Pentax User Archive: Pentax 645 Test Report

We take another look in the Pentax User Archives. This time we are highlighting a Pentax 645 Test Report by Peter Williams (July 1986).

02/03/2012 - 14:12

Pentax User Archive: Pentax 645 Test Report

When Pentax first introduced the 645 system they asked the principal of the Photography Department at the London School of Printing to give it a filed test.

The camera was used by Peter Williams, a third year student specialising in fashion photography. Here are some extracts from a very detailed appraisal of how the camera performed on various location sessions.

The basic operation in manual mode is simple and straightforward. The camera is relatively light with its excellent hand grip that contains the winder and batteries (6 of them); the 645 handles very well. For location use it is excellent due to the capabilities of rapid shooting couple with the ease of carrying. The neck strap is academic as the grip is so good the camera can just be carried around in one hand.

Horizontal and vertical shots are simple whilst the shape of the body enables the photographer to focus and adjust the aperture ring in either plane quickly and without fuss.


Focusing is by split prism and is straightforward although I found the dioptie adjuster rather difficult, it is also very stiff which is good as it mean that one set it is unlikely to get accidentally moved. I used the camera with the large rubber eyecup which I found blocks out more light. Single frame shooting is recommended as the continuous action is so slow it can't be taken seriously and is therefore somewhat pointless. I used the camera almost entirely on the manual setting as I was oftern taking independent meter readings due to the changeable weather and general contrasty lighting that I encountered necessitating the use of an independent spot meter.

Ease of use

The array of buttons is confusing and is made all the more complicated by the impossible to understand manual that is supposed to explain it all. Basically on the left hand side the buttons need only be pre set e.g. ISO and the mode. Once selected this can be ignored throughout shooting as can that side of the camera unless exposure compensation is required via the EF button. The right hand side gives you only one piece of relevant information and that is the frame counter. Other information is related to the mode in use. The two buttons used for changing the aperture or shutter speed are rather fiddly. Throughout my ten days shooting I never got fully used to using them without having to look at them first. I found the new viewfinder display clear and informative which is most important during fast shooting out of the studio. My criticism was that whilst operating on the manual mode I didn't like the display for incorrect exposure. I would have preferred that the aperture be registered and a more conventional LED appear for incorrect exposure.

Pentax User Archive: Pentax 645 Test Report


I found the loading on the 645 superb, in fact one of its best characteristics. The back (insert) comes out simply and positively. Loading is quick and straightforward. Once the film is on the spools a few rotations of the cogged wheel on the side of the insert are necessary, otherwise light seepage can occur. The shutter release button is fired and the film is automatically wound onto the the first frame. At the end of the roll the film is similarly wound off.

The lenses are light and easy to use with positive setting and smooth actions. The 80-160mm zoom lens is heavy and the camera becomes somewhat clumsy whilst using it I feel that the fixed focus 150mm lens is possibly a better buy.

The camera came into its own whilst photography a fashion show. A flash gun can be connected sensibly for both horizontal and vertical shooting quickly and efficiently. A dedicated flash gun is advisable and would make it one of the best cameras on the market for this kind of work. For use on location, in my case fashion, under very difficult conditions, the 645 Pentax performed extremely well, being in a league way above the equivalent 645 format cameras from Mamiya and Broniea and for many it would probably equal a Hasselblad due to its technical specifications. For me the best characteristic by far was the ease of handling and its flexibility for rapid work within the confines of difficult conditions and its use with dedicated flash is probably only equalled by the very best 35mm cameras.


As far as professional purposes go, probably its main disadvantage are it lack of Polariod back facility and it absence of a manual override system should the electronics pack up. Personally I find the 645 format less flexible that that of 6x6 but for high quality professional magazine orientated work outside the studio where it handing advantage, its electronic sophistication and its excellent loading system can be fully appreciated, I would value the camera very highly in the current competitive field of medium format cameras.

Related Photos


Link Posted 04/03/2012 - 08:54
Filed test? Dioptie adjustment? I see the fine art of proof reading has died a death.
Kris Lockyear
It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head. Henri Cartier-Bresson
Lots of film bodies, a couple of digital ones, too many lenses (mainly older glass) and a Horseman LE 5x4.

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