Lightweight medium format

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by Rick Helmke, Feb 13, 2020.

  1. Evening everyone,

    I'm giving serious thought to a lightweight medium format system. I have and RB67 Pro S and a few lenses and I love it. Problem is that it is a big heavy camera and while I shoot it handheld pretty much always I may need something not so heavy in the near future. My wife and I are likely to start spending a lot of time traveling soon and I'd like to get something that is a bit smaller and lighter that I can carry a modest distance on foot. I thought about a Hasselblad but wonder about reliability and repair availability. I bought a couple once and found them to be pretty well worn out but I like the smaller size and weight compared to the RB. I am also thinking about a 645 format. I'm not sure that Mamiya is still supporting their 645 system but really would like a Bronica ETR. Is there anyone servicing this system? From what little I have seen the lenses are outstanding and a decent sized kit would not be all that heavy. Other suggestions? Thanks.

    Rick H.
  2. Folders are relatively inexpensive, and both light weight and compact. However their optics are antiquated and non-interchangeable. Film too, is expensive and bulky.

    For serious medium format photography I would definitely consider an Hasselblad X1Dii. Its native lenses are few and expensive, but V lenses can be used with an adapter and the electronic shutter option in the camera. The X1Dii is designed to use lenses with internal shutters, much like the V series bodies, hence the added weight and cost of native lenses.

    The Fuji GFX-50R is perhaps a better choice. It is about the same size as the X1Dii, but has a focal plane shutter (and electronic shutter option). The lenses are very reasonable for MF (~$2000), including a couple of zoom lenses, and you have a 50 MP sensor. Its companion model GFX-50S has a DSLR appearance and more features, but $2K more money. It takes the same lenses as the 50R.

    You don't need a full suite of lenses for travel with medium format. I used a 60 mm lens for the majority of my shots with a Hasselblad and cropping (1.5x) digital back. On that basis, I suspect that the Fuji 32-64 f/4 lens would make a nice one-lens travel kit. My next lenses would be the 23 mm and 110 mm, not necessarily in that order.

    Is 50 MP enough to replace film? You bet it is, and then some. When I got my 16 MP back for the Hassie, I never shot another roll of film, nor missed it. 50 MP in medium format is from another universe. You would find it takes extraordinary care to get the most out of 50 MP, to optimize focus and minimize camera shake.
  3. Can you describe your needs towards a system? - Like 35mm equivalent focal lengths? Or what you are (really!) using with the RB?
    • The lightest cameras I am aware of are old folders. I have no clue what could be utilized as alternative lenses with a compact 6.5x9 field camera like a Bergheil. The tin plate bayonet of it is easy enough to reproduce, so if ground glass focusing the wide and telephoto is an option for you that camera would weigh very little. - Finding sufficiently reliable roll holders might be an issue though. I am not overly happy with my prewar Rollex paptent (the later Linhof stuff is much more solid / usable).
    • Didn't Fuji even offer a P&S with zoom?
    • The Mamiya Rangefinders (6 & 7)? - Drawbacks: Spare parts supply and pricing.
    While I am somewhat eager to shoot what I already own again, some day, I don't see sense in going for lightest MF alternatives somewhere on the market, considering the digital competition. - Digital MF is beyond my stretched financial reach. - I don't see sense in it for handholding & strolling me. Stabilized 35mm digital would be the better bet there and even ordinary one keeps me sufficiently content (compared to fast BW in my TLR).
  4. If you want to replace your RB67 with something lighter, and you like the Bronica ETR, just get the ETR. Prices for all pieces are very reasonable, electronics are mostly reliable, and anything that breaks is easily replaced instead of expensively repaired. Your two compromises will be 645 format being less impressive than 6x7, and inability to use a WLF as conveniently as the RB (you'll need the ETR plain or AE prism).

    The oldest metal-bodied Mamiya 645 were very well made and lenses are good, but it isn't nearly as ergonomic as the ETR with its grip and the focal plane shutter is less versatile than the leaf shutter ETR. Newer plastic body Mamiya 645 can have significant issues that you wouldn't want to be ambushed by during travel.

    Hasselblad is smaller than RB67 but the handling is distinctively clumsier and they are FAR less amenable to handholding (one of my big regrets switching to Hassy from RB was the loss of handheld versatility). A properly functioning RB with good seals can be handheld at 1/30th sec with very decent results, the Hasselblad is almost useless below 1/125th if not 1/250th. Also the Hassy is only really compact with the 80mm or 100mm Planar: slap on the popular 50mm Distagon wide and you've got a nose-heavy foot-long lump.

    Hasselblad lens shutters go out more often than RB lens shutters, and cost around $400 to service. The standard focus screens are dark: OK and easily focused in outdoor daylight, not great indoors. To equal the brightness of recent RB screens, you need to spend $200-$400 for a Hassy Acute Matte. The Zeiss lenses are wonderful, but the Bronica Zenzanons are very good, half the price, and have very reliable electronic leaf shutters that hardly ever go out.

    If you can find/afford it, the Contax 645 is a modern, nifty compromise: newer superb Zeiss AF lenses (better than the 'blad Zeiss), built-in AE and motorized film advance. Focal plane shutter allows the fastest Zeiss medium format lenses. Only slightly larger than Bronica 645 with grip.

    The ultimate MF travel kit is the Mamiya 7 rangefinder system, but its still very expensive and you'd want to have a good tech overhaul the film advance and RF before embarking on a series of trips. Getting used to a direct viewfinder/rangefinder vs SLR can be difficult.

    If you are willing to consider digital MF, as Ed_Ingold mentioned the Hasselblad X1D is killer: basically the digital equivalent of Mamiya 7 but with even better lenses, digital convenience, AF, and electronic WYSIWYG viewfinder. The Fuji GFX system is comparable but bodies and lenses can be larger/heavier. Hasselblad delivers amazing colors straight out of camera, Fuji perhaps less so but has the huge advantage of Capture One raw converter software compatibility.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2020
  5. LOL.
    They didn't 'support' the plastic-bodied Super, Pro and ProTL when they were in production! Poor build-quality and design flaws ruined that series of cameras.

    OTOH, the metal-clad 645 series were built like tanks and will probably work until the end of time, but they're heavy beasts.
  6. As Jochen was saying, it has a lot to do with what you intend to do and what your priorities are. It sounds like weight and serviceability are two important factors.

    An interchangable 3 lens setup (as you know from your RB67 Pro S) gives you the luxury of always carrying two lenses you aren't using. While that might pay off by givng you flexibility, the weight and space penalty can be significant and you did mention weight as being important. A folding rangefinder such as a Super Ikonta (and there are others) have fixed lenses but retain the 6x6 format and in some cases the SI can be found in 6x9. You lose the extra two lenses but they are much lighter and fit in a jacket pocket. If carrying the extra lenses is not an issue then you could look at Bronica's SQA or SQAi system. They are relatively inexpensive and have optical quality that rivals equivalent Hasselblad offerings. I don't mention the ETR because I don't see the advantage of carrying (hypothetically) 4.5 pounds of 6x4.5 gear rather than 5 pounds of 6x6. Is it really worth the saved half pound to leave all that potential imaging space on the table?

    If servicability is an issue, then you really need to consider that as good as a Bronica system would be (I have an SQA-1 and love it) the list of repair options shrinks every day. Whether you go for SQ A or ETR, people who can source parts or repair these are getting older and retiring. Of course, the lower price of the Bronica gear DOES give you the option to just chuck a component that has failed and buy another but this approach isn't the most convenient and has its own set of risks. Hasselblad gear has its attraction but its expensive, heavier, and has its own set of serviceability land mines.

    Another option would be a TLR
  7. The lenses I have for the Rb are the 127, 180 and the soft focus 150. I am happy with them all but it’s a heavy system and some days I just don’t want to haul it around. I want a film based system because I have plenty of digital gear already and see no need at this time to upgrade it. The Hasselblad 500 is smaller and lighter but doesn’t operate as seamlessly as others and I tend to question reliability on their older film gear. The 645 cameras seem more mobile and easier to use in the field. I spent a lot of time as a news photographer so mobility is important to me. I am leaning toward Bronica with a prism finder, no meter needed.
    Rick H.
  8. They are expensive and hard to get these days, but for years I have used a Mamiya 7 II with an 80mm and 65mm lens, light camera, I use it without tripod all the time, and incredible optics.
    robert_bowring likes this.
  9. ++++ for the Mamiya 6. I bought mine in 1992 and have never had a problem with it. Light weight and very good lenses.
  10. With just a prism finder and nothing else it will be reasonably light to carry around. To keep it light weight, resist adding a battery motor drive. If you think you may not want to use a tele lens in your traveling, I'd recommend just the prime 75mm and a 40mm. A neck strap is helpful also since the camera wouldn't have a handle, but you could always fit an accessory handle, which generally are light weight and won't add much more. Take some spare batteries.

