwiss styled plate mounted that I use to grab onto for extra support while shooting (see Con #4 above).

6. A fully comprehensive menu and button customisation let you totally tailor the camera to you. Saying that, it would be nice to have Nikon’s “Save/Load settings” feature on a camera like this that has such an in depth menu system.

7. On the huge rear LCD you have a 16x magnification LiveView that lets you zoom right into your subject and confirm a tight focus, indispensable.

8. Matrix style metering is pretty accurate

9. Long battery life, one battery lasts almost all day for me, around 1000-1300 images plus transmitting from the WiFi card

10. and the main reason I love shooting MF, the gorgeous DOF

Support – Everyone needs a shoulder to lean on

This a bulky camera, no doubt about it. I found my right hand would cramp up at the end of a shooting day. Saying that, a monopod or tripod would never be far away and take the weight off my hands. Even hand holding at lower shutter speeds I never found any shake in my images from mirror slap, something that one came to expect with some of the digital backs adapted on still cameras a few years ago. The mirror is well cushioned and the whole shutter mechanism has a good solid sound. On some occasions when a tripod/monopod wasn’t available I could also brace myself, line up the shot, and use mirror lock up for slower shutter speeds. Pentax even has two lenses, the 28-45 zoom and the 90 Macro with “Shake Reduction” (SR). I have used it on the wide zoom and have found it good for a couple of stops of lower than normal shutter speeds; however you need to be well prepared for the sheer hulk of it, as it weighs more than the camera itself.

Media – Pick a card

When I first received the camera, I was prepared with some shiny new media. I’ve been using Transcend in my Canons for a few years now without any issues. They have been fast enough for video with the Canon and its never displayed an error. So I had some middle of the road Transcend SD cards ready to go into both slots of the Pentax. When not using the WiFi card, I would write DNG’s to both slots (mirrored). I soon found though that the cards were dragging down my write speed, each frame was taking way to long to process, preview and for the controls to be released so I could adjust them. I then got a set of Transcend 400x class 10 SD cards. They performed better and lasted about 9 months before I started getting prompted by the ZED to “Format Card”. Strange, this was happening to begin with any time I took the media out of the camera, then progressively it got worse and would happen sometimes if the camera was just shut off, then turned back on. Major problem.
I’ve now had a set of premium Lexar Professional 64GB Class 10 UHS-II 1000x Speed (150MB/s) cards and haven’t had any issues.

Shooting Modes – Auto, Manual and all the rest

For the most part I always shoot in manual on the Pentax. The controls for both aperture and shutter speed are at your right index finger and thumb. That said you can also use the standard aperture ring on the lens as Pentax have kept that part of the design from older film cameras. Either way its quick and to the point. I follow along with the excellent meter in the viewfinder.
The ZED also gives you Program, Sensitivity Priority, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Aperture/Shutter Priority (TAV), Manual, Bulb and X Sync. There are 3 user modes as well that you can preset for yourself and different shooting environments. Now the TAV is kind of cool. What it does is allow you to set your aperture and shutter speed and then the camera will set the ISO correspondingly. Since the sensor is just so amazing when it comes to low light etc, this seems like the perfect shooting mode when you are in ever changing lighting. I have tested it a few times but I haven’t used it in work yet.

Operations – Basic Training

It took me a while to get used to the Pentax way of things. It seemed to me to be a whole lot more difficult to work your way through menus, finding frequently used operations and remembering “what did what and which thing needed to be lit so the other thing works when you do that”. The on/off button is easy enough as well as some of the simple functions like ISO, apertures/SS and shooting modes but pretty much after that for me, I was reading the manual. After about ten minutes of bumbling around through the manual and the ZED on the table in front of me, I was able to do about 90% of what I need to use in my everyday work. Personally I find the AF system too complicated for a MFD. I don’t mind having all the options on my 35mm; zones, multi points etc etc. I can set all that up before time on my 35 but on my MFD I’d rather see a dead accurate single point AF, that can be placed all around the frame including the outer corners (especially for WA lenses). The fact that I have to use LiveView most of the time to focus accurately on subjects of the edges of the frame isn’t the quickest way to work. Hasselblad has their True Focus system that compensates for after focusing adjustments to your framing. Its a great idea and seems to work well but even 4 or 8 strategic AF points on the corners and on the edge of each side would be wonderful.
As well as the over complicated AF, it could do with fewer features. I don’t see the need for the RAW button on the top left of the body; it allows you to switch your file formats from RAW to RAW with jpgs, something that you can do in the menu. It does have an extra handy mirror up knob on the top right of the body, very handy when switching back and forth between long exposures and short.
There is a right index finger SS wheel in front of the shutter release and an aperture wheel, right where your right thumb would rest on the back of the body. Below that is a handy programable AF button and the magic green multi function to the left of that (it controls the reset values and auto ISO, but can also be programmed for other functions).
For most of my uses the ZED stays on manual with the focus going back and forth between manual and AF. The newer D FA lenses focus very quickly and even the older FA’s are no slouches. I haven’t run into any speed issues when it comes to focusing. I have the drive set up for single frame and very occasionally will shift it to continuous high. I have the picture style set to muted, my white balance is usually shifted to warmer than normal for most subjects and have the highlight warning on (which only appears in playback). The sync for flash only works below a 1/125. I personally don’t have a problem with this, using 35mm gear that has pretty much always been in or around that speed but I do know it bothers quite a few photographers seeing as how some of the competition are up to 1/1600th of a second. I use ND filters when needed and I also recently (since writing this post) acquired a 135mm LS (leaf shutter) lens that will sync up to 1/500th of a second.

