Hasselblad vs Pentax 645N

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by brandon_andreadakis, Apr 20, 2011.

  1. Hello,
    I am in the beginning stages of looking into getting a medium format camera, which will mostly be used for black and white film work. My main dilemma is that I really want something that at least has autofocus and TTL metering (even if it is just spot). However, I have always wanted a Hasselblad, and they are now at the point on ebay that I could attempt to justify the price. In order to get autofocus on a Hasselblad, I have to jump up to the H4D, which is a massive price difference and I am unable to find one for sale without a digital back. So, I am down to the Hasselblad 503CW vs an old Pentax 645N. The major drawback to the Hasselblad IMO is that it does not have autofocus. I would like to be able to take action shots, and I am not too quick with manual focus on my D700. So, I am guessing it is not the best option for me. However, the Hasselblad has an elegance and reputation that the Pentax does not have. For those of you that have shot the two, what do you notice in image quality difference? Thanks!
  2. You'll get a lot quicker at focusing with practice! I've never felt handicapped by not having autofocus on any of my many film cameras (still own and use several 35mm's, 6x6's, 4x5's, and a few other odd ones); in fact, my most used portrait lens for my Olympus DSLR it an old Nikon 50mm lens meant for a 35mm...at 2X equivalent, it acts like a 100mm on a 35mm camera, so its a great length for portraits. And, by the way, you can't beat those Zeiss lenses on the 'blad...I love mine!
  3. Yes, there is a difference in the signatures of the respective lens lines. I prefer the Zeiss signature for most things most of the time. But that is for my work.

    The Pentax lenses are no slouches; I prefer them to the Mamiyas I have used. The question might better be asked: which lens signature suits the work you do and how you want to express yourself?
    I like the Zeiss lenses because I prefer the tonality and microcontrast they provide. That, and the fact that all of the lenses for the Blad are sharp at maximum aperture, may or may not be important to what you want to say as a photographer.
    Don't get caught up in the name game. I used Blads for years, and switched to Rolleiflex tlrs recently because they are better suited to the kind of shooting (handheld, low/natural light, travel) I do. And the lens signature remains the same; I do consider the Zeiss lens signature to be a substantial factor in my work. Now I have to figure out how to incorporate the look of the Schneider Xenotar on my latest acquisition into my work without distrupting its oeuvre. (Yes, it sounds bombastic as hell, but it is what it is.)
  4. Let's see: you want to shoot "action shots". You are worried about the image quality differeces between Hasselblad and Pentax, but (apparently / presumably) not about the image quality differences between shooting hand-held versus on a tripod? And you are worried about focus speed, but are content to rely on a relatively primative medium-format auto-focus system trying to keep up with action while focusing a big lens with lots of glass? I think you are misidentifying the problems and best solutions. If you want to shoot action, for the price of the systems you're talking about, and given that you're willing to buy used, you'd almost certainly be better served with an upper-mid to upper level Canon (or Nikon) DSLR. If you really want to use B&W film, I think a decent-condition Nikon F5 goes for about $300. Focus speed and accuracy matter most for action shots, followed by steadiness of hold, in my experience.
    If you really want to shoot action with B&W film in a MF camera, have at it. Lots of people have done it, some quite well, although getting good shots is not easy. Anticipating where the action will be and pre-focusing may help. Shooting a ton and picking the best shots helps. Luck helps. Acknowledging that you're going to miss some important action is necessary to keep your sanity.
    Just so you know, the older Hasselblad H1 (or even H2 or H3) should be appreciably cheaper, probably most (or all?) of the H1's did not come with a digital back, and they have auto-focus. But those H-series lenses can kill your budget.
  5. Focusing a medium format off those waist level viewfinders is not easy at all. You need to go to a camera store and squint at one a while and see if it's for you. It is not a fast camera to work with either. The Pentax 645 is kind of like a fat SLR camera. It will have a meter, auto focus and all that. Looks like a space ship but the things have almost no value now and you probably could buy a nice one for a few hundred. Also the Mamiya 645AFD is very similar to the Pentax. Later Mamiya models can take a digital back if you ever win the lottery. I just went to Yosemite and used a borrowed Mamiya 7. It handles pretty much like a normal rangefinder camera only bigger. Manual focus and with a meter. It's pretty neat. Around here you can figure on about $1.50 per frame if you pay for a low rez scan. It's not worth it to me but I have no use for real large prints anyway.
  6. Brandon,
    Because you're looking on ebay, I assume you are considering used.
    You can get autofocus with a Hasselblad H1, or H2. Both have built in TTL meters.
    Medium format requires/suggests a more "considered" approach to photography and although my Contax 645 has autofocus, I seldom use it; preferring to rely on manual as I do my with metering technique.
    If you really must have AF, then I think you would be happy with a Hasselblad H1, H2 or the Pentax. I must admit that I have never got along with the Pentax645 viewfinder, never been able to see the entire frame within it. I believe it to be a Kaplarian design , it just doesn't suit me and I really have tried.
  7. Go for the Pentax 645N, the camera performance is superb with the exception of having no mirror lock up, other wise I used for several times so far and the quality of its auto focus is remarkable.
    I am also having a problem with the manual focus and that why I had to leave 3 of my hasselblad cameras behind on the shelf and run for the 645N, the lenses are also affordable and may of them on ebay.
  8. AF with the Pentax is accurate but not fast. What sort of action are you photographing, and why not pick up an F5 instead to complement your D700?
  9. stp


