It’s in the bag

At the risk of stereotyping and infuriating every women who reads this blog; I have found over the years that females generally like to buy a new bag at every possible opportunity – usually to match their latest new outfit. This trend is mirrored by photographers – who will invariably decide that a new photography bag is required shortly after purchasing their latest camera.

And I’m no different. Having recently acquired a new medium-format camera & wide angle lens – and then two additional lenses, it soon became clear that with their bigger size (due to the bigger sensor) they just weren’t going to fit in the shoulder bag I had planned to use.

My new Vanguard Heralder 33 shoulder bag
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Jet to the coast

Pembrokeshire in South-West Wales is one of our favourite places, but with Covid restrictions limiting travel over the past two years it’s been too long since we’ve paid it a visit. But recently we managed to put that right and even though it was a fleeting visit due to other commitments we did manage to spend a few hours on Newport Beach (not far from Fishguard) with the dogs.

Jet’s first visit to the seaside
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Early morning test shot

As the sun broke through this morning I took a quick test shot using my new 645 80-160mm lens (with it’s new lens hood, see Good in the hood).

1/125s, f/4.5, ISO100, 160mm

Considering that this was taken hand-held at maximum zoom I am more than happy with the clarity of this lens/body combo.

Zoomed in 100% in Lightroom

A different aspect

One of the notable changes in using a medium format camera is that the aspect ratio is different than that of most DSLR and mirrorless cameras (either APS-C or full-frame).

In photography, ‘aspect’ is defined as the relationship between the longer and shorter side of an image expressed as a ratio. DSLR and mirrorless cameras typically have a sensor with an aspect ratio of 3:2, i.e. the long side is 3 ‘units’ compared to a short side of 2 ‘units’. (note that the numbers do not relate to an actual measurement and different sized sensors can have the same aspect ratio). This aspect ratio became popular in the days of 35mm film and is still the most common.

Medium format though, typically uses the 4:3 aspect ratio. This means that the long side is much closer in size to the short side and so gives a ‘squarer’ image.

Comparison of 3:2 ratio to 4:3 ratio
Comparison of common ratios

The upshot of this is that it makes you work harder when thinking about composition in 4:3. The ‘rule of thirds’ is quite easy to achieve in 3:2 and so one can become lazy and just apply it to everything. The ‘third’ is not quite as obvious in 4:3 and so it becomes more natural to question where the focal point of the composition should be and apply it accordingly.

It should be mentioned that some cameras will give you a choice of aspect ratio that can be chosen in the menu settings (often including widescreen 16:9 and square 1:1). What this does is crop the image as you take it and therefore can excludes data from a portion of the sensor which cannot be retrieved even in RAW. Therefore in order to maximise the resolution of your images it is best to take them in the native aspect ratio of the cameras sensor and then crop as desired in post-processing software.

A bit of history: In the days of film photography there were three distinct ‘types: small format, medium format and large format. Small format had an image size of 36mm x 24mm taken on film which was 35mm wide (so only 24mm of the 35mm width was used due to the sprocket holes on either edge of the film). Full frame digital cameras retain this size today (APS-C sensors are smaller at 23.6mm x 15.7mm).

Large format used much bigger film at 130mm x 100mm. Medium format, by definition, sits in-between and has no standard size but the most common is 60mm x 45mm (6cm x 4.5cm) which gives rise to the 645 name used by both Pentax, Mamiya and Contax. The film used in 645 is known as 120.

Tethered shooting

Any photographer working in a studio environment will eventually want to work tethered, i.e. with the camera connected to a computer, so that you can not only remotely operate the shutter but also view the image on a larger screen in an image editor.

An unexpected side-effect of my recent Pentax medium-format camera purchase is that I discovered it was compatible with Lightroom tethering, and so with a quickly purchased USB-3 cable I can now see an image directly in Lightroom as I take it – and hence make exposure and focus adjustments in a more much accurate way. Previously I had been using an LCD television monitor linked to the camera via a HDMI cable but this only showed a larger image from the camera’s rear screen and the exposure levels and colour were somewhat suspect. I am aware that some tethering systems can adjust the camera settings remotely as well, but this software is free and certainly worthy of a trial run. It worked extremely well and it is a vast improvement over the LCD television set-up.

Tethered shooting set-up

Whilst I was testing out the tethering I was also trying out my new Pentax 645 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens in the studio environment and I was very pleased with the results given that it was just a quick test.

Test shot using a Pentax 645 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens.
1/100s, f/22, ISO100, 2 studio strobes with soft boxes

That didn’t take long

I’ve not long purchased my medium format camera and already invested in a new lens. It’s for a good reason though – Spring is almost upon us and the garden will be full of flora & fauna and just the right time for some close-up photography. I have chosen the Pentax 645 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Now technically this isn’t actually a macro lens because it will only achieve 1:2 magnification and macro is lifesize, i.e. 1:1, but I don’t really need to magnify that closely and the specification (and reviews) of this lens makes it more than worth it. First impressions are very good and I’ve never had a lens that focusses so quietly.

First shot from the new lens || © John Hallett Photography

Some new camera gear

For some time now I’ve been pondering whether or not to upgrade my studio camera (a 35mm equivalent DSLR). And now I’ve done it – and purchased a medium format body & lens.

Medium format cameras have long been used by professional photographers mainly for landscape and studio work and the perceived benefits have been the subject of great debate on internet forums – even more-so with the advent of mirrorless cameras. The main selling point of medium format is, or course, the size of the photosites on the (larger) sensor that capture those all-important megapixels. The bigger the photosites, the more light (or data) the sensor collects.

There are those that say that medium format has a ‘look’ that makes it distinctive and refer to aesthetic qualities such as depth-of-field, sharpness and colour – but this is all subjective and is difficult to prove given the inherent variations in comparative camera systems.

This is all something that I’ll be investigating over the coming months. I have used 35mm cameras (film followed by digital) ever since I first became seriously interested in photography back in my teens. Medium format, because of the relative expense of the systems, was just a dream. Now its time to fulfil that dream and I’ll be reporting back with my thoughts.

First shot out of the camera 1/320s, f/4.5, ISO2500