Needing suggestions for a lightweight MF SLR

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by linsey_ybarra, May 18, 2015.

  1. I'm wanting to buy a lightweight medium format SLR for traveling... my husband and I are going on a 2 year backpacking trip and I just can't fathom not shooting film. I really want to shoot with an SLR but I know it's nearly impossible to find lightweight MF cameras that aren't rangefinders, so I'm just looking for some decent options. I know it will probably be impossible to find everything that I'm looking for, but here is what I'm looking for in order of priority:
    1 *lightweight* (as much as can be for an MF SLR) and not bulky (or at least something that breaks down and can pack in a somewhat compact way)
    2 *close focusing range (or an option of good close-up filters) with lens option of at least f/2.8 or shallower -- I shoot primarily portraits
    3 *price range under $1,000.. but preferably under $600
    4 *6x7 or 6x6 format (not interested in 645 or 690, but would maybe consider it)
    interchangeable backs would be nice but are not totally necessary. I love all-mechanical cameras and wouldn't mind something that is fully manual... I would actually be lower maintenance backpacking and not needing a battery. Not interested in TLR's (I already have traveled with a few different ones and I love them but they are not what I'm looking for for this trip) and I'm REALLY not interested in rangefinders (I know they are the most lightweight but they just don't work for what I like to shoot). Also not interested in 35mm.
    numbers 1 and 2 on this list are must-haves and the rest are preferences. I could definitely budge on price if it really were worth it! Thanks so much in advance!!
  2. That's a very tall order. The lightest med format SLR that I'm aware of is Pentax 645. However, since you said you're not interested in a 645, the next lightest SLR that I can think of is Bronica SQA. It has interchangeable lenses, backs, prisms. I'm not aware of any lens in the Bronica SQ series with an aperture larger than 2.8. Mamiya 645 has an 80mm f1.9 lens. That's the fastest lens in med format that I'm aware of.
    So, the lightest camera: Pentax 645
    Camera with the fastest lens: Mamiya 645
    The lightest camera that meets your criteria: Bronica SQ/SQA
    Hope this helps
  3. An Hasselblad 200 or 500 body is about the same size and lighter than a Nikon D3. None of my Hasselblad lenses, from 40mm to 250mm, are as large or heavy as a Nikon 28-70/2.8 zoom (but you need more of them). I use the same sized backpack (Thinktank Airport Commuter) for each kit, and the same shoulder bag (Thinktank Speed Racer) for a day bag - body plus 3-4 lenses.
    A lot of people prefer a Mamiya 7 for travel and landscapes. A rangefinder design, it takes 7x6 cm pictures, and the lenses are compact and extremely sharp (retrofocus design is not needed). The rangefinder is somewhat fragile (needs frequent adjustments) and some lenses are hard to find on the used market. You must close a manual shutter to change lenses. Far fewer Mamiya MF cameras were made than Hasselblad.
  4. Those are both very helpful responses! I have been thinking about both Bronicas and Hassy's... I don't have experience with either but they both seem like they might work well for what I'm looking for and they are solid cameras. I will look into them both more in depth, thanks for your help!
  5. Given your travel plans, I'd rethink 645 cameras. The Mamiya 645 Pro/ProTL is sweet: not huge or especially heavy; good lenses; tough; within budget. Shot wide open, any MF 2.8 lens will have very shallow DOF, so don't consider anything slower to be unsuited for portraits--5.6 DOF, in fact, isn't all that deep. The Mamiyas, Bronicas, and Pentax(no interchangeable backs)are worth a look. They are battery-dependent but only for the shutter. You can get metered finders for the Mamiyas and Bronicas(built-in with Pentax)but a good handheld meter is necessary if you don't.
  6. I agree that if there is a chance to reconsider the 645 format, that would be the best bet.
  7. Hasselblad 500 C/M or 503 plus either an 80 or 100mm Zeiss Planar or a Pentax 67 with a 90mm SMC Takumar. Or if
    you want a wide angle option, a Hasselblad SWC/M.

    Either way I think you will find that the weight and bulk of the film you will carry will far exceed the size and weight of the
    camera and lens.
  8. Also get at least two A-12 backs for the Hasselblad(s)
  9. Either way I think you will find that the weight and bulk of the film you will carry will far exceed the size and weight of the camera and lens.

