JJ Casas

San Francisco-based portrait & commercial photographer & 

creative director. 

Sharing my thoughts as a photographer, cinematographer, marketer, and copywriter.

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06 January 2023

Pentax 645Z: The 5 Year Digital Medium Format Review

My two Pentax 645Z bodies with the 2 lenses I use the most: 55mm f/2.8 & 90mm Macro f/2.8

This is article is merely my “script” pasted for the video review I did on my 8:45a YouTube channel. If you’d like to watch/hear me instead, please see video below:

Since buying the digital medium format Pentax 645Z in 2015, I haven’t looked back on full frame 35mm cameras. Yes, there is a constant debate that you “can’t tell” the difference between the image quality between a medium format, 35mm full frame and even APS-C cameras, but that also isn’t the point. I’ve written before how a camera makes you feel is just as important in how you produce images.

It’s a digital medium format with 51.5MP that was released on April 15, 2014 with a MSRP of $8499. It’s a beast of a camera that weighs 3.4lbs just the body and battery alone. It’s weather sealed, has no built in flash, has the articulating 3.2” screen that is perfect with live view for those awkward angles and has USB 3.0 that keeps it relevant enough today for tethered shooting.

Since buying this camera on May 16, 2015 (for $6373, used) and making this my workhorse, I haven’t looked back on full frame.

There’s this constant debate that you can’t tell the difference between a medium format camera, 35mm full frame (and even APS-C) cameras that now have high megapixels (i.e. Sony A7R IV, Canon 5DS, Panasonic Lumix S1R, Nikon Z7). And you know what, that elusive “medium format look” probably can’t be discerned if you showed me photos taken from all of these cameras with similar settings and focal lengths.

But that isn’t the point because the image that looks best will always be in the eye of the beholder.

I’ve actually written about this before because for me, what it comes down to is how does the camera make you feel when using it. And sometimes conceitedly, when you’re seen with it.

*coughs* Leica

The Pentax 645Z is a 6 year old camera and by today’s standards, this is a dinosaur.

Last I check on YouTube, naturally not many people are talking about this camera recently so I’m going to give the pros and cons of the 645Z after using this camera/system for 5 years to see if this is something you’ll want to shoot with today.

Let’s start with the cons:



It’s slow — all of it

When I shoot in continuous drive mode, the camera sometimes freezes and I have to pop out the battery to do a hard reset. And yes, I’m using the appropriate SD cards. It is somewhat funny though when I try showing a client the preview on the camera and the busy hour glass icon is up waiting for the image to load.

My workaround to this problem? I chat with the client/subject and without ever losing eye contact, I secretly remove the battery and pop it back it.


You definitely won’t be spraying and praying with this camera.


This is a pretty big camera in your hands with lenses to match. This is most likely not a traveler’s camera unless it’s for work.

Price of lenses

The camera body isn’t cheap so for sure the lenses aren’t cheap either.

I use to have the 45–85 f/4.5 and 120mm macro but have since sold it after downsizing my equipment. Now I only rely on 2.. ok 3 lenses.

That 3rd lens is a $1600 35mm f/3.5 that stays in my kit but rarely use. But just in case if I need a wide angle it’s there in my bag. (Medium format has a a 0.79x crop factor so the 35mm is actually closer to 28mm).

The 55mm f/2.8 that is on my camera body by default is $1200.

But my coveted lens is the 90mm f/2.8 as its macro which is great for product but perfect for portraits and it’s $4500 MSRP. Yep, it’s expensive.

Flash Sync Speed of 1/125

By far this is the worst flash sync speed I’ve had to work with (my first DSLR was Minolta’s 7D which was 1/160). In comparison, Nikon/Canon is around 1/200. Majority of my work is utilizing flash so being able to have a high sync speed is important to not only control ambient light but to ensure subjects are crisp as can be without motion blur.

I will say though that Pentax has LS lenses which stands for leaf shutter. These lenses have a shutter in lenses. Because it doesn’t rely on the camera’s shutter, it can allow sync speeds up to 1/500th. I’ve never tried only because of modern flashes and their HSS capabilities and the fact that I rarely shoot flash in full bright sun.


Now, here are the PROS


The medium format sensor

Mo sensor, mo picture — the “medium format look” to me is due to the larger image you will get with medium format which allows for a smoother focus fall off.

4:3 ratio

Personally, this is my favorite part of medium format. Maybe because I grew up in an era when 4:3 was normal before 16:9 widescreens took over. Maybe it’s because you get more top bottom room as opposed to a wider viewer that seems more natural to me. While I don’t shoot for Instagram, 4:3 being closer to 1:1 square format does help in neutralizing the composition.

Dynamic Range

I know every modern camera has it but here are some recent photos I did for a high school friend and her family in San Francisco’s Lands End. As much as I’ve become accustomed to LUTs and presets, this time around, I simply just adjusted the warm balance and really let the camera’s files and colors shine.

These are screen captures from the video in which I embedded these examples under Dynamic Range:

The Shutter

Having an electronic leaf shutter is clutch when you’re on set and need to be incognito but when I don’t need to, hearing the shutter for me is also part of the process of me making the images. Something about it being loud also tells the subject that it’s ok to move/change position. It’s this auditory cue that tells everyone that “yes, time was stopped to take this photo.”

And yes, this is a philosophical stretch.

It’s slow

Having some limitations on the speed of the camera makes you deliberate when taking a photo. Since I don’t capture sports or wildlife, I don’t have to rely on the fastest AF or FPS. So for me, a camera that is responsive to my finger pressing the shutter once works fine as opposed to using the continuous burst mode aka spraying and praying.

To be honest, even after owning this camera for 5 years, I still don’t know every feature. For me, my process with my portrait sessions and this camera is quite simple: I meter with my flash meter so I know what level to set my strobe(s) to which my aperture is close to f/8, shutter at 1/125th unless I’m using HSS or dragging it for more ambient, ISO is low and I rely on the center single point AF where I hold and recompose. As much as I’ve used EVFs and do like it as it’s “what you see is what you get”, I actually do find portrait sessions intimate and I love that the optical viewfinder is clear and real time with little distractions as possible.

So how long will I be using this system?

Well, the 645Z is surely old when compared to the new “affordable” digital medium formats like Hasselblad’s X1D and Fuji’s GFX system. So long as this camera can fire a shot, I’m for sure going to stick with this camera for as long as possible.

This camera’s shutter is rated at 100k and my 2015 body has 30,773 .. there’s still plenty of life left but.. I ended up buying a BACK UP because god forbid this camera stops working for whatever reason during a paid shoot, I’d be left stranded with nothing of the same caliber to continue the shoot.


If there was a bigger message though in this video as this crazy year comes to an end, it’s this: know not only your shooting style but more importantly, your subjects.

I know new camera bodies come out every other year or so with greater features than the previous generation which is amazing BUT really ask yourself if your work — your style and subjects — warrants you to buy that new camera. I have no doubt it will enable you to make great images because I know for some (like myself), new gear inspires new work and if you’re a business, I get it it’s a tax write off. But when it comes down to it, knowing what you don’t need will really help determine what you will use.

If you’d like to see some of my favorite images made within the last 5 years of owning, watch here as it’s exactly the part when the image slideshow starts:

Do continue to take care and cheers to a better and safer to be out with friends and family new year. Peace.

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