    You seem especially concerned about autofocus, yet your final question was about image quality, so that's where I'll focus my response. I had (and loved) the Pentax 645NII and a host of good Pentax lenses, both manual and AF. About a year ago I also purchased a Hasselblad 501cm and four very nice lenses (50mm cfi, 80mm cfe, 120mm cfi, and 180mm cfi). When I walk down a trail with the 645, I see things differently and I get a different set of photos than when I walk down that same trail with the 6x6. Recently, I came back from a trip where the sensor had become quite dirty on my digital SLR, and I relied to a much greater extent on my film cameras. When I scanned both formats on my Nikon 9000 scanner, I was struck by the superior color, tonality, sharpness, and overall "presence" of the photos taken with the Zeiss lenses compared directly with those taken with the Pentax lenses. The Pentax had been my favorite system for many years, and I had gotten many images that I really liked from that system; I've frequently recommended it to folks who were looking for a good medium format system. But at the moment I saw the difference between the two sets of lenses on the light table, I pretty much gave up on the Pentax, and I gave up on my plans to use those lenses on the new Pentax 645D for which I had been patiently waiting for several years. The Pentax system is more versatile, the choice of lenses is greater, but from my experience the Zeiss lenses run circles around Pentax lenses in terms of output quality. For me, that's the most important consideration in my landscape photography.
    One final note: Pentax lenses were relatively inexpensive and easy to find in previous years, but that has changed dramatically with the introduction of the 645D. Prices have increased tremendously, and lenses are often hard to find.
    I really like the Pentax system. I absolutely love the Hasselblad system. If you go the digital route with AF, the Pentax 645D body will be less expensive than the latest Hasselblad bodies (e.g., H4D; however, there are other alternatives to the H4D that are much less expensive, although they generally are still more expensive than the Pentax). The new digital lenses (those from Pentax are just coming out) will be more or less equal in price (e.g., the 25mm Pentax is $5k; most of the Hasselblad lenses I've seen are less than $5k new, and used AF Hasselblad lenses are much less than that, on the order of 50% to 70% of the cost of new lenses).
    For the kinds of photography that I like to do, for the priorities I have regarding equipment, for my particular financial situation, and based on my personal experiences, the choice was very clear and very easy to make. But those criteria will differ among individual photographers, so I'm not going to say to go one direction or the other; that's something only you can decide.
  10. Just to point out, if the reason you're interested in Hasselblad is Zeiss lenses, then the Hasselblad H-series auto-focus cameras are not for you, because they use Fuji lenses. (Yes, with an adapter you can use V-system Zeiss lenses, but then you're back to manual focus.)
    But that would not make a big difference to me because I'm skeptical of any claim of a major across-the-lens-line superiority, or even 'look', among current, or even modern, medium format lenses. When somebody uses terms like "superior color, tonality, sharpness, and overall 'presence' ", I tend to think: (1) I doubt this person could reliably tell between the two cameras' prints in a double-blind test (that is, where neither the person judging prints nor the person conducting the test knows ahead of time which prints come from which camera), and (2) a lot of these terms are at best hugely subjective, if not undefined to undefinable and therefore a questionable basis for decision. I don't doubt that sometimes there are important differences, especially in sharpness / resolution wide open, and maybe geometric distortion. But any claim that is not narrowly made is suspect to me. (Of course, there are knowledgeable people who disagree.)
    If you're shooting landscapes from a tripod, that's one thing. But if you're shooting action, presumably hand-held, how the camera feels in your hands, how well the imporant controls come to your finder tips, how the viewfinder works for your eyes and technique, etc. are IMO way more important than relatively subtle differences in lens quality.
  11. stp


