I’ve put three more rolls of film through the Pentax 645 and I’m dialing in on how to make the most out of this camera.

I brought it along on my recent road trip along State Road 67 from Indianapolis to Muncie. A roll of Kodak Portra 400 was already in the camera, so I finished it. I found this 1965 Buick Skylark on a side-street detour around a one-way (the wrong way) section of SR 67’s original path just northeast of Downtown Indianapolis.

1965 Buick Skylark

Let me back up to show you some images I made with the Portra before the road trip. This scene of my car in my driveway, vinyl-village suburbia stretching out behind it, has become one of my default first frames with an unfamiliar camera.

My Passat

My sons came over one Sunday afternoon and with my wife and her daughter we played Scrabble. I made a bunch of images of us playing, and all of them were underexposed. I had similar results indoors with a roll of Tri-X. For whatever reason, this camera doesn’t do well in available light indoors, even on ISO 400 film.

Struggling in available light

The lab that processed this roll wrote “Use Flash Next Time” on the envelope containing the negatives.

Struggling in available light

I was bummed out that I managed to shake the camera when I made this photo of my family in our front yard. This is the traditional place we grab a quick snap after a family gathering. Damion has had that M*A*S*H T-shirt since I bought it for him as a teenager. He’s 26 now.

Blurry family

Back on that road trip with the 645, I loaded my last roll from a batch of Kodak Vericolor III that expired in July, 1986. I set the camera to EI 80.

Yorktown, IN

You can see it a little bit in the image above — some strange mottling across the frame. You can really see it in this image below from inside Muncie’s Beech Grove Cemetery. Perhaps this film had finally started to go bad, despite having been frozen since initial purchase.

In Muncie's Beech Grove Cemetery

It didn’t affect every frame heavily, and some frames not at all.

In Muncie's Beech Grove Cemetery

I finished with a roll of fresh Kodak Gold 200 in the 645. This late-1950s McDonald’s sign is one of a single-digit number left in service anywhere in the US. This one is in Muncie.

Vintage McDonald's sign, Muncie

Here it is from the other side, the sun fully behind me. The more I shoot this camera outside, the more I think I want a lens hood for the 75mm f2.8 SMC Pentax-A 645 lens that came with the camera. But looking at the reviews of this lens on Pentax Forums, I don’t see anyone complaining about flare.

Vintage McDonald's sign, Muncie

The 645 is larger and heavier than I normally choose for a road trip. I like cameras that I can sling across my torso on a strap and hardly notice as I walk around. I simply carried the heavy 645 by its large, comfortable grip. To be on the safe side, I tended not to stray far from my car with it.

High Street UMC

Finishing the roll at home, a Bradford pear tree that’s at the top of the hill just beyond my back yard was in bloom. I moved in to see how close I could get with the 75mm lens. This close, apparently.

Bradford pear

I’m done with the getting-to-know-you phase with the 645. I’m ready to make more deliberate photographs with it.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.


20 responses to “More half-frame medium-format fun”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Interesting that you say the camera doesn’t do well indoors with available light. The Pentax 645 was marketed as a professional level camera, and directly to a lot of wedding photographers. I wouldn’t think any available lighting situation would be out of its pervue?Could something be going on with the sensitivity of the metering system that is making it die or become inaccurate in low light? If you shot on automatic, I wonder if the shutter speeds were actually correct, or tracking correctly? So much to worry about with someone else’s old camera, and old film. As said before on here, “professional” film, especially color film, was dated and considered “dead” on its date, even if frozen. This could result in not only mottled results as you show, but lack of sensitivity.

    “Shakey” results hand held? Me too brother Jim! I’ve never shot a frame for money that wasn’t on a tripod, and would hate to see what my hand held Hasselblad images would look like! If you want to hand hold 120 roll film, the Mamiya 6 is the king!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wonder as well whether the shutter is off at slower speeds. That would explain it.

      The Vericolor rolls I’ve had all performed well at EI 80 — until this one. Who knows. The vagaries of long-expired film.

      I normally am good with handheld, even with large cameras. But I’m not so good that I’d shoot for pay that way.

      Oooh, the Mamiya 6!

  2. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    Interesting to see the Oddfellows hall again with a different film type. I’m curious what you’re thoughts are about the two shots vs what it actually looked like. My gut says the colors with the medium format are a little washed out, and the 35 mm is a little too vivid?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The 35mm is closer to reality but is probably a little on the vivid side.

