Pentax 6x7 First Impressions
In my time as a photographer, I have not shot a lot of medium format. Last year I tried giving myself a deep dive into it with Mamiya m645 1000s and while it is a fine camera, after awhile it didn’t feel right and I sold it.
Another medium format I kept hearing about though, was the Pentax 6x7. It took bigger negatives than the Mamiya, and was shaped like an SLR. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so I bought one last month.
Now at this point I’m not 100% sure I’ll keep it. It’s a massive investment and so I’m definitely putting it through its paces. I have to say though, I am starting to see what all the fuss is about.
The Pentax 6x7 is a medium format SLR originally released in 1969 and has gone through several upgrades over the decades.
I have an Asahi Pentax 6x7 with the mirror lock up, and plain viewfinder with no meter. I opted for the 105mm f2.4 lens, which is about the same focal length as a 50 on a 35mm camera.
So, the camera produces 6 by 7 cm negatives, which are honestly, just massive. Five times bigger than a 35mm. On a 120 roll that translates into just 10 frames.
I recently upgraded to an Epson V800 and between that and the large negatives and sharp lens, I have to say the detail is astonishing.
The camera’s weight is no joke, I’ve seen a lot of people use this grip, and I’m sure it helps but I seem to be fine without it so far. I use a neck strap wrapped around my wrist and hold it like a 35mm. Besides, if I had that grip it wouldn’t fit in my bag.
Speaking of holding it, as I always say: how a camera feels in your hands is the #1 concern, you should feel confident changing settings, taking the camera out, walking around with it, and after prolonged use you should be able to use it without thinking, like it’s an extension of your body.
I’m happy to say, while this camera is heavy, it’s intuitive. Anyone who has experience handling SLR’s probably won’t have to read the manual to operate this. The shutter dial is top left, and aperture is on the lens.. You still need a battery to release the shutter, and there’s a battery check on the back, clearly marked.
You’ll want to watch a video or two on loading the camera as well, because I had a really hard time, and more on that in a bit.
This camera has interchangeable prisms, and the one that I have has no light meter, so I have been using a hand held. My trusty Sekonic 758DR.
I don’t really mind. There’s a couple times I wish I could have done things a bit quicker. What I do to combat this is walk with the light meter in my hand and takes readings as I go. Then keep a mental note of the last reading, and watch for changing light conditions. It may not be convenient, but it makes me a better photographer.
I’m going to give you a few tips if you’re looking for one or just bought one and then I’ll list some personal pros and cons, but first here are a few of my favourite photos taken with the Pentax 6x7.
Okay, here are a few things that I wish I knew before buying my Pentax 6x7
I’m not sure I have to say this first tip but this isn’t a stealthy camera, my wife heard me half a block away. The shutter release on this thing is easily the loudest I have ever heard. If you hate attracting attention to yourself, shoot landscapes with it.
Second tip is, with only ten frames, a large heavy body, and possibly no meter, you’ll want to think about shooting different. This camera comes with inherent limitations that can’t really be fully recognized until you’ve put a few rolls through. I’m of course speaking from the perspective of someone who mainly shoots 35mm. Actually, a good comparison is a Polaroid SX-70. They are both loud, take about the same amount of shots, and require patience. Also, both have a seven and an X in their name…..amazing.
Having low resolution scans from 6x7 negatives is like having a great graphics card in your PC but you have to use a CRT monitor. So my biggest tip here, is honestly make sure that you have the means to utilize the quality. When I bought it I still had my 11 year old Epson V500, and I could tell right away it wasn’t going to cut it. I also still don’t have a 6x7 holder for my Beseler so I can’t make enlargements yet. We photographers like to talk a lot about how many megapixels we can draw out of a negative but rarely do we have the tools to actually do it.
Tip number four, it won’t fire without film, so If you find one in the wild and want to test it, you’ll need a dummy roll or learn how to activate the shutter without one and there are several methods outlined in the manual but it comes with the risk of messing up the mechanics if you do something wrong.
Finally, remember to keep your other costs in mind, like film and developing. I did the math and assuming I am shooting Portra 400, it costs me $2 every time I press the shutter. I did the same math with 35mm, and the cost of that film and developing comes to about 61 cents a frame.
Okay, let’s talk about some pros and cons, first the pros.
This camera is easy to use, and just like Pentax’s K1000 is a good entry into film, the 6x7 is a fantastic entry into medium format. Even if you’re not a pixel peeper or grain gawker, the quality of the photos will be apparent immediately.
The lenses are known for being high quality. The 105mm f2.4 is known for its sharpness, and I picked this one specifically because of that. The reputation holds. The detail I pulled was beyond my expectations. I could pass these off for digital.
And now the cons
It’s loud, heavy and makes you look like a hipster. You may have a hard time catching those fleeting moments if that’s your goal. I’m not going to gate keep this camera and say you can’t do street photography, I’m just saying it’s not the most practical.
It’s expensive for what it is. Don’t get me wrong, this camera is everything people say it is, but in my opinion, not worth every dollar. Maybe that’s because this is over twice the amount I have ever spent on a film camera, but just make sure you buy it with a return policy.
Finally, the film loading can be a bit fussy, you need to make sure that it’s aligned just right when you place it in. Trying to wiggle it around after it’s in there is much harder. You also have this giant cloth shutter curtain that I’m sure would attract every cat hair in the house if I allowed it. I’m reluctant to load the film anywhere outdoors at this point, but maybe when I get more confident.
It has also been a little tricky getting the film out after, and for me the best way so far is to just jab my finger in one side, and the other end pops up. I guess what I am saying is, don’t trim your fingernails too short.
And those are my thoughts on the Pentax 6x7. A beast of a camera, amazing quality and also a bit over hyped. None the less I may not part with this. Maybe I should pit it against another camera like it? What model do you think is this camera’s biggest competition, let me know in the comments on my video.
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