Headshot with Pentax FA 150/2.8

Shot in natural light inside a Tremont park (Bronx NYC) at f2.8 using my favorite headshot lens paired with my new Pentax 645Z it is very easy to get a nice headshot of your subject assuming you know couple of things.

1. Use manual focus. There is no way to use AF successfully because the focus points are too small. The 150/2.8 has a special look at f2.8 and if you nail the focus on a headshot, it is dreamy and will make faces look smaller and the whole look has an expensive feel to it. Now some photographers will compensate and use f4.0 or f5.6 to get more DoF but if you do, you lose that f2.8 “look” with this lens. I prefer this lens over the very expensive DFA 90/2.8 macro and the longer FA 200/4.

2. Shutter speed should be at least 1/200 sec. I shot these at 1/500 sec at iso 400 to be sure that I don’t get any blur. It’s worth it to go up the iso scale and not worry about quality with the Pentax 645Z. I will go as high as 25600k in some cases.

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645Z – Cross Processing mode

I’m excited by the possibilities of a new color mode called “Cross Processing” that did not exist in the 645D. What is cross processing you may ask? Well not to get into alot of detail it came from the film days where you would process chemicals intended for another type of film — the result, pink/green highlights and shadows, and some other mixtures turn the color to yellow/red or magenta/purple. So Pentax has three presets for these concoctions called Preset1 (pink/green), Preset2 (yellow/red), Preset 3 (magenta/purple). My least favorite is Preset3. Now let me say this. Cross processing mode will not work for all pictures — some pictures will look really bad and some will look ok. You may need to put further post work to get it to look right.

Here are my real world examples of Preset 1 and Preset 2. I had to work a little on the “curve equation” side of things to make it look this way. It didn’t come out of the camera exactly like these examples except for the bottom right picture (model holding the hat). Regardless you gotta do what what’s necessary to make your pictures represent your vision. In this case I knew that cross processing would give me the colors but not necessarily the contrast. This is where curves come into play. It’s a very handy tool all photographers should master. domain data .



Comparing Pentax 645D and 645Z – Part I

The Pentax 645z (I’ll call it the Z) houses a new cmos sensor and generates jpg’s that are slightly different to it’s old self, the 645d or I’ll call the D. During the first week I received the Z I wasn’t shooting to compare and contrast, but as I shot more with the Z along side the D, my inner urge told me to start comparing the two at base iso 200. Why at iso200? because that is where most 645D users stay at to get the best quality file from the D. So it’s natural to know if there is a difference at base iso and whether upgrading to the Z makes any sense if you remove the high-iso equation from these two cameras. How much resolution advantage does the Z really have over the D? Are there any differences in color? What about dynamic range? And should I keep the D because of it’s ccd sensor “look” is the question I keep asking myself. Although my camera is now on ebay I am thinking about keeping the D as my backup. But if I can make a real comparison between the two cameras and see that the Z can produce similar or better files at base iso 200 then I can comfortably let go of the D and bid it farewell. All these example files were produced using Pentax Digital Utility software v5 and/or are ooc (out of camera jog’s). As I address these questions from this post, I will also revisit these important topics again as I get more familiar with the new Z.


Here is the first comparison. Skin Tones — the D likes magenta and generally produces jpg’s with a magenta cast. The Z got rid of this and now you will see a warm cast in your images. And it’s not the kind of warm that’s orangy (ala Nikon) but closer to Canon’s warmth (with more red/brown tones) but not exactly the same. I welcome this change very much as I generally prefer warmth. Look closely and you can see it on the model’s skin. White balance set to AWB.


Although not as apparent, the picture on your left (D) has a cooler magenta cast.


Below you can really see the difference in skin tone. (D left with a cooler cast, Z right with warm cast). The D was shot with a 75mm/2.8 lens and the Z with a 200mm/4 lens — although you might suspect that the coatings might have played a role in influencing the color, I assure you this was not the case – both are Pentax lenses and I’m sure they use the same coatings to match all their lenses. Also as a side note, to get the best looking face from your subject, use longer lenses. You can see a slight face distortion with the 75mm lens with this model. The 200mm “compressed look” looks so much better on him. Now I’m not saying that the 75mm can’t be used for headshots — in fact I use it all the time for candid closeups and photojournalism it’s just that beauty is not a concern for those type of applications.

* I noticed that the D is producing brighter images by a half stop or more than the Z given the same settings. I don’t know why this is happening.


Another difference between the two cameras is the shadow color. On the D (left) the darks or shadow’s tend to be more on the green side, whereas the Z is more red/brown. This is something I’ve never noticed about the D and I have been using this camera since 2012. I have set the white balance to daylight and used a daylight balanced continuous light source.


