The impossible: handheld, portable, available light, nighttime, wide angle, medium format camera?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by jake_baillie, May 14, 2009.

  1. Hi all, long time reader at, and a first time poster. I'm having a terrible case of indecisiveness right now, and would like some experienced advice.
    Apologies to start yet another "help me compromise in medium format" thread, but I simply cannot make a decision.
    As background: I sold my 'blad (500 C/M) last year, and not a day goes by that I don't regret it. I have a full frame dSLR that I shoot for sports, but I miss the MF experience. Therefore I'd like to get a new MF camera, ideally before a long trip coming up in about 6 weeks.
    I've done as much research as I possibly can, read as many threads here as possible, looked at 1000s of photos, and still cannot make up my mind. Here's where I've evaluated my priorities to be:
    1. Availability of gear on used market (I'm not buying new)
    2. Portability and handhold-ability (if I didn't care about this, I'd be going large format)
    3. Wide angle
    4. Speed of glass
    5. Format (prefer square 6x6)
    6. Rangefinder before TLR before SLR (would prefer not to get an SLR in MF, but it's not the end of the world)
    7. Interchangeable lenses
    8. Digital back compatibility
    I've limited it to about 4 cameras (I think), each with their own positives and negatives:
    1. Mamiya 6 - This seems to be a great rangefinder, great optics, small, square 6x6 format, light, built in meter, wonderful to use (or so I've heard). The two biggest negatives to this system are its relatively slow optics (f/3.5 at standard, f/4 at wide), and it's lack of an ultra-wide angle lens. This was my first choice until I started thinking about how I use my SLR... for street shooting (which is why I want the MF) my wide angle lens is on it 80% of the time, and my fast 50 is on it the other 20%. So this system doesn't really accomplish either of those needs well.

    2. Hasselblad 903 SWC/M. Perfect glass, great size, square. Can take a digital back should I ever go that route. Great wide angle lens - 38mm Biogon, renowned for its sharpness... Only issue? It's extremely slow - f/4.5.

    3. Mamiya 645. Can get a digital back fairly cheaply. Still in production so repair parts are widely available. Lots of lenses. A *fantastic* standard lens at f/1.9 that puts out amazing images. This is a complete camera system, with lots of lenses available including soft-focus, macro, and a few wide angles in varying speeds (45mm f/2.8 ain't too bad at all). The gear on the used market is relatively cheap (approaching 35mm SLR used market prices). Biggest downside? It's not square, it's 6x4.5. I love the square composition. It's much more natural to me. It's one of the reasons I loved my 500 C/M.

    4. Rolleiflex 2.8 - Small, light, some have a built in meter (although I've been advised to get the ones sans meter and just use an external meter). No interchangeable lenses, but that's okay, as I'm used to primes on the SLR. *Nice* glass. Square format. I've just never used a TLR before. ;-)

    I'm totally at a loss here. Money is somewhat of a concern (I'm not buying new, for example) but I'm fully aware of the money-pit that MF is having had a 'blad before.
    Strangely enough, my better half suggested I actually pick up two cameras - the 645 with the 80/1.9 for available light, and the swc/m for the wide-angle. That's not the most portable solution in the world, but it's very nice of her to give me permission to do that. ;-)

