5 frames with...

5 Frames with the Pentax 645N and Kodak T-MAX 100 – By Malcolm Myers

May 23, 2020

The Pentax 645N is that rarest of beasts, an autofocus medium format camera. I’ve wanted one for a while, especially when my kids were younger and wouldn’t stand still. I missed one on eBay and thought “don’t worry, there’ll be another one along in a minute”. Er, no as it happened. I saw another online, but it was more money than I could justify, so I let the dream die for a couple of years. Then, whilst browsing the internet, I saw one at a good price and bought it. Upon opening the box, the shutter speed dial pinged off (apparently this is a weakness in the design), so before I’d even loaded a roll it went back to the shop for a fix. A couple of weeks and one fix later it was back in my hands.

So, what do I think? It’s a great camera, with an 75 mm f/2.8 autofocus lens that captures focus faster than the slow, 1980’s-era whirring I had expected. It operates very much like my Canon A-1 in terms of selecting one of its four exposure modes (Programme, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority and Manual) and it has a full complement of metering and winder modes. Exposure compensation is easy too. It also has a neat trick of printing picture data in the gap between the negatives. It’s even clever enough to squeeze sixteen 6×4.5 shots out of a roll of 120, rather than the standard fifteen that most 645 cameras manage.

Loaded with a roll of recently expired Kodak T-MAX 100 (that had spent its life in the fridge) the family and I went out to Flatford in Essex, the site of John Constable’s Haywain painting, just before the Great Coronavirus Isolation. The lens wasn’t wide enough to capture the Haywain scene itself, but here are five shots from the surrounding area, just as it was recovering from some recent flooding.

The film was developed in Ilford DD-X and scanned on my Epson 4870 flatbed scanner.

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  • Reply
    David Allen
    May 23, 2020 at 11:51 am

    Great cameras! Like a lot of Pentax gear, overlooked and underrated. I wish I’d never sold mine. It was really fantastic for portraits as well as landscape stuff. Maybe time to look at eBay again………..

    • Reply
      Malcolm Myers
      May 24, 2020 at 9:26 am

      Thank you David. It took me several years to find one and my kids stand still now, but I still think it was worth getting.

  • Reply
    Roger B
    May 23, 2020 at 6:50 pm

    Thank you for a fine and thoughtful review. I’ve shot a manual focus first generation Pentax 645 for a few years. It followed a Pentax 67. Both accept superb legacy Takumar glass. My preference is for the larger format, though: If one is going to tote a carpal tunnel-inducing large SLR, and invest in a three lens kit, why not go straight for the bigger image size and the more natural horizontal format? Plus, one can view 6×7 ‘chromes satisfactorily just by holding them up to a window, they are that large and lovely. Just my opinion, no offense intended to 645 fans!

    • Reply
      Malcolm Myers
      May 24, 2020 at 9:30 am

      Thank you Roger. I’ve always fancied a go with a 67, partly because the negatives are perfect for 8×10 prints. However, I have enough cameras now and my money has to go elsewhere.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2020 at 7:42 pm

    Great location and fine pictures!

    • Reply
      Malcolm Myers
      May 24, 2020 at 9:30 am

      Thank you Marcelo. Looking forward to when we are allowed to go out again!

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    May 23, 2020 at 11:10 pm

    I hate to state the obvious but while it may produce good images, this is probably the ugliest and most poorly designed 645 SLR ever. Thankfully it is a rare beast, unfortunately not extinct but given the build quality that may be sooner rather than later. That’s all a bit sad given that they made superb lenses and came out with the ground breaking and amazing MX

    • Reply
      Malcolm Myers
      May 24, 2020 at 9:35 am

      Hi Jeremy. I have to agree that it’s not the prettiest of cameras! Neither is it inconspicuous. And I certainly hope it lasts long enough to pay for itself in enjoyable images 🙂

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