The dual tripod plate locations are fabulous. I did not think this would matter much and truth be told it doesn’t have to matter, but it does. You remove the camera and reattach it in the portrait orientation and know the balance is just fine. There is none of this pivoting tilting business, which is fine with a 1kg combo, but feels decidedly precarious with 3 Kg sitting on top of your tripod, on the side of a mountain, with stones under foot. I put a second tripod plate on and there it will stay.
Pentax 645Z User Interface: In a word, GREAT. This camera strongly reminds me of a camera that looks nothing like it, feels nothing like it and will be used completely differently. That camera is the Ricoh GR. I say this because both are brilliantly thought and, are intuitive to use, require next to no use of the instructions and help you remain in the zone of what you are doing. Both are, IMHO, even better than Canon in terms of intuitiveness, which I feel holds the crown out of the other major manufacturers.
The shutter button is in the right place and is sweet to use. The dials fall perfectly to (my) fingers. The selection pad on the rear is smack bang where my thumb wants to press, when it drops from its primary position on the rear dial. The ISO button gets used a heck of a lot and is easily depressed without thinking or moving your face from the viewfinder and the same goes for exposure compensation. My goodness, its almost as if these Pentax people are psychic and intuitively know what photographers want! The alternative possibility is that they spoke to actual photographers when designing it. Like they did with the Ricoh GR. It feels right and managed to get out of the way in a manner quite unexpected of a large camera.
Other features I liked?
- Tilted top plate making viewing easier at normal tripod heights.
- Dial locks.
- The [cough] back nipples that control camera/movie mode and single vs continuous AF. Positive physical controls beat menus or multi press buttons every time.
- AEL button well situated and not pressed by accident.
- Very handy ‘side wheel’ switching between metering modes, right beneath the main modes dial on the top plate.
- Mirror lock up is very easy to activate. I love the audible notification, because photographers like me get all excited and forget what on earth they are doing when confronted by some sexy black rock. Or a fascinating stick.
- The other buttons on the top of the body were less useful to me, but I am sure will be considered nicely placed for studio workers who will use these features.
- Dual SD cards is what I would design in myself and while the little door can need a gentle push back to get the furthest card out, pressing against the weather proofing, it does at least remind you that the weather proofing here is real, not the imaginary or clearly optimistic kind.
I’m not going to delve deeply into the menus, because I don’t want to risk boring myself to death, but I found them not only easy to navigate, but largely redundant. I say redundant because in use, for my purposes, I can do almost everything I need to without touching them. The dials and buttons cover 95% of input requirements, with the occasional need to hit the ‘info’ button, where a number of additional options are quickly available. The rear screen displays the info you need, without clutter you don’t and its generally very happy camping. Like with all cameras, you need to learn when to hit OK to select something or when to hit the shutter half-press, but that does not take long. All in all, it’s the best thought out DSLR I have ever used.
The rear tilting extending screen seems like misplaced Sony or Olympus-style Mirrorless technology (black magic!) on such a beast of a camera… until you need it. I was shooting a particular subject on a beach and thought, “this is getting really annoying. If I lie down I am doing to get sand into all my clothes, which will end up on/in camera and lenses… w-w-w-wait! I have a tilting screen.” Really, it was like that: the tilting screen was there, got used and solved a problem. There will be many more times, I am sure.
Viewfinder: What do I say about this? How about ‘its huge, it’s bright and an absolute pleasure to use. It is all good news here’. The End.
Autofocus: Speed is fine; not blistering, but fine. It’s a fair bit quicker than a Sony A7, but slower than an EOS 5D III. For landscapes and portraits its plenty fast enough and fairly positive. I have had the odd miss, but only when the focus point has been on subject matter that is light and in bright sunlight. This is not surprising and will cause problems for many cameras. The only serious limitation within likely applications is that the focus points are concentrated very much in the centre of the finder. This is because the system is borrowed from APS-C DSLRs, presumably and it’s the way it is! For my uses, it’s fine. For portrait photographers, it means live view is likely to be preferred option. This may have an impact for some off-tripod applications, where focus and recompose is likely to result in focus error and live view and use of the rear screen awkward. The good news is that selecting focus points is easy and they are small enough to be very precise indeed.
Click below for next page!