    Size? Maybe, depending on quantity. Weight? That would be a helluva lot of 120!
  10. What you're wanting is the Pentax 645. It is the smallest and lightest weight MF SLR ever made (that's assuming you're wanting a pentaprism and built-in metering) If you're considering 6x6 then 645 will get 15-16 shots/120 roll vs. 12 for a 6x6 saving you weight and bulk on film. Plus the 120mm macro is excellent. It is also the easiest top operate. The only real drawback is that it requires four AA batteries.
    But if you're wanting a camera that doesn't require batteries then you'll also need a selenium meter of some sort.
  11. Agree.The Pentax 645(later the better)could be your camera. Without a motor drive grip(Mamiya)or rapid winder(Bronica), these 645 SLRs suffer from near-impossible ergonomics off a tripod--pretty much the antithesis of a travel camera, no? AA batteries are cheap and available everywhere. Think big 35mm+battery grip/motor drive and you're close to a Pentax 645. The only thing that kept a Pentax 645 out of my life when shopping for a 645 SLR was the lack of film backs. You won't be giving up very much in image quality with a 645 neg compared to a 6x7. More to the point, the difference between 35mm and 645 isn't subtle.
  12. Another vote for the Mamiya 645 Pro/ProTL. The Pentax 645 is also excellent, but you wanted "something that breaks down and can pack in a somewhat compact way", so for "flat packing", the completely modular Mamiya takes the honours over the one-piece Pentax.
    Another option, still within budget, would be a Mamiya 645AF or 645AFD. The prism is non-removable, but the film backs are removable (unlike the Pentax 645), and the ergonomics are excellent. It runs off 6 AA batteries but I find that Energizer Ultimate Lithiums last a very long time in that camera and are much lighter than alkalines.
    As you profess a need for a close focusing range and say that you shoot primarily portraits, the Mamiya 120mm A macro kills those two birds with one stone. It would be ideal on any of the Mamiya bodies. Here's a sample close portrait with the 120mm wide open:
    It's not an f2.8 lens, but as you can see, most of the face is still out of focus, due to the shallow dof at f4 in medium format.
    I focused on the left eye, as you can see in this detail from the image:
  13. Let me get this straight - you want to go on a two year backpacking trip with a heavy old and/or electronic camera that may be impossible to find a repair shop for. And you want a style of camera - SLR's - notorious for their undependable qualities. Sounds like a plan to me.
  14. Quite honestly I'm surprised that anyone has even bothered to suggest camera models of supposed suitability for this venture. The idea is mad beyond belief.
    2 years of backpacking taking primarily portrait shots. Are these formal portraits? I suspect not unless you intend to hire studios along the way to do them. In which case they're candid portraits and yet you've ruled out rangefinder cameras that would at least be more suited to that type of shooting.
    You want a modular system that can "pack in a compact way" and already accept that "*lightweight* (as much as can be for an MF SLR) " is not really light weight. Being able to take the camera apart to pack it doesn't reduce its weight ...... it just makes it even more inconvenient when it comes to getting a grab shot. Also remember a MF SLR really benefits from sitting on top of a substantial tripod.
    This 2 years of back packing, will it encompass remote areas, regions of extreme temperature and wide varieties of weather? If so have you considered how to source and care for film in a world where the majority of people have seen the sense in abandoning film, have you considered how to get your films processed on your travels or are you compounding the madness by thinking of posting them home for processing thereby guaranteeing you don't find out about the light leak/sticky aperture blades/defective shutter etc., that has developed part way through.
    2 years of backpacking suggests you may be youthful and possibly of strong disposition and carrying the weight of such a kit plus all the other bits and pieces you'll want on such a trip may well be possible for you. But take a step back from it all for a while and consider how much more pleasant it would all be with a lighter load, a smaller pack and, if candids are indeed part of your proposed shooting, a more inconspicuous camera.
    Back in the '70s I lugged around a Nikon F2 kit in a camera case that I carried in one hand while carrying my backpack with a tripod and full camping gear (not so lightweight in those days), it didn't do me any obvious harm at the time, but I wouldn't last even a few days now trying to carry it. But if I could go back to those times with something like the camera I'm going to suggest for you I'd travel more comfortably and have a better and more complete record of my travels than currently exists. Not only because I could take more shots but also because I'd have instant access to them if I wanted to relive the journey (and they wouldn't be affected by mildew as many of my record sadly are). If you are youthful consider also that this may be the trip of a lifetime that you will want to relive when you get old, film is already becoming anachronistic in many ways just a decade or two into the digital era. If this is your trip of the '70s then forty years from now you may be regretting having shot film for it just as I regret there was no alternative but to do so when I did it.
    My suggestion a Panasonic ZS50 ($400) and have the ability to also take portraits of our fascinating planet as you travel, it's not all about the people ...see beyond our species. Hey even shoot a movie or two.
    Actually make that two Panasonic ZS50s ($800 and still in budget) and have redundancy built in for if and when crap happens, 'cause it's also that sort of world.
  15. Quite honestly I'm surprised that anyone has even bothered to suggest camera models of supposed suitability for this venture. The idea is mad beyond belief.

