Seeking the bigger picture

with my Pentax 645N

The controls on the 645N do exactly what they are there for – nothing more or less. The on/off switch, top right is a 3 position slide switch, off – on beep – and on. Shutter release is just forward of the on/off and has a threaded standard cable release socket. The drive mode dial selector  rotates around the shutter release enabling selection of single shot, consecutive shot and self timer operation. In consecutive mode with an AF lens attached and the AF mode selector set to single the focus of consecutive frames will be locked to the focus setting of the first frame.  Directly to the right of the LCD panel are the up/down buttons with which, when selected the ISO can be changed. The LCD display includes, current ISO setting, low battery warning, frame counter and whether, or not  exposure data information is being imprinted. This is very useful and is thoughtfully imprinted on each frame outside the image area unlike some 35mm slr cameras, with this function available but it was imprinted in the image area. Very annoying so always turned off. No surplus information on the LCD display. On the slanted section of the handgrip, just below the up/down buttons is the memory lock button which when in spot meter mode enables a particular exposure to be held while the frame is recomposed. The memory lasts for 20 seconds. Just to the left of the LCD is the shutter speed selector, which can select auto shutter, or manual, bulb to 1/1000 sec. Press the lock button on top of the selector to rotate.  Set below the shutter speed selector is the metering mode selector which has 3 positions.  Spot, centre weighted and multi 6 segment.  The multi mode is best for general shooting. With a manual focus A lens attached the in viewfinder focus indicator confirms focus easily and clearly. With an FA, auto focus lens attached a half press of the shutter button locks subject focus. Our experience with A lenses: 45, 75 and 150mm is they are incredibly sharp, well made and easy to use. The FA lenses are also of very good character but expect to pay double an A lens price. We like the A lenses and can recommend them.  Our lens policy over the years has been to only shoot primes as these have dedicated function, lack vices and with their single focal length, very sharp. Medium format lenses with maximum apertures of F2.8 are the norm, whereas in 35mm format F1.2 – F2 is not unusual.


The medium format lens is much larger than its 35mm equivalent needing to cover a larger field of view.  There are Pentax6x7 (105mm F2.4), Hasselblad 6x6 (110mm F2). These lenses create beautiful bokeh effects having very shallow depth of field. The Pentax 105mm is possible for the 645 via an easy to find adapter and is actually not too expensive (US500-600). A large bulky lens though. If you have a special application for its abilities then a worthwhile acquisition.  We have become a bit sidetracked with lenses here so back to the camera controls.


The viewfinder is very bright and clear with a dioptre adjustment ring around the eyepiece. This is a good size and easy to grip. Rotate until you have a sharp view. Over to the left  is the exposure compensation dial +/- 3ev. Immediately below is the film speed ISO switch which is used in conjunction with the up/down arrows on the top panel right. Auto bracketing is a useful function where a perfect exposure can be difficult to capture. 3 exposures can be made at either 1/3ev, 2/3ev and 1ev between each. Obviously the camera cannot be moved between exposures and must be firmly based on a tripod. Focus is lockied at the first exposure and remains until the bracket is finished.

That completes the camera controls and I can comment the Pentax 645 N is an intuitive and easy camera to shoot, yet includes a professional function level which can be utilised as needed.

Lens attachment is really simple. Looking at the front of the camera depress the button  on the lower left of the camera housing , align the red dots on the camera and the lens, carefully insert the lens into the body being careful to be square on and turn slowly to the rigjht until a click is clearly heard. Lens attached. Reverse to remove.  Be careful not to touch the mirror or the lens contacts as skin oils do not help these delicate parts. Halfway up the camera body, to the left of the lens is the depth of field (dof) lever. To confirm DOF at a particular aperture, set required aperture on the lens , look through the viewfinder and move the lever towards you. The aperture stops down to the preset value. Shutter cannot be released during this procedure.

Loading 120 film is an equally simple but more multi step procedure. The Pentax has an excellent interchangeable film holder which allows at least 2 holders to be preloaded with film making film change a quick procedure. The film holder which is not in use has its secure light tight outer case. Raise the lever with the green ‘120’ in the middle and turn to the right where a release of tension can be felt. Turn a little more against resistance and release the film holder from the camera body. Never force anything.  It is quite a complex and well built precise mechanism.  Looking at the film holder from the back you can see an empty spool in the bottom spool holder. This needs to be transferred to the top spool holder. Lift the spool retainers away from the film holder body to allow the release,  transfer of empty spool and loading of un exposed film. Insert the unexposed film roll where the empty spool was after carefully removing  the tape film keeper being watchful to not unravel the film. The black inner side of the paper backing must face outwards. Close the spool retainers.  Take the leader across the pressure plate and insert the tip through the slit on the take up spool.  Slowly wind the silver gear wheel anti clockwise to secure the film on the take up spool. At the beginning of this process the tip of the film leader appearing through the take up spool slit needs to be gripped – a pair of tweezers is useful for this – until the winder positively secures the film. The leader tends to slip out if this care is not taken, leading to some frustration. Continue slowly winding until the black arrow on the backing paper appears on the film spool and aligns with the red start mark. Do not continue winding as there will be danger of film fogging.  Now is the time to insert the film holder back into the body. Ensure the film holder is orientated correctly to the camera body, is square on and press gently home until a click is heard and return the lever to its locked downwards position.  Power the Pentax on and release the shutter. This automatically winds the new roll to frame #1 ready to go. A very useful extra for the 645N, and I wouldn’t call it an extra but a necessity is a second 120 film holder including it’s outer case. With this in your bag quick film change is a simple task. It is possible to rewind a part used roll but it is not possible to interchange film holders with a part exposed film loaded.

That really completes our look around the Pentax 645N and I can say now from experience of quite a few rolls of Ilford Delta 100 and Kodak Tmax 100 that it is a thoroughly capable and satisfying professional film camera which I highly recommend to anyone wanting to step up to medium format at a mid range price point.