Accessories

Other than the ND filters, a polarizer now and then, the previously mentioned Mobi Card (WiFi) I keep things pretty simple. I do shoot tethered quite often and use the Pentax Image Transmitter 2 software, importing to a hot folder to Lightroom. I rarely have a problem with this set up and when I do, its just a matter of closing the programme and re starting it.

Room for Improvement?

Of course, there is always something that can be improved on and nothing is perfect, not even the mighty ZED.
For my style of shooting, I’d really like to have an improved AF system. While the current one is great when the subject is hovering around the center of the frame, most of my subjects in advertising are usually on the edges. Let’s have AF points out on the corners and on each edge at least.
Another point I think could be improved with some firmware twerking/tweaking, would be the buffer. In ten seconds, using two Lexar Professional 64gb 150mb/s SD cards, writing DNG’s to both, I can fire off 8 frames, 8 frames in 10 seconds. Now comes the kicker, it takes another 38 seconds for the buffer to clear. During that time you can change the shutter speed or aperture but you can’t view any of the images.
This is a definite improvement, that I’m guessing has just come from the most recent firmware update. Previously you couldn’t adjust your exposure at all while the buffer was working.
So we are half way there on that point.
The last thing would be the facility to create smaller, full frame DNG’s. The new Canon 5DS allows you medium and small RAW file sizes, Pentax should do the same.

Conclusion

With 24,876 frames on this camera, I’d say I’m quite happy with it. No camera will ever be able to do everything you want. As an evolving photographer, your needs are ever changing. That said, this camera is one of the best tools for my work I have ever used; huge dynamic range, low light sensitivity/high ISO usability, and sharp, high MP files.

un corrected image straight from camera

un corrected image straight from camera

altered in LR to give definition in the sky and open up the shadows

altered in LR to give definition in the sky and open up the shadows

55mm f8@ 1/800 640iso

55mm f8@ 1/800 640iso

100 % crop - 640 iso, no noise reduction, default sharpening

100 % crop – 640 iso, no noise reduction, default sharpening

150mm f2.8 @ 1/4000 iso 800

150mm f2.8 @ 1/4000 iso 800

55mm f2.8 @ 1/8 iso 100

55mm f2.8 @ 1/8 iso 100

28-45mm at 45mm f4.5 @ 1/1000 iso 1250

28-45mm at 45mm f4.5 @ 1/1000 iso 1250, tack sharp, at 1:1 you can see the rain drops on his glasses

150mm f2.8 @ 1/200 iso 3200

150mm f2.8 @ 1/200 iso 3200

85mm f16 @ 1/125 iso 320 - Profoto Silver Softlight

85mm f16 @ 1/125 iso 320 – Profoto Silver Softlight

150mm f4 & 5.6 @ 1/15 iso 100 - Windowlight

150mm f4 & 5.6 @ 1/15 iso 100 – Windowlight


RyanAir CEO – Micheal O’Leary – Anatomy of a Shoot

Things have been ticking along quite nicely lately. We’ve been working pretty steadily and just completed a nice large project with NITB here in Northern Ireland. That mixed in with a few commercial clients and the odd editorial gig, has been keeping us on our toes.
So when I got a message from Barron’s in NYC, I got back to them as soon as I could, pronto like. Barron’s is a weekly out of the Dow Jones empire and its kind of the grinder when it comes to financials on a weekly basis instead of the super in depthness of the WSJ. Its much more hard hitting and cutting than Forbes and has the respect of many in the industry. It might not always be the most creative for photography but then those images aren’t there to represent that; they are there to tell a story albeit a quick one, usually just one image.
So I get the call, and who do you think they’d be looking for an image from in Ireland? Hmmmm, a CEO, someone who probably stands out etc etc….. Oh you know who . . .
Micheal O’Leary of RyanAir fame.
Well I think to myself, if there was ever a challenge, this would be it. You hear the rumours, the rumblings. . . short, sharp and sweet. I would have to go in with my game face on and never let it drop an inch.

