ROB DURSTON PHOTOGRAPHY

Posts Tagged ‘Pentax 645z’

Abigail’s Party – Behind the Scenes

We recently did a shoot for the MAC. I always love shoot theatre projects. They tend to be a little more loose with the brief, leaving you as a photographer to put your own stamp on it. This project was for the Mike Leigh penned play, “Abigail’s Party”.

As quoted from the MAC’s description of the play,
“We cordially invite you to the party of the year. (The year is 1977).

Abigail’s Party is one of the most iconic stage plays of the 20th century, thanks partly to its legendary 1977 ‘Play for Today’ production on BBC1. From a time when the height of urban sophistication was cheese and pineapple on a stick, served nonchalantly on a Lazy Susan comes a tragi-comedy about social climbing, prejudice and fear of not doing ‘the done thing’.

The writer and director Mike Leigh called his play “both a celebration and a lamentation of how we are”, because this isn’t just a play about 1970s Britain, it’s a peek into the frustrations and struggles endured by everyone who has ever floundered and grasped their way through life, attempting to ensure everything about them and around them is ‘the done thing’.”

 

Coooooool, a period piece, that takes place in the 70’s. Andi Mac (no relation to the above MAC), called me up late in 2017 to start the ball rolling; getting a set devised and built, on budget, that would represent 1970’s British suburbia. Andi found some wall paper that suited the bill; one of those older, ugly brown repeating pattern types that your smoking aunt used to have hanging in her living room. I really wanted to give the image some scale, some depth, so Andi ordered several rolls of the garish paper. Now all we had to do was build some walls to hang it on.
We tried to get some movable flats made that we could stick the paper on but we were running out of time. Instead we got four 4×8 sheets of 3/8 plywood for a smooth finish. My assistant Radek and I screwed the wood to the wall to give us a finished are of 8×16 feet; should be enough to pull off a living room set. My other assistant Chad and I arrived early on shoot day to prep the studio, pre light and hang the paper.

The lighting would consist of 4 Profoto heads running off two 1200 Acute packs, bouncing into two 4×8 white foams on c stands bouncing into set at a 45 degree or so angle.

Ringlight centred between two 4×8 white fills.

I played around with the ringlight on camera for a few frames to try to get a nice even blend between the fill and the ring but I abandoned it for a 1m Octalight.

Ya, just wasn’t happy with the look from the ringlight in this situation, maybe then again it might have been that moustache.

We got all our “fabulous” props from Shane over at Stags Head Props, and once into position we were ready to really dive in and get the lighting real. I dumped the ringlight for a 1m Octalight with no diffusion but a grid on the front. It would be coming in from camera right. Along with the Octa I put up a silver Softlight reflector with a grid to focus a bean of light onto the sideboard and 70’s stereo against the back wall; I wanted to pull the grain out of the side board and show off the sculpted handles.

The set is loaded and ready.

I took the fill down to one light per 4×8 foam o give it a little more punch, subtle but there. At this point we brought “Beverly” on set. She is the principle actor who’s daughter, “Abigail” is having her first teenage party next door.
The last addition to the lighting set up was a 650w Bambino fresnel with barndoors(and some cinefoil) on a boom, to create a gash of light on the back wall.

I shot the project on the Pentax 645z for the added dynamic range and medium format depth of field control wit the 45-85mm zoom. The brief included photography for outdoor signage, specifically 96, 48 billboards and Adshel. I used the 1m Octa as my main and moved it around the set depending on where the model was positioned and what format we were working on. So the wide landscape 96/48 images had the Octa off on camera right, roughly 45 off camera and at a 45 degree angle, giving us a loose Rembrandt styled light.

Above is an un retouched DNG of the final lighting set up for the landscape images.
Below is the retouched image, un cropped ready to be dropped in the layout.

There wasn’t a whole lot needed to be re touched, just a lightening of the skin and upper body and a slight toning of the colurs but for the most part it was bang on to what Andi and I were looking for.

The portrait version for the Adshel and printed pieces needed the Octa light shifted around to more on camera and with the fill from the floor gave a nice detailed beauty light. We moved some of the props around in the background just to fill the space a bit.

Soft gorgeous light from the 1m Octa light and grid.

I love the images and once again thoroughly enjoyed colaborating with Andi and PaleBlueDot.

A big round of clap for Radek and Chad for helping do everything we needed to get the shoot done on time.

Be sure and head out some evening to catch Abigail’s Party in person at the MAC from April 15th to May 5th, 2018.

 

 

 

 


Deloitte and the messy paint shoot

“Never work with babies or animals”
That’s what they always tell you.
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Seems that’s all I ever photograph. I love animals and kids I can relate to, but when you get a liquid flying through the air at speed, it might not always be the most persuasive subject.
Such was the case with this Deliotte campaign I photographed. Liquids demand a respect and a fast flash duration to freeze them in position. We luckily weren’t shooting in my studio but instead had rented a large room in a local football club house. Myself, my assistant and a video crew set up our own individual lighting set ups; mine being Profoto strobes and theirs were HMI’s for video.
I had the pole position for this day, the stills were going to run as a major campaign while the video was secondary. I brought along two different camera systems, a Canon 35mm and a Pentax 645z. The two mayor differences between the two were double the resolution with the Pentax at 50mp and a slower frame rate of 3 FPS opposed to 5 with the Canon. The Canon would give me a better chance to catch the moment but the Pentax would offer a greater depth of resolution.
We opted for the Pentax. I just had to release the shutter at the moment I needed.

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After a few tests we were ready to test it on some unsuspecting Deloitte employees. We had Sean on one side and Mal on the other, ready with small plastic cups of thinned out latex paint. On my mark they would throw the paint towards the subject and I would catch the emotion as well as the paint as it hit the subject, sounds easy enough. We shot between roughly 20 images with each subject on the premise that we would probably comp together images to give us some more dramatic splashes. In the end it wasn’t really needed as most of the final images went un retouched, just simple colour adjustments and tonal curves.
It was a great shoot and I’m sort of glad I wasn’t around for the clean up afterwards (I was back at the office editing).
Scroll through to the end to see a slo motion iPhone video of one of the throws.


Remus Uomo & Ulster Rugby

As some of you readers might already know, we do a fair amount of compositing these days. There are many different reasons out there for “piecing together” an image; lighting control, special effects, or subject availability. The latter was the main factor for utilizing it on on recent project for Remus Oumo and Ulster Rugby.
I was asked to come up with a solution to photographing several rugby players wearing some the latest Remus Oumo designs, on location at the Ulster Rugby headquarters. In the previous season one of the player’s locker rooms was used so in the tradition of keeping it fresh, the creative director and myself scouting the location to come up with a fresh viewpoint and some interesting angles. After perusing the building we decided on the gym area, specifically the weight room. It has an interesting ceiling and when shot at an angle has nice depth to the room. The overheads light would play nicely in breaking up the patterns of the ceiling with some repeating highlights.
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I photographed Rory the creative director as a stand in for the sample shot.

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With a little colour temperature tweaking and some simple comping together . . . .
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And then a slight tonal treatment . . . . . .
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And a grad across the bottom . . . . .
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Ideas were starting to come together. . . . .

The whole shoot was lit with just one light, it was a Profoto white Softlight with a grid. I wanted a soft, directional light from over head, so the Softlight and grid were boomed over each subject. Power wasn’t really a concern since the light would be so close to the subject but we still cracked open the Profoto Acute 1200 packs, just to have the flexibility in case we did need the power.

Yours truly doing my best rugby stare

Yours truly doing my best rugby stare

I was shooting tethered from the Pentax 645z to my MacBook Pro using the new DNA Lightroom plugin.
I have extensively tested the DNA plugin vs. Pentax IT2 vs. Adobe’s own plugin for LR and I have found pros and cons for all of them. In the end I always seem to be coming back to the Pentax IT2 software, which is the only option to have remote camera control, as well as options for saving files to the SD cards. Many users complain about speed but they aren’t grasping that this is still probably the fastest MFD system for transferring 50mp files; I can transfer 12 image files in 40 seconds (3.3 seconds per).
Most of those features weren’t needed in this shoot, mostly just the file transferring. The size and dynamic range of the image files really opened up the door for some heavy flexing when it came time for post production. I had shot a heavily bracketed background plate for the subject to be comped into but for the most part it wasn’t used since the dynamic range is so huge, I can just manipulate it from the specific subject files. I will say though, the new HDR and panoramic merge options in Lightroom are miles better than they ever were and along with the file image being a DNG, manipulation of the image after the merge sequence is totally feasible, flexible and amazing compared to the old tiff outputs.

Like I said earlier one of the main reasons for doing a composite image is when you can’t get all your subjects at one time for the photograph. This was the case for this shoot. All the rugby players had different commitments through out the day so each would be photographed individually and then pieced together in post. My good friend John at needpost.com would be helping me with some of the delicate image surgery stuff, while I executed the tone and colour treatments.

So here you can see the Superboom with the Acute head and white Softlight reflector with grid, pooling slightly in front of the model. You can see the other positioning marks for the other subjects on the floor.
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This is the first version with them all in situ. From this point it becomes a whole lot easier with just some retouching and toning.

V2.0

V2.0

This is version 4.0 with words and some wrinkles retouched.

V4.0

V4.0

This is version 6 with our number 4 guy enlarged in the frame, the light behind him more intense, more wrinkles fixed and the floor brought down a bit.

V6.0

V6.0

And here is the final version, V7.0 with some slight dodging and burning and a bit more colour tweaking.

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V7.0

Here are a couple of behind the scenes videos shot by Andy Yoong at Honcho Media.
The first one shows a little more of the behind the scenes and
the second one is the finished edit

Remus Cut Grade 1 from rob durston productions on Vimeo.

Final Edit

Remus Cut Grade 4 from rob durston productions on Vimeo.

Creative Director – Rory Jeffers
Assistant – Malachy McCrudden
Make Up Artist – Ashley Morhej
Retoucher – John Flynn
Video Dooode – Andy Yoong


Ulster Rugby/Remus Uomo

Remus Uomo and Ulster Rugby

Remus Uomo and Ulster Rugby


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.

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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


International Business Machines or just IBM for short.

The phone rang one Friday summer afternoon. Brrrring, brrrrring “Hello Studio”.
“Hello Rob, we were wondering if you would be interested in doing some photography for IBM”
Um geee, let me think about that. . . uh ya, of course.

I was to photograph a couple of tech guys in Dublin who use one of IBM’s IT systems. It would also provide a good shakedown shoot for a new camera I had just bought back in the summer but hadn’t really used on a larger shoot. The camera is the Pentax 645z and for anyone who follows things in the imaging world, its sort of a break through medium format camera in the sense of price, tech and quality; it comes in at a fraction of the competition, Hasselblad and Phase. It uses a 50mp CMOS sensor, which in layman’s terms, means it is about double the resolution of most 35mm cameras and can give excellent results in very low light. As a couple of added bonuses, the camera uses a legacy mount so you can use almost all the medium format lenses Pentax has ever released and because of the size of the medium format sensor it gives you a relative shallower depth of field (less things in focus), giving you greater control over your image.
I was very curious to see how it stacked up against my faithful Canon 5D mk3, which is no slouch and has served me very well since I got it back in 2012. I love the Canon for ease of use, the excellent, tunable AF system and low light CMOS sensor.

The Pentax 645z
I had been following the progress of medium format cameras over the years, teasing myself that I would sometime test the waters and dive into a Phase system and mortgage my right and left kidneys. A camera like the Phase in 2013 would have set you back $30-40k depending on the options, bells and whistles. Add on a couple of lenses and you’d be up around 50k. In the fall of 2013, Phase announced they would be releasing a new camera back using the new Sony CMOS sensor; it would be a real break though for medium format low light capabilities. The down side was the price, $35,000 just for the back.
Then Sony did something cool, they sold the sensor to Hasselblad and Pentax. The Hasselblad came in at just under $30k with a body and the Pentax is a third of that.
When I first heard about the imminent release of the Pentax, I started scouring for lenses. I knew it was going to be a legacy mount so I could mount the older 645 and 6×7 lenses on the new body but I didn’t want to go too far back in lineage, just to keep any unwanted aberrations to a minimum. I found an older manual focus 35mm, a 45-85 AF and a 150mm f2.8 AF. Those lenses along with a brand new 55mm f2.8 are what I’m using for most of my work these days. It seems the only time I’m going back to my Canon is for the extreme wide angle view from the 17mm, the superior auto focus system or the lighter weight. Other than that, the Pentax has the Canon “pinned to the ropes”.
That being said, this is not a pixel to pixel comparison but more of a user’s conclusion after his first shoot, using them side by side.
Overall I would say that the Pentax files have a very similar feel to the Canon’s. They have good sharpness out of the camera. The Canon seems to be a little more sensitive, exposure wise, by maybe a stop and a third to a stop and a half. On the Pentax side of things though, at equivalent exposures, you’ll see a stop more in the highlights and at least a stop more in the shadows, a huge improvement. The Pentax is totally usable up to 6400 and 12,800 ISO and beyond. I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot at the upper reaches of the ISO range (without going into the 6 digits), especially if it meant gaining a stop or two of depth of field.

RDP_20140731_1989-300x300

For IBM though I wouldn’t be needing any of those higher numbers since we were shooting in a modern office building with good available light as well as our own Profoto 600B’s. I did shoot up at 1250 ISO just for the convenience of being able to hand hold the Pentax while I wandered the space capturing still life images.
The 45-85mm Pentax zoom was great in this location; very flexible focal lengths. When I first heard about the Phase Schneider 40-80mm zoom I laughed. I thought was a ridiculous focal range, how could that be usable. It’s the equivalent of a 26-50mm on a 35mm camera. Although the Pentax is 5mm longer on both ends of the range, effectively its the same range and it totally works. I don’t know why but with this project and pretty much every one after it, this has been the lens of choice. It is quite hefty and it uses an older AF drive system that is much louder than the newer 55mm in the camera bag. It also has on of the worst designs for turning the AF on the lens on and off. You do this by sliding the focusing ring either away or towards you; therefore engaging or disengaging the locking mechanism on the AF drive. The reason it is silly to me, is that there are often times I want to grab focus using the AF system, then turn it off and then either leave it or do some focus bracketing while the subject moves. With this focus ring system, when you disengage it by sliding it, you inevitably turn the ring ever so slightly, therefore making that next image out of focus; painfully ill designed.
Its been a long time since we shot a serious work project on medium format. Outside of a couple of small simple shoots in the past couple of years, previously it would have been 2000 or 2001 when we really put on our thinking caps and used the size and benefits of the format to their fullest. Aspects like a diminished depth of field, razor thin focus and effective manual focusing on mid ground subjects, all started to come back to me again. Where you would have been shooting a portrait at f4 or f5.6 for a nice shallow focus but still holding it from the nose to the back of the head, now you’re dialling it up a stop on the power and giving yourself f8 or even f11 on the lens in medium format. It might not seem like much but it is the difference between all things being sharp and only some.
On this shoot we were dealing with a couple of computer guys, Niall and Krzysztof. They were really nice and gave us all the time we needed, all in all just over an hour. My assistant Richard and I scouted the location, an modern office building, amongst many other modern office buildings. They was nothing special nor anything ugly about it, the building was just vanilla plain. Some of the offices were vacant and there were random pieces of furniture in some of them. The brief called for 4 scenarios of portraits and a selection of still life and office images around the building. Sure it doesn’t sound hard but trying to make a banana split out of vanilla ice cream and only a bowl takes some creativity.
We tried a shot in the above room with the two lonely chairs, it was okay but we could do better. A couple of other scenarios we shot right in their work environments, behind the monitors, clicking away on the keyboards.

RDP_20140731_2065-600x600

Here is the set up for that image, along with my chatty assistant keeping the subject in stitches with his bad jokes, you can see the Pentax peeking in the bottom of the frame. We used one Profoto 600B with a silver Softlight.

RDP_20140731_0338-600x600

The Pentax lenses are nice, they are sharp (when focused correctly), decently contrasty but back lit, they remind me of a Hasselblad CF lens; just ever so softly flaring out at the edges against white. Still the king for backlit even after ceasing continuing to develop them, has to be the Mamiya RZ glass. It was near impossible to get edges to flare in the studio, when shooting on a white background, blown out a stop or two over the main. All in all though the Pentax optics are a solid 8/10, Only Hasselblad, Mamiya and Leica would have anything over them.
From the office scenario we needed a larger space, something to really let your eye wander around in and then pull it back to our main subjects. Remembering that this was a relatively new build office building, with no real “cool” aspects to the architecture, we searched the few floors we had access to. The kitchen area was large. It had an interesting countertop running mid height along one wall of windows. I thought maybe we could do something with it and the outside world.
As seen by the accompanying image, the location needed a little extra fill and a slight overexposure to clean things up a bit (nothing really could clean up these two ugly mugs)

RDP_20140731_0358-600x600

Moving on to our two subjects, I opted to go fairly wide, a little wider than the Pentax could do at 35mm. I shot with the Canon 5D mk3 and a 17-40mm set at 28mm. I’d love to get the Pentax 28-45mm F4.5 but it will need to wait a while until a few other necessities are purchased.
I love the cool, work environment tone of the portrait; cool green without muddying the skin tones.

RDP_20140731_2095-Edit-600x600

For the last image of the brief, I really wanted to get outside. It was a bright overcast day and I wanted something away from the office scenes. We had originally tried to go off site to the main server station but unfortunately we ran out of time to get the proper clearance (Clarence). So the next best thing, a street shot with one of the branded vehicles.
This is tough, creatively, trying to get an interesting image of two guys in button down shirts, posing with a heavily branded company car, in what can only be called an office building jungle. Whatever hope we had, holding out for some rays of direct or bounced sunlight would probably never happen. The thin, narrow corridor between the glass towers was facing the wrong direction to the shrouded sun. We would have to make do with the cool overcast light we had and I would supplement it with the Profoto 600B and the RFi 3′ Octalight. In tight with the grid installed its a really nice little light. In this case we were using it just as a little rim light, skimming across Niall’s right shoulder. I shot this on the Pentax with the 45-85mm at 45mm. It is set to f11 to make sure we have both Niall and Krzysztof sharp. The shutter speed was at 1/15th of a second to get a good blur out of the slow moving local traffic and ISO was set to 640.
I feel the subjects’ white shirts bring a focus point to the image; the strong repeating vertical lines of the background windows and the motion blur of the passing car are just eye candy.

RDP_20140731_0478-Edit-600x600

Here is the finished story using the last two images.

IBM_pg_16-21_Case_Study-1-600x600IBM_pg_16-21_Case_Study-2-600x600