    Am I missing something obvious? Any suggestions from the old pros, specifically you guys out there shooting MF handheld in available light situations?
  2. Mamiya C TLRs:
    • Yes 1 Availability of gear on used market (I'm not buying new)
    • Yes 2 Portability and handhold-ability (if I didn't care about this, I'd be going large format)
    • Yes 3 Wide angle
    • NO 4 Speed of glass
    • Yes 5 Format (prefer square 6x6)
    • Draw 6 Rangefinder before TLR before SLR (would prefer not to get an SLR in MF, but it's not the end of the world)
    • Yes 7 Interchangeable lenses
    • NO 8 Digital back compatibility
    By the way, I think #6 (rangefinder/TLR) and #8 (digiback) are pretty much mutually exclusive. So are #4 and #6 (anything non-SLR has slow lenses). You will have a hard time finding anything wide that is fast (and affordable). Medium format is not that well suited for hand-held available light photography, even when using rangefinders or TLRs with f/2.8 lenses (which is not really thaaat fast).
  3. hello jake --
    your dilemma sounds very familiar to me as i went through a similar process. it sounds like my shooting style is similar, mostly street, some landscape, i like wide angles. the difference has been that i ended up buying a boatload of different systems to try. that is while i could still afford such fanciness. naturally i sold a bunch of them again, but still, i have tried quite a few, but not all that you mention, still here a quick few thoughts on those i tried:
    Rolleiflex TLR 3.5F Planar with meter: supposedly a tad lighter than the 2.8 which is why i bought. An amazing camera, with amazing optics. To be honest the fact that it's only f/3.5 never bothered me, because i felt that the lack of a mirror allowed for good shooting in low light. i like taking pictures at night. and many of the other photos i took at speeds down to 1/15 came out just brilliant. the color rendition is amazing when you shoot slides. the negative i found was that i used it like an antiquity, often worried for the camera. it was a strange feeling. as much as i loved the camera, it often times did not end up in my bag, when leaving the house.
    Rolleiflex 6003 SRC 1000 with 80mm f/2.8 Planar: what a machine! amazing photos, but it is equally amazing heavy and cumbersome to carry around in the city. the ergonomics are fabulous, the photos superb, but somehow at low light not as good as the TLR i felt. and it's weight made me use it even less. sadly, i always feel like i want to use it, but i don't. the exception being road trips, where i have it in a case in the trunk and can shoot with tripod etc. even with it's faster lens i ended up with the TLR more often in my bag... that is until i got a
    Hasselblad 500C/M 80mm f/2.0: granted, not much lighter than the 6003 but still somehow more compact and easier to carry. basically the same glass, and i used a reasonably cheap external meter, which was fun, and for the type of photography i do, quite adequate. i love this camera, i ended up carrying it with me all the time. i got used to the extra weight in my backpack and it was all good. you had one, you know what i am talking about. the colors, the bokeh, it just has a feel unlike anything else. But still the weight bothered me...
    Mamiya 6 75mm f/3.5: I was a sceptic, i admit it. could it compete with the hasselblad or the rolleiflex 6003? i do not know why, but i have this camera on me, with me, ALL the time. it is the lightest of the bunch, the lightmeter, you learn to love it and use it, the lens collapses making it an incredibly small and portable MF camera. Any flash, even a tiny one will attach to it (still looking for one of those, using a big one right now, to reduce weight) and produce stunning color and black and white images. Low-light? best of all. I have shot hand-held in the darkest bars, or street corners, using tri-x or xp2, or e200. the photos it produces amaze me, i still dream of the 50mm lens, but i do not have the money right now. but in all honesty even with the 75mm i am more than fine. that being said, what i miss, is that bokeh the rolleiflex or hasselblad produce. that dreamy quality is just not there. instead the mamiya produces its own, distinct and different feel. it feels colder, sharper, a tad more technical, but in it's own right fantastic and amazing. still to this day, this camera is in my backpack every day. i simply love it.
    all this being said, i would not sell my hasselblad. there is just something about the special quality of the images that the mamiya cannot produce. personally i came to conclude that f/2.8 vs f/3.5 is not big a deal, esp. with a rangefinder. i will keep the M6 and the 500c/m, as i love them equally, just use the mamiya more. it is reasonably priced, and honestly the fact that there are only 3 lenses for it, is a plus for me, not a minus. i know in the end, it's still a hard choice, and mostly subjective. all the cameras in this list are amazing in their own right, just a matter of the trade-offs.
    if there was a word of advice i could give you, it would be to rent a mamiya 7, i know, different format, it's bigger, and it has a different meter (spot meter), but still it could give you a feel for it. shoot a roll of b&w and one in color, and you will see if you like how it handles. i would assume if you like it, you will very much like the M6 too. on the other hand, you regret having sold your 500C/M. so i would say, buy one again :) but may be with a different lens? 50mm or so?
    i hope this helps in some way and does not add to the confusion :p
  4. Nothing impossible about your quest.