The reds from the Z are prettier and more alive and it looks good and not overdone. By default, this will make the Z more vibrant-looking than the D (assuming both cameras use the same color-modes, etc.). However the reds from the D are closer to the original rendition of the picture below which brings me to another point. In general, the overall tonal rendition of the D is more natural looking than the Z. This opinion might change as I get more familiar with the Z but this is my initial impression.



When I first started using the D, I was excited by the possibilities of doing natural light portraits outdoors on a medium format sensor. After countless shoots I am of the opinion that the D is not very good at sunny/contrasty conditions, especially if the subject is backlit and you are metering for the person’s face. You will see that almost every highlight will be blown out. It’s a very frustrating experience and I have learned to shoot in shady areas instead, which are safe options for the background. Another option is to use the camera’s matrix meter which will underexpose your pictures (because it’s accounting for the highlights) and you will have to do some post work afterwards to bring up the foreground. Or as many do, use a second light like a flash to control the brightness of the background. Anyway, a good digital picture is when all highlighted pixels have color/brightness information intact.

As you can see from this example (both 645D pics), I metered for this girl’s face but then the highlights from the trees, grass, and her hand are completely blown out. I tried to recover highlights by underexposing 3 stops in post but as you can see I lost most of them.


Ok now the comparison with the new Z. Here I metered for the boy’s face. It has been said that the Z has 2 more stops of highlight information than the D (the 645z has 14 stops and the 645d has 12-12.5 stops). Here on the right picture, you can see the Z highlights are not blown out on the green neon shirt and tennis court behind the subject and retains color information but on the D (left), all of this color information is gone and you will probably, at best, recover only about one stop of highlight information using software, or most likely you will not recover anything at all. Again using the -3EV technique, color information is gone on the D. The Z holds up pretty well here. If there is a reason to get the Z, this would be on top of my list.



Shadow noise

This is a topic I will have to explore more than once because it’s not an easy topic to talk about. Setting up the test is probably the hardest part. But so far, this is what I have observed. The Z shadow’s are contrastier and darker than the original D at iso 200. As you can see below, the D is starting to show grain at iso 200. Moreover, the D has a matte look to it’s shadows giving it the appearance that there is more detail there. The Z is darker and looks noise-less. Because it is darker there appears to be less detail. However don’t be fooled. There is alot of information in the Z’s shadow that is being hidden from us.

* Disregard the sharpness of the two pictures below – the brick on the Z is clearly sharper but that was due some focusing issues during the test. Noise reduction was turned off for both cameras and views are 100 percent.


As you can see the Z is much darker in the shadows than the D. Out of curiosity, I pushed the EV on the Z by 2.5 stops in post and discovered two things. First there is much more detail in the Z’s shadow than the D at iso 200. Much more. Second if you like to lift shadows in post, it takes about 2.5 EV’s of Z’s noise to match D’s noise level at iso 200. That would mean the grain on the D’s iso200 is about iso 1250 on the Z (let’s see from iso 200, iso 400 is 1 stop, iso 800 is 2 stops and another half stop would make it iso 1250).


* I had to match the brightness of the +2.5EV Z to match iso200 on the D so it looks somewhat the same. There’s clearly see alot more information on the Z.

Here I went a little overboard and I set the EV at +3.0 on the Z to see what it looks like. There is alot more noise on the Z. So I’ve concluded that the noise structure on the Z is somewhere between 2.5 – 2.75 EV’s at iso 200 on the D.


So am I saying that iso 1250 on the Z is the new iso 200? From these examples it may seem like that but that is farther from the truth. The noise/grain structure may be similar but if you shoot at iso 1250 on the Z you will automatically lose clarity. Although the Z was designed to be a high-iso machine, the more you go up the iso scale the more things get smeared up. It’s just the way it is. Just like the D, if you want ultimate image quality or retain as much detail as possible you must stay closer to iso 200. There is no way around it. The question is which iso on the Z does smearing become acceptable to you as a photographer since noise becomes less of an issue with the Z. This is a question I will address in another post. View’s below are 100 percent.


Here the D looks so much better at iso 200 than the Z at iso 1250 although the noise structure is similar. Observe the flower pattern on the Z and the blurry details become obvious compared to the D.

