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Thread: Thoughts on MF cameras

  1. #1
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    Thoughts on MF cameras

    I'm looking to grab a reasonably inexpensive MF camera (<$500), but I'd like to use it primarily hand-held for street photography, with the occasional tripod shot - macro, product, landscapes, etc. I don't necessarily need it to have a built-in meter, and it certainly doesn't need to be AF, but I would prefer it to have an MLU option. I'm also looking for a system, so availability of lenses/backs/accessories should rank pretty high. For reliable hand-held use I'm looking for either leaf shutters, or well-behaved mirror SLRs. For street photography I might prefer a WLF, but I'm OK with a regular VF.

    After a few months of research, here's what I think my options are, but I'd like to hear some personal opinions on these:

    1. Mamiya 645: I played around with one in my local camera store the other day, and the shutter was surprisingly quiet and soft. I think it was one of the earlier models of the M645. I can put a WLF on it instead of the prism, and it comes with MLU, but doesn't have interchangeable backs. Good lenses, and widely available accessories.

    2. Pentax 645: Most SLR-like, with a wide range of lenses and accessories. Only comes with prism, no MLU unless I get the NII (which is out of my price range), no WLF. Not sure how quiet the operation is, nor how dampened the mirror mechanism is.

    3. Kowa 6MM/66: This was a bit of a surprise when I ran across it because it's not as mainstream as the others. They're reputed to be very quiet and with low vibration because of the leaf shutters, which also give them high flash sync. Limited access to lenses/accessories, but overall pretty cheap as a system. Some mechanical issues here and there, but nothing that can't be worked around. The 66 has changeable backs, but loses MLU. It's also 6x6, which could come in handy and I can always crop to 6x4.5.

    4. Bronica ETRSi: This one gets rave reviews, comes with WLF, metering, backs, leaf shutters, MLU, and lots of accessories and lenses. I haven't held one to know how quiet or soft the shutter is compared to the Mamiya 645 I tried, but it holds promise.

    5. Others: I looked at Bronica SQ-Ai, Bronica EC-TL, but when I played with them in the store the kick from the mirror was quite severe, so while they began as the camera systems with the most promise, they fell off the grid because of that. I looked at the Rolleiflex and it was very quiet and free of vibration, but I think I want a bit more flexibility than a TLR offers, and besides it was out of my price range, as were the 'blads and the Contaxes.

    Anyway, I'd appreciate any thoughts or considerations I haven't thought about in settling on a camera system to get into this format (aside from my Holga).

    Cheers!
    Last edited by photoSmart42; 23rd July 2010 at 23:42.
    -Dragos
    Panasonic GH1/G1, Canon FTb(n)/F-1, Mamiya C330F/RB67 Pro SD, Chamonix 45N-2, Nikon F5 + Assorted Lenses

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    take a look at the Rollei twin lens reflex; re-defines the idea of quiet and is a very nice rig

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    Quote Originally Posted by jlm View Post
    take a look at the Rollei twin lens reflex; re-defines the idea of quiet and is a very nice rig
    I did look at the Rolleiflex cameras, and they're very quiet, but they're also way too expensive for my price range.
    -Dragos
    Panasonic GH1/G1, Canon FTb(n)/F-1, Mamiya C330F/RB67 Pro SD, Chamonix 45N-2, Nikon F5 + Assorted Lenses

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    All of the MF SLR's, leaf or focal plane shutter, have huge mirrors that flop and cause more problems than the shutters themselves in many cases, so I wouldn't get too hung up on leaf versus focal plane unless you are planning using flash fill.

    For stealth, the Mamiya C220/330 TLR is worth a look for sure and maybe even a fuji 645 folder -- both should be in your price range.

    Pentax 645 SLR had small, relatively inexpensive lenses that were excellent, and the body was perhaps the smallest and lightest of all of the 645 SLR's -- the only downside is it did not accept film backs as they are part of the body. You could get inserts to pre-load though. Probably very close to your price range.

    Mamiya 645 manual probably falls into your budget, lots of options.

    Of course Hassy V is a relative bargain right now too, but I think still out of your price range, but maybe not by much, so definitely worth a look...

    Pentax 6x7 is a tank and nothing stealthy about it, but makes great images. Probably near your price range.

    Mamiya RB/RZ 67 too big really, Fuji 680, way too big.

    All of the Bronicas -- 645 ETRS, 6x6 SQ and 6x7 GS -- are very good options and relatively compact for their respective formats. 67 is big, but back didn't rotate so was smaller than Mamiya and IMHO it was actually more friendly hand-held than the Pentax 6x7 --- try first as YMMV. GS had a power winder grip option too that was very nifty. All were relatively quiet for SLR's too. I have no idea on prices, but I suspect very good deals since no Digital backs can be mounted to them. System depth will be limited.

    Mamiya and Hassy have a few advantages. One advantage to Mammy is if you ever decide to go with an AF body or even digital, you can upgrade body to an AF and still use your manual lenses on it until you eventually replace them with AF versions. Probably close to your price range for an older manual kit. Hassy V (and F) can use a digital back right now. Final advantage to Hassy V or Mamiya 645 is system depth and continuity --- there are literally TONS of lenses and body versions and various accessories for each system out there. Hence as existing ones break or you want to add to or upgrade the system, it's pretty easy to get whatever your heart desires. Not nearly so easy with the other brands. Peruse the KEH used sections for Hassy Manual and Mamiya 645 Manual focus, then peruse Pentax and Bronica and you'll see what I mean. But then it doesn't matter as long as you can get all you want...

    Contax 645 would be right at the top of the list too, except it is AF, still popular for digital so still well outside the stated price range.