    Dave, I wish you could have been looking over my shoulder. I generally assume that modern lenses are exceptionally good across the board, and as a result of this assumption I've never set out to compare lenses. But when I saw the two transparency strips on my light table, same film, side by side, even the skeptic in me was impressed by the difference. I thought the same thing when I saw my first digital images taken with the Zeiss 21mm and 50mm lenses, and I'm trying my level best to remain unbiased. Yes, a double blind test would make for a better comparison, and perhaps all of this "evens out" in the print (although I doubt it), but I can only try to find the words to describe a very clear difference in what I saw.
    If you're skeptical, then that sounds like you've had your own experiences comparing output from different lenses side by side and have found virtually no difference. Or is your opinion just a preconceived notion? Your use of the word "skeptical" makes your response sound like the latter.
  12. I have used both systems extensively; they are quite different. Mostly handling issues. Perhaps I don't have a good enough eye, but in years of using Pentax 645NII, Pentax 6X7 and Hasselblad, I think the image quality is very very close. My Mamiya 6 with 50mm was better than any of them. I've settled on Hasselblad because I really like the square format.
    I would not consider any of them to be well-suited to fast action.
  13. Stephen, sorry to take a while to reply, I was out of pocket this weekend. I guess I've become a bit jaded by claims of dramatic differences where I see / expect only small ones. From what I've seen, where there are real differences, usually difference in technique, exposure, or the like largely explains them. Your comparisons--were they made at the same time, putting each cameras in turn on the same tripod, using a comparable lens, with the same exposure, etc.? And did you try more than one pair of generally-comparable lenses (e.g., are you basing this just on Pentax 45mm versus Hasselblad 50mm, and if so, the most modern versions of each)? Because otherwise, I think the comparison is unfair or too limited to tell you much. I don't doubt that one particular Hasselblad lens is better than the corresponding Pentax lens in some particular use, but conclusions much broader than that make me quite skeptical. Of course, I haven't seen your film, so my opinion there is pretty general and maybe not worth much!
  14. My Mamiya 6 with 50mm was better than any of them.​
    Bob, just out of curiosity, how so?
  15. Brandon--
    In addition to the issue of autofocus vs. manual focus, you may want to consider the difference in format. A Hasselblad will produce a 6 x 6 negative vs. the 6 x 4.5 you get from the Pentax 645N. Is that size difference critical to what you want to do with photos you take?
    Another question you have to ask yourself is whether Hasselblad lenses are the primary attraction to you, or are you captivated by the Hasselblad camera, too (i.e., the whole Hasselblad experience).
    If it is the Hasselblad lenses you covet, there is a way to have the best of both worlds. Fotodiox sells a Hasselblad to Pentax adapter that enables you to use Hasselblad lenses on a 645N. You lose autofocus, but the adapter (which costs about $80) does give you focus confirmation. And while you cannot use the 645N's autoexposure capability, you can meter manually through the 645N's exposure system (which offers both matrix and spot metering capability).
    Thus, if you buy a 645N, you can use both Pentax FA lenses and Hasselblad lenses on a modern camera body. The reverse is not true. If you buy a 500 series Hasselblad body, you will be limited to a manual focusing and exposure system.
    That is not a bad thing. The sharpest handheld photo I've taken was with a 500 c/m and Hasselblad 100mm lens (using the NC2 viewfinder, which allows you to hold a Hasselblad at eye level like a large 35mm camera).
    As others have said, the lens signatures are different. When Sabastiao Salgado decided he needed a medium format camera for black-and-white, he chose the 645 because the lens signature of the Pentax lenses was the closest he could find to the Leica R lenses he had been using. As I recall, it was partly because Pentax 645 lenses had less contrast and fit his style.
    In addition to my 500 c/m, I also have a 645N with two autofocus lenses (75 and 200). They are quick to focus, and I can use my 645N like a large (but ergonomically comfortable) 35mm camera. You will also find that 645 manual focus lenses require a much lighter touch than Hasselblad lenses. I find them faster to focus than some 35mm lenses.
    Both are great systems. But if you want to mix and match the look of your photos, the 645N does give you that opportunity.

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