    F4 is std for mf, and the m6 can be hand held at 1/8-- much better than any slr.
  5. I vote for Mamiya 6. IMHO this is the best MF camera for travel, street, documentary. 3.5 on 75mm is not fast ? Come on. You can easily do 1/15. This camera just sits right in your hands.
    Sure, this is a rangefinder with all limitations.
    Therefore the next "universal" choice for me would be Pentax 645. I made a mistake some time ago and sold entire set to finance Fuji S2. Big mistake. Now I want it back :)
  6. Thanks for the thoughts so far. Please keep it up.
    I've handled a Mamiya C-TLR before. It's not the camera for me. Also, I never thought about getting another V-series, funny enough. Maybe something to consider.
    So far it seems my gut was right with the Mamiya 6. Anyone have any handheld available light shots (at night with the 50mm preferably) they care to share?
    Also, any thoughts on a 645 f/1.9 and SWC/M combo? Not the lightest in the world but the bokeh on the 80mm f/1.9 seems amazing and the interchangeable backs on both platforms could be nice.
  7. Anyone have any handheld available light shots [...] they care to share?​
    Jake, I think this is a futile endeavor. Hand-held night-time photography is extremely demanding on your gear -- even my EOS 20D with the EF 24mm f/1.4 was too slow to get consistently shake-free images at ISO 800 in burst mode (although I have more luck with the image-stabilized K10D w/DA 14mm f/2.8). I have used many medium format cameras (including M645 + 80mm f/1.9, C33 + 80mm f/2.8, rangefinders with f/3.5 lenses etc.). None of them were that suited for really low-light work without a tripod. It may not be the answer you are looking for, but I think if you expect blur-free images you will waste a lot of film as you are simply asking too much from medium format cameras.
    Just go outside with your dSLR and do some hand-held night photography. What shutter speed/aperture combinations do you need to get acceptable sharpness?
  8. i would agree with the last poster. i suppose it depends on the type of photo one is trying to get out of it. i doubt its possible to get those super crisp tight images hand-held in dim low light handheld. personally i am happy with the mood i get from handheld shots. here is an example done with the mamiya 6 using provia 400X, hand=held, no flash, pretty sure shot at f/3.5 don't remember speed though:
    hope it helps and gives some ideas. i have a few more like that, but they all are in that style.
  9. Get an SWC or SWC/M -- no need to go for the 903 or 905 -- same exact lense (905 lense is less good due to some "green" changes I think). Since the shutter is a leaf shutter a la Rollei, you can handhold 1/15 easily IMHO. And this is the kind of shot you can take. . .
  10. Get an SWC or SWC/M -- no need to go for the 903 or 905 -- same exact lense (905 lense is less good due to some "green" changes I think). Since the shutter is a leaf shutter a la Rollei, you can handhold 1/15 easily IMHO. And this is the kind of shot you can take. . .
  11. Each of these cameras has strengths and weaknesses.
    In my opinion:
    Get a Rollei TLR and "live" with it for a while. It is a whole camera system in its own right: it has a slew of accessories that make it far more than just an 80mm MF lens -- close up lenses, pistol grip, prism finder, 35mm film (sometimes), 220-capable (sometimes), self-timer, the cutest little lens-shade, compact bayonet filters, etc. You need NONE of these accessories (apart from the lens-shade perhaps) but the camera just works so well you can see why all these accessories were bestowed upon it to begin with.
    In terms of being ready to shoot: just open the waist-level finder and you are ready to go. The shutter is the quietest I've ever used, and the film advances in a single stroke. There is no film insert to remove (as on the Hasselblad) when you are changing film. The knobs that hold the film spools in place have even been thoughtfully given detents so they can stay in the out position while you are swapping the film spools around. Every detail on this camera is well-considered.
    I've found on the street that strangers either don't notice the odd viewing angle at all, or they smile at the vintage camera. It's a great way to take photos on the street without "pointing" a camera at someone. The WLF also lets you, if you so choose, aim the camera 90 degrees to the left or to the right so you can be even stealthier. I have taken pictures of unsuspecting friends this way, they never caught on to being photographed until I showed them the prints. Finally, you can hold the camera overhead for a periscope view if you need to frame the shot from as high as possible.
    The Hasselblad SWC is a terrific thing in its own right, but it takes getting used to. You WILL have to scale focus and frame through an auxiliary finder, since using the ground-glass back demands a tripod and lots of patience. Given that restriction, f4.5 is hardly a handicap, you will be thankful for the extra DOF. The hardest part will probably just be to keep the camera precisely level. It has a spirit level built-in for that purpose, but even so, watch out for the horizontals and verticals.
    My thoughts.
  12. Okay, with a little swagger, I have to say, "If you add fast film, what are you going to want next? A grain-free photograph?"
    The requirements of the question, "handheld, portable, available light, nighttime, wide angle, medium format camera" can be met by most any camera that you can put a wide angle lens on, if you load it with fast film. That said, come on. Use flash. Use a tripod. Get real.
    You can do some of what you want some of the time. You can do it all of the time, if you're willing to put up with failures along the way. Is flash and tripod really that much of a hassle? Those handheld fast film shots are going to be great; but are flash and tripod really that much of a hassle? No. You are a photographer; you're going to have to work with equipment.
    Use, actually use, the equipment.
    You only have to use it right for a fraction of a second to get the shot you need. The image will last much longer than the pain of pulling the tripod out of the trunk of the car and using it. Use the tripod. Use the flash. There's no one magic cure equipment choice that will fix everything for you. Stop fussing and get the equipment you need up there, on location, and in use.
  13. Agree with most of what has been said. Except, the Rollei TLR. You mentioned in No. 3, that you want a wide angle option. The wide angle Rollei TLR is very expensive. Either a rangefinder such as the Mamiya 6. Or, a SLR would be the way to go.
  14. As a Hasselblad user. I'd say the Rollei is best for your particular needs ! As Jack Welsh said, wide-angle Rolleis are expensive (and scarce). If using a Rollei with standard lens is limiting, then I'd suggest a member of the Hasselblad SWC family. I can reliably hand-hold mine to 1/30 and maybe slower with a bit of luck.
  15. Patrick J: "Hasselblad 500C/M 80mm f/2.0: granted, not much lighter than the 6003 but still somehow more compact and easier to carry. basically the same glass, and i used a reasonably cheap external meter, which was fun, and for the type of photography i do, quite adequate. i love this camera, i ended up carrying it with.......... "
    Please tell me where you got your 80 mm 2.0 lens for Hasselblad. The only 2.0 lens is the 110 mm. That lens is meant for cameras with focal plane shutters.
  16. There's a persistent notion that pictures must be 100% shake-free, sharp and frozen.