    My final reco: If you can swing it, start with a working Hassy 500c, WLF, 12 back and an 80 (or possibly even the old 60) lens. It may push your budget slightly, so go for a slighty uglier one if necessary. It's a workhorse and you'll never feel you chintzed yourself on gear -- and the square format is a dream for street work -- really.

    Of course buy from a reputable dealer, etc, etc so you don't get stuck with something that has hidden issues.
    Jack
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    "Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."
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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    Jack,

    Thank you for the detailed advice! I really appreciate it, and it does give me some pause. I hadn't considered the C220/330 option, and oddly enough I ran into a reference for those cameras this morning.

    I think my choice is becoming two-fold: a) get a 6x6 camera for around $100 (either a cheap TLR like the C330, a cheap 6x6 SLR, or even a folder) that will give me a chance to play with the format beyond what my Holga can put out currently and b) once I decide for sure I like the format and the costs associated with it I'll save the money and get a 500c.
    -Dragos
    Panasonic GH1/G1, Canon FTb(n)/F-1, Mamiya C330F/RB67 Pro SD, Chamonix 45N-2, Nikon F5 + Assorted Lenses

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    Got this in the mail today. Still testing it, so haven't cleaned it. Took it out for a spin in the park, and shot a couple of rolls of Ektar 100. I think the shutter is one stop too slow, but I'll confirm it once I get the photos back. So far I'm really excited about using this. I'm metering using my iPhone for now, but I'm pondering getting a Gossen Luna Pro SBC if the iPhone doesn't work as well as I expect.

    Anyway, here it is, my new Mamiya C330 F with the Blue Dot 80/2.8:
    -Dragos
    Panasonic GH1/G1, Canon FTb(n)/F-1, Mamiya C330F/RB67 Pro SD, Chamonix 45N-2, Nikon F5 + Assorted Lenses

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    That's a handsome beast!

    FWIW, I've found that my iPhone's Light Meter app is more accurate than my Luna Six. Especially using the tap-to-focus as a spotmeter. (It's a lot easier to read, too!)

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    Quote Originally Posted by Maggie O View Post
    That's a handsome beast!

    FWIW, I've found that my iPhone's Light Meter app is more accurate than my Luna Six. Especially using the tap-to-focus as a spotmeter. (It's a lot easier to read, too!)
    Thank you! I can't wait to get back the test shots.
    -Dragos
    Panasonic GH1/G1, Canon FTb(n)/F-1, Mamiya C330F/RB67 Pro SD, Chamonix 45N-2, Nikon F5 + Assorted Lenses

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    The Mamiya C330 is a sharp well made pro camera. I personally have owned, Hassy's, 1000F's, 500C's and Mamiya 645's, and RB 67, but the Bronica ETRS is the best of the lot. The lenses are better than the Mamiya 645's equal to the Hassleblad, the body and mechanics overall are superior, shutter speed is accurate always. I have never had a mechanical breakdown in a Bronica ever in over 25 years of use. I found the Hassleblad 500C to be not so robust. But I have a friend who has the C330 and the results are as good as you could ever want ever, quiet and dependable, nice choice. Joe

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    I just bought a Bronica GS-1 and cant wait to try it out. rollsman

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    Rolleicord's area nice option if you can't afford a 'flex. Also Autocords are nice. I have recently bitten by TLR bug, very hard to put down and I love shooting square. Never liked 645 much.m
    David
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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    While I enjoyed my 330C, I loved my Bronica 645 Etrs. Lenses were great, handling with the grip made it almost as fast as a 35mm slr, had multiple film backs, and it never went into the shop.

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    Given any thought to a Bronica RF645? Quiet, moderately discreet and not too expensive.

    Chris
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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    Good purchase photosmart42. I used to have one of those cameras. I have a 16x16 prints on my living room wall that I shot with it and it is lovely. Have fun.

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack View Post
    My final reco: If you can swing it, start with a working Hassy 500c, WLF, 12 back and an 80 (or possibly even the old 60) lens. It may push your budget slightly, so go for a slighty uglier one if necessary. It's a workhorse and you'll never feel you chintzed yourself on gear -- and the square format is a dream for street work -- really.
    I agree completely (except 500C/M rather than a 500C).
    You can get the older C lenses in a full range of focal lengths, and they work fine. The newer CF lenses are a bit nicer ergonomically, but most are the same optical design as the C counterparts. The light only sees the glass, so make sure it's blemish-free and you're good to go.

    The nice thing about Hasselblad is that all of the parts work together regardless of vintage.
    I have a CFV-39 digital back for my system, and it works fine with both the latest 555ELD body and an original 500C/M body.

    Buy from KEH, and get lesser quality if economics demand. http://www.keh.com

    - Leigh

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    Quote Originally Posted by chrism View Post
    Given any thought to a Bronica RF645? Quiet, moderately discreet and not too expensive.

    Chris
    love to find one way under a grand

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    Don't overlook the Yashica 124 series. I've been working on some drum scans my son shot with his 124G and they are excellent. You can buy on on eBay that has been recently CLA'd by Mark Hama and stay within your budget, or find a cheap one and get it serviced.

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    Senior Member JoelM's Avatar
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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    Quote Originally Posted by viablex1 View Post
    love to find one way under a grand
    They are under a grand. Depends on what you want. I have an RF645, 65mm and 100mm lenses for $1500 with some boxes and excellent condition. The deals are out there.

    Joel

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    Enjoy! MF is a blast but beware that once you start using it 35mm seems so darn small!

    LouisB

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    Re: Thoughts on MF cameras

    #4, the Bronica ETRSi is the most bang for the buck. The Mamiya TLR lenses are VERY soft whereas the Bronica's are exceptional. You can add lenses as funds become available and they are practically given away these days.

    Joel

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