Half-frame medium format

I’ve been curious for a long time about the big Pentax medium-format SLRs, the 6×7 and the 645. High prices have kept me from satisfying my curiosity. Earlier this year, a reader emailed me to say he’d like to lend me his 645 so I could see how I liked it. He wants it back, but he’s in no hurry. “Heck yeah!” I said.

When it arrived, a 75mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A 645 lens was mounted to it. There was a partially-shot roll of film in it, plus two more in the bag. I finished the roll in the camera, which turned out to be a Fujifilm ISO 400 color film. Then I loaded the roll of Tri-X he sent.

I’ll write a proper review of this camera later this year, after I’ve shot with it enough to know it better. But for now, here are some photos from that roll of Tri-X, which I developed in HC-110 B.

Stuff piled up in the sun

It was still winter and quite cold, so I shot this entire roll inside.

Little stained glass thing

The 645 is a manual-focus camera, but winds and exposes automatically. I shot this entire roll in program mode, although aperture- and shutter-priority modes are available, as well as a manual exposure mode.

Kitchen window

Things didn’t always go well shooting indoors. Six or seven shots were faint or nonexistent. Who knows what happened. I have barely begun to learn this camera and get a feel for it.


In mixed light I got a nice chiaroscuro effect.

Df on the tripod

I liked making 16 photos on a single roll of 120! That sure seems like an efficient use of film. Funny, I like half-frame medium format, but I have never been wild about half-frame 35mm. Those rolls of film take so long to finish!

More from this camera to come.

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25 responses to “Half-frame medium format”

  1. Juna Avatar

    That’s funny, one of my first medium format cameras was a Mamiya 645. Although I loved the handling, I didn’t get along with the half frame format with it – unlike 35mm half frames, I love my Olympus Pen F (and have more half frames in the shelf). I still own a Fujica GS645 pro – but more for its form (foldable), not format 6×4,5.

    Looking forward to your story going on with this camera.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Fascinating, isn’t it? I loved getting 16 images from these rolls of 120!

  2. sonny rosenberg Avatar

    Nice shots! Jim! Looking forward to seeing more.Your photos may spur me to get out my somewhat neglected Chroma Six:9, it’s a fun camera to shoot with.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Two more rolls from this camera are at the processor’s now!

  3. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I had a Fuji 645 for a while, and liked the results, but the rangefinder patch was very dim, and the meter was a drag to use. The film looked great, tho, and the camera size was of course, substantially smaller than this camera or the Mamiya 645, so virtually pocketable. Big results for a small camera.

    Professionally tho, it was an odd format. I shot a Hasselblad most of my career, so if I was shooting for a vertical or horizontal image in a layout, you were probably cropping to near 645 anyway. It was better to do this, than actually use the Hasselblad 645 16 exposure back, just in case you needed to shoot a little loose to control image area. If you had to shoot something more square, with a 645, you were down to near 1 5/8 by 1 5/8, which wasn’t enough film for the professional results expected. With the Hasselblad of course, you were shooting big for the square! In the studios I worked with, that had the Mamiya RB and RZ cameras, you were getting a big oblong image, but if you had to shoot something near square, you still had a lot of film area real estate.

    I can say that most all of the pros I knew that used 645, they were primarily wedding shooters looking for a quality edge over 35mm, and then I saw a group of fashion people going 645 when the Contax came out. Stunning results out of that camera. The wedding people seemed to favor the Mamiya 645 or Bronica, but my pro shop warned people off the Bronica system, it was always breaking down. Their department that sent cameras out for repair was always awash with Bronica equipment coming in or going out for repair!