The photo editor told me about the difficulties in booking the time with Micheal (he’s a very busy man) and that after three weeks of going back and forth they pinned down a date, a date I was available with so all good. I’ll have 45 minutes to set up and 15 minutes to spend shooting him. I knew a bit about him before but I did some more research and looked further into his career and life and came away impressed; smart man, makes money, no bullshit, no frills. . . . . . sounds familiar 😉 We arrive early hoping to get in and start setting up and working out a few ideas but to no luck, the executive board room we are booked in still has a meeting going on. Sure, no problem, we’ll wait and wait . . . . and wait. The meeting goes 15 minutes late and now we only have 30 minutes to haul all our gear in and truck it up to the second floor; its going to be a simple shadowless white seamless set up so we have a 9 foot and a square of plexi for under his feet. Steve, my assistant and I don’t even have the chance to pull out the light meter. We get it all roughed into this tiny 12×12 foot boardroom when the liaison tells us we can now open the dividing wall to get double the length out of the rooms, sweet. Now I don’t have to use the 17-40 on this poor guy.

The carpet in the middle is covering up all the A/V cables normally routed through the table. Plexi is there for a clean shadowless background.

RyanAir boardroom – a 12×12 foot room, see the 9 foot seamless. The carpet in the middle is covering up all the A/V cables normally routed through the table. Plexi is there for a clean shadowless background.

I throw the 70-200 on the body and with two lights on the white back ground and two lights on the subject, I pop off a couple of frames to see if we are in the ballpark. As I fire the third frame, in he walks. DAMN.

RyanAir boardroom – table top on the left and table legs on the right. Profoto Magnum on the right and silver softlight on the left, both running off Profoto 600B’s. Background is 2 Chimera strips, each powered by Acute 1200’s.

The first thing he says is, “this will not do”.
Uh oh, I better run for an interception here.
“Hi Mr O’Leary, I’m Rob Durston, and I understand I have 15 minutes of your time today”.
“Nope, you have five”.
Well that’s a nice introduction. From there it got even more complicated, in that our subject would “only” be photographed with a large model of one of his Boeing aircrafts.
5 minutes, silly model plane, unchecked lighting and the wild card himself, Micheal O’Leary.
Right from the first frame though he doesn’t lose a beat; every time the Profotos go off he changes his pose. Bang, bang, bang like a little pro model he just rhymes off various expressions and body positions. At around the 2 and a half minute mark I begin to plead with him for a few frames without the plane and a little more serious look; till this point, every frame he has put on a goofy face or silly smirk.
“Nope, nope, I won’t do it, this is what you’re getting. if I do a serious face that is the one that you and your editors will pick. No I will do what I want for this”.
Then through a couple of quick topic changes he asks me where I came from to do this shoot.
Without thinking (or maybe I was just a little subconsciously), I blurted out, “Toronto”. Its kinda true.
“Well in that case, I’ll let you use your stool as well”. I brought along a nice nondescript white stool to get him to sit on and sure enough he held onto that plane also. After a few more minutes he tells me, “okay you must have enough now”.
My first thought is to say no and push a little further but then I thought how much more is he going to give me and how much different will it be than what I already have? I keep talking, and scan through the images, exposures look okay and for the most part everything looks great. “Yup, you’re right Mr. O’Leary, we’re done here. I get him to sign a model release and bang. he’s gone.
Steve, my assistant, and I then sat down for a glass of water and a breather (the heat has been on the whole morning in the room and its close to 30 outside). I peered through the metadata; I was curious as to how many images we took and in how long.
We shot one hundred and twenty unique images in just under 4 minutes.
And here they are.

Here are three of my favourites.

Unretouched, this is my favourite image, serious and contemplating.

 

Micheal proudly holding a model of one of his 737s.

 

Micheal seated with his model 737, the RyanAir staple aircraft.

 

Many thanks to WonderfulMachine for consistently representing and marketing me.
Thanks guys