    While that is nice, pictures with clear evidence of subject motion are very acceptable too.

    Think of a jazz band in a smoky bar, imagine shooting the drummer or the sax artist at 1/15.

    Feel the dynamism?

    It goes to show, you don't need to freeze everything. If the scene is sharp, people will see you've no camera shake.

    So don't worry!
  17. There's a persistent notion that pictures must be 100% shake-free, sharp and frozen. While that is nice, pictures with clear evidence of subject motion are very acceptable too.​
    If you don't care about camera shake or sharpness, there is no need to carry an expensive camera like a Mamiya rangefinder, Hasselblad SLR or Rollei TLR. Unsharp nighttime pictures can be made with any camera and if you are uncritical about shake and blur even a 35mm camera (say, a cheap vintage rangefinder) will take pictures that are indistinguishable from the ones made with a larger format and a much more expensive camera. Hell, save your film and shoot withdigital!
  18. There's a difference between sharp and shake-free.

    The former is a function of the lens quality, how much you want to pay.

    The latter is a function of the shutter speed, an artistic decision.

    My post was to highlight there's more to night photography than freezing all motion.

    One can hold the camera still and shoot dynamic pix with sharp backgrounds, or one can pan to follow subject motion if desired.

    This is far easier with RF's than SLR's.
  19. My point was that it is virtually impossible to get shake-free images at night, especially with MF cameras and their slow lenses (see also my note about the 20D +24/1.4).
  20. @Paul: Sorry was a typo, of course i meant the standard 80mm f/2.8, which is the same lens as the Rollei 6003 one.
  21. Have you considered a Pentax 645 with a 35mm lens?
  22. Who says you can't get shake-free images at night, if the subjects are static.

    On the other hand, if the subject moves, who says you must freeze it?
  23. Thanks all. I appreciate the wealth of knowledge here.
    Patrick - looking through your images I think you're right in that your "style" of shooting is quite like mine. My only complaint is that you don't have more of the M6 at night. Love your Hassy shots.
    Bueh - appreciate your comments. I'm actually quite surprised no one's chimed in with "get a Leica, it's designed to do what you want to do". I actually can turn out quite good shots (in my opinion, fo course!) with low light and my 5D handheld with relatively fast glass (f/1.8), but as I've said the medium format interests me. And I enjoy it more.
    Paul N - thanks. I've read the same about old SWCs vs. new. Having had a 40 year old 500 C/M in the past, I have no concerns about older Hassy equipment, so it's good to hear. Also good to hear you've had success in available light situations.
    John - Thanks for your comments. They were taken with a smile. Actually, I quite enjoy the grain of high speed B&W film. In 35mm, TMY-2 pushed to 1600 really makes me smile. I have a tripod, use it regularly, but there are simply situations where a tripod cannot be used. I can also accept errors - lord knows I make enough of them even in daylight using a tripod!
    Wai-Leong - completey agree about freezing all motion at night, and it's why I'm looking for an RF or TLR over an SLR in medium format.
    Byron - Really appreciate your thoughts on the usability of the SWC/M and the suggestion to "live with" a Rollei. In many ways the Rollei has the features of the 500 C/M that I loved with none of the drawbacks (mirror slap).
    I likely would phrase this question differently if I had all the benefit of these responses beforehand. Perhaps a better question would simply be:
    "On which wide-angle equipment have you had the most luck handholding at night?"
    So far the answers to that question seem to match my list of cameras for consideration, with the addition of the Mamiya C-TLR (which isn't for me). Vicious circle I suppose.
  24. nobody's suggested the rollei 6008 pro/integral/af + 50mm f2.8 pqs/af (sorry about all the different versions). it's heavy but wonderfully ergonomic. bad news: the lens goes for around $2000 used. i'd only consider it if you were serious about using a mfdb. i'm not sure what's going on with the hy6 system now that f+h went bankrupt.
    i'd personally choose the mamiya 6 and the 50mm f4. if you have a soft spot for classic cameras, the rolleiwide or hasselblad swc are really neat.
  25. Jake,
    Why do not you consider the Mamiya 7 with the 43 mm ultawide lens ? It is a great lens , easy to handhold + the 6x7 cm format gives you more flexibility.
  26. Don't be worried about the slow lens on the SWC. They can be handheld down to 1/4 second or less. Overall, I think the best camera was the one you sold.
  27. how about a Fuji GA645W with the 45mm (~28mm equivalent) lens? No mirror slap, so you can handhold down to 1/10 sec. It's F4 but could work well with some 800z. Cheap and lightweight.
  28. Jake, I got a Mamiya 6 & 75mm (and eventually the other two lens and another body) for the same sorta reason. I like shooting lowish light and night and I was enjoying a hexar af and then a leica m6 with zm35 f2 so thought the m6 would be a logical extension. I've found that it's great for low-light but not night-time - when doing hikes I take one m6 with the 75mm loaded with b&w and the other m6 with the 50mm with slide film - when shooting in a city I take the m6 with 50mm (zone focus) & fuji 400H (no one knows I've taken a shot, they only know when I've reloaded film and released the screen) along with the hexar or leica to use once the light's gone down. esp with the hexar this is a really quiet system.
    I had thought of selling the m6 & the leica and get a contax 645 (I use a contax aria a lot and love the zeiss glass) but am probably going to keep the m6 and still get the contax 645 for the 80mm f2 to get the 50mm f1.4 look I like
  29. Phase One has introduced a new line of digital backs which use what they call a "binning" function - the output of four adjacent pixels is combined, with the effect of a single pixel with four time the area, four times the light gathering power and 1/4th the noise (and 1/4th the resolution). This gives an usable sensitiviy ISO 3200.
    This back can be used on Hasselblad V (and H2 or earlier) models, including the SWC, as well as various Mamiya cameras. It is not cheap, by film standards, but a recent addition is a 40MP back for under $15K, compared to nearly $30K for the 39MP back introduced a couple of years ago.
    Of course, you could do as well or better, hand-held at night, with a $3000 D700, but that wouldn't be medium format. Why drive an $80K Porsche to the grocery store - because you can ;-)
  30. Easy: Makina 67W or Hasselblad 903 SWC.
  31. Of course, for interchangeable lenses its the Mamiya 7 wit the 45mm and 65mm lenses.
  32. A 1960's and 1970's camera was the Koni-Omega-M ; rangefinder with 58mm F5.6 WA or 90mm F3.5; with a 2 1/4 by 2 3/4 negative; removeable backs. The rapid omega rapid was a sister model without interchangeable magazines. Bother wer used for low light wedding work; newpaper; sports. There was also a 180mm F4.5 telephoto lens. With the M one can swap magazines mid roll.

    The old Fujica G-690 has a 100mm F3.5 Normal lens from 1968 is like a giant Leica M3; it has 4 different lenses.
  33. I have both focal plane (2000FC/M) and leaf shutter Hasselblads. The 110 2.0 is heavy but what a super lens! The wide angle is a 50mm 2.8 but it weighs a ton! The weight is so bad I use my Mamiya M645 1000s for travel now.
    I aslo have the 80mm 1.9 Mamiya that I use with my M645 1000s and the 35mm & 55mm.
    Get the Mamiya. While I love Rolleis, your wide angle options are very limited and expensive.
  34. A few years back, I remember getting consistently sharp photos with my Mamiya 6 at 1/15th sec. The combination of ergonomics, ultra-
    smooth and light shutter release, and super quiet, nearly vibrationless shutter made this possible...much more so than would an extra stop
    in combination with an MF SLR - the gain in one shutter speed to 1/30th is more than offset by harder to push shutter button and mirror-
    slap - IMHO. Hassy SWC? Probably a close second to the Mamiya 6+7 - as ergonomics are not quite as favorable. But I still miss my
    SWC! Another factor in favor of the two Mamiyas is the combo of high focus accuracy in limited light situations...along with high lens
    performance at wide apertures. Actually, the more I think of it...this is kind of a no-brainer.
  35. I've done night photos on an SWC hand held; it works if you have good technique and don't try to push it to the impossible. It's not the best solution, but it's an interesting solution. For me it was more of a case of "I want to take only superwide square shots" or I happened to have the camera with me after a day of shooting. A Mamiya 6 or 7 is probably equally good for this application, as well as the Plaubel.
  36. Thanks all for the wonderful feedback. I actually went to a used store and picked up a m645 with a 55mm and shot it for a few days. The ergonomics weren't there for me, so I'm selling it. Shouldn't have a problem selling it for what I paid for it.
    I've decided to go with the Mamiya 6. I've handled the 7 before, and I like the feel, but reading the 6 vs. 7 comparisons made me go with the 6. The 50mm and 75mm just arrived from KEH this morning, and the camera should be here in the next couple of days.
    Thanks again!

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