  3. JR Smith Avatar

    I loved the pictures I made with my 645n, but I did not love lugging it around. I tried various different straps and such but ended up just carrying by its handle at my side.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good to know. I think this is a camera I take to my subject, and then photograph the crap out of it, and then go home. Not so much a walking-around camera for me.

  4. Theron Avatar

    You are well on your way to surpassing my frame count with this particular camera! Now I’m wondering if all the years of inactivity have affected lubricants on the gears, or worse. It may just need a good CLA, but I’m not sure if I would be willing to invest that much into it.

    Like you, I found it too big and bulky for a walk around camera, even though at the time there was a rather well known globe trotting landscape photographer who shot with these. He had better lungs and legs than me.

    I did shoot 5 rolls of Ektachrome and a couple rolls of Velvia 50 with it – it seemed to handle the slow shutter speeds these films required just fine back in the 90’s, lol! I remember most of it was shot on a tripod, and the size and colors of those transparencies blew me away.

    As capable as it is, the bulk and eye-level viewfinder didn’t appeal to me. I think I would have been happier with a TLR.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s an old camera; it’s not surprising if its shutter has gone off, especially at low speeds. I wonder who out there would do a CLA of one of these anyway.

      I own a couple Yashica TLRs and I think they’re fantastic. But I don’t mind the eye-level viewfinder of the 645.

  5. Jerome Avatar

    Nice shots. I have, unintentionally, three 645 bodies because buying lenses that came with bodies was much cheaper than buying each lens separately.

    I shot test rolls with each using Fomapan 200 and Ultrafine 400 in ambient light indoors at night. All were properly exposed. Your underexposed shots look like those I get when the metering is off.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ah, the old buy a whole camera to get the lens trick.

      Yes, it seems clear that something is off with this 645. Shutter or meter.

  6. Joe from the Resurrected Camera Avatar

    Ohhhh I’m jealous you’ve moved up to medium format! The Pentax 645 is one I’ve considered getting…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve had a couple of TLRs for years and really like them. But a medium-format SLR has been interesting to me for a long time. This one is on loan to me.

  7. Michael Elliott Avatar

    The mottling on the Vericolor is something I’ve seen elsewhere with long expired 120 film; the backing paper transfers either the frame numbering, or its own texture to the film. It’s a crapshoot shooting expired film, especially colour, and I feel like my time doing so with 120 is probably about done outside of the few rolls I have left over; only the stuff I have had from fresh which may get slightly expired is going to be used now.

    Is the Pentax 645 a vertical or horizontal shooter? I have a Fuji GA645Zi that’s naturally a vertical shooter because the film rolls horizontally across the plane. Or is it one of these fancy things with a rotating back so you don’t need to change the camera plane to get portrait vs landscape? :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Sounds like my Vericolor just passed its final use-by date then. The three rolls I shot before, over the last few years, were fine.

      The 645 is a horizontal shooter with no fancy rotating back.

  8. Tim N Avatar
    Tim N

    Wonderful 4:3 photos!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar


  9. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

    Shooting any camera with 400 speed film will be difficult indoors. Without long shutter speeds it is impossible. You can push film and while it can be processed that way you will lose some of the dynamic range. I do not know if those are lab scans we are seeing of the above indoor shots but I would scan them with the intent of maximizing what light there is and not worry about the shadows going black in levels or curves.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The meter was giving me aperture/shutter speed combos that ought to have worked. I would have gotten shallow DOF but things should have been properly exposed.

  10. fishyfisharcade Avatar

    I have a speedgrip and metered prism finder for my Bronica ETRSi that gives it a similar form factor to the Pentax 645 but I’ve found that I always revert to just sticking the waist-level finder and winding crank on there most of the time due to the considerable reduction in size and weight. It does make shooting in portrait aspect ratio practically impossible though!

    The last time I tried my prism finder it seems to have died (or the meter has, at least), which is a shame, but I guess I can still use it with a handheld meter.

    Despite 645 being the “baby” amongst medium format ratios, I still always find if provides more than enough resolution (anf heaps more than 135), plus you get some extra shots!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My inner skinflint loves getting 16 frames on a roll of 120! You’re right, it’s more than enough negative.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: