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Pentax 645Z Review and Quirks

mike-nancyvuu-shoot-crop.jpg So here is my opinion about the Pentax 645Z, from my point of view, concerning my workflow, and what I shoot.

By no means do I claim the be the best photographer, the best guru or anything, I am just saying how I feel about it compared to what I am use to and what I shoot, and how it fits my work/shooting flow.

That being said (I hate this phrase btw), Its hard for me to evaluate this camera when I am shoehorning into the Full Frame Sports arena. Yes, Sports, fashion/runway is a form of sports photography, moving subjects, multiple shots, one chance to get it right.

Its not about what is the best camera, its about what camera can help you achieve the highest quality of results in the genre that you shoot. For me, this camera does not improve my work in runway fashion, but it does allow me to improve in other areas. I guess one can not force themselves to shoot everything with one camera, if you have the luxury, take the camera thats best suited.

If your shooting medium format already, renting, etc, then this camera may work for you. If you have a creative director wanting 50+ mp requirement, then this may work for you. If you want to take your studio shots to the next level, then this is it!

Here is my opinion, your results may vary:

thumb_up_pass32.png The Good
A List of things I like about this camera

  • Tripod Mounts: I love the fact there is a portrait/vertical mount on the body. I slapped two RC2 plates the camera as soon as I got it out of the box.
  • Live View: I have shot while in live view on my Nikons a few times, and I try very hard to avoid it. Its just a clunky process. However, on the Pentax 645Z, its not to bad. And there is this Focus Highlighting, takes a bit to really see it, its almost at a pixel level on the LCD. But you can see whats in focus with a highlight confirmation.

Carment Electra at StyleFashion

  • ISO: I love the ISO performance on this thing, I wish my DSLR's had it! I was standing on the Riser, and saw Carmen Electra in the crowed ahead of me, well my first shot was horrible, because I was setup to shoot a fashion runway walk, I cranked the ISO up to 32,000 and the shot was usable shot!
  • FOV: I am a fan of a wide field of view for the same given mm lens, that is I dont have to step back as far to use a 90mm lens for a portrait than I would if I were using an 85mm on a Full Frame DSLR. By allowing me to have a wider field of view, I can stand closer, and retain the look/feel (lens compression) of the chosen mm lens.
  • 51MP: The fact this is 51 megapixel really helps in many areas, you can shoot wider and crop. Print large with closeup viewing, downsample for amazing quality when using higher ISO.
  • White Balance: The Automatic White Balance on this camera is one of the best I have ever used. Even in sever mixed light, this camera nails it. I have always been a stickler for manually setting the Kelvin before a shoot, but when in doubt, AWB on this camera. Also when using the Manual White Balance (not setting K, but using a reference photo) this has to be the easiest of the cameras I have used and it does a great job.

thumb_down_fail32.png The Bad
And some things I do not like so much


  • Poor lens support: This is what is killing it for me, there is no real options for lenses on the Pentax 645Z, there is a lack of usable ranges. Fashion runway is usually done with a 70-200, over 2.5x range, but Pentax lenses apear to be just 2x range, and not in the right areas either, I had to settle for a 80-160, just a 2x, and was left needing more range when the models stepped onto the runway. An 80-240 would have been awesome, but hey that's just a wish
  • Few dedicated digital lenses: They just don't make very many lenses designed for the digital sensor. Only 4 to be exact (as of Oct/2015), the 25mm, 28-45mm, 55mm and the 90mm
  • Poor lens sharpness: It looks like Pentax cant keep up with the pro grade glass of Nikon, Canon, and Sigma. All my Sigma lenses can out resolve every one of the Pentax lenses I have used. Do you know how disappointing it is to drop $5,000 on a lens, only to know its not as sharp as your $1,000 Sigma Art lens
  • Note: I paid $5,000 for the 28-45mm w/warranty, because I needed something around 35mm, and this lens, in my opinion, when compared to the sharpness of other lenses on the market for my Nikon D810, this does not performs 2x better at a 5x price.
  • Depth of Field: Technically, this has nothing to do with Pentax, or does it? The depth of field on this thing is so slim! Its a sliver! I shot f/8 on a headshot, with the 55mm and still could not get the ears fully in focus!!! Now I know the real technical reasons behind DOF, and when you increase the distant from the lens to the sensor, you reduce the depth of field. No I am not talking about how a DOF of f/2.8 is like f/4 when you go up in sensor size do to re-framing, I am talking about the increased flange distance, this one is 70.87mm (note: mamiya 63.3mm, contax 64mm) The main problem I have with having to stop down 2 or 3 stops to get the DOF I want, is the issue of where do I get 2 or 3 more stops of light? I am starting to max out my strobes. (no I do not want to increase my ISO)

645z_vf-runway.jpg Focus Points

  • Few Focus points: The Pentax 645Z only has 27 focus points, and 25 are cross type, basically the other two kinda useless. I assume, and I dont know for a fact, but it looks like they just re-purposed the focus system from another camera.
  • Focus points grouped to close together: These focus points are grouped too close together that it might as well just be one big center spot. All the focus points are in the center 3rd of the frame. Draw a tic-tac-toe on the frame, and the center spot has all the focus points. When using continuous focus to try and get someone walking (as in fashion runway) the highest spot you can get will hit mid chest, and you will not have a focus point on the face, and forget about getting the eyes.

