I’m often asked a couple of questions when people see that I shoot medium format: what was my reason for choosing it, what does it afford a photographer that’s different from – let’s face it – some pretty great full-frame options, and lastly, why this particular camera over another one. I’d like to speak to those questions, about why I like this camera, and why it’s right for what I do and the images I want to create. Truthfully, most cameras today are pretty great – it’s hard to go wrong (in the absolute sense) with the offerings of many pro-level cameras out there, and with more players putting their hat in the ring, it’s easy to miss some of the more niche offerings. The Pentax 645Z is a brilliant niche offering, and so I’d like to talk about my three favorite things about the camera: the sensor, the build-quality, and the lenses.


The 645Z isn’t a new camera by anyone’s standards – as of this writing, it’s about 4½ years old. It’s worth mentioning that what’s driving the image-quality (the sensor) is still the same one used but Fuji’s current medium format cameras, including one that came out a couple weeks ago. The point here is that tech is still incredibly relevant.

The tech stuff: it’s a Sony 44 x 33 mm CMOS sensor, 51.4 effective megapixels, and a crop factor of .79 – resulting in a maximum resolution of 8256 x 6192. In practice, this sensor is an absolute monster when it comes to file latitude. Shooting at a relatively low ISO, I can regularly pull a useable 4-5 stops out of the shadows to a useable degree. The raw files have become much more of a playground during the post-production process. It’s saved a couple of accidents on more than once occasion.

Resolution is obviously an important component of shooting medium format – it’s great to be able to pixel-peep and zoom in really close. If you’re shooting at a resolution over 30 mp, you’re likely happy and can get what you want out of an image. I personally like to print large and it’s nice to be able to print a 20x30in image at 300 dpi without upscaling. It’s certainly noticeable on those big prints.

It’s probably also worth mentioning the “medium format look,” which I believe is mostly from comparing relative focal lengths and taking into account the lens compression. It makes, say, a 40-ish mm focal length on a full frame comparable to about a 55mm on a medium format. A longer focal length (assuming the framing is similar) will change the compression of the distance and the characteristics of the DOF. Does it fundamentally change if an image is good or bad? Nope. But I does look a little different.

For me though, the dynamic range has had the most obvious effect in my day-to-day use of this camera. As I mentioned, it’s taken images that were dramatically underexposed and saved them without any issue. The amount of information it can capture in the shadows is incredible. It’s a lot more information that I was previously used to, so it took a little bit of practice to get the hang of the files. Once I did, I didn’t want to go back.

Original, developed in LR, 100% with 30% noise reduction


Prior to this camera, I had a bit of experience with shooting other medium-format cameras. Of the other options out there at the time, one was well-built but miles out of the price range for me to buy. The other’s build-quality left me a bit wanting. At that price point, it just didn’t feel great in the hands. The image quality on both was superb without a doubt, but the functionality and feel didn’t leave me in love. Picking up the 645Z is very much an like handing a DSLR. Using any new camera for the first time obviously has a learning curve, but this one’s was significantly easier because it handles intuitively and like most DSLRs I’ve used before. The grip is deep and is comfortable for adult hands. There are two tripod mounts (for portrait and landscape mounting). It’s not a small camera – it’s roughly the weight of a Canon 1DX, but I find it feels pretty balanced in the hand.

It’s weather-sealed enough that some insane people have made videos of them running it under a faucet to clean it. I’ve thrown it in a backpack and taken it around the world, used it outside in a variety of challenging conditions, and it still keeps going. I don’t think of it as a delicate thing. It’s a tool – what any good camera should be – and I never have to think about it as anything else. It’s just a dependable thing that does its job without being babied.

There is one other detail I would like to mention as to how it relates to mirrorless medium-format cameras. This isn’t so much about the build quality as it is about the design. Mirrorless may very well be the future. It offers many benefits and it certainly does look like the industry is investing a lot into it. BUT I really like the battery life in this camera (the batteries are very inexpensive by the way – about $11 for third party or $50 for the Pentax one). If I am outside walking around and shooting all day, I likely will go about a day and half before changing batteries. This is similar for me to my DSLRs. If I’m shooting tethered in-studio, I would maybe change the battery once.

There are dual-card slots if that matters to you. If you’d like to achieve HSS with your fancy lights, a Cactus bridge can help out with that (I use one to connect my Canon transmitter with my Profoto lights if needed). It’s not the most elegant solution, but it works. If you’re looking to overpower daylight and get a shallow DOF, ND filters are another way to go. Otherwise, there are additional lighting brands that can give you HSS. Overall, there just aren’t any road-blocks that prevent me from accomplishing what I need to.


One caveat to mirrorless medium-format systems is the lack of lens choices because the mount is new. Obviously one can get around this with an adapter – but the native choices are a bit limiting. Hasselblad and Phase One have a nice ecosystem of lenses, but they aren’t cheap. On the other hand, the AF2 mount on the 645Z is compatible with all 645 lenses (which they have been making since 1984). This includes the modern DFA and DA as well as the older FA, A, and the 6×7 lenses (with an adapter if you go this route). The adapter thing is a fine option, but there are already many choices already that it’s not particularly necessary. There are 18 (16 at B&H) currently available options out there – and if you pick up a slightly older one (which I’ve found still work great), they won’t set you back anywhere near as much cost-wise (on par with new and used DSLR options).

Some favorite lenses:

Pentax DFA 55mm f/2.8 Lens (great walk around lens):

Pentax 90mm f/2.8 DFA Macro Lens (standard portrait):

Pentax FA 120mm f/4 Macro Lens (close-up portraits):

Pentax FA 400mm f/5.6 Lens (telephoto):

When this camera came out, honestly one of the most appealing things was the price. Four years ago, there wasn’t much competition when it came to the intersection of this level of  image quality with price. Currently, there are other options out there with competitive price points, but with this being a four-year-old system, the price has come down substantially – a new body comes in at just over $5k. This is my everyday camera. I shoot it on vacation, and I shoot it for commercial clients. It handles both exceedingly well. Is it the camera for everyone? Probably not – but for those that are looking for what it has to offer, you’ll probably fall in love with it as much as I have.