    I had trouble holding my ETRSi still when I first started using it. I couldn't keep it steady when pressing the shutter button, it was the first time I'd used a camera with the shutter button on the front. I needed to really concentrate on what I was doing and watch that the shutter speeds weren't getting to low, being aperture priority with the prism finder attached.

    It's just me, but 645 seems strange. I can't figure out if it's a small medium format, or a enlarged 35mm. Whatever it is, the negs need to be sharp to gain advantage out of them. Two things are necessary, steady camera, and higher shutter speeds rather than slower speeds for handheld shooting.
  11. The entire point of the ETR system was its relatively compact prism and integrated wind grip: without those its as clumsy and unworkable as a Hasselblad or Mamiya M645. With them, it handles like a large 35mm SLR. The manual-wind grip is light, film advances with a two stroke thumb lever at eye level, and the grip shutter release falls naturally under your index finger. This is as small and convenient as you can get in medium format short of completely shifting over to a rangefinder.

    The 645 format is a steep drop from 6x7, however, and photographers are sharply divided on this point. In the pre-digital era, it didn't seem as significant: 35mm was king, so a fast operating portable 645 system was still seen as a huge improvement in quality. It quickly took market share from 6x6, which was almost always getting cropped to 645 anyway. Today, film is perceived as a much bigger bother than it once was, and many do feel using the smallest 645 format doesn't justify the bother while 6x6 or esp 6x7 does. Its very subjective, and unfortunately there really is no lightweight 6x7 travel system other than the Mamiya and Fuji rangefinders. So you might need to adjust your expectations just a little: 645 is amazing, but not as in-your-face amazing as the huge 6x7 format.

    Given your three existing RB67 lenses, you might want to seriously consider a folder or fixed lens Fuji rangefinder instead of a smaller but not really less bulky SLR system. In 6x7, those three focal lengths are very close together: variations on a theme. For studio/landscape/portrait, you've got three very nice choices, for travel they are so close together you could really get away with just one of them. The 150 soft-focus would be largely irrelevant unless you had the time for leisurely setups, and there is no such lens for non-RB systems. The 180 is just slightly longer: great portrait lens, but a little tight for most travel opportunities. The 127 is wonderful long-normal, probably the lens you would get the most travel use out of.

    That being the case, a 645 or 6x7 rangefinder might be the thing for you. The Fuji 645 is very light, and can be had with either fixed normal or semi-wide lenses or an AF 55-90mm zoom. Bronica made a VERY nice compact 645 rangefinder with interchangeable lenses: pricier than the Fujis but better built and still reasonable $ considering what you get. The 645 RF cameras all have vertical portrait oriented viewfinders, so you'd be turning them a lot for many travel landscape shots.

    Moving to 6x7 you've got the Fuji "Texas Leicas", many models to choose from with either a normal or semiwide fixed lens. There were a couple of 6x9 Fujis with interchangeable lenses: excellent but large/heavy. Then theres the aforementioned Mamiya 7, or if you want something really portable the Makina 6x7 with its fabulous folding Nikkor lens. Pricey, but beloved.

    Coming back full circle, if you want to try square format (shooting for the full square, not cropping to 645), consider a Hasselblad with the legendary 100mm f/3.5 Planar (instead of the more common 80mm). If you shoot for square, the Hassy with WLF is notably smaller/lighter than RB67, retains the WLF handling, and isn't much bigger than Bronica ETR. The 100mm Planar is probably the single greatest lens Zeiss ever designed for medium format: the Hasselblad high-resolution standard, unavailable in the same form for any other MF camera system. Angle of view is roughly the same as your 127 RB. Outstanding lens, zero distortion, flat field, tack sharp corner to corner even wide open at f/3.5.