    But still less mad than posting an utterly unhelpful rant.
  16. My opinion: how about the Fuji rangefinders? They're maybe worth looking at.

    But still less mad than posting an utterly unhelpful rant.​

    I agree. I suggest that the moderator delete that comment. It is not helpful and all its general points, though fair ones, could have been made in two, short paragraphs.
  17. "But still less mad than posting an utterly unhelpful rant."

    Yours is the rant, you don't agree with me but just dismiss without explanation. I didn't agree with the OP's basic premise and took the time to explain the errors of her way with reasoned examples of why it doesn't, these days, make sense.
    "I suggest that the moderator delete that comment. It is not helpful and all its general points, though fair ones, could have been made in two, short paragraphs."

    I could have made it in one sentence..... "Don't do it". That may well have been "not helpful", so it seems that although I make a number of general points deemed "fair ones" but take several paragraphs to do so because I wanted to be thorough in my reply the upshot is that those general points though fair ones should be deleted.
    What, without even a trial? Sounds like censorship to me.
    Perhaps someone would like to explain why taking a MF SLR on such a trip would be such a good idea in today's world in the same considered way I explained my response, I won't complain if it's not just two short paragraphs because it's going to need to be longer to make any sense.
    Was it perhaps the mention of the Panasonic camera that stirred up such antipathy. The genre of cameras to which that model belongs is one that has been devised to exactly suit the circumstances of the OP's needs for such a trip, the two (camera and purpose) are far better suited than any of the other suggestions so far. Most people so far have been suggesting cameras that the OP has already excluded, how are those comments any more helpful than my suggestion?
  18. What, without even a trial? Sounds like censorship to me.
    Please...The OP wasn't after a scolding, just advice on MF film cameras. Guess you missed that.
    I could have made it in one sentence..... "Don't do it".
    Too bad you didn't. Nothing like clarity and concision.
  19. "Guess you missed that."

    I guess you missed that my original reply was aimed at the OP yet you took it upon yourself to criticise it with your own preconceptions rather than allow the OP to reply. She may have actually found the points I drew attention to of help or she may not, she alone had the right to tell me to butt out if she thought that appropriate. However butt out I shall as I have no interest in discussing it further with anyone other than the OP, who, whatever camera she takes I hope has a safe and enjoyable trip.
  20. I think Mac's points are worthy of consideration myself and I suspect the OP will think so too. The OP may not agree and want film, which is fine, but 120 film is particularly more of a big deal than 35mm. I would certainly take a rangefinder Mamiya 6 x 6 or Fuji 6 x 7 or 6 x 9, or Bronica 645 myself and stick with 1 film type. Why is an SLR so particularly important in this case?
  21. The OP has made a choice. She set a very clear set of parameters under which a system recommendation should be made. You may think it's not a good idea to recommend a system under those parameters, but the original question was clear. If a range finder or a 35mm system is not under consideration, then just recommend a system that is regardless of whether or not you agree that it's the best way to go.
    I'm sure there is a reason why the rangefinders and 35mm are not under consideration. The question was clear, the parameters were communicated, so just answer the question or don't answer at all, but it serves no purpose to start preaching a system that was explicitly rejected.
  22. To Alexander O who said
    "so just answer[​IMG] the question or don't answer at all, but it serves no purpose to start preaching a system that was explicitly rejected."
    Are these "rules" for responding published somewhere or just your opinion?
  23. It's an opinion. Otherwise, the conversation goes off on a tangent or worse yet, becomes a slug fest.
  24. This is why else can't have nice things.

