The move to medium format (Pentax 645D)

This is a post mainly for the gear heads on here. I'm not a professional reviewer or a blogger for the matter, but more of a "writing from experience" writer. I've been shooting with a digital dslr since the Canon D30 was released back in 2000. Wow,  14 years has past since then! Time flies when I'm having fun, lol. Anyway, dslrs have matured tremendously since then and pretty much any dslr you buy today completely destroys anything released back in 2000.

Up until this year, the last medium format camera I used was the Pentax 645 and the Pentax 67. Man oh man did I love using the Pentax 67 with Fuji Astia film. Digital medium format cameras were always the price of cars ($10,000-50,000+) which I could personally never justify. Well, this year I was blessed with the opportunity to purchase a used mint Pentax 645D.  I paid $6000 for mine early this year which is pretty much around the price of a high end dslr. Since the new release of the Pentax 645z, you can get a new 645D for $5000 as of July 2014. Yes, $5000! for a new mf dslr. A lot of money for most folks but we are talking about a camera that debuted for $10,000 a few years ago.

I had been shooting with a Nikon D800e prior to buying the 645D and I must say it was a phenomenal dslr for portrait work, which is what I shoot 99% of the time. I sold it less than two months after I received my 645D. I just didn't feel the need to keep an expensive dslr camera as a backup so I bought a cheap Fuji S3 pro to fit the bill instead. Although the Nikon D800e and the Pentax 645D are very close in resolution (36 vs 40mp), the output was enough for me to make the decision not to keep my Nikon. Just like how medium format film was bigger and better image quality wise, medium format digital brings the same to the table. The 645D and the Nikon D800e were released close enough to contain similar image technology and can be compared rather closely. The 645D does use a CCD vs the CMOS sensor found in the D800e. That's a whole other can of worms that I won't get into right now.

Speaking from an iso range from 100-400 the Pentax gives very noticeable improved image quality than the D800e does. Not so much the megapixels, but the tonal and color quality is SO much better in my opinion; very noticeable in prints which is what matters to me the most. Most of the child photography was done with the Pentax 645D in my "kids" gallery. You can find reviews comparing the Pentax and the Nikon such as this one here so I'm not going to go into the technical mumbo jumbo that someone else can do better than I can. At this point I will never buy another new high end dslr for portrait work. The transition was about as great of the experience moving from my Dell to a Mac (lol, I had to throw that in there). As of this writing the D800e has been replaced by the Nikon D810 and the 645D has been replaced with the 645z.

The Pentax has a much simpler button layout which is HUGE for me when it comes to the speed of making camera adjustments. I hated the heavy menu layout of the Nikon. I like quick and simple when I'm shooting. I know you can customize a shortcut menu with the Nikon but why should a user have to go through all that? The D800e does have huge shadow detail that I love, but the 645D's sharpness, colors, and tonal range makes me forget about that quick. The D800e focuses faster and is much lighter vs the 645D's slower but more precise focusing and heavier body. There is no need for me to use micro adjustment with my 645D using my 45-85 and 55 lenses vs using the D800e with various Nikon lenses. The D800e is great for an all in one package but at this point in time, in my opinion, if you are a portrait shooter (who stays in the iso 100-400 range) the 645D is a better buy image quality wise. $3300 D800e vs $5000 645D is too close to ignore. My biggest 645D gripe is the image preview speed. It is SLOW but not Sigma SD1 slow. I use class 10 45mb-80mb write speed 32gb Sandisk cards, btw. A lot of comparison reviews state the image quality is too close to matter between the two. Let me just say this, my wife has an untrained eye and she picked the 645D prints every time vs the d800e prints of the same image. Every time! The prints have a 3d quality all the time that dslrs lack most of the time. That's the best way I can describe the difference in words.

If you ever want a 645D raw file to play with, shoot me an email. I don't have the D800e anymore to send you a comparison. Don't pixel peep, print!


I'm back....

It's been a while since I've made a post. I almost forgot how blogging helps to release stress. So many things have been going on these past few months. I officially have my own photo business now. I got sick and tired of working at the same company, listening to the same bullshit from people that don't value who I am and the expertise that I bring to the table. Overall, it was a pretty good experience, but when you dedicate six years of your life, like I did, to a company you expect more.

Of course everyone has bills to pay, but why continue to do something that you don't really want to be doing? Life is short, enjoy it while it's happening. Being a full-time photographer has to be one of the most frustrating/rewarding career choices a person can pursue. I will tell you though that it's more business than photography. I spend more time marketing than shooting. In a perfect world I a rep would be awesome, but I love not having to work for another person's company.

So that's my "I'm back" speech for today, lol. For all the people that have jobs instead of careers, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself "what do I want to do that will make me happy and what are the steps I need to take to get there?"

Inspiration: Richard Avedon

I'v been away for a while due to me getting sick and a massive hardware failure from a software upgrade (yes Macs are not invincible) which has kind of killed my creative mood for the most part, but today I'm trying to get back in the spirit.

One of my favorite photographers, of all time, is Richard Avedon. If you've ever seen portraits shot on a solid white background, you can pretty much give credit to Richard Avedon. He made this look very popular and it's widely used in the fashion industry. He has done fascinating work in the photo industry which spans from the 60s. You can find his website here. Some examples of his work are:

The Poor Man's Goldmine of Equipment

If you are strapped for cash and can't afford the newest, latest, and greatest photography equipment; buy used equipment! You can find super deals on equipment barely used to equipment that's a few years old. My favorite place to purchase used equipment, since I was in college (Art Institute of Atlanta), is KEH Camera located in Atlanta, GA. They have a brick and mortar location, but they are mainly a mail order company. So, no they don't have a showroom, but you can arrange to pick up your order in person if you live in the Atlanta area. They have great customer service and have been around for years. I've spent thousands of dollars with them throughout my career. I have no affiliation with them, so this a word of mouth advertisement. Their site can be found here.

How many megapixels do you "need"?

When buying a digital camera don't become a sucker to megapixel marketing. Almost all digital cameras today have enough megapixels to satisfy the average consumer, however more megapixels don't always mean a better quality picture.

For photos you plan to only use on the Internet or send by e-mail, you can shoot at a lower resolution. If you know you want to print the photo, you'll need to shoot at a higher resolution.

Determining how much camera resolution you'll ultimately need for a print depends on the size of the print you want to make. The table listed below should help you decide on the proper resolution.



megapixels                   Approximate standard image resolution in pixels

2 megapixels                                     1600 x 1200

3 megapixels                                     2048 x 1536

4 megapixels                                     2274 x 1704

5 megapixels                                     2560 x 1920

6 megapixels                                     2816 x 2112

7 megapixels                                     3072 x 2304

8 megapixels                                     3456 x 2304

10 megapixels                                   3648 x 2736

12 megapixels                                   4288 x 2848

Print size      Optimal Resolution              Minimum Resolution

                        For good print quality            less optimal image quality

                        300px per inch                      100px per inch

3.5x5               1500 x 1050                          500 x 350

4x5                  1500 x 1200                          500 x 400

4x6                  1800 x 1200                          600 x 400

4x12                3600 x 1200                          1200 x 400

5x5                  1500 x 1500                          500 x 500

5x7                  2100 x 1500                          700 x 500

6x9                  2700 x 1800                          900 x 600

8x8                  2400 x 2400                          800 x 800

8x10                3000 x 2400                         1000 x 800

8.5x11            3300 x 2550                          1100 x 850

8x12                3600 x 2400                          1200 x 800

9x12                3600 x 2700                          1200 x 900

10x10             3000 x 3000                          1000 x 1000

11x14             4200 x 3300                          1400 x 1100

12x12             3600 x 3600                          1200 x 1200

12x18             5400 x 3600                          1800 x 1200

16x20              6000 x 4800                          2000 x1600   

20x30              9000 x 6000                          3000 x 2000

24x36              10800 x 7200                        3600 x 2400

Camera sensor sizes explained

Megapixels aren't the only things that play a role in image quality. The size of the camera sensor matters too. Different camera types (point and shoot, micro 4/3s, dslr, etc.) have different sensor sizes similar to how different film cameras had different film sizes (35mm, medium format, large format, etc.). I found an article that I've taken some inserts from that explains this in more detail.

Full article can be found here:

When buying a digital camera, there are many important specs to consider besides which color to pick. In years past, the way you’d approach this was to get the camera with the highest resolution – measured in megapixels – you can afford. But, with many new compact point-and-shoots boasting the same resolution as their higher-end cousins, could they really perform at the same level?

The answer, of course, is no. The 16-megapixel resolution in Canon’s entry-level PowerShot A4000 IS doesn’t mean it’s stronger than Canon’s top-end PowerShot G1 X with a 14.3-megapixel resolution. There are many things that differentiate low-end from high-end, and one you should focus on is the sensor. A camera’s sensor is a highly sophisticated piece of component that captures light through small pixels (also called photosites) and turns them into a digital signal. (How they work is far more complex than our general description, but we know you have better things to do than sit down for a science lesson.) While a compact point-and-shoot sensor may have the same number of megapixels as that of a compact DSLR, they aren’t equal – it’s how big those pixels themselves are.

What sensor do you need?

For online sharing purposes, like e-mail or posting to a social networking site, small sensors in compact point-and-shoots and smartphones will do the job. But if you intend to use your photos for other purposes – whether it’s printing on paper, cropping an image, or publishing it in a magazine – know that cameras with small sensors may not deliver the image quality you’re looking for.

As we noted in our article on how to print large images the right way, resolution (megapixels) play a role in how large an image you can print (check out the article to find out how to determine the print size a particular resolution will yield). However, resolution, as we’ve already mentioned, doesn’t necessarily mean great image quality. If you plan to use your images for commercial purposes, invest in a full-frame or a high-end APS DSLR. For printing at home to share or display, check out entry-level DSLRs, CSCs, or high-end point-and-shoots that feature a large CMOS or CCD sensor.

Here is a chart to give you visual on sensor sizes from different camera types:


Inspiration: Herb Ritts

Everyone should be inspired when first learning about photography. It helps to keep your focus and motivation. When I was majoring in photography at the Art Institute of Atlanta, one guy's work who inspired me a lot was Herb Ritts. He died of AIDS in 2002, but his black and white photography was phenomenal! Every time I shot a black and white portrait, I tried to get my shots to have as much depth and tonality as his work. I'm sure you've seen some of his work over the years without even noticing it. He even directed music videos, such as Janet Jackson's "Love Will Never Do" and Jennifer Lopez's "Aint It Funny" to name a few. Some of his iconic images were:

His website can be found here. He has a couple of photography books, but they are out of production now and are quite expensive if you can find them in mint condition.

F-stop(s) explained

I found an excellent article online that explains what a f-stop is that uses easy to understand wording. Enjoy!

Source here:

So what exactly is an f-stop? Well, to put it in the very simplest terms, it is the opening that lets light into your camera. And so the numbers on the f-stop relate to the size of the opening that is letting light into your camera. F-stops are measured by a scale, and this is known as the f-stop scale. If you are not familiar with a camera, the f-stop numbers can be very confusing as they do not seem to make any sense. The f-stops are actually a measurement of the diameter of the aperture. Logically, they should be expressed as a fraction and this number would tell you the diameter in millimeters as a fraction of the actual focal length of the lens. So if you had a zoom set at 40 mm with an aperture of F8, the diameter of the aperture opening is 5 mm (40 divided by 40).

Adding to this confusion, the numbers that correspond to different f-stops seem backwards, because an aperture of F8 is actually smaller than an aperture of F4. So, the larger the number the smaller the opening. And the smaller the number the larger the opening. And then you get into the fact that most f-stop numbers are not a full number. They are an f5.6, or an f19, or an f6.3, or an f1.4. If you are not familiar with f-stops and aperture openings none of this makes any sense. These numbers depict half stops and third stops, as well as full f-stops.

The typical range for f-stops on a camera, progressing from a wide setting to a small setting is f4, f5.6, f8, f11, and f16. Some lenses will have a wider range and may offer half stops and/or third stops. Another funny thing about f-stops, is if you halve the number of the f-stop, the aperture lets in a quarter amount of light, because it is it two stop decrease. If you are thinking about it logically, you would naturally assume that if you took and halved your f-stop that you would be letting in half the light. But that is not true because with each f-stop decrease you are halving the amount of light, therefore with two f-stops, you would only have one quarter of the light.

If you take your f-stop scale, and add your half stops, the scale is F4, F4.8, and F5.6. If you then do your third stop range. It would go F4, F4.5, F4.8 (for your half), F5 and F5.6.

The key thing to remember about f-stops is that it is a measure of the amount of light that is being let in through your lens. You can think of it as having a paper towel roll, and looking through the roll at the light. If you took a piece of tinfoil and put it over the end of the paper towel roll and poked a pinhole in it, you would have a high f-stop or small aperture opening. The bigger you made the hole, the smaller your f-stop number would become and the more light you would be letting in. Using your aperture control with your shutter control on your camera will give you the proper exposure. The best way to figure out what is happening with the different settings, is just to play with it. Especially if you have a digital camera, you can just delete whatever doesn’t turn out well.

Shutter speed(s) explained

I found an excellent article that explains shutter speeds for the aspiring photographer! Enjoy!


What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is ‘the amount of time that the shutter is open’.

In film photography it was the length of time that the film was exposed to the scene you’re photographing and similarly in digital photography shutter speed is the length of time that your image sensor ‘sees’ the scene you’re attempting to capture.

Let me attempt to break down the topic of “Shutter Speed” into some bite sized pieces that should help digital camera owners trying to get their head around shutter speed:

  • Shutter speed is measured in seconds – or in most cases fractions of seconds. The bigger the denominator the faster the speed (ie 1/1000 is much faster than 1/30).
  • In most cases you’ll probably be using shutter speeds of 1/60th of a second or faster. This is because anything slower than this is very difficult to use without getting camera shake. Camera shake is when your camera is moving while the shutter is open and results in blur in your photos.
  • If you’re using a slow shutter speed (anything slower than 1/60) you will need to either use a tripod or some some type of image stabilization (more and more cameras are coming with this built in).
  • Shutter speeds available to you on your camera will usually double (approximately) with each setting. As a result you’ll usually have the options for the following shutter speeds – 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8 etc. This ‘doubling’ is handy to keep in mind as aperture settings also double the amount of light that is let in – as a result increasing shutter speed by one stop and decreasing aperture by one stop should give you similar exposure levels (but we’ll talk more about this in a future post).
  • Some cameras also give you the option for very slow shutter speeds that are not fractions of seconds but are measured in seconds (for example 1 second, 10 seconds, 30 seconds etc). These are used in very low light situations, when you’re going after special effects and/or when you’re trying to capture a lot of movement in a shot). Some cameras also give you the option to shoot in ‘B’ (or ‘Bulb’) mode. Bulb mode lets you keep the shutter open for as long as you hold it down.
  • When considering what shutter speed to use in an image you should always ask yourself whether anything in your scene is moving and how you’d like to capture that movement. If there is movement in your scene you have the choice of either freezing the movement (so it looks still) or letting the moving object intentionally blur (giving it a sense of movement).
  • To freeze movement in an image (like in the surfing shot above) you’ll want to choose a faster shutter speed and to let the movement blur you’ll want to choose a slower shutter speed. The actual speeds you should choose will vary depending upon the speed of the subject in your shot and how much you want it to be blurred.
  • Motion is not always bad – I spoke to one digital camera owner last week who told me that he always used fast shutter speeds and couldn’t understand why anyone would want motion in their images. There are times when motion is good. For example when you’re taking a photo of a waterfall and want to show how fast the water is flowing, or when you’re taking a shot of a racing car and want to give it a feeling of speed, or when you’re taking a shot of a star scape and want to show how the stars move over a longer period of time etc. In all of these instances choosing a longer shutter speed will be the way to go. However in all of these cases you need to use a tripod or you’ll run the risk of ruining the shots by adding camera movement (a different type of blur than motion blur).
  • Focal Length and Shutter Speed - another thing to consider when choosing shutter speed is the focal length of the lens you’re using. Longer focal lengths will accentuate the amount of camera shake you have and so you’ll need to choose a faster shutter speed (unless you have image stabilization in your lens or camera). The ‘rule’ of thumb to use with focal length in non image stabilized situations) is to choose a shutter speed with a denominator that is larger than the focal length of the lens. For example if you have a lens that is 50mm 1/60th is probably ok but if you have a 200mm lens you’ll probably want to shoot at around 1/250.
  • My Introduction

    I've been doing photography since 1995, 11th grade, and it all started by accident. I decided to take a photography course for an easy elective grade in high school. Well, to make a long story short, I fell in love and I have been shooting ever since. I've done plenty of freelance work over the years: little league sports photography, editorial photography, and portrait photography.

    I get asked, almost everyday, photography-related questions which is one of the reasons I've decided to created this blog. One of my goals is to teach photography beginners (noobs) how to improve their photographic skills. I want to go ahead and say first and foremost that if you are just getting into photography you have the "silver spoon" of learning since we are now in a digital world. It's so much easier to learn about some of the basic techniques I learned during the analog era.

    Lesson number one is that IT'S NOT ABOUT THE EQUIPMENT that you have. Don't worry about that. As long as you know the limitations of your equipment and the know how to work around these limitations, you will be OK. I started my journey using the Pentax K1000 and a 50 f/2 lens:

    It is a 100% manual 35mm film camera and I caught hell learning how to use it. I'm glad I started with it because I learned a lot from the mistakes I made using it because it didn't have the safety net of "automatic" settings. I didn't choose this camera, it sort of chose me. I couldn't afford a "nice" camera back then, and I was fortunate that one of my mom's ex bfs shot photography as a hobby and left his camera at the house and never returned to pick it up. Thank you sir: