My first forage into medium format came after using digital cameras for some years. The lure of medium format was the larger negative and a hope for better resolution. As it turned out better resolution depended more on the film used and the developing process – which I doubt I will master completely – but a lasting impression was how different film really looked. At the time I was doing only black-and-white photography and perhaps the lack of colour also contributed to the new “feel”?
Being kind of economical I decided against an even larger film format. The cost of film, at 15 shots per roll, would have been too high I assumed. So the 6×4.5 seemed a logical step. Enter the Mamiya 645:
My first medium format camera, a Mamiya 645 with its standard 80/2.8 lens.
The Mamiya 645 was all the rage among high-end amateurs (and of course professionals) in the 1980’s. Some very expensive piece of equipment indeed. Back then. Only the real fanatics (and the pros) could afford one. Nowadays they can be bought for almost nothing and since they are almost all mechanical and well made will last for many decades more.
The Mamiya 645 with its waist level finder. Ready to go!
The camera requires a battery to function but it has no internal metering system. So one would have to get the exposure settings by some other means. The Sunny-16 rule perhaps or even bringing a digital camera along and only use its metering to get the numbers right? Nowadays a light meter application in my iPhone helps out. It works too.
The camera is equipped with its detachable waist level finder, a chimney you look down into. At the bottom of the finder is the ground glass where the frame is projected. Just looking down there casually is waisting (was that a pun or just bad spelling?) its potential: Go close, lean your forehead on it, the image is enormous compared to any 35 mm SLR. The frame really fills your entire field of view. It is like looking into another world. Now concentrate on the large image, study it carefully from corner to corner, adjust the distance ring on the lens for focus and… Perfect. Now slowly press the button… “KA-FLONK!!”. The sound of the shutter usually brings me back to this world.
The view down the hatch is large and bright. It really fills the entire field-of-view if you are close enough.
After the shot is taken wind the crank until it stops and you are ready for the next shot. There are 15 frames to one 120-film. Not much by todays digital standards but quite enough if you know what you are doing. In fact I often am done after 10-12 frames and waste the last few frames on something less important! I’m too cheap just to shoot blanks.
Later I found a another Mamiya 645 for next to nothing because some previous owner had peeled off its leather skin making it look chrome-ish. Definitely not a collector’s item. After some tweaking it worked and I am now in the happy situation I have two 645’s and also two lenses, the 80/2.8 above and a 45/2.8 on the latter.
The “naked” 645 with its wider 45/2.8 lens and a PD-prism.
Above, the camera is fitted with the rather bulky PD-prism which contains a light meter as well as a huge chunk of glass. With the prism you hold the camera in front of you and look into the back much like an ordinary SLR. Exposure control is rudimentary but seldom fails: To the far right in the viewer is a column of five LEDs, the middle one green, the others red. I usually set the aperture/depth of field I want, then rotate the timer knob on the prism until the middle LED lights up and all is set. Overexposure is indicated by the the upper LEDs lighting up and underexposure is signalled by the lower LEDs. All very simple and works well.
I enjoy the camera in many aspects and the only drawback I think is the bulkiness of it. It is more difficult to hold by hand than a “normal” camera. On a tripod that is of course not an issue and it just works. With a Deluxe Left-Hand Grip (Deluxe?) it is easier to hold but at the expense of an even larger kit.
Is the film too costly as I anticipated? It actually turns out not to be! I have learned to behave when it comes to taking shots. With the digital camera it is easy to take tens, if not hundreds (or more…), of photographs in one day. I have learnt to think before shooting much more and not waste neither film nor harddisk space. I also use film more for some special occasions and the digital camera for daily use.