    Yes, the guidelines for participation are
    available on the terms of use and community
    guidelines pages.

    Yes, Alexander is correct.

    The medium format forum is very lightly moderated
    and will stay that way as long as contributors
    participate constructively. A consensus to stick
    to the topic is preferred.

    Personal digressions should be handled elsewhere.
    "Should" be. Doesn't always work out that way.
    But these sorts of spats tend to alienate
    prospective new members. participation
    is way down as it is. Let's try to make it a more
    welcoming place.
  25. This is why else can't have nice things.​
    ...And why Elsa's things cannot be anyone else's.
  26. Pentacon six ttl. Interchangeable lenses with extension
    tubes for close ups and the option of the pentaprism or the
    waist level finder. If you are in Europe replacements are
    available at reasonable prices.
    Its a 6x6 with no interchangeable backs but its compact
    enough (though heavy) to carry around.
  27. Before I want to suggest something is to learn more about what you want to shoot. You stated portraits. Are
    your interests in other types of mediums, such as nature, wildlife, street type of photography?

    A 2 year backpacking trip sounds really fantastic! Way to go! Hope you have the opportunities to perhaps write
    a book or 2.

    I shot with Hassy's for many years, film only. The cool part about the Blad's (Hasselblad's) is if your camera or
    lenses die, it's not hard to find replacements. So many were made and kind of unchanged for 30 or more years.
    With some of the other camera brands not as many were made. So in a pinch you can still pick up a 500 C or
    CM body without too much effort and too much money.

    The longer lenses start getting pretty heavy and often a pain to carry around, such as the 250mm and longer.
    So another question is in reference to weight. With he longer lenses yo pretty much need a fairly well built
    tripod. Part of the problems and the need for pods are the F-stops starting at F-5.6 to F-8.

    If you pick up a 160mm lens instead of the 150mm the 160 has one less element, so it's just a shade less in
    weight. I wasn't really able to see much difference in the quality, if any. Would you be OK lugging around 3
    lenses? I'd probably go with something like a 40mm, the 80mm, and maybe the 150 or the 160mm lens set. You
    can also yet extension tubes or just one tube for doing close-up work.
  28. Oh, I should explain a bit more here. The 160mm lens has a lot more plastic compared to the all metal 150mm lens
    frame. Same with the 80mm kit lens. It also has more plastic along with the 60mm. I think it's the 60mm. There
    could be as much as a 1 pound difference per lens.

    Then there is the 500mm lens. This is close to 2 1/2 feet long. I'm not sure of the weight. Even though the lens is
    huge and the F-stop starts at F-8 it also goes to F-64! It is a pretty fun lens, the optics are excellent. I didn't use it
    very often, but I did lug it around pretty much everywhere for wildlife work.