    The camera I always wanted to try was the Bronica rangefinder in 645, which was seemingly introduced too close to the digital era and people seemed to be stock piling money to go digital than buy another 645 system for walking around use. I also knew people getting pretty good results from the Fuji 645 autofocus, but it was more like a one trick pony, without much professional usage, tho…

    Have to say, some of these pics show that great Pentax lens look! The few pros I knew that used the Pentax 645, loved it for the lenses.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Isn’t that the whole point of square for pros anyway: you can compose to whatever form factor you want and crop to it? I like square on its own, but to be able to treat square like both portrait and landscape rectangular formats does have a certain charm.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Certainly for pros this is true, and without turning the camera! Of course, the RB/RZ series solved this problem by turning the back! BUT, for “artists” and others, they are admonished to shoot to the format. This seemed to be a movement in photo schools in the early 70’s, which pretty much ignored professional needs and promoted the idea that you shoot to the exact format, hence the movement to “carve out” the film carriers for enlargers to print right up to the edge of the frame. There were certainly 645, 6×7, and 6×9 120 and 620 cameras from near the beginning, but the 6×6 frame took off because it was a fast and high quality shoot in the twin lens format like the Rollei. The Rollei was far easier to use than the other cameras so the art departments just got used to cropping what came out.

  4. Kurt Ingham Avatar

    I always felt that 645 was neither fish nor fowl- a convenience for wedding photographers who wanted better than 35 but cheaper than 6×6. When I use roll film I try to go with 6×9. Those transparencies can be amazing

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      For the documentary work I do, when I shoot 120 I blow through a TON of film at 6×9. 6×6 is better — but 6×4.5 sure keeps shooting more economical without sacrificing too much negative surface area.

    2. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      Kurt, ditto…even 6×7 transparencies can be stunning. The dirty little secret of sheet film is that dependent on final image size, the 120 roll film 6×7 and 6×9 can be indistinguishable from 4×5 sheet film! We were taught to shoot view camera when we needed to control perspective or plane of focus, i. e. Like architectural photography or product photography, not particular.y for film size.

  5. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Beware. My Pentax 645 was the gateway that led me to Hasselblad. Just sayin’. :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, I knew it was dangerous saying yes to this camera!

  6. Theron Avatar

    I must say, Tri-X looks mighty nice shot through that Pentax glass.

    Glad you’re enjoying it, Jim. Thanks for the update!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you! The roll of film that was in it didn’t return any usable images, unfortunately. Two more rolls are at the processor now – I took the camera along on a recent road trip. It’s not an obvious road trip camera given its size and weight, but this is the kind of photography I do so I needed to see for sure how it handled!

      1. Kodachromeguy Avatar

        Hmmm, I don’t know. I take my Hasselblad and lenses on plenty of road trips. People I meet are impressed to look down into the finder and see the reversed image. Some wonder if it is a lcd display.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Do you find the camera is challenging to carry in your hand? Do you have it on a strap? I remember once in Mexico, making images of some children playing and having the children come up to me curious to see the photos on the screen on the back of my camera– and being blown way when there was no screen, because it was a film camera.

          1. Kodachromeguy Avatar

            If I will be carrying the camera a distance, I use a comfortable OP/TECH strap. If mostly car use, I have a more flexible nylon webbing strap that easily wraps around the body when I put it in a camera bag. I have not tried a camera backpack yet. That’s a future option. It is a big kit when you include 3 lenses, 2 backs, film, light meter, and filters. Ah, but the quality of the negatives…..

            1. Jim Grey Avatar

              Thanks for the tip on the OP/TECH straps – looked them up, they look good and useful without breaking the bank.

  7. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Interesting post…I have 6 x 4.5 backs for my RZ67, although I have to change the light seals before I use again, and also the Rollieflex 6002 that I have….I really should give them another try, although I do like the quality of the image from the 6×7 a lot!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! The lens on this camera is very nice indeed.

    2. Kodachromeguy Avatar

      A 6002? Nice! Rollei offered some of the best lenses for their 6000 series.

      1. Steve Mitchell Avatar

        Yes, and they still command high prices today! I have just the Rolliegon f2.8/80, which I understand was the budget lens. Now that I have got to know my Mamiya well enough to be confident with it, I think it is time to run some film through the Rollei!

  8. Victor Bezrukov, photographer Avatar

    half or not half but still huge ;-);
    beautiful series and use by 645 format. seems like you have to have a camera like this. i use a Fuji GA645 for the same frame size.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes! Still plenty large. Perhaps a camera like this is a future purchase for me.

  9. Kashaf Avatar

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