A learning experience with my Pentax 645

It may surprise you to see a picture of a package of Duracells as the featured image for this post, considering the title. But as you might well guess, the two are related. I’ll jump to the point: When you camera requires batteries to function, always, always carry extra batteries, because they will fail you when you need them most.

This weekend, we did a photo-taking trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument near Alamosa, Colorado. It was inspired by a photo I’d seen online taken with Fuji’s Velvia 50. The photo actually triggered two things:

  1. I must, must shoot some Velvia 50.
  2. I want to photograph the Dunes.

This trip was the culmination of that, and of course, I brought my “new” Pentax 645. The Pentax takes six AA batteries, used to power the motorized film advance. Because it powers the advance, you could say that the batteries are somewhat critical, and it didn’t even slightly occur to me that extra batteries would be a smart thing to carry to a remote location. Oops.

The batteries in my 645 were the ones that came in the camera when I bought it. One of the first things I did when I got the camera home is to use a battery checker to test the condition of the batteries. Everything checked-out, so I opted not to replace them.

Even when “new,” I wouldn’t say that the motorized advance was particularly sprightly. When I read in the manual that the camera could do repeated shots at 1.5 second intervals, let’s just say I was… Skeptical. But, the camera worked, I didn’t know any better, and just used it.

When I loaded the roll of Lomo 800 a little over a week ago, something didn’t seem right. I actually wondered if the roll had jammed. But picture-taking seemed to work, and my mind seemed to overlook the sluggish advance that should have been a great big red flag — if not a bright flashing signal.

Then, on the way to the Dunes, I took a landscape shot, and the picture advance did not, in fact, advance all the way. Oops. That sluggish advance? The weird sound when I loaded the roll? Let’s put it this way: I now know what the camera is telling me.

I took shots with the Minolta XG 1 until the gift shop opened, which thankfully had not-outrageously-priced AAs in two-packs. As soon as I loaded them, the camera finished its advance on the one shot. I took the rest of the roll successfully, and loaded my Velvia 50.

As anxious as I am to see how the Velvia worked for me, I think the takeaways are:

  • One challenge with used gear is that you don’t know how it’s supposed, to work, or to sound, or to function. It’s a learning experience, and honestly, part of the charm and fun.
  • I now know how the camera sounds when the batteries are running low, and will know to change them when it sounds that way.
  • Carry extra batteries — just like you carry extra film.

On reflection, that should all have been glaringly obvious. Sometimes I’m a bit… Slow. Like the film advance when the batteries are low.

One more thing: The Pentax 645 actually has a very speedy advance — the manual wasn’t lying. In essence, those batteries should have been replaced the moment I got it home. Again, lessons learned.