Medium format on the cheap?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by leon_b|1, Oct 27, 2008.

  1. Hi,

    I know this question's been asked several times before, but I wanted to get some opinions in view of the recent price
    falls for MF film equipment...

    I recently started playing around with an Ikonta A I originally picked up as a 'shelf' camera. I got some beautiful
    results, especially with Provia 100F - sharp enough for my purposes, nice and contrasty (despite everything that's
    been said about the Novar) and full of character. This was enough to convince me I wanted to shoot more MF slides
    in the future. However, fun as the Ikonta is, it's a very slow and leisurely way of taking photographs, and I fancied
    getting something a bit more practical for everyday use...

    I was wondering what your latest recommendations would be for second-hand MF equipment for those on a (very)
    tight budget. Would it still be to go for a TLR, or is it the time to try and pick up a Bronica or something like that?

    Cheers for any help!
  2. You first have to define "tight." A TLR is always the least expensive way to go. You also have to decide what format you
    want to shoot. If speed is your most important criteria then a 645 with built-in meter and motor drive is fastest. My favorite
    is the Pentax 645 as it is the most compact, lightest in weight and most automatic of the 645 systems. If you want
    interchangable backs then the Mamiya and Bronica would be what you want at the cost of increased bulk and weight. If
    image quality is more important to you then you have to look at 6x7, the best being the Pentax 67 for handheld and the
    RB/RZ for studio/tripod work. No MF system is expensive compared to what it was 10 years ago so what you ultimately
    get depends on your needs or wants.
  3. Hi, thanks for the response...

    I do really like 6x6 and I could just about stretch to a very basic Bronica package for the sort of prices I've been seeing (around 300 UKP, in other words). Having said that, if a TLR is still a viable option for natural-light, outdoor photography, I'd be happy to go with that - assuming that the collectors don't price me out.
  4. If you're only looking for results which are "good enough", you have plenty to choose from. If you want results significantly better than from 35mm, you will have to get a little fussier with your equipment and (especially) your technique.

    I think Hasselblad "V" series and the Mamiya RZ present the best values in terms of price, performance and reliability. Both are still being made and serviced, and there is a wide variety of used equipment at attractive prices.

    By the time you add up the cost of equipment, film, processing and the infrastructure of medium format, you will find it costs about three times that of comparable 35mm gear. It takes a lot of effort to make that worth while - and it IS worth while.
  5. First decide on what camera type you want -- rangefinder or SLR. I think SLRs are much more user-friendly, so I would recommend this type (besides, you already have a nice rangefinder). I am not a big TLRs fan, and I think that they are vastly overrated as beginner cameras (and you can easily find rangefinders and single-lens reflex cameras for the same price as a "good" TLRs).
    Next settle on a format. 645, 6x6, 6x7 and 6x9 are popular choices, all with advantages and drawbacks. You can find exellent, automated cameras in 645 (i.e., Pentax 645, Mamiya M645...) that are inexpensive, reliable and produce stunning images. 645 is superior to any other format if speed and hand-holding are required. I love the versatility of the M645 system.
    I am not that much into 6x6, because cropping for printing is often an issue, resulting in wasted film/paper space and money. But there are some sweet cameras available in this format (and not all are from Sweden).
    6x7 is real big, the cameras for this format look huge. But I love this format and the size and weight is no problem for my shooting style. The Mamiya RZ67 is my weapon of choice and I can highly recommend it -- it is a great system with stellar optics for ridiculously little money. I think it offers the most joy if you still shoot film, as the the large negative gives you a lot to work with while the cameras are excellent and reliable.
    Any bigger format is unusual and therefore expensive or offers little in regards to system cameras. 6x9 gives you a huge negative, but then again there are only 8 frames per film, and most cameras available here are vintage and less user-friendly/fool-proof than modern offerings with high-end glass.
  6. You can get a Rollei T for reasonably cheap. I am a huge TLR fan and I think they are under rated as MF beginner cameras.
    You will get extremely high quality for little money in a Pentax 67 with 105 or 90 lens and you will also get extremely high
    quality with a 3.5F or Rollei T and probably get a camera that is not only easy to figure out and use but a camera you will
    probably love.
  7. Haven't seen anyone promote the Koni-Omega series of cameras which are selling cheap or a Mamiya C330 (or similar C series) TLR. If you need an SLR there is the Kalimar reflex or Six-60 and the Kiev 6. An Omega 200 with interch. lenses and backs is fine. Have one. Same for the Mamiya TLR. Those are all within your budget limits. Top quality as well (except for the Kalimar + Kiev but they can be had for about half your budget).
  8. In the 1950's camera makers gave away new box cameras that took 120 film; so you would buy film.
  9. Well, if you're on a really really tight budget, there's always Holga or Diana. I mean, the mechanical and optical quality might not be on par with the more serious products, but they sure have character... :)
  10. A take-everywhere camera? Any TLR. YashicaMat is huge bang for the buck. I have an EM, the light meter is very accurate and the image quality is tremendous. I paid $70 US, or about 35 Euro, or about ten UK pounds, lol.

    A 'system' camera is going to be a different ballgame than a TLR. They shine in a studio setting. 645 or 6x6 are not hard to carry around. I prefer 645 for the same reasons Beuh mentioned. With an eye level prism and a speed grip a 645 is like a beefy 35mm and just as easy to use.

    There is no replacement for my 645 cameras, but when I'm not sure what I'm taking a camera out for, my TLR fills the bill. I almost never haul out the 645 with nothing in mind.

    You can get a YashicaMat, or any quality TLR for that matter, for less than a hundred dollars US. You can get just about any 645 kit for about 350US. (body, film back, normal lens, possibly a finder and grip if you are patient).

    They are really two different animals. I foresee you with one of each in the future. Don't fight it!
  11. I love my Koni Omega Rapid 100s and Mamiya Press cameras for cheap, good quality (excellent in the case of the Mamiya Press) med format cameras that still fit in a large SLR bag or equivalent.
  12. "... recommendations would be for second-hand MF equipment for those on a (very) tight budget."

    RB-67 Pro-S with either the 90mm or 127mm lens. Complete kit for $300USD.
  13. Stick to Ikonta,until the budget would allow you to buy a Hasselblad with a set of lenses or a Rolleiflex with 2.8 Planar. Alternatively you may upgrade your TLR to Yashica, but that is not much better choise then Ikonta you already have.
  14. isn't someone going to mention the Kievs? Complete system for under $500 (and that's if you get it from a
    rebuilder that improves the camera). Then you can upgrade to Ziess glass when you have more money...and if the
    Kiev gets too flaky for you it can be replaced with a Mamiya 645 because there are Mamiya 645 adaptors for P6 lenses.

    On the other hand, The Kiev's and the Ukranian lenses are so cheap that if you break something you can just buy
    another one and that lets you be a little braver than you would be with a $2000 system.
  15. "upgrade", "replace", "buy another one"... Spend money, spend more money, spend even more money, and spend
    more money yet...<br>What wonderfull things this system has going for it!
  16. Well, thanks for all the responses so far! The Mamiya 645 and RB-67 look interesting...for that kind of money I might be able to stretch to a MF projector as well.

    I do like the Ikonta very much - the Novar really does perform well stopped down and it's even capable of blurring backgrounds in a pleasing way under some conditions; it's just that composition can be a bit of an inexact science. On the other hand, it encourages me to think before firing the shutter, which is no bad thing.
  17. I was just given a Yaschica Mat124g. I'm very pleased with this little camera. Having to lug around a Pentax 67 can get tiresome, so the little 124g is most welcome. I must be getting old. - Sean
  18. Bronica, Bronica, Bronica.

  19. I have Mamiya 645s (1000s and Super), and they take great pictures, but often don't trust the bodies. I also have a
    Hasselblad, which is a little more hard to get used to, but is perfect. I also have a Rolleiflex TLR, and it is fantastic and
    simple. I have used the Mamiya C series TLRs, and for the price, they are superb. really good macro, and
    interchangeable lenses... and Diane Arbus used one for years, which is a good testament. Before I bought the Hassie I
    was thinking of shifting my Mamiya gear to Bronica because of the central shutter, which is a more ductile design. They
    also have some very nice accessories, like the lever-wind side grip. And, I also think that the Kiev suggestion is worthy,
    as if you buy from someone who can guarantee that it is a good one, and not a lemon, they are meant to be superb
    value. I have a couple of russian lenses, one of which is an exact copy of the LTM Super Angulon 20/5.6, and it never
    fails to impress me.

    My only suggestion is that if you can afford to buy from a shop or photographer, you might have better luck with the
    reliability of the camera. 100s of photographers are selling incredible equipment for low prices, thanks to the downgrade
    to digital.

    And if automated features and precision framing are not high on your list, or if you plan to do mainly landscape, why not
    start with an old folder? I actually use a Zeiss Nettar 515 very often, which is a 6x4.5 with an uncoated Tessar. If it were
    not for the fact that it is hard to frame, for portraits, its tonal range and sharpness is superb... and i probably paid a fiver
    for it.

  20. Holga 120GN. 'Nuff sed.
  21. Holga. Not if you value a good lens, a body that doesn't leak light, more precise focus control, and accurate exposure controls. I've seen pinhole cameras (no lens involved at all except for a tiny little hole where the lens would be) make better exposures and sharper photos. To tell the truth, the Kodak Brownie cameras of the 50's were infinitely better, and that's not saying much. The Holga has its place, but not in my kit.

    Good bang for the buck can be had with a lot of medium format equipment these days. I'm using a pair of Mamiya C220's and a Hasselblad 503 these days. Both are excellent, but the Mamiya TLR's give the biggest return on investment.

    Despite the fact that used Hasselblads are going for what amounts to stupid money these days, they're still not on what I'd call the shoestring budget level. They are durable and well made machines with some of the best glass I've ever used, but they can be fussy at times. Oh yeah, and the lenses don't come cheap. That Zeiss glass, especially the later CFi series of lenses, has been holding it's value. I won't speculate on why that's so. Suffice it to say that you can outfit yourself with a Mamiya C series TLR and a few lenses for the cost of a good used 'blad and an 80 mm f/2.8 Planar with more than a few bucks left over.

    The Mamiya TLR's are unique in that they have interchangeable lenses, making it a true system camera. The taking and viewing lenses are also identical on each lensboard, so that if you damage the glass on the taking lens, it is a simple matter to swap the lens cells from the viewing mount to the taking mount with the shutter. Eye level prism finders are available so that you don't need to adjust yourself to the laterally reversed view of the waist level finder. Most of the time, I have to look very hard to see the difference in image quality between the Hasselblad's Zeiss lenses, and the equivalent focal length Mamiya glass. Both are better than very good.

    The 6x4.5 format is nice if you want to shoot transparencies and don't like the square format. The cameras are much smaller, lighter, and easier to handle than the 6x7 offerings. The Mamiya and Pentax offerings in this format both offer excellent glass, and with modern films the smaller frame size doesn not compromise image quality all that much.
  22. With current prices, you can buy several.

    Saw a Bronica 645 with prism, two backs and three lenses change hands for $300 a week ago. If something like
    that falls in to your lap, you have to think about it.

    I think there is room to use and sell if you do not like it. ;-)

    Mamiya TLR's were reasonable at the show as well, but not "reasonable" as the Bronica, which was a crazy price,
    but not all that unusual. Guess that is why they call it a panic? Nikon F5 in mint, sitting at $300.

    Whole Mamiya 645 systems are similar in price, and am waiting for a Hassy for a friend, under $500, my friend
    missed one for me for $350. The parts are often more expensive than a complete camera.

    I was at a big camera store in central Ohio, and someone came in with his dad's Hassy system in a nice bag, they
    would not even look at it, a friend bought it, I think two bodies, couple lenses, couple backs, prism, -- $500.

    If I am carrying a camera around and want MF, I reach for my Fuji's, I just cannot handle a lot of gear unless I am
    driving, the airlines just reduced carry on size by six inches.