Resolution and micro-contrast

Well just how much more detail are you getting from the Z? Well on the image below the Z on the right has a bit more resolution than the D but it’s not much at all. If one were going to buy the Z soley on the increased resolution, I would just buy a D because there really is not much of an advantage here. We all know that the Z has 10MP more information than the D – but how does that resolve in the micro-contrast department and is the Z sharper than the D because it has 10MP more resolution? The answer to this question is not straightforward. Although we can see from this example that the Z has slightly better detail (from the extra 10MP) than the D, the the D looks to have slightly better micro contrast even though it has less resolution. Or one might argue it looks the same. But you have to look really close because I can see that the edges on the D pop a little more than the Z. Perhaps the D’s CCD sensor is able to produce more acuity and sharper pixels? Or perhaps Pentax needed to put 10mp more to match the acuity and sharpness of the D to even the playing field? Anyway I will have to explore this micro-contrast topic again as I was surprised by these initial findings.


** I repeated this test again with the same aperture, shutter speed, iso, and infinity focus and noticed that the D is always producing a brighter image by as much as a half a stop. I don’t know why this is happening. But the result is the same. I feel like the D has a little bit more presence than the Z at iso 200. But it’s not much and the extra 10MP does help in offsetting any difference in acuity or sharpness with the D.

There you go. Hopefully this is some helpful information. In the meantime, I am still investigating the differences so there will be mini-reports coming up.

First look at Pentax 645z

Big kudos to Dodd’s Camera in Chicago for having a Pentax 645z in stock for me. Pentax packaged the camera in a beautiful thin gray box enclosed within another thicker gray box. And in the gray box is another box, but in black. The packaging is impeccable. I am going to make sure the box is kept safe from my cat. Anyway the 645Z which I will call the Z, uses the same batteries from the old D. So it was just a matter of inserting one of the many batteries I already own from the D into the Z and off I went shooting.

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First thing you notice is that the Z is lighter than the D. The D feels like a brick compared to the Z although it uses the same magnesium alloy body. Gone is the loud “clang” shutter noise of the D and is replaced by a rolling shutter which is highly muted. It rolls twice when in live-view and once when live-view is turned off just like how any dslr with live-view works. This is so much better than the shutter of the original D which at times would make a high frequency squeal and made you think something was wrong with the camera (many people have said it could be a cold temperature thing) .

It takes about five seconds to fully write a raw file plus jpg on the Z whereas the D took approx. eight seconds. This is on a 30mb/sec sd card. Five seconds sounds like a long time but to be fair, the Z has a 3 shot buffer design so you can keep shooting for three frames per second. The buffer is only 3 frames so after one second it slows to a hault. Also when you want to preview the shots you will be reminded of the slow operation inherited from the original D. Yes you do have to wait, just like the D, to show the pictures to your subject and sometimes for an annoyingly long time (like 10 seconds if shooting back-to-back pics). But overall this is a major improvement to the speed of the camera and makes it more like a dslr and 3 frames per second is unheard of in the medium format world.

Live-view is a nice addition however the titling screen primarily favors horizontal type shots as it only tilts outward on a fixed axis. I primarily shoot people so my personal preference is to shoot vertical. Anyway I don’t really use live-view as I always look through the viewfinder and focus manually. But this is definelty good news for landscape photographers.

The low noise floor, high iso capability of this camera is the main reason I bought the Z. The high iso jump is like going from a Canon 1Ds mark II to a 1DX. The high iso jump also means that you can use Pentax’s line of 4.5 and 5.6 lenses during the day without carrying a tripod. Gone are the days of using my 80-160/4.5 lens at iso1600 on the D.

The picture to your right was lit by an outdoor tungsten lamp nearing darkness at 1/40 sec with a 75mm lens at iso 25600. The muted color mode works really well with this subject. I put an iso3200 next to the picture to show that degradation is minimal.


When using the D, I was always aware of my iso setting and try to stay between 200-800. The default on Z’s ISO auto setting is now from 100-3200. Of course you can change that and go as high as you want but this leads me to think it is Pentax’s threshold for high-quality print images. However images are still good for websize stuff at 6400 and 12800. By 25600, images start to soften up a bit but they are still usable for web. I think this is where my threshold ends because after that it gets really noisy and colors fade very quickly at 50k, 100k, and 200k. I will gladly shoot the Z up to 25600 without hesitation and this is with Noise Reduction turned off.

Pentax Digital Utiliy Sofware 5 is a big improvement especially in the user interface. They made it more intuitive and easier to use. Everything is still there as far as functionality goes. I did not see anything new except support for the new color mode – “Cross Processing”. The browser is much faster and the laboratory makes much more sense. Write times to jpg from raw seem about the same speed as version 4 — acceptable but a little slow. I use only PEF raw’s for processing so every picture you see is done through Pentax’s software.

In my next post I will go over in detail the difference between the D and Z at iso 200.

In the meantime I was happy to get a nice “medium format” shot of this young college girl. The light was perfect and the 75mm wide-open is my favorite setting for this lens.

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