Topic – Medium Format Formats Woes

Recently it dawned on me that I have not used the fine Fuji GW690II for a while. Why is that? While it is a fantastic camera in many ways I have found two drawbacks with it:

1/ I only get 8 pictures on a roll of 120 type film. Those are large and lovely 6×9 cm sharp negatives, but still only eight of them unfortunately.

2/ I feel the 2:3-ratio of the negative is much too wide in many instances. And somehow it appears even wider in my head. Oftentimes composing the image appears harder than it ought to be. Perhaps this is an effect of the large rangefinder window?

This got me thinking (never a good thing). Both make me use the camera much less than I should. As I have mentioned before it is not uncommon for me to crop pictures to a square format. Perhaps a 6×6 camera would make composition easier? Or, perhaps 6×7? The latter would also allow cropping to 6×6 without losing much negative. Mind you, 6×7 is a very nice format, not square and not too wide. Much like a focal length of 40 mm on my SLR, not too wide and not to narrow, just nice.

So a Fuji GW670 would fit the equation and solve the dilemma. A short browse on the net reports that they are as uncommon and hen’s teeth, certainly so here in Europe. More browsing and some cameras called Mamiya 6 and Mamiya 7 start popping up here and there. What are they really?

  •  The Mamiya 6, “M6”, is 6×6 cm native film camera with some kind of semi-collapsible lens making the camera small (in a medium format camera sense of the word of course). Or lenses, as there are three of them in the Mamiya 6 “system”: 50, 75 and 150 mm. A total of 12 pictures fills a 120 roll of film.
  • Mamiya 7, the “M7”, is a bit more modern, sports a slightly larger 6×7 cm negative format and yet another set of lenses. This time four of them with focal lengths of 43, 50, 65, 80 and 150 mm. The lenses are not collapsible as was the case with the lenses for the  Mamiya 6. It squeezes 10 pictures to a 120 roll of film.

Both the M6 and M7 have internal meters and both allow you to change lenses with the camera loaded with film should the need arise. Note that the M6 lenses are not compatible with the M7. The M6’s collapse, the M7’s don’t. There is a black curtain one can slide in front of the film to protect it while changing lenses.

Due to the rangefinder design of the cameras there is no mirror between the lens and the film plane. If you are not used to a rangefiner this may be a bit of a mixed blessing. But if you like rangefinders this opens up for some major lens design advantages!  Not only does this enable a very silent shutter operation (the actual shutter in situated inside the lens itself) but also does it allow the lens designers to make more symmetrical lenses with inherent better picture rendering qualities! The shutter is opened electronically for the exposure and closed otherwise. One cannot look through the lens unless one opens the camera back, puts the camera on “B” and presses the shutter.

The rangefinder is wide and bright and the rangefinder frame is also parallax compensated for easier framing.

SLR lenses are often of a so-called retro focus design and cannot have an optically optimum distance from the rear lens to the film plane, as the mirror slaps around in that space. This leads to an interesting aspect of the Mamiya rangefinders, the lenses, which are all reported to have extremely high sharpness and low distortion giving superbly detailed negatives. In fact some of the lenses protrude quite a bit into the camera body, something that is definitely not possible with SLRs. I have not read many, if any, negative points on the Fuji EBC lenses but the Mamiya’s seem to get more rave reviews.

As the lens’s quality is definitely one of the major, if not the major, aspect of a camera these Mamiyas took my interest. A definite draw back, if not the draw back, is the availability and cost of these rangefinders: they are rather unique here in Europe and from overseas they seem to cost somewhere in between $1000 and $2000. Add to that customs fees and taxes and the price quickly mounts to very high levels indeed.

After reading more about the camera on photo.net, rangefinderforum.org  and apug.org and watching picture samples on flickr.com the camera was definitely on my radar but the high price was putting me off. Tum-tiddeli-dum…

As it happens sometimes in life some things coincide in a happy way. But they only seem to coincide if you are ready and prepared and quick to notice, don’t they? A notable birthday was coming up and a sudden injection of cash made me examine the large web auction site a bit more closely and after a few weeks something interesting popped up in front of me: A Mamiya 7 with its normal 80mm f/4 lens from Germany (meaning no customs or taxes). Should I? Should I not? After studying the sellers previous record and comments I decided to jump the gun.

All the way from Berlin it landed on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago. Actually before my b-day, but of course I could not resist using it immediately.

