Not really a zoom guy…

The Pentax 645N is one of my favorites. I’ve carefully selected a lens lineup over several years and I’m quite satisfied with it. All the lenses are the original A-series manual focus, which is just the way I want it. Sure the 645N was one of the very first auto focus capable 645 cameras, but I actually enjoy the diligence and patience required by manual focus. The large, bright viewfinder and the focus confirm indicator just make it that much easier. The other thing that all my lenses for this camera have in common is that they are primes! I guess I’m just a prime sort of guy. Given the choice I will almost always choose a prime over a zoom with just about any camera. So in this case I’ve acquired the 35mm, 55mm, 75mm, 120mm, 150mm and the 200mm. I would really like the 300mm as well but it’s kind of expensive so I’m holding off a bit longer. Of the two zooms in the A-series the shorter 45-85 gets really good reviews but I’ve never been seriously tempted. After all, it completely overlaps with my three shortest primes and they are all excellent performers. They are also small enough to carry around rather easily so there isn’t much incentive to replace them with a zoom, even if it does perform well. And it’s expensive! The longer zoom is the 80-160/4.5 and it gets decent reviews but not nearly as good as the shorter one. Furthermore it is much bigger and heavier than the 75mm or 150mm and it can’t get anywhere near as close as the 120mm zoom.

So why did I end up buying the 80-160/4.5? Good question! So here’s my confession; it was completely compulsive! I was in the junk section at Fujiya and saw it in a bin full of junk lenses. I instinctively grabbed it and did a quick check for obvious problems: mold, faulty rings or sticky aperture blades. To my surprise, everything looked okay. I took it to the counter and asked the clerk for a flashlight. I inspected the glass and well, well, well! It actually didn’t look all that bad! Some dust, a bit of other crud, but nothing that looked alive! I asked the clerk to inspect it (those guys are really good at quick visual inspections and can immediately find tiny flaws and even tell you which element they’re on!). He too was surprised and thought it looked pretty good. The exterior shows some obvious wear and tear; perhaps just enough to disqualify it for the main store. The price was 6,500 yen (just over $60). So I found a matching front cap in the lens cap basket, (couldn’t find a rear cap but knew I had extra ones at home), plunked down my money and brought it home! Actually that is only part of the answer to the question of why I bought this lens. The fact of the matter is that the Pentax A-series 645 lens lineup has a bit of a hole, as you can see from my lineup mentioned above. It jumps from 75mm to 120mm. The 120mm is a macro lens that is rather large and bulky. So in practice it often becomes a gap from 75mm to 150mm, and that is where this lens comes in. It covers that range perfectly. Of course the other option is to use the 67 adapter and bring along the 90mm and 105mm lenses from 67 lineup and that is actually not a bad option at all. But this 80-160mm lens really does make sense in terms of range.

So now the big question… how does it perform. Of course my copy came out of the junk bin and I got it for a rock bottom price so I may not be the best one to render judgment but after running three rolls of monochrome film thru it I’m pretty happy. I tried to shoot wide open as much as possible but that isn’t always easy with ISO 400 film. When shooting the roll of Neopan 100 Acros I sat down, pre-focused on a manhole in the middle of the sidewalk and then just waited for people to step on it. Needless to say, this type of sloppy focusing with a wide open aperture leads to lots of slightly OOF shots but nevertheless I was reasonably satisfied.

But before I show you the results I must lodge a couple of complaints. This lens is heavy! I don’t mind heavy gear in general, but something about the balance of this lens on this body and shooting handheld; every time I shot a roll I had a serious ache in my right hand and fingers afterwards! The lens is amazingly front heavy. And that leads to the next complaint. While I’ve often encountered lenses with zoom creep, this lens has focus creep! Never seen that before… as the lens dangles from my neck the zoom ring is stiff enough to stay in place but the weight of the front elements makes the focus ring rotate on its own, extending the lens by several inches to its MFD. Every time I go to shoot again I have to turn it like crazy to get stuff back into focus. But I guess these are minor complaints for an old, used 6,500 yen lens!

So here are the results.

Here are a few from the first roll. It was HP5+ and shot around my neighborhood and at the local temple

The second roll was shot at Nakano Station on the North Exit side on Tri-X.

The third roll was Neopan 100 Acros in Ikebukuro.

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