Kodak DCS Pro Back 645 Review
By Movable Type Admin
The Kodak Pro Back 645 lets you "go digital" while using a medium format film camera. There are different backs available for three popular medium format cameras; Contax 645 series, Hasselblad H1 and Mamiya AF and AFD cameras. The Pro Back 645 has a 16-megapixel 36mm x 36mm square imager and fits on the back of these cameras just like the regular film back. These cameras were made to be used with either film or digital backs. When you attach the Pro Back 645 there are no external cables to plug in, the camera "talks" to the back via a series of small electrical contacts. You can go film or digital whenever you want, it's quick and simple to swap the backs.
The Pro Back 645 is a completely portable and self-contained unit. It has its own battery, processing hardware, firmware, buffer memory and 2-inch color LCD. It's equipped with a CompactFlash Type II card slot and accepts any size CF card or IBM Microdrive. Pictures are stored in Kodak raw format as 4072 x 4072-pixel images and consume 19 Megabytes of space each. Most of us think of a 1GB Microdrive as being "huge" but it can only store 50 of these raw images. The Pro Back 645 can process these raw files into either 8-bit TIFF images or JPEG-ERI format while you're shooting or you can use the FireWire interface to transfer the raw files to the host computer and process them with the DCS Host Software. The Pro Back 645 can be used in the studio while tethered to a computer for instant image acquisition and processing. It can also be connected to an external video monitor for instant playback if desired.
Anyone familiar with the Kodak DCS series cameras will have no trouble using the menu system as it is very similar. The controls are minimal but highly functional, most all of the functions are enabled with the 4-way selector switch. The on-screen menu might be a little "cryptic" to first-time users but it is really quite easy to learn and will quickly become second nature. Review the last image captured by just pressing the OK button. Enlarge it for critical examination of focus, color or subject content and know immediately if you go the shot or not - that's what digital is all about. And you don't have to rely on just visual inspection of review images. The playback features include a very precise histogram and blinking highlights options.
The Pro Back 645, like the majority of the digital SLR cameras available today, has a focal length multiplier. Even though the Pro Back 645 has a relatively "huge" imager it is still physically smaller than the film capture area of the cameras that it is mated to. These "645" cameras have a film area of 42 x 56 mm so there are special framing marks on the focusing screen to indicate the smaller capture area of the Pro Back 645. Kodak supplies these special focusing screens for each of the cameras their backs work with. So the effective focal length multiplier is 1.5X. The Pro Back 645 can be configured to capture its native 1:1 aspect ratio format or a smaller horizontal 5:4 or a vertical 4:5 frame if you prefer a rectangular image.
The image quality captured by the Pro Back 645 is as close to film as I've ever seen from a digital imager. The color is rich and well saturated with a very large dynamic range. It is excellent for portrait work, the skin tones are as good as they get when used with proper studio lighting. The level of detail captured also makes them excellent for use in product photography. Both the in-camera processing and the software processing by the DCS Host Software programs have special profiles for both portrait and product "looks" as Kodak calls it. I was lucky enough to have had the Kodak Professional 8500 Digital Photo Printer in-house while we had the Pro Back 645 and the prints were nothing short of awesome. I defy anyone to tell the difference between those "digital" prints and ones made from film negatives, they are that good.
The lithium rechargeable batteries for the Pro Back 645 are small and fairly lightweight but pack more than enough power for about 200 exposures. They are rapidly charged by the supplied dual battery charger and unlike many other chargers, it will charge two batteries simultaneously rather than one after another. If you use the Pro Back 645 in the studio and tethered to a computer, Kodak also includes an AC adapter to power the unit without the battery.
Anyone that has worked with digital SLR cameras and interchangeable lenses knows that there is a problem keeping the imagers clean. This is -not- a problem with the Pro Back 645 as the imager is completely exposed when it's not on a camera body and very easy to clean. You're actually cleaning either the infrared (IR) or anti-aliasing (AA) filter as you must have one or the other installed in front of the imager at all times. With digital SLR type cameras you have to really work to get at the imager as it is located behind the mirror and "down and inside" the guts of the camera. Kodak supplies a cover that securely clips on the Pro Back 645 and protects the imager and filter when it's not on a camera body. Also supplied is a nice padded case that holds the Pro Back 645 for transit in your camera bag.
The bottom line is that the Pro Back 645 creates images that equal those captured with film. This is not surprising given its $12,000 price tag. And that doesn't include the camera body, that's another $4000 or up depending on which one you buy the back for. The Pro Back 645 and the DCS Host Software will have you capturing and printing professional quality images in no time. Kodak has many years of experience with both the hardware and software and it shows in the results. If you're a medium format shooter and you want to go digital - the Kodak DCS Pro Back 645 and an appropriate camera body are the way to go.
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