M7

The Mamiya 7 is a trifle smaller than the Fuji GW690II, mainly due to its less wide negative format. The right hand grip is better shaped and makes hand holding easy. The grip contains its battery by the way.

M7 (1)

Neither of them can be called exactly small but both of them are pretty easy to carry with a neck-strap anyway.

First impression of the Mamiya 7 in real life was that it a) looked nice and b) fit really well in my hands. I cannot say I ever had any trouble in that respect with the GW690II but in comparison the Mamiya 7 handles much better and sort of melts in position. A very definitive plus. Now the GW690II appears much more difficult to hold…

A very definite minus is that there is no warning whatsoever that the lens cap is on. So you just fire away happily and only afterwards find the cap was on. Bummer! The Fuji GA645Zi at least gives a warning. The Mamiya 7 should too. I really think so!

Some people claim the Mamiya 7 is plasticky, others swear it is an aluminum alloy. Well, both are correct. The body appears to be some light weight metal but with the top in plastic. I wouldn’t call it plasticky even though it is apparent that its main purpose is as a photographic equipment and it is not intended for driving in nails. I cannot imagine it is weather sealed to any greater extent. On the other hand the top cover has no obvious holes in it.

The finder is big and clear. The rangefinder patch is easier to use with the Mamiya 7. It is much sharper and clearer. The pictures below were taken with a S95 straight into the viewer, the left one is focussed at infinity, the right is at close focus. The patch is more distinct and easier to use than the GW690II’s. Here it looks as if there is some heavy vignetting, that is just the S95’s version, in reality there is (of course) no vignetting and sharp corners. Note how the frame is parallax corrected and moves with the distance setting.

m7finder m7finder (1)

Some immediate notes after only about four rolls:

This is the easiest MF camera to load with film I have used. The rolls just fall into place. I find it easier to load if I first put the new film’s loose end onto the take up spool and give the film winding lever a full throw and then seat the film roll in the left compartment. So it is a right to left movement.

The shutter is VERY easy to fire my mistake! I noticed the metering starts at the very first push on the button, there is no “half way pressure point” it just starts. The “half way” push fires a shot. Much to my surprise sometimes… So I never wind onto the next frame after shooting but wait until after metering for the next shot if I can. This way you can push as hard as you like on the shutter button but only the metering starts. This method could interfere with AE-Lock of course, but works most of the time.

From 135 film there is the saying “f/8 — and stay there” for maximum sharpness. In that case stopping down to f/8 is for maximizing optical sharpness and avoid “f/larger than 8” to stop diffraction rearing its ugly head. With medium format the diameter of the aperture is so large it is practically diffraction-free even at f/16 and f/22. So the saying now is “f/11 — and stay there” for maximum sharpness of the lens. And don’t be afraid for the odd excursion to f/16 or f/22 if need be. As with large format photography it is not unwise to use f/22 or f/32 for maximum depth of field if possible.

And, to finish this off, a couple of photos:

M7 (2)

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8665618769_1f3a31d91e_h

M7 (5) M7 (6) M7 (7)

M7 (8) M7 (9)

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2 Responses to Topic – Medium Format Formats Woes

  1. stillthrill1 says:

    Nice review!!!! I have been looking at a mamiya 7 and 80mm combo for some time now… I have some 35mm cameras that, if sold, could give me that kind of money… but then $1000 could be put towards a nice tripod and ballhead as well…

    I would appreciate a camera that loads 120mm format film easily. I think my Pentax 67 is not the easiest (although not overly difficult). Sometimes I have problems with aligning the male sprocket with the female spool.

    I also love the 6×7 format. 2:3 aspect ratio can be too wide at times… but sometimes that is what you want. Also, you get two more shots on a roll of 120… but that’s not too much of a game changer is it?

    Love your blog.

    • jabcam says:

      Thanks! Really glad you like it!

      So you still have puny 35mm cameras around do you? Sell them:) Any MF gives so much better negs, but you already know that…

      The Mamiya 7 is a fine piece of equipment indeed. Much likely far too advanced for my photographic “needs”, but when the Gear Acquisition Syndrome Vortex sets in, it is too late:) As you wrote “Man sees shiny object…”. Love that, so very true!

      6×7 is special. I don’t just think it is the novelty of it . If I need more “landscape” there is always the GA645Zi.

      Cheers
      (That sprocket-spool issue is much less of a trouble on the Mamiya)

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