    So the question is how many miles do you plan on walking around? Will your husband help with some of the
    weight? I could hike around the woods in places such as Yosemite for 5 to 8 miles with a camera backpack, a tripod, and
    the 500mm lens. I was sore, the hills take a lot out of you, but it was worth it!
  29. So many responses here, thank you SO much everyone!! You have been such a great help! A few responses to some comments/questions...
    For everyone suggesting 645: I am definitely rethinking this now! As I said in my post, it's not ideal but I would consider it. I just really love the 67 and 6x6 formats so much, for both the size and dimensions. I usually shoot 6x6 so going down to 645 (even though it's not THAT much smaller) is a little bit of a sacrifice, and does feel almost too close to 35mm. At the same time, it could be my most practical option and might be the best compromise. I'm going to look further into the cameras that have been suggested. As far as lenses go, I really want to just bring one good all-around lens. I do shoot primarily portraits which is why I want at least a f/2.8, but I would be totally fine with a 75 or 80mm lens. It would actually probably be better than a longer lens because a lot of the places I will be shooting are going to be tight areas (going to be primarily in africa and asia, which will mean small homes, alleyways, etc.) I shot 6x6 in India and found that a 75mm lens was perfect for most of what I wanted to shoot. I only wish it had the capability of focusing closer, which is why I'm looking for that as well. So I guess it will depend.. if I can't find an 80mm lens that can focus close then I may have to compromise in some area. I'm hoping this isn't the case though. Close-up filters could also be an option in that case if I can find some decent ones.
    Quite honestly I'm surprised that anyone has even bothered to suggest camera models of supposed suitability for this venture. The idea is mad beyond belief...........​
    I'm not going to quote your entire post, but yes I have considered every thing you mention here and I have worked it all out. I have considered many other options... just 35mm, just digital, etc. and have settled on what is going to be the best for me (I'm going to be shooting hybrid btw, also bringing either a canon 6d or a mirrorless if Fuji comes out with a full-frame before we leave). I appreciate your concern but don't really find the pretentious way in which you stated your ideas to be necessary. I also don't think it is necessary or really relevant for me to explain why I have settled on this idea but if you are so curious to know then I can explain it. For those suggesting rangefinders: I don't have anything against rangefinders in general, but they are definitely not suited for what I want to shoot. I know they would be the most practical by far for this trip (as I stated in my post) but like I said, I'm not interested. I have shot with them before and they are only capable of shooting about 30% or less of what I shoot. In fact, I bought a Fuji ga645 specifically to test out for this trip because it's so lightweight and easy to use, but after going through a bunch of rolls I realized it just wasn't at all what I was looking for. There are no rangefinders (that I'm aware of) that can shoot as close as headshots... only about half-body, and I absolutely need that capability. Also, the widest aperture I am finding on RF's is 3.5 or 4, which is just impossible with the low light I will be in (not sure if I will have a flash with me or not but I prefer natural light when I can swing it anyway). I will of course shoot some landscape, architecture, etc. but I shoot very little of that compared to portraits. I mostly shoot environmental portraits, candid portraits (and street), and headshots so I need a camera and lens that can do all 3 of those things.
    Personal digressions should be handled elsewhere. "Should" be. Doesn't always work out that way. But these sorts of spats tend to alienate prospective new members. participation is way down as it is. Let's try to make it a more welcoming place.​
    Thank you for that. I am new to! (new to posting at least.. I have used it for a long time to read forums) I actually joined specifically to post this question. I am very pleased with the responses though... *most* of the comments have been extremely helpful!
    Before I want to suggest something is to learn more about what you want to shoot. You stated portraits. Are your interests in other types of mediums, such as nature, wildlife, street type of photography?​
    I think I answered this question in an earlier paragraph. I hadn't thought about extension tubes for close-up work but that's a great idea! (I think someone else suggested that as well.. thank you!) and I will answer your other question below-- I guess I should explain for everyone what I mean by backpacking. Yes it will be your typical backpacking trip to a lot of different countries and we will have to walk around with our backpacks a lot as we are traveling and transporting to different areas, but the times I will actually be shooting will be when we have settled into a place for a bit. We're going to 30-35 different countries and we will be in each one for at least 2 weeks, sometimes up to 3 or 4 months. So really, the concern with the camera is more about being able to pack it with all of my other stuff (clothes/toiletries etc.) into one large backpack that I am capable of carrying around in between countries and as we transport to different areas. We are not planning on spending too much time hiking or walking really long distances with our packs, though it may happen here and there if necessary, and we probably will spend a lot of time hiking/walking around with just our camera bags but our main focus is on people and culture so I can't imagine a ton of crazy hiking unless we are heading to a small tribe or village. So I know that lightweight is relative in medium format, but I'm willing to sacrifice for the space/weight since it's not like I'm going to be hiking all over the place with my pack. That being said, I obviously