    Have done the Kiev thing, got killed with the shipping and re-shipping for repair, finally carried it to guys who sent it
    back to Ukraine for a new shutter, and then sold it to someone very happy to get a system that had a lot of frequent
    flyer miles on it. Same with Pentacon, great ideas, but not reliable in any sense. I use my old P6 and Kiev glass on
    Mamiya bodies, when I use them.

    Our (folks who bought MF when the price was L) loss is your gain for sure, jump in now, be a little patient, haunt the
    camera shows, or pay a little more and ask your shop to keep an eye out for a good trade in.

    Have some fun, ;-)

    Regards, John
  23. Unless you're shooting sports or need fast lenses I'd suggest an older mid-range TLR. Good buys include a
    Yashicamat (as already mentioned), a Rolleicord, or maybe a Rolleiflex T. Check out KEH.

    Of course, if you want to go really cheap there's the Lubitel 2. Don't laugh, now, it's a step or two above the
    Holga and can actually give very pleasing results if you can put up with the tricky focusing. But unless you can
    find one for under $30 (and without a big shipping charge) you're probably better off putting that money toward
    one of the other options.
  24. I went with Mamiya, an older 645 Pro TL, the lenses are amazing and the older Manual Focus lens can be had at a really good price. The biggest expense was buying a digital back, but some older ones are coming down in price. It's well worth the investment to convert to digital. You'll save a load on development costs, I figure it will take no more than 10 photo sessions for the savings to have paid for the expense of the back.
  25. BRONICA RF645 and nothing else!
  26. Ops!!!also a hassie 903swc to go wideeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!
  27. Save for a Hasselblad... You can't go wrong buying the best...
  28. Look for a Mamiya TLR. I shot this on my C220 F just last Saturday.
  29. Hi Leon

    I have been where you have started from (?). I have had a Fuji 645 rangefinder for about 8 months. Great point and shoot
    - light and easy to carry. Weighs just a little bit more than my Nikon D40.Only problem is not being able to see where
    you can focus. Not great for headshots or portraits, but super for landscape and travel

    I have just bought a Bronica ETRS for more control. The Fuji costs £220 and the Bronica £250. You want the newest
    Bronica you can find and I got one with metering prism and speedgrip.

    Have fun
  30. Don't let Chrisopher Anderson hear you make fun of the Holga. His book is out of print:

    Holgas are great with plenty of light and are a neat segway for an afternoon away from digital. Using it can be a roll
    of the dice, just like any film camera, or life for that matter. I give mine to the baby sitter (15 y.o.) to shoot my 3 year
    old at the playground. I know I will love any recognizable part of her that makes it into the frame.

    I also have a Super Ricoflex which takes terrific photos. Looking at the image thrugh the camera is like going back
    in time. I do have my eyes open for the next step up, but I have really benefited from taking baby steps to a more
    substantial MF kit.
  31. 645 is probably nearest the price/quality quotient you're after. Bronica/Pentax/Mamiya are all great with Bronica arguably being the cheapest--the big auction site is usually awash in Bronica 645 gear.
  32. I've gotten several Yashica TLRs on eBay for approx. $60 including shipping. If you just want a cheap medium format camera, you can find a Universal Roamer for cheap. Got two off eBay for about $15 total for each. That gets you a folding 6x9 similar to your Ikonta A.
  33. Visit Keh for used medium format. I use both 645 and 6x6 from Bronica and both are very reliable except when the batteries die.
  34. +1 on KEH. I have had nothing but great luck with them. The only thing odd about KEH is that they are way off base when it comes to TLRs. Granted, part of what you are paying for is a warranty, but they are off by a whole lot. If you go the TLR route then ebay is a better way to go in my opinion. For all else, KEH is my first choice because they stand behind the sale.
  35. Leon, I'm newish to MF so I can relate to your excitement over the Ikonta A. Mt first MF camera was an Ikonta III w/ a 75 3.5 Novar. It had a light leak and the Novar looked less than optimal. I finally tracked down the light leak in the bellows and wow, the Novar is not bad! I also just purchased a Fuji GS645s that has a sharper lens than the Novar, but it lacks something in comparison to the Zeiss glass. Funny, the more I go back in time (camera wise) the better my photographs look. My newest and probably final MF camera is a Zeiss Super Ikonta 531 A w/ an uncoated 75 3.5 lens. It may be the smallest 6x4.5 MF camera ever built. Shooting it and the Ikonta III is a pretty quick affair w/ their coupled rangefinders. I just loaded some Tri-X into the 531 A and will be shooting the first roll tomorrow. While the Fuji is easier to use and has a sharper lens, it is also a plastic camera. Nothing beats shooting the precision built Zeiss folders in my opinion, and the images they make are great. So my vote goes for the Zeiss Super Ikontas. Wonderful shooters, small size, extremely affordable and just a real pleasure to shoot. Here's a shot from the Ikonta III w/ the Novar.
  36. Lots of good answers, thank you! Clearly I'll have to go along to a show or two and have a browse. I have a nagging feeling I'll probably end up getting more than camera - I've already had to stop myself getting more Ikontas.