    Hasselblads can be a bit Jekyll/Hyde, yes, but only for those on very tight budgets who don't want to spend money on proper CLA service. If you buy one from a legit dealer or repair specialist with documentation proving recent servicing, it should run trouble-free for years. Or, buy any Hassy you like from the typical second hand sources, then have it overhauled by a good tech yourself prior to travel, and you'll be good to go. Hasselblads don't like to sit unused: it makes the gearing sticky and sluggish, esp in the lens shutters. Many of them have been sitting at the bottom of a closet for years before coming up for sale, so most require an overhaul from that stagnation. After a service, they stay good as long as you shoot or dry-fire them at least once a month.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2020
    mwainfeld likes this.
  12. You should also consider the Fuji 645Zi. It's a rangefinder camera with a 55-90 zoom. Looks like a good travel camera.
  13. Do you feel the same about 6x6? Because there really is no difference between 6x6 and 645, once you've chucked away the bits of the 6x6 frame that don't fit on a standard paper size, or have irrelevant bits of subject in them - like empty foreground or sky.

    You just have to actually use 645 to see that its quality is streets ahead of 35mm.
    peter_fowler likes this.
  14. Don't overlook TLRs. If you like 6x6 format and waist level reflex viewing, TLR is the smallest possible form factor. Not quite as accurate framing as SLR, but nearly as good at normal distances beyond five feet, and way better than a rangefinder. I personally would not tote a Rolleiflex for travel these days: far too valuable, and an international theft magnet. Many alternatives at more realistic prices are available, chief among them the Minolta Autocords with their superb Rokkor lenses.

    The tradeoff for the compactness of TLR is the fixed 75 or 80mm lens. I prefer the interchangeable-lens Mamiya C220F, but its 30% larger/heavier than typical TLRs due to the RB67-style bellows focusing. This is somewhat compensated by the relatively small lenses: two or three Mamiya TLR lenses fit in the space occupied by an RB 180mm. The Mamiya 180mm Super TLR lens is incredible (and cheap), but a two-lens kit of 65mm +105mm (or 135mm) is probably more travel-versatile in the same amount of bag space.
    andyfalsetta likes this.
  15. This needs some toning down. Yes, the 100 mm Planar is a very good lens. But it only outshines the extremely humble 80 mm Planar at infinity and shot wide open. Else, that humble 80 mm is on par or even better than the legendary 100 mm Planar.
    Reputations, legends even, are funny things...
  16. Not especially, but only the lenses tend to gum up sometimes.
  17. Wow! I once met a gal with "photographer"- journeyman diploma, among other qualifications, complaining about her camera's weight; it was a Ricoh made Rollei knockoff (even with 35mm insert). The next day I convinced her to shut up by handing my C33 over. - I had the Mamiya TLRs filed under bang for the buck and didn't consider them that bad to carry (while I was young), but seeing them suggested in this(!) thread, was a surprise for Super Isolette & Bergheil spoiled me. - I'll stick to them happier now.
  18. It terms of film cameras still being serviced I don't know. Last Spring I decided that I wanted a more compact medium format camera. What I ended up with was a Fujica GS645. It's a semi-modern folder. It's still bulkier than I'd like but over the last couple of weekends I've gone skiing with it tucked into a wallet/tablet holster under my jacket. It worked pretty well.

  19. Yes, you've repeatedly made it crystal clear you think all the 100mm should be rounded up and sunk to the bottom of the ocean because the 80mm is just as good if not better. Because, you know, Hasselblad was utterly delusional when they decided the 80mm wasn't ultimately quite as good as it could be and asked Zeiss to better it even if the focal length had to change. Hasselblad fans have been arguing 80 vs 100 for fifty years: this will never be definitively solved because they both excel in different ways. Its entirely subjective, aside from a couple technical points where the 100 Planar for Hassy outperforms any other Planar (those points may or may not matter depending on the type of photography involved).

    In the case of OP, they are coming from a Mamiya RB67 kit with lenses in the range of 127mm. They are considering Hasselblad. The 100mm Planar would be the obvious choice to replicate the same angle of view in 6x6, with the added bonus of very high performance at the distances and apertures often used in travel photography.

    Most photographers find the 80mm focal length slightly more versatile, or are just too lazy to shop anything but the traditional Hassy kit shown in all the old brochures. Over the past few years the original steep price discrepancy between 80mm and 100mm has almost disappeared, with the 80mm so overly prized it now often sells for barely less than the 100mm. So the 100mm has become much more financially attractive than it used to be (in C and CF versions, anyway: the final 100mm CFi is still rare enough to command a significant price premium).
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2020
  20. I didn' say that. Even Zeiss will tell you that the 100 mm only outperforms the 80 mm at infinity and wide open. For close ups, the 80 mm is better.

    It is not a matter of "fans arguing". It's simple fact.

Share This Page