don't want to bring more than necessary... I'm really trying for the bare minimum that still allows me to shoot what I want. We never know if we are going to get stranded, end up camping somewhere, or having to walk miles to different places etc. so I need to at least be able to handle the size/weight. My ideal kit would be a digital body with one versatile lens, and a medium format body with one decently versatile lens--probably around 80mm and at least f/2.8 (another reason for needing that is I'm going to be in a lot of low-light situations with no tripod), and then basic necessary accessories--battery charger for my digital, maybe an extra back if the MF has interchangeable backs, a close-up filter or tube if necessary, memory cards, a whole bunch of film (I will have the ability to order online if I run out so that's not a concern), and possibly a speedlight and/or reflector.. some sort of lighting aid. Apart from that, I really don't want to bring a whole lot more. Just a simple kit. I find that even when I have access to a lot of gadgets I rarely use them.. I just prefer basic, simple, and pretty versatile. Anyway... I would appreciate any other suggestions! A lot of great ones have been made and I will start doing my research on the equipment mentioned. Thank you everybody!!
  30. one more comment!..
    the next lightest SLR that I can think of is Bronica SQA. It has interchangeable lenses, backs, prisms.​
    I actually had thought a lot about the bronica sqa before! having the option of switching between 6x6 and 645 would be super awesome, but I can't seem to find the 645 back for this camera anywhere. It exists, right? I read somewhere that it has the capability of switching between 645 and 6x6 depending on the back (it may have been a different bronica but I'm pretty sure it was in the sq line.. maybe the ai?) Anyway.. do you know anything about this?
  31. The SQAi will take the SQ-i120j and SQ-i220J backs, which are 645 backs. However, those things must be extremely rare. I've never seen anyone use one of these backs. You may have a tough time finding them on the used market.
    If you're willing to go the 645 route, look into Pentax 645NII and any of the Mamiya offerings. Mamiya is modular (especially the Pro and Pro TL versions which have interchangeable backs) and has the 80mm f1.9 lens, while Pentax is lighter and has an integrated motordrive, built-in metering prism and feels the most modern.
  32. ok, thanks so much!!
  33. Linsey
    I'm still a little concerned that you want to take a SLR into remote field conditions for prolonged periods of time. How gentle will field conditions permit you to be and how much do you think environmental conditions may be extreme? Most if not all medium format slr's are complex beasts and not all that rugged compared to legendary workhorses like the Nikon F or even the old Speed Graphic. When you release the shutter on many MF slr's, a surprising number of thing happen in very rapid sequence and if any one of the steps fails, the camera can't be used. This is tied to the fact that most of these systems are getting oldish - mechanics fall out of tolerance and alignment, and electronics degrade.
    In terms of MF dependability, TLR's have an advantage with many fewer moving parts. Rollei made a close focusing attachment called the rolleinar which allowed closer focusing and somewhat compensated for parallax but I don't know if it would work for you. Mamiya made a very tough series of interchangeable lens (but heavy) TLR's with bellows which may focus as closely as you want but parallax is still an issue. The Pentax 6x7 uses an electronic focal plane shutter (simpler system than between the lens shutters) and had a pretty good reputation for ruggedness and reliability but no one would ever call it light weight.
    Having said all that I understand you point about needing bust level portraits and needing to frame accurately. As far as I am aware the medium format camera hasn't been made which does what you want to do. If you work is going to be in remote areas, photographers who have done this type of work in the past have used 35mm rangefinders or slr's , thrown an extra body in their bag for backup and lived with the limitations of the smaller format. Of course if you are going to be accessible to urban areas with repair shops or have Fed EX available to them you may be only out of commission with the MF stuff for a couple of weeks if it breaks. I would want two lenses, if one lens breaks at least you can still photograph wit the other.
    It sounds like an exciting project, and I don't want you to end up depending on digital if your heart is in film. FWIW If you want digital, the current Fuji X system is capable of amazing results in a very compact package - there isn't really a need to "wait" for full frame which will be bigger and heavier.
  34. I am going to give you a recommendation based not on objective considerations of efficiency and comfort, but fun.
    Pentax 6x7 with TTL and any of the nice 2.8 or 2.4 lenses, or a 67II with auto exposure. Big, yes. Heavy, yes. Too
    heavy? That's up to you. I would get one overhauled before taking it, and run at least five rolls of test film through it
    before the trip. I'd also locate en route labs to keep track of any issues, as a previous poster said. I took one to Alaska
    and Puerto Rico in a backpack with a spare lens and supplies. I also had a mechanical self timer to use with mirror lock

    The pitchforks and torches should arrive within a few minutes...
  35. You could be a little daring and challenge yourself: use only one focal length, which will keep your equipment to a minimum. Some photographers relish this limit, but some do not like it. I'm not advocating this strategy but if I only had one focal length to work with, I think I'd be comfortable enough.
    So you could take, hypothetically, two Hasselblad bodies, a couple of backs, and one 80mm lens (plus a back-up if you wanted). It's not lightweight but you'll get very, very nice images from that simple kit.
  36. Linsey,
    so why are you not interested in TLRs (for your trip)?

Share This Page