    Anyway, it's great to see people getting so enthused about MF...I certainly find it inspiring.
  37. a very interesting thread about medium format. I think that a cheap and good folder with a sharp lens is also a choice for those who want to take medium format pictures. In my opinion, Ikonta, Isolette etc if they have a Tessar or Solinar lens and a fixed shutter perform very well and with minor difference in comparison with TLR like Rolleis.
    It's my choice after using Rolleis and other Yashica or Seagull. Medium format is not really the format of the future then preserve your money.
  38. It's going to be tough to find a dud medium format camera, I think. Excepting the Holga, I haven't heard of a brand or model that people
    felt really did them wrong.
  39. Can't go wrong with a Rolleicord. Look for a Rolleicord III with the Schnieder Xenar lens. It is a simple camera, and if you find one in near mint condition, it will last forever. That is the medium format camera I started with, and it produces simply breathtaking results. Best of all, it's small, compact, and lightweight, and can go with you anywhere. People will look at you funny when you use "that antique camera." I have been in love with the Rollei TLR ever since then, and have owned many Rolleiflex and Rolleicord cameras. I am down to three now, two Rolleiflex cameras and one Rolleicord camera.
  40. I have a Mamiya RZ67 that I got fairly cheap. However, a RB67 with a prime and back can be found for really cheap. At least a couple have sold for $250 at eBay. That's cheaper than most digital point & shoots!

    I know this sounds crazy, but the cheapest way to get into medium format has to be the Ansco Billy 6x9cm folders. $10.00 and they don't take a horrible picture.
  41. The problem with any Ansco (Agfa) folder is the likelihood that (1) the bellows is leaking and (2) the focusing element is fused in place by the lubricant they used to use, which turns to cement. If not for these problems, these cameras would sell for $40-50 like the Zeiss-Ikons and Voigtlanders to which they are otherwise comparable. If you can find one that you're sure does not have these problems for $10, you have a great deal. But probably you can't (although the Billy may have had better bellows). I bought three Isolettes, only one had a good bellows, and all had stuck focusing elements. I freed the element on the one with the good bellows (MUCH harder than you would think), so that one works, the others are junk. I stick with other brands now. Too bad because like JD says, the Agfa/Anscos were fine cameras, they just committed the sin of not being built to last for over 60 years. Which hardly seems much of a sin in the digital era.
  42. The photographer, of course, makes the difference - but you might want to consider the Mamiya C220. In my opinion, the picture submitted by Chris Waller in his post of Oct 28th (using this camera) is of excellent quality.
    Composition, lighting, tonal values, etc, are of a high order. I found myself studying this photo in great detail.
    The camera is a tool in the hands of someone who knows how to use it - but it does help to have a good tool and the C220 seems to have that capability. I happen to be a Hasselblad user but may think about the C220 in the future.
  43. Bronica-affordable, versatile, and sells for a decent price when you go to upgrade

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