Why I Travel With A Medium Format Camera
I'm getting a lot of questions about why and how I manage to travel with a heavy medium format camera. Someone even called me a beast being able to lug it around! I'm definitely not but here's why I travel with a medium format camera:
For years the Canon 5D series was my weapon of choice on all my travels. It didn't matter if I was on assignment or just traveling for myself; especially the 5D Mark 3 was absolutely magnificent for my style of photography but there was one 'problem': I absolutely love the look and detail of (digital) medium format. I know that some people think that the medium format look is a myth but frankly I don't care... I love what I see when I open the files of my Pentax...
The switch to medium format
Initially I started to crop my images to the aspect ratios that I like; 4:3, 5:4 and 6:7 and that was when I started to look into buying a digital medium format camera. It was a bit of a struggle to always have to crop and not being able to see the aspect ratio through my viewfinder. On top of that, I was cutting and throwing away pixels every time...
I did a lot of research and after a few months of doubt I decided to sell all my Canon gear to buy the Pentax 645z. I couldn't have been more satisfied with that decision because I absolutely love that camera even though there are some drawbacks.
Disadvantages of the Pentax 645z (for traveling)
The internet is full of articles and people looking for “the best travel camera” and like I've said before, it doesn't exist! It all depends on your personal style of photography. I'm pretty sure the Pentax 645z doesn't appear in any of those articles for various reasons. The main reason probably being the weight but who says a travel camera has to be lightweight? If you love a heavy camera and don't mind taking it when you travel, there's no problem, right?
We've been traveling for a few months now and I have absolutely no problem with the weight because I love that beast of a camera. We often fly carry-on only and even with low cost carriers that hasn't been a problem.
2. Battery Life
My Canon 5D Mark 3 was able to take over 1,000 shots with a single battery. The Pentax 645z supposedly only 650. Big difference, right? Well, if I return home after a day out with more than 50 shots it has been a really busy day. Divide 650 by 50. Yep, 13 days with one battery. That might be a stretch when also shooting some videos but I make it well over a week with one battery when traveling and only shooting stills.
Again, it all depends on your style of shooting. Some people just point and shoot at everything that moves but that's not my style.
Maybe the most important drawback for many and yeah, it's expensive. I would've liked to keep my 5D III but that was impossible at the time. I had to sell my Canon gear to be able to buy the 645z.
To cut the cost I also decided to buy only one new and modern Pentax lens. With my 5D, 99% of the time I used a 35mm prime when traveling. The Pentax 55mm that came with the body comes close to that and I just love the combination.
Later on, I bought a few older second hand primes on e-Bay but I absolutely love them too.
Why I love digital medium format and the Pentax 645z
1. Image Quality
The image quality is still incredible (It came out 4 years ago). I know that most people don't need a 50mp camera but I like to print large so I need the extra megapixels.
The dynamic range is another area where the 645z excels. The amount of details I can recover from shadows and highlights is astonishing.
Let's just say that I'm still amazed by those beautiful RAW files every time when opening a new set of photographs.
I guess this is something that only goes for the 645z. It's a medium format camera that handles like a full frame DSLR. OK, it's heavier and a little bit slower in use but for my style of shooting it's perfect. Even auto focus in low light is fast enough for me.
On top of that, it's built like a tank, so ideal to travel with because I don't have to worry about my camera when someone or something bumps into me.
3. Medium Format Look
Well, here we go. There's been a lot of discussion about this. What is it? Does it even exist? Well, I don't know about all that but what I do know is that I love the look of my Pentax 645z photos more than when shooting with my Canon 5D 3. I don't know why and I can't explain it but I just do... Especially portraits look incredible.
4. Aspect Ratio
Yeah, of course you can crop to whatever aspect ratio you want but isn't that a waste of precious pixels? Especially if you like to make large prints.
Aside from that, I just like the 4:3 ratio a lot more than 3:2. I shoot a lot of portraits and for me 4:3 feels a lot better. I like to see some background when shooting a portrait and 3:2 is too narrow for me, even for landscapes.
So, what's your favorite travel camera?
Joris Hermans is a portrait, documentary and travel photographer based in Belgium. For the last ten years he has been combining personal and freelance work and won several awards among which the Nikon Press Photo Award in 2017. In 2018 he set off on a journey around the world with his girlfriend documenting everything on The World Ahead Of Us...