Bad Balance

  • Bad balance with most lenses: Yes this camera may feel good in your hand, and with the 55mm lens, but stick any of the other lenses on there and this thing wants to fall forward. Put it on a tripod or monopod with a ball head, and you have your hands full my friends. The lenses I used are the 80-160mm and the 28-45mm, these are big lenses, and they do not offer a collar that you can mount to a tripod to balance it out.

Hot Shoe / Sync Port

  • Hot shoe and flash sync port disabled past 1/125: I get that the max sync speed is 1/125, thats not my issue, I may light a scene for natural light, night scene, or some neat stop action photo trick. And the problem arises when I use my modeling lights. A modeling light is a light that is on, allows you to see how shadows cast, etc... I use it to light my set while I work, and when I snap the shutter, the modeling lights shut off, so they dont interfere with the shot. Well, I cant use my modeling lights with this camera if I shoot past 1/125. I am not sure why they disable it, I know after my contact with them, they state its because its the max sync speed. But I don't care about sync speed, not using a flash, I am using a modeling light. All my other pro bodies let me do this.

Memory Cards

  • SD Cards not CF Cards: I get some people like SD cards, but anyone doing very serious work, generally prefer CF cards, and we already have a stock of them. However, one important aspect, is dollar for dollar, CF cards are faster than SD cards. This is most important when I am offloading my cards to the computer. My last runway shoot was about 96GB (3x 32GB cards) per night, offloading to a PC on USB3, highest speed readers etc, was an average of 76MB/sec, whereas my CF cards hit 100MB/sec 25% faster! FYI, both SD ad CF state 1000x on them!
  • Cards can not be changed on tripod in vertical orientation: Its true, the Pentax 645Z was designed with the card slot on the left side, and the vertical tripod mount next to it. When I was shooting runway, do you know how hard it was to unlatch the camera, card swap, and re-latch the camera to a monopod while standing and balancing everything?
  • Primary slot quirk: This one killed me, took me a while to get it understood. There is Card 1, and Card 2. I am set to overflow my shots. So, when Card 1 full, then overflow to Card 2. Now all was good, but I turned camera off, pulled Card 1, transferred to my PC. I turned on the Pentax 645Z with only Card 2 in place, so I could check battery level, it was good, ok, all good so far. Then I reinserted Card 1, formated Card 1 in camera, then did some shots, pulled Card 1, decided to format Card 2 since I like clean cards, and bam! all my shots gone, Card 1 was blank, but it wasnt in the camera! Turns out, Card 2 became the primary! My camera was stuck on Card 2 Primary! Anytime the camera is turned on, if the primary card is not present, then it makes the other slot primary if card present. Solution: Remove Card 2, insert Card 1, turn camera on, turn camera off, reinsert card 2, now card 1 primary, and card 2 overflow.

Vertical (Portrait) orientation

  • No vertical Grip support: When using the Pentax 645Z in the vertical/portrait orientation, you have to cripple your right hand to take a shot. When shooting fashion, almost 90% of your shots are in this orientation, and they do not make a grip for this camera. Now I understand people say this is more of a studio camera, but they also say, hey it can be a field camera too. Well, not to keep bringing it up, but I shoot fashion, and I shot runway with this, and it killed me first night, I actually had a vertical grip made for me for the next night. It was crude, but it saved me, I would have not been able to shoot the rest of the week without it.

LCD Issues:

  • LCD turns off with HDMI monitor plugged in: Some times when I shoot, I use an HDMI monitor plugged in so others can see what I am shooting, as well as the model can see her positioning in live view. Tether takes to long, and not very good on this camera.
  • Red is over saturated on the LCD: I was shooting a cover shot, with three rows of models, and the third row had a large arrangement of red roses. Within those roses, there were green leaves. Now the models in front of the roses, very sharp, the models behind the roses, also very sharp. The green leaves within the rose arrangement, very sharp, but the roses were not sharp at all. At first, other photographers and I thought it was a depth of field issue, but I was shooting f/22, then we thought it was a diffraction issue, so we went f/8, same problem, it was killing us, how is it the objects in front as well as behind, are in focus, but the roses are not? Color fringing? Well, we didn't shoot tethered, because tethered is useless on this camera. Turns out image review on the back LCD is over saturated in the reds, thus we could not see any contrast, tones, nothing, just looked blury and blended together. After transferred to the computer and blown up, all was in focus. It was an LCD issue.

Tethered Shooting

  • Tether software not included: I get that Nikon and Canon do not include tether software either, but those cameras are not the same price as the Pentax 645Z, when I pay over $8k for a body, I want the tether software. Did you know most people would pay $200 more for the body if it came with the software vs paying an additional $200 for it separately? This is just bad business analyses on Ricohs part. Also, since tethered software not hard to produce, I don't know why theirs is soo poorly made.
  • No third party support: If you plan to use LightRoom to tether, nope, not going to happen, Capture One, not happening either. Pretty much, as of this writing, no one supports Tethering for the Pentax 645Z :
  • UPDATE: Ricoh Japan sent me the tether plugin for lightroom, so it is possible to shoot directly into lightroom without hot folders, etc...
Mike Bradley

Author: Mike Bradley

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